We stand on the threshold of Imbolc, the feast-day of Brigid, Celtic goddess and saint – the traditional time for weaving Brigid’s sun crosses out of rushes or reeds.Brigid herself was a weaver goddess who made the first piece of cloth in Ireland into which she wove healing threads. No doubt she was once seen as a Weaver of Worlds like the three Norns in Norse mythology who weave the threads of destiny on their vast loom, and Grandmother Spider, the Navajo goddess who weaves the planetary web into being and repairs it when human folly has caused it to unravel.
Those who have the Second Sight, or an dà shealladh – the two sights – as it’s called in Scotland, are able to see this web as a network of threads of radiant, living light that weaves everything together in the cosmos – the “Web of Life” is not just a metaphor for how everything is connected, but very real indeed on an energetic level. In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, traditional folk healers often made “the charm of the threads.” They entwined three threads of red, white and black (or sometimes blue) about the patient’s affected part while quietly intoning a Gaelic incantation to Brigid and other saints three times over. This ancient method of healing lasted well into modern times. In the 1970s, an Inverness newspaper photographer challenged an old woman healer to do something about his sciatica. She took him on and wound threads about his thigh, muttering her charms all the while. He reported that the pain went away completely. But in time the threads wore out, became loose and dropped off, and when they did the pain returned.
In Ireland on this night, country people used to perform an old ritual to bring health and well-being to their families: The woman of the house hung a cloth or a ribbon on a bush or tree in the yard, hoping that during the night Brigid would pass by and touch it, imbuing it with her healing power. In the coming year the cloth might be used to mop a fevered brow, wrap around the belly of a pregnant woman, or drape over livestock about to give birth. The fisherman of Tory Island went out to sea with it tucked under their clothing to give them protection against storms at sea. Even today there are many ordinary Irish people today who swear by its efficacy!
And then … time to weave the crosses and hang them up over the front door, a child’s bed, barn or stable, to guarantee Brigid’s blessings and protection upon their lives and animals. Brigid’s cross has nothing to do with Christian tradition. It represents the cycling of the sun through the heavens and is shaped like the ancient Indian symbol of the swastika, a name derived from the Sanskrit word svastika meaning “well-being” or “being fortunate.” In India this symbol is connected with all things auspicious. It has been found on a Paleolithic carving on mammoth ivory from the Ukraine dating to about 10,000 BCE, and also occurs in countries as far apart as ancient Greece and China. It appears on the oldest coins of India, Persia and Asia Minor, as well as those of Troy around 1000 BCE. Something very similar to a Brigid’s cross is made and used during women’s coming-of-age and ancestral ceremonies in Australia. It is also not unlike the fertility symbol of the Huichol of Mexico known as the “god’s eye.”
If you try your hand at weaving the cross, you will find that you naturally turn it around with your fingers as you add each new reed, so that by making the cross you are mimetically participating in the cycling of the sun through the day and the seasons. For to make a Brigid’s cross is to participate in the very act of creation: Weaving is a rhythmic act, an expression of unity and hope in the face of the reality of change, destruction and death. A beautiful Irish poem-prayer on Brigit’s crosses can remind us of our connectedness with all on the Web of Life:
As we look at the extremities of the cross,
Reaching as they do to the four points of the compass,
Let it remind us that all the peoples of the earth
Belong to one family . . .
As we look at its interlacing in the centre,
Let us understand that human survival depends on
Human beings of all nations
Learning to embrace one another,
With generosity, understanding, respect,
And a willingness to share the good things of the earth with justice.
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.
(We live in the shelter of each other.)
For much more on Brigid and this festival, plus instructions for making a Brigid’s Cross, visit http://chalicecentre.net/february-celtic-year.html
And if you’re more visual, here’s an excellent video too : http://solasbhride.ie/how-to-make-a-st-brigids-cross/