01 February is also known as Imbolc in the old Celtic pagan calendar and is particularly associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid, or St Bridget’s as she became known after Ireland became Christianised. It is a Celtic cross quarter day – one of four important fire festivals.
Quarter and Cross Quarter Days
Throughout the British Isles, the old agricultural year was split into four quarter or cross quarter days, depending on where you lived. On these dates there were often fairs where servants would be hired, rents would be due and the day would often be associated with a religious festival.
In England and Wales, the quarter days are mostly associated with growing crops and fall as follows:
- Lady Day (25th March)
- Midsummer Day (24 June)
- Michaelmas (29 September)
- Christmas (25 December)
In Ireland a different set of days are celebrated, and as they fall almost exactly between the English quarter days, so they are known as ‘cross quarter days’. With the predominance of pasture and livestock in Irish culture, these dates follow the livestock calendar, marking the dates animals would be born, put out to pasture, sold or slaughtered and include:
I have written a little about these days before, click on the link to learn more.
In Celtic societies, the new day starts at sundown on the day before when a sacred fire would be ceremonially lit, so the above festivals actually traditionally fall across two dates eg 31st Jan/01Feb for Imbrolc. Traditionally this marked the first day of spring as it is associated with the onset of ewes lactation prior to the lambing season. The day was dedicated to the goddess Brigid (who later evolved into St Bridget) one of the most powerful of the Tuatha Dé Danann (The people of the Goddess Danu)
Brigid was one of the most important deities in the Celtic world, her reach extended from the north of Scotland to Brittany in France and extended at least as far back as the Picts who named the Bruide Throne after her; each King would then also be given a Bruide name – as a male manifestation of the female goddess.
Traditions associated with Imbolc
- Blessing rushes (pulled by the household’s youngest female) and making a Brigid crosse
- Putting out food and drink for Brigid on Her eve (such as buttered bread, milk, grains, seeds) – she was goddess of livestock and fertility
- Chair by hearth decorated by women; young woman carries in first flowers, greens, and a candle she was also goddess of fire and the hearth.
- Opening the door and welcoming Her into the home. “Bride! Come in, thy bed is made! Preserve the House for the Triple Goddess!” Scottish Gaelic Invocation: “May Brigit give blessing to the house that is here; Brigit, the fair and tender,Her hue like the cotton-grass, Rich-tressed maiden of ringlets of gold.”
- Brigid’s Bed (Scotland): Putting grain effigy and a phallic wand in a basket next to the hearth/candles at night and chanting three times: “Brigid is Come! Brigid is Welcome!”
- Torchlit processions circling fields to purify & invigorate for the coming growing season (Celtic, Pagan)
- Lighting & blessing of candles (11th century, Christian)
Brigid has three aspects; fire, livestock and the third is inspiration for the arts, this is a traditional rhyme associated with predicting the weather
If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas day be shower and rain, Winter is gone and will not come again. (Traditional)
Do you have any days with a particular tradition that you still celebrate?