The Talking Forest Runes

Brigid of the Fairies

Fieldnotes for February – March 2024

by Kay Broome

Brigid from Hostpapa Web photos
Brigid's Wheel (Web photo)

Winter finds most of us indoors and if it is unseasonably mild, as is the current one, winter sports such as skating, tobogganing and snowshoeing are off the table. As a result, we become restless and bored. Now is the time when some of us finally turn to tasks we’ve been avoiding or had no time for in warmer months.  Not surprisingly, many people actively dislike this time of year. But I in fact, appreciate the post-Christmas season. Most likely because I can finally do the handicrafts I enjoy and rearrange aspects of my life that I don’t have time for during the rest of the year.

from Hostpapa web photos
Fixing Fishing Net (Web Photo)                              Seed Preparation (Web Photo)

Historically, among agrarian and fishing peoples, winter was the season to get rid of clutter and complete any outstanding chores.  These dormant months found farmers with much less to do and fishing grounds often unnavigable. Thus they were set aside for tasks such as culling items no longer useful, and for cleaning tools, both mundane and magical.  Therefore, it made sense to use this down time to sharpen that scythe, fix the broken net, clean out the boat, or to map out field layouts for spring crops – in other words, for good housekeeping.

Fire goddess from Hostpapa web photos

The Lady at Imbolc

Among the Scots and Irish Celts, Brigid was the goddess of spinning, smithing, and other household crafts. This deity's vast purview ranged from animal husbandry to weaving cloth; from midwifery to bardic poetry.  She protected the family unit and ruled over the hearth fire and maintenance of the home. Brigid presided over healing, medicine and childbirth, as well as the care of lambing ewes and cows in calf. She even blessed and protected rivers used for salmon fishing. Brigid was moreover patron of song and bardic poetry, as well as of keening, a form of stylized weeping sung for the dead. She is indeed a goddess of all trades and for all seasons. Her high festival was traditionally held February 1st, when lambing commenced. The two names for this Celtic holiday are insightful: Imbolc, meaning "in the belly" and Oimelc, "ewe's milk". This further illustrates Brigid's vital ties to farming and the well being of livestock. The goddess was in fact so essential to daily life, that when Christianity entered Ireland, the Church fathers were compelled to canonize her as St. Bridget. The saint's purview is as universal as that of her pagan prototype. Her feast day is Candlemas, held on February 2nd, the day after the pagan Imbolc.

Coming of Brede, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
The Coming of Bride (painting by John Duncan, 1917)

Brigid was originally a member of the high gods of the Irish pantheon, the Tuatha de Danaan, or people of Danu, the great mother of the gods.  Brigid's father was the Dagda, the benevolent patriarch of the pantheon, and her mother is generally believed to be Danu herself. A solar deity, Brigid's patronage of the hearth fire also reveals her as a fire goddess. As befitting her extensive purview, she was called by various names including Brigit, Bridget and Bride. She may also be connected to the continental Celtic goddess Brigantia, who appears to have had similar characteristics to the Greek Athena and Roman Minerva. The latter were spinners and patrons of the arts and crafts, and were moreover, wise and stalwart guardians of their realms. Their function as warrior deities perhaps explains some sources citing the Morrigan, battle goddess of the Celts, as mother to Brigid.

Brigantia search Wikimedia Commons
Statue believed to be Brigantia in Museum of Brittany, Rennes, France (Wikipedia)

With the coming of Christianity, which could brook no other gods, the Tuatha de Danaan were demoted to the status of the Fae or faery folk.  These were otherworldly beings, neither human nor saints nor immortal gods, who possessed magical powers and were held to be uncanny and frequently capricious.  Brigid however, experienced a different fate. Her sanctification was no doubt due to her indispensable purview as guardian of hearth and home, farm and fishing boat.  Ironically, even after Brigid's canonization,  those fairies deemed benevolent household spirits were still associated with her.

Household Helpers

Cinderella by Cruikshank, Victorian Web
From the Brother's Grimm, Cinderella (George Cruikshank, 1854 – scanned by Philip V. Allingham,

A whole body of literature, aptly called fairy tales, gives us a great deal of insight into the beliefs surrounding these beings. There were many types of fairies throughout European myth. They were generally assigned to two main groups – benevolent or harmful. In Scotland, these were called the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.  The Fae of the Seelie Court were remote but basically friendly and helpful to humans. They could be propitiated, but were often quick to take offense and had to be treated with the utmost respect. The Unseelie Court did not like humans and tended to avoid us. But if angered, or if they otherwise took an interest in people, they could be mischievous and even dangerous. Household fairies such as pixies, brownies and hobgoblins were generally benevolent. These Fair Folk were under Brigid's auspices, and could be very helpful in completing chores and onerous tasks.

Elves and Shoemaker, Cruikshank, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
From the Brothers Grimm The Elves and the Shoemaker (George Cruikshank, 1876)

But even these fairies could be temperamental.  One prevalent theme from the fairy tales, British and otherwise, was that the Fair Folk were offended by slovenliness. It was believed they would pinch the lazy housewife black and blue if her home was a mess. They were also capable of hiding or stealing items, and would depart in high dudgeon if they were offended in any way. Stories such as the Shoemaker and the Elves,  Cinderella, and Rumpelstiltskin show just how capricious "helpful" fairies could be.

Hearth Fire, Hostpapa web photo
Hearth Fire (Web Image)

For those of us who may not believe in fairy helpers or their ability to make domestic life complicated, it still makes perfect sense to keep hearth and home in smooth repair. You are less likely to experience bruises from bumps or falls (being pinched and poked by the fairies), if you don’t leave things lying around. A lot less time is wasted looking for items when everything is put back where it belongs and not where you last left it (perhaps blaming the fairies in the process). A dirty and cluttered home can make you tired and depressed...or even pixilated! – from pixie, meaning crazy or confused. Putting aside a few hours a week to clean and dust goes a long way toward bringing more cheer and motivation into our lives. Perhaps this is what being in the fairies’ good graces really means.

Rowan and Mountain Ash (Sorbus)

Rowan Tree, Photo by Kay Broome, 2023
Rowan Tree, Toronto, Summer 2023 (photo by Kay Broome)

In European myths, the rowan is a favorite of the Fair Folk. This small tree is sacred to Brigid and was famous for being used to repel strafing witchcraft.  Sprigs of the flowering or fruiting tree were hung over dairies and babies' cradles.  Rowan was often called quickbeam because of its association with vitality and fertility.  This is partly due to the fact that the berries, ripening in August, frequently stay on the branch well into January and even February.  These berries are very much favoured by songbirds and are high in Vitamin C.  The edible fruits are sweet but very bitter. While eating three of them probably won't give you the strength of ten men, as was proclaimed by the Irish, they are excellent thirst quenchers on a scorching day, and can be made into a wholesome jam or jelly.

Belonging to the Sorbus genus of the Rose family, rowan is a close relative of the hawthorn. Where hawthorn has simple, small round-lobed leaves, rowan leaves are compound.  They are usually dark green in colour, lightly toothed and pointed at the tips. On the European varieties, there are between 7-15 leaflets.  North American rowan is generally called mountain ash.  Leaves in this variety are much the same but with more leaflets – between 11 and 19 – on a compound leaf.  Rowans and mountain ashes are small like hawthorns, with a smooth greyish or brownish trunk, but do not have thorns.  The small white flowers are very similar to those of hawthorn as are the berries. In the rowan, however, they are more densely massed on the stock. European rowan berries tend to be scarlet red, while those of mountain ash are usually bright orange.

The Talking Forest Rowan is a masculine rune with a large flower spiral on the right side of the stem and a smaller one on the left, both ending in a fruit dot. As befits a relative of both hawthorn and bramble, the Talking Forest's Rowan rune is similar to theirs.  However, the thorn on each of Hawthorn and Bramble is, in Rowan, replaced by a branch ending in a fruit dot.

The rune’s kenning is Fairy Ring and it references luck or happenstance – that which appears to come about arbitrarily or out of the blue. The upright rune indicate good luck, something unexpected and of benefit coming your way. The Good Folk smile upon you now!  The inverted rune has a similar meaning – good luck may come about in the near future.  The toppled Rowan warns of bad luck or disappointment, especially if toppled to the right, with the smaller spiral up.  Toppled to the left suggests things not working out, often due to the unrealistic expectations of the querent.

 The Rowan rune appears near the end of the Talking Forest array.  Here, closer to life’s end, our karma is more clearly laid out before us.  Many elderly people now find time to cull belongings that “you can’t take with you”. They also frequently make efforts to reach out to those with whom they have lost touch, to reminisce or clear up old arguments in order to discard emotional or spiritual dross. 

Talking Forest Rowan Rune

Talking Forest Rowan Rune© 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Rowan and the rest of the Talking Forest array by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

Prior Plantings