This year at this time of Imbolc, we are told we have the best chance of seeing the ‘Green Comet’ (otherwise known as C/2022 E3) in our night sky, a comet which was last seen 50,000 years ago! Its closest approach is on 1st and 2nd Feb. Here at Magpie Cottage, we have been lucky, or unlucky enough, to have seen it just above ‘The Plough’ constellation a few nights ago thanks to us living in a fairly remote spot with little light pollution but we needed our telescope to get a view of it and it did indeed have a slight green glow about it.
The sight of a comet in the sky was seen as an indicator of a ‘great happening’ and often not a positive one. Bede gave a lovely description (A.D 725) of them being “long-haired stars with flames appearing suddenly; and presaging a change in sovereignty, or war or winds, or floods.’ So, take your pick as all these things are currently happening in our world.
They were seen as markers of ‘great’ events and not for the peasants.
“When beggars die there are no comets seen.’ Julius Caesar, Shakespeare 1599
For many this superstitious interpretation of their presence began to wane in the 17th century as science and intellectual conjecture began to inform people however the association of Halley’s Comet being seen in 1910 at the same time as the death of Edward VII made some people resume the idea of them being an ill-fated omen and interestingly American author Mark Twain was born and died in the same years that Halley’s Comet passed the earth. It should be noted that Halley’s Comet passes the earth approximately every 76 years.
A familiar symbol for this time of the year is Snowdrops, now seen very much as a symbol of hope, strength and adversity as well as bringing so much joy when we see them in pure white drifts reminding us that spring is not too far away. But in our past snowdrops were sometimes called ‘corpses in shrouds’ and they were never to be taken indoors as they were considered an unlucky flower and portent of death. You need only look in country churchyards to see them adorn the graves and read the gravestones to see that January and February, the months snowdrops flourish, are ‘popular’ months for people to die. I’d like to say that this is due to a past when keeping warm and nourished and disease free was problematic particularly for the vulnerable in society and resulted in their deaths but as we know we are living in a society where fuel & food poverty is once more with us and winter infections and strikes are straining our healthcare and sadly meaning that once more the months of the flourishing snowdrop and the filling up of our church yards are once more correlating.
The 1st of February is St Brigid’s Day, ‘Lá Fhéile Bríde’, and was an important Irish festival in folk tradition. Bridgid was very much a protector of the hearth and home. Recently following a 3-year campaign by Herstory, Bridgid’s Day has now been made a new national holiday in Ireland in honour of her, the matron saint and Celtic goddess and now as an icon role model for our times as a protector of nature and carer of animals and all living things. It was believed that St Brigid would pass by people’s homes on the eve of her feast day and give blessings and protection to homes and farms that hung Brigid’s crosses made of straw or rushes that had been blessed with holy water. They would be hung over doorways and the entrances to barns. Another tradition was to place a cloth outside that Bridgid may touch it as she passed and so giving it restorative powers. People would keep the cloth safely all year and use it to heal both people and animals that may fall ill. These cloths were known at Brat Bride or Ribin Bride’s.
Irish festivals were always celebrated on the eve of the day itself because this was considered a liminal time when the spirit-world was very close making appeals to goddesses or saints for protection and blessing particularly needed.
Imbolc is a celebration of new life and fertility as we look forward to brighter and warmer days. It’s a beautiful time of the year to see the possibilities of things to come just as we do in nature in early February as bulbs begin pushing through, birds becoming more animated daylight increases markedly.
Fire and candlelight are both associated with the first and second of February, the 2nd being Candlemas. It marked the time that candles were no longer needed in the workplace as daylight had become sufficient and the Christian tradition sees churches illuminated by candles in honour of the purification of Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. For many of us the act of lighting a candle at this time of the year can symbolise bringing light back into your life after the darkness of winter and it can also act as an aid for meditation as you gaze into its flame and visualise your future over the coming months.
We know that winter may not have fully finished with us yet but that we are in early but hopeful days that are beginning to give us a glimpse of the coming spring. Perhaps the sight of the Green Comet may signify significant changes to our earth in a positive way and light up our energies to help us be proactive campaigners for the good of our beautiful home planet and to fight for our Mother Earth and what better time to do this than at Imbolc.