We are approaching the beginning of February, which means about forty days after Yule. The mother of the Celtic Sun god, born again on the 21st of December, the Solstice, has experienced her customary forty days of purification after childbirth and is now entering her cyclical change into maidenhood.
The month in which this purification occurs is named after Februa, the virgin mother of the god Mars. She was also a combination of Juno and Februa called Juno Februa, the ‘fever of love’ and was the patroness of the passion of love, maidens and women, being known to the Northmen as the goddess Sjofn (Sophia).
We all know something about the rites of this goddess as they occur on the 14th and the Roman Church as usual supplanted the centuries old anniversary of the year’s progress with a bland invented story about St. Valentine. Another sacred cycle turned into a profit making machine for commercial interests.
And let me add that it was quite a culture shock when my first American Valentine’s Day arrived and I found that Americans sign their cards. All my life in England the Day was the day when secret admirers sent their target unsigned cards. It was supposed to be a mystery where the card came from.
The beginning of the festival of Februa is nowadays called Imbolc by pagans, pronounced IMM-bulk, and was sometimes called Oimealg, pronounced IMM-molg by the Druids. The Irish language is a labyrinth of silent letters in words that can occur anywhere in the word without any apparent reason, to this frustrated linguist that is. In both cases it was to do with the meaning “It’s in the bag.” But in this case the bag was the udder of the sheep or goat. The name comes from the Gaelic oimelc for “ewe’s milk.”
This time is the very midpoint of winter, a time when the earth is just beginning to show signs of returning to life, a time when those animals that survived the winters of long ago begin to breed again and ensure new flocks and herds. This point between the winter solstice and the beginning of May, was therefore very significant to the Celtic communities in ancient times, and to all pagans living where there are four seasons.
The first flowers begin to emerge from the womb of Mother Earth, the snake of the goddess Brighid comes out of its hole to see if spring is on the way, since “In the bag” also means ‘in the womb,’ New York taxi drivers would say “In the oven.” From this time to the Spring Equinox on the 21st of March is the time of the Maiden who is growing into young womanhood and ready to wed the youthful Sun god when he comes into his power in the festival of the goddess Oestra.
When the Roman Church began to supplant all the pagan festivals of the year they changed the rebirth of the Sun god from Yule to Christmas, and the festival of Februa to Candlemas. This was because to the pagans it was a fire festival, and their goddess, the triple goddess Brighid, (Bridgit, Brigit, Breed, Bride etc.,) was the goddess of poetry, smiths and metalworkers, and healing. What we now call inspiration was what the great Celt Amergin called ‘The fire in the head,’ and that was Brighid.
It was no great revelation to the Celts that divinities could appear in a threefold aspect. St. Patrick knew that when he waved a shamrock at them. They understood perfectly. It was the Roman Christians who couldn’t understand the Trinity because for them it was an invented dogma without scriptural foundation. That's why it's a mystery. The Celtic Christians had no problem. They all knew that women were maidens, mothers and crones, three facets of the same jewel.
So the fire festival of the goddess Brighid became the Candlemas of St. Brighid, and at first the festival of the purification of the Virgin Mary. Just as the festival of Oestara became Easter, and her sacred animals the rabbit and the hare, and the sacred eggs were transformed into the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs. The connection with the cycle of the year was destroyed, which was the intention, and nowadays I have met very few Christians who can explain, or even wonder why eggs and bunnies are part of Easter.
The goddess Brighid’s sacred fire was kept continually burning for milennia by generations of nineteen priestesses who later shape changed with the goddess segue, and became the nineteen nuns who kept the fire in the convent of St. Brighid in Kildare from Cill Dara in the Irish…The Church of the Oak Tree, the sacred tree of the Druids.
The oak is the tree most often hit by lightning and is in many pantheons is therefore the symbol of the fire of inspiration coming from the gods and goddesses. The Celtic words for door…duir and doras in Irish and drws in Welsh are both connected with the magickal oak door beyond which are new abilities and intuitions. Some wizards carried the door with them in the form of an oak staff.
This Cill Dara site was also the site of a very ancient temple in which had burned a perpetual flame, an ashless fire, as it was called. This suggests that it could have been a kind of lamp, using oil, tallow or butter as fuel. In later Christian times, when the nuns kept the fire burning using wood, the ashes were said to miraculously vanish.
The nineteen nuns each tended it for one day and the twentieth day it was left in the capable hands of Brighid. In 1220 A.D., the Archbishop of Dublin, angry that the women wouldn’t allow men into the convent to inspect it, decided that the fire-cult was 'pagan' and ordered the flame to be extinguished.
After his death the nuns rekindled the flame until the Reformation. That was when King Henry VIII closed the monasteries and convents because the Church objected to his marital plans. So the fire was sent by sea to the other country where it was still sacred, Scandinavia, where the triple god Oðin, Ville, Vé had been worshiped for centuries, and still is incidentally.
The fire was tended there for nearly five more centuries, and very early this century it was returned to Kildare, without media fanfare, thus ensuring an unbroken tradition since way before Christianity, apart from the very temporary Archbishop hiatus.
When two of my pagan friends visited the place on their goddess pilgrimage to Ireland they weren’t all that surprised to see the nuns doing a dance to the goddess, disguised now by her shape shifting trick as a Catholic saint. Apparently they were also chanting the millennia old chant,: "Brighid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom."
The nuns knew, even if the priests didn’t. Women understand women better than men do, particularly celibate men with control issues.
As a Goddess of herbalism, midwifery and healing Brighid was in charge of Water as well as Fire. An enormous number of sacred wells and springs are named after or dedicated to Brighid.. There is an ancient story of how two lepers came to one of her sacred springs for healing and had a vision of the goddess. She told one Leper to wash the other. The man who was washed became healed immediately. Then she told the healed one to wash the other, but he was too disgusted to do that, now that he was whole. So Brighid herself washed the leper and healed him and then gave the other one back his leprosy.
Go to any public fountain and you will see coins that have been thrown into it. It seems a most natural thing to do. Ever wondered why? Offerings to Brighid were thrown into her wells and fountains, usually in the form of coins or rings. Her most sacred water places were where three streams came together. The fire in the head became the stream of eloquence in her inspired bards. The three lines /l\ are the Druidic symbol for Awen…inspiration.
There are many stories about the lineage of Brighid. Some say she came from the Tuatha De Dannan (People of Danu), the magickal first people of Ireland, now the Fair Folk, and was a child of the Dagda and a relative of the goddess Morrighan. Others say that she was introduced into Ireland by her Earthly father, a major Druid. She is usually pictured, when in maiden form, as an exquisitely beautiful woman with long red hair and green eyes. Her favorite weapon, since like Morrighan she tends to help her friends in practical ways, was a spear, kept in good shape by one of her magickal smith devotees. She had a connection with Mananan the god of the sea.
This may ring bells for those few of you who know the story of a possible incursion of the Celtic deities to Earth in Wales in the 1950’s at the start of the Celtic influence into public consciousness with music, plays, books and movies. It involved a supernaturally beautiful red haired, green eyed woman, whose tribal father was named Derwyn. Derw is Welsh for oak, and is derived from the Sanskrit for tree (daru). The very word Druid comes from this ancient Indo-European connection. She was looked after and served by a master smith, and her female elder had a name beginning with M which in Welsh meant strong woman, tribal leader. It was quite a shock to me to realize very recently that Brighid may have been involved in that incident. It takes time for some realizations to trickle through the rock of mundane consciousness.
Brighid’s snake was the beastie that forecast the kind of weather to come depending on what it did at Imbolc, and the tradition of an animal weather prophet extended into mainland Europe. In Germany, for example, the country folk used to check the local hedgehog or badger for its behavior. There is a German proverb that says, “The badger pops out of his hole on Candlemas Day (Feb 2nd) and if he finds snow, walks abroad: but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.”
So, when the Germans, the Deutsch, came to Pennsylvania and had their name garbled into the Pennsylvania Dutch, they pragmatically chose the local creature that most resembled their native hedgehog/badger and transformed the day to Groundhog Day.
Some theological scholars may quibble about Brighid’s snake and comment that St. Patrick, who incidentally was considered a heretic by many Church officials, had thrown all the snakes out of Ireland. In the original story the word ‘snakes’ is a Celtic code word. It meant Druids, not reptiles.
Theologians often misconstrue code words in religions different from their own. A German atheist scholar translated the Bible to make this point, and the symbol heavy phrase ‘Lamb of God’ with over a thousand years of meanings attached to it became the equally accurate but startling ‘God’s Mutton,’ with zero symbolic impact.
Catholic priests have deliberately done the same with other religions all over the world. Accurate translations do not necessarily convey the symbolism associated with the word by a devotee of the other religion. The words and the spirit are not the same.
Being British I must balance the German groundhog donation and quote an equally ancient English proverb which is just about identical to one from Czechoslovakia, and says, “If it snows on February 2nd, only so much as may be seen on a black ox, then summer will come soon.” The Czechoslovakian version is identical except that it says ‘black cow.’
Europe has dozens of such proverbs. They all say if it’s sunny on the Second, we’ve got weather trouble ahead. The American tradition of the ground hog seeing his shadow is a clever folk way of saying the same thing.
So, because of the Deutsch, who became the Dutch, and the progress of civilization, the very ancient pagan festival of the midpoint of the winter, the time when the veil between the living and the dead grows thin, and the Maiden begins her ascendancy, has degenerated into the TV performance of ‘Punxsutawney Phil” Check the movie Groundhog Day for an interesting take on that.
The bonfires of Brighid from which everyone in the village relit their all winter hearth fires which were allowed to go out on that day, to symbolize the rebirth of the warmth of the Earth, and the dependence of the villagers on Nature, have become candles in some churches. Just as the burning of the sacred Yule log of the Germanic tribes became candles on the Christmas tree.
The pagan crosses, woven from straw were a sacred symbol of the goddess Brighid, and even today the most famous commercial icon painters on this continent paint St. Brighid holding an equal armed straw cross in her hand.
The besom birch brooms were made at that time and used to sweep every room counterclockwise, the direction of the phases of the Moon and the goddess energy, to sweep out the old year and the remnants of the winter’s hardships. Spring cleaning is in the DNA of Europeans.
The birch is the first tree in the sacred Celtic tree alphabet Ogham. It is the first tree that grows back after a forest fire, and considered the leader of the tree cohorts. But now we use vacuum cleaners at the same time of the year cycle as our pagan ancestors used brooms, and don’t know why.
Pagans here and abroad quite often celebrate the Triple Goddess on this day. The High Priestess appoints two other women to make up the three for the rituals. Maiden represents Enchantment, Mother represents Ripeness, and Crone represents Wisdom. The Crown of the Triple Goddess is usually made of candles or tapers. Fire is always a factor.
In the days when I was known as Brother Leonard, I used to try to merge the pagan festivals with those imposed by the Roman Church, and in places where tolerance was not considered an un-American virtue as it is today, I wrote many hymns to the different feasts that could be sung to well-known Christian hymn tunes. For example, here is one of the several hymns to the Maiden of Imbolc, whoever you may consider her to be. It is sung to the wonderful Bach melody used for “The head that once was crowned with thorns.”
The place that is no place.
We stand between the worlds today
And seek the Maiden’s grace.
Into our tapestry of life
We see the Maiden spin
The thread that holds the sacred fire;
We feel its flame within.
And though throughout the year to come
We merry meet and part
The flame She kindled here today
Will burn in every heart.
There are many other customs that occur on this day. The Roman Catholics used to call this day the Purification of the Virgin Mary as I mentioned before. That is because it was after the forty days of purification required of Jewish women by the rules of Leviticus.
Maybe the ones whose lies led to persecution of Jews everywhere for centuries didn’t want people to be reminded that Mary and Jesus, if they existed, were both Jews. Anyway, they renamed it Presentation of the Lord. It is on this day that all the candles to be used in the coming year are consecrated.
The cult of Brighid is very much alive today. Don’t let the use of the word 'cult' put you off. Remember that Christianity was once just another cult and that you have pagan ancestors. She is the patron Goddess of many who honor her in ceremony, song and art. You may note that music and art are the first casualties when business men run the schools. If that makes you angry then you are already acquainted with Brighid.
Brighid is a cosmic being to those who know her. She keeps alight the flame of life and healing and rekindles hope and inspiration. The sacred power of Brighid, when known, can cause the awakening of creativity and skill in every area of life, including competition, often as a ritual form of warfare that we call ‘sport.’
In the British Isles, where soccer matches between villages with the goals sometimes miles apart were an ancient custom, Candlemas was the date of particularly ferocious games. Half a village would play the other half, or the single men would play the married men. Deaths were not unusual. Severe injuries were the norm, and nobody wore armor.
The hardy Scots took the custom even further and in Jedburgh, ten miles from the English border, the annual Candlemas game, even more ferocious than the English version, was played with the severed heads of border raiders, to make it more interesting.
And there is a new, less violent custom, founded in violence prone America, that may interest those of you who need to find an official excuse to have a party. An American lady named Elaine Fremont thought that there should be a definite day each month when the month itself would be celebrated with a party.
She organized a competition to name the day of the month and an Australian won the prize with two slang words. The word 'super' in Aussie slang is Bonza. The word ‘excellent’ in the same hideously distorted English is 'Bottler'. So the ‘Bonza Bottler’ day for a party comes every month on the date of the month that is the number of the month…Jan 1, Feb 2, March 3, etc. You get the idea. The custom began in 1985. Since there is always a Bonza Bottler Day on February the Second I thought to add it to the Candlemas list.
In 2000 years, if we make it past 2012, maybe this will be the only anniversary still remaining and the story of how it started will be put back several millennia, and won’t resemble what I’ve just written at all. The distortions have happened for centuries already. No reason it can’t go on, except the possible extinction of the human race by Mother Nature who may be getting fed up with her uncooperative children.
Anyway, we’re still here now, so Happy Imbolc, Candlemas, Imbolg Brigantia, St.Bridget’s Day, Candelaria, Snowdrop Festival, Festival of Lights, Presentation of the Lord, Bonza Bottler and the Feast of the Virgin, not forgetting Nut, the most senior goddess of ancient Egypt whose birthday is celebrated still, on February 2nd, and we might as well include the Chinese who began to celebrate their New Year 4709 for fifteen days, beginning on January 26th. This year is the year of the Ox. It’s always celebrated on the day of the second New Moon after the winter solstice. They’ve been doing it since the Emperor Hang Ti initiated the Chinese Zodiac calendar in 2600 B.C., i.e. for 4709 years.
Most of you can probably remember the vulgar hoopla, boasting and kitsch associated with the 200th anniversary of this country. Citizens of cities thousands of years old all over the world watched in pained surprise at the ignorance of history expressed by America, at great expense and with great noise. It surprised many Europeans for example to realize that America had no history until the white invaders came here and passed through customs without the problems people have now. My Lakota, Blackhawk and Cree friends have other views. Quelle blague! as the Freedom Fries loving French say.
This is the end, so, from one of the Lady’s devotees, Brighid’s fiery blessings on you all!
Bendithion o'r Duwau Hen arnoch chi.