Imbolc Eve and Morn ~
There is a Scottish folk tale called The Coming of Angus and Brìde in which Brìde is envisioned as the spirit of Spring, trapped within the mountain home of the Cailleach, Queen Beara of Winter, so that the queen may keep her frosty rule over the land. In it, Beara’s son Angus dreams of the beautiful Brìde from his otherworldly home on the Green Isle, and leaves at once to find and rescue her. When he does this, the couple hide briefly with the faeries, where they are wed and hailed by them as the King and Queen of Summer. After the nuptials and celebration, the Cailleach and her hags wage a wintery war on growth and warmth, to which Angus responds with shows of bright sunshine. These battles last until the equinox, when the Cailleach finally retires to the Green Isle herself. There, she drinks from a Well of Youth which magically transforms her into a maiden, who will then age into an old woman by the time Samhain’s season of winter returns, to once again rule as its elderly queen.
I like to re-imagine this story as a tale of voluntary winter slumber, as the forces of growth and life need a rest after the efforts of growth and harvest, in order to rejuvenate. I envision Brìde going willingly into the Cailleach’s protective mountain at Samhain, winter’s arrival, to sleep safely, and dream the Dream of Summer. The shifting tides then signal Brìde to awaken at Imbolc, return to the land from the Underworld of the mountain, and once again bring to all beings her nourishing life and vitality, as warming sun, lengthening light, growing plants, and lactating ewes.
Imbolc and Brìde’s Return may be marked by the sunrise which illuminates the Mound of Hostages on Ireland’s Hill of Tara, around the 3rd or 4th of February at its first sighting. This solar alignment can last for up to two weeks after, creating a season of Imbolc more than a singular day or event. Information about, and images of the Mound, Tara, and the Imbolc sunlight inside the chamber can be viewed here ~
About the Mound ~ http://www.knowth.com/mound-of-the-hostages.htm
Imbolc, Cross-Quarter Day at the Mound ~ http://www.meath.ie/Tourism/EventsFestivalsandNews/PastEvents2010/Name,40414,en.html
Sunshine Illuminating the Mound ~ http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/44006/images/mound_of_hostages.html
Inspirational Reading & Song:
Meditations on the Brigid’s Cross Symbol, by Erin Lund Johnson
The fire gives blessings from the center, the heart, to the edge, in all directions. We see this on a cosmic scale, from the sun at the center of the solar system blessing our land with life, to the molten fire at the center of the earth supporting all beings here, to the forge, the center and heart of the tribe which allows the people to make a living and defend themselves, to the hearth fire, which sustains the family with warmth, food, and medicine, to the sacred temple and ritual fire, which sustains the people spiritually. The microcosm is then the energy and action of our own human hearts which sustains our bodies; all these fires radiating out from the center/heart to the edge, to where the light and warmth of the fire extend.
I see this illustrated in the Brighid’s cross, with any and all of these fires in its center, radiating out its/their blessings in all directions, from center to edge, from heart to all. In reverse, this becomes a symbol of hospitality, of seeing anyone who comes into my space, literally or figuratively, as approaching my spiritual/emotional heart/hearth, as I may then welcome them warmly into my space, from all directions as they may come, to extend to them the hospitality and warmth of my soul and being.
Another literal and figurative heart center is the well or spring, welling up from the heart of the land, and flowing across it, blessing the land and all its beings with life. In this way I might view the center of the cross as a still pool, and my actions as ripples which circle out from that heart to touch all beings, from center to the edge, and so be mindful to make my actions and words those which might bless all beings and support life and wholeness, which is healing in itself.
I keep these meditations in mind when I wear the Brighid’s cross, and have taken to wearing it more regularly, almost daily, because I love the idea of carrying that welcoming flame and healing well with me, and becoming an extension of them myself, and in turn, an extension of Her spirit, bringing Her blessings into the world, which is what I feel is the spiritual meaning of Brighidine flametending.
The tale, The Coming of Angus and Brìde, may be heard here, told by David Campbell, where you may also click on and read a transcript, if you prefer: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandsstories/brideandangus/index.asp
Listen to, and try to use the given lyrics and pronunciation key to sing along with, a traditional song for Brìde, Gabhaim Molta Brìghde: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP5FS6IXJJA
During Imbolc Eve, weave a traditional Irish Brigid’s Cross to protect your home for the coming year, and leave it out overnight so Brìde may leave Her blessings upon it. The cross’s motif is an ancient European sun symbol, fitting for the return of light and life to the land. Follow this link for a cross-weaving video demonstration: http://ireland-calling.com/brigids-cross/
Reeds, dried straw or grains soaked to make them pliable, twisted paper rope, straws, or pipe-cleaners may be used, whatever is handiest! Fresh sprouting reeds were traditionally harvested and woven as emblems of spring’s renewal, as some of the earliest-returning plant growth of Brìde’s green mantle of the land.
In some places it is traditional to burn the crosses from the previous year to help pass away the old cycle, while in some places it is traditional to collect the old crosses together on a wall in the home. If you have a cross and don’t care to fashion a new one, leave it out to be re-blessed, and re-hang it in your home on Imbolc morn.
After the sun has set, leave outside if you can, where the morning sun might shine upon them, or inside on or near your hearth, a ribbon or cloth for Brìde to bless to use for healing, a milk and grain offering for Her, a lit candle that She may find Her way to your hearth or porch, and a bowl of water She might bless, to save for healing and blessing throughout the year, in addition to your Brigid’s cross, if you have one. You might then recite this adaptation of a poem by Fiona MacLeod, re-written to Brìde ~
The Mystic’s Prayer
Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame,
O Goddess of the Nurturing Fire!
Wash pure my heart, and cleanse for me
My soul’s desire.
In flame of sunrise bathe my mind,
O Goddess of the Healing Fire,
That, when I wake, clear-eyed may be
My soul’s desire.
On Imbolc Morn, stand facing the sun, perhaps near the offerings and items you’d left out the night before, and offer a prayer of welcome and thanks to Brìde upon Her return:
“Great Lady Brìde, greetings to you as you emerge from the Underworld and return to us and our lands! Thank you for your blessings of returning life, stronger light, hope and renewal. You fingers are the shining rays of springtime sun, Your mantle is the new green growth upon the land, Your Waters of Life are the soft spring rains running in the rivers. May your return and renewal be seen upon the land and felt within our souls. As you pour out the flowing waters of life, and melt winter’s ice with your light and warmth, may we as your devotees pour out the balm of renewal, and shine the light of regeneration where they are needed in our lives, in our homes, and in our world. Help us to see how we may best serve Life, as You do Yourself. Welcome home, Lady Brìde!”
Return inside now to your Imbolc Advent altar, with a small bowl of the blessed water. Light the four candles at the points of your altar’s Brìde Cross and recite the Four Fires of Brìde Prayer in its entirety as you light each of the flames ~
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!
Oscail mo chroí is Irish for, ‘open my heart.’ In this space of heart opening, breathe in the blessings of Brìde, and breathe out gratitude to Her for the many gifts She has given during this Imbolc Advent season.
Light your final, fifth central candle on your Advent altar, and recite this slightly adapted Birth Blessing prayer, as our souls are reborn into, and with, the cycle of growth; use the blessed water to anoint yourself through each portion of the prayer ~
THE INVOCATION OF THE GRACES
“Brìde, Lady of Graces, place the pure choice graces upon us ~
Grace ever upwards over us, grace ever downwards below us, grace of graces within and without.
“The grace of form,
The grace of voice,
The grace of fortune,
The grace of goodness,
The grace of wisdom,
The grace of charity,
The grace of vitality,
The grace of whole-souled loveliness,
The grace of goodly speech.
“Grace of the love of the skies be ours,
Grace of the love of the stars be ours,
Grace of the love of the moon be ours,
Grace of the love of the sun be ours,
Grace of the love of the rains be ours,
Grace of the love of the land be ours,
Grace of the love of the generous summer be ours.”
~ adapted from a collection of Invocation of the Graces prayers in the Carmina Gadelica, Vol III, by Alexander Carmichael
Take a moment to reflect on all the gifts your spirit has received from Brìde over this Imbolc Advent season, all the gifts your body will receive over the coming season of growth, and how, as Brìde makes spring evident upon the land, we might each make Her inner spiritual gifts evident in the world around us, bring them forth from the underworld of our hidden heart, and so bring Her renewal and rejuvenation through ourselves to all beings, supporting all life, as will Her shining sun in the sky, and green mantle growing upon the earth.
Then you may like to recite this Saining prayer, that Brìde may bless your home and family in this season of growth as She awakens and returns from the Underworld of winter’s dreaming. You could either carry this central flame around your house, or sprinkle round the water blessed by Brìde’s rising spring sun ~
“May Brìde give blessing
To the house that is here
From crest and frame,
Both stone and beam;
“Both clay and wattle;
Both roof and foundation;
Both window and timber;
Both foot and head;
“Both man and woman;
Both wife and children;
Both young and old;
Both maiden and youth
“Plenty of food,
Plenty of drink,
Plenty of beds,
Plenty of ale,
Be always here.
“Much of riches, much of mirth, many of people, much of long life be ever here.
“May Brìde the fair and tender be its help, Her hue like the cotton-grass; Rich-tressed Lady of ringlets of gold, be nigh on the hearth, giving Your blessing, and fulfillment of each promise on those within; on those within.”
~ adapted from the prayer, Blessing of the House, in Carmina Gadelica, Vol III, by Alexander Carmichael
Hang your cross above your door or hearth to bring Her blessings to your home and family throughout the year, and carry the spirit of Her cross within your heart.
Bright Blessings of Brìde to you!