The Goddess Brigid, Groundhog Day
and a Message of Hope

(Reprinted from the Goddess Gift Newsletter, February, 2005)

 


The Gift of Hope

It was the first of February and, as I began to write this issue, snow and sleet swirled around the house while ice began forming on the roads. Tomorrow would bring Imbolc (and, in the USA, Ground Hog's Day). This was perfect weather for contemplating the myths of Brigid, the Celtic goddess who brings the gift of hope.

Melissa Ingells had this to say about Ground Hog Day:

"I think cold causes its own sort of insanity, and to prove my point, enter Groundhog's Day, a holdover from an ancient Celtic holiday. What else but cold-craziness would inspire us to dig some poor animal out of its hole and make it look for something it's not even remotely interested in, namely, its own shadow? 'Could it be hibernation envy?'

It's not a bad idea . . . eat obsessively until you're fat, then sleep it off in a warm, cozy burrow until the cold goes away and you wake up thin from having burned off all those calories for heat."

Now how is that for a weight loss plan we all could live with!!


Ground Hog Day is actually a descendant of the pagan Imbolc celebration (Feast of Brigid). The goddess Brigid was a diviner, able to "see" into the future. It's easy to see how she came to be the patron saint of weather forecasters.

What Mother Nature was wont to do was certainly an issue best left in the hands of the goddesses.  In Scotland, Cailleach, the Old Woman of Winter, was reborn at Imbolc as a goddess named Bride who was the Scottish incarnation of the Irish Brigid and also the Maiden of Spring. And folklore had it that "Early on Bride's morn the serpent shall come from its hole".

And there was a similar prediction associated with Brigid on February 2, her Saint's Day in the Christian tradition:  "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there will be two winters this year", goes the saying.

In other words, if hibernating animals emerge to find sunlight and shadow on February 2, then winter will continue for the full 12 weeks. But what could the groundhog possibly have to do with the weather?

Groundhog Day in the U.S. originated with the Imbolc celebrations of German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Looking for a hibernating animal that would make a suitable forecaster, they chose the groundhog.

(Perhaps their decision was even influenced by their neighbors, the native Americans of the Delaware tribe who revered Wojak, the groundhog, and other animals as sacred descendants of their Creator.)


The Meaning of Imbolc

The weather may be bad, but we are fortunate. Our highways are quickly plowed and de-iced, our homes lighted and reheated with electrical power quickly restored. 

But for the ancients it was the time of the long night -- great darkness, piercing cold, and dwindling food stores. February was such a harsh and brutal month that it was called the Dead-month.

Since travel at this time of year was so fraught with danger, celebrating Imbolc at a large regional festival was out of the question. Instead the Feast of Brigid was celebrated with small rituals in the village and in the home.

Imbolc was nonetheless an important holiday because its message was "hold on, there is hope...the bitter days of winter are near their end." It marked the midway point between the winter and the spring solstice, a time when hope begins to stir with a longing for the return of spring.

Imbolc (also called Oimelc) was primarily a women's festival. Young girls dressed in white carried a corn dolly in processions. Women made corn cakes from the grains that were gathered first and last in last year's harvest and the women and girls feasted together.

And there would be matchmaking as well. With so many deaths over the harsh winter months, it was important to replenish the population of the community so marriageable young men would be invited to attend as well.

Signs of spring's approach would often appear, if only one would look closely.

  • the softening of the ewes' udders to prepare for lactation when the lambs would soon be born. This lent the name Oimelc (ewes' milk) to the holy day
  • the thawing of the ice and snow (from "imbolc", meaning well waters), and
  • the emergence of a few hibernating animals who awoke early to see if the cold and hungry months had ended.

As inspiration, muse, healer, and diviner, Brigid's divine talents bring us hope. So I bring you some thoughts about . . .


Brigid, Celtic Goddess and Saint

The Celtic goddess Brigid and her namesake, Saint Brigid of Ireland, can lay claim to being the most complex, intriguing, widespread, timeless, and beloved of all legendary ladies. Brigid appears in many different guises, with numerous names, in many different European cultures. And she has survived the ravages of time much better than most.

Known as Bride in Scotland, Brigandu in France, Ffaid in Wales, and Brigitania in England, the Irish goddess Brigid (usually pronounced Breet) is also known by the names Brighid, Bridget, Brid, and others. Her varying identities reflect her original image as a triple goddess, but with each of her three faces differing in their gifts.

goddess Brigid

The Brigid first worshipped in ancient times was the daughter of the great Irish god Dagda, the 'Good Father'. She had two sisters who were also named Brigid. Taken together, they were called the 'Three Mothers', 'Three Sisters', or simply the Goddess Brigid.

Unlike in Greek mythology where the Triple Goddess represented the three chronological stages of a woman's life (Maiden, Matron, and Crone), the Bridgets were all of the same generation and the distinctions between them were based on their domains of responsibility.

  • Brigid, the 'Fire of the Hearth', was the goddess of fertility, family, childbirth and healing.

  • Brigid, the '"Fire of the Forge', was like the Greek goddess Athena, a patroness of the crafts (especially weaving, embroidery, and metalsmithing), and a goddess who was concerned with justice and law and order.

  • Brigid, the 'Fire of Inspiration', was the muse of poetry, song history and the protector of all cultural learning.

goddess Brigid

When the Christian church came to Ireland, they had little hope of making converts if they were foolish enough to denounce the beloved goddess of the Druids as a demon-ess. So instead they made her a saint and even the foster-mother of the infant Jesus.  Many of the ancient legends of the goddess were soon to become the deeds of the saint. 

Some scholars cite evidence that Saint Brigid was an actual woman, the daughter of a Druid king and his Christian wife. She grew in power within the church and was eventually given the authority of a bishop . . . a power she wielded in the protection of women's rights in the face of the growing patriarchy.

In whatever form she might take, Saint or Goddess, Brigid is loved as a goddess of peace and inspiration . . . one of compassion, generosity, wisdom and healing.

The myths of both the goddess and the saint are fascinating. We chose to deal with them as separate entities. You can read about them here:

Brigid : Celtic Goddess

Saint Brigid

Hope is a wonderful thing, but be careful not to overdose on it . . .

In closing, a reminder to...

Cry when you need to,
      Laugh frequently, and
            Hope always.
                 

Sharon

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