Monday, January 30, 2012

Oimealg, Imbolc and Brigid

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

"The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground."


Oimealg, Imbolc and Brigid

Oimealg, ("IM-mol'g),Oimelc (“ee-melc”), also know as Imbolc, Imbolg, Là Fhèill Brìghde (Scot/ Gaelic)  The Feast of   Saint Brigid, in Manx as Laán Arragh (Day of Spring), and as Candlemas or Bridget’s Day in English.  Oimealg or Imbolc refers to the lactation of ewes, or ewes milk.  It is the generative forces of life hearlding in the spring! 

Isaac Bonewits commented that "By analogy with the Gaelic names of the other High Days, we may assume that the holiday was originally called La’áOimelc and was the festival of the lactation of the ewes." further commenting on it's associate with ewes Bonewits said, "In Paleopagan days (and, indeed, until the recent past) the sheep was a very important animal, providing both food and clothing. The occasion of the birth of lambs (not to mention kids and calves) was a cause for rejoicing and a sign of life in the “dead” world of a Northern winter."

The festival of Oimealg falls half way between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Placing it at approximately February first or second, in the Northern Hemisphere, or August first or second in the Southern Hemisphere. Oimealg is  as a cross-quarter, the astrological midpoint in the Northern Hemisphere is when the sun reaches fifteen degrees of Aquarius.

The festival is a celebration of hearth and the warmth of the home, as the cold vestiges of winter, give way to the promise of spring. The lambs are birthed,  the crocus peeps through the snows, as soft rains come , and the soft green grasses begin to grow.  The land is readied for seed, and fishermen look to the coasts, and the calming of the seas to set out again.

Oimealg, is also the day, of weather prognostication, the tradition of watching to see if serpents and badgers emerge from their dens for the winter.  In America, it is referred to as Ground Hogs Day.
The Cailleach

There are also two myths associated with Oimealg and the Goddess Cailleach.  Cailleach is the ancient crone/ hag of the Scots Gaelic tradition.  She is seen gathering her winter firewood at this time.  The myth states that if she gathers her firewood on Oimealg  Day, then she intends for it to be a long hard winter.  However, if she is not seen, it is said that she is still sleeping and that winter will soon be over when she wakes.

The second myth, and the one I am more familiar with, is that on Oimealg,  the Cailleach dips herself into the water of the sacred well, bathing in rejuvenation and renewal.  She re-emerges as Bride, Brigid, Brigit, the Maiden of Spring. She is seen as fragile, yet growing stronger, much like her counterpart the very young Sun King, who was born at Yule. As she grows strong, more vibrant , so does the earth, return, renew and awake, growing stronger itself, life more abundant each day.


Mara Freeman writes; "It is tempting to view this tender goddess of the early Spring only as she is pictured in Scottish artist John Duncan’s famous picture, The Coming of Bride: a wide-eyed, golden-haired girl, encircled by children.  But behind her girlish innocence is the power of a once-great ancestral deity, Brigid, whose name means “The Exalted One,” queen and mother goddess of many European tribes. She is also known as Brigid, Bridget, Brighid, Brighde, Brig or Bride and some scholars consider her name originated with the Vedic Sanskrit word brihati, an epithet of the divine."

Brigid, is the daughter of Daghda, and one of the Tuatha de Danaan. Her name also means the Fiery Arrow.  From my initial teachings, at the knee of my first High Priestess, I came to know Brigid, as a flame haired maiden, eyes bright blue,  engulfed by a black cloak, carrying a single candle to light the way.  She is a healer, crafter (particularly blacksmithing), and poet.  She the fire that is inspiration,communication, motivation and journey.  These are sacred to her. Brigid is also the  knowledge and the wisdom of a much more ancient deity (the Cailleach) renewed within her.  She is the mystery, and the light that casts the glow of knowledge and understanding.  A maiden of the dawn, her hour is the dark before the dawn breaks.   Just as she brings to life the crocus, pushing it's way through the last of the winter snows, she brings the light, before the dawn.  A Goddess of transitions, with one foot in the dark and the other in the light.  She is new moon shining bright, rebirth the waxing of the cycle.  Yet do not be deceived she is fierce!  A goddess of wisdom and war (skill in warfare), much like her counterpart Brigantia, she is seen and the equivalent to the Greek Athena and Roman Minerva.

St. Brigid
Brigid is another of the Celtic Gods that was brought into the Christian Religion as a Saint.  Thus , is also known as Candlemas, the Feast of St. Brigid.   The legend goes, that she was born to a druid, who's vision bade him to name her after a great goddess. She was born at sunrise, as her mother was crossing a threshold, so she was born neither "within or without".  To the celts and the today's neo pagans, this is a between time, which doors open and magick occurs.  

While there are many legends of St. Brigid where she was Abbess of Kildare,  from increasing yields of milk and butter  of her abby cows, to abundant ale harvests. One of the most memorable is of , appropriately, fire!  St. Brigid was associated with perpetual, sacred flames. Legends tell of a fire at her Abby in Kildare, which was rumored to be one of the three inextinguishable fires of Ireland.  They story says, that the fire burned for over one thousand years.  It was later maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare. The sacred flame at Kildare was said by to have been surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die, and/or to have had their penis wither.  the tale of perpetual flames is similar to the fired tended by the Vestal Virgins, of the Roman Goddess Vesta, or her counterpart Hesita of Greek Myth.  It is also similar to the sacred  flame at Aquae Sulis (Bath) of Minerva.

Celebrating Oimealg

So what fun things can we do to celebrate ?
  • Corn Dollies can be made from oat and wheat straw.   The Doll should be dressed in clothes or wrapped in white cloth as a dress. Decorate it with flowers, greenery, bbits or pieces or bright shiny stones or shells.  Consecrate it with s few drops of holy water, and speaks invocations to Brighid.  It is also called a Brideog ( or little Brid).
  • Brid's Bed.  Collect the straw left from your corn dollies and crosses and fashion a small bed.  Place on the hearth, with a small piece of birch as a wand of Brid. The Birch should be peeled back.  If you have burned a fire on the hearth, scrape the ashes smooth, and check the bed in the morning, to see if the wand has been moved,  or for the foot prints of Brid.  If none are found burn some incense as an offering.
  • Brideog Procession:  This is closely akin to yuletide caroling.  Get a group of friends together, and arrange ahead of time for homes to visit.  Take the Brideog, dressed and carefully cradeled in the arms of a young woman, and process to each of the homes.  When you reach the home, you should be invited in, it is considered rude to turn away Brideog processions.   Entertain the inhabitants with a few songs, and a blessing of Brigit.   Present the family with a Brigits cross if you have one, and move along to the next home. It is generally accepted that the procession is presented with a dairy gift, by the family they entertain, this should be used at a community feast.
  • Weave Brigit's crosses.  These are usually the three of four arm variety.  Save the straw from the Corn Dollies, and soak in water for a few days.  The weaving can be as elaborate or simple as you like.  Place your new crosses near the entry ways of your home for protection.
  • Divination.  This is a wonderful time of year to perform divination for the new year.  Look to divination for the future and welfare of your family, and thier prosperity.
  • On the eve of Oimelc light a candle in every room in the home, as a celebration of the suns return. 
  • Decorate a plough with flowers ribbons, anoint or sprinkle with whiskey.  Leave gifts of food, cakes and milk in the garden.  No plants should be cut or harvested at this time.
  • Spring Cleaning!  This is an excellent time, to air out the house, sweep out the dust and dirt from the old year, replace filters, bring in flowers. 
  • Snow Hiking and signs of spring.
  • Feasting and Bonfires!

Correspondences for Oimealg
  • Alternative Names: Imbolg (im-molc)(em-bowl’g) (Celtic), Candlemas (Christian), Brigantia (Caledonii), Oimelc, Festival of Light, Brigid’s (Brid, Bride) Day, La Fheill, An Fheille Bride, Candelaria (Mexico), Chinese New Year, Disting-tid (Feb 14th, Teutonic), DisaBlot, Anagantios, Lupercalia/Lupercus (Strega),Laán Arragh (Day of Spring) Manx, Groundhog Day, Valentines Day.
  • Animals & Mythical Beings: Firebird, dragon, groundhog, deer, burrowing animals, ewes, robin, sheep, lamb, serpents, any creatures waking from hibernation.
  • Colors: white, blue, red, brown, pink, orange, lavender, pale yellow, silver.
  • Gemstones: amethyst, bloodstone, garnet, ruby, onyx, turquoise
  • Incense & Oils: basil, bay, jasmine, wisteria, cinnamon, violet, vanilla, myrrh, rosemary, frankincense, cinnamon, neroli, musk, olive, sweet pea, wisteria, apricot and carnation
  •  Deities: All Virgin/Maiden Goddesses, Brighid, Aradia, Athena, Artemis, Branwen (Manx-Welsh) Diana, Februa, Gaia, Hesita, Inanna, Jack the Green, Minerva,  Selene, Venus, Vesta and Gods of Love, Fertility and Sun Gods , Aengus Og,Cupid, Dumizi (Sumarian) Eros, Februus and Pan 
  •  Ritual and Symbolism: Cleansing, purification, purity, renewal, creative inspiration, dedications and initiations, naming days,  candle work, house blessings, new beginnings, growth, fertility, welcoming Brigid, feast of milk and bread , dispensing with the old to make way for the new. 
  • Symbols: Brideo'gas, besoms, white flowers, marigolds, plum blossoms, daffodils, Brigid's Wheel, Brigid's Cross, candles, grain/ seed for blessing, red candle in a cauldron full of earth, doll, Brid's bed; the Bride, milk, birchwood, snowflakes, evergreen,  candle wheels,  Priapic Wands (acorn-tipped), and Ploughs. 
  • Herbs: angelica, basil, bay laurel, benzion, blackberry, celandine, coltsfoot, clover, heather, iris, myrrh, tansy, violets, and all white or yellow flowers. 
  • Foods: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, poppyseed cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, all dairy products, peppers, onions, garlic, raisins, spiced wines and herbal teas.


    • Chadwick, Nora, The Celts, 1970:181.
    • Chormaic, Sanas, Cormac's Glossary, trans. John O'Donovan, 1868.
    • Hamp, E. P., 'imbolc, oimelc', Studia Celtica, 14/15 (1979/80) 106.
    • MacBain, Alexander, An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, 1911.
    • O Cathain, Seamus, 'The Festival of Brigit the Holy Woman', Celtica, 23 (1999) 231-261
    • Freeman, Mara,

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