In (St) Brigid’s Arms: an Imbolc Devotional
The week leading to Imbolc 2018 was probably the darkest end of January in my life, but it was the one where Brigid’s flame burned the brightest in my heart. Brigid had always been an important divine figure to me, as a goddess of poetry and creation, as the saint associated with the coming of spring and new life. She didn’t push her way forward as often as, for example, Ceridwen or the Virgin Mary had, but on 23 January 2018 my daughter Bonnie was born with congenital heart defects, and we sped away to a hospital in another city for a week. I was alone with my delicate, unwell child (who is now turning out to be quite a fierce and fiery child, heart problems or not, which is a relief almost one year on), and Brigid stepped up and made her presence felt when I didn’t know who else to ask for help.
When you unexpectedly find yourself in hospital with a poorly newborn (and still recovering from a c-section yourself) 35 miles from home, missing your husband and other children, frightened for the baby you’ve just brought into the world, then magic, prayer and ritual have never been more important, but also must be improvised. There is so much value in the meditative and energetic qualities of burning a plain white candle, and in over twenty years of practicing my craft, I didn’t fully appreciate this simple act until I wasn’t able to do it. For me, everything about Imbolc, and all the power of Brigid, can be distilled into a white candle – the purity of a new beginning, the desire to heal, take action, and create, in a single simple flame.
But a hospital is no place for candles, and all I had to hand was a little pouch containing a piece of black tourmaline, a seashell, the tiniest statue of the Virgin Mary I’ve ever seen, and a worry stone made of clear resin encasing a bronze-coloured heart emblazoned with a cross, which was a gift from a devout Christian friend during my pregnancy. I brought these items to hospital with me for the birth because I had anxiety about surviving my planned c-section without major complications (I’d had some problems in three out of my four previous births), but I ended up needing them for my daughter instead. Tourmaline is good for staying positive; seashells always bring me closer to the goddess.
And knowing (St) Brigid’s mythical connections to Jesus and Mary in Celtic Christianity and my own path of christopaganism, the cross and the figure of the Virgin were more than enough to connect with Brigid herself. The legend goes that St Brigid found herself acting as midwife to Mary at the birth of Jesus, and even nursed the newborn boy when Mary was too exhausted to do it herself. The time frame is more than a little muddled in this story – St Brigid lived several centuries after Jesus, though of course the pagan goddess Brigid pre-dates him, so I quite like the idea that maybe she was there… – so it isn’t meant to be taken as anything more than a myth. But it’s the energy of this metaphorical act of midwifery/nursing that I could feel coming from Brigid while Bonnie and I were in hospital: “Here, let me help you with this baby – she’s going to need you for the rest of her life. For now, you rest.” Whenever I wasn’t cuddling or breastfeeding Bonnie, for the long hours she slept in her hospital cot, attached to monitors and oxygen, I was doing my best to remember Brigid was looking after her for me, helping her tiny heart. It wasn’t easy, but I had to believe we’d get through whatever might happen.
But of course Brigid’s warmth and empowering love isn’t just for mothers and newborn babies, it’s for anyone who needs it and will honour it; she holds you, pockets your concerns, your frazzled stray thoughts, and lets you rest – then smooths it all out in front of you when you awaken so your problems are easier to solve, battles are easier to win, and she imbues you with strength to keep going. And that’s in the spirit of Imbolc, too: celebrated on 1-2 February in the northern hemisphere, halfway between the longest night and the spring equinox, it’s the border between winter and spring, a planning time, a chance to rest before launching fully into whatever it is you need to do as the light increases, gains strength.
If you feel Brigid’s call or need her assistance, there are so many things you can do to thank her; relationships with deities and/or saints must be personal, but there are tried and tested ways to start if you’re stuck. Create something – poetry, art, a Brigid’s cross – whatever it is, make it sincerely. Do something kind for new mothers or mums-to-be or babies – even mama and baby animals if you prefer them to humans (I know plenty who do). Light those white candles. Go out walking, look for snowdrops or other signs of life, even if you’re still surrounded by snow and ice. Find your own connection to the cross-quarter magic that drifts gently at Imbolc, slowly smudging dormant and dark into bright and alive, and grow with it, whatever that means for you. And I hope you grow well, as my Bonnie has grown.
Born in Southern Ohio, but settled in the UK since 1999, Kate is a writer, witch, editor and mother of five. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, and the founding editor of four web journals and a micropress. Her witchcraft is a blend of her great-grandmother's Appalachian ways and the Anglo-Celtic craft of the country she now calls home – though she incorporates tarot, astrology, and her ancestors, plus music, film, books, and many other things into her practice. Her spiritual life is best described as queer Christopagan with emphasis on the feminine and the natural world. She believes magic is everywhere. Find Kate on twitter and IG - @mskateybelle - and at her website.