Thursday, February 01, 2007

Blessed Brigid - the Golden Sparkling Flame

Today is the feast of the Brigid, the Holy Woman, whose name means High One, or Exalted One. She was said to be a protector of women in childbirth, and was associated with the welfare of livestock. Her festival, February 1st, is associated with the lambing season.

In the insular Celtic countries Spring began on this day, which was also referred to as Oimelc (ewe’s milk). The very next day, February 2nd, was the Christian feast of Candlemas, which was really the church’s observance of the much older feast of Imbolc/ Oimelc/Brigid—a feast of fire and light at a time when the dark of winter is giving way to the light of spring. The baby lambs were born around this time. It was, therefore, a time of new light, new life, new milk, new nourishment. Interestingly, February 3rd is the feast of a saint with the interesting name of “Blaise,” and is a day when candles are blessed for the liturgical year, and the congregation comes forward to have their throats blessed (for protection against choking) by a priest, who used two candles in an X shape—exactly the shape of Brigid’s Cross—to do this.

Brigid has been honored at this time of year for a very long time, first as Goddess and later as Saint. She was particularly honored by women, whose rituals at this time of year—recorded by folklorists—involved inviting Brigid back to the world to bring her light, warmth, fertility and prosperity. A special bed was prepared for her, and omens of future life and prosperity were taken from the evidence of whether or not she was seen to have arrived and slept in her bed.

There is much fire symbolism in the stories of St. Brigid, and many of these stories are thought to derive from the older, pagan stories of the Goddess Brigid, who was sometimes addressed as the golden, sparkling flame. According to legend, a perpetual fire burned in her precinct at a place later known as Kildare, the Church of the Oak. This fire was tended by 19 priestesses—similar to the Roman national hearth tended by the Vestal Virgins. Like many other holy fires of legend, it was said to burn without producing ash. The 19 priestesses cared for the fire for 19 nights, but it was thought that Brigid herself tended the flame on the 20th night. When Christianity came to be the religion of the land, it was St. Brigid who was honored and Christian nuns who tended the flame.

Brigid was a triple goddess: she was sometimes said to have two sisters also named Brigid. They they were matron goddesses of healing, of poetry—with which seership was connected—and of crafts, particularly those associated with fire, such as metal-smithing and perhaps pottery. In addition, the legends show Brigid to be associated with that borderlands/ liminality/threshold state that clearly links her to the Otherworlds, including the world of Faery. Her association with these liminal states is shown in her St. Brigid legends by the fact that she was born at sunrise and while her mother was straddling a threshold. It is shown in her Goddess legends by the fact that she was of the Tuatha De Danann, yet married to a Fomorian. Perhaps it is also illustrated by the fact that her cult also straddled two religious traditions, and made an easy transition from Paganisn to Christianity.

Brigid is associated with water as well as fire, and many healing wells are sacred to her throughout the British Isles. Places where water emerges from the Earth are always considered thresholds between the worlds—the Underworld and Middleworld in this case. As a goddess of healing associated with seership and liminal states of being, she is uniquely suited to be the especial Matron Goddess of Faery Healing.

from
Faery Healing: The Lore and the Legacy, Chapter 15



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