To mark its transformation of Brigit, the Church created a new ritual — Candlemass, during which thickets of candles blaze into radiant glory reminiscent of the Sun. Candlemass celebrates the “churching” of the Virgin Mary, forty days after the birth of Christ. In the eyes of the Church, even a woman as holy as Mary needed a ritual purification and cleansing to rejoin the congregation after childbirth.
In view of the many reversals instituted by the Catholic Church in order to transform pagan customs into Christian ones, I wonder if perhaps this ritual was once a pagan celebration of a successful birth. The forty days and nights might easily have been a time of waiting to see if the newborn and the mother survived their ordeal. At the end of the danger period, Brigit would have been praised and thanked with feasting and celebration for bringing them through alive.
Both my children slipped easily into the world. My body suffered no complications and my spirit expanded happily to encompass the two beings entrusted to me. In those days I didn’t know who to thank for the blessing of gentle births and healthy babies. But ignorant as I was then of the spiritual heritage my womanhood carried, I could still recognize a divine revelation when I saw it. The moment the nurse handed me my first-born child I experienced an epiphany.
A window opens on the Milky Way. Baby and I pass through it to float among stars. Joy fills each cell, racing down nerves, tingling though capillaries. Exhilarated, ecstatic, aroused, and as joyful as I have ever been or ever will be, I KNOW, without any equivocation or doubt, that the child in my arms could be any child. That it was not in any sense “mine” but belongs only to himself. I KNOW the love which pours through me comes from a greater source and is also, not “mine.” And I KNOW, most joyfully, that it in no way matters whose baby or what baby I hold, any child at all would evoke from me the same love that I feel for this one.
This insight transformed me. It changed me into a real mother, a true nurturer. I believe now, that Brigit came the night my son was born and celebrated a great Candlemass in our honor — lighting up all Her many suns, those illustrious cosmic candles called stars, welcoming my return to community, commemorating Stephen’s propitious birth.
The poet who I have come to be was also born that night; arriving on that same gush of love, spilled out into the arms of the universe, suckled by the Milky Way. The poet believes that our births begin at the moment of conception and continue till the last breath. Believes we must be the midwives of our own lives. Believes we must all be poets: singing, celebrating, remembering our stories.
This is our birthright: we are the changers, ever in motion; we are the changed, charged with the obligation to blaze forth.
Celtic Wheel of the Year