Oimelc: Ewe’s Milk and the Fixèd Fire
Yesterday, on an impulse in a cheese shop in Temecula, I made a purchase of a ridiculously expensive slice of cheese from Holland. I had tasted it—it was called “Euphoria”—and I seconded its name after tasting it, and so I bought a small slice which went for $10.00.
It was only when I got it home and took it out of the bag to put it in the refrigerator that I noticed that the label said it was a sheep’s milk cheese.
This is one of several posts I hope to make about Imbolc. As Celtic history suggests, Imbolc is an alternative name for Oimelc, which, quite obviously, is a word that means “ewe’s milk.” This time of year, I often speak of the Basques and their wonderful ewe’s milk cheeses, but these types of cheeses are common throughout Europe and luckily for us, appear in our cheese shops from time to time, sometimes at reasonable prices, such as the ones you will find at Trader Joe’s. And sometimes, you do something on impulse that seems to be the work of the Goddess.
But which goddess? is it Brigid, favored fire goddess of the Celts who was known throughout the Celtic world, a world that overlaps the Netherlands where my Euphoric cheese was made, and a world that spread to create Galicia in Spain, which overlaps the Basque country? Is it St. Brigit of Kildare, who was bathed in milk at birth in Ireland, the last stop of the Celts on their Indo-European journey west?
The frigid weather of most of Europe at this time of year is obvious inspiration for a fire festival that celebrates fresh food after the darkest days of winter. The days are getting longer now, and no matter how you spell her name, goddess or saint, an eternal flame is a symbol for Brigit. Not only that, but Oimelc arrives during the time of year, astrologically, that corresponds to the sign of Aquarius, a fixed air sign.
People are always surprised to hear that Aquarius is a “fixed” sign, meaning that it tends to like to keep things the way they are—“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Aquarius is too busy trying to right the wrongs of the world to want to make insignificant changes, or to make change for change’s sake. Perhaps this explains just a wee bit of the seemingly seamless transition of Brigid the goddess to St. Brigit in the Christian era. My mind boggles when I read accounts of Oimelc like the Australian article, “Oimelc, the Promise of Springtime,” which is all about the saint, really, in its description of Oimelc/Imbolc.
Brigid has many variations in name; in Gaul she was “Brigindoni” and in Britain she was “Brigantia.” Her name is also spelled Brigit, Bride, Breed, and many other ways, and her name may be a Western variation (those Indo-Europeans, again, beginning their ride west from Indian/Iranian lands) of the Sanskrit “Brihati” meaning “the light.” Brigid does indeed bring the light of longer days, the flame of life and of creativity, the fire of the forge, and the internal fires that push us forth to fight the battles that others have engaged us in.
For make no mistake, friends: we are in a war, and few of us want to be there. It is a war that involves the rights of women and children against the oppression of men (not forgetting, of course, that these men are oppressing other men as well). Brigid, whether goddess or saint, has always been attended to and celebrated by women, but who has always been the patroness of the blacksmith and the swordsmith. Yes, she is the patroness of poets and other writers, jewelry makers, healers, and now, as the Brigidine Sisters teach, patroness of environmentalists and those who fight for social justice, equality, peace, compassion, creativity, and contemplation.
We are at war against the forces who would deny us equality, social justice, care for the earth, compassion for the oppressed, freedom of expression, and those who deny that contemplative and intellectual pursuits are sacred and worthy.
The pen is mightier than the sword, and so the oppressors silence those who speak and write first of all. We will not be silent; we will not stand by while science is silenced, ignorance is championed, and fear takes the place of compassion. For we are the warriors of Brigid, and her name has not survived this long only to be stomped into the ground by the armies of ignorance and greed. That’s just not going to happen. Not on her watch. For her flame is eternal, and we intend to brandish it, to let the light drive the darkness away.
Oimelc, Imbolc, Candlemas are celebrated from Jan. 31st to Feb. 2nd. Expect another blog tomorrow.
Brigidine Sisters. “Our Patroness,” http://brigidine.org.au/about-us/our-patroness.
“Imbolc Prayer, Magickal Ideas for Imbolc,” https://witchesofthecraft.com/category/the-sabbats/
“Oimelc, the Promise of Springtime,” http://caeraustralis.com.au/oimelc.htm.
On the Life of St. Brigit, http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T201010/