Sheila R. Lamb
Pagans, Saints, and Groundhogs
February. Those who celebrate the early days of this month will either be in church or in the fields, both celebrating Brigid, in two of her aspects. Imbolc, St. Brigid’s day, Candlemas (Feb. 2) or – as most of us know it – Groundhog Day. Myth and legends of Brigid, both goddess and saint, overlap and I’m still trying to figure out how the groundhog is involved.
February 1st falls in between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Equinox. Celebrated by druids and pagans as Imbolc, Brigid is praised as the goddess of light, the goddess of fire, and the goddess of the lactating ewes. All that really means is…spring is coming. As spring approaches, the days lengthen and animals begin to produce more milk. Thus, Brigid is also named the Fiery Arrow, bringer of light to the land.
In the Christian tradition, St. Brigid was raised by druids and she later converted to Christianity. As a child, Brigid was said to have been bathed in cow’s milk. As Abbess of Kildare, she is said to have miraculously increased the milk production of their cows. She performs many miracles, such as curing lepers, or hang up her famous blue cloak on a sunbeam.
Irish Podcast has a great post and podcast about the blurred transition from paganism to Christianity in Ireland. Check it out.
The tradition of the sacred flame began at Kildare (Cill Dara), the Church of the Oak. Legend has it that the flame was originally used by Celts to invoke the ancient Goddess Brigid. When Saint Brigid, possibly a contemporary of St. Patrick, began her nunnery, she continued the tradition of the flame. The flame survived until the 16th century, when the Catholic faith was suppressed by Protestant rule. In 1993, the flame was re-lit at Kildare, now tended by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare.
About the groundhog…it looks to be a Pennsylvania German tradition, first celebrated in Pennsylvania in 1841 (you can look it up here on Wikipedia.) If you find a Brigid connection, let me know. So far, I’m not seeing one.
Whether Christian, pagan, or simply an observer of groundhogs, the first week of February celebrations means that light will soon shine.