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Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas

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Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

IMBOLG
by C. Austin
The Footsteps of Spring: Brigit's Light Returns

For the Celts, February 2 is the quarter-year mark which defines 
the beginning of Spring. The early February festival of Imbolg is
the domain of the ancient fire goddess Brigit, patron of learning, 
healing and smithcraft. 

Imbolg, known also as "Oimelic," "Candlemas," "St. Brigid's Day" 
and in our culture "Groundhog Day," means "in the belly" and
signifies an end to the dark, hungry days of winter. With the 
birthing of lambs and the lessening of winters frozen grip, the 
pastoral Celts felt the stirrings of spring as Brigit again stood 
watch over home and herd. 

Like other goddesses of prehistoric origin, "Brig," appeared in 
trio or triple aspect. Mythologically, Brigit has two sisters of 
the same name, all of whom are the daughters of Dagda, king of 
the Tuatha De Danaan. Brigit, as Spring, was also the youthful
maiden of the year, passing into Danu, the mature Summer and 
ripening through Autumn into Cailleach, the hag of winter. 

As defender of learning, Brigit inspired poets, lawgivers and 
soothsayers. In her healing aspect Brigit's curative powers flowed
generously through doctors, from "Brigit's Wells" and in curiously 
formed boulders and holed stones to which those ailing could visit. 

Brigit was also the underworld "Begoibne" or "woman of the smithery." 
The goddess' supernatural smithworks in County Kildare caused a hill 
to rise around her, today called "Croghan Hill." 

Throughout time Brigit worked, making pots and vessels of every 
kind into which the future poured. In this shadowy guise of ashes
Brigit forged the cooking pots which fed and nurtured the community. 
Her fires provided the light and heat by which humanity could learn, 
live and love and her domestic rituals ensured the hearth fire was 
tended and civility adhered to - the origin of the noted "Irish 
hospitality." 

From the rites devoted to Brigit came woven wheat figures which were 
clothed and placed near the hearth fire on Imbolg Eve.  The "Crois 
Bride" or belt of Brigit was a 3 meter length of woven rope which 
was carried from house to house and passed over every head to insure 
health and good luck. 

Brigit's pagan vessel made the transition to Christianity to become 
the Holy Grail, thereby wedding the mystery of prehistoric goddess 
worship to the mystic undertones of Arthurian legend. 

"Saint Brigid" was born on February 1, 453 A.D. thereby guaranteeing 
that Brigit, behind a different mask, would become Ireland's foremost 
female goddess/saint. No other Celtic deity has navigated the 
evolution to Christianity so successfully. 

Saint Brigid took up a shrine on the prehistoric foundations of 
Brigit's fire cult in Kildare where Brigit's hearth fire burned until 
1530 A.D. Joseph Campbell notes the nuns tending the eternal flame 
became the successors to the virgin priesthood of Brigit. 

Brigit's wheat dollies grew into "Saint Brigid's Crosses," hung over 
the threshold - neither in this world, nor in that - as befits an
otherworldly figure. Brigit's light became Saint Brigid's 
"head-fires," sometimes depicted as a crown of blazing candles. 

Brigit guides the poet, ministers to the ill and tends to the 
domestic needs of those from all walks of life. Imbolg is a day to 
listen for the first faint footsteps of Spring and remember that 
Brigit lives on in the home and the heart with the compassion of 
a saint.