Cylch Blodeuwedd

Druidic Grove in North-West Wales

Brighid’s Cross

by Aethnen - January 18th, 2009.
Filed under: Crafts. Tagged as: , , , , .

ABOUT BRIGHID’S CROSS

The story behind Brighid’s Cross comes from a Christian tale of how Saint Brigit converted a raving pagan king on his death bed by weaving together rushes into a cross, in order to explain to him the cross of Christ and also, bring him peace. Although this tale has an overtly Christian message, there are a few things that can be pointed out, which perhaps show what Brighid’s Cross was, before the Celtic Christians used it to represent Christ’s Cross.

Order and Balance: In the story, it is the weaving of the rushes together that brings peace and order. The raving madman becomes calm and content. The dying man is able to die with dignity. This may show that Brighid’s Cross represented an inherant order, the order of the natural cycles and the cycles within the soul–and more importantly, a willingness to accept that natural motion of all living things, inescapable as it is.

As it is a cross, it has 4 arms of course, and let us not forget that the number 4 is well-known as meaning natural order, like the Four Corners of the earth, which we still salute and honour in any of our rituals, and also the Four Winds or Irish Airts which go out into the world, bringing change and continuity to all that is, was and shall be.

The cross also looks uncannily like a sun with four outstretched rays, especially once the green of the rushes changes into a light goldeny yellow. I must point out then that it is the sun that brings the Four Seasons and that it is around the sun that we base most of our “natural cycles”, especially and obviously in agriculture.

It is the sun that keeps the darkness at bay and in balance. In the same manner, Imbolc is the threshold from winter into spring.

Life out of the Impossible: Before people had carpets or central heating, floors got very cold and dirty. Rushes were a means to combat the cold and to keep the floor relatively clean, simply by replacing the rushes with use. In this way, rushes themselves can represent warmth (the goddess Brighid’s aspect of fire), cleanliness (Brighid’s aspect of healing), and inspiration (Brighid’s aspect of muse). I include inspiration for there are not many sounds more inspiring (or rather, responsive to the wind, therefore, full of the “inspired”ness that comes with the wind) than when a breeze speaks through the rushes’ voices.

By weaving rushes together, it is a creative act celebrating these aspects of Brighid and Imbolc. Rushes can grow in bogland with no problem, a lesson we all could learn. Just like the rushes springing up green and straight from what we would consider waste-land, so Spring rises from the cailleach-claws of Winter, touched by the wind who sings in the rushes’ rustle and first brought to brilliant green by a still-growing sun.

The green of the rushes also echos with the green cloak of Brighid, which she was said to open on Imbolc, releasing forth all the sweet and growing things of Spring onto the earth.

Purification and Protection: traditionally, the crosses were hung on or over doors (or other “threshold” points in the house) as a way of protecting the home. I had wondered in the past if this tradition arose from the Christian tradition of the cross protecting from evil, but I still feel this usage goes back beyond Christian times.

Although Imbolc is about cleansing and purifying (fire of the hearth and water from the sacred well, used for healing and making “holy”), it is also about fertility (lambing season, start of Spring), so it is no wonder that in some parts of the Celtic Isles, apparently Brighid’s Crosses were given to newly married couples as a sign of prosperity, freshness and the creative zest for life! All things needed for anyone starting on the adventure of marriage.

Although the sign itself is inherently sacred, I believe that the actual act of weaving it yourself cannot be ignored, for it is this “creating” on your part that makes it sacred in the first place. So, when you start weaving your Brighid’s Cross, think about what you are doing, what is means to you personally, and most of all, how you can bring Imbolc’s particular qualities into your life.

Other than that–I hope you enjoy this! It can be very satisfying.

HOW TO MAKE A BRIGHID’S CROSS

***TIPS–Always use fresh or nearly fresh green rushes; If you have a lot of thin rushes, double up, using two each time instead of just one–this also makes the shape stronger and more defined; Have your thread or whatever you are tying off with ready before you start; Don’t make it too big or else weaving could get awkward and just plain difficult!; and lastly, always work in sequence! ***

1. Get a handful of rushes (preferably) or straw, fairly long. Try to pick only green ones which are pliable. Dried out ones will obviously break when you start to bend and weave them.

2. Take two strong/thicker ones for your base and form a + cross at the centre, with them.

3. Then fold one back on itself. This folded one we will call the 2nd. As the 2nd is folded over the 1st, it should look like a T shape, the up-and-down line of the T being the folded rush.

4. Take a 3rd one and carefully fold it over the 2nd one (remember, this is the one you just folded) in parallel with the single strand (which is the top of the T). Now you should have 3 arms: one with one strand, next one in sequence with two and the last/third with 3.

You know you have done this correctly when the strands are in sequence: 1 strand, 2 strands, 3 strands.

5. Now fold a 4th rush around the 3rd one, which will re-form the cross. This will be your new base around which you will weave the cross’ centre.

6. Fold a 5th rush around the 4th so that it is parallel to the single strand. Now the single strand should be 3 strands.

7. In this manner, continue folding the rushes sequentially around the previous one until you are satisfied with the size of the central square. To finish, tie off the ends with string, ribbon or wool. You can also tie around the actual centre, to ensure the piece stays together, even after it has dried.

8. Trim the ends of the arms so that it is neat.

9. As the freshly cut rushes dry, the cross will shrink and loosen. Therefore, ocassionaly retie or tighten the knots to keep it well together.

HOW TO MAKE A BRIGHID’S TRISKELLE

Perhaps before “Brighid’s Cross” but an easy alternative to the slightly more complicated cross. The triskelle could represent the goddess Brighid’s three-fold nature, or any other number of “triad” like connections found all over Celtic tradition.

1. Do this exactly like doing a Brighid’s Cross except that you are working with 3 arms, not 4. Begin by gathering fesh rushes as usual.

2. Take two strong/thicker ones for your base and form a cross at the centre with them.

3. Then fold one back on itself to form a T.

4. Now here is where the triskelle differs. Instead of adding a third one, fold the single (first) strand too, so that now you have both folded over one another.

5. Then add and fold a 3rd strand over the middle of the 2 folded ones. This gives you 3 arms with 2 “stands” each.

6. Now add and fold a 4th strand over the 3rd, making it parallel with one of the other arms (I find it most natural working anti-clockwise–you may not).

7. Keep adding strands until like usual, you get a large enough middle and space enough for the arms. Be warned that at first it may not look like anything but after a couple rounds of adding, the shape will begin to emerge.

8. Tie off as you desire.

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