Friday, 1 February 2013

Imbolc Blessings ... May the Flame Burn Bright

So this morning I was up early lighting a very special candle. Last year in the latter half of February I was granted St Brigit or Brighid's Flame. In a small ceremony I could hear the whispers of the ages and I could see the long line of keepers before me and keepers still.

A week later I used the flame to open my very first Moon Lodge in the roundhouse, the spring lodge honouring the maiden at the waxing moon. Brighid made her appearance a few times that eve through story and the talking of the circle.

When I was granted the flame I knew only a little about Brighid, but she had been weaving her way across my path more and more often throughout the previous years. Since holding the flame in my heart and in my home I have been given so much more information about her through guidance, books and vision. At Yule I was given a pendant necklace of Brighid's Cross and she stepped in to my life with fervour and I had many visions of the flame in my heart.

Brighid Light - Wendy Andrews

She is a Celtic Goddess, the daughter of Dagda, one of leaders and father figures of the Tuatha de Danaan, the ancient race of red haired peoples of the Goddess Danu. The tribe arrived in Ireland from the mists having lost their own island, perhaps Atlantis. They then disappeared back after aeons in to the mists of story as the the fairy folk of Ireland. The baby Brighid was said to have been born to these magical peoples one sunrise with flames bursting forth from her forehead connecting her to the universe and the source of all there is. Her name, Bride in Scotland, Brigid or Brighid in Ireland and Brigantia (Britannia) in England means fire (of the forge and hearth) or bright, or perhaps power, strength, vigour and virtue. Today in the northern hemisphere there are about fifty-five current versions of her name in usage.

Some tales tell of three Brigits, all sisters, the daughters of Dagda, one a doctor, one a poet and one a gold or metalsmith, but this may have been the first reference to the Goddess in her triple aspect. There are stories of a grown up Brighid healing leprosy and other diseases with herbs and the placing of her cloak around the shoulders of the sick, making weaponry particularly arrows and tending to the cows and sheep. She was venerated as the Goddess of smithcraft, inspiration and poetry, and domestic animals, and was known as a magician healer. Irish poets have often thought of themselves as her sons.

In Druid mythology, as an infant she was fed with milk from a sacred cow from the Otherworld. Brigid owned an apple orchard in the Otherworld and her bees would bring their magical nectar back to earth. The theme of otherworldly apples and bees being sacred to many powerful goddesses as are the serpents with which she also sometimes depicted.

She became the wife of Bres and had, either three sons or just the one, Ruadan, by all accounts a great warrior, but sadly killed in battle. Brighid wailed at the death of her son and is said to have been the first to keen for the death of a loved one and she became the comforter of all mourners.

Ireland is full of springs and wells named after the goddess Brighid. Wells are often seen as a doorway to the Otherworld and as a source of wisdom and healing. Many are sacred to Brighid and are viewed as portals to the womb of our Mother, the source of all life.

Brighid by Miranda Gray

So that's who she is, but what of her flame ...

For more than a thousand years, maybe so much longer the sacred fire of Brighid literally burned bright. It was kept alight by her priestesses. In pagan times long ago the flame was never extinguished with twenty priestesses keeping vigil in shifts. Eventually Christianity took hold in Ireland, but it could not put out the flame of Brighid. The Goddess was such a part of life that she just evolved and became a part of the Catholic Church. In the 6th century C.E. a nun, known as later as St. Brigid, came to Kildare and built a nunnery and school on the same site where the Brighid flame burned on. The ways of the pagan priestesses were eventually absorbed into the ways of the nuns, and the Goddess Brighid lived on in a new guise, hidden to some extent and protected from extinction. The flame survived Viking raids and many wars until the little wooden church and monastery was replaced by a stone Cathedral around the 13th Century. Giraldus Cambrensis wrote in the 12th century that the Flame was attended by twenty servants of the Lord at the time of St. Brigid. He said that St Brigid herself was originally the twentieth nun, but when she died, the number went down to nineteen. The nuns would take their vigils in turns just as the priestesses had before them and tended the eternal flame. The story goes that the nineteenth nun would stoke up the fire with logs and that St. Brigid returned to look after the flame on the twentieth day and that the fire never went out. The fire by that time had been recorded as burning for six hundred years and had never had it's ashes cleaned out. Surrounding the fire was apparently a hedge that no male could ever cross and attempts to put out the flame resulted in some serious illness or injury to those who tried crossing the magic hedge.

St Brigid had that abbey built atop a hill beside a great oak tree in 480 AD in a place sacred or nearby to a place already sacred to Brighid. It is so with many churches and cathedrals built upon sacred sites where the good energy flows strongly in the land. The Gaelic word for Kildare is Cill Dara, which means the Cell or Church of the Oak.
It was there, in that sacred place, that the flame was kept burning until the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. King Henry XIII in ordering the destruction of many monasteries also extinguished the flame. Brighid's fire burned on however in the hearts and minds of a people, the tradition never died and the Goddess lived on.

On February 1, 1807 Daniel Delany, Bishop of Kildare, began the restoration of the Sisterhood of St. Brigid. Restoring the ancient order was their mission and the Sisterhood slowly re-established. In 1993, at a conference, entitled Brigid: Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker Brighid’s perpetual flame was finally re-kindled in Kildare’s Market Square by Mary Teresa Cullen, who at that time was the leader of the Brigidine Sisters. The confenece was organised by Afri, (Action from Ireland), a justice, peace and human rights organisation, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Project. Since then, these sisters kept the flame in their homes and in the their centre, Solas Bhride, but on February 1st in 2006 the flame given a permanent glass home in the centre of the of the Market Square.

So today in the Celtic year we celebrate Imbolc or Imbolg, the Feast of Lights, Brighid's Day and the Coming of The Maiden. Imbolg comes from the Old Irish, i mbolg meaning in belly. It is associated with the period when ewes pregnant with spring lambs, started to lactate and give milk again. For many years I've celebrated this day, but not for the past five years. You see my Izzy was due on this day in 2007, she was in my belly, my "i mbolg", she was supposed to be my coming maiden, my little girl fire burning bright. All the way through the pregnancy I looked forward to a rather special Imbolc, but my little girl, with all her goddess names, was three days late, then she only stayed for five and half more before going back to spirit. So Brighid's Day has been a toughie (understatement) ever since.

This year though, I felt like I wanted to celebrate the Festival Of Lights with her. Nothing I do is ever really without her anyway. Our relationship I have to say has been changing this last year or so and since she is no longer babe in my arms or a nearly six year old at my feet, I feel her more and more an equal soul, if not so much more than me, perhaps whispering wisdoms, maybe imagined maybe not, in my ear and heart. If she asks I whisper back to her my own wisdoms. I feel our paths are side by side, more like sisters, than daughter and mother , with no more than a gossamer veil between us. I told her a year after she left this plane to walk her path and not be held back by my grieving. So now I feel like I have been told my own advice and that I am not to ignore my Celtic heart and my goddess ways at this time, so at the end of last year I decided I would light the flame on February 1st and sit in contemplation for an hour. I vowed to do this each day up until the 20th as has been done for centuries, On that last day I plan to have a feast with some girlfriends, goddesses all, and we are going to celebrate Brighid's Flame together with meditation, poems and crafts. I hope we can make our own Brighid's Crosses. Traditionally woven from straw, it is combination of a pagan sunwheel and Christian symbol. It comprises a woven square in the centre and four radials tied at the ends.

So for the past few days I have been given glimpses of the sacred cave in anticipation. The fire has been burning in my heart. This morning upon lighting the Flame I was taken inside the cave, to the circle of women, clothed in white from head to toe, kneeling around a well. The well was surrounded by candles, one for each of them , nineteen perhaps of which I was one. In an alcove on the wall there seemed to be the Flame itself. After a time each of the sisters left and the vigil was mine alone. The flame seemed to burn inside me for a while, lengthening my spine and freeing a tense area between my shoulder blades. Here the sensation was like tiger balm or menthol based cream inside me. Burning hot but cold. I could see for a time that the flame in the alcove had a mossy green tinge to it.

I'm ashamed to say at one point I think I dosed off or drifted, and one of the white clad sisters actually came in to gently wake me up again. I asked of the Goddess if I could have a word for the day, what the Flame means that day, in one word. I was given PERSEVERANCE, not in lower case but in capitals. Perhaps she was tying to tell me something about my wavering attention, but it feels very much the words I need to give me the strength to keep the daily vigils up during the difficult days ahead. I felt very blessed to have been able to have this flame burn bright within me and for it to have burned on my little altar.

I did some more research today on some of the things I had seen. I found out that the white robes, would probably have been worn by Brighid's priestesses and nuns, because the day was later celebrated by girls dressed in white parading through the town displaying the dolls or "bridies or biddys" they had made out of wheat or grain in honour of Brighid the night before. Hence brides being dressed in white.

I also found out that the wood mostly associate with keeping Brighid's fire burning, apart from ash, is hawthorn. Hawthorn is one of the hottest burning woods and makes the sweetest bread. The little hawthorn petals were also thrown as the first confetti over those brides. It is not only a tree sacred to Brighid, it is sacred to the wise woman and the fay folk. I know because it's one of the reasons I chose it for Izzy's woodland grave. So the threads of the Wyrd interweave time and time again, sometimes glistening with a tear and often causing a smile.

So this evening I sit and I ponder. I realise this has been the best Imbolc in many a year for me. I am looking forward to the coming days with the Flame and the Sisters, my vigil, my thoughts of Goddess Brighid. A few friends have said that perhaps the flame wasn't just granted me, perhaps it also returned. Since my time this morning in the cave, dressed in white, knowing in my bones it was some where in time when the shift happening between the old ways and the Catholic ways. It felt so old and so pagan and yet for me, it was a time when the priestesses were nuns, maybe I was once too. So maybe the flame burns with me for a few reasons. I'm glad to honour my daughter with times of seclusion this month, my Izzy time. I hope Brighid will comfort me, as she has so many who mourn the loss of loved ones. I'm glad to honour the old ways with new ways. I'm glad the Goddess is kept alive in the hearts of men and women who see her as the pagan goddess or as a Christian saint. I'm glad I am blessed by this flame. I am honoured to be just one of so many, many guardians.

May with you too the Goddess flame burn bright. May you also be blessed this Imbolc. I hope your heart lights up with the first stirrings of spring. This is a wonderful time when the warmth quickens the seeds we have planted within us. New life and ideas begin to germinate.

All Hail Brighid ... for she is that bright spark of life. Honour her at the hearth fire and in your heart fire. Blessed Be.

The Dreadess xx

This is blog is dedicated to the memory of Isadora Magdalen Moon, all the guardians of the Brighid Flame in all time and to the Solas Bhríde who guard the flame in Kildare still

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