Spring is here! Imbolc, one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar, marks the start of the farming year. Imbolc is a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly”, this indicates the readiness of the Earth “to give birth”. to life again in the Springtime. We are enlivened by the lenghtening days and the stirrings in the land. The welcome return of the life giving forces. It is a time to come out of our Winter hibernation. Leave behind the darkness and our Winter contemplations. The light returns!
The abundance of Summer is not far off. Gardeners are powerless to resist the urge to till the land and plant seeds. These are rituals which are rooted in the ancient ways. Revel in them.
To the Romans this time of year, halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox was known as Lupercalia. It was a celebration of Spring and also partly in honour of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romolus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The focal point of the festival was the Lupercal, the cave in which this nurturing took place. William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caeser begins during Lupercalia.
Here in Ireland February 1st is also the feast of St. Brigid. Brigid was the daughter of a pagan chieftain and the patron saint of cattle and dairy. Cows in her care were said to produce more milk than all others. Brigid had a very generous nature and much to her Father’s displeasure she gave most of the produce away. She is also reputed to have been the best mead and ale maker in Ireland. She is thought to have converted to Christianity and used rushes to make small crosses which carry her name to this day. St. Brigid’s crosses are thought to protect the house from fire. A new one is usually made each year. The tradition of making the crosses is still very much alive and most children in primary schools will make them at this time.
Brigid was also known as the Keeper of the Sacred Flame, signifying once again the return of light, the return of the sun, hence the practice of lighting candles around this time. Of course when Christianity came the old Pagans festivals were outlawed and given new focus in Church activities. Imbolc became Candlemas. However in recent years people are once again returning to their roots and giving new life to these ancient festival times. Long may it continue!
Happy Imbolc, St. Bridgid’s Day or Candlemas. The light returns!