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Nor will the serpent molest me

    Or so says Alexander Carmichael in his seminal collection of folklore; Carmina Gadelica.

The traditional Spring season in Ireland consists of Feabhra, Márta, and Aibreán. Yea, the names look a lot like their English counterparts, as do most of the months. Three pretty important exceptions are the ones derived from the ancient calendar: mí na Bealtaine, mí Lúnasa and mí na Samhna (May, August, November). The first day of each of these months was a major holiday, Lá Bealtaine, Lá Lúnasa, and an tSamhain.

There is a “quarter day” missing from my list above though, and that’s February 1st. The pre-Christian festival, known as Imbolc (Imbolc, and the older Óimelc, are both Old Irish folk-etymological reshapings of an unattested [*ommolg] (Hamp; 1979/80), with meanings of “milking” and “purification”), became Lá Fhéile Bríde (St. Bridget’s Day) following the Christianization of Ireland.

This is the first year I’ve been in Ireland for Imbolc. You can imagine my excitement at the opportunity to engage in ancient practices on the land of their origin! There were a number of traditional activities centered around this celebration, and they varied from region to region. One of the most common and enduring is the making of Brigid’s Cross; the solar wheel. This year, I made my first Brigid’s Cross in Ireland!

The first thing I needed were reeds, since I didn’t have the final shock of grain from the last harvest (which was the custom is some places). Himself was kind enough to accompany me on my hunt, down the road to the wetlands in the little woods. I needed green reeds of a good length and thickness. When we arrived at the car park I saw two ladies carrying bags of reeds, which was a lucky sign! I figured they were teachers gathering their materials, since all school children in Ireland make Brigid’s Crosses on the day. I think I must have worried them with a citizens’ arrest when I asked whether they got the reeds in the parks’ wetland! They were a bit surprised and said they thought it was ok to gather them. I assured them there were no worries, as I was about to do the exact same thing! We found plenty of nice reeds and gathered two good handfuls. It’s traditional to pull them from the root and not cut them. I found this very meditative. As I pulled, focusing my energy on pulling them clean from the ground (so as not to snap them – which happens if you don’t pay attention), I thought of my loved ones and all I have to be thankful for in my life.

When we got home with the reeds I placed them outside wrapped in my special Red Cloth. It was traditional to leave a strip of cloth, which represented Brigid’s cloak (Brat Bhríde), outside on Imbolc Eve to be touched by Her as she passed. The cloth was then used throughout the year for its curative power and protective influence. I had to secure my little bundle as the winds were wild that night! I took this as a good omen. The next morning I brought the reeds and cloth inside. They were nicely damp from the evenings storm. We had buttery potatoes and sausage for dinner that evening, and I sat to work making solar wheels in front of the fire. Again, I thought of those I love and all I am thankful for, of my hopes for the coming year, and of health and protection for those I love.

It was so much fun to make the crosses! I’ve been doing this for years back home in Texas, but it was very special to go out into the wet and pull the reeds on the soil where this tradition originated. I could imagine countless generations before me, stretching back literally for millennia, doing the very same thing! It was a shame we had no Biddies or Biddie Boys about, dressed in costume, singing and dancing as they carried the Brideog. But we had good food, warmth, love and nice cold Bulmers!

On the feast day of Bride
The daughter of Ivor shall come from the knoll,
I will not touch the daughter of Ivor,
Nor shall she touch me
Early on Brigids morn
The serpent shall comes from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.

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