Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rethinking Imbolc

Weaving St. Brigit's Cross from JustWeaving

Today is the feast of St. Brigit, which coincides with Imbolc, a Ráithí Fírinneacha na Bliana--"One of the True Quarters of the Year" (along with Samhain, Beltane, and Lughassadh, and as opposed to the solstices and equinoxes). It's the first day of spring by the Irish reckoning, and given that it's in the mid-sixties here in Philly, it certainly feels like spring.

Groundhog's Day is definitely related to Imbolc, and if that damned groundhog says we have six more weeks of winter, when we haven't had even one week, it's time to string up the rat.

Anyway, I wrote a paper on the Irish holiday of Imbolc; here's a taste:

While Imbolc is undoubtedly a feast of spring, and a feast celebrating Brigit, there is, I think, a third element to the feast which is sometimes overlooked—it is likely that Imbolc is a feast of purification, and perhaps represents a longer period of purification, analogous to several other Indo-European and even Christian festivals. Moreover, this feast of purification is intimately bound up with the holiday’s other meanings honoring spring and Brigit—that all three are important to understanding the origins of Imbolc. 
The four main feasts of the Celtic calendar—commonly known by their Irish names Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnassadh—when their themes are examined, form a series of corresponding concepts. Samhain is a feast of winter, death, and the ancestors, while Beltane is a feast of summer, sexuality, and fertility.

If Hamp is right, and Imbolc is analogous to the February period of purification found in Roman and Christian tradition, then perhaps Imbolc, like Lughnassadh, was a period and not a single day. It is currently impossible to prove that the pre-Christian Irish observed Imbolc as such a period, but as we have seen, we have analogous ideas in neighboring cultures, and even a Gaulish month called “purification” which falls around the time of February

You can read the whole thing at Scribd


Margaret said...

I've really enjoyed your postings, so I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award!

Tlachtga said...

Thanks! And that's certainly better than the Scatterbrained Blogger Award, which is what I worry I really am.