GWANWYN (SPRING )
The first day of Spring is traditionally the 2nd of February, known as the feast of St Brigid / St Bridie / St Ffraid. In Celtic folk lore these first days of spring are also known as Imbolc.
In the Welsh tradition, the feast on this day is called Mair Dechrua’r Gwanwyn – The Feast of Mary, the Beginning of Spring. The celebration expresses two main themes: the re awakening of the fertility in the land and the start of a new cycle of agricultural activity. These rituals are probably based on ancient rites associated with the warming of the land, the return of the light after the dark winter, the green shoots rising from the earth, abundant water and the lambing seasons. Brigid is represented at these feasts as a doll or statue made of rushes or straw, purification by water is part of the celebration as is a display of fire, the making of talismans and feasting with drink and poetry.
In a poem by Iorweth Fynglwyd (1480-1527) which honours St Brigid/St Ffraid he calls her Morwyn Wen – Blessed Maid or Morwyn ddedwydd – Happy Maid.
He tells of a beautiful Irish Nun who landed in Wales – she sailed on a piece of turf form Ireland she knew many things and had many talents - she procured honey from stone, she knew the fifteen prayers, she turned rushes into fishes and she established the Candlemas festival. Many coastal chapels and villages are named after her for example St Bride’s Bay in Pembrokeshire, St Brides Super Ely in South Glamorgan, Llansantffraid Church in Llanon and many others.
The sea and inland waters, wells and springs were very significant across the Celtic World to followers of St Brigid. Fisherman prayed to her before they went out fishing and women left offerings at her wells in the form of ribbons and written prayers. Purification by water was one of the basic items in the ritual vocabulary of the ancient Celts and in the case of Imbolc – hands feet and head were washed to consecrate them for the new cycle of work.
The fire of Brigid was both the fire of fertility within the earth and the fire of the sun which gradually gained in strength as the days lengthened. The lighting of bonfires and candles was an expression of the magical encouragement of the sun as well as a sign of rejoicing at abundant light. In parts of Wales a candle would be ceremoniously returned by the servants to the head of the household on this day implying that it would no longer be needed to carry it when going out to do early morning work.
The talisman that granted Brigid’s protection was Brigid's Cross. This could be made from a variety of materials – usually plaited rushes or straw, cord, sedge or vine bound around a wooden framework and could take on a variety of shapes based on a three or four armed cross.
Another talisman was Brigid's mantle a length of cloth or ribbon which was left exposed at the window during the night of the feast to absorb the power of the goddess as she became manifest during the rituals and then it would be worn for protection or used in healing rituals and its potency could be renewed year after year at this festival.
The ceremony for inviting Brigid into the house is well known in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The ceremony invokes Brigid’s s blessing for the home and the hearth. The many different cultures involved in the worship of St Brigid all have some elements in common and they are all founded on the notion that Brigid is wandering and needs hospitality within the realm of home.
Associated with St Brigid are all forms of oracular omens. In Wales two candles would be lit and placed either side of a chair – each member of the household would sit in the chair and take a drink from a horn goblet then throw the goblet over their shoulder. If it landed on the opening it was bad omen for the year but if it landed opening up it was a good omen.
The most famous instance of divination on Brigid’s Feast Day is associated with the appearance of indigenous animals. In the USA the day is associated with the Ground Hog, in Ireland with a Hedgehog and in Scotland it is connected to the oracular Serpent. In Scotland the snake was thought to appear from it’s lair by the influence of the divine mistress encouraging it out of hibernation. If weather conditions were favourable it would become active and presage an early thaw, if it returned to its hole this meant that winter would keep a grip on the land for another month yet.
An integral part of the celebration is feasting and celebration with a meal perhaps including crepes or cakes made of a candied fruits. The fire or hearth is also very important to this festival as it symbolises the creation of objects for the family or tribe in association with the forge. In the past Brigid was linked to the blacksmith and also to the cauldron of creativity where ideas and poetry are stewed and brewed. In Wales , St Brigit is associated with ale and the custom known “Cwrw Sant Ffraid” or St Bride’s Ale.
Digwyl San Ffraid ydoedd fenaid, I bydd parod pawb ai wyrod
St Brigit’s Day it was, my soul, Everyone will be ready with his drink.
At Welsh Sisters we will be celebrating the feast of Morwyn Wen – St Ffraid/ St Brigid – as best as we can this year by dreaming up plans that we hope will come to fruition by May 1st, expressing thanks for our family and our homes with some kind of fire, candles, good food, perhaps some music and most importantly good drink!