Wall and crosses at St. Brigid's Well, Liscannor, Co. Clare

Neighbouring villages are within sight of each other

Roosters and dogs can be heard in the distance

Should a man grow old and die            

without ever leaving his village            

let him feel as though there was nothing he missed                        

-Tao Te Ching

Lovely sentiment by Lao Tzu but there are some places and villages that make the business of contentment that little bit easier. I live in one of those places and it is lately that I’ve begun to sink back into the rhythm of the place a little bit, to be part of the tune rather than trying to be the composer. And so it was I waited and watched for the weather on St. Brigid’s Day, the first day of spring, Imbolc to the ancients. Legend has it that if Imbolc was fine then winter would continue, but if the weather was bad then it was a sign winter was over. This day was fine which meant the Cailleach or hag of winter was out collecting firewood to keep her warm a little longer. The Cailleach rules over the winter and Brigid rules over summer, from Imbolc on you begin to see Brigid’s influence but it’s March and the Spring Equinox before the Cailleach begins to wane. Both the Hag Cailleach and the Goddess Brigid reside in our little corner of the world. Always one to hedge my bets I decide over the feast of Imbolc to visit them both to pay my respects.

Hag’s head, we’re told, is where the Cailleach resides when she’s at home, that is when she is not out collecting firewood or whipping up storms. In her downtime she sits jutting from the Cliff-top, sphinx-like in a meditative pose, looking forever westwards at the sun setting over the Atlantic. The view here terrifies me. The great mouth of the universe, open and gawping, ready to swallow you without a thought. And many’s the soul she’s swallowed under the nonchalant eye of the Cailleach. On foul days here the water pounds the cliffs in battalions, fluid armies sent forth from Lir of the deep, harbingers of Armageddon, but the Cliffs hold them back. I stand on top of the natural fortress and can’t help feeling the Cliffs protect us from something, for now. Way below the water’s speak, there is a pull, magnetism about the fall, it serves to remind us how near oblivion is. The Cailleach sits on her perch unperturbed; she’s seen it all from here and waits, knowing the sun will set regardless of what’s thrown at her from the sea.

The day was taking soft steps towards twilight as I stepped down past the clootied trees into Brigid’s Well. Mine was the only shadow at the shrine that hour of the day. Scented candles burned after earlier pilgrims and the music of the nomadic waters filled the space with eternity. This is a timeless, ancient place. People that are gone stare from photographs pinned to the walls, votive fragments of memory peering from pair upon pair of eyes. Yet this is not a place of loss, or of longing, though the waters move there is a stillness, though music flows, there is silence, though these people are gone, they are here. Where can they go? Thus trickles the message to the pilgrims from the waters of the well. The cliffs are a stone’s throw, you couldn’t be further, but here too the waters speak.

There is a crack in everything— that’s how the light gets in.

Brigid is the main character in my novel ‘Clíona’s Wave.’ Her mother believes ‘twas St. Brigid out of Kildare she was named for, her father the Goddess Brigid, daughter of Dagda, goddess of poetry, wisdom and healing. In Ireland the pagan and ancient exist under a thin veil of Christianity and modernity. For thousands of years the Celts worshipped at Imbolc- one of the four cross quarter days of the year – this was Brigid’s feast day; the other feasts were Bealtaine 1st May, Lughnasa 1st August and Samhain 1st November. Now they are Christian holidays, as with the quarter days Christmas and St John’s Eve, where once the solstice nights were celebrated. Enterprising Christians were never ones to waste a good pagan holiday.

I have a soft spot for the old Gods it must be said. They were forever getting themselves in trouble, falling for God’s they shouldn’t have, running off with beautiful mortals, foregoing immortality for a night of passion with some red haired vixen, and they loved a good feast, a goblet of wine or a haunch of venison. They were prone to anger and jealousy and vengeance, but also great acts of kindness, bravery and forgiveness. Sound familiar?

These modern God’s would drive you to drink. They are so perfect, we haven’t a hope! They make us less forgiving of ourselves and less tolerant of others. What the world needs at the moment is a God who leads by example, one who fucks up from time to time but is doing his best, a God who laughs at herself. What the world needs now is a God who isn’t religious.

By February 1st most of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. That’s ok. The best bit of advice I got lately was from a girl I shared a fag with outside a pub. She told me that if I was going to have a cigarette at that particular moment I might as well enjoy it, and then I did. Only when you realise you are never going to be perfect will you allow yourself to be good. In each of us is the Cailleach and Brigid, the hag and the Goddess, pagan and Christian, the cliffs and the well, that is what it is to be human, to exist. Light and darkness move within us throughout the seasons of our lives, sometimes more light, sometimes more darkness, equinox when we are born, equinox at death, we dance between solstices in between. And so we watch and wait for the Cailleach to pull her brittle bony fingers from the land, we wait for the poetry of spring from Brigid’s breath and all the while the well whispers its wisdom for those who wish to listen.

2 thoughts on “Imbolc

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