When the going gets tough…

…the tough take a step back and re-evaluate what’s a priority and what’s a nice to have.

Not what you were expecting? If I’m honest, it’s not what I was expecting either. I was a fully-paid up member of the “tough get going” club for many years. And it affected a lot of things in my life. It led to injuries to my body through over training and food restriction. It led to mental health issues through ignoring the signs that things weren’t right. It led to relationship issues because, well, you just keep going, right? It’s led to my current situation where I’m off work and trying to recuperate from burnout.

So I’m changing the format. I have been trying to do everything for the last few months, from 60+ hrs a week in work, to managing a household, to maintaining physical health and nutritional intake, to keeping hydrated… it didn’t work and things slipped up. I kept my preparation for Samhain on track, which was good – I was going to say lucky, but it wasn’t luck, I made it a priority, but I kept on making work a priority as well over almost everything else. And that’s not good for me.

So I’m currently in a phase of recuperation that I can take that step back and I’m looking at what I need to do. I’m looking at the daily, weekly, monthly tactics (students of Brian Moran and Michael Lennington may recognise some of this approach) I need to implement and continue and monitor to ensure I fulfil all my obligations, including those I make to myself.

Yeah, I’m putting myself first here. I know my day job pays the bills and requires some attention, but I’ve proved in the last few weeks that when I don’t put myself first, the day job suffers as well. My primary priority at the minute is the walking thing. Since I’ve not been driving in and out to work, I’m making massive progress on the walking thing. Whereas before, I was struggling to walk 10mins without pain, now I’m up to 40 mins – albeit extremely slowly at 4kph (or 2.5mph for my non-metric readers) but it’s a damn sight more than I was doing a month ago. And it’s proven, yet again, that small daily work pays off in the long run.

Next one to tackle is sleep. I’m still sleeping a lot, but it’s not in any sort of usual pattern for me. Last night, it was well after 2am before I could get my brain to calm down and today it’s been a real struggle to stay awake at all. So, sleep hygiene is next on the list. It won’t be today, but this is things like having a bedtime ritual or routine, making the bedroom a helpful place for sleep – quiet, dark, no blue light, etc, clean and nice bed clothes – both sheets and pyjamas here, uncluttered appearance about the place. For me, my bedtime ritual always includes meditation when I’m in the groove. I recently bought the full focus journal from Michael Hyatt’s system, because while I like the idea of journaling before bed, I also like the idea of structure and being able to empty my head of things to remember/do etc, which this journal will help with I think. Have I started using it yet? Oh no, why would I do that!! To be fair to myself, a lot of the reason I’ve not started using it is a) it arrived yesterday and b) I want to look through it and link it to my planner to get the full value out of it. So in the coming days, I’ll start experimenting with it to see where and when I should use it.

Usually, I have a bit of a check in with Herself at night as well. I hesitate as usual to use the word “prayer”, but really, it kinda is. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Good night, thanks for the help today”, or “Hell, I’m dreading this thing tomorrow, can you help?” things like that. Other times it’s a more formal meditation structure, where I follow my pattern of using the visualisation of a flame to empty my thoughts and go on a small walk to talk to her. Actually the flame thing came to me originally from a work of fiction that had nothing to do with Brigid at all – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. (yes it’s a wiki link to all of his books – they’re fantasy and not to everyone’s taste, but I grew up with them, starting to read them in 1990 and the final book was published – posthumously – in 2013) In those books, the Flame and the Void is used by men to empty their minds and focus. I’m sure it’s actually based in some martial arts technique, but since I never did martial arts, I’m not sure at all.

Either way, the sending my thoughts to the flame is a great way for me to calm my mind. The slight issue is, nothing works 100% of the time, especially when it comes to thoughts and emotions. Terrible, isn’t it? You’d think we’d come into this world with a manual to help us out with things like this. When that happens, I try to compose a prayer, usually as Gaeilge, since that takes more effort and crowds out other thoughts and then I find myself telling a story as Gaeilge either to myself or herself.

Sometimes, I just get up and read or watch telly or something because my brain just won’t shut up, and I deal with the lack of sleep the following day. Tonight, I’m aiming to get back into that ritual a bit, just a little bit. We’ll see how it goes.

Once I get sleep back on track, food will be next and then the compilation of things like spending time with husband, housework, laundry, car maintenance, etc that need to happen just for life, y’know. Then comes the spiritual stuff and how long I need to spend on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to do what needs to be done there. And then we’ll see how work fits in. My suspicion is thought, I’ll need to drastically trim back work hours to a mere 40hrs a week – you know, actually what I’m paid for – in order to fit everything else in. Cos there needs to be downtime as well, when I’m not working, either for money or for my life, when I can just relax, zone out if I wish, do nothing. We underestimate the power of doing nothing in the modern world and I think we need to reclaim it.

So my priority list (which by the way is extremely close to my overview prep for the festivals list) is:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Spiritual
  4. Everything else

We forget when we are trying to develop spiritually that we are still physical beings, who need sleep, food, water, etc. And the body, in my worldview, is at least as important as the soul, since without the body, we don’t have any anchor for the soul in this world.

So there’s my priorities for the coming weeks. Body, mind, soul. Put myself first. Look after myself. Keep myself in as good a state of health as I can manage (always remember health will mean different things to different people!) And once everything is in place, the structures and rituals to support me to be my best me, then this tough will get going again!

Book Review: Red tents by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal

There hasn’t been a post in a couple of weeks – sorry about that. I’m still working on mental health stuff and feeling very grateful to have the facility to take the time off the day job to do this. I think things are improving – I am after all reading again! – but there’s still a journey ahead of me. In the mean time, one of the books I’ve read, just finished this morning in fact, is Red Tents: Unravelling Our Past and Weaving a Share Future by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal.

Image of the Red Tents book by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal, a red book with a scene outlined in red and white showing a city scape in the foreground and a nature scape in the background with a crescent moon on the right hand side of the sky and the rest of the sky filled with stars

I have run red tents in the past, but I stopped because I couldn’t match my own development of understanding of things like gender and oppression and equality and inclusivity with what I saw as a very binary situation. I tried for a while to reconcile these and eventually I gave up. But this book answers a lot of the questions I had at that time and then some.

The book is split into 4 parts. The first goes through the history/herstory of red tents, as well as the authors vision for the future of a more inclusive and accessible gathering. Part 2, the longest part, is about the mechanics of starting a red tent, what you bring to the table, what’s the vision, looking at collaboratively and collectively creating the space and the guidelines and the finances and the boundaries. This section is hugely helpful if you are thinking of setting up a red tent but have no clue what to think about or where to even begin. Part 3 is about the fundamentals of each session and different explorations of what can work, what might not work, how flexible it needs to be, etc. Part 4 is about dealing with challenges and growth and closing or stepping away from a tent.

I was genuinely surprised by the book. I was worried it was going to be more of the same with regard to “white woman spirituality” but it wasn’t – or at least it didn’t read like this to me. I am of course open to being corrected by those who would know better. The authors have dug deep into their own experiences and the experiences of others who have run red tents through interviews, as well as looking into research, academic work, academics speaking on matters of inclusivity, whether it be welcoming BIPOC )black indigenous people of colour) or non-binary gendered people or those less financially well off into the circle. They also bring up issues of accessibility, not only those with physical differences, but childcare issues, locations, public transport, length of time. To me is seems like a comprehensive look at what can stop people availing of the support a red tent can offer – along with prompts for questions to ask ourselves along the way.

I am sure there are things that are left out – there is the constant consideration that red tents happen all over the world, within different cultures, and this needs to feed into the process. They also being up the topic of cultural appropriation as well, which was good to see and specifically address the issue of smudging as a problematic topic, while also allowing the space for the members of the red tent to bring their own cultures and traditions into the space.

The authors are pretty clear on the fact that there is no One True Way to run a red tent – the tent must be flexible to deal with the needs of the people attending at the time. And those needs would change according to the composition of the group as well.

I think for those who are thinking of starting a red tent or a women’s circle or some sort of talking/being space, it’s a really useful handbook to have in the back pocket. If you have no interest in starting a space like this, but want to join one – again, this is a useful thing to consult to make sure you’re joining a group that coincides with your values and needs at this time. Even if you don’t want either, but want to develop yourself or get clear on what you think and feel about certain things, I think a lot of the prompts/ self reflection questions will help you gain that clarity. I know I will be revisiting them in the future to help me regain where I stand on certain topics.

I feel that Brigid could support a red tent as is outlined in this book, in ways she couldn’t support some of the red tents I’ve attended in the past. This is outlining a vision of inclusivity, learning, growth and development that will lead us to look at communities and groups differently and hopefully promote a better outlook on how we run things in the future.

Added to note: following a discussion in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I want to acknowledge and note that the book doesn’t acknowledge the origins of the red tent within the Jewish tradition. This was something I missed in the post and my apologies for it!

Very exciting news!

Image of a lit LED candle against a plain beige-y blind with a crack of daylight coming in under the blind, showing as a line of blue. Candle is sitting on a wooden windowsill, dark brown.

After much debate and consideration and subtle hints from herself, I’ve set up a Brigid’s Forge School on Teachable. This has been a long time coming and is part of me stepping up for Herself as a priestess and doing some different kinds of work.

Currently there’s one course on there – a preparation for Imbolc course and a few coaching options as well. This is obviously a big step forward for me and one I’m both excited and terrified about! But the aim is still the same – to help people get in touch with an authentic Irish Brigid – and there will still be postings, musings, info etc coming through on the blog here as well.

I will still be teaching with the Irish Pagan School, there’s not been any sort of falling out or split there, but there are things I want, need to teach that don’t really fit focus-wise in there and there are things that just don’t fit time wise either. So here’s my offering as a school and please get in touch if there are things you’d like to see taught here!

Delay in blog posts

I had intended to be posting on a Sunday but I’ve missed the last two (I’m sure ye have noticed!) On Sunday 17th October, I was teaching a class on Samhain ritual with the IPS (check it out here if you’d like to take a look) This meant for most of that day I was doing the final preparations as if I were doing my own Samhain ritual. This meant cleaning and sorting out the room I was doing the teaching in – it’s not one I usually use for ritual, so it took most of the day to clean and get sorted in the way I wanted.

This included physical and energetical cleaning, as well as a de clutter and organisation theme as well. Now, on the plus side, I’m now really happy with the way the room looks and it feels better as well. On the down side, it was exhausting, especially the energetical work, since it hadn’t been done in a while. It’s usually my work-from-home office so it doesn’t get the same attention as the other areas I use for ritual work. People don’t always appreciate that there is a difference between physical and energetical cleaning. I do think physical cleaning is an essential part of energetical cleaning, but it’s not the whole thing. So, aside from the cleaning up of about 12 months worth of dust and clutter, I was also clearing out about 12 months of energetical dust and clutter as well. Hoovering out the corners, de-spidering the room, throwing out the rubbish… but it’s open and clear now.

then there was the teaching of the class and since it was ritual, it took a bit more energy than usual. It was a great class and I really enjoyed it – fair warning, there was audience participation in this one as well as my own experience! But it was fun as well and we had a great time doing it.

As a down side from that though, as part of the usual energy drop after a ritual (for me anyway) my already fragile enough mental health took a down turn and I’ve been off work for a week and likely to be so for another 2 at least. I think I mentioned going back on the anti-depressants a few weeks ago and really, I should have taken time off then, but I forced myself to struggle on. And then, it all became too much. So for the last week, I’ve been on recovery mode. I’ve been on extra meds and will be for a few more days to take the edge off. I’m out of work (it’s ok – pay won’t be affected for this, Ireland is different from the States with this, in case people were worried) and my team are being really good at not contacting me to allow me to recover.

But it’s meant that the blog was one of the things that fell off the radar. The things that have made it onto the list of “shit I care about right now” has mostly included food, sleep, personal hygiene. And even they’ve been a struggle some days. This all means I need to take another look at that self care thing the Morrigan was charging me with earlier in my Samhain preparation. (Cos I will be doing my own ritual next Sunday, 31st October, so my prep is continuing). I’m also getting messages similar to “well if you won’t make the effort to look after yourself, we will make it so you have to”. It’s not that clear of course, but that’s the general feeling.

So, sometime before next Sunday, I will need to be spending a day or so cleaning out my usual ritual site in the same way I did this room last week. I also need to make sure I have the energy and will to do the ritual in the way I want to do it and maybe break it up if I need to. Sending myself back into crisis mode would not be helpful for anyone right now. And my doctor keeps telling me I need to be selfish now and look after myself first… this is not something that comes naturally to me. In fact, ignoring my physical and mental and emotional needs comes way more easily and familiarly to me. But here we are. I’m under both medical and deity orders to look after myself. And if that means breaking up my Samhain ritual into manageable bits, that’s what I’ll do.

There’s also been a lot of interest in my preparation for Samhain posts, so I’m thinking of running a 3 month preparation for Imbolc course as well. If you’re interested, please let me know! I’m thinking of taking a small group of people through the exercises and other stuff I do for preparation for the festival, and with it being Imbolc next, people won’t be surprised to hear it’s the one I put most effort into and it’s slightly different to the rest of the festivals – far more focused on Brigid for a start! So do leave a comment or drop me a line if you would be interested in that.

For now, I’m looking at something small I can do right now for me. (It’s lunch. Or possibly brunch – breakfast didn’t happen this morning) Then I’ll look at showering and dressing. In something fun for me rather than something purely practical. And then I may curl up with a film or something comfy on the couch and rest. Because, sometimes, rest is as important a part of spiritual work as anything else. Maybe if I say that to myself often enough, I might start believing it at a body level rather than at a mental level!

Veiling & modesty

Veiling has nothing to do with my prep for Samhain, but I’ve been thinking about it and so here we go…

A while back, in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, someone asked about the role veiling plays in people’s practice. And, I have strong feelings about veils, their uses and their role in modesty culture, subjugation, and modern living.

First off, if, for whatever reason, you like to wear a veil – that’s your choice, fair play to you, on you go. I am making no comment on people who choose to wear the veil, a veil, for whatever reason. What I’m discussing here are the reasons why the saint or the nun might be depicted with a veil and some of the considerations in relation to the use of a veil in practice.

I don’t use a veil as a general rule. I also don’t have much use for modesty in my deities, saints or other Beings around me. I don’t have much use for physical modesty in myself either. I tend to wear comfy clothes and, if the weather gets hot, this tends to mean a lot less clothing. Of course, when the weather gets cold, I’m covered up in as many layers as necessary.

There are times when I cover my hair with a bandanna – usually if the pollen count is high. Helpful hint there, wearing a bandanna restricts the pollen getting trapped in your hair and, if you have hair like mine, less pollen then gets into your nose and eyes. So when it’s practical, yes, I will use a bandanna. I don’t think of it as modesty though – as always practicality wins the day for me.

Modesty culture though – modesty culture to me is a continuation of respectability politics, a means to control women. It’s rarely men who are expected to cover up in a certain way or ensure they don’t arouse lust in the opposite sex (yeah, same sex relationships tend not to be considered in these situations either). It’s offensive to me to suggest that I must dress a certain way to ensure the men around me don’t get inspired to rape or other forms of violence against women. I tend to put more faith in the men I know than that. I mean most of them are well familiar with the terms “No” and “Not interested” and “hell no, get off me, you prick”. Not that they’re heading out trying to pick up women all the time, but they understand the words and most of them can admire a woman without assuming dress means an invitation.

There are plenty of women (and men to be fair) who choose to dress modestly, out of choice or habit or ease. I’ve no problem with that. I do have a problem with people being ordered to dress a certain way though.

The veil can be useful in a spiritual practice though. I can see a value in donning a certain article of clothing as a signal someone is about to engage in spiritual practice. And I have in the past thrown a scarf over my head (well actually, a coat or hoodie is more likely) to give myself some privacy in a public space. I have used certain objects, certain items of clothing, certain habits to indicate to myself I’m entering a spiritual space. It takes time and practice, but it’s an important way to signal to oneself that the mundane world is being left behind, or that this is an action that has more consequences than we might immediately think of.

I wouldn’t be thinking of giving Brigid, or indeed any other deity, instructions on how I expect them to dress mind. Modestly or otherwise, it’s up to them how they choose to appear and I for one amn’t going to give them guidance. How we as humans depict them however – well that’s another story. I think I’ve ranted here before about the “sexy goddess” statues and paintings that abound on the internet. Sure, it’s grand, but when Every. Single. Statue. looks like the wet dream of a teenager, there’s an issue.

So in short, my attitude to veiling is the same as with most things clothes-related. If it’s your choice – go ahead, have fun. It can be useful. Where I start getting issues is when people start trying to force others to veil or be modest or dress a certain way or whatever. And really, seriously, trust me on this one – don’t try it with deities!!

Preparation – the joy of music

Last Thursday morning, I wrote a comment about using Alice Cooper’s Poison in a cleansing ritual. I think it says a lot about the membership of that particular group that really the only comment was saying it was a great song! But it is part of my ongoing preparation for Samhain.

The chorus, in case you’re not an aficionado of the popular rock of the late 80’s, goes like this:

I wanna love you, but I better not touch (don’t touch)
I wanna hold you, but my senses tell me to stop
I wanna kiss you, but I want it too much (too much)
I wanna taste you, but your lips are venomous poison
You’re poison running through my veins
You’re poison
I don’t wanna break these chains

I know, it’s a strange one to be thinking of cleansing, but hey, the song to me speaks to the things I know don’t help me, aren’t nurturing, whether they be old attitudes I want to change, old habits I want to shed, whatever… (OK it doesn’t hurt that this song really does get that tingle going low down in my belly, but that’s not what it was used for last Thursday! Husband wasn’t awake early enough…)

The lyrics call to me of the siren song many things have or have had for me in my life. I can call out many habits or behaviours that just plain weren’t good for me, in a holistic fashion, but at the time, I wanted them, badly. I knew they were the poison of the song, but they worked and so I wanted them and even my saying I wanted to separate from them or give them up or stop the behaviour was half hearted at best. Brigid has been happy enough with my progress on these things to date, I think primarily because none of what’s left is affecting my ability to do the work she needs doing. I’m finding the Morrigan takes a different view. It’s kinda like a stern beloved teacher holding up a mirror and saying “Is this what you want your life to be? Cos you can be better!”

And yes, this came out of the mirror exercise I spoke of last week. I can look myself in the eyes these days, but I had still be skirting over patterns of behaviour that are residues rather than bedrocks of unhelpful habits. I won’t go into detail here, but my actions and behaviour are still being limited by past actions and behaviour. Some of those can be fixed and adjusted. Some… maybe not.

But “maybe not” is no longer a reason not to try. And some of this is limiting my life and causing me issues right now, so there’s no good reason not to change things. Spiritually, I’m not in a bad place. Mentally – not so good. Physically – really not good. So part of the next steps in preparation are to keep going with the cleansing and the spiritual spiral I’m on, but also to look at physical what I need to do and how I can improve things for myself.

It’s 4 weeks away now, since the 1st October was on Friday, and there is, of course, a limit to how much I can achieve in that time, but again, I was reminded that just because I may not reach the end goal, is no reason not to take the first step along the path. I won’t be any worse off than I am now!

And this is part of my reaction to the Poison song as well. I used to drive myself into extreme pain as a coping mechanism for some shite I was dealing with, and now I try to avoid that sort of pain as much as possible. But there’s a healthy balance to strike here with aches and pains. Extreme pain – no. Aches – probably yes. Tired muscles don’t feel great, but then, they don’t feel great anyway right now. So, improvement in 4 weeks is the way to go.

You know, people think this spirituality stuff is all meditation and raising vibrations and all that – no one ever mentions the endless physio exercises or drudgery of walking X amount per day or the scrubbing floors or the ruthless pruning of waste from your life… I wonder that is???

Festival preparation – inner journeys

Usually my preparation for festivals includes a lot of physical, outside-of-the-self preparation. Certainly at the start of the preparation anyway. I’ve spoken before about cleaning the house, clearing out the cobwebs, energising the corners, eliminating clutter, that sort of thing.

This year my spiral, for my preparation is usually a spiral, for Samhain appears to be taking a different turn. I’m having to focus on both the inner work of developing a relationship with the Morrigan and the outer work of tending to a community. It’s a difficult balance to hold and it’s not made easier by a demanding day job and a husband with health difficulties. But it needs to be done.

I wrote a few months ago about restarting my meditation practice. I have the night time meditation fairly well settled now, Sunday to Thursday and the morning practice settled Monday to Friday. (as an aside, I’ll be putting a link up soon for those that want a voice recording of the meditation I use most often in the morning). But I find as Samhain approaches, the meditation is changing. I’m developing a relationship with the Morrigan, since they are the deity I most associate with Samhain, the beginning of the dark half of the year.

This time of year is significant for prepping the ground for growth, for planting the seeds that need the winter for germination or growing in the dark, even if there are no obvious changes from the outside. I have a feeling my inner life is going to be going through a similar journey this year. There are times these premonitions are welcome – I’m not entirely sure this is one of them! Still, it can’t be any worse than Brigid’s anvil right? (Just as an FYI, tempting the gods like that is usually not sensible!)

So I’m using my usual meditation in the morning and Brigid is bring in the Morrigan to that time. We’re kinda like a Victorian couple getting to know each other under Mama’s watchful eye right now… but no doubt that will change. I’m not going for an apprenticeship, I’m unlikely to be loaned out to the Morrigan, this is more about manners than anything else. If I’m going to have a chat with her during a ritual on Samhain, then I’d best put in the work first.

One of the things I usually look at for Samhain is how easily I’m able to look myself in the face, look myself in the mirror. It’s a question of how honest I’m being with myself, even if with no one else. This year, that looking is happening at a deeper level than I realised and it’s looking back past my living memory. It’s tough, I can’t deny it, there are recurring images that I need to deal with, it seems, and that’s not easy even when it’s this life we’re dealing with.

But it is a simple enough exercise to work through yourself, if you want to? I find it useful to find out how easily I can look myself in the face in general, and it’s amazing the things that come up when I do. As I said, it’s simple, although read through it before you commit to it – you may not be comfortable doing it or it may push through memories or past trauma that you’re not in a place to deal with.

Sit down, or stand up in front of a mirror. Look into your own eyes. See what comes up. Usually helps to write it down, along with any thoughts or feelings that come up as well.

That’s it.

And yet, for many years, this was incredibly difficult for me to do. Depending on how bare or deep I need to look, I will sometimes do this as part of a ritual, or naked, or as part of a cleansing. But the core of it, the looking into my own eyes, is the important bit.

I would warn you, though, to set an alarm when doing this, since it can be easy to get lost in oneself as well and that’s not really good either! You can do it lying down, but I found it way too easy to sleep doing it that way, so I avoid it. In saying that, these days, I feel so tired, I sometimes think I’ll fall asleep standing up as well, so maybe it’s not the practice but the tiredness! 🙂

As I said, getting to know the Morrigan this year appears to be making changes to the things I’m perceiving about myself, the things I need to do to prepare for this journey at Samhain. I’m being asked to cross lines I never though I’d cross within myself and it’s challenging. But I’m still here, I’m still carrying on.

And no, this is still a Brigid blog, don’t worry and she’s my Main Person, so to speak, but Samhain isn’t her thing as such. I’ve no doubt she’ll turn up for the feast and be looking at the ancestors and all that, but her big day is after this, when the days are lengthening again, rather than shortening and the attention, the light, the ways are coming back to equal rather than the extremes of Samhain and Bealtaine. But I’ll also pay the Morrigan their due.

I might talk more about the spiral next week, but I’d love to hear how you get on if you try the mirror exercise. I would advise doing it straight, as in without ritual, first, just to get used to it…

Preparation

Photo taken this morning as the sun rose

I took the above photo this morning as the sun was turning from brilliant red to orange and yellow. The old rhyme rang through my mind: “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”. It’s the most basic preparation we can do for the day, figuring out what weather we’ll need to deal with. Less so for most of us in the modern world, when if the weather is bad (and in Ireland this means wet, cold, windy or some combination of the three!), exposing ourselves to the weather is limited to the scurry from car-door to building-door and back again. But even as much as 50yrs ago, knowing what the weather would be doing that day was important as you set about your daily tasks.

We prepare for other things too – both sacred and profane. In the longer term, most people I know do the Big Weekly Shop, to see us through the next week food-wise. We prepare food for eating. We select clothes to wear, making sure we have them washed and ready for public consumption before throwing them on in the morning. We prepare for big live events – weddings, funerals, baby ceremonies, religious ceremonies. For all sorts of things we prepare.

And part of that preparation is the conscious preparation. For me, I celebrate or mark the fire festivals in Ireland. They give me an excuse to do certain things, but I’ve realised in the last months that I do a lot of personal preparation as well. And now I’m trying to put a structure around that and recognise what I do, when I do it, why I do it, etc. And in doing so, I’ve realised a few things.

In the mundane, and sometimes even the sacred world, we tend to focus on physical preparation: cleaning the house, getting washed, buying a new outfit or selecting a current outfit, maybe getting the hair and nails done, making sure we’re clean and presentable basically. We’ll also maybe sort out food, a venue, entertainment – whatever is in keeping with the occasion itself.

We tend to look overmuch at the spiritual and emotional side of things. And as I’ve looked at how I prepare for our festivals, I notice that actually, I tend to do this as a festival approaches. Right now, as the days are noticeably shortening and cooling, my mind turns to Samhain. I’ve restarted lighting my candle in the morning, something not necessary in the summer months when the sun is up early, but definitely needed now. I’ve started looking at more snuggly food, comfort food, stews, soups and curries instead of the lighter summer fare. I’ve refocused on my meditation in the mornings and at night to allow me that space of peace in the day. I’m looking at preparing my body as well – reinvigorating my movement practices to accommodate the shorter days, the darker days.

This year, as I said above, I’m paying more attention to what I’m doing and noting whether it’s a sacred or profane practice, aimed at mind, body or spirit. What state of mind am I heading towards? What are my meditations bringing me to? What is my body calling for? (Weirdly at the minute – less chocolate, but that’s another post!!)

There are many ways we can look at preparation for a festival or a ritual – and Samhain in my case is both. But I like what I’m finding out this year and will be sharing more. Right now, even noticing what I’m doing in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual is interesting, as is how my sensitivities and awareness are changing as I do this. It’s not right, I don’t think, to live entirely in spirit – our bodies and minds are important too! But there’s no harm giving the sacred its space in our world as well.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll maybe mention a bit more what this preparation looks like for me.

My major step this week will be hiring a cleaner. With my husband still sick and not getting better, indeed getting worse, the housekeeping has fallen dramatically in our priorities and it’s getting to the point where even I want to give the place a good scrub. I can’t spend my entire weekend cleaning the house though, so hiring a cleaner is the way to go for us! Once I get that up and running I can start looking at the energetical cleaning of the place, or at least of a few key areas in the home, and then we can decide what we want to do, what we have the resources to do and what we will do for Samhain 🙂

Priesthood and roles to play

I have an uncomfortable relationship with priesthood. I mean, really uncomfortable. There is enough Catholic in me that “priest” really means “man in black with a white dog collar” (I’m sure ye can remember the picture from my mini-series on the practicalities of mixing Catholicism and paganism?) And so, when people describe me or address me as “priest” or “priestess”, I tend to get a bit uncomfortable.

And yet… Some of ye may know Lora O’Brien wrote a book on pagan priesthood back in 2019. I read it early on and as I was going through it, I started to get these subtle proddings. Ye may recognise what I’m about to describe – herself gets poking with her hammer and it’s kinda hard to ignore. Lora has divided the book into the duties of a priest, the sacerdotal activities and the community activities, and it has been explicitly pointed out to me the bits I’m already doing, however unofficially. I’m also quoted in the book, seeing as Lora asked me to respond to her questionnaire to get some thoughts from people “in the business” as it were. One of the things that stands out in my mind is when I describe the priest as one whose role is to “provide the shining light in the dark, to be the example, to lead the way… Priests are held to a higher standard in my mind”. Well, at least I didn’t say to be the whistle for signaling at night, right?

Anyway, the prodding is getting more and more urgent lately and certain not-so-subtle hints have been forthcoming. In one way, it’s fierce exciting. In another – I’ve got so much going on in life. And we all know she’s not always fantastic at recognising the limits of her tools. But sure, it’s up to me to remind here of that, I suppose.

What it means is, there will be some changes in the way I practice. Not necessarily the actual practice, but the way I publicise or manage the way I practice. There’ll be more teaching involved for a start (so far there’s an interest in some prep courses for Imbolc and something on the Brigs in the Ulster cycle, with a few more in the wings as well). There’s also a “making official” of the private consultations I’ve done up to now. As in, there’ll be a page on the website, when I get it set up, where you can sign up for some 1 on 1 consultation, should you wish to do so. I’ll also be actually communicating with my email list, with either new blog posts, or some interesting article or other I’ve read, or random bits of activity I’ve been doing. That bloody book will need to be finished!! (I’ve not done anything on it at all in 2021 for… reasons… but that needs to change now)

All in all, it means, I need to step up and be a more public priestess than I’ve been heretofore. I have to admit that actually, I am doing this work and do it a bit less under-the-table. I will need to post here more regularly as well.

Now all of this won’t happen overnight – even she admits it takes time to set things like this up – but it’s a heads-up to people and a warning to myself that she is being serious about this. Plans to follow….

Brigid as Warrior?

I asked for topics to write about in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group there a few days ago and one that struck my interest almost immediately was Kerry’s comment about seeing Brigid as a warrior. I found this interesting, because I think, while Brigid does most certainly fight, I don’t see her as a warrior. Hear me out…

If we look at her three primary aspects, Poet, Smith and Healer, all these people would be engaging in battles, involved in battles and probably able to fight in battles in ancient Ireland. (I’m going for very definitive time periods this morning obviously!!) We don’t have very many stories of Brigid full stop and the only one I know of directly linking her to a battle pre-Christianity is the bit in Caith Maighe Tuireadh 2, where Ruadhán dies. There’s no mention of Brig as a female warrior in that story, she is Ruadhán’s mother.

We have, of course, examples of female warriors in the tales. We have Scáthach from CĂşchulainn’s training, we have the Neasa who was Conchubar Mac Neasa’s mother (and gave her name to her son in an unusual turn of events!), we have Queen Medb (although here we’re looking at a war leader rather than a warrior herself, maybe). Regardless, we have examples of women known as warriors, in our lore. It’s not unheard.

But Brigid isn’t listed among them, not anywhere I can find.

I suppose at this point it would be useful to explain what I mean by the word “warrior”. I mean an experienced fighter, something different to a soldier, one who acts off their own bat so to speak rather than under orders or as part of a group. (This is my own definition now mind!!) If we translate “warrior” into Irish, one of the words we get is laoch which also means hero – this is closer to the imagery I get when I think of warrior. (Another word I found, gaiscĂ­och has similar links to hero) A warrior or a laoch is someone fighting in a cause in my head, or someone who has surpassed themselves on the battlefield (and a battlefield can be very small or very big!) But there is an inherent use of physical violence for the word “warrior” in my head.

For Brigid, I see her as different. Let’s go back to her three parts: Poet, Smith, Healer. All three would have tied to battle and fighting, while not necessarily taking part in fighting themselves. The Poet – well check out this post (and associated merchandise) from EelandOtter.com on the important of the poet in battles. The deity mentioned as the poet for that battle is the Morrigan, but it still shows the power held by poets over battles and wars. Poets could incite, fuel and end battle and wars. And Brigid is the Goddess of Poets (according to Cormac’s Glossary anyway!!) so she has that power as well.

The Smith is equally as essential during times of war and of peace to the community. Where else do the weapons come from? And from making weapons, you’d surely get an understanding of how to use them? I don’t think weaponry is alien or foreign to Brigid, but the end use isn’t her major focus. And the Smith creates items for creation as well as destruction – the plough as well as the spear, so to speak. Supporting warriors, certainly, but also supporting the farmers, the weavers, the producers of society. Certainly, working at the forge would build muscles and endurance and the ability to pick up a weapon in times of need would be important, but a smith isn’t a frontline troop and if they are picking up weapons, something has gone very wrong…

Finally the Healer. One of the recurring lines I see in my fantasy books is that healers are dangerous, because the ones that know how to put you back together are the ones that can take you apart very easily as well. It certainly puts my GP in a new light! But it’s true. Healers could and did heal terrible wounds and to do so, they needed to understand how the body was put together, to understand how to take it apart, to understand how to put it back together again. It’s still similar to the way surgeons are trained today (from my very limited understanding of things!) Now I think the time required to learn enough to be a good healer might preclude also being an excellent fighter, but, similar to the Smith, Healers are essential at a battlefield or fight, and equally similarly, things have gone very wrong if a Healer needs to pick up a weapon…

Of course not all warriors are physical fighters, and in this aspect of the Warrior, I feel Brigid comes into her own. In the modern world, while I know there are armed. physical conflicts going on all over the world, for most of us, physical altercations are not a way of life. But we do have our battles. This is where the power of Brigid comes in. The Poet can persuade, cajole, teach, educate, etc etc etc to change minds and hearts. The Smith can create the tools and methods society needs. The Healer still heals, but not necessarily battle wounds, or not necessarily physical wounds.

Brigid is inherently involved in many battles, in my UPG. She was active during the Repeal the 8th campaign in Ireland a few years ago. She is active in women’s rights, equality campaigns. She can and will fight injustice where she finds it. She will pick up a weapon when needed, but it’s not her first port of call. Hope this helps!