We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Imbolc: The Great Wheel Turns

Imbolc  Waxing Wild Moon

Imbolc.  The celebration of lamb’s in the belly, imbolc and the festival honoring Brighid*. (see information below from the Encyclopedia Mythica.This is my favorite web source for quick, accurate information about Gods and Goddesses.)

When I came back to my Celtic roots during my transition out of the Presbyterian Ministry (the state church of a Celtic country), Brighid became central to the spirituality I began to develop.  As a fire goddess, her Imbolc celebration symbolizes the quickening of the earth as the reign of the Caillieach, the crone, recedes under the sun’s (fire) unrelenting return.

As a fire goddess, the blacksmiths worshiped her, as did the housewife with her hearth-fire and the poet, the filid and the bard, roles critical to ancient Celtic society.   Brighid inspired the poets.  Thus, she supported craftspersons, domestic life and the spark of genius that kept kings and the ruling class in check and still gives Ireland fame in letters to this day.  She became associated with fertility, hence the ewe and the lamb in the belly.

In one interpretation of the Great Wheel, the earth goes through three phases:  the first, or the virgin/maiden takes prominence with the beginning of the agricultural year, Imbolc.  The second, the Mother, takes the God as her husband at Beltane (May 1) and reigns over the growing season.  As the harvest comes in the Cailleach, the old woman or crone, takes charge.  The year proceeds in this way through virignity, motherhood and old age; a procession repeated over and over, as this archetypal linking of the year and the maturation of humanity repeats over and over in human society.

On this February 1st, as the business cycle continues its skid, the Great Wheel can teach us that the cyclical nature of human events will right this plunge and prosperity, too, will return.  You might see the business cycle as going through its crone phase, except the crone was a wise woman and as near I can tell this phase of the business cycle represents foolish men.

Time has many puzzling aspects, not the least is its appearance of linearity while we experience, too, and more profoundly, its cycles.  I see the cyclical nature of time as more true to my experience and more hopeful.  The Great Wheel, the natural cycle, does not require a cataclysm at the end to right injustice and imbalance, as do faith traditions invested in chronological time.  Each year each season brings its own opportunities for renewal, for celebration and each season is only that, a season.  In regular succession the next season will come.

I used to close my e-mails with this quote I discovered carved into the Arbor Day Lodge wooden border in its reception atrium:

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrain of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, spring after winter.    Rachel Carson

This is the great and wonderful gift the Great Wheel can bring to your life, if you let it.

*Breo Saighead, or the “Fiery Arrow or Power,” is a Celtic three-fold goddess, the daughter of The Dagda, and the wife of Bres. Known by many names, Brighid’s three aspects are (1) Fire of Inspiration as patroness of poetry, (2) Fire of the Hearth, as patroness of healing and fertility, and (3) Fire of the Forge, as patroness of smithcraft and martial arts. She is mother to the craftsmen. Sons of Tuireann: Creidhne, Luchtaine and Giobhniu.

Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, was forged by the Lady of the Lake, a figure sometimes associated with Brighid because of her fire and forgery aspect. Like the Arthurian Avalon, or “Isle of Apples,” Brigid possessed an apple orchard in the Otherworld to which bees traveled to obtain it’s magickal nectar.

Brigid, which means “one who exaults herself,” is Goddess of the Sacred Flame of Kildare (derived from “Cill Dara,” which means “church of the oak”) and often is considered to be the White Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. She was Christianized as the “foster-mother” of Jesus Christ, and called St. Brigit, the daughter of the Druid Dougal the Brown. She sometimes also is associated with the Romano-Celtic goddess Aquae-Sulis in Bathe.

Brighid’s festival is Imbolc, celebrated on or around February 1 when she ushers Spring to the land after The Cailleach’s** Winter reign. This mid-Winter feast commences as the ewes begin to lactate and is the start of the new agricultural cycle. During this time Brigid personifies a bride, virgin or maiden aspect and is the protectoress of women in childbirth. Imbolc also is known as Oimelc, Brigid, Candlemas, or even in America as Groundhog Day.

As the foundation for the American Groundhog Day, Brigid’s snake comes out of its mound in which it hibernates and its behavior is said to determine the length of the remaining Winter.

Gailleach, or White Lady, drank from the ancient Well of Youth at dawn. In that instant, she was transformed into her Maiden aspect, the young goddess called Brigid. Wells were considered to be sacred because they arose from oimbelc (literally “in the belly”), or womb of Mother Earth.

Because of her Fire of Inspiration and her connection to the apple and oak trees, Brighid often is considered the patroness of the Druids.

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**Cailleach is referred to as the “Mother of All” in parts of Scotland. Also known as Scotia, she is depicted as an old hag with the teeth of a wild bear and boar’s tusks. She is believed to be a great sorceress.

One superstition regarding Calliach is that the farmer who is last to harvest his grain would be the person to “look after” Caileach for the rest of the year, until the next harvest. The first farmer who finishes harvesting would make a corn-dolly from the grain he has harvested. He would, then, pass it on to the next farmer who finishes. It would keep going until the corn-dolly ends up with the last farmer. That last farmer would be obligated to watch the “old woman”.

She is also known to have created the earth. “With her hammer she alternately splinters mountains, prevents the growth of grass, or raises storms. Numerous wild animals follow her…”
— Encyclopedia of the Occult, 1920

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