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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Imbolc


Imbolc (Imbolg) - Cross Quarter Day

The festival marking the beginning of spring has been celebrated since ancient times. It is a Cross Quarter Day, midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it can fall between the 2nd & 7th of February. Imbolc derives from the Old Irish imbolg meaning in the belly, a time when sheep began to lactate and their udders filled and the grass began to grow.
At the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the chamber. The sun also illuminates the chamber at Samhain, the cross quarter day between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. More ...
The Mound of the Hostages at Tara is a Neolithic Period passage tomb, contemporary with Newgrange which is over 5000 years old, so the Cross Quarter Days were important to the Neolithic (New Stone Age) people who aligned the chamber with the Imbolc and Samhain sunrise. In early Celtic times around 2000 years ago, Imbolc was a time to celebrate the Celtic Goddess Brigid (Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridget, Bridgit, Brighde, BrĂ­d). Brigid was the Celtic Goddess of inspiration, healing, and smithcraft with associations to fire, the hearth and poetry.
When Ireland was Christianised in the 5th century, the mantle of the Goddess Brigid was passed on to Saint Brigid, born at Faughart, near Dundalk, Co. Louth. She founded a monastery in Kildare and ended her days there. The goddess Brigid festival was Christianised to become Saint Brigid's Day.
The Saint Brigid's Cross is one of the archetypal symbols of Ireland, while it is considered a Christian symbol, it may well have its roots in the pre-christian goddess Brigid. It is usually made from rushes and comprises a woven square in the centre and four radials tied at the ends.
The Saint Brigid's Cross was traditionally hung on the kitchen wall to protect the the house from fire and evil. Even today a Brigid's Cross can be found in many Irish homes, especially in rural areas.
In Christian mythology, St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by a story about her weaving this form of cross at the death bed of a pagan chieftain who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized.
Gerald of Wales reported in the 12th century that a company of nuns attended an ‘inextinguishable’ fire at Kildare in St Brigid's honour. Although it had been kept burning for 500 years, it had produced no ash. Men were not allowed near the fire.
According to myth, Saint Brigid travelled to Glastonbury and set up a small chapel on Bride's Mound. She is one of the four holy people celebrated with a small stone monument in the Glastonbury Tercentennial Labyrinth.
The author Felicity Hayes-McCoy links St. Bridget to the Celtic Goddess Danu. The stories associated with St. Bridget are echoes of the ancient story of the Goddess Danu. Danu’s people were tribal Celts who brought her worship with them to Ireland along with their skill as herdsmen and their knowledge of farming crops. Danu was their fertility goddess whose powerful energy revitalised the earth each year in spring. There are stories of seeds waking to the pressure of her feet, and flowers springing up where her cloak touches the fields.
She was a powerful personification of fertility and in Celtic mythology, her marriage to the shining sun god Lugh combined the elements of light, heat and water which brought life to the fields in springtime. Danu’s name means ‘water’. Without water nothing can grow so, for the Celts, she was an image of the essence of life itself. And she’s the prototype of the medieval St. Bridget, who controlled the weather, cured infertility, blessed the housewives’ labour and increased the farmer’s herds. 
Ancient cultures such as the Neolithic (Stone Age) people who build Newgrange in Ireland aligned their monuments to the major solar events, the Winter Solstice, the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. The solar year was further divided to mark the half way points between the major solar events giving the cross quarter days of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
newgrange.com

History of Imbolc
Imbolc also known as Oimelc, is the Celtic word for the festival of The White Goddess Brigid, or The Light Bringer.
Another term for this holiday that you may have heard is "Brigid's Day". On her festival day, am Fheille Bride, on the first of February, she gives to us the promise of Spring, the promise of new life returning to the Earth. Hence she is often known as 'Brighid of the Green Mantle'. This goddess of hearth and flame so beloved of the Gaels is known by many different names, for her Mysteries are many.
She is the 'Lady of the Shores', for the shore is one of those magical in-between places that so fascinated the Celts. These in-between places such as shorelines, fords, doorways and so on, were neither one state nor the other. The shore is neither dry land, nor is it the sea, yet it is the meeting place of both. If we consider that the land represents our solid, material world, while the sea represents the Great Cosmic womb of all life, the intuitive side of our nature, we can see that the shore is a meeting place between one world and another.
Brighid is also known as the 'Two-Faced One'. In the legends she is described as having one side of her face black and ugly, and the other white and beautiful. The Mystery of Bride is to be found in the annual transformation of the cailleach, the hag of winter, into the fair maiden of Spring.
Brighid is the goddess of all arts and crafts, and as such she is the feminine principle of the Ildanach, the counterpart of Lugh Lamhfada. She represents the potential of all women for she is the eternal flame that burns in the heart and hearth of every woman of the Gael, 'moon-crowned Brighid of the undying flame'. This principle of the undying flame continued even after the coming of Christianity into Ireland. At the fifth century sanctuary of St. Bride of Kildare, the sacred fire within was attended by her devoted maidens and was never allowed to go out. The name of this goddess originates from the Gaelic words Breo-Saighit, which means Fiery Arrow. The arrows of Brighid have many attributes. As goddess of bards, smiths and physicians she is the flame of poetical inspiration and of healing, and the fire of the divine forge. Finally, as the Good Shepherdess who watches over her flock, Brighid presides over the cradle of the new born infant. It is a common practise for the women of the Isles to hang rowan crosses over their cradles whilst reciting a charm or prayer to Brighid to invoke her protection.
Imbolc was usually celebrated by lighting sacred fires (She was the Goddess of Fire, the Fire of Healing and Birth). Bonfires and candles too were lit. The Roman Catholic Church turned this celebration into Candlemas, the day when the candles that were to be used in the church in the coming year were blessed.
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 untill 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.