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How to Make a Brighid's Cross
A Traditional Brighid's Cross

Gather together:
3 dozen wheat straws, grasses, reeds, or rushes which are the same length
String for tying ends
A clothes peg for holding the center of the weaving together while working (optional) 

Directions:
Soak your weaving materials in hot water about thirty minutes or until they are flexible. Various materials may require longer soaking times.  Remove the straws from the water and wrap them in a damp cloth to keep them flexible while weaving.

Imagine the face of a clock measuring the year of time. Place one straw vertically pointing towards 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock. Fold a second straw in half around the center of the first pointing towards 3 o'clock. Fold the next straw in half and place it over the second straw pointing towards 6 o'clock. Fold the next straw over straw one and three pointing towards 9 o'clock.  Continue to work in a circular pattern of folded straws, progressing outward, carefully weaving straws side-by-side. Tighten straws and reposition to fill in gaps when needed.

As you move around the circular pattern, meditate on the progression of the woven events in the seasons of your life, past and present. Visualize what you desire to manifest in the coming year as each straw weaves a dream for the future. 
When at least 28 straws have been woven for the center of the cross, tie off each arm of the cross, leaving about 3 inches of straw to create the arm.  Trim ends evenly.

 
Another Type of Brighid's Cross
 
The traditional time to make Brighid’s Crosses is after the evening meal on the eve of February 1st. In Ireland, all the members of the household made the crosses together, so try it with your family or group of friends.

Traditionally, a young girl representing Brighid brings the materials into the house. She should go outside and knock three times, saying after each knock:

“Go down on your knees, do homage, and let Blessed Brighid enter the house.”
After the third time, all inside respond:
“Oh, come in, Brighid, you are a hundred times welcome!”


Hang the crosses over your front door and leave them there to protect the house with Brighid’s blessing until the following year. Children’s crosses are traditionally hung above their beds so that Brighid will protect them through the night.
 
 
 
As February dawns, it is time to welcome in the early Spring and the festival of Bride (Brigid, Brighid, Brigit), the Goddess who brings Light and Life to the land. An old Scottish rhyme tells us that this is the time when Bride emerges from the Earth, just as in the Greek myth, enacted at this time of year as part of the Eleusinian mysteries, the goddess Persephone came out of the underworld and Spring returned once more.

The early Celts called this festival Imbolc or Oimelc, two names which refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2nd, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. The powerful figure of Brigid the Light-Bringer overlights both pagan and Christian celebrations.
 
In most parts of the British Isles, February is a harsh and bitter month.  In old Scotland, the month fell in the middle of the period known as Faoilleach, the Wolf-month; it was also known as a’ marbh mhiòs, the Dead-month.  But  although this season was so cold and drear, small but sturdy signs of new life began to appear: Lambs were born and soft rain brought new grass. Ravens begin to build their nests and larks were said to sing with a clearer voice. 

In Ireland, the land was prepared to receive the new seed with spade and plough; calves were born, and fishermen looked eagerly for the end of winter storms and rough seas to launch their boats again. In Scotland, the Old Woman of winter, the Cailleach, is reborn as Bride, Young Maiden of Spring, fragile yet growing stronger each day as the sun rekindles its fire, turning scarcity into abundance. Of her, Alexander Carmichael wrote:

Bride with her white wand is said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead Winter and to bring him to open his eyes to the tears and the smiles, the sighs and the laughter of Spring. The venom of the cold is said to tremble for its safety on Bride’s Day, and to flee for its life on Patrick’s Day.

The Exalted One

Woman of wisdom…a goddess whom poets adored… — Cormac’s Glossary

It is tempting to view this tender goddess of the early Spring only as she is pictured in Scottish artist John Duncan’s famous picture, The Coming ofBride: a wide-eyed, golden-haired girl, encircled by children.  But behindher girlish innocence is the power of a once-great ancestral deity, Brigid, whosename means “The Exalted One,” queen and mother goddess of many Europeantribes.

The 10th century Cormac’s Glossary describes her as the daughter of theDaghda, the “Great God” of the Tuatha de Danaan. He calls her a “womanof wisdom…a goddess whom poets adored, because her protection was verygreat and very famous." Since the discipline of poetry, filidhect, was interwovenwith seership, Brigid was seen as the great inspiration behind divination andprophecy, the source of oracles.

She is said to have had two sisters: Brigid the Physician and Brigid the Smith,but it is generally thought that all three were aspects of the one goddess ofpoetry, healing, and smithcraft. Elsewhere she is described as the patron ofother vital crafts of early Celtic society: dying, weaving and brewing. A goddessof regeneration and abundance, she was greatly beloved as a provider of plentywho brought forth the bounties of the natural world for the good of the people.She is closely connected with livestock and domesticated animals. She had twooxen called Fea and Feimhean who gave their names to a plain in Co. Carlow andone in Tipperary. She was also the guardian of Torc Triath, king of the wildboar, who gave his name to Treithirne, a plain in West Tipperary. These threetotem animals used to raise a warning cry if Ireland was in danger.

Some Irish rivers bear her name, as do places as far apart as Breconshire inWales, Brechin in Scotland and Bregenz in Austria, which was once the capitalof the Brigantii tribe. This tribe was under the tutelage of the goddess Brigantia,who is thought to be another aspect of Brigid. The most powerful political unitof Celtic-speaking Britain, the Brigantii mostly held sway in Northern England,where place-names and rock-carvings still echo the presence of their mother-goddess.

Saint of the Flame

She shall arise like a shining sun… - Lives of Saints, The Bookof Lismore

With the coming of Christianity, the powerful energy of the pagan goddess  wastransmuted into Ireland’s much-loved saint, second only to Patrick himself.Her transformation happened almost literally in Drumeague, County Cavan, at aplace called “The Mountain of the Three Gods.” Here a stone headof Brigid was worshipped as a triple deity, but with the coming of Christianity,it was hidden in a Neolithic tomb. Later it was recovered from its burial-placeand mounted on a local church where it was popularly canonized as “St.Bride of Knockbridge.” Though many legends are attached to her, there iscertainly no firm evidence of her as a historical figure. Accounts of the saint’slife reveal what Sir James Frazer once called her: “a goddess in a threadbarecloak.”

Saint Brigid  was said to be the daughter of a druid who had a vision thatshe was to be named after a great goddess. She was born at sunrise while hermother was walking over a threshold, and so "was neither within nor without." Thisis the state known as liminality, from the Latin, limen: a threshold – thestate of being “in between” places and times. In Celtic traditionthis is a sacred time when the doors between the worlds are open and magicalevents can occur.

Another legend tells how her mother was carrying a pitcher of milk at the time,with which she bathed her new-born child. As a child, Brigid was unable to eatordinary food, and was reared on the milk of a special white red-eared cow. Whiteanimals with red ears are frequently found in Celtic mythology as beasts of theOtherworld. We have also seen how the pagan goddess owned two magical oxen. InCeltic society, cattle were the most highly valued of all animals, revered assymbols of plenty, and Saint Brigid was very closely associated with livestockin general, and dairy cows in particular. As an adult, she was accompanied bya cow who also supplied her with all the milk she needed.

When she became abbess of Kildare, she miraculously increased the milk and butteryield of the abbey cows; some accounts say that her cows produced a whole lakeof milk three times a day, and one churning filled hundreds of baskets with butter.When Saint Brigid died, her skull was kept at Kildare after the pre-Christiancustom of revering the head as sacred. Norman soldiers were supposed to havestolen it from the abbey and taken it to Portugal. Here it played its part ina spring ceremony where cattle were driven past it. In Scotland she was invokedas “Milkmaid Bride,” or “Golden-haired Bride of the kine,” patronessof cattle and dairy work. Medieval Christian art often depicts her as holdinga cow, or carrying a pair of milk-pails.

She also provided abundant ale-harvests: At one Easter-time, one measure of hermalt provided ale for seventeen churches. Her miraculous powers changed waterinto ale and stone into salt. With boundless generosity she fed birds, animals,and the poor, and they all loved her in return. The bountiful mother goddessof the fruitful earth shines through the generosity of the Christian saint.

Early writers believed Brigid’s name stemmed from breo-aigit: “fieryarrow,” a false but somehow very fitting etymology for a goddess of smithcraft,and one who kindles the fires of creativity and regeneration. Her associationwith fire and the sun continues into the folk-lore of the Christian saint. Inone version of her life from the Book of Lismore, a druid prophesies that shewill be “a daughter conspicuous and radiant, who will shine like the sunamong the stars of heaven.”  As a child, a fire was seen rising fromthe house where she and her mother were asleep. Yet it did not burn the house,but glowed like the burning bush of the Old Testament. When she first began topray to God, a column of flame was seen rising from the house. She emerged unharmed,but “full of the grace of the Holy Spirit,” a reference to the Pentecostalflames. A charming story tells how stories of Brigid’s deeds drew the attentionof the famous Saint Brendan who stopped by on an unannounced visit. She had beenout working in the fields on a showery day, and was so surprised to see the greatman in her house, that she flung off her rain-cloak without bothering to hangit up. The cloak caught on a sunbeam and to the older saint’s astonishment,hung there till it dried.

Like the rising sun, she belonged to the East, where her influence radiated outfrom her convent at Kildare in the heart of Leinster. Within the convent burneda perennial flame which became known as one of the three inextinguishable firesof the Irish monasteries. Stories about the flame's miraculous properties toldthat it stayed alight through the grace of God while the ashes from the burntwood never increased even though it burned for a thousand years, from the 5thto the 16th centuries. Gerald of Wales wrote about it when he visited the conventsometime in the twelfth century. He tells that there used to be twenty nuns keepingwatch over the flame during Brigid's lifetime; since her death, nineteen tookturns, one each night, in guarding the fire. When the twentieth night came, thenineteenth nun put the logs beside the fire and said:

“Brigid, guard your fire. This is your night.”

In the morning, the wood was found burned and the fire still alight.

Brigid's flame was housed within a sacred enclosure, surrounded by a withy hedgewhich, Gerald reports, "no male may cross." A terrible fate awaitedany man who tried, although the nature of the punishment was not specified. Itseems probable that Kildare was once a pagan sanctuary attended by priestesses,similar to the Vestal Virgins of Roman tradition. Some scholars have seen a connectionbetween Brigid and Sulis Minerva whose sacred fire burned at Aquae Sulis (Bath)in the 3rd century. Elsewhere only nine maidens are described as guarding theBrigid’s flame, a scene reminiscent of the nine maidens in the Welsh poem,The Spoils of Annwn, whose breath warmed the magical cauldron of the Underworld.Goddess of the Sun and Christian saint of the Eternal Fire are equally invokedin the beautiful invocation known as Brighid's Arrow:

Most Holy Brighid, Excellent Woman, Bright Arrow, Sudden Flame;
May your bright fiery Sun take us swiftly to your lasting kingdom.

Like the goddess of old, Saint Brigid was renowned for her gift of healing. Shewove the first piece of cloth in Ireland and wove into it healing threads whichkept their power for centuries. Many healing wells and springs were named afterher. Earlier this century, an old woman recounted her experiences at a well ofBrigid’s on the west coast – one of many that are still active today.

“I had a pearl in my eye  one time, and I went to Saint Brigit’swell on the cliffs. Scores of people there were in it, looking for cures, andsome got them and some did not get them. And I went down the four steps to thewell and I was looking into it, and I saw a little fish no longer than your fingercoming from a stone under the water. Three spots it had on the one side and threeon the other side, red spots and a little green with the red, and it was verycivil coming hither to me and very pleasant wagging its tail. And it stoppedand looked up at me and gave three wags of its back, and walked off again andwent in under the stone….And in three days I had the sight of my eye again.It was surely Saint Brigit I saw that time; who else would it be?”
At Kildare her well stands just outside the town, and was refurbished by thelocal nuns in 1984. Near the spring, an upright stone tablet bears two crosseson either side. One is a Christian cross, the other is the cross of Saint Brigit,the fiery sun-wheel turning.

Saint Bride of Scotland

“Oh the blessing of Brìd on the child of my heart”  - ScottishLullaby

In Scotland Brigid was known as Bride and like her pagan predecessor reignedover fire, over art, and over beauty,  fo cheabhar agus fo chuan (beneaththe sky and beneath the sea.) As she presided over the birth of Spring, so legendstell that she was the midwife at Christ’s birth. She was called Muime Chriosd, “Foster-motherof Christ”, while the divine Child was known as Dalta Brìde, “theFoster-Son of Bride.” Sometimes Brigid was conflated with the Virgin herself,for in the Highlands and Islands she was often addressed as “Mary of theGael.”

Her presence was invoked at childbirths, as Alexander Carmichael recounts:
When a woman is in labour the midwife…goes to the door of the house, andstanding on the door-step, softly beseeches Bride to come in:

'Bride, Bride, come in!
Thy welcome is truly made,
Give thou relief to the woman,
And give thou the conception to the Trinity.’ 

Highland women also invoked Brigid’s presence at the hearth-fire, the centerof the home. The hearth was not only the source of warmth and cooking but alsosymbolized the power of the sun brought down to human level as the miraculouspower of fire. Every morning the fire was kindled with invocations to St. Brigid,the “radiant flame” herself:

I will build the hearth
As Mary would build it.
The encompassment of Bride and of Mary
Guarding the hearth, guarding the floor,
Guarding the household all.

The Feast-day of Bride


Bride put her finger in the river
On the Feast Day of Bride
And away went the hatching mother of the cold. — Carmina Gadelica

It was said: "from Brighid's feastday onwards the day gets longer and thenight shorter.” Although this refers to the time of the winter Solstice,the felt truth was that the goddess brought back the growing light. On the eveof Là Fhéill Bhrìghde (St.Brigid’s Day),the Old Woman of Winter, the Cailleach, journeys to the magical isle in whosewoods lies the miraculous Well of Youth.   At the first glimmer ofdawn, she drinks the water that bubbles in a crevice of a rock, and is transformedinto Bride, the fair maid whose white wand turns the bare earth green again.Another version of the story of Spring tells how Bride is a young girl kept prisonerby the Cailleach all winter long in the snowy recesses of Ben Nevis. She is rescuedby the Cailleach’s son who elopes with her despite his mother’s attemptsto keep them apart with fierce storms.

The coming of Bride was celebrated in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland withheartfelt prayers and songs.  Of these all are gone except for a few evocativetitles and fragments - “Mantle of Bride,” “Staff of Bride,” “Bride’sPrayer - empty sea-shells on a forgotten shore. But thanks to Carmichael’swork in collecting old customs, we do know more about the festivities of thisjoyful time. On Bride’s Eve, young girls made a female figure from a sheafof corn, and decorated it with colored shells and sparkling crystals, togetherwith snowdrops and primroses and other early spring flowers and greenery. Anespecially bright shell, symbol of emerging life, or crystal was placed overits heart, called in Gaelic, the “guiding star of Bride,” after thestar over the stable in Bethlehem that led Bride to the Christ child. The figurewas named Bride or Brideag, Little Bride, and was carried about the town in processionby the young girls who were called banal Bride, the “Bride Maiden band,” alldressed in white and wearing their hair down, personifying the spirit of purityand youth.

Everyone they visited had to pay homage to Bride and give her a gift such asa flower or a crystal, while the mothers gave bannocks, cheese or butter, reciprocatingBride’s lavish gifts of food. When they had finished their rounds, thegirls spent the night at a house where the figure was made to sit in state, whilethe girls prepared the Bride feast for the next day. The young men of thetown soon came knocking at the door and were let in to pay tribute to Bride,after which there were songs, dancing and much merrymaking until the break ofday. At first light, they all joined hands and sang a hymn to Bride, and sharedout the remains of the feast among the poor women of the town.

The older women of the town also conducted a ceremony on the Eve of Bride. Theytoo made an effigy of Bride out of oats, lovingly decorated it, and preparedfor her a basket called leaba Bride, Bride’s bed.

Carmichael describes what happened next;
 
One woman goes to the door of the house, and standing on the step with herhands on the jambs, calls softly into the darkness, ‘Bride’s bedis ready.’ To this a ready woman behind replies, ‘Let Bride comein. Bride is welcome.’ The woman at the door again addresses Bride, ‘Bride,Bride, come thou in, thy bed is made. Preserve the house for the Trinity.’ Thewomen then place the ikon of Bride with great ceremony into the bed they haveso carefully prepared for it.

In her hand they placed a small straight white wand, generally of birch,the tree of spring, or other sacred wood: straight to signify justice, whitefor purity and peace.  Then, before retiring for the night they smoothedthe ashes of the hearth. Their dearest wish was that she visit them in the night,and in the morning they eagerly examined the ashes for traces of her presence:if they discerned the marks of her wand, they knew they were favored; if thefootprint of Bride was discovered in the ashes then they were overjoyed, andknew to expect increase in family, flock and field in the coming year. If therewere no signs at all, they were downcast, believing she must be offended. Toremedy this, they buried a cock as an offering at a place where three streamsmet—a three-fold confluence of sacred power—and burned incense onthe fire the next evening.

There are places in Scotland where St. Bride’s Day festivities are stillvery much alive. For example, Canon Angus MacQueen on the Isle of South Uistcelebrates all the Celtic feast days with his parishioners, especially Là FhéillBhrìghde, when the Brideog is carried round to each house on theisland.

In Ireland, similar joyous rituals were enacted to welcome back the light on Lá FhéileBríde, St. Brigit’s Day. An 18th century account tells howevery farmer’s wife made a special cake, the ale was brought out, the neighborscame round and a festive evening was had by all. Fresh butter was churned andalways formed part of the meal; the more wealthy farmers gave gifts of butterto poorer neighbors, along with some roast meat, to celebrate the return of thebringer of bounty. At this time, Brigid herself was believed to travel aboutthe countryside, blessing the people and their livestock, and so an offeringof cake or bread and butter was left outside on the window-sill for her. Sometimesthey left a sheaf of corn too, as sustenance for the white cow who traveled withher. Or a bundle of straw or fresh rushes were laid on the threshold for herto kneel upon to bless the house, or possibly so she – or the cow! – couldwipe their feet before entering.

In many districts an effigy of Brigid was carried about from door to door asin Scotland.  Often the figure of Bride was fashioned from a churn-dashcovered with straw, emphasizing her presence in the dairy; sometimes it was achild’s doll decked out for the occasion, and sometimes a young girl dressedin white represented Brigid herself. The girl might hand out a Brigid’sCross to each household, for the saint’s special cross was an importantpart of the Irish celebrations in all parts of Ireland. These crosses of rushesor straw were made on St. Brigid’s Eve and hung in the house and oftenin byre and stable too, to honor Brigid and to gain her protection. The crossestook shapes that are not traditionally Christian, but bear marked resemblanceto symbols of the sun in cultures throughout the world. One kind was actuallynot a cross at all, but a figure with three legs, recalling the three-fold natureof the goddess-saint. It is, in fact, an ancient Celtic symbol known as the triskele.

A less common design from counties Cork and Tipperary is a shape we should bynow be most familiar with: the circle-cross. An added beauty of its symbolismis that the figure is formed from triple-braided straw rope, thus marrying thesacred numbers of four and three. Another ritual object involving these numberssounds as if it is from a much earlier time. Known as the Crios Bríde,or Saint Brigid’s Girdle, it was made from braided straw rope and carriedin procession with the effigy of Bride throughout the town. At each house, theoccupants were expected to pass through it, to obtain Bride’ protectionand good health for the coming year. As they did this, the bearers of the crioschanted a verse. One version goes in translation:

Brighid’s girdle is my girdle
The girdle with the four crosses
Arise, housewife
And go out three times.
May whoever goes through my girdle
Be seven times better a year from now.

Rituals such as these anchored participants securely in the cosmic order representedby the four directions and the three worlds: lower world, physical world andupper world, mediated by the sacred presence of Brigid.

Candlemas

A wondrous force and might
Doth in these candels lie… — Barnaby Gouge: The Popish Kingdome

In keeping with the policy of the Catholic Church to subsume pagan festivalsinto Christian feast-days, the Day of Bride became equated with Candlemas onFebruary 2nd, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Atthis time, forty days after childbirth, Mary was supposed to have gone to theTemple at Jerusalem to make the traditional offering to purify herself. As sheentered the temple, an old man named Simeon recognized the baby as the Messiahof Israel, and a “light to lighten the Gentiles.” So, once againwe encounter the archetype of the young Sun or Light come to redeem the darkness,but now in Christian clothing. Certainly, the service most used for this dayin the medieval church made much of this symbolism, playing upon images of theappearance of divine light in the darkness of human sin, of renewal and rebirthof light in the dark time of the year, and of the new light of heaven come totransform an old world.

In Britain, Candlemas was celebrated with a festival of lights. In the dark andgloomy days of February, the shadowy recesses of medieval churches twinkled brightlyas each member of the congregation carried a lighted candle in procession aroundthe church, to be blessed by the priest. Afterwards, the candles were broughthome to be used to keep away storms, demons and other evils. This custom lastedin England until it was banned in the Reformation for promoting the venerationof magical objects. Even so, the symbol of the lighted candles had too stronga hold on the popular imagination to be entirely cast aside. Traces of the festivallingered until quite recently in other areas of the British Isles like littlelights that refused to be blown out. In Wales, Candlemas was known as GwylFair y Canhwyllau, Mary’s Festival of the Candles, and was celebratedas late as the 19th century by setting a lighted candle in the windows or atthe table on this night. Special Candlemas carols were sung by singers who processedfrom house to house. One of these contains the lines:

Hail reign a fair maid with gold upon your chin,
Open up the East Gate and let the New year in;

The carolers had to undergo a contest of riddles before being allowed to enter(an example of ritual at a liminal place.) When they were allowed in, they mightsee a young girl with a baby boy on her lap, surrounded by candles, to whom theysang once more and pledged in drink. She of course personified Virgin and Child,but in a country where Catholicism never had a strong hold, it is not difficultto discern a pre-Christian custom similar to the Scottish welcoming of Bridebehind the Christian trappings.

In the county of Shropshire, the snowdrop, first flower of spring, took the placeof candles, being named, “Candlemas bells,” “Purification flowers” or – witha faint remembrance of Brigid, perhaps – “Fair Maid of February.” Andan interesting survival was noted in Cornwall, where until recently in the townof St. Ives, a silver ball was passed around from 10.30 till noon on this daythroughout the streets and on the beach. It was started off by the mayor at theparish church, and whoever holds the ball at noon receives a small prize. Thesignificance and history of this unusual and isolated custom is not known. Doesthe silver ball represent the pale orb of the returning sun?

Finally, traces of the festival of the growing light can even be traced to modernAmerica in the Groundhog Day custom on February 2.  If the groundhog seeshis shadow on this morning, it means there will be six more weeks of winter.The custom comes directly from Europe, and Scotland in particular, where an oldcouplet goes:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
there'll be two winters in the year.

A Scottish rhyme about the Feast Day of Bride begins:

This is the day of Bride,
The queen will come from the mound…

In other versions it is a “serpent” that will emerge from a hole,an allusion which Professor Séamus Ó Cáthain has linkedto Scandinavian customs regarding the reappearance of the hibernating bear.  Forthis is the time when the animal world begins to stir from its winter sleep inthe depths of earth, and life and light is ushered in by Brigid, the Queen.
 
Candlemas is marked by the lighting of candles to brighten the long Februarynights. This also gives us an opportunity to rekindle our own inner flame uponthe shrine of the soul. So light your own candle this season, and as you do so,see this tiny flame as a spark of the One Light that shines through all the worlds.Then sense your own inner flame within your heart and know that you, too, area spark of the Divine. Breathe in the peace of this knowledge, and listen toyour soul telling you how to fully awaken into Light in the emerging year.
 
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