Brighid, or Brigid, means the "Exalted One" in Irish, and "the Woman" is a figure of intense power in Irish mythological and religious imagination. The goddess was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann before she was was syncretized with the Christian saint of the same name in the Middle Ages..
February 1 or 2 is a day claimed by Celtic seasonal thinkers, who called the holiday Imbolc to celebrate Bríd in the form of a cailleach (witch) becoming a maiden, who collects kindling to make fire in the winter that will warm the spring and make her young again.
The holiday is understood through the stories of the incredible Brighid. She was the inventor of the mourning songs called caoineadh "keening." In the story, she keens to mourn the death of her son Ruadán and so invents the artform. Brighid's caoineadh is like the Tibetan ritual of ushering souls to nirvana in the Book of the Dead.
The Irish tradition of making crosses on Imbolc or Lá Fhéile Bhríde (St. Brigid's Day) is remembered as a Christian ritual and has become that for most Irish people. The spiral of the Brighid cross invokes the North Star and the pattern that the Big Dipper makes in the sky over the course off a year. As the night sky turns around the North Star, the Big Dipper turns through the seasonal year like the hand of a clock.
Brigid is the fire-keeper of that flame of life that mothers tend to so that we don't die in the winter, and so the lines of family are not broken by the trauma of the cold months. In the winter, Brighid becomes the cailleach, the woman in agedness, and on Imbolc she collected the kindling of the fires that get her to the spring of regeneration.
Christian interpretation in Ireland makes Brigid into a nun, and children occupy themselves by taking bits of straw and weaving this potential-kindling into the shape of spiraling Brigid's crosses.
St. Brigid is said to have invented the cross herself while attending a sickbed and picking up rushes from the floor to craft them into a sacred cross.
Taking up the tradition in its many forms focuses the mind in the meditation of craft, and connects our winter minds mad at the cold to the great wheel that turns and is slowly bringing us into the spring of renewal.
Here's a simple guide on how to make a traditional Brigid's cross:
*Originally published in 2013.