Tis almost the holytide of Imbolg. From my reading chair, I contemplated by candlelight what this Gaelic folk festival means for me. I live in the city; there isn’t a sheep within 10 miles of me. Well, there may be across the Ohio River, but that’s Indiana, and another story… The closest cattle are about 20 miles up the highway at a posh farm-retreat center. The pastoral rhythms of Imbolg may be a bit removed from most of our modern everyday lifestyles, but they are still relevant. The energies and mythos of Brighid are present.
Imbolg helps us welcome sunnier, warmer times ahead by getting ready and clearing the way for it. Traditionally it involves preparation for the coming planting season (checking seed supplies, cleaning and repairing farm tools, anticipation of getting fields cleared and ploughed), helping the livestock tend their newborns, giving the home a thorough cleaning, and honoring goddess and saint Brighid with domestic celebration. In modern city life, it commonly involves preparation of tax returns and deciding what to do with them, planning road trips, organizing family holidays for the year, efforts to get healthier, etc. Are you still working on the intentions you vowed at Hogmanay? Are you feeling dulled by the melancholia that can often grip a person in the depths of Winter? Are you still hibernating, or languidly rousing with the sun as the days subtly grow longer? Imbolg is a time of rejuvenation and renewed effort!
An important element of Imbolg is the need for purification. So what exactly does that mean? Imbolg is under the aegis of Brighid, associated with water, most strongly through holy wells and sacred springs, and fire, such as her ever-burning fire at Kildare, and as goddess of the triple fires of the head, heart, hearth. Water and fire are purifying elements, both literally and spiritually, transforming something from a state of unclean or unsanctified to wholesome and sacred. Water washes away dirt and decay; fire burns off impurities, preparing and transforming the sacred ground of being into a fit and ready state to receive blessings and move forward with grace.
A contemplation of piety brings to mind a favorite quote from Irish philosopher-theologian-mystic John O’Donohue, who said “the world is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the reverent presence.” Read that quote again; it is deceptively simple. Beauty, which can be considered an experience of the divine, requires that you approach in a state of reverence, in order to consciously perceive and receive it. Reverence, or piety, is in a way a kind of purity of heart and mind and intention. It is also a purity of awareness. Are you present in the here and now, aware of the “music of what happens”? Is your attention dogged by distractions, harried by worries? Are you able to surrender to the vulnerability that welcomes reverence and prepares you for being touched by beauty in your life? Can you surrender to trust that awakens the heart to grace and rejuvenates the soul? I will share with you a secret in this: let go of expectations.
As you honor and engage in traditional customs, as you weave your Brighid’s crosses, lay out your Brighid’s mantle, dress your Brideog and prepare her bed, make the sacred Imbolg foods, clean your home while you sing songs and chants for the blessings and protection of Brighid, take some time to include contemplation (by candlelight if you can) on what the spirit of this ancient holytide means for us in modern times, especially for those of us living in modern, industrialized cities. How do you relate to the concepts of preparation, purification, and piety, in both a practical and spiritual or mythic sense? How do you sense these flowing, or being blocked, in your life? Are you ready to slough off old shells and grow? I wish you the blessings and grace of Brighid; may She be welcomed in your heart with inspiration.
Brighid of the Mantle protect us
May your gentle hands heal us
May your eternal fire comfort us
May your grace inspire us
This day and every day
This night and every night