Imbolc (February 2nd) is one of the 8 holidays that make up the Celtic Wheel of the Year. It is a celebration of fire, hearth & home that honors the spark of inspiration; that prods us in the deep of winter where we slumber…waking us to plan. Sacred to Brigid; who is both Goddess & Saint, it is a great time to seek inspiration & start planning for the year ahead.
Brigid’s tale begins with the Irish people, first as a Goddess, then later transformed into a Saint, when Christianity came to Ireland; for her people would not set her aside. The line that separate the two is so fine, it is hard to determine where one ends and the other begins. If fact her temple in Kildare, Ireland holds not only Christian artifacts and stories of her Sainthood, but also of her history as Goddess.
According to medieval historians, Christian monks took the ancient Mother Goddess and wove her tales into that of Saint Brigid. I saw this first hand when I visited her home in Kildare, Ireland in the spring of 2013. It was pleasing to see that the Goddess Brigid had not been set aside, that she is present and welcome both within the temple and the home of the Brigidine Nuns. Brigid is deeply connected to flame; that of the hearth as well as the smith, she is patroness of the artisan crafter, poet & magician. She is benefactor of the poor, caretaker of the earth & connected to many holy wells; for she is a healer.
Brigid’s Flame was considered sacred, and was cared for in pre-christian times by 19 priestess’s. The flame burnt continually for hundreds of years, each of the 19 priestess’s took turns guarding the flame and on the 20th day Brigid herself kept her flame going. When Brigid was tranformed into Saint the stories of her kindness and miracles continued and so did the tending of her flame. Brigidine sisters/nuns took turns tending the flame of Brigid…each in turn for 19 days and on the 20th the flame was left for Brigid herself to tend. It is believed that the tradition was carried out until the 16th century when it was extinguished for Christian fear of its connection to a fire cult. In 1993 it’s flame was relit by Brigidine Nuns in Kildare. Since then it has been cared for in the fashion it was intended, with the 20th day being that of Brigids to watch over herself.
I have been a practicing pagan Celt for most of my adult life & have honored Brigid with fire and fed her my dreams at Imbolc for many years. My personal connection to Brigid however is much newer and carries an interesting tale. In the first year of my Druid training (2008) I was gifted with the flame of Brigid. My teacher Ivan McBeth had received the flame in a ceremony years prior when it had been brought from Ireland to England by Brigidine sisters. They carried the flame alight from their home in Kildare by ship to England. Upon sharing it with others they explained that once a candle has been lit with Brigid’s flame it can always be used to call upon her, you simply relight it and ask her to join you. This made it a lot easier for Ivan to bring it into the United States as you can imagine. Receiving this gift & its history was an honor. In the ceremony as we all awaited our time to light our candles and connect with Divine inspiration (the heart beat of the bard) in song. We sat around a fire chanting a simple song, holding space for the others as they approached the flame of Brigid and looked deep inside themselves for Awen (the spirit of creativity) & the blessings of Brigid.
My journey to Ireland in 2013, included a visit to Kildare; it was among 3 of the planned ventures I had on my itinerary. I went to Ireland with an open plan of areas to explore but 3 things I knew I needed to do & visiting Brigid’s home in Kildare was one of them. We were staying on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare (where my mum’s people come from) & Kildare was across the country almost to the East coast so about 2.5 -3 hours by car. It was one of our planned day trips and well worth it. When we got to Kildare, we did the touristy thing and headed to Saint Brigid’s Cathedral: walked the grounds, visited the ancient fire temple & went inside the cathedral. I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the information on Brigid the Goddess, displayed along side her history as a Saint. I was however disappointed to not find her flame. My husband and I walked around the town and were told at the historical center that the Brigidine Nuns tended the flame at their home Solas Bhride. The woman running the shop helped us to connect with the sisters of Solas Bhride and we were soon on our way for a visit. Before leaving she did tell us that Brigidine Nuns were not like traditional nuns and did not dress in the same fashion as the other nuns we had seen around the town….no habits and somber colors for these sisters.
We were greeted by Sister Mary Minehan; who was wearing a leopard print sweater. The first thing she said upon greeting my husband and I was “when I speak of God, I am speaking of the energy that has been present in the Universe for millions of years”. She was kind and generous, with a presence that radiated the dedication she had to her faith. As she shared Brigid’s flame with us; I told her how I had received it years before from my Druid teacher. Here is where the synchronicity lies folks…Sister Mary Minehan had been one of the sisters who took the flame of Brigid across the sea from Ireland to England. This same women had been involved both times when Brigid’s flame was given to me. Oh…I just love how the Universe works, it is simply Magic! All the people in the world and we still make such fabulous connections. We spent about an hour with Sister Mary, drinking tea and talking about the environment. The Brigidine sisters are activist, who focus on human rights, education and the environment. In fact, they are building an ecological center in Kildare. They are really fantastic ladies, living their light out loud. I was delighted to see that the sisters of Brigid are the same as the image I have held in my mind of the ancient priestess’ of Brigid. One of the things that gave me such great happiness was when Sister Mary told us to visit the old well not the new one. The new well, is for tourist, and a beautiful place for prayers, but the sisters still gather their sacred water from the old well. I felt a bond of kinship with her. It is always beautiful to see the light of god/goddess/universe in others even if you don’t share the same exact faith. After all it is more about getting the connection then how you get it.
We visited Brigid’s well, both of them. The new one was a beautiful statuary, with prayer stations. It had been built to make a more gentile place for visitors. The old well had little marking it, in fact if you didn’t know where you were going you would miss it. It was on the outside of a Japanese Garden, an enclosed center people can visit, like a fancy park that you pay admission to. I am sure the garden was lovely, but we didn’t come for that…we had come to be blessed with Brigid’s water. Wells throughout the Celtic lands are sacred things; they are springs that come to the surface, their water is sacred as it is said to connect both the world above with the world below. Many holy wells are known for their healing qualities and the blessings they bestow. To me they are indeed sacred; I see them as the life blood of the planet, the mana that carries the deep, powerful blessings of Gaia. Sitting at a sacred well is like visiting church, or meditating deeply, it effects you, you just plain feel good near them. And they make me emotional in a good way. I found Brigid’s well especially so, for Brigid had shared so deeply of herself with me.
The Divine is alive and wheres so many faces so that we all might find comfort in connecting with God/Goddess. I invite you to take time over the next couple of nights and reach out for inspiration. I prefer to keep things simple. Set yourself down with a candle or in front of the open fireplace if you have one. It’s about the flame…spending time with it, meditating…allowing it to take you within. If you know what you want to grow with the returning of the light…dedicate yourself to it. If you are not sure what it is you need…ask for guidance. May the year to come be filled with Awe…