In this liminal time, between winter and spring, there is an ancient holy day that recognizes a subtle shift in the natural rhythms during the depths of winter’s bone-chilling, cold spells. In the Celtic-Irish tradition, Imbolc means ewe’s milk and was an important event for those who lived close to the land.
Candlemas came later. Borrowed from the older traditions, the Roman Catholics needed a way for the farmers and serfs to connect with the new beliefs that were sweeping the country. A time of nurturing, these holy days were important sources of inspiration and communion, necessary for survival and for thriving in the frozen winter months.
Regardless of the names or whence they come, this fire-themed holy day marks a time when the light is just beginning to increase, even as the ice and snow continue to make regular appearances. The days are slowly becoming brighter and warmer. There is still a long wait until spring, but this mid-winter marker made it easier to face the rest of winter and the possibility of leaner times ahead.
Within the sphere of art, art-making and my creative explorations, this is the time I designate for certain tasks. Rituals for clearing the way forward. Chores that set up an intention and routine for the rest of the year. Things like organizing, planning future projects, cleaning and clearing out the old, seemingly useless materials left over from last year’s projects. By finding new uses for any unused, time-worn materials, I continue to make way for the new ventures that want to be created as the quickening of nature begins to warm our cockles and reignite our passions. This is the ultimate in recycling for me. This practice keeps my studio from getting too full of things, preventing me from making progress on any of my dreams for the future.
In the spirit of this bright holiday that sparks and ignites the forces of inspiration from within, there are little creative activities that feed these ancient memories. One of these is the making of Brighid’s crosses. I remember making them as a child while growing up under my mother’s and grandmother’s Roman Catholic influence. We made the little crosses from the palm fronds of Fat Tuesday’s celebrations. Keeping them displayed in our homes until next year’s burning off of the old crosses on Ash Wednesday. It made the dead of winter a much more exciting time in my child’s mind. The tiny crosses were used to remind us of the crosses we bear throughout the year, as well as the stories of the Crucifixion and imminent rebirth in the spring.
When I began my study of art and creativity, I became curious about the origins of these creative traditions. Their longevity and mysteries fascinated me. I learned of how the archaic peoples lived and celebrated nature’s cycles before there was a Roman Catholic church. Back to a time when nature was the ultimate teacher. I learned about my ancestral lineages, the older traditions of marking cycles and how they became the foundations out of which the Roman Catholic church sprang. I learned about the origins of my family’s spiritual practices. I cherish these ancient roots that whisper to me from the past. Intact, but for the twist on their meanings and symbolism.
The symbols that remind us of where we came from, who we came from… when we came from. Like Brighid’s Cross; a symbol of the returning light, safety, and protection, the fires of passion, fertility & the hidden fecundity of Mother Earth’s gifts that provided everything we needed for life. Essential qualities for hope in times of struggle and survival. Only by realizing where we came from can we know where we stand and consciously choose where we are headed.
These old practices were revived, reshaped and retold by the up and coming church-state to make them more relevant in the face of the far-reaching changes happening at that time. The youth of the peasant culture, where different ideas were overtaking the old ways of thinking and behaving, were slowly accepting of the transformation that was afoot. They found ways to incorporate the traditions of their elders into their new ways of thinking and interacting with their environment. They formed the new paths of tradition, taking us away from revering nature and all its many facets, and moving us towards a monotheistic paradigm along with the industrial revolution’s “nature-separation” effects which remain in place today.
In my attempts to reconnect with this ancient wisdom. integrating it into my modern life, on the feast day of St. Brighid, I make Brighid’s crosses from modern materials. Consciously adapting old methods to my modern lifestyle and material choices, I used a decorative paper that reminds me of the hearth fires, burning brightly, inspired and passionately heating up a cold home in the depths of winter. Created with reverence and a joyful attitude, these small reminders of the past keep me connected to my roots, my spiritual center and to my ancestral lineage.
I am not alone in my creative journey. My ancestors and all of nature are present and keeping me company. Solitary, thoughtful work in my studio keeps me anchored in purpose, creating the next piece of art that honors my soul, provides meaning to my life and intends to resacralize this precious little blue planet we call home. ❤
(Photos & original art by CShepard – http://www.cshepardarts.com)