One of the first things that I learnt to do when I moved to Ireland was to make a St Brigid’s cross. I hadn’t heard of them at all before I moved and had to be taught not only how to make it but also what to do with it when it was made.
Describing how to make one is complicated without diagrams so having found this online today I thought I would share it in case anyone else is drawn to make one. This link includes a nice video if a child making one, it’s not difficult 🙂 I like that the instructions say to use straws or reeds for there are a special type of reed that grow in wetlands, used to make them here, a reed I recognise whenever I come across it, but the site of which I always forget come February.
I was told that it was the tradition where I live, to make a new Brigid’s cross every year and to place it in the loft on a rafter to protect the house from fire, which used to be a common problem in old houses in Ireland. In old houses chimneys were left unlined and any chimney fire could easily escape and leap through the loft space taking the roof and very often the whole house. I have since discovered that they are also used to ward off evil but maybe I looked too innocent to be told that I might need to do this 🙂 It was a long time ago!
So who was Brigid?
Brigid was a Pre-Christian, Celtic goddess who was associated with smithcraft, poetry, healing, childbirth. She is sometimes spoken of as a Triple Goddess and is always closely associated with fire. In fact the fire associations are so strong that a perpetual fire was set at Kildare in her honour, a fire which still burns today. Brigid is also known of as Brid, Bride, Brighid, Brigit, Brigantia, Briginda, and Brigdu.
In Irish mythology Brigid appears as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann and was the daughter of the Dagda, wife of Bres and had a son named Ruadán. To the Catholic Church though she is known as Saint Brigid and spoken of only as sharing her name with the Celtic goddess. It is said that St Brigid was the child of Brocca, a Christian woman baptized by Saint Patrick, and that her father was Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain. As Brocca was a slave, Brigid was born into slavery. Some stories say that Brigid was baptised by St Patrick, others that she grew up as his friend.
If you would like to read more about Brigid, the Celtic goddess though the OBOD have an article that can be accessed here and which contains a lot of additional information.
What is known is that the the pagan festival of Imbolc or Imbolg, is associated with the goddess Brigid. The festival marks the beginning of spring has been celebrated since ancient times. It is a Cross Quarter Day, midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It can actually fall anywhere between 2nd & 7th of February as it is calculated as the mid point between the astronomical Winter Solstice and the astronomical Spring Equinox, however it is often celebrated on 1st February, which is the same date as the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion celebrate St Brigid’s Day.
And what about Brigid’s crosses?
There are many stories her as to how the tradition of these crosses originated and this is just one of them:
There was an old pagan Chieftain who was on his deathbed in Kildare when his servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the she might be able to calm his restless spirit. Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and calming him . Whilst she was here she picked up some rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern. As she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain and it is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul and requested that he be baptised as a Christian before his passing. Ever since that day it has been customary on the eve of Brigid’s Feast Day on 1st February, to fashion a St Brigid’s Cross of straw or rushes and place it in the roof of the house over the door as a means of protecting the house.
Brigid has always been held in high regard in Ireland, many wells in all parts of the country are named after her, the symbol of her cross is to be found in many Irish designs and there is even a pilgrimage route that can be walked, known as an the Brigid’s Way an Ancient Path between Sky and Earth