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.