One of the questions that came up in my recent request for topics to write about on this blog was how my perspective and practice on Brigid has changed over time. It’s difficult to answer this one – so naturally, I decide to tackle it on a Sunday afternoon when I’m feeling a bit knackered and miserable. Glutton for punishment, sometimes, me!
In all seriousness though, it does no harm to look back and reflect sometimes, so here we go.
If I look back over my life, Brigid has always been there, certainly since I started school. In primary school, making crosses and hearing stories of her piety, her generosity were all part of St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st. As a teenager, I strayed away from her, and indeed religion in general, as I grew and tried to integrate things I knew to be right and the teachings of the church as I was presented with them. I will also say, I found St. Brigid to be fairly generic at this point anyway. Sure she was a virgin, she was humble, she was pious, she was kind… her stories appeared to me to be typical of the female saints.
In recent years however, I’ve realised those stories are not the same as other saints. Brigid didn’t die a martyr, she founded monastic communities, the first one with a group of women (shock, horror!!). She was ordained a bishop – officially accidentally, but we’ll take it. She wasn’t a meek healer, called to cure any brought before her, she put the onus on the sick many times to do something themselves, or else she made them well by assuming they were so, and such was her power that the world bent to her will. She is a better role model than I would have thought for the modern world.
And then the deity came along. And I’ll admit, it’s only as an adult I realised how different the day to day practices of Irish Catholicism are different to those in other countries. I spent 11 years as a Catholic in England for example and their approach to the religion was far more stringent, strict and less fun all in all. (One parish I was in, encouraged parents to send their children to a Festival of Light to pray for All Saints on Halloween rather than allowing them to dress up and go trick or treating. Very strange to an Irish woman!) I realised that things I had always taken for granted were not Catholic in nature at all, in fact the Church didn’t really support such things in the slightest. Things like the existence of the Otherworld, of lands such as Tír na nÓg, of the stories and the histories that we were taught – not really acknowledged by the Church at all. Our activities at Halloween, May Day, and other holidays were… not Christian?
And even frowned upon? It was disconcerting to say the least.
I started reading and learning. I found out that the Catholicism practiced by my ancestors was at best a thin veneer over older practices. That other Catholic nations didn’t have the traditions of leaving cream and butter by the door. That other Catholic nations didn’t have saints, particularly female ones, that claimed land with a magic cloak. That other Catholic nations viewed what I considered harmless childhood adventures of dressing up and playing as something else…
Anyway, as part of my learning, I came across the goddess. And the goddess I was introduced initially was a triple deity in the classical sense – maiden, mother, crone. This was wrong to me, since no goddess in Irish lore appears like this. I mean, some of them appear as whatever age they happen to choose, but the notion that the triple was the maiden, mother, crone wasn’t part of our stories. So I came to what I call the “Wiccan Brigid” first. (Wiccan Brigid may not be accurate, in fact neopagan is probably more accurate, but it’s what I called that entity when I came to her first). But I could tell, this wasn’t the deity I was sensing and working with.
Then I was guided towards the UCC Celt website (https://celt.ucc.ie//) and discovered the manuscripts where our mythology comes from (well the manuscripts that captured at least part of the oral tradition anyway). I read of the triple deity, daughter(s) of the Dagda. I learned about Brigid being goddess of poets, smithcraft and healing. I found her familial connections. I found people lighting candles to her, saying it was part of an ancient tradition (and it probably is, don’t want to denegrate the flamekeeping tradition!) I found people talking about the “beautiful energy” of the deity, showing ornate, intricate altars, craft work, all things devoted to her.
And some of it chimed with me and some didn’t. The flamekeeping sounded like a great thing to do, but doing it on a regular basis wasn’t something I wanted to do. Not something I felt called to do. Some were called to write poetry and songs to her – not me. Some were called to make and paint and write and create… not me. Not to say I didn’t or don’t do these things – I did and do, sometimes. But it wasn’t the core of what I felt was needed.
Around this time as well, I was introduced to meditation in a way that worked for me. And I started meditating. Then I discovered Lora O’Brien’s work on a native tradition of Irish spirituality and started looking with discernment and consideration with all I had learned and worked on. And I started building my current practice.
It’s pretty simple actually. I am an engineer, which I consider a descendant of smithcraft, so by my daily work, I honour herself. I have a statue where I will light tealight on occasion, sometimes at her request, sometimes of my own volition and sometimes it’s not clear which is which, but sure, I can live with that. I meditate most days, and most days during meditation, I have a bit of a chat with her, sometimes more one-sided than others.
I find myself feeling very close to her by the sea and whenever I’m by the sea, I think of her, talk to her, thank her, and other things. This was a lot easier when I had a job 10 mins from the beach and COVID wasn’t restricting travel. But I’ve managed to go for a swim in the sea this year anyway, so I’m reasonably happy.
I try to do right by people in my daily life. It’s not always easy, but being in right relationship with people has become more and more important to me over time. Living as ethically as I can, working as ethically as I can, spending my money as ethically as I can… all these things are important to her and therefor to me. The energy goes where the money goes is something I try to remember. That means donating to causes I think important to her, writing letters to TDs (Irish politicians) on topics I feel important, taking part in campaigns and activities I think support her areas of concern. I also consider my work on getting more women into engineering as part of my work for her.
In short, I try to make my life my practice. It’s not so simple for me to divide up my life into devotion and non-devotion. I’m also heavily influence by my parents in this regard, who are devout Catholics, but firmly believe that while Mass attendance is important, it doesn’t outweight the duty and requirement to live life properly and in a good way. My mother calls my modern activities a “social conscience” and I suppose it is, but Brigid looks after the voiceless and asks us to help give them our voice when needed, so I try.
It’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier to face a difficult conversation in work knowing I have her backing than doing it on my own…
When I was younger, I thought religion and spirituality were things you did on specific occasions, confined to times and places. The rest of the time, you did the best you could. As an adult, the major change in my practice is that – it’s how I live my life. It means rarely using words like “always” and “never” since I know there are occasions I would break those terms. It means looking at where and how I work and incorporating the ethics distilled into me from childhood as part of my work. It means looking at where and how I spend money and avoiding places and entities who support practices I don’t agree with. It means offering my home as sanctuary to those who need it. It means offering prayers and healing practices (specifically reiki, reflexology and womb blessing) and accepting that these offerings may be refused. It means looking at the land and taking action to heal it. It means looking at our nation and supporting action to heal it. It means looking at the world and seeing what positive difference I can make.
It might be small, but I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. And that, really, is the core of my current practice.