Brigid’s Day: Imbolc and Candlemas

February. Those who celebrate the early days of this month will either be in church or in the fields, both celebrating Brigid, in two of her aspects. February 1st marks the start of spring on the Celtic calendar, also known as the festival of Imbolc. Imbolc, St. Brigid’s day, Candlemas. 

It’s also the Catholic celebration of the Feast of St. Brigid, or Candlemas. Myth and legends of Brigid, both goddess and saint, overlap.Imbolc is one of the four quarter days on the Celtic calendar, falling halfway between the winter and spring equinoxes. Although the word “imbolc” refers to lactating ewes, Celtic celebrations included lighting fires and candles as a way to welcome the light of spring. In ancient mythology, Brigid is known as the “Fiery Arrow,” goddess of the flame. 

In Catholic tradition, this day celebrates Saint Brigid. Born into a druid family, Brigid was trained to be a druid. She converted to Christianity and performed many miracles, such as curing lepers,  hanging up her famous blue cloak on a sunbeam. All sorts of traditions of carried over such as the creating of Brigid dolls and waiting for Brigid’s blessing.

She became the abbess at Kildare, Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak.  She began the tradition of the sacred flame. Legend has it that the flame was originally used by Celts to invoke the ancient Goddess Brigid. When Saint Brigid began her nunnery, she continued the tradition of the flame.  Theories vary on the nunnery or school of Cill Dara. Some historians believe Kildare was first a druid school led by the druid Brigid, then converted with her and became a double monastery.

According to tradition, the flame survived until the 16th century, when the Catholic faith was suppressed by Protestant rule. In 1993, the flame was re-lit at Kildare, now tended by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare

The celebration of Brigid begins tonight and continues throughout the week, St. Brigid’s Day, Imbolc, or Candlemas. Brigid remains a fascinating figure in all of her incarnations, goddess, druid, and saint.

 

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