Today we present a programme of music for the Celtic Festival of Imbolc. One of the four cross-quarter days, Imbolc is mid-way between the Winter Solstice — Yule — and the Spring Equinox, Ostara.
Musically, today’s programme has a Celtic and Lunar bias, but represents quite a mix of genres. Included in the programme today is Rutland Boughton’s The Immortal Hour, a faery opera first performed in Glastonbury in 1914 and based on the work of Fiona McLeod (William Sharp). It depicts the Faery people as immortal demigods who are feared by mortals and who can (and do) interfere with the lives of men and women. The progression of Etain into the mortal realm and her pursuit and redemption by Midir have similarities with the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Imbolc, or Brigit’s Day is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 31 January–1 February, or halfway between the winter solstice and the Spring equinox. It’s one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. It was observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Kindred festivals were held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands; for example the Welsh Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau.
Imbolc was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigit (Brighid) and it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brighid, who herself is thought to be a Christianization of the goddess.
Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.
Information and image of Imbolc celebrations in Marsden, W Yorkshire, from Wikipedia.
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