We have passed the midpoint between Yule, Winter Solstice, and the Vernal Equinox at Spring. In Ireland the month of February is Imbolc, meaning in the belly. Despite the fact that we have had hail stones hurled at us and sleet falling since St. Brigid’s Day on February 1st, the earth’s belly is quickening. I flicked the gardening calendar over and found that this month I can sow parsnip seeds. We are figuring out what surfaces can be cleared for seed incubating. Slowly, slowly, we notice that sunset is getting later and day break is less smudgy. Slowly, tentatively, we emerge from hibernation and isolation. The first snowdrop appeared just days before St. Brigid’s feast day in our garden for the first time in years. Normally, it would be another couple weeks before the snowdrops showed up.
I have written many poems inspired by St. Brigid and by the goddess who gave her name and many of her matronages to her over the years. Patricia Monaghan has written of the goddess Brighid as emblematic of survival. Along with Mary the mother of Jesus, St. Brigid is the relic of the cults of the divine feminine that simply would not disappear no matter how hard patriarchy tried to disappear Her. While Brighid is a fertility goddess of abundance She handed on her sacred association with poetry and song making, smith craft and healing to St. Brigid who moved with the times generation upon generation. The fertility preferment made Brigid the patron (matron?) saint not just of mothers, infants and midwives, but of dairy maids, butter and cheese making, and the protector of lactating animals – cows, ewes and nanny goats. She also gathered in poultry and egg sellers. The corn sheaves were symbolic of the abundant harvest at Lunasa in pre-Christian Ireland. With Christianity, the four legged St. Brigid’s cross made of humble rushes became more popular than corn dolly making. (though that craft is not completely extinct.) The corn dollies can become life-size has mummers don extraordinary straw woven hats, masks and outfits to stroll as Biddy’s Boys. That custom has died out in most of Ireland, but County Kerry has had a resurgence in the 21st century Imbolc celebrations.
Both the goddess and saint are beside blacksmith’s forge fire, hammer and anvil. Whether you are a blacksmith who works with iron, tinsmith, or a jewellery maker working in any other metal, the goddess and saint are with you and your craft. Likewise, poetry and song makers, harpers and writers can apply to both. The sacred, spring fed holy wells that are associated with cures of various ailments are also associated with both the deity and saint. But given that vision and prophecy are key elements to both, wells that have the cure for the eye are particularly under their care.
You can see where this is going. Basically, St. Brigid is for everyone whether you are seeking justice at the Bridewell court or are incarcerated in a Bridewell gaol. Several English cities still have law courts or police stations with the name Bridewell, notably Leeds Crown Court and London. The Irish Travelling community hold St. Brigid particularly dear. In the 1990s the Irish peace and reconciliation organisation AFRI held a conference where one Brigiding nun, reignited St. Brigid’s Eternal Flame in Kildare Town. And, yes, you can see the remains of the pagan fire temple of the goddess where 19 priestesses tended this eternal flame. Whereas after founding her abbey in Kildare, 19 nuns did the flame keeping.
Fisherfolk come under her care, too. When Ireland was about to have Russian war games start in our economic zone start on 1st February I almost felt sorry for them. The Cork fishing fleet was intent on going out and interfere with anyone who was interfering with their livelihoods. This was all supposed to kick off on St. Brigid’s Day and those who farm in the sea are dear to her. And she was allegedly a very cunning negotiator with those in power in her time. They never came off looking good or gaining anything. She heard our prayers and the Russian navy did not play war games in our waters.
As you can see, adaptation and moving with the changing times has been part of Brighid’s strategy for surviving, and becoming ever more relevant, in the 21st century. All those plants and flowers make her a Climate Change Saint I reckon – the oak, feverfew, the dandelion, the bee who pollinates.
If you would like to learn more about various traditions and associations with the goddess and saint, I invite you to scroll back to past January and February posts on this blog. Google Sojourning Smith St. Brigid and you will find lots of posts.
After my own hibernation this past month I can confirm that I have been writing, just not posting. This felt very restful. But I felt spurred to post today after last week’s modest Brigid’s Day festivities were over. I read two poems on John Wilmotts Nature Folkways yesterday if you would like to listen.
The various animals associated with St. Brigid or the goddess are many and various. This year’s Imbolc poem celebrates some of them.
Bear, Swan, Cow and Calf 1 Bear bones buried in pre-history’s caves. Mama licked her cub, giving it its shape. Devotion her art, giving her infant the strength from her mighty beating heart. 2 Each winter the whoopers return to Lough Moneen, swan’s down littering lough’s verge, their harsh honking a joyful noise, their flight a confident formation, each knowing their place in the scheme of things. 3 The cow keens in the pasture, her calf sold off. This one would never find the kine to offer strangers a third milking in a single day. Her mourning echoes round the townland. A child is given, lives by your side, sucking, grazing, lying by your side. A child is given. It grows. It goes away. A cow keens for her calf lest we forget how. 4 The fox flicked its tail. It danced a few tricks. It kept the King happy enough before the fox flicked itself again. And disappeared right under the hedge. Gone. King out-foxed. Again. Timing. Everything. All. We wild things. 5 In the islands of Skye, Lewes and Uist they say that it was a seal swimming out to sea and the oystercatcher flying above the waves that acted as pages for St. Brigid’s mortal remains when the angels carried her beyond the Ninth Wave, out of sight until there was just a shimmering of her at the turn of the tide. 6 Once a white bird singed its feathers when it flew too close to the smithy’s forge. It flew out black as the anvil, its golden beak ember bright. Only its song remained the same. A blackbird visits my garden. It has two white spots either side of its beak. Those were the feathers spared the flame, the badge of what it once was until the forge made it what it became what it is now.
I hope that this slow accretion of light bring you new opportunities, projects, or people who come to inspire you and blow the fresh winds of spring through your life.