It's February and according to pagans, spring is upon us
Have we turned the corner of a cold winter?
- The ancient holiday of Imbolc celebrates the imminent return of the sun in spring.
- The holiday also commemorates either goddess Bhrigid or St. Brigid, who may or may not be the same person.
- Good weather on Imbolc means more winter to come.
Happy Imbolc! As it tends to be with pagan holidays, Celtic and Irish Imbolc is different things to different people and at different times. "Imbolc" is from the Celtic i mbolg, which means"in the belly," probably a reference to pregnant livestock at this time of year, mostly ewes, carrying their offspring to term in the spring. It was also called Oimelc, which means "milk of ewes."
Imbolc represents a hopeful moment as the seasons begin to turn from darkest winter to the promise of spring: new life — fertility — renewal, and the return of the warming sun. In 2019, appropriately enough, February 1 was the day that one of the most extreme periods of cold ever experienced in the U.S. finally broke.
As website Claddagh Designs puts it wryly: "The hardest part of the year was over; adverse weather, cold temperatures, food rationing, and of course, no warfare (an integral part of Celtic society) would soon be a thing of the past. Farmers were getting ready to go back to work, preparing animals for breeding, warriors were picking up their weapons again, and the political and social aspects of life that had been put on hold for winter were also beginning again."
Given the importance of agriculture and sunlight to ancient cultures, it's not a surprise that Imbolc dates back to Neolithic times, as evidenced by the way in which some monuments of that era — such as Mound of the Hostages at Tara in Ireland — contain passageways that align with sunrise on Imbolc and its autumnal cousin Samhain. The arrival of Christianity brought with it the association with St. Brigid, believed by some to have replaced the goddess Bhrigid. More on her/them later.
What happens on Imbolc
Photo credit: Tobias Vemmenby on Flickr
As with any good festival, Imbolc involves feasting, particularly of home-and-hearth edibles stored over the winter, such as breads, grains, onions, and potatoes.
In keeping with the (eventual) return of the sun, fire is a big part of Imbolc. Beyond spectacular public displays of fire, candles are lit all around celebrants' houses. In earlier times, hearths would burn through the Imbolc night, and if a house was made of non-flammable stone, multiple fires were lit.
People visit wells on Imbolc, particularly holy wells, circling them in the same direction of the sun and praying for a good year ahead. Afterward, coins and pieces of cloth called "clooties" may be left as offerings.
Leading up to the holiday, people make Brigid's crosses that can be hung up around their houses in celebration of Imbolc. Another popular item is the green brat Bhride, or Bhrigid's mantle. Its origin is an offer of property made to the young Bhrigid/Brigid for an abbey she wished to build. The king told her she could have as much property as she could cover with her cloak. Using magic, she increased the size of the cloak until it was so massive it covered all the land she needed.
Today, women fashion their own Bhrigid's mantles of green cloth for wrapping around their shoulders, and it's believed that leaving such a mantle on the hearth allows Bhrigid to visit and bless it on Imbolc each year, making the mantle more and more imbued with her magic with each passing Imbolc.
Creepier than a groundhog
A Cailleach bhéara. Image source: Rob Hurson on Flickr
As with modern Groundhog Day on February 1, the weather on Imbolc foretells the future: An Imbolc with nasty weather signifies a great summer on the way. This may seem backwards at first glance, but here's how it works.
It all has to do with the heating needs of the forest hag Cailleach, the goddess of winter. If winter is to go on for a while, Cailleach needs more firewood. She thus spends Imbolc searching the forests for it, and since she prefers to be out in the woods on a sunny and dry day, that's what the day provides. Bad weather, on the other hand, is good news: It means that Cailleach has no need for wood, what with spring just around the corner, and has decided to stay in and snooze a bit more.
Goddess Brighid and St. Brigid
A Brigid's cross. Image source: Bart Everson on Flickr
The true history of how Imbolc came to its connection to St. Brigit is a little unclear.
The commonly told version is that she was preceded by the daughter of the Dagda in Irish mythology. He was an early invader and one of the Tuatha de Danaan. His daughter's name, "Bhrigid," is from the Celtic brig, for "exalted one." She was actually one of a trio, all of whom were named Bhrigid, and who were understood to represent three aspects of a single goddess. Hence, Bhrigid was considered a triple goddess. Bhrigid was known for looking after healers, magicians, poets, and bards, and she was gifted at divination and prophecy. She also protected pregnant women and their infants; hence contemporary Bhrigid mantles are said to protect them as well.
A flame was secretly kept burning in Bhrigid's honor at the abbey she founded in Kildare, Ireland, and this flame — and the abbey — may have helped connect her to the later Christian St. Brigit. Lisa Lawrence suggests as much when she writes, in her Pagan Imagery in the Early Lives of Brigit, that,"When two religious systems interact, a shared symbol can provide a bridge from one religious idea to another. During a period of conversion, an archetypical symbol such as fire may acquire a new referent, while not being entirely emptied of a previous one. For example, the fire that clearly signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit in Saint Brigit may continue to signify pagan conceptions of religious power."
St. Brigid, on the other hand, was born in Faughart, County Louth in Ireland, and died sometime around 525. She was a devoted servant of the Church, and founder of religious communities in Ireland — likely the reason she was made a saint. she's also credited with founding the same Kildare abbey allegedly built by Bhrigid, one example of how the histories of these two women have become so interwoven that they're impossible to separate. Their identities have progressively merged since goddess Bhrigid's day became St. Brigid's day after the latter's death.
Adding more confusion to the story is the apparent case that the first written reference to the goddess Bhrigid appeared in the 10th century, long after St. Brigid had become the focus of Imbolc. Newgrange.com suggests, "So it could be argued that 5th century Saint Brigid predates the goddess Brigid." Or perhaps it's just a whisper of Outlander-style standing-stone time travel we can add to an already a magical story.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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