Hunger of Winter, Quickening of Spring

Snow may be thick but spring is quickening. Can you feel the difference? Can you see it? Buds on branches, a few blooming Dandelions, the lengthening days … and, yes, on our island, the presence of lambs in fields. One possible translation of “Imbolc” — the name for the Celtic festival that falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox — is ‘ewe’s milk’ (oi-melc), in reference to the pregnancy of ewes, and the imminence of milk, new life, renewal, and rich abundance returning to the land.

While the Feast Day of St. Brigid and festival of Imbolc may be past, the quickening of heart that comes with the sense of the end of winter and the promise of spring remains. We made some videos in honor of this time of year, when both the hunger of winter and the awakening of spring are side-by-side. We hope you enjoy these videos.

In celebration of St. Brigid and Imbolc, we decided to honor Brigid’s connection with milk. Here, while we churn cream into butter, Erin recites the “Charm of the Churn,” an incantation gathered by Alexander Carmichael during the 19th century in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

A phenomenon and folklore exists in Ireland of the Hungry Grass. This grass grows at the place where someone dropped dead of starvation. One who steps upon such grass will be overcome with excruciating pain and hunger, and will drop dead themselves, unless they have bread with them to feed themselves, and perhaps to feed the land too.

We created this video to acknowledge the terrible tragedy of the Great Famine (also known as the Irish Potato Famine, the Great Hunger, and the Great Starvation) which took place in Ireland from 1845-1852. Jane’s great-great grandmother was born at the tail end of the Famine, and her ancestors left Ireland not long after. This video imagines Jane’s thrice-great grandmother Margaret encountering the Hungry Grass. Erin is Grandmother Margaret. Harp music is composed and played by Jane.

What does the Hungry Grass have to do with Brigit? As we were churning the butter and celebrating the awakening of spring, and Brigid’s connection with nourishment, we learned about the Hungry Grass. It suddenly felt appalling that the children of the land might die of hunger — absolutely counter to what the land — and Brigit — intend for the people. To us, it seems that this pain and the trauma of this kind of death is held and expressed in the Hungry Grass.

Beannachtaí Bhríde (Brigid’s Blessings),
Jane and Erin