Saturday, January 31, 2009

St. Brigid

[via Bon Bons of Impertinence]

The photo pictured above, taken in candlelight, is a large portrait in oil I did some years back of St. Brigid that hangs in the front parlor of Chez Moose.
We always love the annual Brigid Ball here in New Orleans, it brings together the Pagan community from all paths and creeds, the ghouls, the freaks as well as members of "proper society", to give thanks and ask for Her blessing for the coming year;
And, interestingly enough, the Feast of St. Brigid, also Known as Imbolc, Candlemas and Groundhog's Day all have a connection if you know where to look.
So, OK, here's the thing..
In Celtic, Brigid or Brighid ("exalted one") was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the wife of Bres of the Fomorians, with whom she had a son, Ruadán. She had two sisters, also named Brighid, and is considered a classic Celtic Triple Goddess.
Given the struggle Christian missionaries faced in their efforts to preach the Gospel in Ireland, even though they Christianized some elements, the adoption of a pagan goddess into the Communion of Saints may have been an effort to Christianize one of the most enduring pagan goddesses
Maman Brigitte, (or Brijit) one of the Lwa of Haitian Voodoo, is a form of Brigid or Brighid. It is likely that the concept came to the New World through the Irish who were kidnapped, enslaved and forced to labor in the Caribbean alongside the enslaved Africans. Because of the intermarriage and cultural blending between the Irish and Africans, it is possible that Haitian Voodo is partially influenced by survivals of Celtic polytheism. (a lot of that went on in New Orleans back in the day)
Voudon, Voodoo, Vodou has many fiery, magical spirits, of which Brijit is one.
Brijit is a lawyer and a judge. She is a corpse and The mother of the Dead. She lives under the grave of the first woman buried in the cemetery. If the oldest grave in a cemetery is a woman's, then Brijit owns that cemetery. She is married to Bawon Samedi (the Baron of Saturday night) -- she and he are the heads of the Gede family (spirits of death, sex, and regeneration). She is the only Vodou Lwa I know of, who is of Irish descent. (the story goes that Irish peasants fleeing the potato famine in the 1840s and 1850s, were considered lower in worth than African slaves, and were often considered "expendable", literally worked to death, digging the "Irish Channel" in New Orleans, many turned to Voudou and St. Brigid for help)
On the evening of the Brigid Ball here in New Orleans, we will do an opening veve (ritual drawing in cornmeal, which calls a particular spirit) and song for Bawon Kalfou, the baron of the crossroads, who opens the door to the other spirits. Then we will do a veve and some songs to call Brijit. In Vodou, the sacred songs are prayers or invocations. We will consecrate the veve and say prayers to the Lwa and to Brijit. We will spray the veve with rum to activate it, and then dance for Brijit.
And I mean dance like Tracy Turnblad at the Miss Auto Show 1963 pageant.
Groundhog day...Ground Hog Day is actually a descendant of the pagan Imbolc celebration (Feast of Brigid). The goddess Brigid was a diviner, able to "see" into the future. It's easy to see how she came to be the patron saint of weather forecasters.
What Mother Nature was wont to do was certainly an issue best left in the hands of the goddesses. In Scotland, Cailleach, the Old Woman of Winter, was reborn at Imbolc as a goddess named Bride who was the Scottish incarnation of the Irish Brigid and also the Maiden of Spring. And folklore had it that "Early on Bride's morn the serpent shall come from its hole".
And there was a similar prediction associated with Brigid on February 2, her Saint's Day in the Christian tradition: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there will be two winters this year", goes the saying.
In other words, if hibernating animals emerge to find sunlight and shadow on February 2, then winter will continue for the full 12 weeks. But what could the groundhog possibly have to do with the weather?
Our American folk-calendar keeps the tradition of Groundhog's Day, a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. This custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that 'If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year.' Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as inverse weather predictors, whereas the quarter-days are used as direct weather predictors. Vance Randolf, an Ozark folklorist, stated that the "old-timers" used to celebrate Groundhogs Day on February 14th. Groundhog Day in the U.S. originated with the Imbolc celebrations of German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Looking for a hibernating animal that would make a suitable forecaster, they chose the groundhog. (Perhaps their decision was even influenced by their neighbors, the native Americans of the Delaware tribe who revered Wojak, the groundhog, and other animals as sacred descendants of their Creator.)
Candlemas...The Candlemas season of February 2 each year is unique. It includes,
A Pagan Sabbat: Candlemas, usually celebrated on or near the evening of February 2. Mainly celebrated by Neo-Pagans (no that's not a dirty word) A Christian holy day, and a Welsh festival known as NOS GWYL FAIR, that begins sundown, February 2; Fire Festival of Cerridwen, when we prepare light so that our goddess may find her way out of the darkness and return to us; Cerridwen, the triple goddess of poetry, smith-craft, and medicine, presides. We bid farewell to the horned god.
Witches & Druids celebrate Candlemas in different ways.
For some modern Witches, the old style Candlemas is the Pagan version of Valentine's Day, de-emphasising romantic love and re-emphasising of Pagan carnal frivolity. This also re-aligns the holiday with the ancient Roman Lupercalia, a fertility festival held at this time, in which the priests of Pan ran through the streets of Rome whacking young women with goatskin thongs to make them fertile. The women seemed to enjoy the attention and often stripped in order to afford better targets. Ahhh, good times...
Valentines' Day gets mixed up in this holiday. This is due to the a 10 day displacement when Europe switched from a Julian calendar to a Gregorian calendar. The average length of a year in the Julian Calendar was 365.25 days (one additional day being added every four years). This is significantly different from the "real" length of the solar year. However, there is uncertainty among astronomers as to what the length of the solar year really is. The main competing values seem to be the "mean tropical year" of 365.2422 days ("mean solar days") and the "vernal equinox year" of 365.2424 days. The difference of the length of the Julian calendar year from the length of the real solar year is thus 0.0078 days (11.23 minutes) in the former case and 0.0076 days (10.94 minutes) in the latter case.
This error accumulated so that after about 131 years the calendar is out of sync with the equinoxes and solstices by one day. Thus as the centuries passed the Julian Calendar became increasingly inaccurate with respect to the seasons. This was especially troubling to the Roman Catholic Church because it affected the determination of the date of Easter, which, by the 16th Century, was well on the way to slipping into Summer.
Pope Paul III recruited several astronomers, principally the Jesuit Christopher Clavius (1537-1612), to come up with a solution. They built upon calendar reform proposals by the astronomer and physician Luigi Lilio (d. 1576). When Pope Gregory XIII was elected he found various proposals for calendar reform before him, and decided in favor of that of Clavius. On 1582-02-24 he issued a papal bull, Inter Gravissimas, establishing what is now called the Gregorian Calendar reform. And Valentines day slid from Feb 2 to Feb 14. So Valentines day (February 14) is really the old style candlemas and Nos Gwyl Fair (February 2) is the new style Candlemas. Like the other High Holidays or Great Sabbats of the Witches' year, Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it's alternate date, astrologically determined by the sun at 15-degrees Aquarius, or Candlemas Old Style.
Still with me? OK that last part was kind of boring I know- but I feel it's something you need to know- information is power. You can thank me later. Here have a drink, you will feel better immediately... something appropriate....