On Imbolc we celebrate and contemplate the return of spring. It’s a bit challenging to do that in northern NY. As most people in the US are aware, a large storm is rolling across the midwest and up the northeast. Signs of spring are difficult to find. I was watching an episode of Edwardian Farm last night with my husband and, interestingly, they celebrated Candlemas which is an alternative spring celebration occurring at the same time as Imbolc. It was amazing to see the difference in climate between southern England and northern NY. On the border of Cornwall, there was a dusting of snow but the grass was still visible, the trees had some green leaves, and the forests were lush with ferns! Truly the Cailleach has a stronger hold on my homeland.
While searching for signs of spring is a bit vain presently, there are other ways to celebrate Imbolc and Brighid’s blessings. For me, it is an apt time to express gratitude for warmth and inspiration. It is also a time to do healing magic. Legend has it that Brighid walks the Earth on Imbolc, blessing cloth that people leave out for her. These brat Bhríde are then useful in healing spells. Next year, I’m making it a goal to crochet a wool blanket to receive her blessings. For now I put out a long white ribbon. I will find some way to incorporate it into next year’s blanket. I also poured an offering and am hoping to do some meditation on Brighid this evening. I may even use some of the incense I bought from Sarah Lawless’ botanica! I’ve been saving it for a special occasion and this seems proper enough!
Many people have been posting about Brighid as Goddess, saint, healer, artisan, patroness of hearth and home, and poetess. I’ve recently experienced some UPG thanks to the writings of Alexei Kondratiev in Celtic Rituals. Brighid can be seen as a modern patroness of environmentalists. At first this may strike some of you as strange because of her very heavy tribal associations or her connection to blacksmithing with all its polluting byproducts. Yet she is very heavily connected to the fertility of the land. Since Imbolc occurs when the sheep begin to lactate, there is a very obvious connection to agricultural cycles. Most people stop with the dairy but there is more to her power than that. You can learn of many such traditions in Seán Ó Duinn’s book The Rites of Brighid Goddess and Saint. According to him, Imbolc was also believed to be the time when birds began to mate (21). There are also Imbolc traditions used to protect the crops from disease (28). In my ancestors’ home of Armagh, worn out Brighid crosses were buried or burned (which is contrary to my grove’s tradition). These crosses were supposed to aid in the fertility of the land (128). Clearly, Brigid is not simply concerned with the tribe. She is also a sort of sovereignty Goddess – an Earth Mother. It is not out of the question for her to be both since many Celtic deities wear many hats. As Kondratiev wrote, “The brigâ empowers both Tribe (by giving inspiration to human endeavors) and Land (by creating circumstances conducive to growth), and in so doing makes a bridge between them” (145). He made me look at her in a new way – as the model for environmentalists to strive for. She is the balance between the wilds of nature and humanity. She was the artist who used materials from the earth but is also the healer. She can inspire innovation and expression but we must approach her other domain – the source of this inspiration – with respect and awe. As the guardian of domesticated animals, she embodies the ultimate alliance between humanity and nature – our animal companions. I cannot imagine Brighid favoring factory farms, but the intimate respect that a small farmer has for his or her flock.
Perhaps, to the modern human who is so often out of balance with the natural world, Imbolc can also be a time of meditation on our impact. Before the world wakes up to spring, decide how you will be a better bridge between humanity and nature. What behaviors could you change? What buying habits could you change? Moving to a more sustainable lifestyle is not easy and requires baby steps, but to modern Druids, it should be one of our top priorities. Thankfully we have a powerful Goddess to help us along.
Blessed Imbolc, readers!