Thursday, February 2, 2012
To-day, 2nd February, is the Christian feast-day of Candlemas, that celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary.
It is also the Feast-day of St Brigid (Bridget, Bride, Bríd, &c.), a celtic Saint and quite possibly a Goddess before that. Her cross of woven rushes or straw, shown upon the floor, is a Christian symbol, derived from the Pagan sun-wheel.
In gaelic the Feast is called Imbolc, or Imbolg, a name derived from Old Irish, meaning 'In the Belly', referring to the pregnancy of ewes at this time.
Candlemas is one of the four cross-quarter days and marks the starting of Spring. The others are Beltane (May-day), Lughnasa (Lammas or Loaf-mass) and Samhain (Halloween), each approximately 3 months from the next.
In the Gaelic tradition Imbolc is associated with the Cailleach— a hag who gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. Here in London, it is very sunny and bright indeed...
On the Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin in Manx gaelic) where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to have been seen on Imbolc in the form of a gigantic bird, carrying sticks in her beak. I have shown her in avian form at the top of the picture.
The Monk here carrying the huge votive candle is Brother Aelfric of Felbrigg.
Today is a good day to light candles as darkness falls. Its also a great time for Wiccan initiations and a libation of milk poured upon the ground as offering to the earth wouldn't do any harm either.