Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brigid, the Hearth Fire, and the Furnace

This time of year, it starts to get cold here on the prairie.  For a few weeks, we can get away with turning on the individual heaters in our bedrooms at night, but the time comes when the thermostat must be switched from 'cool' to 'heat', and the furnace is lighted and used for the first time that year.  I don't know much about mechanics and I don't know how my current furnace works - I switch the switch and a few minutes later the heat comes on, though it smells a bit funny that first time.  But as a child, our furnace had a pilot light, and if it ever went out (which it did often), it got cold.  We'd wake up two or three times a month during the winter season to find that the pilot light had gone out overnight and it was now under 50 degrees in the house.  A few times it got below freezing, and once we had the pipes in our basement all freeze up - my father the handyman wasn't very happy when we finally got the heat back on and water started spraying everywhere!

This experience in my youth has given me an appreciation for the harshness of winter, and our utter helplessness when faced with the loss of our warmth.  The furnace (or fireplace if you're lucky enough to have a working one) is the most essential part of a house in the winter-time.  It keeps the home cozy, keeps water flowing freely, and protects us from the dangerous elements outside.

In Pagan times, the hearth fire was often seen as a personified Goddess, the most sacred part of any home.  There are many Goddesses in the Indo-European group of pantheons who combined the sacred flame with the domestic business of the house, among them Hestia, Brigid, and Vesta.  I honor Brigid as my hearth goddess, most often at Imbolc when I am clearing things out and doing some spring cleaning.  But it occurred to me as I turned on the furnace for the first time this weekend that She deserves special recognition as the bringer of warmth as well.

And so began a new family tradition.  As the weather turns cold and we retreat into our houses more and more, as we light our first fires and turn on our heaters, now we recognize the Goddess who blesses us with this heat, and all the feelings of warm, cozy family and filling meals that go along with it.  In the cold, dark winters, all of these things go hand in hand; just as Brigid is both domestic and fiery.

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