Druids had an intimate knowledge of the nature of the cosmos and life on earth. Over several thousand years of close observation, living in the pocket of nature humanity ran in the river of life. When we discovered farming our relationship with nature changed and we left the community of nature to elevate ourselves as masters. This photo is Aideens Grave in Howth taken by Des Mullan.
And God saith, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth.'
This required a different theology , with permissions to violate many of the old moral obligations and empathies and justify the abandonment of our former partners, rendering them our inferiors, servants and even enemies.
The new religions had to discredit and replace the belief systems they were supplanting. This was done with Talibanic ruthlessness and beguiling syncretism. Led by the emperor Constantine, who adapted Christianity to outflank a serious threat to the roman status quo thousands of years of deep understanding and awareness of the interconnectedness of things were dismissed as heresy, mumbo jumbo, and primitive superstition. Science, for all its idealised rigour, is only just beginning to catch up a little on its own ignorance. The Wood Wide Web, and the forest as a macro-organism with trees and all the flora sharing knowledge and resources through the mycelium is a good example.
The new religion appropriated the seasonal ceremonies and rituals of observation that marked the calendar of life and rebranded the trusted and revered characters who understood them best. Thus Imbolc became St Brigids day. Brigid was no saint, rather a warm goddess who preceded Christianity,
Imbolc was one of the four great pagan festivals, and perhaps the most optimistic and warmly met, as it marked the earliest confirmation that Spring was actually coming. This meant a lot in the Neolithic era, 10,000 years ago when the energy people shared came almost exclusively from the sun and winters were long cold and uncertain. The winter we have just endured under Covid is a gentle reminder of more challenging metabolic times.
Imbolc was positioned by the wider activity evident in nature. The onset of the lambing , happening right now, was a reliable cue, though there were many. February 1st is the assigned date in Christian times.
If you begin to observe nature more closely, and watch the emergence of the bulbs, the modest yellowing of the gorse or sniff the breeze for notes of wild garlic you can align yourself in your humble day to day with Imbolc, a welcome couch upon which to rest your confidence in the inevitability of summer. Once you get started, theres no stopping until June 21st, when the light begins to wane again.
I will be watching closely and with some excitement to see if last years Spring Lockdown had any positive consequences for this years Spring. The geologists reported that their instruments went still and silent last Spring as the reduction of human activity allowed the earth itself to rest for a while. We may have had the most forgiving conditions for Nature since the industrial revolution.
Brigid was the goddess whom poets adored. She was Tuatha Dé Danaan, here before the Celts, when my family first appeared. There is much evidence in Howth's landscape and heritage of the Tuatha Dé Danaan and Howth is really named after Eadair, a figure from among their number. Brigit means " The Exalted One in old Irish and her father was The Dagda. In the historical record they were among the hunter gatherers before the farming began in earnest. This picture is by Jim Fitzpatrick and he invariably used local models as his muses, including my own cousin Audrey.
Brigid was flame haired and a manifestation of sunlight and fire. She was a triple goddess, channeling mastery of healing and smithing along with her primary elements of Spring and Fertility. As a personal deity she protected mothers and children and her own capacity for motherhood extended to mortals, gods and domestic animals. Her spirit was accessible through waterways and wells, though she was also a lighter for the greatest passions.
On a more mournful note, at the second battle of Moytura Brigids father was killed by the Formorians. Her son Ruadán slew the smith-god Giobhniu but then he succumbed in the battle himself. As Brigid mourned her father and son a loud keening lament came from her lips, the first time sorrow had been felt in Ireland.
My most personal portend of Spring as the end of a tough winter climate, is the spawning of the frogs. The frogs emerge from their catatonic winter submission for an outrageous gangbang. I expect it around February 18th and will be alert for word from the Kerrymen to the South West where it begins before slowly rolling north over the country. If you see a frog, watch out at Brigids stiller pools and bogs. If your ears are alive and your presence is imperceptible you will hear a sound like a helipad as the frogs engage passionately and without inhibition in Brigids orgy of fertility. Spring is coming.