St. Brigid, the grain goddess

Also known as Candlemas:

In Ireland, this holy day is called Imbolc and begins at sunset on February 1 continuing through sunset February 2nd. There are several different derivations offered for the name Imbolc: from Ol-melc (ewe’s milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time, from Im-bolg (around the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and from folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took place at this time. All of these explanations capture the themes of this festival.

February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began her life as a pagan goddess and ended up a Christian saint. She was a fire and fertility goddess. In her temple at Kildare, vestal virgins tended an eternal fire. On her feast day, her statue was washed in the sea (purification) and then carried in a cart through the fields surrounded by candles.

The legends about the goddess, Brigid, gradually became associated with (the somewhat spurious) Saint Brigid who founded the first convent in Ireland (where else?) at Kildare.

To celebrate St. Brigid’s day, people put out a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the Saint and an ear of corn for her white cow, offerings for the grain goddess like the loaf buried in the first furrow. A small quantity of special seeds are mixed with those to be sown. Wheat stalks are woven into X-shaped crosses to serve as charms to protect home from fire and lightning.

In the Highlands, women dress the corn doll or last sheaf (from Lammas or the autumn equinox) in a bridal gown and put her in a basket, which is called the Bride’s bed. A wand, candle or other phallic object is laid across her and Bride is invited to come, for her bed is ready.

One thought on “St. Brigid, the grain goddess

  1. The Prayer of Saint Brigid of Ireland:

    I wish I had a great lake of ale for the King of kings,
    and the family of heaven
    to drink it through time eternal.
    I wish I had the meats of belief and genuine piety,
    the flails of penance,
    and the men of heaven in my house.
    I would like keeves of peace to be at their disposal,
    vessels of charity for distribution,
    caves of mercy for their company,
    and cheerfulness to be in their drinking.
    I would want Jesus also to be in their midst,
    together with the three Marys of illustrious renown,
    and the people of heaven from all parts.
    I would like to be a tenant to the Lord,
    so if I should suffer distress,
    He would confer on me a blessing.

    Yes, this is authentic, in a folkloric kind of way. I grew up on legends on this first woman saint of Ireland. It’s said that she was one of the first to heed Saint Patrick’s call to Christ. As a beautiful young girl, her father wanted to marry her off to some wealthy young pagan and she avoided that fate by applying a hot iron to one side of her face, thus destroying her marriage prospects and paving her her way to the convent.

    It’s said that, even as as as nun, Brigid was beautiful in profile, depending on one’s point of view.

    It’s said that she once came in to her convent cell with a cloak heavy and wet with rain and hung it up on a sunbeam to dry…

    Jesus, what kind of idiots believe that spring begins on the first of February???

    Probably the same kinds of idiots who think woodchucks can predict the weather!

    Aside from all that, Brigid wasn’t her real name.

    She was called either Brid (pronounce “breed) or Bride (pronounce”breed yeh “) with a lilt.

    The lilt makes all the difference.

Comments are closed.