Sunday, February 1, 2015

Brigid at the Crossroads.

It's become something of a tradition here at hearth/myth to do an Imbolc post. A quick recap: Imbolc is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It's known as Candlemas to Christians, and as Groundhog Day to most Americans. (As my dad used to say, "If the groundhog sees his shadow, we'll have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, we'll have another month and a half!" Yeah, thanks, Dad. I'll make a note.)

For Pagans, Imbolc honors Brighid, the Irish goddess of spinning and weaving, smithcraft, and poetry. But she's also sometimes called a goddess of the crossroads. I have occasionally wondered where the association came from, so I committed a little Google-fu tonight to see what I could scope out.

If you do a search for "crossroads goddess," the first name that will pop up -- in a big box, no less -- is Hecate. She's considered to be a Greek goddess, although the Greeks probably adopted Her from somewhere else. She was originally considered to be a beautiful young woman, and was associated with abundance. By the time the Romans got hold of Her, She had morphed into a crone, the goddess of the dead. Even in Greece, She had aged, and had picked up an association with the underworld; Hecate is the one who led Demeter there to find her daughter Persephone, after Hades had carried her off.

Hecate was specifically in charge of the kind of intersection where three roads meet. This is not necessarily a good thing. In the old days, criminals and people who committed suicide were buried at a crossroads, and people thought these intersections were haunted.

As I said earlier, Brighid too is sometimes considered to be a goddess of the crossroads -- but nobody's ever put Her in charge of the underworld, or suggested She is anything but good. The Catholic Church even made her a saint. So where did this association come from?

St. Brigid's Cross - Wikimedia CommonsFrom what I can tell, it has to do with the Brighid's Cross. It's traditionally woven of reeds or rushes on Imbolc, and hung above the front door of the house as a blessing. (Reeds and rushes are hard to find in my part of the world, so chenille stems, which we called pipe cleaners when I was a kid, are my media of choice.) It's said St. Brigid wove the first one while she comforted a dying Irish chieftain; when he heard her explanation of the significance of the cross, he converted to Christianity. But Brighid's Cross predates Christianity in Ireland. And some say the design symbolizes the Four Provinces of Ireland, with Brighid Herself at the center.

Interestingly, there's apparently a tradition in which Hecate is said to pass a torch to Brighid on January 31st, the eve of Imbolc -- the implication being that Hecate rules the dark half of the year, and Brighid rules the light half. I guess that would mean that Brighid gives the torch back to Hecate on the eve of Lughnasa? Or extinguishes it then? I don't know. If you're familiar with this tradition, please let me know in the comments. I'd be grateful.

If you're interested in making your own Brighid's Cross, I found these directions online. It requires either 12 or 16 pieces of straw, and they need to be flexible enough to bend without breaking, so you need to either pick them fresh or soak them. (I am not good at advance planning for this sort of thing, which is why I always use pipe cleaners. Plus then you can make each arm of your cross a different color.) You could also make a three-armed cross (there's that Y-intersection again...), with either 9 or 12 pieces of straw; the construction principle is the same.

And you can incorporate the construction of your Brighid's Cross into a divination or ritual. The idea is to ask Brighid to help you figure out the direction your life should take for the next year. Here's one from the Llewellyn Encyclopedia, and another from I've used the one from before and I liked it a lot. Everybody's different, of course. But if you're finding yourself at a crossroads these days, talking to Brighid could be one more way to help you make a decision.

Happy Imbolc!

You may be interested to know that my writing future has been mapped out for at least the next few months. I'm almost 20,000 words into the first book of Sage's story as we speak. I'm still dithering over the title, but as soon as I figure it out, I'll let y'all know.

In other news, "The Door into Summer" has been picked up for the inaugural issue of Five59 Monthly. You can read the whole issue online for free at the link. I'm told there will be a way to download a copy for your e-reader here shortly. As soon as I find out the specifics, I'll let y'all know.

This bloggy crossroad has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.


Anonymous said...

It may also have something to do with the fact that hekate and Brigid are both triple moon goddesses, they could be based off each other just separated into two different religions. I'm Celtic myself but that's what I believe at least, it's really difficult to find any research on Celtic paganism so that's just my guess on it

Lynne Cantwell said...

I'd be careful about conflating Brigid and Hecate. Hecate is a Greek goddess who was worshipped in the Middle East as far back as the 6th century BCE; I don't know that anyone knows how far back Brigid's worship dates, but she was honored in Ireland long before the Romans invaded Britain (and btw, the Romans never got to Ireland at all).

Morgan Daimler has written a bunch of books on Celtic paganism, including one on Brigid that I found quite good. Check it out. :)