Hanging Her many-colored cloak on a beam of the sun,
She stands with arms upraised in the apple garden
At the Center of the World.
Was it not You, O Bride, Who saved my life
When the seas had nearly overthrown my curragh,
Who reached out Your hand and saved me from drowning?
–Old Irish ballad, translation from Sharon Devlin Folsom
My late Teacher, Gabriel Carrillo, wrote about Imbolc:
It is the time of giving birth, when, in the British Isles, ewes drop their sheep, and the first fruit trees burst into bloom, and the daffodils and narcissus begin their first stirrings. It is associated with wells, springs, and serpents; the serpent in the well is the Blue God emerging through the waters from the Underworld, and Yule initiation.
Brigit, or Bride, is a triple goddess;that is, there are three Brides: Bride the healer and midwife, Bride the scribe and poet and patroness of creativity, and Bride the smith, patroness of crafts in general and metalworking in particular: a very fiery Bride.
Her name in old British was Brigantia, the patroness of the Brigantes, and at one time their warrior Queen Cartimandua. The name means something like the Mighty One.
One of my first consciously Pagan poems was written for Her, around this time of Her tide. I remember I sat down at a table in the Someday Cafe in Davis Square and within five minutes, had written these words one early February afternoon:
Your hands write poems in the air
Like tawny flax Your russet hair
Red and Gold, green quickening Life,
O ancient Queen, immortal Midwife!
Bride, holiest, heed our song
As the dark days of winter throng
And winter unto Spring doth yield
With banners of crocus in the field.
As a bloom of thistle blown
Our from the dark robes of the Crone,
The land is drenched with raining milk
And o’er the mud sweeps Your train of silk:
And on high Your jeweled crown
Blesses the heralding Spring’s renown!
Some years ago, working through the Celtic Shaman’s Pack devised by John Matthews, I was very struck by Chesca Potter’s painting depicting Elen, Lady of the Ways (reproduced at the top of this post). Among other things, Elen acts as a Guardian of the Wisdom Traditions, and I have a large print of this painting on the wall hanging in front of my main working Altar in my workroom. Matthews comments: She guards all roadways and paths between this world and the other both by sea and land, and as an Empowerer opens the dream pathways down which we pass each night. Elen is regarded by some as the prehistoric form, the Antlered Goddess, of the Being venerated in historic times as Brighid. And I personally believe it is true that as humans evolve, so too do the Gods. Though They exist outside the constraints of time, place, and person, our knowing of Them, our Gnosis, and how They manifest changes and shifts because we are changing. So too the nature of the Work and Play we share with Them is also constantly changing. She changes everything She touches.
I personally seem to have some kind of attractive energy for Guardians of roadways, of gateways, of paths to and from. I connect this energy to how, in my life, I have felt consistently like an outsider, rider of the hedge, walker of the Edge. Many Witches live as outsiders; on the fringes of the community, perhaps offering service, but living apart. As a Keeper of the Gates, Elen stands at the Crossroads between Winter and Spring, a primal figure, the Antlered Goddess, offering both Promise and Warning. A sentinel, and a welcoming presence. In my own way, I live as Her Priest, and in this season of the February Sabbat, She comes into Her own.
I keep a Bridget’s Cross over my stove–the hearth of every home in this time of the twenty-first century. And the image of that particular “cross” both speaks to me of a tireless Eye watching in all directions, and of the “pivot of the Four Quarters.” Again, a point of crossing between the seasons of darkness and light–a balance-point between the forces of killing frost and nurturing flame. The Sword forged upon the heat of Her anvil can either protect and defend, or slay and destroy. The choice is in the hands of each person who dares to take up the blade.
Gwydion Pendderwen, who I regard as one of the founders of the Faery Tradition as it exists in this age, called Imbolc Lady Day. He wrote a song about it, which has been a part of my observance of this Feast for many years now. Although when I wrote my own poem, I had never even heard of Gwydion, the imagery of the two lyrics echoes one another across the years. This is what in the occult disciplines is called Gnosis. The words composed by Old Gwydion say in part:
Lo! the mighty Fairy Maiden
Rises from the Earth.
Dismal winter, gently thawing,
Heralds her rebirth.
Softly now, the budding branches
Offer new life for old,
And in splendor the Holy Maiden
Lets Her mantle unfold.
Treading softly through the valley,
‘Cross the snowy field,
She has brought the tufts of grass
Which every step revealed.
Quietly, She bares Her bosom
Where the fountain once played,
And in answer the waters come forth
To the will of the Maid. …