Candles and Lights

Candles and Lights

 
Candles (leading to the name, “Candlemas”) are sometimes burned in every window in the house, starting the night of February 1st, until the candles burn themselves out. (If you practice this, be watchful of fire hazards. We use battery-operated candles, and the if the bulbs and batteries are new, the lights remain on all night.)
 
This is yet another time to enjoy outdoor luminaria, as well. That’s when you take bags (lunch bags work fine, and you can cut designs in them), put a couple of inches of sand in the bottom of each bag, and then put a tea candle in each bag. If the bag is on a wooden porch or other flammable surface, make certain to use plenty of sand to insulate. Also check the bags regularly, in
case a stiff wind tilts a bag and the paper goes up in flames.
 
A similar tradition (in older houses where families have lived for generations) is to light a candle, one in the window of each room
where someone has died. One candle for each person who died in that room. Again, the candle is allowed to burn itself out.
 
A related tradition is to make candles the night before the holy day, thentake them to church to be blessed on the feast, and use those candlesthroughout the rest of the year.
 
Snow candles
 
Yet another candle tradition, which we have used with delight, is to collect a bowl of snow. (A white cereal bowl is perfect.) Bring the bowl indoors, place a “floating candle” in the center of the pile of snow and light it. As the snow melts, the candle will remain alight because it floats in the water. This is a very visual symbol for the return of light and heat to the earth, melting the snow.
 
Bride’s Bed
 
There are a variety of traditions related to making a “Bride’s bed” (also called “Brighid’s bed”) with a homemade cradle, an ear of corn, a wand (smaller but related to the coronation wand given to the kings of Ireland), and small tokens of respect and/or adornment. Many books on Celtic traditions give the details of this ritual.
 
St. Brighid’s Cross
 
“St. Brighid’s Cross,” is another tradition. It is a woven cross made from straw, sometimes with a diamond shape woven around the center. (Compare thiswith the Native American “God’s eye” crosses.) In some places, wells and other water sources (such as faucets) are decorated with ivy and early flowers.
 
Blessed clothing
 
Brighid’s healing arts are called upon in yet another delightful tradition.As night falls, place an item of clothing outside, for Brighid to bless as she passes over the earth on Imbolc. In the morning, bring the item indoors, and wear it whenever you need an extra blessing to heal. People with migraines are supposedly helped by this tradition, in particular. (Due to winter winds, it’s
a good idea to tie the item to a tree or fence so it doesn’t blow away during the night.)
 
And, in the morning…
 
In keeping with the milk theme of the holiday, some people pour a small amount of milk onto the soil early on February 2nd morning, as they thank Mother Earth for having fed them for the past year. The dairy theme of the festival also makes it appropriate to enjoy rich dishes and desserts such as cheesecake.
 
As with many holidays, it’s always appropriate to drum or ring in the festival, with a drum, rattle, or bells.
 
This is also a time for housecleaning and preparing for the new growing season. (Some women do a ritual “spring cleaning” of house, or use a cleansing tonic at this time, to mark a fresh start and a new year.)
 
In many ways, New Year’s Eve is somewhat misplaced. We do far better to begin our “resolutions” at Imbolc, which celebrates new beginnings.
 
Written by Fiona Broome http://www.fionabroome.com

Brighid Lore for Imbolc

Brighid Lore for Imbolc
by Doreen Motheral

 

The goddess Brighid (also known as Brigit, Bride, Biddy and other names throughout Europe) is a goddess who is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. I like the fact that she is associated with both water (her wells in Kildare and other parts of Ireland) and fire (her fire pit in Kildare). I like the fact that she spans both the pagan and Christian worlds and some of her traditions are still celebrated today.

Since the festival of Imbolc (also called Óimelc) is this weekend I thought I’d write a few thoughts for those who aren’t familiar with her (and perhaps renew an acquaintance for those who already were). Imbolc is the time of the year that the ewes lactated, and the successful timing of this event was approximate, so the exact date of Imbolc could vary from region to region and from year to year depending on the climate. Production of this milk supply was very important to both man and animal. From the milk comes butter and cheese. Newly calved cows were also put under Brighid’s protection. Here’s an old saying:

Samhain Eve without food,
Christmas night without bread,
St. Brighid’s Eve without butter,
That is a sorry complaint.

Cormac mac Cuillenàin, who lived in the 9th century said, “Brighid i.e. a learned woman, daughter of the Dagda. That is Brighid of learning, i.e. a goddess who filid worshipped. For her protecting care was very great and very wonderful. So they call her a goddess of poets. Her sisters were Brighid woman of healing, and Brighid woman of smithcraft, daughters of the Dagda, from whose names among all the Irish a goddess used to be called Brighid” In this writing, Cormac mentions her triple aspect of three sisters, common among the Celts. I often call on one or more of her aspects of creativity, writing and healing, but she is much more than that.

The Christian aspects of Brighid and the pagan aspects often overlap, so it’s difficult to figure out which stories have pre-Christian beginnings. I think there is a seed of paganism in many of the later stories associated with her. We’ll never know for sure, but in my own private practice I take many of her current customs and use them for my own worship of her – and I don’t worry about the pre-Christian aspect of the story or not. Your mileage may vary, of course.

On the eve of Imbolc, a piece of linen, other cloth or ribbons is placed outside (some folks put them on their window sill). This piece of cloth is called Brighid’s Brat or Brighid’s Mantle. It is said that Brighid travels all over the land on Imbolc eve and if she sees this cloth, she will bless it and give it healing powers. Some folks in Ireland say that the older your brat is, the more powerful it is. Mugwort Grove (the grove to which I belong) destroys ours from year to year. We put out a whole piece of linen and tear it into strips for members of the Grove during our Imbolc ritual. People take the strips home to use for healing and some are kept on personal altars throughout the year.

Other folklore says that if the mantle gets bigger overnight, you will be especially blessed. It’s a nice tradition, especially if you have a lot of illness to overcome for the following year, and a brat is nice to have for healing rituals later in the year.

Brighid’s fiery aspect makes her the perfect goddess of the hearth – in fact, my hearth at home is dedicated to Brighid. There are many hearth prayers dedicated to Brighid, especially concerning smooring. Ashes and embers were often deposited in the fields. Also, indoor activity associated with Imbolc often took place near the hearth, and if there was a feast, an extra place was set for Brighid. It is also considered bad luck to do any type of spinning on Brighid’s Day.

There is also the custom of Brighid’s Bed. A small bed is made near the hearth and a doll (called a Brídeog), often made from a sheaf of corn and made into the likeness of a woman and is sometimes placed in the bed. In Ireland the doll was often made from a churn dash decorated in clothing (associations t milk again). Sometimes the doll was carried around town to visit houses in the neighborhood. Songs, music and dances are performed – then prayers are said to St. Brighid for blessings upon the house (this is similar to wassailing in other countries around Christmas). Then the family is asked to contribute a donation – which used to be bread and butter (there’s that dairy again!) but now it’s often money (sometimes given to charity).

There is much, much more about Brighid I could share, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. A bit of trivia – Brighid is so loved by the Irish people that in 1942 a survey was taken on “The Feast of St. Brighid”. The replies about the customs run to 2,435 manuscript pages. A great book, if you can find it, is The Festival of Brighid Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman by Séamas Ó Catháin. There are many really cool stories and legends about her.

Last but not least one of the other interesting aspects of Brighid is a prayer attributed to her from the 11th century which goes like this:

I would like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings
I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

Drink up!

Imbolc Meditation

Submitted By: Cogar niMhorrighan

Here is an original meditation for the Imbolc festival (can be used at
any time):

It is a lovely spring day. The air is fresh with the fragrance of green
plants preparing to bloom. The sun’s radiance bathes you in comfort,
perhaps the first warmth you have felt in many months. You sense that
you are in Ireland, because it is green and everything feels clean and
alive. The landscape is timeless and magical. In the distance, you
hear birds singing as they welcome the unexpected warmth of the day.
Inside you, happiness begins to bubble and dance, very quietly at first.
It feels almost like anticipation, but it puts a smile on your lips as
well.

You are walking up a slight hill, not steep enough to tire you but just
enough to sense that something wonderful can be seen from the top. As
you walk, the grass is already tall enough to brush against your lower
legs. You know you are in a wild place where Nature flourishes.

Towards the top of the hill, you see a dolmen – two standing stones and
a large stone across the tops of them, like an arch. You wonder why you
didn’t see this dolmen sooner. It is as if it appeared when you were
just twenty feet from it. Does it mean something? Is it real? You do
not pause to wonder, but keep walking towards it.

As you walk between the stones, you notice carvings and symbols on the
sides of the dolmen. Some of them are lines and hash-marks, which you
suspect are an Ogham message. Others are just symbols, which you will
return to look at, another day.

As you pass through the dolmen, you feel an invisible curtain brush over
you gently. In the space of a blink, it is a clear, crisp night. The
stars are above you, brilliant and twinkling. You know the moon is
behind you, but you do not notice its light because there is a sparkling
fire just ahead. There is no breeze, but the evening is chilly as you
would expect when Winter is still in the air.

You pull your clothing more closely around you, as you continue up the
hill. You are eager to reach the warmth of the fire, which is bigger
than you thought at first. In fact, it is a bonfire and you realize you
have arrived at Imbolc.

You run the last few steps to stand next to the fire pushing your hands
towards it, to capture the heat from a safe distance. Tall yellow and
white flames seem to warm you inside and out. You pause to look at the
sky again, and savor the moment.

Looking across the flames, you suddenly realize that you are not alone.
You can see the top of someone’s head, and you aren’t certain if you
have intruded on a private ceremony. Slowly, you walk around the fire,
and your companion stands up from the rock she was sitting upon. She is
a tall, strong woman, with long hair so light you cannot tell if it is
blonde or white. She looks like the Queen of Pentacles in a way, with
an ageless sense of knowing and accomplishment. She wears a long gown
and an embroidered cape, yet you can see her bare feet peeking out from
under her skirt. You know she is someone noble yet without artifice.

Without a word, she stretches out her hands to take yours in welcome.
You know, as if you’ve known her all your life, that this is Brighid.
This is a special and sacred moment.

She welcomes you to her fire, which will burn tonight and every night,
for Imbolc is her festival and her fire is never extinguished.

You sit down next to her, on large flat rocks that are warm from the
fire, and very comfortable. She begins to explain to you the meaning of
Imbolc, and its promise of a fresh beginning–not just to the plants and
animals, but also to everyone on Earth who chooses to permit Imbolc into
their lives.

She helps you to remember your past dreams, especially the ones from
your childhood which began, “When I grow up…” And as you recall these
fantasies and goals, you realize how many of them were left behind with
your childhood, yet how many are still alive in what you do each day,
today. This is not a sad realization as much as it is a recognition
that you can start afresh now. Every one of those dreams is still with
you.

Brighid reaches to her side and picks up a fallen twig from a nearby yew
tree. It looks like any other twig, in the firelight. However, when
Brighid places it into the fire, the bark on it sparks and flames like a
sparkler, giving enough heat energy to set the twig burning brightly.
Without saying anything, Brighid is showing you how even a small spark
will set alight your oldest and most neglected dreams.

The lesson was simple, but vital. Now it is time to return to your own
world. As you stand, Brighid offers you a cup of clear water, which you
sip. The sensation in your mouth is unique. There is a kind of
life-giving energy, that is Spring itself. You take a large swallow of
the water, and feel your entire body respond to that water with a
vitality that–like your forgotten dreams–you had almost forgotten from
childhood.

After returning the cup to Brighid, and then a quick embrace, you stride
purposefully around the fire and back to the dolmen. Passing under it,
you emerge back into the daylight and the warm air and clear sunshine of
an early spring day. You know you have not merely learned the meaning
of Imbolc, but actually experienced it in your soul. From now on, every
time you sip fresh water, or see twigs and branches burning in a
bonfire, you will feel Brighid’s presence, and be reminded of the
fire–and dreams–that burn within you, too, and will never be
extinguished.

Brighid’s Fires Burn High

Brighid’s Fires Burn High

by Miriam Harline

 

Imbolc is a white time, a time of ice and fire. In many places, snow still sheets the ground. The fire is traditional: Europe observes this day, February 2, the Christian Candlemas, with candlelight processions, parades that go back to ancient torchlight ceremonies for purifying and reviving the fields at early sowing, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.At Candlemas, the people of ancient Europe made candles for the coming year, having saved the fat from meat eaten through the winter. Mexico, too, observes February 2, the Aztec New Year, with renewed fires and a festival that echoes agricultural rituals of early spring.

At Imbolc, the earth begins to wake from winter sleep. As Starhawk writes in The Spiral Dance, at Imbolc “what was born at the Solstice begins to manifest, and we who were midwives to the infant year now see the Child Sun grow strong as the days grow visibly longer.” At night the Wild Moon shines, illuminating the earth’s initial quickening. Seeds sown in autumn begin to stir; nature is potential waiting to be fulfilled. The Goddess too is changing: from crone to maiden, from winter to spring.

To Banish Winter

In The Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life, Pauline Campanelli writes, “Now is the time for the banishing of Winter. On the first night of February, the eve of Imbolc, gather together all of the greens that adorned the house throughout the Yuletide season, including a branch or two of the fir tree that was hung with holiday ornaments. Then, as a part of the Imbolc Sabbat rite, add these greens to the Sabbat Fire (a little at a time, and carefully, because by now they are hazardously dry), dancing and chanting all the while with words like:

“Now we banish Winter!

“Now we welcome Spring!”

Of Brighid and Her Realms

Today’s witches take many of their Imbolc associations from pagan Ireland. There, Imbolc belonged to the goddess Brighid or Bride (either is pronounced Breed), mother of poetry, smithcraft and healing.

In their Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, Caitlin and John Matthews quote the tenth century Cormac’s Glossary: Brighid is “a poetess… the female sage, woman of wisdom, or Brighid the Goddess whom poets venerated because very great and famous for her protecting care.”Cormac’s Glossary gives Brighid the poetess two sisters, Brighid the smith and Brighid the “female physician”; Brighid thus occurs threefold, called by the Celts the Three Blessed Ladies.

The three Brighids multiply, to three times three: Caitlin and John Matthews call Brighid “a being who has nine separate spiritual appearances and blessings, which are ubiquitously invoked through Celtic lore.” Hers are the “nine gifts of the cauldron” mentioned in Amergin’s “Song of the Three Cauldrons”: poetry, reflection, meditation, lore, research, great knowledge, intelligence, understanding and wisdom. The Christianized St. Bridget had nine priestesses, the “Ingheau Anndagha,” or Daughters of the Flame, who lived inside her shrine and tended her fire, whom no man could look upon, according to Kisma K. Stepanich in Faery Wicca, Book One. Brighid is also a midwife and protector, a war-goddess and a teacher of the arts of battle.

Celtic lore makes Brighid the daughter of the Dagda, the Good God, and marries her to Bres of the Fomors, by whom she bears a son Ruadan. But, as Janet and Stewart Farrar write in The Witches’ Goddess, “The fact that Dana, though goddess/ancestress of the Tuatha, is sometimes referred to (like Brighid) as the Dagda’s daughter; the hints… that the Dagda was originally the son of this primordial goddess, then her husband, then her father; the dynastic marriage between Brighid and Bres – all these reflect a long process of integration of the pantheons of neighboring tribes, or of conquerors and conquered, and also of patriarchalization.” Like many goddesses, Brighid probably once birthed the god later called her father. Brighid’s name can be derived from the Gaelic “breo-aigit” or “fiery arrow,” but the Matthewses prefer a derivation from Sanskrit, “Brahti,” or “high one.”

The entire Celtic world worshipped Brighid. She was Brigantia in Britain, the patron goddess of the tribe of the Brigantines in northern England and of the Brigindo in eastern France, Stepanich says. The Celts continued to worship her in Christian times as St. Ffaid in Wales, St. Bride in Scotland and St. Bridget or Bride in Ireland. St. Bridget was said to be the midwife and foster mother of Christ, the helper and friend of Mary.

Making Bride’s Bed

Long before she befriended the Mother of God, Brighid was the Mother herself, her agricultural roots going back to the Neolithic. Campanelli describes an Imbolc ritual for creating Bride’s bed, drawn from ancient rituals in which harvesters at the Autumn Equinox would bring the last sheaf of wheat or other grain into the house, believing the Goddess of the Grain lived within. The harvesters often made this last sheaf into a woman’s shape, the Corn Bride or Maiden, dressing her in white.

If you have autumn harvest left, say a sheaf of Indian corn, as part of your Imbolc ritual you can create a Bride’s bed. Dress her in white and decorate her as you like, then place her in a basket or on a square of white cloth. Across her, lay a priapic wand – an acorn-tipped wand of oak – twined with ribbon, so that wand and bride form an X. Then place lit candles to either side, and chant to her something like, “Blessed be the Corn Bride! Blessed be the Great Mother!” At the height of the chant, extinguish the candles. Then, at sunrise the next morning, place the bride without her dress on your front door. There she forms an amulet of prosperity, fertility and protection, which can remain till after Samhain. Campanelli suggests you return her to earth before Yule, perhaps scattering her in the fields for birds.

Brighid the Midwife

Brighid is midwife as well as harvest mother. As late as 100 years ago in the west Scottish Highlands, the Matthewses write, the midwife traditionally blessed a newborn with fire and water in Brighid’s name. She passed the child across the fire three times, carried the baby around the fire three times deosil, then performed “the midwife’s baptism” with water, saying:

A small wave for your form

A small wave for your voice

A small wave for your speech

A small wave for your means

A small wave for your generosity

A small wave for your appetite

A small wave for your wealth

A small wave for your life

A small wave for your health

Nine waves of grace upon you,

Waves of the Giver of Health.

Brighid also protects and heals adults. She is a goddess of healing wells and streams; in her honor, Bridewell is one of the two most common well-names in Ireland, the other being St. Anne’s Well, remembering Anu, or Dana, the mother of the gods – a goddess sometimes conflated with Brighid. With Aengus Og, Brighid performs the role of soul-guardian, wrapping worshippers in her mantle of protection.

Making a “caim”

To protect themselves in Brighid’s name, the traditional Irish would recite a “caim,” the Matthewses write; “caim” means “loop” or “bend,” thus a protective circle. A caim would always name Brighid and the beings, household or body-parts to be protected.

Traditionally, you place a caim by stretching out your right forefinger and keeping that finger pointed toward the subject while walking about the subject deosil, reciting the caim. You can also say a caim for yourself. A caim can be made in all seasons and circumstances; it traditionally encircles people, houses, animals or the household fire. The Matthewses write:

“As her family prepared to sleep, the Gaelic mother would breathe these words (the caim) over the fire as she banked it in for the night…. As she said this, she would spread the embers into a circle, and divide it into three equal heaps with a central heap. To make the holy name of the foster mother (Brighid), she placed three turfs of peat between the three heaps, each one touching the center, and covered it all with ash. Such smooring customs and invocations are still performed in the West of Ireland. And so the protection of Brighid is wrapped about the house and its occupants.”

Augury in Brighid’s Name

Brighid is also a seer; the Matthewses describe her as “the central figure of the Celtic vision world.” She presided over a special type of augury, called a “frith,” performed on the first Monday in a year’s quarter to predict what that quarter would bring. The ancient Celts divided the year by Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasad, and Samhain, so the first Monday after Imbolc is appropriate for frithing.

To perform a frith, a traditional frithir would first fast. Then, at sunrise, barefoot and bareheaded, the frithir would say prayers to the Virgin Mary and St. Bridget and walk deosil around the household fire three times. Then with closed or blindfolded eyes, the frithir went to the house door’s threshold, placed a hand on either jamb and said additional prayers asking that the specific question about the coming quarter be answered. Then the frithir opened his or her eyes and looked steadfastly ahead, noting everything seen.

Frithing signs can be “rathadach” (lucky) or “rosadach” (unlucky). A man or beast getting up means improving health, lying down ill health or death. A cock coming toward the frithir brings luck, a duck safety for sailors, a raven death. About the significance of horses, a rhyme survives: “A white horse for land, a gray horse for sea, a bay horse for burial, a brown horse for sorrow.” The role of frithir passed down from generation to generation; according to the Matthewses, the name survives in the surname Freer, “held to be the title of the astrologers of the kings of Scotland.”

To perform a pagan version of frithing, fast the Sunday night before the first Monday after Imbolc and that night formulate your chief question about the coming three months. Monday morning at sunrise, say a prayer to Brighid and barefoot and bareheaded walk deosil around whatever seems the central fire of your house – maybe your kitchen stove, or if you’re not a cook your fireplace or heater. Then go to your doorway, put your hands to either side, and closing your eyes pray your question be answered. Then open your eyes, and note the first action you see. That action probably won’t be found in the traditional frithir’s lexicon, so the interpretation is up to you.

In another frithing technique, you curl the palms to form a “seeing-tube”; frithirs used such a tube to discover lost people or animals and to divine the health of someone absent. Frithirs also sometimes used divinatory stones; the Matthewses describe a “little stone of the quests” made of red quartz.

Imbolc Spells and Workings

Whether or not you try frithing, Imbolc is good for psychic work: still the dark time of the year, but looking toward spring. It’s also a good time to make your space hospitable for such work, banishing old energy to clear the way for new. Traditionally, witches purify themselves and their space at Imbolc. Any kind of cleansing or banishing will do, but consider ones that include fire and water, sacred to Brighid. Once purified, you’re ready to go further; at Imbolc, covens initiate new witches.

The spark of summer dances in the future now; Imbolc is a good time to seek inspiration, especially for healers and smiths of words or metal. To do so, try the following spell.

Bring to your ritual space a cauldron or chalice filled with earth or sand; a white, silver, green, purple or rainbow-colored candle; a candleholder; oil to anoint the candle; paper; and a pen you like or with appropriately colored ink. Ground and center, cast a circle and ask for Brighid’s presence. Then anoint your candle in Brighid’s name, and lighting it write on the paper the aspects of your work in which you want inspiration. When you’re done, raise energy and put it into the paper, then light the paper with the candle flame. Drop the burning paper into the cauldron, making sure the entire paper is blackened. Then thank Brighid and bid her farewell, and take down your circle.

The next day, relight the candle and by its light rub some significant tools of your work with the ashes. Then either sprinkle the remaining ashes onto your garden or houseplants or drop them in a park in a place that feels inspiring or pleasant.

Imbolc is a white time, burning with inspiration and protection, cool with healing and purification. Prophesy flares, painting luster on the dark. Light your candle, call on Brighid, and know that under the snow the seeds of spring stir.

Use Imbolc to Ask for Brighid’s Inspiration

Use Imbolc to Ask for Brighid’s Inspiration

by Melanie Fire Salamander

At a Northwest Imbolc, grey days pass under grey skies. The furor of the solstice holidays is over, and cold and rain face us for the next six weeks, or six months. Here, Imbolc lacks even the bracing snow of winter. Nor is it time for flowers and fresh breezes. A few crocuses may poke their heads above ground, but Imbolc, the first pagan holiday of spring, doesn’t speak of spring’s fulfillment, rather of spring’s promise.

Imbolc is the pregnancy of spring, the first stirring of seeds sown in autumn. One derivation of the holiday’s name, which is taken from the Irish, is “in the belly,” according to R.J. Stewart in Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses. Animal life also begins to stir. Around Imbolc, ewes begin to lactate, a time important to hungry traditional peoples. This association is reflected in medieval European writings. Cormac’s Glossary, composed around year 900, derives “Imbolc” from “sheep’s milk,” Ronald Hutton writes in The Stations of the Sun. In the tenth- or eleventh-century Irish tale “The Wooing of Emer,” this holiday is called “Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring’s beginning.”

At Imbolc, early Europeans also rendered fat for candles, having saved the fat from meat eaten through the winter. Hence the holiday’s alternate name Candlemas, from the Christianized version of the day. Christian Europe observes Candlemas with candlelight processions, parades that may hark back to ancient torchlight ceremonies for purifying and reviving the fields at spring sowing, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. The February ceremonies of the pagan Romans were also rites of cleansing and preparation for the coming year. Likewise, February 2 is the Aztec New Year, observed with early-spring agricultural rites and renewed fires. After other purifications, covens at Imbolc traditionally initiate new witches.

Around the Northern Hemisphere, Imbolc is a time of beginnings, of hopes for success in the coming year. But hope is double-edged; the ancient Greeks put it into Pandora’s box with other human ills, a lying daemon. In this grey weather, it’s easy to see hope as a lie. Of all holidays, Imbolc is the most based on faith. If you don’t feel faith, if you lack inspiration, Imbolc is a good time to seek it.

Brighid’s Day

Imbolc comes strongly associated with a Celtic goddess who oversees inspiration. The Irish, Scots and Manx considered this holiday to belong to Brighid or Bride (pronounced breed), a patroness of smithcraft, healing and poetic inspiration whose name can be derived from the Gaelic “breo-aigit” or “fiery arrow.”

Brighid’s attributes are many. She was known as a smith and fighter, patroness of the armies of Irish Leinster. As a healer, she rules wells and streams. Worshippers in medieval times walked around her holy wells deosil (sunwise) on hands and knees and left valuable pins or buttons in the water, or hung rags in the trees nearby, asking for relief.

An Irish celebration of Brighid’s day reflects another healing aspect. In this observance, Hutton writes, a family would hold a formal supper, during which they would place food, usually cake or bread and butter, on the windowsill as a gift for Brighid. The family might also leave a cloth, garment or ribbon on the sill overnight, asking Brighid to bless it. Family members would wear it later in the year to prevent headaches.

Brighid also oversees childbirth. In the west Scottish Highlands as late as 100 years ago, midwives would bless newborns with fire and water in Brighid’s name, Caitlin Matthews reports in The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Fire and water come together also in Brighid’s water, which you make by plunging a burning coal into water while asking for the goddess’s blessing. The water, used to anoint and purify, combines Brighid’s natures of smith and healer.

Brighid’s midwife aspect perhaps conceals an earlier goddess of fertility, a corn-mother, as shown in the tradition of Bride’s bed. To create this bed, Pauline Campanelli in The Wheel of the Year has you decorate a grain maiden made at the autumn equinox or from the last harvest’s wheat or corn. You dress the maiden in white, lay her in a basket and set across her a priapic wand — an acorn-tipped wand of oak — twined with ribbon, so that wand and bride form an X. You then place lit candles to either side and hail the maiden with a chant, or incorporate her into a ritual saluting the fertility of the coming spring. After the ritual, you undress the maiden and at sunrise place her on your dwelling’s front door. There she forms an amulet of prosperity, fertility and protection, which can remain till the next Samhain.

The Celtic traditions behind this pagan practice are many and varied. In the Isle of Man, according to Hutton, followers of Brighid left her an empty bed in a corner of the house or barn, beside it bread, cheese, ale and a lighted candle. In the Scottish islands of the Hebrides, where householders made a figure of Bride from oats, families would leave her abed overnight and look for an impression of her wand in the hearth ashes the next morning. A mark meant a good crop and a prosperous year, and a footstep was held marvelous, but if nothing appeared the family took it as a bad omen. To avert misfortune, members would bury a cock at the junction of three streams or burn incense on their hearth fire.

Elsewhere in Ireland, people plaited a criosog Bridghe, St. Brighid’s cross, of rushes or straw, hanging it on Brighid’s Eve over a door or window or in the rafters to welcome her. Others set their crosses in stables to ask for blessings on the animals. The Irish left their criosogs up through the year, replacing them the next Brighid’s Eve.

Besides giving health and agricultural fertility, Brighid lends clear sight into the future and creative fertility. According to Matthews, she presided over a special type of Irish augury called a “frith,” performed on the first Monday after a cross-quarter day, such as Imbolc, to predict what the year’s next quarter would bring. Brighid was said also to inspire poetry, and many Irish poems hail her. Cormac’s Glossary calls her “a poetess… the female sage, woman of wisdom, or Brighid the goddess whom poets venerated because very great and famous for her protecting care.” Matthews attributes to her the “nine gifts of the cauldron” mentioned in the Irish poet Amergin’s “Song of the Three Cauldrons”: reflection, lore, research, great knowledge, intelligence, understanding, wisdom, meditation and poetry. If inspiration is what you seek at this grey Northwest Imbolc, Brighid is a good goddess to turn to.

A Ritual to Seek Inspiration

This ritual is to find hope and inspiration in a project or your life as a whole. Before you start the working, I’ll ask you to spend some time in journal work and meditation. For these and the magickal rite, give yourself at least one undisturbed hour (two is better). Turn off the phone, and put your pets in another room.

A good time for this ritual is first thing Imbolc morning. If that doesn’t work, try the night before, or during a waxing moon. It’s best done in spring, but don’t let the season prevent you from doing the ritual if you want.

Have on hand:

  • A white or pastel candle to meditate by, and a candleholder for it.
  • Paper and pen to create a journal entry and for use during meditation. (You can create the initial journal entry using a computer, but you’ll definitely want the old-fashioned tools later.)
  • A cauldron or earth-filled bowl large enough to contain a burning piece of paper safely.
  • Anointing oil or Brighid’s water.
  • A candle of a color that says inspiration to you, possibly rainbow-colored, silver, gold, lavender or
    green — use your own personal associations.
  • A candleholder for this inspiration candle.

Journal Work

First, create a journal entry looking at what you’re thinking and feeling. Whether or not you keep an ongoing journal, writing about your thoughts and emotions helps clear your head before a ritual and make sure that unconscious ambivalence doesn’t color your work. Even if you already know what’s in your head, getting your feelings out on paper may reveal new information or connections. And the simple act of formally acknowledging a thought or emotion by writing it down can help that energy move.

So ask yourself: How do I feel? Why?

Next, ask yourself: What do I want out of this ritual? Write the answer on a separate page as a single, formal statement; this will be the statement of your working.

Then ask yourself: What within me stands in my way? What benefits do I get from not succeeding here?

This ritual assumes you are already dealing with any practical roadblocks preventing your success. For me, it’s rarely the outer blockages that most hinder me — it’s the inner ones.

So look at the inner urges that block your desires. As they come up, don’t judge them, if you can avoid it. These shadows all exist for a reason. If you can honor these urges, understand them, talk to them, promise they will be met in some way other than preventing your success, you will clear the way for inspiration.

On a separate piece of paper, write out a list of your inner blockages for use in meditation, following.

Meditation

To meditate, start with relaxation. Light your white or pastel candle, and sitting in front of it relax your whole body. If this doesn’t come easily, try tensing each body part, then releasing it. (For more meditative techniques, see other articles in this issue.) Looking at the candle flame — if you don’t want spots before your eyes, look at the base of the wick — take 20 deep breaths, breathing into your belly, saying to yourself that each breath relaxes you further. Count each breath.

Once relaxed, ground and center. Make your grounding cord strong and deeply rooted, and center yourself in the middle of your head — your third eye, a neutral space. Neutrality is a good tool when looking at inner blocks. Next, create a protective energetic circle around yourself in whatever way you prefer.

For the following step, give yourself some latitude. Don’t force yourself to do work you’re not ready for; doing so will enforce rather than clear obstructions.

From your list of inner blocks, choose one. Let it be personified in a way that you can be neutral about — not a monster, simply a presence. Then ask the block in meditation: What do you want?

For me, the answers to this question always surprise me and usually simplify matters. What your blockage will usually want, first, is acknowledgement. Then it might have some specific request. Nine times out of ten, at least for me, such requests can be dealt with in ways that allow me to move forward with my desired goal.

On a separate piece of paper, write down what the block wants. If you can, promise to fulfill that need, but at very least write it down for your knowledge.

Thank the block, bless it and let it go.

Then choose the next block on your list (unless you have only one), and repeat the process, collecting all the blocks’ requests on one sheet.

When you’re done figuring out what your blockages want, briefly decide how to address the requests. Often the action required is something simple, such as recognizing and honoring a formerly hidden emotion. Sometimes addressing the blockages’ needs will take further practical or ritual work. The answer isn’t to do the work right now, but to make an honest commitment to do it over time. If you don’t feel you can do what your blocks request, at the very least promise to keep thinking about the issues raised till solutions can be found. However works best for you, make a commitment to do the work to satisfy and thus release these blocks.

Write that commitment down on the page with the blocks’ requests, fold the paper and, when you can, set it in some place you will see daily, such as on your altar.

Now ground and center once more. Connect with the energies of earth and sky, and from the sky draw down cleansing, healing energy. Let it meet healing earth energy within you, and fill yourself completely with healing and comfort. Wash any pain or negative emotion down your grounding into the earth. Take time to do this slowly and fully and come back to equilibrium.

The Rite Itself

Now that you’ve done your personal work in journal and meditation and cleansed yourself, it’s time to ask for inspiration from the goddess.

Connect again with your grounding, center yourself and renew the circle around you, this time so as to work magick. Call the elements, directions, fey or all three to your circle as you usually do.

Now call to your circle the Celtic goddess Brighid. Do so in a speech inspired in the moment; call to her from your heart. The description earlier should give you a feeling for her attributes and nature. Call her strongly; let her fill your circle.

Besides your original journal entry and the page listing your blocks’ requests and your commitment, you should have two slips of paper: the list of the blocks themselves and your formal statement of ritual intent. From that statement, read aloud what you want this ritual to do. Feel free to amend your statement based on what you learned from journal work and meditation.

Now take up the list of things obstructing you. Say aloud the following, or something like it:

“To do (my project), I have committed to satisfy these blocks. Having made that commitment, I release them.”

Focusing on letting go your inner blocks, fold the page and light it in the flame of your meditation candle. Let the flame burn up everything that stands in your way. Drop the burning page in your cauldron or earth-filled bowl, and watch till it flares out.

Now pick up the anointing oil or Brighid’s water. Hold it above your head, and call out the following or something similar:

“I dedicate this (oil or water) to the Goddess Brighid and her brilliant inspiration!”

With the dedicated oil or water, anoint the candle you’ve chosen to represent inspiration. Holding the candle above your head, stand and raise the energy of inspiration either by toning wordlessly or by chanting:

“As this candle flames and fires,

Let me be renewed, inspired.”

Pour energy into the candle, imagining yourself filled with inspiration and hope. Imagine too the goddess lending you her aid.

When you have sent the power you raised into the candle, touch the surface below you and ground out any excess energy. Set the candle in its holder, ready for use. Then thank and release the goddess and other entities (directions, elements, fey), and take down your circle.

Light the candle whenever you work on the project you created it for, or whenever you’re in need of inspiration or hope.