On Imbolc Eve Irish and Scottish women would clean and prepare their household for Brigid’s blessings during the night. Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bring Imbolc blessings to the inhabitants. In some places in Ireland and Scotland it was a tradition to open all the doors and windows in the home and for the women of the house to stand at the threshold in order to recieve Brigid’s blessings. After being invited into the house a bed would often be made for her, and a wand or stick laid on the bed or close by.
Imbolc is dedicated to Saint Brigid; a major figure in the early Irish Church who predates the Saint to a pan-celtic pagan goddess of the same name. The festival which celebrates winter’s end, the onset of spring, and the start of the agricutural year is thought to be linked with Brigid in her role as a fertility goddess.
Families would share a formal meal or supper on Imbolc Eve. This typically
included food such as butter, oatcakes, sowans, dumplings, milk puddings, barmbrack, Bannocks (in Scotland), drisheen and cooked lamb. Often butter, oil, water, salt and straw/reeds were left on the doorstep overnight to be given Brigid’s blessings, then used for healing work during the following year.
In the north of Ireland a family member, often the oldest daughter, representing Brigid, would circle the home three times carrying rushes. She would then knock on the door three times, asking to be let in. On the third attempt she was welcomed in. She would then go through the house blessing the home, the food, the drink and especially the hearth . The meal was eaten and then the rushes were made into a bed or Brigid’s crosses. These crosses were then put in houses, barns and animal pens for protection over the coming year.
Brigid’s Blessings on Imbolc Eve
On 18th century Isle of Man, the custom was to stand at the door with a bundle of rushes and say:
“Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in”.
The rushes were then strewn on the floor as a carpet or bed for Brede or Brigid. In
the 19th century, some Manx women would make a bed for Brigid in the barn with food, ale, and a candle on a table. In the Hebrides in the late 18th century, a bed of hay would be made for Brigid and someone would then call out three times:
“a Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a stigh as gabh do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready”).
A white wand, usually made of birch, would be set by the bed. The wand probably representing a phallus to ensure the fertilty of the people, animals and the land.
In the 19th century, women in the Hebrides would dance while holding a large cloth and calling out:
“Bridean, Bridean, thig an nall ‘s dean do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come over and make your bed”).
However, by this time the bed itself was rarely made. By then the tradition of actually making the bed was lost and only the song remained.
Brat Bríde, the brat or cloak of Bridget was a ribbon, piece of white cloth, or an article of clothing left outside on the evening before the feast of Imbolc to receive the of Brigid’s blessings as she passed through the household. Ashes from the fire would be smoothed and, in the morning, they would look for a pattern on the ashes as a sign that Brigid had passed through the house.
The clothing or strips of cloth would be brought inside, and were now believed to have powers of healing and protection.
These pieces of cloth would then be sewn or tied to the inside of a piece of clothing or cloak to ensure good health and protection throughout the year. The Brats were also used as talismans; particularly aiding birth in women and cows.
Each young girl within the home was given a segment of a brat as a protective amulet. Mothers also sewed it into their daughters’ garments to preserve their virginity, and it was used as a charm to save children from being abducted by the faeries. These charms were reputed to hold their healing virtues for several years; indeed, the older the brat the more potent it was believed to be, up to seven years. After a blessed brat passed seven years old it was burned in the Imbolc Eve fire and a new piece of cloth was hung outside the house for Brigid’s blessings, in place of the old one.
In Christian mythology, St Brigid was said to be midwife to Mary at the birth of
Christ, making her the Saint of midwifery on whom midwives call for aid throughout Ireland and Scotland. If a child was born at Imbolc it was said to be blessed and delivered by Brigid herself through the attending midwife. In Scotland, when a woman was in the throws of labor, it was a standard custom for the midwife to stand at the doorway, grasping the door jams, and softly invoking the presence of the saint to attend the birth with these words:
Bride! Bride! come in,
Thy welcome is truly made,
Give thou relief to the woman,
And give the conception to the Trinity
Brigid’s blessings were also invoked on the forge, the blacksmith, agricultural tools and the plow; all products of the the Smith’s art. Smithcraft was seen as transformative magic that traditionally came under Brigid’s sanction. Brigid was said to have invented writing; so writing impliments, parchment, and inks were also blessed at this time of year.
In what is probably a decendant of an ancient fertility rite, in Ireland and Scotland, a representation of Brigid would be taken from house to house by girls and young women. Sometimes the representative was a girl, but usually it was a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy’). It would be made from rushes or reeds and clad in bits of cloth, shells and flowers. In the Hebrides of Scotland, a bright shell or crystal called the ‘reul-iuil Bríde’ (guiding star of Brigid) was set on the Brídeóg’s chest.
The girls would then carry the doll in procession while singing a hymn to Brigid. All
wore white with their hair unbound as a symbol of purity and youth. They visited every house in the area, where they received either food or more decoration for the Brídeóg, and the house recived Brigid’s blessings in return. Afterwards, they feasted in a house with the Brídeóg set in a place of honour, and put it to bed with lullabies. When the meal was done, the local young men humbly asked for admission, made obeisance to the Brídeóg, and joined the girls in feasting, dancing and merrymaking.
In many parts, only unwed girls could carry the Brídeóg; but in some places, both boys and girls carried it. In the late 17th century, Catholic families in the Hebrides would make a bed for the Brídeóg out of a basket.
Up until the mid-20th century, children in Ireland still went house-to-house asking for pennies for “poor Biddy”, or money for the poor.
In some parts of Ireland a Crios Bride (a straw hoop with four solar crosses tied to it) was made, and it was carried from house to house. Women would lower it over their heads three times and men would step through it to mark Brigid’s blessings and a ritual rebirth. In some places in Connacht and Munster, men in white robes wearing straw platted masks carrying the Crios Bride and singing still go from house to house.
|You can also now download a Celtic Myth Podshow App from the iTunes store. This is the most convenient and reliable way to access the Celtic Myth Podshow on your iPhone or iPod Touch. You’re always connected to the latest episode, and our App users have access to exclusive bonus content, just touch and play! To find out more visit the iTunes Store or our Description Page.|
|You can now also find an Android version of the App which works identically to the iPhone version. You can find it on Amazon or by clicking the image to the right.|
|You can now also find the Windows Phone App in the Windows Phone Store.|
|If you come to the site and listen or listen from one of our players – have you considered subscribing? It’s easy and you automatically get the episodes on your computer when they come out. If you’re unsure about the whole RSS/Subscribing thing take a look at our Help page.|