Today is Imbolc. Or Imbolc Eve, if you prefer. Some celebrate it on the first of February, some on the second. In any event, it is a Cross-Quarter Day, one of the holidays between the solstice and equinox, and a holy day I love.
Why do I love it?
In part because if it the day marking light but not heat. The sun is really returning, though the weather (everywhere I’ve yet lived) remains crappy. Rain, wind, sleet, “wintry mix.” Blech.
Everyone I know thinks February sucks. For me, though the weather is terrible, the month is redeemed by Imbolc, Valentine’s Day, and of course, my own tiara-wearing time—birthday week. But Imbolc, the inauguration of the month, is really the queen.
Imbolc is, as far as I know, originally a lambing and dairy holiday. Lactation season, if you will.
Imbolc and Brigid
Imbolc is also the celebration of Brigid, St. Bridget, Brigantia… the patroness of Ireland, second in love only to Patrick. (I think it’s so ironic that Patrick is the one said to have driven the pagans—snakes—out of Ireland, and the goddess Brigid is syncretized into a saint. But I digress)
Brigid is the keeper of the sacred well/spring of Kildare, and of the flame that is still tended by an order of religious sisters.
The flame is said to have burned before “St Bridget” came to found the monastery in Kildare, and that she continued the tradition of keeping it alight. In any case, Her adherents do so now, and they light candles from its flame. Those candles—Imbolc is called “Candlemas” in the Catholic traditions—light others, and they are considered to carry the light of St. Bridget.
So Brigid is a patroness of fire, yes?
Both Fire and Water
And yet there is more to the story. Brigid is also the giver and keeper of a sacred spring and the well that surrounds it to this day. She is a patroness of sweet water. Water the nourisher. Water, sustainer of life on earth.
Fire and water, together, are the instruments of the forge, and Brigid is the goddess of the forge. OF the heat that forms the iron and the water that tempers it.
She is the patroness of the smith, yes, but also of the poet and the healer.
The poet is she whose awen, or magical inspiration comes through in craft, blood, sweat, and tears.
The healer is he who uses heat and coolness to make tinctures and teas, to cut herbs and dig roots, to soothe muscles and draw out infection.
They are all part of the fire and water of Brigid.
St. Bridget and Baptism
Speaking of her water and fire, there’s an image, a mosaic in a church I once knew. It is now “Our Lady of the Alleghenies,” but it used to be a church dedicated to Bridget. Bridget whose mythology includes her being Mary’s midwife. Who cares about time when God is with you? Bridget who is said to have chosen bishops, but only those who were goldsmiths. Who cares about plausibility when God is with you?
At any rate, St. Bridget’s. There’s a big image of the saint behind the altar. But it is the mosaic by the baptismal font that always captured my attention and love. The baptismal font–the central image of Christianity, of Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as the sealing of the Holy Spirit.
It is an image of flowing water with a flame coming up from it. Now this image is of baptism: The blessing of the Holy Spirit (fire) and the symbolic death (by drowning) and resurrection. Fire and water in the sanctuary of St. Bridget.
So I leave this image for you, the flame above and Kildare’s water below. (photo by Meg Leggard)