Danu’s Irish Herb Garden – Spring Intentions and Brigid’s Day

Spring is almost here – only a week until Brigid’s Day Eve which is a great opportunity to check in with the intentions made at the new year.  It is also a good time to make some Spring intentions now that energy is rising as the Earth slowly wakes up and begins to stretch.  I made several intentions, or promises to myself, and as I begin to feel re-energised as Spring approaches, I find myself examining the intentions and adding more energy to them.  One philosophy I read somewhere about intentions or resolutions, is that you should let someone know what they are so that you cannot then lapse or give in and lose face.  So here goes, here are my intentions.

My second book about herbs – The Weed Handbook Vol 2 – has been started and is underway and I intend for it to be available to buy by Spring Equinox.  You can pre-order a copy if you would like.  I am also, almost ready to make available digital Herbal Workshops for those people who live a long way off and would like to attend my workshops but cannot.  My HERb shed should be ready for use by mid summer; and, as the work there continues, I am continuing to beautify the garden with more herbs, flowers and trees.

As Brigid’s Day approaches, I am planning a little ceremony or ritual, dedicating all the work and my intentions to her.  After all, she is a goddess of creativity! I always celebrate Brigid’s Day, following tradition, (the little we know) as well as creating some of my own rituals.

I follow the traditions of making Brigid’s crosses for protection of the home, outbuildings and for the car; a little Brídeog – a small doll made from rushes to represent Brigid – and I make a libation or offering of milk and honey,  and oat cakes, foods that would be associated with Brigid.  I also leave outside a scarf or piece of fabric so that when Brigid passes by, she can bless the fabric with her healing powers.

As the Earth is waking, green herbs are appearing that are tonic and cleansing.  Nettles, Cleavers, Chickweed and of course Dandelion, among others.  I make a small feast of these fresh cleansing herbs and I make a vegetable stew with barley – the traditional grain of old Ireland.  Following these traditions I have created something and crafted something and used fire to achieve my Imbolc feast.

There is very little source material available regarding the Goddess Brigid yet there is sufficient information passed down as myth to know something about her.  If things have been added over the centuries, I think that demonstrates both her popularity and that she is a “living” archetype.  She is regarded as a Triple Goddess of Fire, looking after the hearth flame, the flame of the forge and the flame of poetic inspiration.   She most DEFINITELY was NEVER a blacksmith!!! (One modern day writer has gone to great lengths to work out if Brigid ever worked as a blacksmith!)  Her relationship to the forge was purely metaphorical.  In ancient times, the people who were able to transform molten metals into things of beauty or of great use and value were thought to be working magic with fire and as a goddess of fire, Brigid is patroness of the forge.

Her remit is quite large.  She looks after hearth and home and consequently offers healing and protection; she provides the passion and inspiration needed for creative work and crafting and is also associated with midwifery and fertility.  It is no surprise then that  Brigid is associated with Imbolc which is placed on the Wheel of the Year between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and is one of the eight fire festivals. 

There is some dispute as to what Imbolc actually means; some scholars believe it means i mbolc meaning “in the belly” which could be referring either to the sheep who are about to lamb, thus providing the people with milk; or it could  be referring to Mother Earth’s belly as this is the time when spring crops were sown and when other young were expected.  An alternative suggestion is that imbolc comes from the Irish iomfholc which can be roughly translated to mean a great washing or bathing, that is, a very specific bathing such as for purification for example.  An old Irish manuscript refers to a poem or verse that seems to bear this out,

“…..this is what is proper at Imbolc, washing the hands, the feet, the head”

and of course, springtime is a time of spring cleaning, both internally and in the house.  In ancient times it is quite possible that people did not have the opportunity to bathe during winter or open up their homes to fresh air. By this time, Imbolc, the beginning of Spring, they would be desperate for some fresh, cleansing greens for themselves and be glad of the opportunity to clean their bodies and their homes.

 

The Goddess Brigid is said to have brought magical bees from the Other World to bring sweetness into our world.  Perhaps that is why she has always been associated with Dandelion – one of the first spring flowers that provide the bees with nectar.  The Sacred Oak is another plant associated with her so planting oak saplings would be an appropriate thing to do at Imbolc at the end of winter.

Although Brigid is a goddess of fire, she is also linked to the holy wells of Ireland and there are several holy wells dedicated to Brigid.  It always feels nice to visit one of the wells and ritually wash my hands in the water for purification and to remove any litter or rubbish lying around.  As fire is also associated with purification, I like to light a white candle, sit with it and mediate on the “rubbish” I could release and cleanse away.

How do you celebrate Brigid’s Day  or Imbolc?  Leave a comment below to let me know.

An Bhean Feasa – The Power of the Elements

We have all heard of the four Elements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Generally we give little thought to them, tending to take them for granted, even though they are part of our bodies and part of life itself.  Medieval herbalists were aware of the impact of the elements on herbs and prescribed accordingly. Each herb or plant is governed or ruled by one of the Elements and as each person is a combination of all the Elements, it is necessary to know something about them. Furthermore, to bring healing to a person it was necessary to bring that person back into balance, thus ensuring that Earth, Air, Fire and Water were balanced within the person.

Take water for example.

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We just turn on the tap and there it is – no effort involved at all.  How lucky are we to be able to do that and get clean water so easily?  The average person, depending on climate, environment and personal health can only survive three to five days, (a week at most) without water and yet we never really think about it, unless we are giving out about the rain. Of course water, being an element, is also wild and unrestrained,

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You can just see the white horses or foam on the waves as they are coming in to shore, blown by strong wind.

The Water Element rules our Emotional Body, our feelings, which can be calm and placid or wild and surging.  On the physical level it corresponds to our kidneys, urinary system, lymph system, mucous membranes, sinus, lungs and reproductive system. For example we may suffer with frequent urination or with congested lungs which might indicate we have an excess of the Water Element.  Alternatively, we might have dry sinuses, dry skin or poor lymph flow which might suggest we have too little of the Water Element.  Various plants can be used to reduce or increase the effects of the Element of Water, plants such as Marshmallow, Calendula, Mugwort and Cleavers.

 

IMG_1911    Calendula

 

When it comes to the Element of Air, I personally find it difficult to deal with the strong winds we get here, living on the coast in Connemara.  My husband captured this frustration perfectly in this picture.

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This element tires me out and makes working outside difficult. Look what it can do to the little Hawthorn tree; blown sideways – maybe there’s a metaphorical message there!

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Yet the Element of Air supplies us with the air we need to breathe, flooding our cells with oxygen.  Without air we would be dead within a couple of minutes. Perhaps because breathing is carried out by the autonomous nervous system – we don’t have to think to do it – and because we don’t see air, we don’t think about it.

The Element of Air corresponds to mental inspiration and is associated with the Mental Body, our thoughts and ideas and as such can affect the brain, the nervous system and the adrenal glands; and physically the large intestine and the joints.  An excess of the Air Element can cause stress and anxiety, insomnia, asthma, mental illness and a deficiency can lead to adrenal fatigue, weakness, lack of motivation and even depression.  Plants that can help to address an imbalance are Borage, Skullcap, Chamomile and Valerian.

Chamaemelum_nobile_001IMG_1907Chamomile and Borage

 

 Earth is the element which represents security, grounding and nourishment

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We need good nourishment for the building of the Physical or Material Body.  The physical structures of the body and some of the organs.  For example, bones, teeth, spine, connective tissue and liver, spleen, skin and intestines. An excess of the Earth element could lead to diabetes, constipation. calcification, tumours, growths and depression.  Too little could result in leaky gut, lethargy, low blood pressure or fluid loss.  Plants associated with the Earth Element are Nettles, Dandelion, Plantain and Yarrow.

IMG_1762 Nettles and Dandelion IMG_1657

 

 

 

 

And what about Fire?  How can we possibly be made up of fire?  Herbalists such as Matthew Wood and others would argue that fire is the plasma in our bodies.  We are also used to metaphorical statements such as “fire in your belly”, “the fire within” which relate to our resolve or our energy.

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The Element of Fire relates to our Spiritual Body and how we motivate ourselves.  On a physical level it governs our cardio vascular system, the heart and the blood, as well as the eyes, (gateway to the soul?), the immune system and the gall bladder.  An excess of fire could cause a person to be angry, self-centred and perhaps bullying and physically would manifest as fevers, inflammatory issues, high blood pressure, auto-immune disease and rashes.  Too little of the Fire Element and a person could be easily led, weak willed, have low self-esteem and physically have low energy, anaemia, adrenal fatigue, low libido and parasites as well as a feeling of being old and past it.

Any flowering plant can assist with an imbalance with this element.  Imagine how good a beautiful show of flowers can make you feel energised and uplifted.  Some plant specifics could be Hawthorn, Ginger, Garlic, Motherwort and Angelica.

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Hawthorn

Of course, there are many other plants that work to balance each element in the body just as there other manifestations of imbalance.  I find it fascinating to make all the little connections between illness and the elements.

Just out of interest there is also a fifth element – Ether or Aether.  To the ancient Greeks, Ether was the container of the four earthly elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water; a Quintessence. To the Celtic Druids, the fifth element was the spirit or soul of all living things.  It is suggested that the fifth element is the first element because all the others come from Ether and that it is above and beyond the four.  Alchemists have  theorised that the pure refinement of the other elements leads to Quintessence or absolute purity.  The fifth element has also been described as “the possible” and as Love, from which all else comes. It all makes sense to me.

In respect of our health, the Fifth Element is associated with our hearts, our sixth sense and our physical senses and our brain.  An excess could be exemplified by too much day dreaming, being “out of it”, being nervous, disassociated and with a lack of presence.  Perhaps the field or aura has been too open and unprotected and cannot facilitate the ethereal information that is coming through.

Rigid thinking and feeling could be seen as a deficiency of Ether as could a lack of connectedness and a lack of meaning in life.  Fortunately our Green Relations, the plants are there to help.  Sage, Cedar, Sacred Basil, (Tulsi) and entheogens or psycho active plants can help to balance this element within the body and psyche.

There is so much more to this than I can explain.  The Four Elements for example were also considered in relation to the Four Humours and the Four Temperaments when herbalists were treating patients in the past.  Modern day herbalists do not learn these methods today although Chinese medicine does recognise the elements.

In my own personal spirituality, I like to seek the Sacred within the mundane and so I try to remember to acknowledge the elements as I go through my day.  Giving thanks with the candle on the table – with a flame. Appreciating the warmth and heat from the fire in the range.

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Loving the Earth for providing the means to food and for the beauty of all plants.

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I also give thanks for the breath when I do a bit of meditation and bless the water of my shower or bath.

Let me know how you find the elements manifesting in your health or personality or how you acknowledge them.