Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day

For my regular friends (do I even have any of those?), Happy Groundhog
Day! For my Pagan friends, Happy Imbolc! If you're just a crusty old
Celtic traditionalist type like me, then happy Lá Fhéile Bríghde!
(Brighid's Feast Day). Since Brighid is the patroness of writers,
naturally I'll be celebrating her day with much feasting and
libations and getting some writing done.

Mandatory Archeological tid-bit: The ancestors took Imbolc pretty
seriously: at the Loughcrew burial mounds and the Mound of the
Hostages in Tara, the inner chamber of the passage tombs are perfectly
aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain. The rising
Imbolc sun shines down the long passageway and illuminates the inner
chamber of the tomb. You know my gal Brighid was a lady to be reckoned
with when they designed burial chambers to light up especially on her

On this day, Brighid's serpent would come out of hibernation and have
a look around, and his behavior told the druids if there will be six
more weeks of winter or not. The druids had Brighid's snake, we have
Punxatawney Phil. Nothing ever changes. Speaking of druids, Brighid
is also the patroness of druids, so if any of you out there have any
Druid tendencies (which would surprise me, since none of you look
Druish....), then lift a beer to Brighid. She's the patroness of beer
and beer-brewers, so she always appreciates a cold frosty one.
Back in the day she was known as a brewer of her own beer, which was
said to be of unsurpassed deliciousness. A goddess who brews her own
beer – how can you not like her?

Brighid is a goddess, not a "Saint", though it's no surprise to find
that Saint Patrick subverted yet another local deity and turned her
into "Saint Bridget." Apparently those damned Irish heathens just
wouldn't stop worshipping her like they did most of the other gods
(at least, publicly), so it was one of those wink-and-a-nod deals.
Patrick was nothing if not practical.

It is said that when Brighid was born at sunrise, a tower of flame
roared from the top of her head to the heavens. For this reason she is
know by the honorific "Breo Saighead", "The Fiery Arrow of Power."
Obviously not someone to fsck with.

Brighid watches over a lot of stuff: poets and writers; personal
excellence; livestock (so also 4-legged family members); sacred
flames; hearth and home; metalworkers and smiths; beer-brewing; and
wells. Her feast days is the first day of Spring as the Celts measured
it, the time when the ewes start lactating, and in the epic Tain Bo
Cuailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley") Emer explains to the endearing
homicidal-maniac hero Cú Chulain that "Oimell, the beginning of the time when the sheep come out and are milked", and the
name Oimelc is used, because "ói-melg, 'ewe-milk', that is the time
the sheep's milk comes".

Brighid is VERY old, definitely pre-Celtic, very widespread. She turns
up everywhere you look: Brighid, Brighde, Brigit, Brigantia,
Brigindoni, Bride, Britannia, Bridey, Bridget. She even appears as the
Caribbean voudoun goddess "Maman Brighite," and some scholars see a
reference to her in the ancient Indian Sanskrit word 'Brihatî,'
meaning 'the exalted'. A world traveller is our gal Bridge.

When Brighid became "Saint Bridget," the former virgin priestesses
became "nuns" and just kept on doing what they always did. They kept
Brighid's eternal flame burning without interruption for many hundreds
of years, until the order was finally (seemingly) suppressed by that
wife-murdering British imperialist swine Henry VIII. The worship of
Brighid/Bridget (seemingly) disappeared, for hundreds of years. And
then, not too many years ago, several amazing things happened. First,
she was "de-canonized" by the Vatican; they basically fessed up and
said "she's not one of ours, you can have her back." And a sweet
collection of Catholic nuns from the mysterious Order of Bridget and
some pagan ladies started working together to renew the sacred flame. The final
triumph: the Kildaire town council recently made the nice ladies' job
easier by building an eternal flame monument in the Kildaire town
square mounted atop an acorns-and-oak-leaves motif, officially
recognizing Brighid for what she was and welcoming her home with
honor. I imagine it was a "two-hankie" moment for all the faithful in
attendance. For that matter, I wouldn't doubt that some of the city
functionaries probably got a bit "dewy" at seeing the old girl come

What's to do for fun on this stay-indoors Imbolc day, you ask? Why not
drive yourself insane with the evil, evil game of Fidchell
(which it's easy to believe was invented by a god, since no human can
figure out the fscking thing):
or online at

How to celebrate Imbolc Olde Schoole Style?
• On the day before the festival (i.e. January 31) clean and tidy
your house, ready for Brighid's visit.
• Decorate the place with flowers that are appropriate for the time
of year - such as tulips, primroses, snowdrops, daisies or dandelions (but
remember, folks, don't pick wild flowers). Light candles in the
evening, or have a fire if you have a fireplace.
• Celebrate the feast of Brighid on the eve of the festival with a
meal of your choice. Dairy-based food are especially appropriate, in
particular mashed potato and onions served with a well of melted
butter in the middle. Lamb, bacon, apple cake, colcannon and dumplings
are also appropriate. Beer can be drunk since Brighid was renowned
for brewing it herself.
Since Brighid was said to attend the meal as well, it was customary to
invite her in before everyone sits down to eat.
Hang up Brighid "crosses" (actually ancient sun symbols) at all
thresholds to bring good health to the family for the rest of the
winter season.
• Offerings such as cake or bread and butter should be left out (on
the window sill) to indicate that Bride is welcome to visit.
- If you have a fire, keep the ashes from the fireplace and scatter
them in your garden; you will have bumper crops all the year long.

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