It’s tough to find breaking news items on pagan topics, much less anything that’s remotely newsworthy other than the occasional pagan holiday. Pagans are a peaceful lot and they don't tend to make a lot of news. This past week, as a break from reading about #MuslimBan, we had a wealth of articles on Imbolc, the mid-winter pagan holiday.
Now there are dueling realities to Imbolc/Ground Hog Day/Candlemas and St. Brigid’s Day because they all occur in the first two days of February. The first event is pagan; the second is secular and the last two are Christian feasts. Nevertheless, reporters end up mashing them all together, with results that are, if not funny, rather inaccurate.
I know space is at a premium at some outlets, but do the same reporters clump Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day together because they're two days apart? Don't think so. So why connect St. Brigid's Day, much less Candlemas, with Imbolc? What follows is what several media did with this time period.
The Seattle Weekly described the pagan aspect in a piece by a woman identified as the publication’s “resident witch:”
Imbolc (pronounced im-bowlk) is a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly,” and for many modern Pagans, Feb. 1 is one of four Greater Sabbats, or grand holy days, marking the seasons. Imbolc (also spelled Imbolg or Immolc) acknowledges the first stirrings of spring, the deep shift away from winter and the return of light and heat to the Northern Hemisphere.
Central to many Imbolc traditions is the Irish Great Goddess Brigid. She oversaw fertility, poetry, smithcraft, and healing, and was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the deities of pre-Christian Ireland. For ancient Celts, she was the ever-changing Earth itself, coming back to life after her winter sleep. Celebrations ranged from raging bonfires and torch processions through the fields and streets of the local village to simple ceremonies, centered around the mother of the house wearing a crown of lit candles as she led her family in ritual.
Not to be outdone, the International Business Times wrote:
Celebrations also include atwirling of torches to symbolize the sun as well as walking through snow to trace an image of the sun. People undertake spring cleaning and take ritual baths to create space for the goddess to come into their lives. It is also a tradition to prepare talismans for ceremonies. An example of this would be a small straw doll dressed in white cloth, referred to as a Brideog, and a Brigid’s Cross.
Hmmm, wait a minute. That last bit about the cross? That wouldn't be St. Brigid, by any chance? That doesn’t sound like a pagan deity to me.
There is not one word in this short piece to whom this cross may pertain but if you want to make one, this YouTube video shows you how. This piece by the Silver City (NM) Sun, at least mentions there’s a St. Brigid’s Day connected to Imbolc but doesn’t explain how or why.
Then there’s this heavy.com piece that brings Groundhog Day into the mix and connects it with Imbolc even though the former didn’t start until 1887. This account is the most convoluted one I found about the holiday although the writer at least explained what Candlemas is.
However, once again, it has nothing to do with St. Brigid herself other than the fact both occur at the beginning of February.
This report out of a Seattle affiliate of Fox TV is a little bit better, but it connects the pagan goddess Brigid with the fifth-century saint by the same name, which is inaccurate. As for our media friends across the pond, the Independent merely calls Imbolc “a Gaelic traditional festival.” So much for the pagans.
So finally I turned to Catholic Online to get the story of this patron saint of Ireland born in 451 whose mother was baptized by Saint Patrick. Read this link for this woman’s fascinating story.
Her feast day is not Groundhog Day, by the way, but Feb. 1, which is when she died in 525.
So here's to covering such events separately while respecting the integrity of each. I'd like to think that all the Irish goddesses, saints and American groundhogs would want it that way.