Spring is always a time of healing. As the winter thaws and releases her grip, the blanket is pulled back to reveal the budding signs of life beneath, the air is filled with a lightness that can only come with longer days of sunshine.
Rodrigo and I celebrate this time by taking our annual trip in the campervan to San Ignacio Lagoon to see the gray whales. A migration of sorts, similar to that taken by the whales themselves, who have left their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic Circle for the warmer waters of the Southern winter breeding grounds, in Baja California. A crucial time of birth and new life, for the whales.
Spring flowers of Baja while on route to San Ignacio Lagoon
In Ireland, this time is represented by a pre Christian goddess by the name of Brigid, who is associated with the spring season, healing, druidic knowledge, smith work, fertility and poetic eloquence.
According to Cormac’s Glossary, an early Irish glossary containing etymologies and explanations of over a thousand Irish words, Brigid was the “goddess whom poets adored”. In the same glossary, it suggests three Brigids, a triple deity, or Brigid had two sisters; one being Brigid, a woman of leech craft (art of healing), the other is Brigid the woman of smith work.
It’s difficult to continue without referring to the saint who shares the same name as the important Celtic goddess Brigid and that is St Brigid of Kildare, c. 425 – 521. St Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints, along with Patrick and Columba.
St Brigid, or Naomh Brid in Irish, was, according to tradition, born in county Louth and died in County Kildare.
Her feast day, 1st February, is celebrated as St Brigids Day in the Roman Catholic Church, marking the beginning of spring.
This coincides with the pagan festival called Imbolc, a Celtic fire festival marking the beginning of Spring and dedicated to the ancient Celtic goddess Brigid, also on the 1st February.
Traditionally, crosses are made from the rushes that grow in the fields, and is said to bring protection to the house that it hangs within.
The cross shape is more like 4 legs that come out at the sides, and can represent different things, whether it be the Father, Son, Holy, Spirit, the four seasons or the four elements, Fire, Water, Earth and Air.
Made by Lynne, Lorna’s Mother, who decided on an alternative take, making the cross from willow instead of traditional rushes.
The Four Fires of Ireland
Imbolc is one of the four “fire” festivals (referred to in Irish mythology as quarter days). The other three festivals on this old calendar are Beltane (Summer, associated with new growth and prosperity, celebrated on 1st May), Lughnasadh (Autumn, associated with the harvest season, begins early August) and Samhain (or Halloween, traditionally took place around the beginning of November, marking the beginning of the Winter season in Celtic Ireland).
St. Bridget in modern Catholicism
Some scholars suggest that the saint is a Christianization of the goddess.
Others suggest she was a real person who took on the goddess’s attributes.
According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian “monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart, “St Brigid of Kildare”.
However it is viewed, the festival of Imbolc and its connection to the beginning of spring is an important time in Ireland, as the animals shed their winter coats, the days lengthen and the land re-awaken to new life, new birth.
In Ireland, the tradition carried out on Imbolc Eve, the night before the Imbolc celebration, 31st January, is my favourite. Brigid is said to walk the land on Imbolc Eve. As Brigid was a healer, every member of the household leaves a piece of clothing, or even some cloth, outside for Brigid to bless. Mostly, people leave out a scarf and they usually hang them on bushes or a tree in the garden.
Then, the next day, the pieces of clothing are brought inside and are now believed to have powers of healing and protection, blessed by Brigid, for the year ahead.
Lorna combines the Irish tradition of placing scarves on bushes with the more local plants…. Cardon cactus hang onto the scarves very well!
As was the case in many ancient cultures around the world, female deities ruled supreme, such as female goddesses in pre-Hispanic mythology.
Tonantzin, Coatlicue and Omecíhuatl, amongst others, were some of these female deities in charge of fertility, creation, life and death.
These divine characters evolved into more Catholic deities like Virgin de Guadalupe, in a constantly evolving syncretism still going to this day.
These two deities, both in Ireland and Mexico, evolved in similar ways allowing pagan deities from the past to be adopted by the modern Catholic culture.
This time of year can speak to us all, in so many different ways. For me, it speaks of spring, hope and new beginnings; the things, I think, we need the most right now.
Whatever your belief, I hope you will light a candle and take a moment to reflect, however little, on the positive moments of the past year.
And maybe even put the odd scarf or cloth out on the bushes tonight, ready to be blessed with healing powers for the year ahead!
Blessings, Love and Light to you all x