Bridey’s Worm

Driving up to Cheshire last week we knew the moles had woken up, molehills everywhere, yards and yards and yards of them, in every field and even along the grass at the edges of the road. Well, it is that time of year! Moles wake up soon after the light begins to grow, after sun-return. Even more importantly, worms wake up too and, as moles eat worms, the two naturally go together. The molehills are signs of the worm-larders the moles build.

And it is that time of year, in fact it’s just about Imbolc. This is Bridey’s feast, the goddess Brigid – she, the goddess, was Christianized as “Saint” Brigid. At Imbolc, we make Bridey crosses and a doll-figure of her, called a Brídeóg, which we parade from house-to-house so she can visit everyone’s home. She’s greeted with a bed and folk leave her food and drink, and clothing is left outside the house for her to bless as she’s a protector of homes and livestock; her tylwyth (what you might know better as “totem”) is the white cow. Holy wells visited and dressed, and it is a time for divination, for asking what the future holds as well as what the Earth needs from us at this time.

Nowadays, many people celebrate on 1 February, but in older times our day began and ended at sunset – as the sun passed down into the dark – so celebrations begin on Imbolc Eve, the 31 January. Timing might likely be more fluid too, based around the actual seasonal changes as well as the astronomical ones, and far less concerned with man-made-calendar dates. Imbolc is linked with the onset of lambing which, in the days when we still followed the seasons, might vary by as much as two weeks either side of 1 February. It’s also linked to the blooming of the blackthorn, Ceridwen’s tree, which signifies her transformation from crone back to maiden, the cycles of the year, and it’s also when Ceridwen gathers her firewood for the remains of the winter. If she chooses that the winter shall last a good while longer then she makes sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. But if Imbolc is a day of foul weather it means the she is asleep, not gathering firewood, so the winter is almost over. On the Isle of Man, where my granny came from, Ceridwen is known as the Caillagh ny Groamagh, who takes the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak. This always reminds me of the ravens who are doing their courtship in January; the male will bring new twigs to refurbish their nest (they mate for life) to show the female he still loves her and is a good provider.

One of the Imbolc stories I love is of Bridey’s Worm. It was, indeed still is, a sign of how the weather will be for the spring. We watch to see if serpents (or badgers) come out of their winter resting places; this may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day, and for the same reasons as us. This Scottish Gaelic poem gives the idea …

Thig an nathair as an toll

Là donn Brìde,

Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd

Air leac an làir.

The serpent will come from the hole

On the brown Day of Bríde,

Though there should be three feet of snow

On the flat surface of the ground.

So what might this serpent be? Post-Norman literature tends to try to make us think of dragons but our ancestors were very practical folk, and very connected to the Earth and her rhythms – which brings us back to the Gentleman in Black Velvet, Mr Mole. Worms are a form of “serpent”, tiny serpents unless you happen to live on the planet Dune! That trip up to Cheshire told us very firmly that the worms were out and about again, and that the moles know it. Look at that poem, “the serpent will come from the hole on the brown Day of Bride”, and brown says “soil/earth” to me, especially looking at the molehills. It’s worth noting that a major component of a badger’s diet is earthworms so they, too, will be watching for them, sensing for them. The badgers will wake and come out of their setts when there is food for them, to maintain their energy, once the worms are hatched and moving again. And the worms won’t come until the soil is warm enough and there is sufficient light-energy from the sun.

When the ground gets really cold, and when it freezes, some worms (depending on their species) lay eggs and then die as the ground becomes too cold for them. Others burrow very deep, some as much as six feet under, and survive there through the cold spell. Either way, as the soil begins to warm, as the sun shines for longer each day after sun-return, the worms know when it’s warm enough either for the eggs to hatch or for them to burrow back up to the surface. And when they hatch or re-emerge they “come from the hole”, and the moles know it too, hence the molehills which are worm-larders.

So many of our old traditions show us how to live successfully with our Mother Earth and they are so worthwhile knowing. Yes, it’s good to celebrate the Mother in all her forms of which Bridey is one, but our old ways here in Britain are “and/and” – we don’t do this or that, we do this and that! So, we celebrate Bridey with our gifts and food and beds and, at the same time, we celebrate her by being very observant, by watching for the molehills, watching to see how the soil is warming up and how the worms are working. That helps us know when to plough and sow to get a good harvest.

As followers of the old ways, we don’t try to “manage” nature, or force her into working how we want her to with crazy chemicals and horrible deep ploughing which wrecks all the “threads”, the mycorrhiza who carry food and information between the plants. No, we watch the land around us, we watch the stars above us, we watch how the moon turns and we “work with”, we do not try to control.

So go watch the molehills, learn from them … much more fun than your X-box !!!

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