Brigid painting by Helen O'Sullivan
Imbolc is the first day of spring and the patroness is Brigid, a triple goddess who had three roles in one. She was a keeper of the flame. Fire, for Brigid, was the heart fire as well as the hearth. She was also the midwife and healer.
Brigid’s third role was patroness of the arts. Originally the arts were the ability to scry and to see (in the sense of being a seer). It was the cultivation of the third or inner eye, to see beyond and within. Later, the definition of the arts changed and the visionary and journeying elements were lost.
In the 5th Century AD, the first woman in Ireland to be professed as a nun in the Christian tradition was given the name Brigid. This was done to attract people into the new religion and to draw people’s awareness and attention away from the earlier, pagan tradition. Brigid really was a bridge between the ancient and the new, between the Goddess Brigid and herself, the Christian saint. She encompassed both.
St. Mel, the bishop who presided over her profession as a nun, also read over her the form for ordaining a bishop. This may not have been a mistake, because when he realised what had happened, he said: “What God has done no man can undo”. People’s homage to Brigid was so strong that, up until the 1920’s, women often prayed to Brigid rather than Mary. She was called Mary of the Gaels.
Many of our Imbolc traditions had to do with Brigid as keeper of the fire, the hearth, the home. Fire kept the tribe together. Even up until the 1960s, when a house was built, the oldest woman of the family, (either the man’s or the woman’s), took hot turf from her fire, put it in her apron and carried it into the couple’s new hearth where they built their fire around it. Then they kept that fire going; the fire continued down through the family.
When I was young, I remember the ritual when the old women cleaned out the fire. Then they called on Brigid to keep the fire burning. When women spring cleaned their houses, they often walked around the house three times calling on Brigid to bless and protect the house. Brigid was also called upon in her role of midwife and healer. If a child was being born or someone was dying, they summoned her.
Imbolc was a time when people began to venture out of their homes and brave the weather after the winter. The cattle were brought out for short times of the day. It was a time when the waters and the wells were blessed. It is still a traditional belief that, if the weather is fine on Brigid’s day, we will have a good summer.
Brigid’s crosses are hung over the doorway so that, when people come in, they are blessed by Brigid. If the intention they carry is not of light, it is released.
In Beaufort, in Kerry, the Biddies make beautiful, straw hats for Brigid’s Eve. They knock on doors, dance and sing and people bring them in and give them drink and food to carry forth. Opening the door at Imbolc is a ritual, allowing Brigid to enter. The maiden brings laughter, light and delight.
Brigid holds this space, the place of birth and beginnings. This is the time when the seed is put into the ground and begins to grow. Standing in this place tells us that we have been through a time of darkness and through the void. Empowered by that experience, we have come to the place of beginning again.
This is the place of new things coming into our lives. We need to be open to that. Brigid midwifes things into being. She is the one we call on when we want to give birth to physical children or creations of the mind.
When we stand in the place of Brigid, we are called to allow ourselves to move and change and to wear many hats. How do we wear those hats? How do we dance our dance?
Excerpts from The Way of The Seabhean, the forthcoming book from Amantha Murphy (Seabhean, healer and seer) and Órfhlaith Ni Chonaill (Scribe)