I finished making my brídeog (Biddy Doll or St. Brigid’s doll) yesterday. The festival of Brigid (or Brigit or Brighid or Bride) runs from 31st January to 2nd February and coincides with Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival that heralds spring time. And the return of the goddess Brigid in her maiden form. And the Feast Day of St. Brigit, Abbess of Kildare, one of Ireland’s three national saints. What you need to know about me is that I celebrate the coming a springtime (even though the upcoming Wolf Moon is also known as the Snow or Ice Moon) with as much fervour as most people reserve for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. I prepare, decorate and bake. And if there is snow that is no bother. The point is that the days are getting much lighter. When you live in Ireland that is is something to celebrate. Winter is on the wane. Wey-hey! The light is returning!
So I have been considering the many associations of both the goddess Brigid and St. Brigit. They are both fire and water women. This year I am feeling all ‘watery’. So today’s Poetry Daily celebrates sacred springs and holy wells. Of which Ireland has many. The poem is an octet -eight lines of eight syllables each. Eight being the number of infinity, it seems to be suited to water.
I was seeking inspiration when I started the day feeling a bit blank as my page. But the patron saint of inspiration never runs dry of ideas. She is also the patron saint (matron saint?) of poets.
When a Well Runs Dry
What to do when the well runs dry? You dig a new one, so you do. Where's the cure gone when the well's dry? It flees into nearby tree. See the clouties tied, where all wishes vie? Wells may crumble, silt up, dry. Water stays holy, cannot die. Water will ever sanctify.
For those living outside of Ireland I will treat you to photos of crumbling wells, clouties and the shrines that surround many of them. All those pictured are within a ten mile radius of where I live. It’s limestone country. Springs are everywhere. And everywhere are sacred.
As a child I loved my dolls. I had an extensive foreign dolls collection (which was a likely foreshadowing of my eventual ex-patriot status), all on show on a large peg board.
So perhaps it is no small surprise that in my late middle age that I would take to fashioning dolls. I am currently creating a brídeog, a St. Brigid’s doll, or possibly throwback to the goddess Brighid doll. There was an old custom of lying a doll in a basket, or Brigid’s bed, at Imbolc (31st January -2nd February). I have made a less traditional effigy of Brighid in the past that I call ‘Activist Brigid’ which is today’s featured image. The one I am working on now is more in keeping with the homespun ones made in rural households in times past. At any rate, I am keen on reviving older traditions, but giving them a more contemporary treatment and context.
But all this crafting got me thinking about the etymology of both the word effigy and doll. This making a form based on the human form is as old as the Willendorf Venus.
Effigy is rooted in the words that become the phrase ‘artistically fashioned.’ Now we think of those carved stone sarcophagae that house the remains of bishops and Norman knights and their ladies. Or it recalls ‘the guy’ that gets ritually burned on Guy Fawkes Day each November 5th in England.
Doll has a more interesting, less ancient, history. Back in the 17th century it was a short form for the name Dorothy, and was a pet name for ‘mistress.’ It gradually became used to mean a small model of a human and was in more common usage than the older term poppet.
Long, long ago we fell in love with this form. We loved its shape and heft. We cradled it, kept it warm. We cherished what remains were left.
Then we gave it a name in faith and love until we began to call it names. consigning it to a bonfire of flames. Name. Shame. Blame. Cast into the flames.
First though, was the love in the fashioning, the care, the craft that an artist will bring along with all the hard graft working with stone or fabric mimicking the anatomic.
How do you treat this doll? How do you cast its name? What games shall it play? What magic might it claim? Shall it be home bird or runaway? Just what of its fate can you recall?
If you are interested in learning a bit more about some of the folklore of St. Brigid and the Celtic Goddess Brighid, you might like to read my ebook of poems that celebrate the face of the Celtic divine feminine.