We regularly change our main window display so that it is in sympathy with the Wheel of the Year. The main part of the window display is a fantastic stag's head which was created by Marti Dean. Every season, we change what is hung from the antlers and what objects are in display in the window. This informs visitors about the ritual year and provides regular visitors with something new to see every few months.
The following information is taken from the current window display:
Stag’s Head by Artist Marti Dean
Of the animals connected with witchcraft and magic, the stag is closely associated with the Horned God of Witchcraft. With roots set in the pagan histories and traditions of Europe, the symbolism of the stag has been represented in a variety of ways, from the Neolithic painting of the antlered 'Sorcerer' within the cave Trois-Frères in France, to the Gundestrup Cauldron, a piece of Iron Age silverwork depicting the Celtic antlered god Cernunnos.
For some modern witches, the stag–god Cernunnos is recognised as the horned god of nature and magic, and thus is celebrated in the rituals, art, and magic of modern witchcraft. This anthropomorphic sculpture of a green stag with branch-like antlers symbolises the magic of the regenerative force in nature. The objects hung on the antlers will be changed throughout the coming year.
For Imbolc, the stag’s antlers have been decorated with Bride’s Crosses (made by Gillian Nott).
The Wheel of the Year
The Ancient Festivals
The year can be divided into eight major festivals which mark the passage of the Sun through the year and relate directly to the agricultural cycle. This is significant to many people (including witches) The current festival is:
Imbolc or Candlemas
1st or 2nd February
Imbolc marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. From now on the days get noticeably longer and seeds that have been dormant all winter start to stir.
Sacred to the ancient Goddess Bride, Bridhe or Bridget. A time to visit one of the many Holy wells so loved by Bride the healer. In Ireland it is the feast of St Brigid (the Christianised Pagan Goddess).
The Winter is passed, the return of the Sun King is evident. Celebrate by lighting candles.
The Christian Church has adopted this festival as the feast of the Purification of the Virgin.
This is the time of year to hang a ‘Brides Cross’, in your house as protection.
Objects in the Window Display
The stag’s antlers are decorated with various Bride’s Crosses which were made for the Museum by Gillian Nott. These were traditionally made on Saint Bridgit’s Eve (January 31st) and were hung in honour of Bridgit and to gain her protection.
There is also a Bridgit’s Girdle on the antlers (it is the large woven hoop as illustrated above from the National Museum, Dublin). The illustration was taken from “The Year in Ireland” by Kevin Danaher (1972) and the following information has been adapted from the same work.
The crios bride or Briget’s Girdle is a straw rope, eight to ten feet long, with a number of crosses plaited in straw attached to it.
A party of young people would go from house to house. At each house visited, the occupants were expected to pass through the crios, thus obtaining the protection of Bridget and freedom from illness (especially pains in the bones) for the coming year.
Peter, Judith and Tom demonstrate the correct use of the crios bride in the photos below.
For men: right leg first, then right arm and shoulder, next head, then left shoulder and arm then left leg.
For women: put it down over the head, shoulders and body and then step out of it.
For animals: there are examples of the crios bride being used for animals. They were passed through it (or under it if they were too large).
And here it is in the window display...
Snowdrops and candles
Bridgit is associated with many things especially those that are white: milk, lambs, white candles and snowdrops. There are several Irish songs which make mention of “Bridget, dressed in white.” Snowdrops and candles symbolise the returning of light and spring so we have placed these around the base of the stag in the window display. It is a custom to light all the lights in your house at this time to welcome back the light.
Goddess candle holder
This Goddess candle holder [Museum object number 212] brings together two of the main themes of Imbolc: the Goddess and light. While February 1st is now known as St Bridgit’s Day and Bridgit is recognised as a Saint by the Christian Church, many of the ways in which people celebrate this day are distinctintly Pagan and hark back to a more ancient form of Goddess worship when Saint Bridgit was the Goddess Bride.
We have also put copies of these two poems in the display.
By Seamus Heaney
On St. Brigid's Day the new life could be entered
By going through her girdle of straw rope
The proper way for men was right leg first
Then right arm and right shoulder, head, then left
Shoulder, arm and leg.
Women drew it down
Over the body and stepped out of it
The open they came into by these moves
Stood opener, hoops came off the world
They could feel the February air
Still soft above their heads and imagine
The limp rope fray and flare like wind-born gleanings
Or an unhindered goldfinch over ploughland.
A Brigid's Girdle (from The Spirit Level)
By Seamus Heaney
Last time I wrote I wrote from a rustic table
Under magnolias in South Carolina
As blossoms fell on me, and a white gable
As clean-lined as the prow of a white liner
Bisected sunlight in the sunlit yard.
I was glad of the early heat and the first quiet
I'd had for weeks. I heard the mocking bird
And a delicious, articulate
Flight of small plinkings from a dulcimer
Like feminine rhymes migrating to the north
Where you faced the music and the ache of summer
And earth's foreknowledge gathered in the earth.
Now it's St Brigid's Day and the first snowdrop
In County Wicklow, and this a Brigid's Girdle
I'm plaiting for you, an airy fairy hoop
(Like one of those old crinolines they'd trindle),
Twisted straw that's lifted in a circle
To handsel and to heal, a rite of spring
As strange and lightsome and traditional
As the motions you go through going through the thing.
Many thanks to Gillian Nott for her work, enthusiasm and ideas.
Copyright of photographs on these pages is retained by the owner where acknowledged.