Tuesday, January 7, 2014

project 52:15

(acrylic on watercolour paper)

In 2009, I was working on an article about Brigid, the goddess who was co-opted into sainthood by the Catholic Church (and not just in Ireland; the Brigid cult existed on mainland Europe, too).  I was reading the three vitae of Brigid which have come down to us; and a very interesting Master's thesis on the variations between the three (the oldest is written half in Latin, and half in Gaelic and there is some very interesting coding in terms of which language is used when), and somehow I stumbled upon a very cool book about northern European religious cults associated with late winter and the arrival of spring (as Brigid - both Christian saint and pagan goddess - is/was/were/are). I need to track that book down again and buy it, I think; it discussed the bear cult and the way the bear as a totem or fetish overlapped with Brigid, and how and why bees became incoporated as attributes of the goddess, referencing old rhymes and snatches of ancient poems and prayers that had come down to us, building a web of associations and inferences among particular birds, mammals, and insects and the return of the growing season. It was a small book, but incredibly dense (I remember struggling to get through it), but truly fascinating stuff!

So here we are, in January. I heard on NPR today that more than half of the US is currently in deep freeze, while Seattle has been enjoying a handful of sunny days that always seem to come around the beginning of the year, before we return to clouds and mist and rain for the next few months. This time of year always gets me thinking about the Brigid cult; her feast day is February 1. It coincides with a pagan holiday of Imbolc (the name means "in milk," referring to the beginning of the lambing season, the first signs of rebirth and new life - however tenuous among the remains of winter) and the Christian celebration of Candlemas (on February 2nd), a celebration of hope and new life as well. As I read that book on the various animal cults of northern Europe, I realized that the American holiday of Groundhog Day (also February 2nd) was more contemporary adaptation of the old Northern European bear cult (bears became associated with Brigid because they would emerge from hibernation in late winter, another signal of the start of spring).

So all this has me thinking about bears. And winter. And winter's end. Part of me is still hoping for snow (it usually comes late in this corner of the world, if we get it at all). Another part of me is starting to do some calculations: those Lauren's Grape purple poppy seeds I saved last September need to be raked over the garden soon; and if I want stocks in early spring (I love stocks), those need to be planted soon, too. It's just about time for winter dreams of the summer garden to start translating into action, to emerge from the den!

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