Drops of Hope

by the river.

A mother’s first milk.

She calls on Brigantia
to deliver her first-born child.

Drops of hope
by the river.

She drinks of her milk.

Will Brigantia deliver us?

No-one knows exactly where they came from or who brought them here in the early sixteenth century. Yet the snowdrop (galanthus nivalis from the Greek gala ‘milk’ and anthos ‘flower’ and the Latin nivalis ‘of the snow’) along with lambs has become an essential part of the constellation of the Celtic festival of Imbolc/Gwyl Ffraid which is celebrated by modern Pagans and Celtic Polytheists on the 1st and/or 2nd of February.

The common etymology of the term Imbolc is that it comes from the old Irish i molc ‘in the belly’. It is usually associated with the pregnancy and lactation of ewes. Sheep, along with domesticated cattle and pigs, were brought to Britain and Ireland during the Neolithic period. This could well have been the time the Celts began venerating the ‘culture gods’ associated with the cross quarter pastoral and agricultural festivals such as Brigid/Brigantia (Imbolc) and Lugh/Lugus (Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst).

I have often wondered whether ‘in the belly’ relates to earlier human fertility cycles amongst hunter-gatherers in which most of the mating took place at Beltane/Calan Mai so babies were born nine months later, at Imbolc, a time when the days were beginning to lengthen and the weather to warm. One of the roles of Brigid/Brigantia was as a midwife and perhaps relates to an older tradition.

If our ancient ancestors had seen snowdrops at this time would they have seen them as signs of hope as they brought life into a world which remained precarious due to unstable weather, lack of food, and perhaps also winter illnesses such as colds and flus?

Hope in a time of precarity is what snowdrops say to me this year as Brigantia approaches with a bunch of milk-white flowers in her midwife’s hands.

The Slow Thaw

On the second of February, the date of the Celtic festival of Gwyl Ffraid/Imbolc, I was not celebrating the first signs of spring but was in hospital having an umbilical hernia repair operation.

Snowy GCV 3

The land was covered by snow and ice and I was aware of the presence of my god, Gwyn ap Nudd, Winter’s King. To he, who guides our souls between the worlds of the living and the dead, I prayed to lead me into the near death-like state of coma that is general anaesthesia and back to wakefulness again.

To he, who dies a ritual death at the hands of his rival Gwythyr ap Greidol every year at Calan Mai, who enters a frozen sleep throughout the summer months in Caer Ochren, the Castle of Cold Stone before reviving again in autumn to lead his hunt across the winter skies. I knew I could trust my soul.

I knew he understood what I was about to go through and worse for he comes from ‘many deaths’.

And so he took me, but not to where I’d expected. Just two weeks previously I made my lifelong dedication to Gwyn and that night during my vigil I was taken on a really intense journey of descent. I was expecting something like that or worse like waking up whilst I was being operated on.

Instead I awoke feeling as if I was roaring drunk raving about Maredsous. For about fifteen minutes I had no idea what Maredsous was and neither did anyone else in the recovery room. Finally I remembered it was a Belgian beer. Gwyn had taken me on a tour of the bars in Belgium! I have always loved Belgian beers but never been able to afford to visit Belgium and he had taken me there.

Another uncanny thing that happened is that, afterwards, the nurse told me that when I went under everywhere went icy cold and they had to turn the heating up – a definite sign of Gwyn’s presence.

So I woke up feeling wowed and grateful and much firmer in my trust of him.

Post-operation I have been stiff, sore, and had more far more bloating and swelling than I expected. However, as the snow has slowly thawed, I have been making a slow recovery. As I have walked a little further from my house every day I have noticed the snowdrops in my garden in full flower, the first celandine flowering in Greencroft Valley, a yellow wagtail dipping in the brook, the wood alive with the songs of tits and robins.

Since the beginning of November, when I drew the Hagalaz rune, ‘Hail’, at the Way of the Buzzard drumming circle I have experienced a winter of harsh descent which began with a stress fracture of my metatarsal leading to me being unable to walk for over six weeks. Then I had my lifelong dedication to Gwyn, which was challenging and intense, but ultimately confirming and wonderful. Now, finally, this operation, significantly on my naval, my natal place, which seems bound up with the visions of death and dissolution and rebirth that I experienced during my vigil on my dedication night.

The Anglo-Saxon rune poem for Hagalaz/Hægl speaks of my experiences of being the white grain of the initiate in Gwyn’s cold castle, tossed about on the winds of his hunt, and finally brought back in celebration and confirmation to melt into water and take seed in this soil as his lifelong awenydd.


Hail is the whitest of grain;
it is whirled from the vault of heaven
and is tossed about by gusts of wind
and then it melts into water.

So mote it be.

Brigantia Stone

Brigantia Stone Earlier in January I dreamt the Oak and Feather Grove were holding a celebration on the West Pennine Moors around a sandstone monument carved with a goddess figure rooted in the earth drawing up its energy to combine with shining rays of sunshine. I knew this was a ‘Brigantia Stone.’

Today is the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, which is connected to the goddess Brighid or Bride. In Scottish mythology she is imprisoned in a mountain by the Cailleach throughout winter and escapes her prison in spring, bringing new growth and regeneration. In Wales she is known as Ffraid and this festival is Gwyl Ffraid.

Here in Northern England she is known as Brigantia. Her name is Brythonic and means ‘High One.’ She was the warrior goddess of the Brigantes tribe, whose tribal confederation dominated the North until the Roman Invasions. I associate Brigantia with high places, locally with the West Pennine Moors and in particular Great Hill.

Great Hill from Brindle

Great Hill viewed from Brindle

In contrast to Brighid, whose stories and roles as a poet, smith and healer are well documented, we know comparatively less about Brigantia. Seven inscriptions exist to her across Northern England and Southern Scotland. She is equated with Victory, and on a statue with Minerva in warrior form, holding a spear and a globe of Victory and wearing a Gorgon’s head.

In my experience, Brigantia is a goddess of the wild harshness of the high hills. A warrior for certain and a goddess of the all-consuming fire of the Awen, the hammer beat of creation and a forger of souls. She’s the first goddess I met. Because she’s a poet and we share a fiery irascible temperament I thought she would become my patroness.

I was wrong and the reason behind this was a difficult one to learn. I worked very closely with Brigantia for two years whilst completing a fantasy novel. It was about a fire magician who, in order to bring down capitalism, made a pact with fire elementals which resulted in his near destruction of the world and death in the flames by which he made his pact. With my anti-hero a part of me burnt and was consumed.

After completing the novel I realised it was too dark and incomprehensible to publish. I’d wasted two years, wasn’t cut out to be a fantasy writer and and I’d lost my trust in Brigantia.

The death of my novel left a void. And into it stepped my true god. Perhaps this was Brigantia’s plan. I needed to learn the dangers of working with the untrammelled Awen; fire in the head, pure imagining, without relation to this world or the realities of the Otherworld, to which Gwyn ap Nudd opened the gates.

Afterward I resented her. Because I’d sold my car and could no longer drive to the Pennines we also became physically distanced. In spite of this, looking down on my valley from the surrounding hills, in the fire of the Awen, she has continued to be a presence in my life. I still honour her as the warrior goddess of the North. But we rarely speak in person.

My dream of the Brigantia Stone came as a surprise, even though Brigantia is in many ways a patroness of the Oak and Feather grove. I experienced the calling to redraw the stone for our Imbolc celebration (which I’d sketched in my diary) in colour, as a Bardic contribution to the grove and for Brigantia as an offering on her festival day. It came out perfectly first time, so well I decided to make copies for each member of the grove.

Lynda has suggested we take a grove walk to find the stone on the West Pennine Moors. Whether it ‘really’ exists on the moors, or in their dreamscape, I’m not certain. However, I do know it is the time to acknowledge and accept Brigantia’s role and place in my life.

Brigantia Altar