For those not in the know, I don’t celebrate the Irish Holidays despite being an Irish Polytheist… Or, at least, I don’t quite celebrate them like everyone else. So while the rest of the community was celebrating Imbolq or Lá Fhéile Bríde last month, I was patiently waiting for March 1st to roll around… And here it is, finally! What a better way to celebrate that than a post dedicated to it?
Like with the others, Lá Fhéile Bríde is one of several main holidays celebrated by the Early Irish. Unfortunately, it’s one of the major practices which have been co-opted by Wicca, which ultimately makes historically accurate information a bit hard to find. Even one of my favorite resources- Tairis- fails in this regard compared to the information it hosts on other holidays. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that the first written records of the holiday were put down by Christian Monks in roughly the 10th Century. The way in which it was written about, though, does suggest that the holiday had a history within Ireland even before its Christianization.
According to various linguistics, the etymology for Imbolq comes from several places, leading to a wide array of meanings; it is considered to linguistically derive from words for “the pregnancy of ewes”, “milk”, and “ewe milk”, to the act of “washing (cleansing) one’s self”, and more. Regardless of its meaning, however, the date Imbolq was historically celebrated on correlated with several things- such as Lambing Season (Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia) and the blooming of Blackthorn (The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays). After Christianization, Imbolq (or Lá Fhéile Bríde) became associated with the celebration of Saint Brighid and was followed with Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal (or the Feast day of Mary of the Candles) the day afterwards.
Candles did play an important role in Imbolq’s original celebrations, though; according to Nora Chadwick (The Celts), Candles or Bonfires were lit on Imbolq in order to symbolize the return of the Sun and the warmth it brought. This is roughly corroborated by the works of F. Marian McNeill (The Silver Bough) and Kevin Danaher (The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs)- who add that celebrations also included Divination for Omens, hearthfires within the home, and the preparation of “special foods”. The Year in Ireland adds that visiting Sacred Wells was also a custom, where one would leave offerings and pray for healing. Water would then be taken from the wells and used in Blessings for the health of the House and Household, Livestock, and Fields for the coming year. Donald Mackenzie, in his book Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, adds that Offerings were also made to Earth and Sea on this day- though it’s unclear if this was strictly a Scottish custom, or if the Irish also participated.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable customs, however, is the weaving of the Brighid’s Cross- a small 4 armed cross often made from Rushes. This cross was then blessed and hung above the doorway of the house (or on the Chimney), at which point a prayer was said to ask for Brighid’s Blessing. Despite lacking in information concerning this holiday, Tairis does provide instructions on how to make this cross- as well as instructions on how to make the equally customary Dealbh Brìde doll, and several other suggestions for its celebration.
Knowing what I do about the holiday, I’ve opted to transfer it into my practice under the name Fuarán; according to Teanglann, the word Fuarán means “spring” or “fountain”. I can’t quite tell whether or not “Spring” in this case refers to a spring or the season of Spring, but I think it’s safe to say that either meaning would be appropriate in the case of Lá Fhéile Bríde.
As you can probably tell by the name change, I’ve likewise opted to switch the focus from fertility and the coming of Spring to something to do with water. This is largely because Water- one of the two main elements in Irish lore and practice- rarely gets much love when it comes to the holidays. However, it is also because Spring is the rainy season where I live; February- the month in which the holiday traditionally takes place- marks the precursor to Tornado season and the violent Thunder Storms that shake Oklahoma until roughly June. March, though, often symbolizes its semi-official start, with the more official start of Tornado season coming later in the month towards April.
Despite being destructive, this rainy season is integral to our survival here since the rains replenish our groundwater supplies. Without it, Oklahoma simply doesn’t have enough water to survive. That means lower crop yield, higher hay prices for farmers, supply shortages for Livestock, and (if conditions are bad enough) large dust storms which can cause further problems. These aquifers that provide the state water also provide us with many natural Springs. Likewise, the rain ensures that our State’s many lakes, creeks, and rivers remain full- two of which (Lakes and Rivers) are integral to Oklahoma’s tourist economy. It stands to reason then, to me, that the historical emphasis on Wells and Sacred Water sites be highlighted in my own modern rendition of the holiday- with the focus on the Sun, fertility, and growth taking a back seat to that which actually provides that for us here.
When it comes to the creation of the Brighid’s Cross, too, a few changes will be made. Without the ability to actually get the materials to make a physical one, I’ll likely paint a picture of one to hang over the doorway instead. This will be swapped out with a new painting next year- and every year afterwards. That being said, not much else about the holiday changes; overall, with what little information we can glean about the holiday I’m not one to be too picky about what I incorporate.
This, of course, is my own personal way of celebrating the holidays in the best way that I am able. You may feel free to draw inspiration from it or completely disagree with it if you wish (and I do welcome discussion and critique of it)… Either way, Sé do bheatha!!
Author’s Note: If I’ve butchered any Irish phrases or words, please feel free to inform me. Irish is not my Native Language and I am only just beginning to learn it. Any help and / or correction is greatly appreciated!
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.