The mid-point between winter solstice and spring equinox did not go unnoticed in Fernwood. On Monday evening, February 2, 2004 a stalwart group of neighbours gathered at Spring Ridge Commons (the native plant garden at Chambers and Gladstone) to mark the day — otherwise known as Groundhog Day. The rain had stopped, but there was a cold, north wind. Children and adults, wrapped in scarves and toques, gathered around lanterns to celebrate the feast day of Saint Brigid.
Brigid, a legendary fire goddess from pre-historic Europe is traditionally known as the inventor of the alphabet, herbal healing, blacksmithing and the protector of wells. In days of old, while still feeling the cold of winter, people prayed to Brigid and rejoiced at the first hint of spring, the lengthening days, the arrival of birds, the emergence of buds, and the fattening of wild and domestic animals.
As winter snow kept people isolated, this celebration was an important way to gather and rekindle the ties that farmers required in order to survive, such as sharing seeds and tips for the coming year, and making predictions of the weather, which were based on observations of animal behavior.
On that cold night at Spring Ridge Commons, we enacted the story of Brigid’s life: When approached by peasants knocking at her father’s door, she would take pity on them and give them articles from the house. Her father, growing tired of his daughter giving away his riches, decided to marry her off. As they were walking to the town where she was to be married, with her dowry of three horses in tow, they stopped at a tavern so that her father could wet his whistle. While he was occupied, she was approached by villagers, and ran off into the hills with them – on the horses. Our skit was enacted by a few brave souls, including three neighbourhood children, Naomi, Fern and Cedar, who even dressed up in horse costumes for their part.
Just being in the night air surrounded by the garden, our faces lit by lanterns, calling out words of wisdom in unison, gave me a hint of the way it could have been, in a society rooted in ceremony, where people knew the words and songs by heart, and felt a profound sense of belonging in their communities.
Waiting in the wings was old-timer Ron Welch, who told us that an aquifer runs right through the middle of Spring Ridge Commons and that Fort Victoria’s first water source was this very spring.
Afterwards, we walked over to the Fernwood Community Centre, where we were served soup, rice pudding, cookies and tea by Food Not Bombs. Gardeners gathered around and exchanged seeds saved from last season’s crops.
Esther Muirhead, of Mimilsa Consultants, produced the event. “I was glad to see a good turn-out and from now on, we’ll mark each solstice and equinox and each cross-quarter day. I believe that community can be strengthened by using story and ritual to name our values and hopes and that’s why I’m creating these events.”
The next celebration was slated for Spring Equinox, Sunday March 21st, 2004 at Spring Ridge Commons at 6:30 p.m. and Esther was the contact person for this event.
Source: The Fernwood News, Winter 2003-2004 Edition, published on February 2004, p. 2