What I’ve learned about Brigid, Imbolc, and myself this week…
Apparently, I had a big couple of weeks. First, it was my birthday. (January 26th, in case you want to know!) Then, it was Imbolc, the day marking the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. And then, it was Brigid’s day – the holiday designated for the Celtic goddess Brigid and the Catholic saint that succeeded her, St. Bridget – both of whom I am named after. The cool thing is that all three of these holidays are intertwined! Interestingly, this nexus has some insights for all of us, not just the ones of us named Bridget….
First, Imbolc. Imbolc is the day the Celts marked the coming of spring and the “return of the light.” Falling annually on or about February 1 or 2, Imbolc marked the midpoint between the shortest day of the year (the winter solstice) and the turning point in the year when the days grow longer and the nights grow shorter (the spring equinox). In a land where winters can be long, cold, and gray, this date in the yearly cycle was a cause for celebration. The festival honored the lactation of ewes who would soon give birth to lambs, and reminded all to begin the process of preparing the ground for planting.
Imbolc was associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid, and when the Catholic Church later adopted Bridget as a saint in their tradition, she was given February 1 as her feast day. The goddess Brigid is considered a “triple goddess.” She is the goddess of poetry, fire and smithcraft, and healing. While that triad may seem unusual, the common thread I perceive amongst those activities is transformation. Poetry is the transformation of common words into uncommon meaning. Fire literally changes the properties of substances it comes in contact with, and smithing is the process by which raw materials are rendered into metal objects of great beauty or purpose. Healing transforms the physical or spiritual body from one that is misaligned and in a state of “dis-ease” to one that is healthy, thriving, and in tune with a greater energy flow. All of these are very powerful processes – and ones that require training, consciousness, and care.
Brigid, the Celtic goddess, was so popular at the time of the Catholic Church’s arrival in Ireland that it only made sense for her to be transmuted into a saint, St. Bridget. The story of St. Bridget holds that she was born to a Druid father. She was very pious as a young girl, but also very beautiful. As a result of her beauty, she constantly received men’s attention, distracting her from her devotion to God. She prayed to God to take away her beauty so that she could be fully focused on Him, and her prayer was granted. She entered a nunnery, and we are told that when she did, her beauty returned. She was famous for her generosity for the poor as well as for her founding of a monastery that celebrated all of the arts – including poetry and smithery, and as a saint she continued to be associated with ritual flame.
So what have we got here? A holiday celebrating the coming of spring, and the stepping across the threshold towards increasingly lighter days. A goddess who represents transformation in a variety of forms. A saint with unending devotion and a call to service.
What to make of this?
For me, I think it’s marking an opportunity check in with my own path of transformation. It’s about 6 weeks after New Year’s – a good time to re-examine resolutions and mark progress on the path. With the days getting longer and spring slowly but surely approaching, it’s an ideal time to take those seeds of intention planted during the darkest time of the year and begin to shed light on them, water them, and coax them into that transformation that occurs when seeds sprout and head towards the light. It’s a good time to clean house, physically and emotionally, to make sure these seeds have room to grow. And above all, it is a wonderful time to remember that we have the power to make anything whole and beautiful with our own perspective. The seemingly dead winter landscape will transform with the sunlight. That lump of slag can become a useful metal tool or a gorgeous piece of jewelry. Those simple words can be crafted into melodic verse. And that broken spirit can be rendered whole through the warmth of a daily practice and the application of love to a wound. Imbolc, Brigid, and St. Bridget all tell us this.
I feel like the message of these days is especially directed at me, as I sit here trying smith thoughts and ideas into useful nuggets of wisdom for my friends in cyberspace. Having been born right near this holiday, named after this goddess/saint, and now working in the world as a yoga teacher (read: facilitating transformation!) – not to mention the fact that I have a fiery personality, love long sunny days and smith silver jewelry!), well, I suppose I’d better sit up and take notice.