Last week, I wrote about my ideas on Brigid and war. Another aspect of Brigid, to me, is her link to fertility, of both land and people.
This again is a personal link, since my husband and I have been trying to have a family for some years now and some of my work with Brigid is linked to this. Unfortunately, currently, any fertility going through my body appears to be in the teaching and producing areas rather than the family one.
But there are some more solid links to fertility than there are with war. The most prominent for me is the story in the Latin Life of Brigit (Cogitosus is the author here, Google is your friend for more details!) where she caused the foetus of a fellow nun to disappear. Now it makes sense to me that to know how to make a foetus disappear, you have to have some knowledge of the process of procreation and childbearing, as well as the activities, plants, herbs etc that either promote or suppress it. Indeed, in the lists of penances in medieval Ireland, the penance for abortion was a relatively mild one, being one third the length of the one for actual childbirth (one wonders what activities the clerical leaders were trying to promote here)
As well, there are multiple accounts of Brigid healing the sick, which is standard fare for the early saints, to be fair, but also of causing the recently healed to be re-infected if they didn’t react appropriately! To either heal or re-infect suggests a knowledge of how health and the body works. To know how the body works, especially seeing as how she was a woman herself, makes it seem unlikely she didn’t have an understanding of the reproductive systems – from the female side anyway!
To me, the links to human fertility are strong. I personally extend this to other forms of fertility as well – whether the land, the arts, the crafts, the sciences… all need some element of fertility to produce anew, whether in cycles or in one-off endeavours. Brigid has strong links to the arts and humanities through her being a file (poet in direct translation), and equally strong links to healing through the sheer number of healing wells devoted to her in Ireland. But modern medicine is very different to the traditional ways people tried to keep healthy don’t forget. Very often, the wise woman knowing which herbs in the forest helped keep teeth in your head would save more lives than a doctor giving out medicine – especially if you look at some of the “medicines” that were touted in recent centuries.
A wise woman in many cultures give rise to fear – while priests rarely if ever showed interest in the process of childbirth, they were sometimes resentful of the power of the women who did. (please note: not all priests!) A woman who had some control over the mysteries of life and death, birth and death, would have power in the community, especially when that woman might also be, saints preserve us, independent of men!!
In Ireland though, because for many centuries, women were left alone for a variety of reasons and the bean feasa or wise woman was a regular and valued member of the community, being the only source of medicine for the poor. When you have a rebellion every generation or so, a famine every generation or so, are severely oppressed and downtrodden… well you don’t antagonise the woman who can help with life’s troubles.
Where does this bring us with Brigid and fertility? Well, I still have hopes. Technically, it’s still possible for me to bear a child, although there is that imaginary clock ticking. Brigid will support me in becoming who I need to be become – hopefully without a trip back to her forge for re-tempering! – and I believe in her.
What does this look like in my daily life? I take my folic acid. I work with my darlin husband to ensure sex is enjoyable, varied, and try and make an effort around ovulation time. We prepare mentally, physically and emotionally for children entering our lives.
And I pray. I meditate. I read. I research. I work on past traumas. I work on new traumas. I do all I can do. And I wait. She’ll make it happen when it’s right. And if it isn’t right… well, we’ll have to live with that. But there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth on the day we agree all hope is lost!!
When it comes to the land – things are a bit different. Ireland is still a breadbasket and modern advances in agriculture help us get more out of our land without exhausting it. But for centuries, the farmers, the fishermen, all had their rituals to ensure the fertility of the land on Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day. Whether it was the sheaf of oats outside the door for her to bless on her path over the land or the shellfish scattered in the four corners of the house, there were many households busy to ensure the fertility of the coming year around the 1st February. There were customs too about no wheels to be turned before noon, and how to manage the butter and the dairy on this day as well. I’d strongly suggest Seán Ó Dúinn’s book on Brigid for a very detailed account of this folklore.
It may be personal because of the difficulties in my own life, but for me, Brigid is intrinsically linked with fertility. Whether creating or destroying, as in my last post, she is there, she has power and she will use it.