Music for Brigid’s Day and Imbolc

St Brigid’s feast day is Feb­ru­ary 1st, and today we’ll be play­ing a col­lec­tion of Celtic music in her hon­our. The Gael­ic fes­ti­val coin­cides with Imbolc, the first day of Spring in Irish tra­di­tion, and because St Brigid has been linked to the god­dess Brigid, the fes­ti­val of Imbolc is asso­ci­at­ed with the goddess.

In addi­tion you can tune in at 12 noon or 4pm SLT for an edi­tion of our orig­i­nal series, “Where Have You Been?”, where we vis­it The Nature Col­lec­tive.

About Brigid and Imbolc

Brigid’s Day was insti­tut­ed by the ear­ly church on the same date as the pre-Chris­t­ian fes­ti­val of Imbolc, the ancient cel­e­bra­tion of the com­ing of Spring. Brigid is vir­tu­al­ly unique in that she exists as both a Pagan God­dess and a rec­og­nized Chris­t­ian Saint. In addi­tion, we do not actu­al­ly know if she even exist­ed in the “real” world. But belief in her was so wide­spread that ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty had vir­tu­al­ly no choice but to accept her into the canon.

Imbolc, the fes­ti­val that hon­ours Brigid, is a solar fes­ti­val that cel­e­brates the sun and the com­ing of Spring after win­ter. It is also a fes­ti­val of purifi­ca­tion by fire. The word Imbolc trans­lates to “in milk.” Per­haps, when our ancient ances­tors peeked out of their homes and saw preg­nant ani­mals wan­der­ing by, they knew that Spring was just around the cor­ner. Alter­na­tive­ly you might pre­fer the expla­na­tion that St Brigid was the wet-nurse to the Vir­gin Mary.

Wor­ship of Brigid became wide­spread among the Celtic lands includ­ing Scot­land and Ire­land. As Chris­tian­i­ty lat­er spread into the British Isles, Brigid was even­tu­al­ly Chris­tianised and made a Saint by the church. Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion has it that St Brigid was born in 450AD to a pagan chief­tain and a Chris­t­ian woman. She was the founder of the first monastery in Coun­ty Kil­dare in Ire­land, where a fire in her hon­our was kept burn­ing day and night. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, nine­teen nuns were in atten­dance at all times to make sure the fire nev­er went out. The sacred flame was said to have been sur­round­ed by a hedge, which no man could cross. This rev­er­ence for fire was most like­ly a holdover from her God­dess tra­di­tion. As a Saint, St Brigid was seen as the mid­wife or wet-nurse for the Vir­gin Mary. St Brigid is also known as “Mary of the Gael”, “Muire na nGael” — or “Our Lady of the Irish”. With St Patrick and St Colum­cille, she is one of the Patron Saints of Ireland.

St Brigid’s day is cel­e­brat­ed in Ire­land, where it is now a nation­al hol­i­day, and in some parts of Britain. Images of her or her equal-armed “Brigid Cross” are made out of straw and used as pro­tec­tors of the house­hold. Offer­ings of food and gifts are placed out­side for her, as she is said to walk among the hill­sides on that night. St. Brigid’s Cross echoes the shape of a sun wheel to hon­or both the God­dess and the new­ly-arrived Sun.

In Scot­land, there was a cer­e­mo­ny in which Brigid replaced Win­ter’s blue-faced Cail­leach of the High­lands. This fes­ti­val of Brigid was at one time only open to High­land women.

Expand­ed on text orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten by Soliel Snook and Eva Bellambi.
Main image: Holy Island (Inish Ceal­tra), Lough Derg, near Mountshan­non in Coun­ty Clare, Ire­land. Ruins of St. Brigid’s Church with Romanesque arch­way, St. Caim­in’s church in the back­ground. File:Holy Island Clare St. Brigids Church.jpg” by Dead­star is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 .