Imbolc and the Feast of Saint Brigid

Feb 1, 2014 by

February 1st is celebrated by Christians as the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare (Irish: Naomh Bríd; c. 451–525), one of the patron saints of Ireland.  Her name is spelled in various ways, including Brigit, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd, and Bride, and she is sometimes called “Mary of the Gaels” in Ireland.   The Irish refer to the day as St Brighid’s Day or Lá Fhéile Bríde ( Irish Gaelic), but the pagan origins of the feast lie in the ancient Gaelic festival of Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced i-MOLK or i-MOLG ), an event that was connected to the goddess Brighid, the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.   Today, pagans and Christians still observe this special day at the beginning of February, a feast marking the midway point between winter and spring.

St. Bride by John McKirdy Duncan; 1913; National Galleries of Scotland (Scotland); tempera on canvas.

St. Bride by John McKirdy Duncan; 1913; National Galleries of Scotland (Scotland); tempera on canvas.

The goddess Brigid is considered the patroness of poetry, fertility, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, and spring.   Along with these attributes, she also is associated with fire and light, and is frequently depicted holding a flame or candle.   Arrows, bells, thresholds and doorways are also included in Brigid symbolism.  After Ireland was Christianized, many people refused to give up their ancient reverence for the goddess, despite pressure from church authorities.   Eventually, a sort of combined festival emerged, with elements from both the pagan and Christian influences.  Brighid’s crosses (usually handwoven of rushes) and a doll-like figure of Brighid, called a Brídeóg, would be carried from house-to-house.   To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brighid and leave her food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless.   Holy wells were visited at Imbolc and it was seen as an opportune time for divination.

I have several Saint Brigid’s crosses in my home, some made long ago that have been handed down.   To learn how to make a simple Brigid’s cross, try this video:

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