Wheel of the Year

Brighid and her birds

The image to the left is “Brigid Swan Maiden” by Wendy Andrew, PaintingDreams.co.uk. The words below accompany the image.
Brigid Swan Maiden wakes the sleeping winter world.
Her flame sparks new beginnings and inspiration.
A time to make plans.

Over time, Imbolg and the goddess Brighid have become associated with the Swan (Eala in Irish).  Was that association part of the ancient lore, or is it a more recent adaptation or sentiment? I’ll leave that to the scholars to debate. But, no matter what they discover, I also support the idea of creating new traditions and associations for the fire festivals and their threshold goddesses, such as Brighid. 

That being said, there is another traditional bird ally for Brighid, the oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), whose call is said to be “Bi glic. Bi glic” (Be wise. Be wise).  It too spends its time at the liminal space of the shorelines, and its various names reflect that potential Brighid link. 

In modern Irish, the oystercatcher is known as the roilleach or scaladóir,  but older Scottish Gaelic words include the Brighid connection:

  •  brìdean ( Bride’s bird)
  • gille-Brìde /  gille-Brìghde (Bride’s servant)
  • drìlleachan (a generic name for noisy seabirds including oystercatcher, sandpiper, guillemot or grey plover)
  • trìlleachan (three stones), so named for  their habit of turning stones to find food on the shore. Some suggest it is also the sound that the oystercatcher makes.

Exploring Swan 

Perhaps that association with Brighid came from the yearly return of swans from their winter habitats around the time of Imbolg. As I write this, I too am viewing (and hearing!) a similar northern migration, not with the swans but with their close cousins the Canada Geese, who are flying overhead at present, loudly honking as they head further north to their summer homes.

And like Brighid, Swans are also three-fold, living in the physical realms of Land, Sea and Sky. They  graze and flock together on the land, often at the water’s edge (a liminal space where the spiritual realms of Land and Sea also connect), as do the oystercatchers. They gracefully move through the water’s surface. And as birds, they rise to the sky.

Brighid also has a strong association with Bards, the poets and keepers of the stories, whose cloaks were often made of swan feathers. 

It was also believed that the Swan represents our soul, and both swans and geese were considered our escort —  our psychopomp — to the Otherworld. 

Soul Work Inspiration

I share with you now a bit of poetic inspiration, perhaps bringing out the Bard in each of us. And for me, that last stanza captures so well what it feels like to be at home in each of these realms.

Bird of Three Realms

by Mael Brigde, from her book  “A Brigid of Ireland Devotional: Sun Among Stars

Brigit’s swan
smooth-necked
glimmering thread
embroiders every realm
draws them nearer to each other
one to one
to one

wings whistling
strong-shouldered
she slips
from the cushioned sky
settles
on the silver-furrowed lake

with one swift push
she breasts
the unresisting glass
drifts wings curled above her body
digs her beak in argent waters
plucks the floating cress

she hisses at the stranger
open-mouthed
shakes her coal-ridged forehead
sets her foot like blackthorn’s trunk
on damp and yielding earth
feeds along the threshold
of the realms

Brigit’s swan
her shape given the fleeing
gold-chained lovers
her feathers
on whom rain beads and
—harmless—
falls
are sewn together in
the poet’s journey cloak
give vision flight

bird of three realms
she sees
the trembling sky
feels
the shivering waters
hears
the earth grumbling
beneath her feet

Soul Work

Ponder the Bird of Three Realms and the questions below as you step into the energies of Brighid and Imbolg Season :

  • How does Swan or Oystercatcher inspire your imagination?
  • Does either bring out the Bard within?
  • What is your connection (or ally) to liminal places or other realms?
  • Is there a bird who resonates with you?

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