As the days grow longer, hibernating nature begins to stir. Indoors, long green stalks grow from narcissus bulbs and unfold into delicate white stars bursting with heady perfume. In the gray world outside, sparrows flit from bird feeder to hedge where a red cardinal, nature’s valentine, hunkers. Soon the ground hog will emerge and give its verdict on the duration of winter, the new moon will usher in the Chinese Year of the Monkey, and sap will begin to flow in the trees as day time temperatures rise.
In the ancient Celtic calendar, February 1st was known as Imbolc (IM bulk), in the belly. The first day of spring, it marks the first stirrings of new life beginning to rise from the belly of mother earth. February 2nd, our Ground Hog’s Day, is sacred to Brigit, the much beloved goddess and Christian saint who brings hope, healing, and creativity to a land pinched by ice and snow. Imbolc is not the end of winter weather, however. That season too has its goddess, the wild, shape-shifting Cailleach (KY uk) or crone goddess.
This the ancient mother of the hills, wildlife, and winter storms, continues to stir up tempests and scour the world clean, even as Brigit brings hope that new life is quickening. A Scottish myth tells us that these two goddesses engage in battle, until the power of the winter goddess weakens and she crawls back into her cave while the riot of new growth overtakes the earth.
Brigit is worshiped at wells and springs in Ireland, where the life force of the goddess bubbles up from the earth. People go to the wells to pray and make visible their prayers by tying bits of colored cloth to overhanging tree branches. Because we feel the heavy footsteps of the Cailleach press upon our hearts, we need Brigit’s healing waters.
The Cailleach is a powerful goddess who brings change whether we will or not. She can rip away what we hold most dear. As we age, we might feel the power of the Crone goddess within us as a call to shape shift, to let go of possessions, to purify, to clarify. For what does our soul hunger? What does it mean to look for signs of spring in a body that is caught in autumn’s trajectory of ripening into seed?
Perhaps we sense Brigit’s presence in an inner awakening stirring within us. Brigit emerges from a doorway within our soul, beckons us to climb a stair to a chamber we may not have visited before, a tower room with a vista that looks out upon Paradise. She calls us to new challenges, new levels of understanding.
Brigit’s beatific smile has the power to rip open our heart to a joy beyond all understanding. She spreads her mantle wide and reveals a vision of Tir na nOg, the “Land of Youth,” the Celtic Other World. It is an opposite world, where the land of death beats with a pulsing heart even as the body fades away. To die is to be reborn. In the here and now we are reborn into new lives as crones. Some doors close, but new possibilities open.
What ancient source of knowing within you is sending up green shoots? As Brigit’s gentle touch quickens new desire, what path are you called to follow? Take time to meditate on these things as beneath the mantel of winter snow, you sense the warmth of fire kindle in your belly, sparking new life. In Kildare, Ireland, a perpetual flame burns to Brigit. May her flame also burn bright and steady in your heart.
Making a Bride’s Bed to Welcome Brigit
Village women in Ireland and Scotland traditionally gathered on Brigit’s Eve and made a bed for Brigit or Bride (Breed) as they called her. Here are directions for making your own.
Lay a corn dolly or three bound ears of Indian corn in a basket lined in soft material. Cover the goddess image with a cloth. Decorate the basket with dried flowers, sparkly jewelry, or special objects. Find an acorn and push it onto the top of a stick that is around 8 to 12 inches long. Leave the goddess to slumber.
On the morning of February 2nd, tap the corn Brigit three times with the acorn tipped wand and say: “Brigit, thy bed is made. Come in and welcome.” Remove her covering and say, “Bless this home, and all who enter here. May I honor the light of Brigit within myself and all those I meet today.” Light a candle to Brigit, keep it burning near you during the day to remind you of the loving presence of the goddess.