Festival of Imbolc, St. Bridget’s Day February 1st

Today is Imbolc, one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals. It corresponds with St Bridget’s Day, which is a Christian festival for the Irish Saint, and is the eve of Candlemas. Bridget is the patron saint of all things to do with brides, marriage, fertility, and midwifery (amongst many other things, see above). And in Ireland, this year (2024) is the very first St Bridget’s/ Imbolc Day Bank Holiday!

St Bride,s Statue St Bride's Church. Fleet Street
St Bride’s Statue, St Bride’s Church. Fleet Street from K.Flude’s virtual tour on Imbolc

St Bridget, aka Briddy or Bride, converted the Irish to Christianity along with St Patrick in the 5th Century AD. She appears to have taken on the attributes of a Celtic fertility Goddess, called Bridget or Brigantia, so some doubt she was a real person. There are Roman altars dedicated to Brigantia, and it is thought that the Brigantes tribe in Yorkshire and the North were named after the Goddess. The Brigantes were on the front line against the invading Romans in the 1st Century AD, and led by Queen Cartimandua, It is interesting that two of the British leaders facing the Roman invasion were women. Cartimandua tried to keep her independence by cooperating with the Romans, while, a few years later, Boudica took the opposite strategy. But both women appear to have had agency as leaders of their tribes and show a great contrast with Roman misogyny.

altar to Brigantia
Altar to Brigantia from K Flude’s virtual tour on Imbolc

There are many wells dedicated to St Bride. They were often used in rituals and dances concerned with fertility and healthy babies. And perhaps, the most famous, was near Fleet Street. Henry VIII’s Palace of Bridewell, later an infamous prison, was named after the Well. St Bride’s Church has long been a candidate as an early Christian Church, and although the post World War Two excavations found nothing to suggest an early Church, they did find an early well near the site of the later altar of the Church, and by the remains of a Roman building, possibly a mausoleum. Therefore, it is possible that the Church was built on the site of an ancient, arguably holy, well.

St Bridget's Well Glastonbury
St Bridget’s Well, Glastonbury

The steeple of St Brides is said to be the origin of the tiered Wedding Cake, which, in 1812, inspired a local baker to bake for his daughter’s wedding.

Steeple of St Brides Fleet Street
Steeple of St Brides Fleet Street

Imbolc and St Bridget’s Day are the time to celebrate the return of fertility to the earth as spring approaches. In my garden and my local park, the first snowdrops, violets, and daffodils are coming out, and below the bare earth, there is a frenzy of bulbs and seeds budding, and beginning to poke their shoots up above the earth, ready for the Spring. In the meadows, ewes are lactating, and the first lambs are being born.

Violets, bulbs, and my first Daffodil of the year. Hackney (2022), London by K Flude

I, occasionally, do walks about Imbolc and other Celtic festivals, in conjunction with the Myths and Legends of London, and at May Eve, the Solstices, Halloween and Christmas (when I have time). See the walks page of this blog


And let’s end with the Saint Brigid Hearth Keeper Prayer Courtesy of SaintBrigids.org

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light, Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us,
The Memory of Brigid within us,
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn.

For more about St Bridget.

First published in 2023, revised and republished Feb 2024

I have republished my post of the Chinese New Year which you can see here:

Mary Musgrove’s Letter to Anne Elliot (In Jane Austen’s Persuasion’) February 1st

Letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra

I have been waiting to post this for a long time, as it relates to Christmas. (Was it really a month ago?) By the way, I have added to some text to yesterday’s Brexit posts.

This evening is also Imbolc, the Celtic Festival to Brigantia and St. Bridget of Kildare. Candlemas tomorrow.

This is a letter from Mary Musgrove in Persuasion (Chapter 18). This is Jane Austen’s most mature and probably the best novel,. Here the moany Mary Musgrove writes a typically FOMO letter which illustrates how Christmas, for the well, off really continued to February 1st and Candlemas.

February 1st
“My dear Anne,–I make no apology for my silence because I know how little people think of letters in such a place as Bath. You must be a great deal too happy to care for Uppercross, which, as you well know, affords little to write about. We have had a very dull Christmas; Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove have not had one dinner party all the holidays. I do not reckon the Hayters as anybody.

The holidays, however, are over at last: I believe no children ever had such long ones. I am sure I had not. The house was cleared yesterday, except of the little Harvilles; but you will be surprised to hear they have never gone home. Mrs. Harville must be an odd mother to part with them so long. I do not understand it. They are not at all nice children, in my opinion; but Mrs. Musgrove seems to like them quite as well, if not better, than her grandchildren.

What dreadful weather we have had! It may not be felt in Bath, with your nice pavements; but in the country it is of some consequence. I have not had a creature call on me since the second week in January, except Charles Hayter, who had been calling much oftener than was welcome.

Between ourselves, I think it a great pity Henrietta did not remain at Lyme as long as Louisa; it would have kept her a little out of his way. The carriage is gone to-day, to bring Louisa and the Harvilles to-morrow. We are not asked to dine with them, however, till the day after, Mrs. Musgrove is so afraid of her being fatigued by the journey, which is not very likely, considering the care that will be taken of her; and it would be much more convenient to me to dine there to-morrow.

I am glad you find Mr. Elliot so agreeable, and wish I could be acquainted with him too; but I have my usual luck: I am always out of the way when any thing desirable is going on; always the last of my family to be noticed. What an immense time Mrs. Clay has been staying with Elizabeth! Does she never mean to go away? But perhaps if she were to leave the room vacant, we might not be invited. Let me know what you think of this. I do not expect my children to be asked, you know. I can leave them at the Great House very well, for a month or six weeks.

I have this moment heard that the Crofts are going to Bath almost immediately; they think the Admiral gouty. Charles heard it quite by chance; they have not had the civility to give me any notice, or of offering to take anything. I do not think they improve at all as neighbours. We see nothing of them, and this is really an instance of gross inattention.

Charles joins me in love, and everything proper.

Yours affectionately,.”

It is my paragraphing rather than the original. The mystery of the book is how such a lovely, considerate, able daughter like Anne, can be from the same family as both her awful sisters, and her monstrous, egotistical father.

Winter December 2nd

lullingstone mosaic for winter
Mosaic from Lullingstone Villa, Kent representing winter

This is the second day of Winter.

Winter, meteorologically speaking is described in the Northern Hemisphere as being December, January, and February, which is, of course, a convention rather than a fact. Astronomically, winter starts with the Winter Solstice when the sun is at its lowest and so stretches from around December 21st to the Equinox around March 21st.

Logically, the solstice should be a midpoint of winter rather than the beginning of it, with 6 weeks of winter on either side of it. This is roughly what the Celtic year does, it starts at dusk on 31st October (Halloween/Samhain) and continues to the evening of 31st January (Candlemas/Imbolc). So a Celtic Winter is November, December and January.

As far as the Sun goes this is really correct, but, in fact, because of the presence of the oceans (and to a lesser extent) the earth, the coldest time is not the Solstice when the Sun is at its weakest, but a few weeks later in January. The oceans (and the landmass) retain heat, and so the coldest (and the warmest) periods are offset, so January 13th is probably the coldest day not December 21st.

December comes from the Latin for ten – meaning the tenth month. Of course it is the twelfth month because the Romans added a couple of extra months especially to confuse us. For a discussion on this look at an early blog post which explains the Roman Calendar.

In Anglo-Saxon it is ærra gēola which means the month before Yule. In Gaelic it is An Dùbhlachd – the Dark Days which is part of An Geamhrachd, meaning the winter, and the word comes from an early Celtic term for cold, from an ‘ancient linguistic source for ‘stiff and rigid’’, which describes the hard frosty earth. (see here for a description of the Gaelic Year).

Medieval Liturgical Calendar for December. Note the image at the top which suggests this is the month for hunting bears.

My personal calendar suggests that winter begins on November 5th, because this is the day I generally notice how cold it has suddenly got. This year, my smart meter tells me that winter began in the last week of November.