You’ve gotta have hearth
All you really need is hearth
When you’re feelin’ like your losin’ the game
That’s when the flame should start
The snowfall has come this week, and gone. And come again, and gone. And come and gone and on and on and… Wasn’t it 60 degrees this time last year? Well, winter is definitely here, and Danu’s snowy presence lies heavily on the ground around us in this part of the world. It’s natural (in more ways than one) for our thoughts to turn to indoor pursuits, to reading and knitting and house cleaning and anything else that doesn’t involve being outside in the cold. And so, in our Grove, our thoughts turn to our hearth goddess, Bríd, and her holiday, Imbolc.
At the beginning of 1996, three of our Grove members held an all-night vigil to meditate and contact a hearth goddess. We knew that the hearth goddess was an important figure to the ancient Indo-European peoples, and rather than pick one from a book, we worked with the assumption that there already was a hearth goddess out there who wanted to work with us, and that we simply needed to figure out who that was. And during the night, all three of the women had visions of a red-haired smith goddess who identified herself as Bríd, the ancient Irish goddess of the hearth, poetry, smithing, healing, and many other things.
How were we to honor her, then? One of the eight neo-Pagan high days, Imbolc/Imbolg/Oimelc/Candlemas/whatever-you-call-that-one-in-February, was already associated with Bríd (also called Brigid or Brigit at different times in Irish history, and associated with the Catholic St. Brigit), so we made her the Deity of the Occasion at our 1996 Imbolc rite, and every Imbolc since. I definitely feel that our relationship with her has strengthened throughout the years, as we’ve chosen to work with her at every High Day rite, and perform the Brídeog, and even do a few rituals for her at ConVocation.
So what are we doing this year? Well, at An Bruane this coming week, we’ll be making Bríd Crosses and a new headdress for our corn dolly, who will act as a focus point for Bríd herself during our celebrations. Next Saturday will be this year’s Brídeog, where we travel from home to home bringing her blessings in exchange for a food offering which we will donate to Food Gatherers. (If you’ve never experienced the Brídeog before, think of it as a weird cross between trick-or-treating and Christmas caroling – and if you’ve never taken part before, why not???) And of course, the weekend after that will be our Imbolc rite itself. This year, our group praise and main sacrifice will be leaning more toward her blacksmithing aspect, as we decided at our Liturgists’ Roundtable last week. (Individual praise offerings are individual, obviously, and don’t have to be blacksmith-focused.)
Oh, and one tangential point that I’ll address here: Why are we doing Imbolc so late? This year we’ll be doing our rite on the 9th, because… Well, because that was the only day on which we could rent our indoor space. No, really, someone else had the basement of the Friends Meeting reserved for the 2nd. We did have the option of using the ICC Ed Center (our usual Yule site) on the 2nd, but (a) It’s very hard for new people to find, plus it has no parking, and (b) the ICC won’t let us use candles at all, and given the strong association between Bríd and candles, we decided we’d rather do it a little late with candles than “on the right day” without. I put “on the right day” in quotation marks there because there are many different “right” dates for Imbolc. Most people choose February 2nd because that’s what the pagan books all say, and also because that’s the date for the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, which has some common themes with Imbolc. Some groups set the Imbolc date at the halfway point between the winter solstice and the Spring Equinox, which this time around is on February 4th at 12:58 PM Eastern time. ADF’s own “official” date for Imbolc is February 1st, but the ritual can be held any time within two weeks of that date and still be acceptable. Combine that with the various seasonal signs the ancients used to decide when to celebrate this holiday (the first signs of lactation in the ewes, or certain flowers first popping up from the ground) and you have a glorious mess of possibilities. So yeah, we picked the 9th because it was a Saturday and our preferred space was available. End of tangent.
And if you won’t be joining us for any of these – and given that most of you reading this on the Internet aren’t within a hundred miles of us and it would be silly to assume that you could join us even if you wanted to – there are still plenty of ways to honor Bríd this season. Getting your major housecleaning projects done with the goddess in mind is in keeping with the ancient customs of Imbolc! (Our modern variant, “spring cleaning”, seems silly to me now. Would you rather clean your house from top to bottom in the dead of winter when you were going to be inside most of the time anyway, or wait until the sun is shining from on high and the snow has melted and the flowers are in bloom?) Even a bit of writing or crafting is a good way to honor her at this, her special time of year.
Enough writing for now. I have some housework to do!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
So what the heck’s the use of whinin’?
Why should we curse?
The future is bright, ’cause we’ve been through worse!
And to help us out, we’ve got hearth
We’ve got hearth
We’ve got hearth
We’ve got hearth
Fox’ article on Bríd and Imbolc Traditions: http://shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/bridol.html
Our First Brídeog: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/brideog98.html
A Solitary Imbolc Ritual (did we really write this nine years ago?): http://www.adf.org/rituals/celtic/imbolc/slg-solimb99.html