Ah, February. Another turning of the wheel. We are on the verge of Imbolc (or Imbolg), otherwise known as La Fheile Bride in Irish (the Feast of Brighid, or Brighid's Day. Name variations include Brigid, Bridget, Brigit, Brid and Bridgit). Any Pagan or Wiccan can tell you, this is one of the four cross-quarter points on the wheel of the year. It celebrates the coming of the ewes into milk, the lambing season (Imbolc means “in the belly”), the germination of seeds, and the goddess (or saint) who represents fire, smithcraft, and poetry. (Poetry was considered a “fire in the head”.)
It is a time of celebrating the Feminine principle in the season of the God, just as Lammas celebrates the Masculine principle in the Goddess season. It also marks the beginning of longer days, and the sun's obvious return and gathering strength. Several monolithic monuments are aligned so that the rising sun on Imbolc illuminates their inner chambers.
|Mound of the Hostages, Hill of Tara, Ireland|
Brigit Crosses were woven at this time as a symbol of the turning of the wheel. They were often put in the roof beams of the house as a protection against fire.
|Typical rush cross|
By Irish tradition, a “bed” was fashioned for Brigit before the family hearth, and a doll representing her (the Brideog) was carried from house to house as a blessing.
|Two types of Brideog, and a "bed" made from a basket|
Food offerings were left by the fire, and articles of clothing placed outside so that she may bless them as she passed by. One related belief specifies that a length of white cloth should be hung out the window on the eve of the feast, so that it can catch the morning's dew. This cloth can then be tied around the head, the jaw, or an injured limb, as it removes pain.
When the new religion gained power, Brigit was too ingrained in the minds of the common folk to banish her. In actuality, much that was part of Pagan Ireland was merely absorbed by the Church. Brigit's feast day, power and traditions were now ascribed to Saint Brighid the “Mary of the Gael”. Even her sacred fire, once tended by her priestesses, is today maintained by nuns in Kildare.
The Feast of Brigit, or Imbolc, also corresponds with Candlemas on Fen 2nd. This is the Church's fire ceremony when candles are blessed for the coming liturgical year. It is another shadow of the power of the Goddess and her element of fire. Imbolc was a day of weather prediction, so it is not surprising that Groundhog Day occurs on this date as well. The old legend is that Brigit – in the guise of a crone – goes out on this morning to collect wood for the rest of Winter. If the day was sunny and bright, she could see to gather enough wood for another 6 weeks. If the weather was cloudy or foul, she would only gather a small amount. That would mean Spring would have to come early. (BTW: PA isn't the only state with a weather rodent. New Jersey has its own!)
It's still a tradition is make Brigit's Crosses. I looked for some easy videos to show you how it is done. The best was the following, demonstrated by a child in Ireland. You can make the cross out of rushes, wheat stalks (soak them first!), even pipe cleaners. Have fun!
Imbolc Blessings to you all!