Many Celtic Pagans love Brigid. She is a fascinating and multi-faceted goddess. Some even consider her worship to be continuous due to her veneration in the form of St. Brigid. She still has an eternal flame in Kildare (featuring the circular fire pit of IE hearth goddesses!).
Imbolc is considered her holiday. This article looks at common Irish folk traditions for Imbolc, and then looks to modern ways we can welcome Brigid to our homes.
A quick note: I’ve mainly cited from The Year in Ireland (found on Internet Archive). However, there are many similar stories and traditions throughout the archives of Duchas. While both of these sources are about St. Brigit’s Day, I consider polytheist celebrations of Imbolc and Catholic celebrations of St. Brigit’s Day as one in the same for this article.
Brigid is also considered the goddess of the ‘light’ half of the year, and Imbolc marks the beginning of this time of year. It is the beginnings of spring, when the wheel has only begun to turn. This is not the spring of Easter eggs and flowers, however. It is the spring of first birth. It is the spring of milk. Yes, milk.
Imbolc: Milk Brings in the Spring
In the agricultural year, this is a very important time. Pretend you live on a small farmstead. Right now, you’re winter supply is dwindling, and the only things that can really survive this long are root vegetables (like potatoes and cabbage), dried meats, and some preserves. This is all you’ve eaten for several weeks.
But this is also the time of year when pregnant livestock like goats and cows would give birth and lactate (at least in Ireland). Suddenly, with this new life you have a new food source: milk. Your farmstead is ‘in milk’ again, and you can start making other dairy products like butter and cheese. Milk was one of the first fresh foods that people consumed in early spring. It’s hard to under-state how important milk was to the peoples who relied on it. I didn’t fully realize it until I followed modern homesteaders, including The Elliot Homestead, who have a video about the importance of their dairy cow.
Dairy itself was an important part of Imbolc. Fresh butter was supposed to be churned on Imbolc, and it would either feature in the family’s meal, or it was given as a gift to neighbors who had no butter for their meal (Danaher, 15). Dairy itself was part of the practice of hospitality that surrounded Imbolc.
Brigid has been associated with pregnant livestock and dairy production for a long time. She is specifically associated with cows, and her favorite white cow is said to travel with her as she visits homes on Imbolc (Danaher, 13-15). In some regions, it was even traditional to hang a pouch of seed grain next to the Brigid’s cross for her blessings before planting (Danaher, 35). So Brigid is connected to fertility, particularly of livestock, at the very beginning of spring.
Imbolc: Hospitality and the Brídeóg
Much of the celebration of Imbolc, even into the 20th Century, was about welcoming Brigid into your home. Hospitality is a fundamental part of Indo-European polytheisms, and it is a central virtue for many Pagans today. There are several Imbolc customs surrounding hospitality because Brigid is said to visit home on Imbolc Eve.
A singular family could celebrate Imbolc. A young girl in the family would walk around the house three times, knock on the door, and announce themself as Brigid (Danaher, 20). The family would welcome Brigid in and have a meal prepared in Brigid’s honor. Likewise, families would made a Brídeóg and a bed, leaving them by the fire to represent their hospitality to the visiting Brigid.
However, these practices were often a town-wide procession. The Brídeóg was either a girl’s toy doll, a doll made from a sheaf of straw, or even a girl to take up the role as Brigid. The young people paraded the doll through the town, bringing Brigid’s blessing to all the homes (Danaher, 24-26). Often the people in the home would give the party a penny or an egg (Danaher, 30). Much like other parade traditions that feature in folklore from the fall season or the new year, the Brídeóg parade featured a gift for a gift.
After making Brigid’s Crosses, there were some traditions of making a bed for Brigid with the remaining rushes or straw. These remaining strands were usually piled together next to the hearth and a cloth was placed over it (Danaher, 23). Many pagans like to make both a Brídeóg and a bed for Brigid. From what I can find, this is a new tradition created by modern pagans.
Imbolc: Divining the Weather
On a final note, weather divination was important for this time of year. The Irish would observe hedgehogs to see if they would come out – foretelling an early spring – or stay in their burrows – foretelling colder weather. However, in some areas, an especially nice Imbolc was a sign that the Cailleach was out gathering firewood for a prolonged winter (Danaher, 14).
Of course, the springtime was naturally when many IE cultures tried to divine the weather in order to plant their crops. The U.S. holiday of Groundhog Day (which is more religiously practiced in Urglaawe, a form of Heathenry) is a continuation of that.
Continuing Imbolc Traditions
So how might you, reader, honor Brigid and celebrate Imbolc? If you do not live on a farm, fear not! It is fairly easy to adapt Imbolc traditions to fit a solitary practice.
While I have only mentioned it in passing, you can make a Brigid cross to decorate your home and altar. These crosses, often made of reeds or straw, were meant to protect the home. You can learn more from the Tairis blog here.
Most importantly, welcome Brigid into your home. If you have not started a hearth or home practice, consider looking at the Hearth Keeper’s Way. Brigid is a hearth goddess first and foremost, after all.
You can make a bed and Brídeóg out of reeds, straw, or similar material. You could leave them at a fireplace, in your kitchen, or at your altar. You could also leave a piece of cloth or a scarf as well, although traditionally this was placed outside the home for Brigid to bless as she passes (Danaher, 32).
Reinterpreting Brigid’s Blessings on Imbolc
Let’s remember that these folkloric traditions were made in a time where their practices made sense. Brigid was a goddess of the home and, by extension, work within the home.
Brigid’s blessed red cloth was supposed to heal headaches and minor wounds. However, the blessing of cloth strikes me as more broadly symbolic of blessing work done within the home. For much of history, women made clothes within the home, and likely the red cloth was a handmade item.
As many people do not make their own clothing today, this can reimagined as a blessing for creative endeavors, hobbies, or other work done in the home.
If we are to modernize this tradition of blessing, we could go so far as to say that any item used for the home could be blessed on Imbolc. Here is a list of things that could be blessed at Imbolc:
- Creative projects
- Hobbies (instruments, games, crafts, etc)
- Cooking tools
- Cleaning supplies
- Altar items
- Pets and their supplies
Imbolc is about many things, but ultimately we are celebrating the very beginnings of spring and new life. So welcome Brigid to your home and receive her blessings. And don’t forget the dairy!
All websites accessed January 2021.
- The year in Ireland. Kevin Danaher. Mercier Press. 1994. Pages 14-35. https://archive.org/details/yearinireland00kevi/page/n9/mode/2up.
- “Imbolc.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc.
- “Feast of St Brigid.” Dúchas.ie, National Folklore Collection, www.duchas.ie/en/tpc/cbes/5285239.
- The Elliot Homestead. “The Milkmaid of the Home Dairy: Dairy Cow.” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nD4j_audFFs.
- “Making the cros Bride.” Tairis: WordPress. http://www.tairis.co.uk/celebrations/making-the-cros-bride/.