Imbolc: A Mid-Winter Festival of Light and Hope

8:20 PM

Altar with St. Brigid Crosses
Carrowcrory Cottage, Ireland
Photo by Janice Hall
Used with permission.

Blessed Imbolc!

Whenever I think of Imbolc, I am transported to Ireland on a very rainy day in June 2016. At Carrowcrory Cottage, I and my fellow travelers were the guests of local guide John Wilmott and his wife, Irish singer and harpist, Claire Roche. After picking reeds from the rushes outside the cottage, we moved indoors and sat in a semicircle around the fire. While rain slid relentlessly down the windows, we wove the reeds into Brigid Crosses in honor of the Celtic Triple Goddess, Brigid.

John Wilmott
Imbolc is one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals, once known as Candlemas or Brigid’s Day. The festival marks the halfway point of winter. It celebrates light and fertility, the promise of spring and rebirth. Imbolc gives hope that the scarcity, solitude, and darkness of winter are ending, and a new agricultural year is about to begin. It is a time when plants emerge from the snow. Livestock lactate in preparation to giving birth in the spring. (Imbolc means “in milk.”) Imbolc marks the shift of the Triple Goddess from Crone to Maiden.

The Celtic goddess honored at Imbolc is known by many names: Brigid, Brighid, Bride, Bridey, Brigantia, and Brigit. One of the most common pronunciations is BREED. Brigid is a goddess of fire, healing, poetry, and smith-craft. She inspires internal magic — the creative spark and inner healing. Her influence also governs the tangible alchemy of the forge — the harnessing of primal fire through skill and strength to transform metal into tools, weapons, and more. As the warrior-maiden Brigantia, she is the personification — the Sovereignty of the Land — of Britain.

The Quest

My quest: To experience Brigid in the Irish landscape and to trace Her transition from a pagan Goddess, to Her appropriation as a Catholic saint, to Her place in Ireland today.

I began by visiting the cold, stone ruins of Brigid’s Fire Temple on the grounds of the Kildare Cathedral. The massive monuments to Christianity - the tower and the cathedral - built on Brigid's sacred ground, dwarf the rectangular foundation of the Fire Temple. Below, the stunning view from the tower is from an excellent post by Roaringwater Journal.

Photo credit: Roaringwater Journal
View from the Kildare Round Tower
Of Brigid's Fire Temple and Kildare Cathedral

Statue of Saint Brigid.
Kildare, Ireland
Photo by Ariella Moon

My second stop was a meeting with the Brigidine Sisters in the light-filled Christian Centre for Celtic Spirituality. The Centre was built in the shape of a Brigid cross, and is located near one of the wells dedicated to the Goddess and her namesake saint.

Brigid's Sacred Flame

Brigid's Flame metal sculpture,
Market Square, Kildare, Ireland
Photo by Ariella Moon

In ancient times, the priestesses of the Goddess tended Her sacred flame in the hope Brigid would protect the herd and provide a bountiful harvest.

Then, in the fifth century, the new religion reached Ireland and supplanted the Old Ways. Saint Brigid founded a monastery at Kildare on the grounds of the Goddess's Fire Temple. In an echo of the pagan tradition, the saint's nuns tended a flame, declaring it represented the light of Christianity.

From the fifth century until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the flame remained lit.

In 1993, the tradition of Sacred Fire was reborn in Kildare. At the opening of a peace conference entitled, "Brigid: Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker," the Brigidine Sisters lit a new flame.

While retracing the evolution of the Goddess, I discovered sun-bright threads of continuity. Unlike many Goddesses and Gods of pre-Christian religions, Brigid survived. Towering cathedrals were built on her sacred grounds. Her name was co-opted and Her story changed to suit a new, patriarchal religion. Although Her flame was extinguished, it never truly died.

At Imbolc, during the bitter cold of mid-winter, the fiery golden threads I discovered at Kildare still bring hope, warmth, and the promise of better days ahead.

Copyright 2019 Ariella Moon

For an in-depth look at this complex Goddess and Her enduring history, I recommend, "Brigid: Survival Of A Goddess” by Winter Cymres of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.

For more on Brigid's Sacred Flame, see "Lighting the Perpetual Flame of Brigid (A brief history of the flame)

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