Brigid Swan Maiden wakes the sleeping winter world. Her flame sparks new beginnings and inspiration. A time to make plans.
Over time, Imbolg and the goddess Brighid have become associated with the Swan (Eala in Irish). Was that association part of the ancient lore, or is it a more recent adaptation or sentiment? I’ll leave that to the scholars to debate. But, no matter what they discover, I also support the idea of creating new traditions and associations for the fire festivals and their threshold goddesses, such as Brighid.
That being said, there is another traditional bird ally for Brighid, the oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), whose call is said to be “Bi glic. Bi glic” (Be wise. Be wise). It too spends its time at the liminal space of the shorelines, and its various names reflect that potential Brighid link.
In modern Irish, the oystercatcher is known as the roilleach or scaladóir, but older Scottish Gaelic words include the Brighid connection:
- brìdean ( Bride’s bird)
- gille-Brìde / gille-Brìghde (Bride’s servant)
- drìlleachan (a generic name for noisy seabirds including oystercatcher, sandpiper, guillemot or grey plover)
- trìlleachan (three stones), so named for their habit of turning stones to find food on the shore. Some suggest it is also the sound that the oystercatcher makes.
Perhaps that association with Brighid came from the yearly return of swans from their winter habitats around the time of Imbolg. As I write this, I too am viewing (and hearing!) a similar northern migration, not with the swans but with their close cousins the Canada Geese, who are flying overhead at present, loudly honking as they head further north to their summer homes.
And like Brighid, Swans are also three-fold, living in the physical realms of Land, Sea and Sky. They graze and flock together on the land, often at the water’s edge (a liminal space where the spiritual realms of Land and Sea also connect), as do the oystercatchers. They gracefully move through the water’s surface. And as birds, they rise to the sky.
Brighid also has a strong association with Bards, the poets and keepers of the stories, whose cloaks were often made of swan feathers.
It was also believed that the Swan represents our soul, and both swans and geese were considered our escort — our psychopomp — to the Otherworld.
Soul Work Inspiration
I share with you now a bit of poetic inspiration, perhaps bringing out the Bard in each of us. And for me, that last stanza captures so well what it feels like to be at home in each of these realms.
Bird of Three Realms
by Mael Brigde, from her book “A Brigid of Ireland Devotional: Sun Among Stars“
Brigit’s swan smooth-necked glimmering thread embroiders every realm draws them nearer to each other one to one to one wings whistling strong-shouldered she slips from the cushioned sky settles on the silver-furrowed lake with one swift push she breasts the unresisting glass drifts wings curled above her body digs her beak in argent waters plucks the floating cress she hisses at the stranger open-mouthed shakes her coal-ridged forehead sets her foot like blackthorn’s trunk on damp and yielding earth feeds along the threshold of the realms Brigit’s swan her shape given the fleeing gold-chained lovers her feathers on whom rain beads and —harmless— falls are sewn together in the poet’s journey cloak give vision flight bird of three realms she sees the trembling sky feels the shivering waters hears the earth grumbling beneath her feet
Ponder the Bird of Three Realms and the questions below as you step into the energies of Brighid and Imbolg Season :
- How does Swan or Oystercatcher inspire your imagination?
- Does either bring out the Bard within?
- What is your connection (or ally) to liminal places or other realms?
- Is there a bird who resonates with you?