I should have posted this yesterday, but I didn’t get round to it. In fact, I’m rather late today, too.
If you’ve been waiting for the post about Muldee, I promise that will be posted next Tuesday.
- The easiest possible origin to find is that it dates to possibly three saints, all called Valentine, although two of them might have been the same person.
- One of the Valentines is said to have defied the edict by Emperor that soldiers may not marry, and secretly married men in the army to their girlfriends, thus linking the saint to romance.
- The second (who may also be the third) was a bishop, Valentine of Terni.
- The other (who might have been the same person) was martyred in 270 by Claudius II Gothicus. He was in prison and befriended the jailor’s daughter, possibly healing her blindness. He wrote a letter to her, signing it ‘From your Valentine.’
- One pagan festival in the Roman era was a fertility festival. It was called Lupercalia and took place in mid-February. Dogs and male goats were sacrificed. Men then took strips of the animals’ skin and slapped women they passed in the street. This was supposed to increase the fertility of the women slapped. Thus it is thought it could be an origin of Valentine’s Day.
- February was the Celtic festival of Imbolc. It marked the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was the time for the new lambs to be born.
- Here is an extract from Vengeance of a Slave describing the festival of Imbolc.
- Those of you who are from the US might see a resemblance to Groundhog Day.
Soon it was Imbolc, the time when the young lambs began to be born. The villagers had much preparation to do, for they invited the goddess, Brigid, into their homes to bless them, and they prepared special food for this day. Awena, was delighted when the villagers chose her to help carry the image of Brigid around the village.
She helped to clean the house with enthusiasm, sweeping out all the old rushes and piling them up outside ready to be lit into a bonfire. Ailbert laughed at her enthusiasm saying he had never thought of her as a domestic type.
She stuck her tongue out at him in response. “It’s important everything is ready for Brigid.”
“What about the gods we worshipped in Londinium? Have you forgotten them? Jupiter, Juno, Venus and the rest?”
“They’re gods for the Romans.” She shook her head. “They’ve no use for the Britons. Only if we become Roman Citizens will they care for us, and that’s not going to happen. We’re now Britons and we must worship the gods that care for the Britons.”
She carried on sweeping while Ailbert continued walking towards the sheep pens to see if any lambs yet been born.
He met Madoc on the way and the boy told him in excited tones that one of the ewes had gone into labour and the lamb, or hopefully lambs would arrive very shortly. Ailbert quickened his steps towards the pens in the hope of seeing the actual birth. Being a house slave in Londinium he had never been present at the birth of any of the animals owned by the dominus and domina.
They arrived in time to see the ewe pushing out what turned out to be the first of two lambs. Ailbert frowned. He had not expected blood. The little lamb lay on the ground, wet, and the mother turned to look at him, for it was a male lamb. Ailbert watched as she began to lick him clean. The second lamb was born soon afterwards and she repeated the process. The lambs staggered to their feet and immediately began suckling.
Ailbert smiled. He had witnessed a wonderful thing. New life being brought into the world and he ran off to tell Awena and Gwen the first lambs had been born and Imbolc was due to start.
At sunset that evening, the unwed girls carried the image of Brigid around the village. The villagers had made a crude image of reeds and the girls visited each house in turn, walked three times round it and then asked for admittance for Brigid. Each house opened the door and let the image and girls in. They gave them food and each householder added a decoration to the reed image.
For some weeks before, the women and girls had been busy making Brigid crosses out of reeds, and one hung over the door of each house.
As it was winter still, it soon got dark. Each household put out newly made clothes, and food and drink for the goddess. They also made a bed for her in the house, just in case she decided to visit.
They ate and drank the foods made for this special day, a kind of porridge made from the starch left in the husks of the oats, soaked and left to ferment. It tasted sour to Ailbert and Awena but they ate their share as it would have been discourteous to do otherwise.
The next morning, Gwen looked carefully at the ashes that she had raked smooth the evening before, to see any disturbances that might indicate that Brigid had visited in the night, but they were as smooth as they had been when they all went to bed.
Gwen led the way outside to be met with a frost on the ground and an overcast sky. “Ah! That’s good. A cold, miserable day means that the Cailleach is still asleep and not gathering wood for fires to keep her warm through the next cold spell.” She turned to the young people who frowned and looked at each other. Ailbert shrugged his shoulders.
“Cailliach is winter personified. If today is bright and sunny, then she can come out and look for firewood and so keep herself warm for longer. If it’s cold and miserable, or rainy and stormy, then she’s asleep and will soon run out of firewood, so Brigid can bring the spring sooner.”
They, along with the rest of the village, made their way to the well. Here they walked round it in the direction of the sun and prayed to Brigid to bring health and prosperity. They gave offerings of strips of cloth and a few coins to the goddess.
Singing and dancing followed, as well as eating and drinking, and the day passed quickly, darkness coming early at this season, half-way between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Tired and happy with the prospect of a good season to come, the villagers retired to their beds.
Thank you for reading. If you want to find out more about Ailbert, you can go to the online store of your choice by clicking the link above, or the book cover in the side bar.
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