Brighidine flametenders all look forward to Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, celebrated 1 February in Ireland and Scotland as the first of spring. In the Gaelic tradition, ewes are bred to birth and lactate at this time, snowdrops bloom, daylight begins to noticeably lengthen, ice begins to thaw; the land begins to awaken from its winter slumber. Brìde the saint is said to visit the people on the eve of her feast day to bless homes and special objects laid out for her, such as strips of cloth saved for healing charms, and woven crosses to be hung inside to protect the home from lightening and fire.
In Scotland, this phenomenon is commemorated in a traditional tale recorded by Donald Mckenzie is his Scottish Wonder Tales of Myth and Legend called ‘The Coming of Angus and Brìde’ which can be read online here:
In this tale, the Cailleach Beira, Queen and Hag of Winter, imprisons and enslaves the fair maid Brìde in her mountain dungeon, until she is rescued by the gallant Angus, son of the Cailleach who has dreamed of Brìde and sets out to find her. They escape and marry on the first of February, so giving the day its name, the Day of Brìde. The fae folk crown them the King and Queen of Summer and feast them lavishly. After the wedding though, the couple must battle relentlessly with the angry Cailleach and her hag giantesses for control of the season, all the way through the equinox when at last they are victorious, and winter’s queen looses power.
I like to re-envision this tale instead as Brìde, as the vital power of the green, growing land, going willingly at Samhain, the coming of winter, into the Cailleach’s mountain palace for a winter’s hibernation, to rest and renew, and dream the Dream of Summer. Cailleach, the Queen of Winter, protects Brìde as she rests, holding a space and time for this necessary rejuvenation, lest life’s vital spark burn itself out for good. As Imbolc arrives, Brìde is awakened as the season shifts, and returns to the land above from her Otherwordly descent into the mountain. We see her return in the greening of grass, blooming of early flowers, buds and shoots developing on trees and shrubs, birds returning and building nests, ice thawing, days lengthening, and rivers running high from snowmelt (at least, temperate regions witness these changes around this time). She calls out to Angus to join her, that they may again bring the Dream of Summer to the land by gently releasing it from its winter sleep, and bringing the springtime.
An advent is a preparation and waiting period, and I have created an advent for Imbolc, to await the return of Brìde to the land, to this world, and the springtime she brings with her. In regards to the season, I spend the weeks of January perusing seed catalogs, placing orders, checking my planting pot supply, and poking around the garden in search of the first dandelions, chickweed, and purple dead nettle. As a flametender, I await her return by preparing myself spiritually, through engaging with her four fires, as beautifully expressed by this prayer poem–
Brighid, my head is on fire for you-
Kindle thou my inspiration, as you passionately do.
Brighid, my hands are on fire for you-
Kindle thou my creation, as you skillfully do.
Brighid, my hearth is on fire for you-
Kindle thou my restoration, as you gently do.
Brighid, my heart is on fire for you-
Kindle thou my compassion, as you lovingly do.
Four Fires in one, a Bhríd, Four Fires for you,
Kindle thou my devotion, as you always do!
Four Fires in one, a Bhríd, Four Fires in me,
Kindle thou my wholeness, agus oscail mo chroí!
~original poetry by Crystalline Ruby Muse~
(‘agus oscail mo chroí’ is Irish for, ‘and open my heart.’)
During this spiritual advent, I take time during the four Sundays preceding Imbolc to focus on each of these fires in turn, to rekindle them within me, commune with Brìde, and ask Her how I might bring them into the world around me, and keep Her flame alight through them. This culminates with Imbolc Eve and Imbolc Morn observances and celebrations, in honor of Her return from the Otherworld of winter dreaming, into this world of springtime awakening. This process also creates an avenue through which to participate in the Brighidine Mysteries of season and story, to kindle Her fires within me, and bring them out from my inner world, into the outer world about me. The Mysteries are observed, felt, and lived, in rhythm with Brìde’s own awakening and rekindling through the land’s vitality.
This year, Imbolc Advent begins Sunday 10 January. I invite you, dear reader, to read along, and participate if you like, in this rekindling and awakening, as we await together the springtime renewal and return of Brìde, Queen of Summer. I will aim to present each segment on the coming Saturdays, with the culminating Imbolc Eve and Morn observances on Sunday 31 January.
As a final note, the dating of the holiday itself is something of an enigma. Officially it is observed on 1 February in Ireland and Scotland, as noted above; this date was set with the official acceptance of the modern Gregorian calendar we use today. Previously, the Julian calendar had the holiday set around the 13th of February, and the date changed when the calendars switched over, requiring some days to be lost to rectify the dates from one system to the other. Much longer ago, several thousand years ago, when great stone monuments and circles were being built on the land, mounds were erected at Tara and Loughcrew in today’s Co. Meath in Ireland whose openings were aligned to admit the rays of the rising sun for several days early in February, up to a week or more, and they still do today. In this sense, stone-time, these holidays are more moments in time to pause and participate in the changing tides than they are moments to observe, here and then gone. So if you are unable to make your holiday observances in accordance with the common date, don’t feel you have missed any fleetingly open window. The season is here (if indeed it is felt in your area!), and its opportunities for participation and transformation with and through it are available to you in the time you need. Sink into and savor it, and allow it to work deep inside you, even as it works upon the land before you.
Stay tuned for our First Sunday of Imbolc Advent, this weekend. Brìde Bless!