Brigid

Today is Brigid’s Day, the feast of Imbolc. The crone months of winter are behind us and the maiden spring is beginning. Yesterday I saw the first of the returning geese and the first butterfly. Time to look ahead and look about us at the world and what it is becoming.

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She came from the first people, those who made the hills and carved the beds of rivers and the great pools that filled with the oceans, who made light and fire. She used fire to shape the iron bones of the earth into things of beauty and usefulness, and from her father, the first poet, she inherited the gift of turning the coarse utterings of the tongue into poetry and song. From the mother of all things she learned how to heal what was sick and mend what was broken. At her side were the kings of the beasts, and around her feet spring flowers sprung. She was the soul of all that reached towards the sky, the birds, the growing things, the leaping flames. She was life and the turning seasons, adding with each revolution to the richness of the earth.

Such was the world, ordered and peaceful, ruled by wisdom and humanity, caring and beauty, until the invaders came and the great battle that divided it. To heal the wound, she took the invader king for her husband and their children were the vines that knit the broken pieces together again. But the oldest of their sons shattered the pattern again. He took his mother’s gift of shaping iron and he used it against the smith of his father’s folk, killing their wonder-worker, and taking a mortal wound himself.

The song she made for her dead son was the first lamentation for the first sin, the sin against the mother, the defiance of her authority and her wisdom. This was the first sin, and it could never be undone. Death was death, loss was loss, and the mother’s son could never return nor the pain he caused be healed. Never had such a song been sung before, and its echo was to ring out for ever and ever, in the keening for the dead.

In the dark days that followed the coming of the black monks and their worship of death, the women kept her flame alive, never letting it die. But the keening grew too loud to hear the whispered wisdom, the black robes smothered the bright flames and ignorance took the place of wisdom, rules took the place of poetry, and heavy boots shod with iron replaced the bare feet that coaxed flowers from the spring earth. The world was changed, changed utterly. And so we hear, forever and ever, the keening of women for dead sons who lost the path of wisdom and turned to folly.

Brigid’s Day

Tradition honours this time of year, the mid point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, with a feast. The crone months are behind us and we look forward to the spring. The ewes are giving milk and we will not starve. Okay, the local supermarket is always well-stocked whatever the ewes are about, and the poor beasts in factory farms give meat and milk whatever the season. But it is still salutory to remember that there was a time when the changes in the seasons mattered, and when we looked to the snowfall for other reasons than to decide which ski resort to choose.

This is my thought for this day of Imolc, a short piece dedicated to Brigid.

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Brigid looked down from the hill at the snow thick in the vales, and the dark woods where wolves stalked. Her cloak, full of the fire of the sun, melted the snow at her feet, and it ran away in rills of bright water. She bathed her face in the water, and a spring rose from the place, sweet and clear.
These traces she left behind when she passed, slipping with the speed of a sunbeam and as brilliant, across the winter lands, drawing the cold and the hunger behind her, banishing it little by little. This was her role. Whose child she was she herself could not say, but the sun and the earth were in her blood, and that was enough for her to know.
The Crone months were passed, and she looked ahead to a future she could see but the world could not, when life would spring again in the dead branches of the trees and push through the damp earth. She raised a hand to stroke the bark of the rowan tree and felt the tree shudder, as the buds drew in the heat of the sun through her fingers.
She listened and heard the sound of the young animals bleating and lowing in the barns. She gathered up the winter illnesses in her burning arms, turning them to ash that she scattered in the fresh breeze. Sunlight blazed through the winter shadows and she smiled at the pleasure in the animal voices. There would be milk now, holy water white as the snow, life giving, long after the cold had gone and the snow slipped back into the earth.
On swift feet that blazed green across the hills, Brigid turned into the breeze from the mountains. At her passing, the vixen in her earth raised her nose to the sweet, soft promise of spring. In their hard sheaths, the tender buds stirred, and the outline of flower and leaf filled and fattened. Her flame burned high as she strode over the sleeping mountains to bring the hope of spring to the plains beyond.