Heritage of Brighid

by Lark

"This is the Day of Bride. The serpent shall come from the hole. This is the Day of Bride. The Queen shall come from the mound. I will bless the noble Queen, and she shall bless me."

This is the Eve of Imbolc, when lambs are born and ewes give milk again. This is the Eve of Brigid the Saint. The Celts name her Mary of the Gael, the Foster Mother of Christ, Brigid of the Mantle, Mary's Midwife. She is the innkeeper's daughter who kept the byre in Bethlehem. Shamed by her father's failure of hospitality, Brigid offered lodging with her cows to Mary, and when Mary's babe was born, it was Brigid who brought him first to light and Brigid who wrapped him in her own sky-blue mantle rather than tie him in swaddling bands.

Christians celebrate the Morrow of Imbolc as Candlemas, when Mary is purified after giving birth and her midwife is honored. But Brighid the Goddess is older than Brigid the Saint. The Matrones, the Celtic Triple Mothers, held a three-day feast of women at Imbolc to bless the newborn and to foster the spirits of their children with gifts of poetry, art, and healing. In Scotland, women and girls dress the last sheaf from the harvest as a bride, lay her in a cradle, and carry her through every house. Everyone gives gifts to the Bride. Mothers give new-baked bread. Fathers give whisky or beer. Daughters and sons give charms and pretty stones and lace. When Bride's gifts are gathered, the women and girls take them to one house and lock the doors and windows. The men and boys try to charm or tease or threaten their way inside. When the women feel the men have become sufficiently respectful, they let them enter, and everyone feasts.

This is the Ridge of Winter and the Eve of Spring. On this night, Brighid the Cailleach, the ancient Hag, bathes in her sacred well and becomes Brighid the Caillín, the Maiden. On this night, winter begins to turn to spring, the year is made new, and creative fire kindles in all hearts.

On the Day of Bride, Brighid Sulis, Goddess of the opening eye of the young sun, wakes Swallowhead Spring at Silbury Hill to flow again. Oya, the Santeria Mother of Waters, holds a Candelaria festival beside the sea. At this season, Isis opened the Mediterranean for navigation. In the port cities, her people dressed images of the Goddess, set them in the new ships, and carried them down to the sea. Their processions survive in Mardi Gras parades and in the floats called Triumphs that became the Greater Trumps of the Tarot deck.

In Rome, midwives were honored and prophecies given at the feast of the Goddess Carmenta at the full moon of January. Family reunions were held, ghosts were appeased, and the ancestor spirits were honored. In Bulgaria, grandmothers are honored at this season, and in Hungary, women purify themselves in candle flame and wish one another joy in the coming year.

This was the season of the Paganalia in Rome, two days of celebration held in gardens to wake Gaia from her winter sleep. It was the season of the first sowing as well, in honor of Ceres, Goddess of the grain. Masks and puppets were hung on trees in every garden and field to invoke the Corn Mother.

At the new moon of February, the Flowering Month began in Greece. New wine was tasted, ghosts were honored and propitiated, and Dionysus, God of the vines, married his High Priest's wife, who represented the sovereignty of the land. Those who aspired to initiation into the Mysteries of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis in the autumn began a season of rituals and sacrifices in preparation. At the full moon, the Romans celebrated the Lupercalia for Diana Lupa the She-Wolf and Juno Februata the Fructifier. Boys roamed the streets with birch rods and switched any woman they met. Birching is a purification and a fertility spell.

Faunus and Pan and Herne and Cernunnos, Gods of the wild things, were honored at this season. In the Pyrenées, the Carnival Bear ran wild until he was caught and shaved and danced with by a barber wearing a woman's dress. In Germany, the badger came from his earth to predict the coming of spring.

Goddesses of Fate and Justice were worshipped at this season: the Disir and the Nornir in the North, Tyche in Greece, Fortuna in Rome. At the festival of Pax and Irene, priestesses of Juno and Diana read out in the Forum the names of those accounted the enemies of peace and of women. The dark Winter Nights of Freyja, the Earth Mother, and the Disir, who name the fates of newborn infants, end with a celebration of the reborn sun in Norway.

Apollo, God of the sun, was celebrated in Greece and Rome with praise as his power grew with the lengthening days. The Dakinis, Hindu sky Goddesses, were worshipped in India as the sun began to strengthen. In China, today marks the birth of Yu Wang, the God of heaven. The first new moon after the sun enters Aquarius begins the Chinese New Year, with processions of lights and lanterns to honor Kwan Yin, the Great Lady of mercy.

The Celts built sun fires to Lugh of the Long Hand master of all crafts and skills, whose spear is a ray of the sun. He is the falcon and the eagle, the magical child conceived by the giant's daughter in her tower of glass. He is the foster child of Manannan, God of the sea, and the heir of Nuada, King of the Tuatha De Danann, the Faery Folk of Ireland. He masters every craft and weapon and instrument to which he sets his hand. He is Luke Skywalker and the Archangel Michael and Jack the Giant-Killer. He is the spark of inspiration you must nurture in your heart and head and hands if you wish to grow in skill and craft.

On Bride's Day, the sun dances, the adder wakes, the dandelion sprouts, and the lark begins to nest. Bride is the Grey Hound, the Mountain Woman, the Lady of the Faery Host, the Fair Woman of February, and Brighid Seek-Beyond.

This is the day of Bride the Maiden of Grace, who inspires poets, writers, and musicians. She is the lady of all who set their visions to words or to music. This is the day of Brighid the Mother of Peace, master and teacher of all crafts. She is the lady of all who create beauty by the skill of their hands. This is the day of Breed the Crone of Comfort, midwife and healer of bodies and souls. She is the lady of all who heal the ills of body or spirit or heart or mind.

This is the day of Bride. The serpent shall come from the hole. This is the day of Bride. The Queen has come from the mound.

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