Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brigid's Day

For most Americans February 2 is Groundhog's Day, but for Pagans this is Brigid's Day (also known as Imbolc and Candlemas), the holiday or sabbat that honors the Celtic goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. So beloved was Brigid that the early Celtic Pagans refused to abandon her when Christianity became widespread in Ireland and the British Isles––the Church responded by naming her a saint.

This fiery goddess is often depicted with flaming red hair, tending a bubbling cauldron over a blazing fire. This image symbolizes inspiration and creativity, which are Brigid's gifts to humanity. Imbolc means "in the belly" and the cauldron, representing the womb where creativity is nurtured, is one of her tools.

Pagan sabbats follow solar cycles and Imbolc is the first one celebrated after the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year). Some Pagans mark Brigid’s Day around February 5, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Aquarius. Daylight is increasing now in the northern hemisphere, winter is on the wane, and spring's renewal is promised. Thus, Imbolc is a reaffirmation of life and a time for planting "seeds" that you want to ripen as the year matures.

Celebrating Brigid's Day

Fire is the central feature at Imbolc and a ritual celebration often includes lighting a sacred fire. In Celtic Pagan tradition, this fire burns the wood of seven of the trees considered to be sacred––ash, oak, holly, yew, alder, hawthorn, elder, rowan, and pine. If you are celebrating the holiday with other people, give each person a candle. Form a circle around the fire (or a large pillar candle set on an altar if building a fire isn't practical). Also place a cauldron filled with sand or earth on the altar.

Each person in turn lights his/her candle from the central flame. When all are lit, one person begins by stating a "seed" wish for the coming year. Go around the circle, letting everyone affirm for what s/he wants the year to bring. As smoke from the candle flames rises toward the heavens, it carries these requests to Brigid. Songs or prayers of thanks may also be offered at this time. You may wish to read poems written by the members of the group. When you are ready to open the circle, place the candles upright in the cauldron and allow them to burn down completely.

Because Brigid is the goddess of inspiration and creativity, you honor her by firing your imagination. I always spend her day engaged in some form of artistic activity, usually writing or painting. Some friends of mine bake, some play music, others fashion wreaths of greenery and pinecones. If you possess smithing skills or healing powers, this is the perfect opportunity to use them. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, Brigid's Day is a time to give your imagination free rein, to share your ideas and vision with others, and to lay plans that you want to materialize during the year.

(from my book Magickal Astrology, published by New Page Books/Career Press)

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