February 1st is St. Brigid's Day, and traditionally marks the beginning of spring, the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It's an ancient feast once known as Imbolc, formerly associated with the goddess Bride or Brigid, which was later Christianized.
Brigid was a hearth and home figure who was also invoked to protect cows and livestock. Eventually, many scholars believe she was merged with a figure called Brigid of Kildare, a nun who some attest to have been the first woman bishop - and maybe queer too! Tradition holds that she served as wet-nurse to the infant Jesus. So many of the stories associated with her are miraculous, clearly influenced by Gaelic folklore - so many, in fact, that some wonder if she was even a real person at all. Since Imbolc is one of the four traditional Irish "fire festivals," St. Brigid became associated with fire - not just hearth fires but the sacred fire of inspiration. For generations her nuns kept a holy flame burning for her in Ireland, never letting it go out.
St. Brigid is matron saint not only to Ireland, but to our 1pm congregation at Christ Church Cathedral. For us she not only represents the undying flame of God's love, but a signal fire welcomingg us to the warmer hearth fire of a home some of us may never have known - or maybe just never knew we needed.
But Brigid is not the only powerful maternal figure we remember on this day.
In Scotland (which many of Christ Church Cathedral's original founders called home), Imbolc was traditionally the day when the Cailleach, a divine hag and creation/ancestor figure in Gaelic tradition, went out among the mountains to gather firewood for the rest of the winter. This was probably the precursor to Groundhog Day: legend had it that if the day dawned bright and sunny, winter would last longer as the Cailleach would have time to gather more wood. If it dawned grey and cloudy, she would sleep, and winter would end more quickly.
The Cailleach has become an important part of my spirituality as I continue studying Celtic Reconstructionism in the hopes of decolonizing my spirituality for the work of reconciliation. While for many she's a fierce and formidable figure, for me she has come to represent roots, ancestors, and the wisdom of our elders.
She's tough. Grannies need a little toughness to carry the weight of family, wisdom, and tradition.
To honour dear Brigid, members of our community will gather at 2pm on Saturday February 3rd at the Pie Hole in Kitsilano (1864 W 4th Avenue) for some fortifying hot chocolate before venturing out to gather ivy for weaving St. Brigid's crosses on Sunday. Ivy is not only a symbol of fidelity, shelter, abundance, and immortality, but is an aggressively invasive species in the Pacific Northwest - so we can harvest her with abandon! She also makes for good, strong weaving. Feel free to join us! Make sure you bring weather-appropriate gear and good shoes - harvesting is muddy work!
Look forward to seeing you!
[This felted figure of the Cailleach above was commissioned by me from my dear friend Sarah Gregory, a local artist whose work can be viewed and purchased on Instagram and Etsy!]