Being as I am a person who loves all things Celtic, the holiday of Imbolc is very special to me. Because of this, I have decided to write about some of the meanings and traditions of the holiday and perhaps dispel some misconceptions that may linger on in the larger Pagan community concerning Imbolc.
As I explained in the previous article, Imbolc (taking place Feb. 1st or at the first signs of spring) is one of the four great Celtic High Days of the year. In Old Irish the name Imbolc (pronounced imb-olc or im-molc) means “in the belly” referring to the pregnancy of ewes. The holiday is also known as Oimelc, which refers to ewe’s milk. The flow of milk and the impending birth of new farm animals was an early sign of returning Spring.
In Celtic countries the goddess who heralded in this season is none other than Bríde, the triple goddess of healing, poetry, and smith craft. There are many variations of her name. In Ireland, in addition to being known as Bríde (pronounced breej-uh in Modern Irish), she is also known as Brigid, Brighid, and Bríd. In Scotland she is known as Bhríghde and Bride.
Not long ago I came across the sentiment that Imbolc could or should be a celebration of all Indo-European hearth goddesses. My feeling on this is that Imbolc isn’t just about the hearth and Bríde is not just a hearth goddess.
I have also often encountered the mistaken idea that Bríde is a moon goddess. This is incorrect. A lot of people, when they see a triple goddess, try to fit her in with the modern concept of “maiden, mother, crone”- which comes from the writings of Robert Graves and has absolutely no basis in historical goddess worship. If she is to be associated with a heavenly body, it would be the sun rather than the moon. For even after Bríde the goddess was overshadowed by Bríde the saint, she continued to be associated with fire, and the sun…
“Brigit, excellent woman,
Flame golden, sparkling,
May she bear us to the eternal kingdom,
She the sun, fiery, radiant!”
-7th century hymn to Saint Brigit
Some say her name means “high” or “exalted one”. I have also heard said that her name means “fiery arrow”. She is strongly associated with fire, and with all magical arts. She is also associated with holy wells. Bríde is the patroness of weaving, dying, and brewing. She is the guardian of farm animals, and is especially associated with cows. She is an ancestor deity and a mother goddess.
To learn more about Bríde, I highly recommend Kindling the Celtic Spirit by Mara Freeman.
More Bríde lore, traditions, etc. to come…