February 3, 2016
The Wheel has turned, spring is here,
Welcome new life, far and near.
IMBOLC © Kathleen McKern Verigin
Greetings from the wild, windy, and wet west of Ireland. The 3-day festival I attended at Brigit’s Garden, Co. Galway, was well worth the journey in the dead of winter. What I’ve discovered is that winter is not dead at all. In reality, She is very much alive, as I experienced on her Feast Day, Monday, Feb. 1st.
That day I was the guest of two local women whom I’d met through friends of friends. We first attended a Brigit mass at the church in Liscannor, Co. Clare. The priest there, Father Dennis Crosby, knows well the blend of ancient and new. There were hand-woven Brigit crosses everywhere, including on the sacred altar. Also on the altar, there were dozens of Brídeógs, the Irish word for Brigit doll. School children were holding the Brídeógs they had made, clutching them close to their hearts. Consider that these primitive dolls are fertility symbols! Father Dennis even brought in a baby lamb to demonstrate the meaning of Imbolc, the pre-Christian (dare I say pagan?) tradition. Imbolc (pronounced IMM-ulk) means “in the belly.” It was the time of year—early February on the modern calendar—when the first farmers saw that the pregnant ewe’s milk began to flow. It meant that winter had enough passed that it was safe for new life to emerge. Indeed, I’ve witnessed plenty a pregnant ewe, and cow, as I roam about the eternally green grasses of Erin.
After mass, just down the road a bit, we visited Brigit’s Holy Well. To be there on her Feast Day was extra special. I offered a variety of prayers for healing, for friends far and near. Later we enjoyed lunch at a pub, followed by a trek to a much less celebrated holy well, this one attributed to St. Augustine. It was there that I noticed a paradox of sorts. When I looked at the land, I sensed the presence of spring. The green grasses allowed tiny flower shoots to begin emerging. When I looked above, through the soughing trees, I felt the presence of winter, not quite gone. It was then that I encountered the Cailleach, known as the divine hag, a creator and weather deity. Through the ROARING winds (gale force that day) she seemed to be saying—“Not so quick Little Missy. I’m not done with ye yet.” The purpose for this journey was revealed.
It was time for me to experience and embrace my personal passage from autumn to winter. I saw this at Brigit’s Garden when I came upon an autumn leaf with snow drops on it, while resting next to daffodil shoots. When I stepped through Brigit’s crios, (pronounced “criss,” it is also known as Brigit’s girdle, a seamless circle formed from triple-braided straw rope, thus marrying the sacred numbers of four and three) at Brigit’s Garden, and again after mass, I finally proclaimed, in silence, that I am indeed in the winter of my life, and, like the old Cailleach, I am very much alive as spring is so beautifully demonstrating.
ANAM CARA POETRY
© Rev. Liah Rose, 2/2/16
The sun is rising, throwing color into a dark sky
Ice and snow still shimmer on the ground
But the mother is waking
Green shoots herald the coming of a crocus bed
Bare trees are beginning to show signs of budding
Small bumps looking more like a crone’s warts than the blossoms it will bear.
Bulbs underground, long dormant, sense the pending warmth
And break through their winter blanket of earth
Reaching for the sun, reaching for the warmth
That hasn’t quite arrived
People hasten by, loathe to slow down
Not wanting to be late for their busy lives
And yet a glimpse of green, stark against the snow
Catches an eye and captures the awareness of one such passerby
Just for a moment, he stops, bends down and touches the blade of new growth.
The firm leaf that has broken through the cold ground
A promise of spring is in that touch.
The promise of warmer days ahead.
It’s enough to carry him through, and he hurries on his way
The smile he wears a testament to the stolen moment.