Brighid means the Exalted One in Irish, and The Woman, is a figure of intense power in Irish mythological and religious imagination. In Ireland the mythological, the pagan, the local, and the universal, the philosophical, the religious and the topographical are mixed up. Time is not lost but put aside or walked around as though it were laid out on a map, in an always continuing whole, allowing for Tír na nÓg and notions beyond usual physical laws to become mixed into the resources of Irish, Gaelic and Celtic thinking. Such understanding is what draws artists, musicians and sensitive people--wonder-filled--to the treasure house of Irish tradition.
February 1st or 2nd is a day claimed by Celtic seasonal thinkers, who called the holiday Imbolc to celebrate Bríd in the form of cailleach-becoming-maiden who collects kindling to make fire in the winter that will warm the Spring and make her young again.
This holiday then is understood through the stories of 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. Irish traditions are often attributed to a supernatural being giving it that unkillable quality that frustrates all snobbery against it.
Brighid's is like the Tibetan ritual of ushering souls to nirvana in the Book of the Dead. Ogma invents writing in the form of Ogham. Lugh all-arts ildánach invents fidchell or chess played with king in the center of the board, and many other useful arts. The modern Irish word for normal chess is ficheall.
The Irish tradition of making crosses on Imbolc or Lá Fhéile Bhríde 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.
Coordinating life in macro-processes is deeply settling to the mind, especially in the winter months.
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 Brighid 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 as can be seen in the video above.
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.
Best of Ireland
11 places in Ireland you have to visit