Seminar Dates and Locations      Articles      Joseph Campbell      Site Map      Search

A Day for the Queen of Heaven

Imbolc

by Jonathan Young

Joseph Campbell believed that mythic stories draw us into accord with nature. We tend to forget that we are still animals on a fragile planet. The tales remind us of our place in the natural order.

The oral tradition had rich reflections on the changes of the seasons. In the Celtic calendar, the first of the four fire festivals of the year is Imbolc. It is celebrated on the second day of February.

The divinity acknowledged in these early Spring rites is the goddess Brigid, the queen of heaven. She is the greatest of the Celtic divinities and is closely associated with the land. She is the protector of the wells and springs. She is the guardian of nature, and therefore agriculture. She is specifically associated with livestock. As a fertility goddess, Brigid is also the patron of the poets, artists, and others who create. Hence, her name is invoked at childbirth.

When Brigid slipped into the world, a tower of flame rose from the top of her head to the heavens. Her fire aspect means she is the goddess of the hearth, and the forge. She is the guardian of those who worked with metal. By extension, she is the goddess of the machine. If we have difficulties with our cars or computers, our pleas for divine intercession might be properly addressed to Brigid.

Illuminations from the poem, Acerba, Cecco d'Ascoli, 1380s The various historical details have contemporary psychological implications. We can think of the deities as symbols of inner mystery. If we ponder the images in the stories as if they had appeared in our dreams, we will discover many valuable insights. Joseph Campbell thought myths were much like dreams. Guidance through life's difficulties could be drawn from their symbolism.

The symbolism of wells and springs reflects the connection to the waters of life that emerge from unseen sources. In psychological terms, this could signify the wisdom of the unconscious that flows from mysterious origins. The key is developing a practice of receptivity. For example, contemplating our dreams can open us to an awareness greater than our conscious knowing.

Brigid's protection of agriculture and poetry underscores the need to tend our inner fertility. Tending our forms of creativity is crucial to a fulfilling life. The ancients believed that gifts of expression were only on loan. We are reminded to remain grateful, and to be good custodians of artistic talents.

Imbolc fire circle

Her association with fire also pertains to the creative life. Finding passion in our work is a major achievement. Handling our energies well requires maturity. It takes effort to find a balance where we have vitality without being consumed.

The plume of fire radiating from her head connects her to the life of the mind. She is the patron of scholars and colleges. One implication is that learning is a form of service to the divinities. She is also the protector of travelers. This applies to both those who explore new terrains and those seekers who are on inner journeys.

Brigid is said to have invented the fervent Irish mourning wail called keening. Part of her presence resides in the faerie spirit whose keening can be heard at night in times of grief. This link reminds us to respect our losses. Experiences of renewal often include bereavement. We continually suffer losses, especially in the moments of passage. Claiming our wholeness includes valuing the sorrow for that which is no more.

One traditional practice on her day was to put baked goods out on the doorstep. They were called cakes for the queen of heaven. These offerings were often eaten by hungry travelers in her name. We might honor this custom by giving money to the homeless for something to eat on Imbolc. The idea is to find a way to share the boon. Those who have been blessed in life are called upon to develop some practice of service to others.

Down through the years, mythic stories continue to enchant. On close inspection, the images have much to say about modern life. Joseph Campbell said the ability to see the metaphors in the old tales opens us to the richness of everything around us. The whole world turns into a holy picture. We can become aware of a dimension of significance in the ordinary that is nothing short of radiant.

So, let us honor the Great Mother, the Queen of Heaven. May we be open to her many gifts of inspiration in this season of renewal.

Eve of Imbolc