Oimelc is one of the major high days of the Druids. A pastoral people, this holiday marks the first births of lambs and the lactation of the ewes. It is the end of “black January” and we are past the bottom of the year. It is clear, now, that the light and fertility invoked at the Solstice is indeed returning. This festival is presided over by Bride, (Bridget) as Lugh presided over Lughnasadh at the opposite point of the year. Bride and Lugh are poles, complementary figures, who balance each other in the Celtic system of male/female checks and balances. Though a patrilinear society the Celtic was less male dominated than our own has been, and certainly less patriarchal than the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean societies of the time, or than the Christian society that replaced it.
Bride is the goddess of the hearth and of fire, the inspirer of craftsmen and poets. Her ensigns are the fire essence and the rays of the Sun.
Though a Celtic goddess, and associated with the fire sacrifice, a rite not used by pre-Celtic peoples, Bride, in England and Scotland, has absorbed many elements of the local, pre-Celtic Earth goddesses. This, her time of the year, is associated with the visiting of strings and the circumambulation of wells and sacred stones, with the thawing of the streams and the beginning of the year’s fishing. The rites of wells and stones may be older fragments of Megalithic religious conceptions. Certainly the stone circles and cairns and the rite of circumambulation, predate the Celtic arrival. Some of the oldest stone circles and altars are found in Mesopotamia and South West Asia, so it is conceivable that the Celts may have brought some of the rounding rites with them from the Indo-European homeland, as well as by having been influenced by these Megalithic rituals, which reached their greatest heights in Western Gaul and Britain, of the pre-Celtic peoples that they encountered on the migrations westward.
John L, Smith, writing in 1780, in Gaelic Antiquities, has this to say of circumambulation rites still being practiced by local peasants and attributed to “the old Druids.”...that at the thawing time, the supplicant should go, upon three occasions, to a certain well or spring, and there bath himself three times; or make three journeys to some ancient stone, and there pour the new water out upon it and go three times around it in the deiseal direction” (from East to West.) The classic writer, Pliny, ascribes a similar ritual to the Druid rites of healing. He records that the Druids prescribed this rightwise circumambulation of stones and triplicate bathing in the newly thawed water, as part of their treatment for mental disorders or lingering internal complaints.
Bride’s function as goddess of fire and the hearth are purely Celtic characteristics. The prominence of the Sun and of fire symbolism, and the fire sacrifice are uniquely Indo-European, as contrasted with the rites of earlier peoples. They mark a shift from the Neolithic and early Megalithic concern with earth’s fertility and continuance, to the importance of the regularly recurring cycles of the Heavens, characteristic of the Indo-European religions. Extrapolating from those sacred stone and cairn beliefs that persisted into nearly modern times, it is found that when the divine spirit is felt to reside in the stone, or cairn, which is an embodiment of Earth and a concentration of it, the offering is poured over the sacred stone, or buried within the circle or cairn. Evidence of both these practices have been found connected with Stone Henge. However, fire sacrifice and solar symbolism is connected with a conception of a usually anthropomorphic deity living at a distance, in the sky, as with Taranis of the Celts, or in an Other World, as with Bride, Fire, then so much like the sun in warmth, is conceived as a connecting link to these deities, as the smoke and the offering rise and disappear. Though the Celts shared with the pre-Celtic peoples burial and other forms of sacrifice, they brought with them this idea of the fire sacrifice in which fire and smoke ascend and carry the offering and the prayers to the sky dwelling or distant deity. A tower or cloud of fire is sometimes used in Irish lore as a symbol for Bride. This association continued right down to her co-option by the Christian church, as “Saint” Bridget, when, according to the hegemony, a pillar of fire appeared over her head at this young girl's investiture into holy orders.
Oimelc Essay: Brigid and Birch
A Druid Missal-Any, Oimelc 1984
By Emmon Bodfish
Oimelc, the festival of Bride, Bridgit, Bredes, the daughter of Dagda, and Celtic goddess of fire and the hearth. She is also patroness of poetry and inspiration, which the Gaels regarded as an immaterial, supersensual form of flame. Always one of the most prominent and popular deities, the early Christianizers of Ireland were unable to eradicate her name and worship, and instead adopted, (or co-opted) her into their own pantheon as St. Bridgit. According to Charles Squire, she is still the most popular of Irish saints, and is still easily
“recognized as the daughter of Dagda. Her Christian attributes, almost all connected with fire, attest her pagan origin. She was born at sunrise; a house in which she dwelt blazed into a flame which reached to heaven; a pillar of fire rose from her head when she took the veil; and her breath gave new life to the dead. As with the British goddess Sul, worshipped at Bath, who, the first century Latin writer Solinus tells us, ‘ruled over the boiling spring and at her altar there flamed a perpetual fire which never whitened into ashes, but hardened into a stony mass,’* the sacred flame on Bridgit’s altar at Kildare was never allowed to go out.”
Bride comes, probably, from the Indo-European stem name Bhethe/a which is also the name for the Birch tree. This tree, with its shining white bark, is still known in Gaelic tradition as “Bride’s tree.” Bhethe/a is cognate with the Roman Vesta, and also with the Hind Agni, a fire god whose attributes and rites are perfectly parallel to Bride’s except for the name and sex change (c.f. Larry Press, A.D.)
“Saint” Bridgit’s flame burned on her altar in Kildare from approximately the sixth century until the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII of England. “This sacred fire,” quotes Charles Squire, “might not be breathed on by the impure human breath. For nineteen nights it was tended by her nuns but on the twentieth night it was left untouched, and kept itself alight miraculously.” This echoes the old, pre-Roman, Celtic system of counting by twenties, rather than by tens. With so little of her character and ritual changed, the sixth century Irish gladly accepted the new saint in the stead of the old goddess. A careful examination of Irish hagiology would result in the discover of many other undeserved co-options/canonizations, in which Celtic deities and heroes became Christian worthies.
Bride was the protector of childbirth, the supreme form of creativity, and in the Christian stories and hymns, St. Bridget is portrayed as the “aide woman” or mid-wife of Virgin Mary, though no such figure is mentioned in any of the Nativity gospels. Celtic women prayed to Bride for a safe delivery, and visited her spring with gifts of thankfulness. Fire-springs-fertility is an old, perhaps even pre-Indo-European triad.
As fire is the winter’s indoor sun, Bride’s festival at Oimelc lies opposite the Sun festival of Lughnasadh, Lugh and Bride being seen as balanced opposites in the Celtic pantheon. Balance, rather than hierarchy, is the pattern of the Celtic system of thought. Druidism is a kathenotheism, emphasizing the worship of deities in sequence, each pertaining to a certain season of the year, instead of arranging Them in a permanent hierarchy as in the Greek or Roman polytheisms.
According to Marvin Harris’ Structural Materialism thesis, we worship, love and adore what we need,** based on the premise “god, what have you done for us, lately?” Here, at the coldest time of the year, we need a hearth goddess, a protective figure watching over the birth of the lambs, for which Oimelc is named, and assuring the re-birth of Spring.
Structural Materialism and Religious Ritual
Child: “Mr. Druid, why are the sleeves of your robe so long and flowing that they cover your hands?”
Druid: “Join First Orders, child, and when you are standing out there in the cold, grey, dawn waiting to salute the Mid-Winter Sun, you’ll find out.”
*A small knowledge of chemistry would make this miracle easy to arrange.
**Learn more about Fire Worship; live through a winter without central heat.
Oimelc Essay: Brigit
A Druid Missal-Any, Oimelc 1985
By Emmon Bodfish
Oimelc the festival of Bride, Bridgit, Bredes, the daughter of Dagda, and Celtic goddess of fire and the hearth. She is also patroness of poetry and the source of creative inspiration, which the Gaels regard as a supersensual form of fire. Always one of the most popular deities, the fifth and sixth century Christianizers of Ireland were unable to eradicate her worship, and instead adopted or rather co-opted her into their own pantheon as St. Bridgit. She was not, however, a Christian. Modern evidence suggests that she was of ancient Indo-European origin, cognate with Agni, god of fire in the Vedic tradition, and with hearth goddesses all over Europe. The masculinizing of goddesses was a frequent occurrence in the East and Middle East as nomadic pastoralists settled down and became agricultural and urbanized.
Bridgit is also associated with the Sun, which in Celtic countries is feminine, “na Ghreine,” and which is carried in a chariot and served by a young male deity, son of the Sky God, usually Lugh or an Apollo-like figure. This may be a similar pattern to the one for Danu, the Earth Goddess, whose statue was annually transported through the countryside in a ceremonial wagon attended by a young, possibly virgin male priest. Traces of this ritual come from all over pagan Europe, according to Prof. P.V. Glob, but the best descriptions come from Scandinavia, where the ceremony persisted into Medieval times.
On Oimelc, statues of Bride were carried through the streets to her temple, where a perpetual flame burned on her altar. This continued in Ireland under Celtic Christianity, with only the name being changed to “Saint.” There and in Scotland, the tradition is still repeated when the dawn shows pink colors, it is called Bride, the Sun-Maiden, hangs her cloak on the beams of the morning sun. In Bara and the isles, up until the last century, she was addressed at dawn as just that, the Sun-Maiden, and even the thin layer of Christianity, laid on in Ireland, was ignored here.
In the oldest Indo-European traditions, the Moon is masculine and may be associated with Cernunnos, the hunt and forest magic. (J. Duran, after Gimbutas, 1982) The feminine moon goddesses, usually connected with water symbolism, are thought to be of Pre-Indo-European origin.
Bride was one of the most popular deities, and most often worshipped and appealed to by the common people, judging from the statements of early Christianizers and from the large number of charms, spells, and songs to her that persisted into Medieval and some into modern times. An old fire charm for kindling a damp hearth, and in Scotland it’s always damp, goes: “To Bride, Ruler of fire, give me/us this little bit of perfect fire, now.” Highly effective, I use it daily.
Remember also that matches were invented by a Scotsman, a Gael. The word “match” comes (some think) from the Scot’s Gaelic word “Maide” meaning “little stick.” The fire sticks used to kindle fresh fire for the sacrifice are spoken of in the Vedic tradition as the Parents of Agni; Birch bark, in the primitive tinder-kit, was known as “Bridget’s wood.” The line from Bride, early Indo-European fire-goddess, through Agni, who is Bridget in her Asiatic male guise, leads, according to the entomological dictionary, to our word ignite and ignition, via Latin. So to keep all this relevant, when you put your foot down on the accelerator these cold mornings and turn the key, invoke Bride, Goddess of fire:
“Ah, Bhride, Banreigh na Teintean, thoir dhomh an beagan teintean lan.”
Hymn to the Three Brighids
A Druid Missal-Any, Oimelc 1985
Verse for Oimelc by Thomas M. Cross
Alliterative Syllabic Verse in English
Brighid brought us the burning coals
Bright mistress of hearth warmth-ness
Blesses midwives and milk-cows
Bareness banished from us.
Blessed Brighid, Queen of Nature
Daughter of the Dagda comes.
On Oimelc we salute thee
Feeding kindling in fire.
Three Brighids as the winter breathes
Three nights and three heroes born.
On the three hills high fires burn.
Shall we bring our new offering?
Brighid (pronounced Breed or Breej) for proper rhythm)
Notes on Oimelc and Brigit
A Druid Missal-Any, Oimelc 1985
By Thomas M. Cross
Oimelc (sometimes spelled Imbolg) is known as the pagan Celtic festival from Irish lore is said to translate as “sheep’s (ewe’s ) milk” and has many associations with the goddess Brighit and later with St. Brighid--Christianized as a saint. According to Cormac’s Glossary (circa 900,) the goddess Brighit was daughter of the Dagda or as three daughters of the Dagda. She was an expert in poetry, learning, prophecy or divination, healing and craftsmanship. Then, according to the Life of Brighid (the saint,) she was born “neither within nor without a house, at sunrise; is fed milk by a cow who is white with red ears “ (these colors suggest a likely supernatural origin,) “she hangs her wet cloak on the sun’s rays and her house appears ablaze.” According to Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) Brighid and her nuns guarded a perpetual sacred fire and Solinus, in the 3rd century A.D. mentioned that Minerva’s sanctuary in Britain contained a perpetual fire. It seems most likely then, that Brighid the saint is a euhemerized goddess Brighit. Therefore, Brighit has many functional associations: lactation of sheep and cattle, arts and crafts, learning, healing, fire, the hearth and sun, also with rivers and motherhood, and also she is a triple goddess or triune of goddesses.
The British Minerva that Solinus wrote of, seems to be Briganti (or Brigantia) the tutelary goddess of the Brigantes who is cognate with Brighit. There are many non-Celtic Indo-European cognates and parallels, such as Berecythia, Brihati of Thraco-Phrygians and Indians...the Indo-European root being “high” or “exalted” etc. Brighit also has Celtic counterparts such as the Gallo-Brittonic Matronae or Matres, triple mother goddesses sometimes called Sulevia and known also in Gaul Belisama (“most brilliant”) and Romanised as Minerva. As Brigantia, her name survives in Britain as names of two rivers, Braint (in Wales) and Brent (in England,) as Matres or Matronae the name survives as the river Marne in France.
In Christian legend, Brighid the saint appears as mid-wife to Mary thus reflecting her motherly functions and Lá Brighid (law breed) (St. Bridget’s Day) seems to be a purificatory festival—in commemoration of the purification of Mary. Fire was a purificatory element to the ancient Celts as fire was used to purify cattle as in needfire and Bealtaine rituals. Brighid as fire and motherhood goddess was very suited then as a mid-wife to Mary in this purification. On Lá Brighid or St. Brighid’s day, a doll made from a churndash as the image of Brighid called a Brideog was carried about from village to village and all women had to bow before it as it was paraded about. On this day, rushes were woven into crosses, called St. Brighid’s cross, which bring good luck on harvests and yields. These crosses resemble the ancient triskalion and swastika more than the do Christian crosses. The triskelion in the three legged or armed type of pictograph that today is an emblem of the Isle of Man and Manannan Mac Lir. These symbols of the triskalion and swastika were ancient solar symbols and were used in Indo-European religion--although the swastika has come to be popularly associated with Nazis and the Third Reich of Hitler it was depicted by the ancient Germanic peoples and also by Greeks, Indians, and Celts. In ancient Germany there was, as described by Tacitus, a spring festival celebrated around a mother earth goddess called Nerthus, in which her image was paraded around in a wagon to communicate blessings for peace and a good year. This, of course, parallels Oimelc and similar customs around Brighid.
As Brighit was a triple goddess, there were many other triple goddesses in Celtic as well as other Indo-European mythologies. Brighit was mother of Brian, Iuchir and Iucharbha (also called Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine; sons of the Hazel, Plough and Sun) who married another triune of goddesses; Banbha, Fodhla, and Eriu whose names are metaphoric for Ireland (Eriu is an older spelling of Eire.) Sometime Brian, Iuchir and Iucharbha (or Uar) were known as the three sons of Danu, perhaps making Danu and Brighit either the same or confused. Danu also seems cognate with Danu, Mother of Urtra in the Rig Veda, Vrtra being the same as the Old Persian god Verethragna. Vrtra was a demonic god opposed to Indra to the Vedic Indians, but Verethragna was a hero god. At any rate, Danu seems to go back to an Indo-European root having to do with “dripping or flowing water” also the root of the name Danube and other central and eastern European river names. The Norns of Norse-Germanic myth, the Parcae of Roman Myth and Moirai of Greek myth are all triple in form and are what we call the Fates who control the destiny of mankind. The Morrigu* of Irish myth seems to correspond as triple in form also, as Badb, Macha and Nemain, however, they seem to be better paralleled in Germanic mythology as the Valkyries in function. Both are war goddesses who, as birds, pick up the slain in battle. Badb is the hooded crow who with her beak pecks at the corpses. Valkyries sometimes appear in bird form and they take slain warriors to Valhalla. In Greek myth, the three Moirai (Fates) were joined by other goddesses, such as, the three Graces and the nine Muses, also a multiple of three. However it was Pallas Athene or Athena who corresponds in function to Brighit as well as Hestia and Artemis. If one could group Athena, Artemis and Hestia as a triune one would have a parallel to Brighit.
Thus we have:
Brighit or 3 Nornir 3 Moirai
3 Brighits Urd Clotho Verdandi and Skuld
3 Matrona Lachesis
The 3 Morrigan** Atropos 13 Valkyries--
Banba, Fodhla, 3 Graces & 9 Muses The Norn
Erin 3goddesses of Ireland
Germanic: Eos (Eastre) Goddess of Easter
Greek: Austron Goddess of Easter & dawn.
Vedic: Usha Goddess of Dawn
Welsh: Arianrhod?? Goddess of Dawn
*Welsh equivalent of an aspect of Morrigan in Aeron (from Brittanic Agrona) a goddess of battle and slaughter; Aerfen (Welsh) goddess of the “end of battle” (cf. Aeron and Aerfeu to Badb and Nemain.) Rhiannon may be compared to Macha. Note: The three daughters of Dôn (Danu) in Welsh myth: Gwernen (alder,) Elan (push, drive) Maelan (profit, material gain)--all are also names of rivers. In Welsh myth there is Modron mother of Mabon (Mabon Ap Modron) from Gallo-Britannic Matronae.
**Badd, Macha, and Nemain
The Cult of Brighid, Chap. 4 of Mother Goddesses, article by Donal Ó Cathasaigh
Proinsias Mac Cana, Celtic Mythology, Hamlyn
Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage, Thames and Hudson
Padraic O Farrell, Superstitions of the Irish Country People, Mercier
Tacitus, Germania (with Agricola etc.) Penguin. Trans. H. Mattingly
Oimelc, Thaw, Lady Day, birth of the lambs and goats. This is the Festival of Bride Fire Goddess, Divine Midwife, Ruler of the hearth and the byre, and guardian of birth.
It was to Brid that the old Celts prayed and sacrificed when a child was being born. Then, after She was thanked for a live birth, the child was ushered into the Celtic community by the Druid naming ceremony. The parents in ancient Britain did not name the child, but rather the foremost Druid of the clan or fife offered a name, based on the circumstance at the birth. In the case of “great souls,” heroes or heroines, a Druid connected with the future child’s family might receive a vision, and prophesy a name and destiny for the child.
Françoise Le Roux in her study, Les Druides, describes three instances of Druid namings that have survived in the literary fragments of Pagan Celtic Culture. (So much of the rich Celtic Bardic work was lost in the Romanization and then more again in the Christianization of Europe and the Isles; we must piece together a heritage from what is left to us, mostly by the Irish Bardic Schools, and in the oral folk traditions. We have nothing comparable to the Bramanas of India, or even the Islandic/Nordic mythologies, though there is ample evidence that such a body of knowledge and art existed in the Celtic World.) A re-naming could occur in adult life, in the case of equites, (warrior-caste) or Druids, on the basis of their deeds, particularly if the warrior left his household and became a member of a different clan.
Ms. LeRoux (Translated from the French by Jean Elizabeth)
“The Druids intervened at the beginning of life, just, as we have seen, they occupied themselves with death. In Ireland, they officiated by giving a name, based on a particular detail or noteworthy happening. It is this that Cuchulainn, formerly named Setanta, got his name from the Druid, Cathbad. Having killed the fighting dog of the blacksmith, Culann, he, himself, rendered such equitable judgment that King Conchobar and his Druid, Cathbad, were astonished at the little boy:
“What judgment will you render on this boy?’ said Conchobar. ‘If a young dog of the same line exists in Ireland, I will bring him up just to the point where he is as capable as his father. Meanwhile, I will myself be the dog who will protect the clocks, the goods and the land of Culann.’ ‘You have rendered a good judgment, little boy.’ Said Conchobar. Cathbad declared, ‘In all truth, we could not have rendered a better one ourselves. Why don’t we name you Cu Chulainn, the dog of Culann?’ … And from this moment onward he had this famous name, Cuchulainn, because he had killed the blacksmith, Culann’s, dog.” (Ogam, XI, 214-215)
King Conchobar’s naming is even more interesting:
“A child was born with a worm in each hand. He was taken, in the fetal position to the river that was named Conchobar; the river passed by him on his back. Cathbad took the child and gave him the name of the river, Conchobar, son of Fachtna; having taken the boy and put him on his lap, Cathbad gave thanks for him, and prophesized about him.” (Ogam, XII, 240)
A simple sign was enough. At the beginning of the Longes mac n-Usnig, the Exile of Usnech’s Sons, the Ulates were assembled for a great feast in the house of Fedlimid. They received the announcement that Fedlimid’s wife is with child. The Druid, Cathbad, then foretells that the baby will be a girl of extraordinary beauty and magnetism. She will have skin like snow, blond hair, magnificent blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, flawless teeth, and lips as red as coral. But, Cathbad adds, in order to get this treasure of a child, the Ulates will end up fighting each other.
“Cathbad then put a hand on the mother’s stomach and the unborn babe stirred under the touch of his hand. He said that in all truth the baby would be a girl, that Derdiu would be her name, and that she would be pure, surrounded by evil.” (“True, but surrounded by weakness.”)