Month: February 2015

The hearthfire and spring in the belly

The day is inching forward, a finger of sunset at a time. Mornings remain under the Cailleach’s dark cloak, but Aine – the bright face of the day – is lingering longer on the western hillsides, marking the slow emergence of spring.

In Keltria, we refer to Imbolc as the Feast of the Stirring. Spring is in the belly as the unborn lamb in the belly of the ewe, whose lactation marked the advent of this holy day. Spurred by the growing light, buds begin to form on the snow-swathed trees – even as winter’s coldest days still lie ahead.

This season is traditionally sacred to Brighid. Honored as the Lady of Healing, Smithcraft and Poetry, she is first and foremost the flame of the hearth. Her white mantle, as the saying goes, brings the spring – and it is that white mantle, with the accompanying cold, that drives us to her oldest and most sacred altar.

Since our earliest beginnings, we have gathered around the fire – for warmth, for light amid darkness, for safety, for companionship. Way back in my high school English class, we interpreted themes of the Raw and the Cooked – or nature and civilization – in literature. While many species use tools, it is our use of fire that sets us most apart – and sparked the rest of civilization. Fire turns the raw into the cooked, and nature into human society.

Following this thread, we can perhaps see how the Goddess of fire and the hearth ended up as the Lady of Healing, Smithcraft and Poetry. At her core, Brighid is the Goddess of all the human arts, all the skills and crafts that comprise civilization. She is, essentially, the power that turns the raw into the cooked and human beings into ourselves.

Imbolc, then, is the Feast of the Stirring beyond that of the unborn lambs and kids quickening in their mothers’ wombs. It is the stirring of the hearth fire’s embers, keeping us warm and alive in the crushing cold. It is the stirring of the physical cauldron, turning raw materials into nourishment. It is the mental stirring of inspiration and idea, urging us to create stories, poetry, art and craft. And finally, it is the spiritual stirring of alchemy, using Her fire to forge the very best version of ourselves

Yes, we can and do use Her fire for ill purposes. Fire can be used to commit arson, destroy cities, raze forests. Fire can forge swords as well as plowshares, and burn food instead of cook it. Civilization brings complications and ethical gray areas as well as blessings, but that doesn’t mean that we should turn our back on the flame. Rather, Brighid’s spiritual challenge is to consider how we use it, and if we use it wisely.

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Her white cloak brings the spring (a poem for Imbolc)

Her white cloak brings the spring.
Oh, you have forgotten?
Are you so blind from white
snow and sky, everywhere
white and cold blue, glacial
in its speed and its time?

In its speed and its time —
underneath Her white cloak
the soil — warm and awake.
Even now, buds reach up
but not yet through — blindly
knowing the light above.

Knowing the light above,
we cook the bannocks on
the hearth and weave crosses
of reeds from the river
dug out from the ice. We
call Her name from the door.

Call Her name from the door —
and She answers, touching
scraps of cloth on the rail,
singing in the hearth fire,
settling in the reed bed.
Her touch brings forth the buds.

Her touch brings forth the buds
on the sleeping branches
rimed with snow, heads bowing
with their wait. Rainbows spin,
catching light in the ice.
Her white cloak brings the spring.

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