Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Milk, Candle, Cross and Cradle

Little Ms. Biddy and her wand in bed,
and a cross to keep us safe from harm.
Some bread and milk to keep her fed,
and smoke and flame to keep her warm.

Paving the Way for Ms. Bridget

Today is Imbolc and the star of the season is Brighid: thrice-blessed goddess of the Sun and keeper of the sacred flames. In countless years she has reached cultures far and wide, taking many forms and known by many names: from the quaint island of Eire to the great empire of Rome, to the perilous New World and to our beloved home. She is mother of high wisdom, and watcher of home and bed, admired as Christian saint and feared as queen of the dead.

This Sabbat I revere Brighid, the Celtic triple-goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft.

It may seem inapt for a goddess of healing to be at the same time linked with the art of smithing, a masculine profession usually associated with brawny gods as the Roman Vulcan, the Norse Weland or the Yoruban Ogoun. But then a coarse iron ore only becomes a beautiful shining sword when subjected under the forceful strike of the hammer and the blazing fire of the forge - in the same manner that our spirits become healed and our wisdom sharper after going through repeated trials of fire.

The Cross of St. Brigid

As simple as it may be, the Brigid’s cross is an artifact rich in story and meaning, and an example of an intermarriage of Pagan and Christian symbolism - just like the feast of Imbolc/Candlemas itself. The cross is most popularly attributed to St. Brigid of Kildare, an Irish Catholic nun who, as legends tell, gathered some rushes and made a cross out of them to tell the story of Jesus’ death to a dying man. St. Brigid’s biography is quite unclear as of to date, and her persona has now become almost inseparable from the Celtic goddess Brighid. As a symbol of the solar goddess, the equal arms of the cross correspond to the solstices and equinoxes of the Wheel of the Year.

Due to lack of time, for my Brighid's cross I just used paper twine, which is readily available in the gift wrapping section of department stores. I used the traditional seven strands for each of the four arms, which would equal to 28, the number of days in February, Brighid’s month. Brighid drops by for a visit on this day, so I also made her a place to stay. Screwpine (Pandan) is not only a great material for the doll and the bed, but also leaves a fragrant smell in the room as well.

Our Lady of Loreto (Oshun Ololodi), an image of the Virgin carrying the child Jesus, to represent the mystery of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. In the background is the veve (symbol) of Maman Brigitte, and a putat laut: this poisonous fruit is also called the "Heart of the Ocean" and is sacred to Yemaya, goddess of the seas and mother of Oya.

Je vous salue, Maman Brigitte. Maferefun Oya

In honor of the departed souls of Haiti, I also pray to her dark sisters in the West. It is said that Brighid reached the Caribbean islands by way of slaves and prisoners evicted from the British Isles. There she became a loa, a deity of the Vodou religion, and has been called Maman Brigitte. She eventually became far too different from her Irish lineage however: Maman Brigitte is described as an obscene, tough-talking woman who loves pepper-laced rum, a silent judge of the underworld as well as mother of the ancestral dead. Whereas the symbol of Brigid of Ireland is a cross made of grass, Maman Brigitte’s symbol is the cross of the grave, also representing the crossroads between the worlds of life and death.

Worshipped in Cuba and its neighboring countries is the orisha Oya, who is also guardian of the graves. Early African slaves were wise to hide their worship of the native deities behind the images of Catholic saints to protect their religion from Christian conquerors. The Yoruban goddess Oya, who is also lady of storms, is syncretized with the Christian figure of Our Lady of Candelaria, both of whom share their feast day with Brighid, and all of them representing fire.

Basbasan Nawa!

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