Saturday, January 31, 2009

Happy St. Bridgets Day

Whether you are Christian, Pagan, Spiritualist, or other, the beginning of February, is an important day in the religious calendar of Ireland. Its origins start in the Megalithic days, when stone structures were built to commemorate the dead and to celebrate the Sun. Newgrange is Ireland’s most famous stone structure, it celebrates the Winter Solstice, 21st of Dec, but the other monuments such as the Lough Crew Passage Tomb Cemetery, were built to mark Imbolc and Samhain (Halloween). You have to remember that these structures are older than the Pyramids of Egypt, and are some of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. So, saying celebrating the beginning of February in Ireland is an old custom is an under-statement… Imbolc means, literally, “in the belly” (of the Mother), this was the time to celebrate the stirrings of spring, the sprouting of seeds in the womb of Mother Earth. this day belonged to Brigit, the Goddess of Fire, and patroness of smith-craft, poetry and healing (especially midwifery). There are several ways of spelling Brigit, (Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd or Bride) so just to distinguish I will call the goddess Brigid, and the saint Bridget. She is also associated with Holy Wells, so, as well as lighting candles and bonfires, there is a tradition of trying strips of cloth on bushes beside the wells. It is also a traditional weather forecasting day, if it is clear and bright, there will be two winters in the year, so for once, pray for grey skies, and rain… In Christian terms it became known as Candlemas.


Some people believe this is the true origin of St. Bridget; she was not a real person but simply a Pagan Goddess that was Christianized. Others say she was a great woman and it is just coincidence her feast day is the same as the Pagan Goddess. But there is no doubt, whether true or not, the Story of St. Brigit is an interesting one. In brief, she was the head-strong daughter of a pagan king and a Christianized Pict (Scottish). She was generous to a fault, and always fed the poor despite her father’s misgivings. She became a nun, and founded a double monastery, one male and one female, in Kildare. She was a great patronage of the Church and is said to have traveled and founded several churches and monasteries elsewhere. So, why are we talking about her here? There are several activities associated with St. Bridget that involve textiles. These are some of the few traditions that are still carried out every year, and stories that are told without religious dogma. Every year, children around Ireland make St. Bridget’s crosses at school. Ribbons are tied to bushes beside Holy wells by Christians and Pagans alike, each saying a prayer to their own faith. The story of her magic cloak is on a par, in my view, with Aladdin and his Flying Carpet, though not quite so exotic.

Here is the very short version of St. Bridget’s Cloak…Bridget wanted some land on which to build her first church but when she went to the local chieftain he was very mean and did not want to give her any. So she asked for just as much as her cloak would cover. Laughing he agreed. “Take off your cloak and spread it on the ground” he said but to his dismay and amazement when she spread it out under a lovely oak tree, the cloak began to grow bigger and bigger. It spread out wider and wider, further and further until it had covered more than enough land on which to build a very big church. The place is still called “Cill Dara” (Kildare) or the “Church of the Oak Tree”.
There are a few lovely books out there, which re-tell the story without an overly religious tone.

‘Brat Bríde’
Followers of St. Bridget came to believe that on the eve of her day, 1st of Feb, she spread her cloak over all of Ireland, to give it protection for the following year. The cloak was red (more goddess than nun) and it became the custom to leave a piece of red flannel overnight, on a tall bush, so that it became touched by Bridget’s cloak. This became known as the ‘Brat Bríde’, and its touch would cure sickness in people and animals, e.g. newly calved cow was touched to ensure a good supply of milk and the spuds for planting in Spring, to ensure a good harvest.

St. Bridget’s Cross, Crosóg Bhríde.
Every year school children across Ireland make a St. Bridget’s Cross. It is one of our few remaining folk traditions. Legend had it she made them from rushes she found on the ground beside a dying man in order to convert him. Not unlike St. Patrick’s use of the Shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity, of Father, Son, and as we say in Ireland, Holy Ghost. 

The cross takes many forms and is technically classed as a "'plaited corn dolly", It is interesting to note that this tradition of weaving and plaiting a cross is present in many old cultures throughout the world, from Native Americans, Mexicans, to Indonesians. They are commonly known as God’s Eyes, and offer protection from fire, lightening, infectious diseases and the evil eye. Each year a new cross is made and the old one is burned to keep fire in the house. With our declining forests and oil reserves, it mightn't be a bad idea to start this tradition again in earnest. Also, keeping a St. Bridget’s cross in the ceiling or roof is a charm to keep the fire in the hearth and stop the house burning down Traditionally, rushes (juncus effuses) were used to make the crosses. A bundle was pulled (rather than cut) from wetlands and bogs and woven or plaited into a cross. There are lots of different designs, some of which you can see on display at the Museum of Folk Life in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.So, put your red flannel out tonight, and tomorrow go collect rushes to make your St. Bridget's Cross. If you haven't any rushes, try using straw, reeds, or even drinking straws. 

There are a few videos on YouTube you can watch, on how to make the crosses. I'll be editing this to add links to any blogs, websites etc, I can find about making St.Bridgets Crosses. If you have made any let me know and I will link back to you. Or you can can check out our brand new FLICKR group and add to the Woolly Way Pool  

FromSheep toShawl  
OrganicGrowingPains Crosses from Co.Cork 
YouTube video on how to make the cross here   

Very interesting article here

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