Imbolc is fast approaching. Here in my garden in the UK, the crocuses are starting to come out, and a lone daffodil stands courageously amidst the dried, chopped stalks of last year’s growth. Traditionally, it was the time when the ewes began to lactate, providing much needed milk for the farmers whose food stores were becoming low. Nowadays, the sheep are birthing at different times of the year – at one farm here where I live in Suffolk, the farmer timed it so that they would birth during the Christmas holidays, as that was when he had the most time to dedicate to them, to see to their health and welfare during this time. Luckily for all, it has been a mild winter, all things considered – I would hope that if weather conditions were harsh, the farmer would be prepared to bring them all indoors. Some pagans celebrate Imbolc when the first snowdrops are out, but again that could be anywhere from beginning of January to March, weather depending. I’ve even seen snowdrops out on a sunny bank in December. Most Pagans today follow the festivals by the calendar year, and the 2nd of February (or the evening before, as the Celts began their day at sunset) is when this special time is celebrated.
It is also a festival connected to Brighid, whether it be the Celtic goddess or the Irish saint. If you do a little research into Her, you will find many connotations, associations and roles that she plays both in mythology and in the cycles of life and death. For me, Brighde as I know her is a little less known; she is the White Serpent of Albion.
You won’t find much lore relating to this aspect of Her. This is based on small snippets of information and a huge amount of experiential ritual, practice and connection. She first came to me several years ago at Imbolc, as I was performing a solitary ritual in my backyard on the mossy ground beneath the beech tree. I placed my hands upon the soft earth, grounding and feeling the earth’s energies stirring as the growing heat of the sun shone on my head and shoulders. An image of a large, coiled white serpent or a dragon beneath the dark earth sprang into my mind. The serpent was slowly stirring, rising up through the ground, slowly uncoiling towards the warmth and light from its dark and comfortable winter slumber. A flash, and suddenly I was connected to sacred sites across this whole island – Avebury and Glastonbury, stone circles in the Scottish Highlands, dolmen in Ireland and Wales, the tumuli several fields over. As quickly as it flashed through my mind it was gone, but I felt the energy, the connection thrumming through my veins for days afterwards. Even simply thinking about that experience brings the connection back, though every now and then I go to my little sacred spot in the garden and perform this ritual again, to re-establish or reaffirm that connection when the need arises.
This is Brighde as I know Her. The serpent energy that connects and flows through these lands. Her gift is awen, inspiration, the fire in the head and the fire in the belly. There is fire within her serpentine body, fire in the sky that she rises towards in her journey throughout the year. After the summer solstice she begins her descent again into the earth, into the darkness. Nwyfre, the life force, flows through her; she is the life force itself. Where she touches flows awen, inspiration and connection to that force. It is beautiful and powerful, a kind of power that sparks the soul and body into action, into seeing beyond the self and into a whole other world that might otherwise go unnoticed. Through that connection, everything is sacred.
I’ve worked with Brighde’s serpent energy for a couple of years now, and it sings to me in times of joy and in times of despair. When I need that connection I can simply remember that moment, if I am not able to go outside and touch the earth. Touching the earth is such a great experience – every Pagan should try it. It takes the gods, the ancestors, the elements out of an abstract and into being. It is life and death, the cycle, the spiral, the great dance.
And so I look forward to this special time of year, and re-establishing that connection, feeling my energies rising even as the serpent below me uncoils towards the surface. I can feel it in my spine, chakras opening as the serpent rises through my body. I can feel it humming in the spirals of my DNA. I can feel it resonating throughout the spiral galaxy and beyond.
I wish you all a blessed Imbolc and Brighde’s blessing to you all.
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.