Song to Brigid

I learned this chant at a public celebration of Imbolc. I scored it so it could be shared with a wider audience. If anyone knows who wrote it, please let me know. So far, I’ve been unsuccessful in tracking it down!

songtobrigid PDF

songtobrigid

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St. Brigid’s Cross

IFI love the simple beauty of St. Brigid’s crosses. In Ireland, they are made from rushes and contain a beautiful woven square in the middle with four equidistant arms that are tied at the ends. They make these crosses for the feast day of St. Brigid, February 1st.

Many people believe this cross has pre-Christian origins and I wholeheartedly agree.  The cross reminds me of the spokes of the wheel that the goddess Brigid turns toward spring during the celebration of Imbolc.  The four “spokes” of this cross represent the two solstices and two equinoxes of the year.  With all the connections that can be made between Brigid and St. Brigid, it’s not hard to believe that the cross is a Christian adaptation of the wheel of the year.

Crossed_circleThe earliest origin of St Brigid’s cross may possibly be the “sun cross” or “wheel cross” that dates back to prehistoric times, especially during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  Wheel crosses appear frequently in artifacts associated with religious rites.  They call to mind the spokes of a chariot wheel.  If this is the case, this cross could have been used in connection with the “sun chariot” the gods rode to carry the sun across the sky.  Whatever the case may be, this is an old symbol that has been connected to spirituality for a very long time. Enjoy!

Copyright 2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Great Wheels of Fire

St. Lucia's DayImbolc is the celebration of the first stirrings of spring after the dark days of winter. Ancient Pagans celebrated the holiday by lighting ritual fires to lure back the sun. One of the most popular customs among the Celts was to have a young woman, representing the maiden aspect of the goddess Brigid, enter the ritual area carrying a circle of lit candles. This circle is a symbol of the Wheel of the Year that Brigid is slowly turning toward spring. Thanks to their Norse brothers and sisters, the wheel was eventually worn on the young woman’s head.  This tradition originated in the Norse celebration of Yule.

If all this sounds familiar to my Christian readers, we have another connection with our Pagan friends!  The Swedish folk song “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella” commemorates the young woman in question.  This custom is still practiced today in Scandinavian countries on St. Lucia’s Day, December 13th.  Interestingly enough, St. Lucia’s original incarnation was Lucina, the Roman goddesss of light!

A great book that helped me make some of these connections is Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways by Edain McCoy.  It is filled to interesting rites, crafts, activities and history that surrounds the eight sabbats observed by most modern Wiccans.

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Imbolc: Becoming Rooted in Good Soil

spiral-roots

Artist Unknown

At an Imbolc celebration I attended one of the priestesses talked about paying attention to the season we’re in. During the month of February, it may not look like much is happening in the natural world around us. However, underneath the ground seeds are breaking apart, rooting themselves, and drawing nutrients from the soil. It is only when they do this that they can become green plants and beautiful flowers in the spring. She challenged us to spend time this month doing things that “ground” us and make us feel “rooted.” She said we should look for activities that nourish our spirits and make us feel alive and creative.

The other part of this process is that we may have to “die” to something. The seed breaks apart and transforms itself into something new. This is also a part of the growing process as we let go of old, unproductive ways of living and adopt healthier behaviors and habits that are life-giving to us, to nature, and to the people around us.

As we say in the South, “That will preach!” It reminds me of something Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Both Pagans and Christians must undergo this same spiritual process if we are going to grow and become the healers and reconcilers the world needs us to be. It’s not easy to die to our self-centeredness and destructive patterns of living. We love our habits and routines, even if they are killing us! But natures tells us that dying is a part of the process of bring new life into the world.

Jesus also told a parable about four different types of soil. The first three yielded practically nothing but the last seed that was sown, even surprised the farmer. Jesus ended the parable by  saying: “Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:1-9).

We all need to find good soil in our lives. So, while the chill of winter is still with us, let us find something that helps us to put down deep roots in spiritual soil, so we can emerge in the spring with vitality and “aliveness.”

Copyright © 2020 by sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Brigid, Gold-Red Woman

At last year’s celebration of Imbolc, we sang the following chant. I quickly caught the tune on my smart phone and scored the melody. I write quite a bit of music so I made a small change to the melody to make it more interesting. If any of you know this tune and can suggest any revisions, please let me know. It has been my experience that there are only a few printed resources out there for Pagan songs. Therefore, I will try my best to preserve them on this blog as I come across them. Blessed be!

Here is a jpeg of the score:

brigidgoldredwoman

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Brigid: The Goddess Behind the Saint

wikkicommons

St. Brigid from wikkicommons

St. Brigid is both historical figure and character of folklore and shared more than a name with her Pagan Goddess counterpart. It is through St. Brigid that the clearest glimpse into Brigid the Goddess can be found.—Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess, Courtney Weber

If you spend any time researching the subject, there are numerous theories that describe how the Saint and Goddess are connected. The one that resonates with me most strongly these days comes from the excellent research done by Courtney Weber in Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magic of the Celtic Goddess. According to Weber, one of the commonalities between various Celtic cultural traditions was a term for an exalted being: Brig or Brid. It was applied to more than the Goddess, and was also used to refer to women in positions of power in society. One example is a first century Irish lawyer called Brigh which was probably not her name but was a reference to her occupation as a female judge.

When nuns take their vows, they leave their secular name behind and choose a new one. Based on Weber’s work it is possible that the nun in question chose the name Brigid which was quite fitting since she held a powerful position as the founder of the cathedral in Kildare (which was built on top of a Pagan shrine) and abbess of a monastery. She also had a reputation for being generous to the poor and was known for healing miracles and compassionate care for animals.

stbrigcathedral

Cross from St. Brigid’s Cathedral

When Brigid died and was declared a saint, there is no doubt the folklore surrounding her continued to grow. It’s my theory that many of the qualities that were once attributed to the Goddess Brigid became attached to St. Brigid since the worship of the Goddess remained strong in Ireland in spite of Christian attempts to eliminate it.  This way, the Celts could have their Goddess in the guise of saint’s clothing.  It was a win/win for both sides!

There are others beside myself who believe in this theory. Robert Ellsberg in All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time, says “It has been noted that in ancient times Brigid was, in fact, the name of the Celtic sun goddess. This has given rise to the suggestion that in St. Brigid, a nun and abbess of the fifth century, we find the repository of primeval religious memories and traditions. In any case, it seems that with the cult of St. Brigid the Irish people maintained an image of the maternal face of God with which to compliment the more patriarchal religion of St. Patrick and subsequent missionaries.”

Edward C. Sellner in Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, says “These attributes (of the goddess) were eventually identified with Brigit, the saint, whose feast day, February 1, came to be celebrated on the same day as that of the Pagan goddess. Early hagiographers also portray crucial turning points in Brigit’s life and ministry as touched with fire. It is clear that St. Brigit stands on the boundary between Pagan mythology and Christian spirituality.”

In my own personal spiritual practice, Brigid plays a big part as my “go-to” Goddess. I have an icon of her above my altar in the form of St. Brigid to remind me of the connection between my Christian and Pagan paths. For me she is a bridge-builder and reconciler whose healing power might help to bring us all closer together!  Hail Brigid, and I wish you all a blessed celebration of Imbolc!

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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La Befana: Ancient Goddess, Santa’s Precursor, or Christmas Witch?

I was hooked the first time I heard about her: La Befana, the “Christmas Witch.” The first figure I saw of her while traveling in Italy was an elderly “nonna” (grandmother) who was dressed in peasant clothing with a kerchief around her head. She was riding a broom and had a bag of goodies. What’s not to like about THAT? A friend of mine recently brought me one from Italy that looked like a leftover Halloween witch. She even wore an orange skirt and a pointy hat.

Needless to say, there are many layers of tradition and stories that go into the creation of La Befana. The earliest layer is that some believe she is descended from the Sabine/Roman Goddess Strenia (Strenua), the goddess of the new year year, purification and well-being. She name appears to be the origin of strenae, the gifts Romans exchanged at the beginning of the year as good omens for the coming year. These gifts often included figs, dates and honey. Not surprisingly, several sources say that La Befana brought these same gifts to Italian children in her earliest incarnation. Thus, the tie between the two is rather convincing.

The next layer of La Befana occurs around the 8th century when she began to appear in Italian folklore in connection with the celebration of Epiphany. In fact, her name, most likely comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, “epifania.” If you’ve read my blog you know that the goddess often got adapted and incorporated into Christian theology and practice. (Brigid is the best example.) So it’s not surprising that this most likely occurred here as well.

The story that is told about her is a really weird but delightful one. Here’s one version of the legend:

La Befana lived alone in a house in the hills of Italy. She spent her days cooking and cleaning like all good nonnas do! One night she noticed a bright light in the sky. After some thought, La Befana decided to ignore the light and go back to sleep.
A few days later, a caravan led by Three Wise Men stopped at La Befana’s house to ask for directions to Bethlehem. La Befana offered them hospitality. In return, the Wise Men invited her to come with them to visit Baby Jesus. She declined, saying she had too much work to do. But later she changed her mind.
She then packed a basket with baked goods and gifts for the newborn child. She grabbed her broom (because the new mother would certainly need help cleaning), and tried to catch up with the Wise Men.
After she had walked a long distance angels appeared to her and gave her the gift of flight. So she hopped on her broom and continued to search for the Christ Child. She is still searching to this very day, and every Epiphany, she visits homes throughout Italy, giving gifts to every child she finds along the way. Over time, she has come to realize that the Christ Child can be found in all children, so her search is not in vain.

Her final layer is the more modern folklore tradition that may be somewhat freed of its Christian adaptation. La Befana visits all the children of Italy on Epiphany Eve (January 5) by magically sliding down the chimney on her broom. She leaves candy, treats and presents if you’re good, and a lump of coal or black candy if you’re bad. Yeah, I know, that sounds a lot like Santa Claus so she may also be the precursor to the legends surrounding the jolly old man himself! Another tradition is that La Befana also sweeps the floor before she leaves since she is such a good housekeeper.

My “Befana” figure purchased in Italy

The final piece of the puzzle is her reputation as the Christmas “witch.” I see no evidence of her being a “Strega” (Italian witch) but am open to any information you have to share. It seems to me that since she rode a broom in early folkloric traditions and has the magical power to slide down a chimney, it’s not surprising that her kerchief became replaced with a pointy witches hat and her face grew more haggardly over time with a big pointy nose. It was born to happen, but I think this does her a great injustice. It may make sense for retailers to pawn off their Halloween witches as La Befana, but this cheapens her legend and legacy.

I still need to do more research on this topic but you must admit that La Befana is an intriguing woman whose legend is surround by magic and mystery. I don’t think she would have it any other way!

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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