The circle continues to turn. Imbolc, St Brigid’s Day, or Candlemas, as some call it, comes ever closer. Spring is in the air.
‘O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’. Percy Bysshe Shelley
If we’re still in the season of winter, and we are (and, it started on 31 October, marked by the festival of Samhain, also called All Saint’s Eve by some, and progressed to its ‘height’ with the winter soltice, we’re now coming to the end of that season). Imbolc, 2 February (or a day earlier than that to some), marks the end of winter, and is the first day of spring.
‘There is a delightful phrase in Gealic, ‘Ag borradh’, meaning that there is a quivering life about to break forth.’ John O’Donohue
And, if today is anything to go by – it was so relatively mild, weatherwise – spring is here, or is ‘just around the corner’. I could detect a slight ambient temperature increase today, a change in the prominent wind direction, you could almost smell it in the air. Something had changed. The circle continues to turn and this season is coming to an end.
And with 2 February in mind, our thoughts turn to Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is viewed in differing ways, by different people. To some Brigid is an ancient Celtic goddess. The goddess of fire. Indeed, a sacred fire burned in Kildare in ancient time, as was kept burning by priestesses. In this way it was thought herds would be protected and harvests would be plentiful. To others, Brigid is a saint, and at the time of Candlemass, candles are blessed (and lit by some), and Brigid is remembered as one who symbolises motherhood, new birth, the springing forth of seeds and, in the recent past, some would bless (even) agricultural tools on that day. It’s spring (or nearly, so), after all.
‘I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen’. Anne Lamott
Yes, you know I like stories, and here’s another about Brigid.
Brigid was known for her hospitality. For the weary traveller no expense was spared by her.
On one occasion, going about her day, she came across some very tired, hungry and thirsty lepers. The plight of those dear people had already touched Brigid’s heart, and she made them as comfortable as she could. She ensured that they had had some food, but were thirsty.
One of those near to Brigid came to her and broke the bad news news: there was no beer for those thirsty lepers.
Brigid was deeply concerned, and it is said, immediately sprung into action. At the back of some nearby buildings she found an old bath, full of dirty bath water. She put her hand into the bathwater and blessed it. As the attendant drew off pints from that bath they found that it had changed! No longer dirty bath water, but the finest, freshest and coolest beer you could ever imagine, which was served to all.
The lepers and others were delighted, and had more than enough to drink, and there was plenty of beer left over.
You will have to forgive me – flippant only for a moment or two – but isn’t Brigid the kind of person you would like at all your parties?
I know sceptics may ridicule the bathwater-into-beer story, but there are some deep and profound truths ‘buried’ in it, if we take time to discover them. The need to be hospitable, and the joy in being so. The fact that we live in a world of abundance. The ‘power’ that one good person has. The Universe (God, the Elements, The Source of All) is friendly. The power in a blessing etc. All wonderful truths that are ‘unpacked’ in this unusual and delightful story about dear Brigid.
‘Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems’. Rainer Maria Rilke
Spring is close. However, you view Brigid, it may be good to give thanks for her example, for this season of rest, to look forward to the coming season of spring and the springing forth of plants etc, for growth, and perhaps to light a candle. Fire, however, you view dear Brigid, is a worthy symbol of her, and the lighting of a candle on her day a notable action to do.