Imbolc is a time to ‘wake the Earth’ from her slumber. For many, it is also seen as the Return of the Goddess from her trip to the Underworld that started at Samhain. Traditionally, Imbolc is the Sabbat celebrating the passing of another winter, and the start of the agricultural year. For Pagans who celebrate the Triple Goddess, Imbolc is the point where She transitions from Crone to Maiden.
A big part of Imbolc for me is the celebration and honoring of the Goddess Brigid. Brigid is a Triple Goddess, and so gets honoured in all of Her aspects. Though technically Imbolc is the beginning of Maiden energies, as a mother, the Goddesses of Fertility, Birth, Midwifery and Motherhood feature prominently in my practice since that’s where I am at this stage in my life. Brigid, being associated with midwifery, would naturally fit, along with Frigg, Hathor, Nephthys, Hera, Artemis, Bast, Diana, Hekate, and Juno, among others. With the birth of the Sun at Yule, I love the imagery of the ‘baby’ Sun nursing from the Goddess’s breast. Now that my kids are older, I sometimes miss the (admittedly sometimes frustrating) nights awake with just my baby to keep me company and Imbolc is a time to honour not only the Goddess and Her Son, but also my own.
Brigid is the Goddess of things you make with your hands, and in the aspect, as an artisan, appeals to me greatly. Imbolc is Her day; a festival and Goddess figure so important to ancient Celtic peoples that is reflected in the Christianization of Her into St. Brigid. The Church couldn’t eradicate Her as they did with other deities, so they adopted her. Craftsmen and women invoked Her in the crafting of everyday items, from clothing to farming or animal husbandry equipment, to poetry and art. I keep a mini Brigid offering dish in my kitchen window in remembrance of how essential and influential She is in daily life, and usually keep my Brigid devotional candle lit while I am crafting.
I am part of a Flamekeeping Cill for Brigid, Cill Willow, and have been for several years now. Every 20 days, each of the 19 people in our Cill takes a ‘shift’ tending the eternal flame, saving the last day for Brigid. Though I participate in the flamekeeping vigil during my appointed shift, Imbolc is also a time for communing with Her and tending Her sacred flame.
After the dearth of Winter, Imbolc is a celebration of Light – the return of the Sun and celebration of its returning power. The God may be visualized as a lusty young man, spreading his warmth and attention to the Earth (Gaia), fertilizing and encouraging the growth of the early Spring flowers and vegetation. The connections to fertility are obvious; so fertility rituals and the ‘rekindling’ of everything – activity, agriculture, the birth of animals and babies. The connection to warmth and heat and light and Fire is and important on for me. There are several ‘fire’ associated traditions that appeal to me; the snuffing and re-lighting hearth fires. We don’t have a fireplace, but have found that ritually re-lighting candles symbolizes the same. Other traditions include sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new, filling the house with the smell of baking bread, making corn dollies filled with intentions for the year, and other such ‘Spring Cleaning’ activities that set the tone for the coming season.
With the kids, taking time to celebrate the beginning of the calendar year, recalling seasonal and Sabbat Lore to strengthen their connections to their paths is always a focus. Though I don’t seek to indoctrinate my kids into any particular pathway, offering various Spring seasonal stories, recounting traditions and coming up with ways to honour that passing of season to season is important to me; much more than cementing a particular belief system is just the recognition and honoring of the Turning of the Wheel. Since this is a devotional Sabbat, it re-affirms my own path, and helps me maintain my focus for the coming year, and whatever my children take from that to form their own path works for me.
I have said in the past that I feel a special affinity for cross-quarter days (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh & Samhain). These ‘in-between’ times are times of change and examination. This is when I evaluate, and make adjustments when needed, to my path or journey towards a goal. I update my journals, Shadow Books, make changes and consolidate information, and occasionally add a new Shadow Book or section in my existing Books if I need to. It’s a time of ‘housekeeping’ and organization in both a literal and symbolic sense.
This year, I am focusing on ‘simplicity’. Though I tend to focus on the Sabbat throughout the month, I have lately felt the need for a simplified ritualistic practice that marks the occasion on the day of. I recently found this Simple Imbolc Rite that really spoke to me, and thought I would share.
Here’s my Imbolc altar and simple ritual:
How did you celebrate Imbolc this year?
“When celebrating the Wheel of the Year, you can interpret it many ways. You can see it as symbolic, agricultural, astrological, etc. You could even do a combination. How do you find significance of each holiday in the modern world we live in? For example, during the fall season, the holidays relate strongly to the harvest. In this day and age, most of us don’t live on a farm harvesting grain and ensuring the following year’s crops. How do you stay in touch with the roots of the holy days we observe when some times we are so far placed from them?
How do you interpret the Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year and make it fit the modern world around us?”
Litha is also when my local Circle celebrates our anniversary. We formed in 2011, and Litha was our first Ritual as a group, so each turn of the Wheel to Litha is another year that I celebrate in fellowship with the members of my Circle. We celebrate 3 full years in 2014.
This cycle is the sixth; I am amazed that it’s already my shift again. After my last shift, I wanted to make a devotional candle to burn during my shift – one that was specifically for Brighid. This is what I ended up with – I love how it turned out!
I used a white glass 7-day candle that I found at the dollar store, some craft necklace chain, wire and beads from my jewelry-making supplies. Then I found a picture of Brighid that I liked, and printed it, then ran it through a sticker-maker so that I could attach it to the candle.
This particular candle is one that came without any pre-printed decoration. The glass was clear, so I only had to remove the price sticker and clean the glass before putting the sticker on. I also created a sticker for the back with the history of Cill Willow and my upcoming shift dates. Upon reflection, I should have checked my dates more carefully; I made a mistake in the counting of days and was off, so I had to fix the dates. I’m going to end up re-printing the back sticker.
For this shift, I started the day off in a sour mood. I woke up late, my phone was acting up (I could hear people, but they couldn’t hear me), my modem was acting up (randomly turning itself off and refusing to re-load correctly), the kids were acting obnoxious – it just wasn’t a good day. As the evening crept closer though, things started to get better – in tiny, almost immeasurable increments, but they did start getting better.
My dad called and invited us all to dinner and the boys to watch the football game, so that eliminated the need to cook dinner. I also got to spend some time with my dad, which was nice. Then I left the kids at his house for a while and went back home. I had a couple of hours to myself; I got out my jewelry-making supplies and played with my beads for a bit while listening to the ever-soothing Lord of the Rings soundtrack. I’m a huge geek, and LotR just pushes all of my buttons, so that was utterly enjoyable!
The the men-folk came back home, so I retired to my bedroom to re-decorate my altar for Samhain (it was still decorated for Lughnasadh – I seem to have skipped Mabon altogether, which is unusual for me, but I just wasn’t feeling it). I lit some amber/sandalwood incense that I found at The Witchery in Galveston (that stuff has become my new favorite incense – I burn it all the time!) and just took my time cleaning my altar and putting the old decorations away. I cleared off some of the things I’ve been keeping on it for a while, and pulled out some things that I haven’t used in a long time; it’s nice to see those things again. I used a purple silk altar cloth and brand new purple candles, which is different; I usually use more neutral colored candles. I also cleaned out my ‘magic trunk’ and organized my herb jars under my altar in neat rows. I’m really happy with how it looks, and am breathing easier now that my trunk is all clean and organized. There’s definitely truth to the old saying about physical clutter being linked to mental clutter.
At bedtime, I put the flame out (my LED candle needs batteries), and re-lit it this morning for a few minutes before I extinguished it so that the kids and I could meet up with some friends. When we got back home this afternoon, I re-lit my flame and went to take a nap before we had to leave again, and had the flame next to my bed. I fell alseep quickly, and dreamed, but can’t remember what about now; something about my sister and I in an SUV going somewhere, I think.
This shift was odd in a way; while I was focused on making a connection, I didn’t feel particularly connected to Brighid. I feel like her influence was there, as both the inspirer of creative pursuits was there, as well as her role as a Goddess of the Hearth, but I didn’t feel like She was as attuned as I have in the past. Not that I expect her to be all in my face or anything, but I feel more like I was reaching out more and in the past She was reaching for me.
In any case, it was a lovely shift. It was just the thing I needed after a very chaotic day yesterday, and a busy day today.
My sisters with Cill Willow have completed a full cycle and started on our second. I started my second cycle a bit late – my husband and I were on a date when the sun set, then we went to pick my children up from my parents and visited with them for a bit. Even though the flame was technically not yet lit, as Brigid is a hearth-goddess, spending time with family is always honoring her.
Once we got home, I lit my candle and put it on the table next to me while I worked on some signs to direct traffic – we hosted a party for our dojo to congratulate our newest black belts. It was odd; I noticed that when my mind was on lettering, my flame would go out. I would re-light it and continue. This happened several times – until I finished with the signs and brought the candle into the living room where my attention was not as divided.
For bedtime, I turned on an LED candle, which has been on my altar since my last shift; I tried putting it away, but it felt wrong so I left it there. Both nights of my shift, I slept soundly, and don;t recall any dreams. I woke up fairly early for a day filled with family activities.
I wasn’t feeling well Saturday afternoon, so I went to lay down, fully intending to practice reiki and do some meditation – perhaps the intent was enough as I fell asleep shortly after lying down and woke feeling refreshed and much better. I woke in enough time to see the end of my shift through with a real flame – a white candle in thanks and honor of Brigid’s healing energies.
Overall, I am less happy with how this devotion went. I feel like I made more of a connection last time, but I also realize that life has a way of mucking up the best of plans. I am working on being flexible, and the realization that there is always a way to make the connection, even if it wasn’t ‘on schedule’. Since I didn’t get to craft much during my actual shift, I have been working on Lughnasadh amulets as gifts for our Circle’s Ritual next weekend and am making a Brigid’s Cross from some of the leftover wheat stems from the amulets. I’ll post pictures when I finish it!
Saturday, June 30, 2012 8:22PM CST began my first shift with Cill Willow to tend Brigid’s Eternal Flame. I have ‘shift 4’ in a 20-day cycle (with 19 Flamekeepers and one day that Brigid tends the flame herself, then the cycle starts again). Each shift starts at sundown and continues through the night and following day, until sundown, when you pass the duty off to the next Flamekeeper.
I posted about this a few weeks ago, and I wanted to come back and talk about what the experience was like; document what I did and how I felt.
I lit my flame just after sunset. I also lit some incense that I made. I plan to make another blend specifically for tending my flame (possibly with the sisters in my Cill), but this time, I used a blend that I made in Circle with my local group last year at Mabon. It’s one of my favorite blends and since it was made in Circle, I thought it was appropriate.
I chose a white candle to burn for Brigid. White corresponds to spirituality, cleansing, purity, perfection, innocence, integrity, healing, freedom, opportunity, forgiveness, and acceptance. It is also a color of simple power; white carries the powers of all the colors and can be directed towards almost any use. In this case, I specifically wanted to channel spirituality and cleansing. White helps eliminate negative energy and creates inner peace, which I found to be very true in this instance. It also corresponds to the Maiden form of the Triple Goddess, which is Brigid incarnate.
I was able to spend four hours in mindful tending this evening. I listened to songs and stories and even watched a documentary on St. Brigid of Kildare. Some of my favorite music devoted to Brigid is Lisa Theil’s Song to Brigid, Isaac Bonewit’s Hymn to Brigid, Brighid’s Kiss by Triniti, Chalice & Blade’s I Hear You Calling, and Kelliana’s Brighid.
During that time, to honor Brigid’s call to creativity and her affinity for healing, I created a flat woven beaded panel that features a Native American Medicine Wheel. It didn’t turn out all that great; I had no idea how many beads it would take and ran out of the ones I started with and then the others were too small. I ended up editing the design once it was in-progress and it just… yeah – not so great. It looks nothing like the original design, but I am relatively happy with it (for what it is – call it a ‘proof of concept’). But the effort was there, and I plan on getting more beads to make a ‘real’ version of the panel. If it turns out well, then I will make another panel and sew them together for a ‘Medicine Bag‘. I very much enjoyed the process of beading. I am considering getting a loom, although flat bead weaving wasn’t too bad.
I will keep a natural flame burning for some time yet and when I go to bed I will switching to a LED candle. I would prefer a natural flame to burn the entire shift, but safety comes first and leaving a candle burning while I sleep wouldn’t be safe. I would also worry that the flame would go out while I slumber; an LED flame will be burning bright until I wake.
One thing that this experience has taught me is that I am not connecting with my deities deeply enough lately. I plan to spend some time over the coming weeks and months devoting my practice to a particular deity, rather than just honoring the Gods in general. I also found that I need to schedule more devotional time into my day. Though four hours is a bit much to expect on a daily basis, perhaps once a week would be feasible.
Something I would like to comment on before I go is meditating with children around. I have two children, both active boys, and my husband has been home this evening. They’ve been in and out of the kitchen (where I was meditating and beading), and asking me questions, commenting on my handiwork, turning the TV up too loud – all while I was in my makeshift ‘sacred space’. I decided before I began that trying to retreat to my room to practice in solitude and relative silence would be an exercise in futility, and so I adjusted my mindset. I knew that I would be needed (probably more than usual since my mind was to be elsewhere), and so I went into this evening with that in mind. Instead of being resentful or annoyed at interruptions, I looked at my divided attention as honoring the Mother aspect of the Goddess – caring for my children and family as She answers us when we are in need of Her attention – even when there are others who need Her more. Even though I was interrupted countless times over the course of the evening, my peace was undisturbed. I am relaxed and my mind is restful – I enjoyed my evening very much.
If you have young children, I wonder how looking at tending your families needs as part of your practice might work. When my children were younger, I felt like I didn’t have time for devotions, because I was so needed all the time. Looking back, I wish I had more of an open mind about how my daily practice should look and feel. I also wish that I’d been more open to incorporating my boys into my practice when they were younger. I actually have mixed feelings about that, as I don’t want to ‘indoctrinate’ them into any religion – I want them to know about and explore other paths and find the one that’s right for them. That said, I do wish I’d taken more time with them in spiritual matters when they were younger – for that matter I wish I had taken more time for spiritual matters myself when they were younger! Oh well, done is done – time to focus on the here and now. My youngest did come craft next to me while I was beading. He is sculpting a little man figure from clay; we sat together and enjoyed some of the music I lined to above with me. A mother can’t ask for more than that!
I may write more tomorrow – I will have a full day of Flamekeeping to fill. ‘Till then, have a blessed night!
I am a Flamekeeper.
My friend Bridey recently wrote about Flamekeeping, and began a cell of flamekeepers to tend Brigid’s Eternal Flame, which I have joined. I would say that it’s a ‘local’ group, but it’s comprised of women from all over the world. It’s been fascinating to me to be a part of Pagan groups with one common uniting feature, and this group is no less interesting.
I have never been called to Brigid in the past, but I have been around her more in the last year as she is Bridey’s patron and She seems to be drawing me closer to Her, for a time, at least.
As a Flamekeeper, the expectation is that during the 20-day cycle, you will tend the flame on the day of your shift for as much of the day as possible, taking safety into consideration.The longer you are able to tend, the more energy the cell will be able to generate: an offering to this world and the otherworld, as well as to Brighid. The day is not spent merely ensuring that the candle doesn’t get out of control – it is a day spent, as much as possible, in meditation, reflection and devotion – in whatever form – to Brighid. For some, this may mean a day of fasting, for others, a day of indulgence. For some a day of quiet meditation, for others a day of joyous celebration. It is making devotion to Brigid personal, and connecting with Her in whatever way moves you as an individual.
I thought that I would take a few minutes and talk about what tending Brigid’s Flame means to me now, before the cycle begins. I plan to write again once this first cycle ends and reflect on the experience.
Brigid is associated with hearth and home, the fire especially; with creativity (poems, art, music) and healing. Her counterparts are other domestic deities: Norse Frigg, Greek Hestia, Roman Vesta, Egyptian God Bes and Goddess Sekhmet-Hathor with her husband Ptah, and their son, Nefertum.
I am partial to the Eqyptian Pantheon (though I do not consider myself to be Tameran or Kemetic), and so I associate Brigid with the righteous anger and divine retribution of Sekhmet (though somewhat more balanced and less prone to getting carried away). The triad of Sekmet/Ptah/Nefertum(Imhoptep) and their combined attributes ally closely with Brigid for me – home, hearth, fire, creativity and healing. Therefore it is easy to incorporate Brigid into my personal Pantheon as a sort of sister to or re-visualization of Sekhmet.
Tending the flame of home and hearth is something that I can relate to. As a stay at home mom, the home is my first priority – the essence of home if not the physical building. Years ago, when my children were little, we were forced to evacuate for Hurricane Rita. We were displaced for just over a month. When the dust settled and we finally ‘landed’ (in a hotel, put there by my husband’s company), one of the first things I can remember doing was unpacking and getting into a routine to make the hotel as ‘normal’ as possible so that the children would feel balanced again. It is this sense of balance that is generally present in my home that I honor by tending Her Eternal Flame.
Though I would not consider myself an ‘artist’ I love to craft – painting, sculpting, jewelry-making, scrapbooking, needlework, sewing, writing, story-crafting – all this and more are practices that soothe my soul. As the patroness of artists and creativity, Brigid has a place in my life as the well-spring of inspiration and spark of creative fire that leads to a piece – be it a story or mixed-media piece – that I find healing in. As a Goddess of healing, this aspect plays a role in my life as well – not only through my art, but also in my desire to care for my family and my community. At one point in my life, I wanted to be a midwife. Circumstances have changed, and though that is no longer a goal of mine, I still work closely with new mothers and plan to continue doing so.
Because I am not as familiar with the Celtic Pantheon, I am going to use the next few months as a Flamekeeper to learn more about the Gods and Goddesses that make up the Celtic Pantheon, and respond to the call I have been feeling to Cernnunos and Cerridwen as well.
If you’re interested in keeping Brigid’s Eternal Flame, you can check out Ord Brighideach International, the Order of Flamekeepers, to find a cell that is open. Even if you’re not called to Brigid, consider the possibility of making time to connect with her for a cycle (even informally). Perhaps She waits for you!