Earlier this week, I celebrated the solar festival of Imbolc, the feast of the Goddess Brigid, at Meg’s Inspirations, a local spiritual boutique in Manchester, CT.
Imbolc is an old, old Celtic solar festival that celebrates the fulfillment of the promise made at the Winter Solstice. Light has returned. My Irish ancestors would have celebrated Imbolc with the Goddess Brigid, also known as Bride, or Breed, and eventually as St. Bridget. In Greek mythology, this is when the Goddess Persephone lights her lamp in the Underworld and begins her journey upward. She'll arrive in the spring. In Scandinavian countries, the festival of lights features a girl who wears a crown of candles. The girl is known today as St. Lucy. In New England, the most recognized symbol of the season is the groundhog.
The word “imbolc” means “in the belly” or “in the milk” and refers to the many pregnant ewes, more visible evidence that spring is on the way. Several women at the ritual commented on other signs of spring; e.g., the chirping of birds, more animal tracks in the snow, increased activity from birds of prey, growing physical energy, and an instinct to clean.
Brigid, Goddess of Healers, Smithcrafters, and Poets
Our celebration of Imbolc focused on Brigid in her three forms. Goddess of Healers, Brigid knows the power of earth and water. Water quenches thirst, soothes aches, cleanses wounds, washes away what we no longer wish to carry…what we no longer can carry. She knows that flood water can destroy … and womb water can protect. Brigid knows the healing power of herbs, one of many gifts from the earth. If you lived in times gone by, you’d see Brigid in deep wells and dark pools, in plants growing wild in meadows and forests, and hanging in bundles from the cottage rafters to dry. During the ritual, each of us sprinkled dried herbs on the water in a birdbath, re-imagined as one of Brigid’s sacred wells.
Goddess of Smithcrafters, particularly blacksmiths, Brigid knows the power of fire. It lights the dark, cooks our food, warms the cold. A bonfire on a beach, a candle on a cake, a torch in a sports arena, a sacred flame guarded by centuries of devoted keepers, each flame is a bit of the life-giving force of the sun. If you lived in times gone by, you’d see Brigid’s alchemical fire at the blacksmith’s forge, where couples would pledge their love and bind both their hearts and their hands. Now you see her power in the design of a wrought iron gate, in a cast iron skillet, a handfasting cord in a wedding ceremony. During the ritual, each of us dropped a pinch of incense in a cauldron of hot coals, re-imagined as a blacksmith’s forge.
Goddess of Poets, Brigid knows the power of air, of words formed from ideas. Words can articulate a new thought, just as they can preserve the ideas of ages gone by. Strung together with love, words can sooth, inspire, affirm, rally to the just cause. Strung together with hate, words can cut, deceive, undermine, bully the weak. Brigid knows that the magic of a spell is conjured by the power of words. If you lived in times gone by, you’d see her as the bard, the wordsmith telling stories in the pub. Now you see her in a poetry slam, a book reading, a memorial service. During the ritual, each of us spoke a word wrapped in hope – Peace, Love, Security, Respect, Courage, more and more. Three times we spoke the words, louder and faster each time, each word flying like a bird into the plume of frankincense smoke.
Thanks to Meg’s contacts, we had an assortment of full-sized horseshoes and used them to symbolize the power associated with a forge. During the ritual, we all shared thoughts on our first experience driving a car, today’s version of the horse. Some women recalled being eager to drive, some apprehensive. We talked about the need to care for a car and to maintain it properly. We talked about fancy options and horrific accidents. Each scenario related in some way to how we experience our personal power.
The reward for telling of a story was a small horseshoe decorated in red and white ribbons, Brigid’s colors of fire and ice, blood and milk. There was a moment near the end of the ritual when we huddled together and held our horseshoes in the center of the circle, making sure they all touched.
My own horseshoe now sits on my desk, a strong and colorful reminder that what has been stirring underground is about to surface. Can you feel the power of the season? Can you feel your own power?
In the coming months, I'll be leading other seasonal rituals — as well as rituals for writers, rituals in weddings, rituals to bless babies, blend families, and much more! For advanced notice, ideas, and inspiration,send me an email. (The sign-up form is coming!)