The Feast Day of Bride
Bride put her finger in the river
On the Feast Day of Bride
And away went the hatching mother of the cold. -Carmina Gadelica
It was said: “from Brighid’s feastday onwards the day gets longer and the night shorter.” Although this refers to the time of the winter Solstice, the felt truth was that the goddess brought back the growing light. On the eve of Là Fhéill Bhrìghde (St.Brigid’s Day), the Old Woman of Winter, the Cailleach, journeys to the magical isle in whose woods lies the miraculous Well of Youth. At the first glimmer of dawn, she drinks the water that bubbles in a crevice of a rock, and is transformed into Bride, the fair maid whose white wand turns the bare earth green again. Another version of the story of Spring tells how Bride is a young girl kept prisoner by the Cailleach all winter long in the snowy recesses of Ben Nevis. She is rescued by the Cailleach’s son who elopes with her despite his mother’s attempts to keep them apart with fierce storms.
Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands (Praipic wands) for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid’s Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.
Snow Drops on Candlmas
In the county of Shropshire, the snowdrop, first flower of spring, took the place of candles, being named, “Candlemas bells,” “Purification flowers” or with a faint remembrance of Brigid, perhaps “Fair Maid of February.”
In some areas, this is the first day of plowing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the “water of life” is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.
In Ireland, the “breedhoge” was carried around from house to house by the young folk of the village. In it they collected food and money “in honor of Miss Biddy.” The breedhoge was a butter churn decorated with hay and straw and done up to represent a human figure.
A bal of hay, as the head, was covered with a white muslin cap and the figure was in a woman’s dress, with a shawl.
Imbolc was usually celebrated by lighting sacred fires bonfires and candles because Brghid was the Goddess of Fire, the Fire of Healing and Birth.
Today Imbolc is usually a time for predicting the weather patterns for the coming seasons. Of course we watch for the groundhog’s shadow. One nice custom that is widely practiced today is to place a lighted candle in each window on the eve of Imbolc, allowing them to burn until the sun rises. Another custom is to weave a Brigid’s Cross from straw. The cross then hangs until the next Imbolc as a portent of fertility of the mind, and spirit. Lastly a custom deriving from Oimelc, (which literally translates as ewe’s milk), because now too is the time lambing season begins, is the drinking of “lambswool”. Lambswool is a hot drink make with crab apples and spices.
Making a “Caim”
To protect themselves in Brighid’s name, the traditional Irish would recite a “caim,” the Matthewses write; “caim” means “loop” or “bend,” thus a protective circle. A caim would always name Brighid and the beings, household or body-parts to be protected. Traditionally, you place a caim by stretching out your right forefinger and keeping that finger pointed toward the subject while walking about the subject deosil, reciting the caim. You can also say a caim for yourself. A caim can be made in all seasons and circumstances; it traditionally encircles people, houses, animals or the household fire. The Matthewses write: “As her family prepared to sleep, the Gaelic mother would breathe these words (the caim) over the fire as she banked it in for the night…. As she said this, she would spread the embers into a circle, and divide it into three equal heaps with a central heap. To make the holy name of the foster mother (Brighid), she placed three tur fs of peat between the three heaps, each one touching the center, and covered it all with ash. Such smooring customs and invocations are still performed in the West of Ireland. And so the protection of Brighid is wrapped about the house and its occupants.”
Brighid is also a seer; the Matthewses describe her as “the central figure of the Celtic vision world.” She presided over a special type of augury, called a “frith,” performed on the first Monday in a year’s quarter to predict what that quarter would bring. The ancient Celts divided the year by Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasad, and Samhain, so the first Monday after Imbolc is appropriate for frithing.
To perform a frith, a traditional frithir would first fast. Then, at sunrise, barefoot and bareheaded, the frithir would say prayers to the Virgin Mary and St. Bridget and walk deosil around the household fire three times. Then with closed or blindfolded eyes, the frithir went to the house door’s threshold, placed a hand on either jamb and said additional prayers asking that the specific question about the coming quarter be answered. Then the frithir opened his or her eyes and looked steadfastly ahead, noting everything seen.
Frithing signs can be “rathadach” (lucky) or “rosadach” (unlucky). A man or beast getting up means improving health, lying down ill health or death. A cock coming toward the frithir brings luck, a duck safety for sailors, a raven death. About the significance of horses, a rhyme survives: “A white horse for land, a gray horse for sea, a bay horse for burial, a brown horse for sorrow.” The role of frithir passed down from generation to generation; according to the Matthewses, the name survives in the surname Freer, “held to be the title of the astrologers of the kings of Scotland.”
To perform a pagan version of frithing, fast the Sunday night before the first Monday after Imbolc and that night formulate your chief question about the coming three months. Monday morning at sunrise, say a prayer to Brighid and barefoot and bareheaded walk deosil around whatever seems the central fire of your house – maybe your kitchen stove, or if you’re not a cook your fireplace or heater. Then go to your doorway, put your hands to either side, and closing your eyes pray your question be answered. Then open your eyes, and note the first action you see. That action probably won’t be found in the traditional frithir’s lexicon, so the interpretation is up to you.
In another frithing technique, you curl the palms to form a “seeing-tube”; frithirs used such a tube to discover lost people or animals and to divine the health of someone absent. Frithirs also sometimes used divinatory stones; the Matthewses describe a “little stone of the quests” made of red quartz.
In Britain, Candlemas was celebrated with a festival of lights. In the dark and gloomy days of February, the shadowy recesses of medieval churches twinkled brightly as each member of the congregation carried a lighted candle in procession around the church, to be blessed by the priest. Afterwards, the candles were brought home to be used to keep away storms, demons and other evils. This custom lasted in England until it was banned in the Reformation for promoting the veneration of magical objects. Even so, the symbol of the lighted candles had too strong a hold on the popular imagination to be entirely cast aside. Traces of the festival lingered until quite recently in other areas of the British Isles like little lights that refused to be blown out
This is a special type of procession, similar to caroling, that members of your grove can do on the eve of Imbolc (or one of the preceding nights if necessary). Arrangements should be made ahead of time so that people can sign up for a visit and know what to expect. They should also be advised that it is best to do the spring cleaning before the Brídeog visits. Assemble a company of participants, called “Biddy’s” or Brídeogs and prepare you’re the songs for the event. Then take the Brídeogs from house to house to offer blessings and entertainment to the families who live there. Dressing in unusual clothes and wearing funny hats will add to the fun of the event and is quite traditional. A young lady, traditionally the prettiest of the crowd, should be selected to carry the Brigit doll with them. When you arrive ask for admittance to the house (it is considered very bad luck to be uncivil to a Brídeog) and everyone should file in. Entertain the household with a couple of songs (traditionally song, rhymes and music on flute, violin, and later, accordion) and recite a prepared Brigit blessing for them. If the household does not already have one they should be presented with a Brigit’s cross for protection and blessing through the year. Before going the family should present the Brídeogs with an item of food, especially one associated with dairy to be used at the community feast (or as an alternative you can collect non-perishable food items for a homeless shelter).
Blessing of the Brat Bríde
During the day before Imbolc the woman of the house or women of the grove should take a small piece of cloth (larger if it is for the entire grove) and lay it on a bush outside. During the night, as the goddess roams to bless the houses of her followers, she will pass by, touching and blessing the cloth. Collect the cloth in the morning and tear it into small pieces. These pieces of cloth, individually called a Brat Bríde (BRAHT BREEJ), should be distributed among the children and females of the household. The Brat Bríde will give them protection throughout the year where ever they go. These pieces of cloth may be sewn into the clothes or jackets of the children to insure that it won’t be lost.
Blessing the Bratach Bríde
The Bratach Bríde (BRAH-TOCK BREEJ) is a large piece of cloth, such as a shawl that Brigit will bless in the same fashion as the Brat Bríde. Instead of being torn into pieces on the next day this cloth should be kept as a sacred relic and charged repeatedly year after year. The Bratach Bríde can become quite powerful over time and can be used to help insure safe childbirth and to cure sterility by placing it over the patient and asking for Brigit’s help. It was once fairly standard equipment for country midwives in Ireland. In addition to being used for human mothers during childbirth it was also spread across the back of a birthing cow to ensure the health of the calf and an abundant supply of milk.
Other resources include but are not limited to:
Carmichael, Alexander. Carmina Gadelica. Edinburgh: Floris Press, 1992.
Ó Catháin, Séamas. The Festival of Brigit. Dublin: DBA Publications, 1995
Farrar, Janet and Stewart. The Witches Bible
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca, A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner
Walker, Barbara, Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Harper and Row 1983
Akasha Ap Emrys, The Celtic Connection http://www.wicca.com
Merideth, Leda. Imbolc: Arriving at the Beginning
Brighid’s Fires Burn High by Miriam Harline
Some listed items taken from various mailing lists and the author’s are not known. If you have information on who may have written anything thath is titled “author unknown” please contact me so that I may give proper credit. Thank you!