Sunday, January 31, 2010

Celtic Tradition Alive in New England

Here in the hills of New England it has been brilliantly cold.

Brilliant in the clarity of starlight in the ink black sky and in the reflection of
the largest full moon of the year reflecting off the snow.

We have shivered at seeing temperatures in the single digits and knowing the howling wind actually has us in the negative degrees. Into this brutal weather new lambs are being born in farms throughout our community. Water is gurgling under the ice covered brooks and the days are indeed getting longer.

During ancient times throughout the Celtic World (Ireland, Brittany, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, Moravia) the depth of winter ended not with melting snow, but with melting hearts. The community celebrated the warmth and fire of Brighid – force for life, growth and regeneration - as a way of preparing the way for warmer times, and to step out of the darkest time of the year.

This time is known as "Imbolc" (ihm-olhk, meaning "ewe's milk"), traditionally falls at the full moon near when the lambs are born. It will be celebrated in Vermont on the evening of January 30 – sundown January 31(Feb 1-2 sundown to sundown in other parts of the world).

Michael Billingsley of the Irish Spiritual Heritage Association, is a prominent researcher in ancient traditions of the Celts and leads BĂ©ltaine trips to Ireland every spring. He has been offering opportunities to participate in this seasonal ritual in the Brattleboro area for seven years. In his poetic words he elaborates on the symbolism of ewe’s milk and what it offers in this dark and frozen time.

“There is a different, more subtle kind of "ewe's milk" loose in the
world - warm and trickling - sliding between the rocks and grains of soil - enlivening the seeds that have lain dormant, and quickening the sap that has been stuck frozen near the roots of trees like maple and birch. This warm trickle that informs and connects and enlivens and holds... this small ever-present Fire of Life is the vivid flame of Brighid sparkling and brightening and inspiring the coming year of creativity, imagination, growth and evolution." We are invited to keep the warmth of Brighid's flame in our hearts to share with the world.

"She is the Life that enlivens all. She is that life that seeps up through springs bubbling from the earth, and in the gurgles of small eddies under the ice. She is that warmth within our own hearts and cells, who makes the world in us come alive... and frees us from anything stuck and cold and frozen. We are connected through this Brighid-ness and supported by her.”

For more information on the Irish Spiritual Hertitage Association visit

The old ritual involves a conscious letting go of emotional rigidness that has developed during the dark and cold that is restricting us from a sense of well being. It suggests letting go of old habits, ideas, fears to make way for new growth. Sounds very much like our more familiar New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t it, but at a deeper level.

May we all find freedom from personal fears and leap with joy like the frolicking lambs despite the darkness that still gloams…