Goddess of Spring

Goddess of Spring www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Goddess of Spring
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Happy Imbolc! Today is the first day of Celtic spring, a tradition known in Ireland as Imbolc. This weekend we’ve had snow, we’ve had torrential rain, we’ve had wild winds, and we’ve had fog… it certainly doesn’t feel spring-like, and I wonder if the seasons have gradually slipped out of sync with the calender.

Today I was going to bring you to somewhere special, to a place associated with Brigid, but I’ve been ill this week, and so have my kids, a voyage of discovery out in the countryside just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Brigid.

I feel a connection with many characters from Irish mythology, but of them all, Brigid is the one I am most drawn to. Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda, a Druid and High King of the Tuatha de Danann, an advanced race with seemingly supernatural powers, who invaded Ireland some 4000 years ago.

Her feast day is celebrated at Imbolc, which falls half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is usually held on the first day of February to welcome the arrival of Spring.

Imbolc (pronounced I-molk) is one of four ancient Celtic/Gaelic festivals, the others being Beltaine, celebrated on May 1st; Lughnasadh, on Aug 1st; and Samhain, held on Nov 1st.

These major festivals were celebrated with the lighting of huge fires. My favourite explanation of the Old Irish word Imbolc comes from imb-fholc, meaning ‘to thoroughly wash/ cleanse’. To me, this is clearly a reference to the ritual cleansing and purification of fire and smoke.

However, it is generally accepted to mean ‘in the belly’, with reference to the pregnancy of ewes. Indeed, the C10th manuscript known as Cormac’s Glossary explains it as oimelc, or ‘ewe’s milk’. As such, Brigid has popularly become associated with the onset of the lambing season.

Sheep are not a native species of animal to Ireland; they are thought to have been introduced by Neolithic settlers some time after 4000 BC, so there would certainly have been sheep around in Brigid’s day. However, they don’t get much mention in Irish mythology, which is highly unusual; almost every other animal, wild or domestic, did.

The Danann were well known for their milk-white cattle, indeed, cattle were highly prized among our ancient ancestors, as the many stories of cattle raids, real and mythological, through the ages will attest. Queen Medb was famous for going to war over a bull, as told in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, for example. Cows were used as a measure of currency, as a measure of value, and as a measure of wealth.

In the ancient text known as the Lebor Gebála Érenn, Brigid was said to have kept  two royal cattle called Fea and Feimhean, the Boar King known as Torc Triath, and Cirba, who was King of the wethers. In case you don’t know, a wether is a castrated male sheep. She owned a number of castrated male sheep. No lactating ewes.

So it’s very interesting that in the tower on Glastonbury Tor, there is a carving which depicts her milking, not a sheep, but a cow.

Brigid was herself credited with the gifts of healing, of poetic inspiration, and metalworking. As with many of the Irish female deities, for example, the Morrigan (Badb-Anann-Macha), and the Sisters of Sovereignty (Eriu-Fodhla-Banbha), she was a Triune Goddess, meaning she was one and three all at the same time.

This triple aspect of their femininity related to the stages of womanhood, namely maiden-mother-crone. Unusually, Brigid’s triple aspect revolved around her skills, poetry- smithcraft-healing. I like that she stood out from the crowd, and I like her combination of skills.

Whilst we are on the subject of the triple nature of the Goddess, Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach, or Crone, gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intends to make the winter long and hard, she will bless Imbolc with a bright sunny day, so she can gather plenty of firewood to last her a long time. If Imbolc is a day of foul weather, it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.

The name Brigid means ‘bright/ exalted one’, from the Sanskrit brahti, and is thought to refer to her association with fire and the sun. When she was born (at sunrise), a tower of flame was said to have extended from the top of her head to the heavens, giving her family home the appearance of being on fire. This is how the C10th text, Cormac’s Glossary describes here;

“Brighid, a poetess, daughter of the Dagda. She is the female sage, woman of wisdom, Brighid the Goddess whom poets venerated as very great and famous for her protecting care. She was therefore called ‘Goddess of the Poets’. Her sisters were Brighid the female physician, and Brighid the female smith; among all Irishmen, a goddess was called ‘Brighid’. Brighid is from breo-aigit or ‘fiery arrow’.”

I like the description of the fiery arrow. I think it is more fitting for her role as a poetess, that she would receive divine inspiration or knowledge in this way. It also corresponds with the glowing white-hot iron she would have manipulated in the fire of the forge, and the light she would have used as energy to conduct her spiritual healing. However, modern scholars are not in agreement with Cormac.

Brigid married Bres, of mixed Danann-Fomori heritage, with whom she had a son, Ruadan. Bres was an unpopular High King; he was mean and a tyrant, and after seven years, the Danann opposed his rule and reinstated Nuada as their leader.

Bres enlisted the help of his Fomori relatives and attacked the Denann. During the battle, Ruadan entered the Denann camp on a mission to kill Goibniu, their master-smith, but was himself killed in the attempt. According to an ancient text known as Cath Maige Tuireadh, Brigid collapsed in grief over her son’s body, crying her sorrow, and was thus said to have invented the act of keening (in Irish caoine, or cine) for the dead.

It is thought that following Bres’s death, she later went on to have three sons, Ichvar, Ichvarba and Brian, with a man named Tuirean. After that, her name seems to drop out of the stories.

You can read more about Brigid and Imbolc in my other posts…

Irish Mythology The County Cavan Cult of Brigid

Irish Mythology Brigid, Queen of Imbolc

Today it’s Imbolc, and of course it’s SNOWING!

Irish Mythology The Tuatha de Danann Come to Ireland

Ireland also has a Saint Brigid, whose feast day is also celebrated on 1st February. Some say she is the Christianisation of a much loved pagan Goddess that the Irish people refused to give up. It is also said that she started out as a Druidess who tended the eternal flame at the Shrine of Brigid, and was responsible for bringing about its conversion to Christianity. However, that is a post for another day…

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64 thoughts on “Goddess of Spring

        1. I don’t know why he stopped blogging. But he has a new interest, he’s mad into the gym and is training hard, so maybe with that and work he just doesn’t have time anymore. I loved his blog. Maybe he’ll start up again one day.

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  1. Hello Ali. I enjoyed your imbolc post. I had occasion to do one myself this week. It is remarkable how many common points we covered. You even touched upon Brigid’s association as the Goddess of war. I understand she is associated with the Morrigu and the Wild Hunt. I hadn’t considered her role as a weaponsmith but then Cuchulain Trained with the weaponsmith Scáthach too. This side of Pond we have Groundhog’s Day on February 2. Since Imbolc is a fire festival I always celebrate it on Feb. 2. In PA there is quite a fire festival in Puxatawney PA before the groundhog comes out to look for his shadow. This seems to be aligned with the custom of Bears coming out of hibernation in the Germanic and Celtic Traditions in Europe. It seems to me that February 2 relates to the maiden aspect of the triple goddess. Is not the return of spring to be equated to the story of Persephone and Demeter and Of course Candlemas on Feb. 3 is associated with Maire/Brigid as well. I leave you with two questions: Who are Brigid’s Mother and Daughter.

    It is always a pleasure and learning experience to read your post. Give your daughter my best. (this may try to double post, Arrrrgh).

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  2. Hello Ali. I enjoyed your imbolc post. I had occasion to do one myself this week. It is remarkable how many common points we covered. You even touched upon Brigid’s association as the Goddess of war. I understand she is associated with the Morrigu and the Wild Hunt. I hadn’t considered her role as a weaponsmith but then Cuchulain Trained with the weaponsmith Scáthach too. This side of Pond we have Groundhog’s Day on February 2. Since Imbolc is a fire festival I always celebrate it on Feb. 2. In PA there is quite a fire festival in Puxatawney PA before the groundhog comes out to look for his shadow. This seems to be aligned with the custom of Bears coming out of hibernation in the Germanic and Celtic Traditions in Europe. It seems to me that February 2 relates to the maiden aspect of the triple goddess. Is not the return of spring to be equated to the story of Persephone and Demeter and Of course Candlemas on Feb. 3 is associated with Maire/Brigid as well. I leave you with two questions: Who are Brigid’s Mother and Daughter.

    It is always a pleasure and learning experience to read your post. Give your daughter my best.

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  3. Happy Imbolc! I wish I had the chance to experience Irish fog in the spring!
    It must be so adventurous and mythical to see the dawn of the year while the nature is not fully awake yet!(and covered in white blanket)

    I love the trinity aspect of the goddess! Isn’t the famous Triquetra also from Celtic culture?

    I am also very intrigued about the sheep. Are there no mentioning about ancient sheep besides the wethers?
    In Chinese culture, there were elephants in the earliest dynasties (and prehistoric era). The elephant disappeared for a while in the history because Chinese elephants went extinct.
    When Buddhism entered China, the animal is re-introduced into the culture thru Buddhism. All elephants in later dynasties were modeled after Indian elephants! 😀

    Anyway, I hope you and your kids get well soon!

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  4. Proper interesting as always. Have I ever told u that supposedly sheep aren’t just non natives to Ireland but apparently they aren’t from Earth. They were introduced when the visitors realised they needed a source of meat. Funny how once again there’s a common element to Irish mythology….

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  5. thank you for your stories Ali! Such fascinating meanings to the legends and celebrations! I don’t feel Spring though I have a Roman version of Primavera from an old Pompeii fresco on my wall. We have had a stormy winter but I do see a few buds on bushes so it’s coming! Happy Embolc (belated) and I love the story of Brigid, Tuatha and saint!

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    1. Haha! Isn’t that funny, how a child can look like a name even when they’ve just been born? I’m sure there’s something mysterious going on there that we don’t understand, I men, how can a person look like a name? But we all do. Anyway, I hope you have a lovely Imbolc too… it’s really wild here today!

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  6. It’s interesting that all those festivals celebrate the 1st of the month, always the 1st.
    Thanks for introducing me to Imbolc. It certainly doesn’t feel like spring outside but your post felt like a little glimpse of it.

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    1. Thanks Elli. Same here, it’s very wild and wet. I dont think originally they would have fell on the 1st, they were related to the equinoxes and solstice so differed all the time. I think it was a bit of ‘tidying up’ which came in more recent years.

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  7. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Ali Isaac​ brings us some more Celtic magic with this post on Imbolc which is the first day of Irish Spring.. as Ali says they have had snow, high winds and torrential rain.. Winter’s last fling before heading off for another year.. yeah good luck with that one!….however from now on there is hope in the air and nature will soon be wearing this seasons latest creations.

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  8. I’m sorry to hear you’ve all been poorly and hope you’re much better now.I love the history/mythology of Ireland (is there a difference) and the stories you relate.It’s great to start the week with Imbolc and a treat from you too.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

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    1. Hi David, I don’t think there was any difference prior to medieval times, when there were more scribes around recording everything. Much like yourself, you have masses of mythology over there! It even involves a lot of the same characters, or very similar ones. The only difference I can see is that Irish myths are grittier, more down to earth, well, kind of, whereas Welsh ones are a little more fanciful and fantastical. I’m much better today thank you, I only had a cold and cough, but it knocks you harder the older you get, doesn’t it? Hope all is well with you. Huge Hugs, Ali

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    1. Thanks Sarah, a very happy Imbolc to you too! Lets hope the weather calms down a bit now, so we can really start to feel that Spring has arrived, because I’m not so sure judging by what has been thrown at us today! LOL!

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    1. It’s been wild and windy and wet! Still is! Kind of makes you afraid to walk or drive under trees. Which means that the old biddy must have been snoozing all day, too cosy and comfy to go collecting firewood, hence a good omen for the summer… apparently! We’ll see… time will tell!

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