Dolores Whelan organized and led the Brigid of Faughart Festival which I attended in Ireland in late January/early February of this year. I first came to know Dolores through her book Ever Ancient, Ever New: Celtic Spirituality in the 21st Century (Columba Press, Ireland, 2006; Original Writing Dublin, 2010). That book became for me, and remains, my guide to the Celtic Year with its earth-related festivals.
Here is Dolores’ teaching on the Festival of Imbolc:
“Imbolc is synonymous with Brigid, Celtic Goddess and saint,
who embodies the energy of new life and of new beginnings.
She is the fertile aspect of the divine feminine energy,
which emerges from the hag or cailleach,
that dark barren aspect of the feminine energy.
“This transformation of the cailleach into the maiden
reflects the same mysteries which are happening
in the natural world as winter yields to spring.
“Brigid is the energy which at this time breathes life
into the mouth of dead winter.
“She is the fertility goddess
who embodies the neart or life force,
that raw primal feminine energy
which gives rise to all living beings.”
At the close of this year’s Brigid Festival, Dolores led us in a ritual which I shall reconstruct here for you in my own words:
“Tonight our ritual begins with a thank you and farewell to the cailleach who brought us into and through the darkness of winter where new life was being planted deep within each of us. As we prepare to thank the cailleach, we may reflect on what new seeds the darkness has quickened within us. Someone will carry the statue of the cailleach around our circle so that we may offer our thanks and our farewell.”
The bearer of the cailleach energy lifts the statue from the centrepiece and carries it to each woman in our circle, allowing time for each of us to quietly express our gratitude and say goodbye.
“Imbolc welcomes the maiden into our lives,” Dolores says. “Someone will now carry the image of the spring maiden around the circle so that we may welcome her into our lives.
“As we wait for our turn, we may become aware of the way the neart, the life force, is rising in us, breathing life into our being. How will our lives be different now?”
As the image of the maiden is carried around our circle, we welcome the life force of spring.
After we have each greeted the maiden of spring, Dolores speaks:
“Brigid has the ability to stand in the gap and remain centred within the uncertainty present in the outer world. This quality of being centred and aligned with one’s deep inner knowing is a quality that each of us can and must develop at this time.
“In a few moments, I will take the crios (a belt braided from strips of cloth and used in ancient times to assist in childbirth) and place it in the open space beside the centrepiece. I will invite you, each one of you as you feel ready, to come to the crios and imagine it as a womb of new life. Step into the crios womb and speak aloud your intention for this new springtime, the way you wish to stay centred. As each one speaks, we will respond: We support you in this. Then move forward to step out of the circle on the far side to symbolize your emergence from the womb.”
Dolores arranges the crios in a womb shape and asks, “Who would like to begin?”
One by one we, both women and men present, enter the crios, state our intention for this new springtime, receive the affirming support of our companions.
When everyone has completed the Crios Ritual, Dolores speaks once more:
“Brigid’s followers were charged with holding the seed of the fire on behalf of the community, that is holding the seeds of a life-enhancing energy on behalf of the people. This fire would not burn or be destructive so long as they remained focused, aligned with their own inner truth and undistracted by flattery, or by popular opinions.
“So for us people, in this time, who are charged with embodying the energy of Brigid, it is essential that we stay focused on our task which is to act, like Brigid, as midwives to a new era, a new day, a new way of being.”