I’m a firm believer in reciprocal relationships. As in, any relationship I have, there’s a natural give and take from both sides. There are times when the give can be predominantly in one direction and the take in another, but that then balances out over time.
Take parents for example. For most parents, their kids are mostly on the taking end for the first few decades of their lives. The parents can get joy and love back from the kids of course, but a parental role is, traditionally, a giving one. The returns are far more nebulous and hard to define than the obvious food, clothing, shelter they give out. (Please note, I’m not saying all parents do this – I am very well aware, there are truly awful, negligent and neglectful people out there and there are children who have endured a lot. There are also parents who can’t actually provide all they want for their offspring and regret this as well. Not everyone has equal experiences and I want to note that here)
But for most parents in my experience, there isn’t a checks and balances act going on. There isn’t a grand balance sheet keeping account and ticking off 1 hug = 0.5 breakfast or anything like that. But there is energy flowing both ways.
My experience of deity is something like this. No, I really don’t believe Brigid is up there in the sky, keeping accounts of everything I do or don’t do for her, and doling out rewards or punishments in accordance with that. I believe that Brigid will look out for me and help me, as best she can, for as long as I indicate I want or need that assistance. And I indicate I want or need assistance by my words, my actions, my thoughts, my prayers. And sometimes she goes with what I need rather than what I want, but that’s her prerogative. She doesn’t owe me anything.
Now there are times when we will come to an agreement on specifics. Such as, I will engage with a particular activism activity in exchange for her specific assistance in something in my life. It doesn’t ever guarantee a specific outcome cos other people have free will and need to consent. And, as well, the specific outcome I thought I wanted may not come true, but usually something else will. As far as I’m concerned, her help is real.
As an engineer though, my brain is screaming for proof of this and it’s hard to provide. And here’s where we come to a hard truth. As humans, we like to think there is a Higher Power to appeal to. Whether it’s the Christian God, pagan deities, the Universe, Mother Earth, whatever, when the shit really hits the fan, we like to have someone to appeal to for help. Now there are all sorts of psychological studies and other studies out there looking to back up or disprove Voltaire’s famous quote: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him“, but there’s also some truth there as well.
While it’s nice to imagine all of us depending on ourselves and finding inside of ourselves the necessary energy, determination, fortitude to keep going when things get tough, I think for most of us (yeah, not all, but most) there are times when calling on an outside power is comforting at least. It’s important to note that in the poem Voltaire wrote, he was showing the importance of the afterlife, and punishment therein, for upholding societal order. The thinking was that the idea of eternal damnation is important for assisting in maintaining social order, since the fear of the afterlife might force most people into good and honest living. This works for a Christian view of life, but not so much for those of us who follow a different path (this might lead to some sort of partial explanation as to why non-Christians were less than welcome in Western societies over the year: how could someone be trusted to behave appropriately without fear?)
I don’t subscribe to this view, and I think it’s one that has fallen out of favour in recent years, particularly in view of the failures of Christian churches all over the world. I’ve written before on the failures of the Catholic Church as an organisation. But the view of morals and moral living still permeates a lot of Western society. (The reason I’m saying Western society here is because I have little to no experience of life outside of Europe and North America).
I will say this though -I firmly uphold the belief that there are no atheists in foxholes. (The origins of this saying are murky at best, with several origin stories discussed in the wikipedia page…) In times of extreme stress, terror, pain or loss, most of us will turn to a Divine Being of some description, whether looking for help or screaming in pain or cursing them to the nth degree… The feeling that there is something outside of ourselves to appeal to, to beg, to plead, to curse… it’s weirdly comforting.
And of course, I believe in the existence of this Divine Force. There have been too many times in my life that I’ve been saved from things through no logic or rationale for me not to believe. And I “choose” to work with Brigid as my main representation of the Divine. (“Choose” might not be the right word there, but it’s not like she holds me hostage or anything!) I also work with other Beings, as most of ye know.
In saying all that, for most of us, those “foxhole moments” are not an everyday occurrence though (unfortunately not all of us). So what, on a day to day basis, is the point of a deity? Why bother to work with them? For my own views on this: well, we are more than our physical bodies. We are ensouled, we are spiritual beings, we are forces of nature. We need to nourish and grow that part of us as much as we need to nourish and grow our bodies and our intellect. We are more than the parts that make us up. And that part, the part that is more than the parts that make us up, is the bit that the Divine gets involved in most of all.
In Irish paganism, our deities are not necessarily omnipotent, omniscience or omnipresent (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present). They’re a slight step closer to human than that. But that slight step closer, does not mean they are human. They have powers beyond our ken, so to speak. They are good at getting shit down. They help their people. They care for the land and the people. They are here with us, but also elsewhere. When we’re working in line with them, things get, not necessarily easier, but perhaps slightly smoother. I don’t want to downplay all the efforts that go into the work they support by saying it’s easy or easier, because that’s unfair to the people involved. But when we work in line with our deities priorities and desires, things happen.
I can only assume that if you’re reading this blog, you have a belief in deity. That’s great. But I also believe it’s important to examine why we belief in deity and what we mean when we say we believe in deity. This kind of reflection is not where I’m most comfortable – as an engineer, I much prefer the bashing things with hammers bit – but it’s still hugely important. Knowing what we believe, knowing why we believe it, realising how our beliefs change and grow over time, are all hugely important in our spiritual journeys.
So go on, examine a bit: why do you bother with deity?
It’s hard when starting out on a new path or transferring from one path to another to come to grips with how to address beings. I mean, people, we can usually figure out, but deities and such like – well, they don’t always bloody answer do they? And few people actively want to be disrespectful to a deity, no matter whether they have a relationship with them or not.
Add to that, many of Brigid’s followers have some form of Christianity in their backgrounds, so we’re used to addressing Our Father, which doesn’t work on all sorts of levels for Brigid. Just for info, I wouldn’t be risking Our Mother either… just to be on the safe side.
Starting off with her name is no bad thing. Except for non-Irish speakers, the name is a bit of an issue. I mean we have Brig in Caith Maighe Tuireadh; Brigit in the Lives, Brighid in later Irish, Brigid in even later Irish and Bríd in modern Irish. Not to mention those of us (ahem, point at myself here!) that use Brigid when speaking English and Bríd when speaking Irish. Now, the way I’d pronounce any and all of these words has little enough variation, but I’d say find a video on YouTube (I know Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School has done at least one video on pronunciations of Irish deities) preferably from someone who speaks some level of Irish – hell, there’s even some videos up on Lora’s channel that she has me speaking on, I’m sure I say Brigid’s name a few times… The thing is – whether it’s Brigit, Brighid, Brigid or Bríd – it’s the same name, the spelling differences reflect changes in the language rather than the name. The reasons we pronounce them differently are to do with colonialism and the attempted eradication of the Irish language. But we won’t go into that here. Needless to say, addressing her in a respectful manner by name, you won’t go far.
The main thing to remember is, you’re addressing a deity here. So think of how you’d addressed any deity and work out from there. I’d not be calling her “Lady” or “Missus”, not unless she explicitly tells you you can – even Lady is a fair big step down for a deity. Calling her “Goddess” probably won’t land you in hot water, but it seems like a lot of syllables… (the lot of syllables bit is my own opinion now mind!) Brigid, Bríd, Brighid – all of these will be fine. In certain circumstances, “Daughter of the Dagda” might be appropriate, if you’re working on her relationship with her aul fella. “Mother of Ruadhán” might also be good. Personal gnosis here, but I think “Wife of Bres” might be touchy, because of the politics involved. I mean, Bres was not a good king and she was married to him, so she had to put up with him…
You will see me refer to her as “herself”. This is an Irish thing. It’s not a mark of disrespect, only someone who is worthy of respect might be referred to as “himself” or “herself”. (There are those who think using the capital H here is more respectful, so “Herself” rather than “herself”, I don’t subscribe to that idea, but I respect those who do.) There’s something important to realise about the Irish approach to people of respect. There’s people you respect and know well – an outsider might never realise just how respected someone is in a community, since as a race, we have a grand tradition of pulling the piss. And really, there’s a tendency to show our respect by the lack thereof in certain circumstances. Not all circumstances, mind, but certain ones.
For example, I had a manager when I was a baby engineer, who was amazingly helpful and supportive to me throughout the 4 yrs I worked for him, to the point that not only did he attend my wedding with his wife, but he was mentioned in my Dad’s speech as being a surrogate father to me while I was in England. I refer to this man as “boss” to this day and he hates it. But it’s how I show how high in my esteem he sits. If I stated calling him by his given name, he’d think I was angry at him. His wife, I will always call by her given name, not because of a lack of respect, but because of a lack of familiarity.
There are elements of Irish culture, such as the apparent lack of respect shown above, that is difficult to explain to outsiders, or people who have not lived in the culture for an extended period. As in decades. There’s nuance here and honestly, until you see it in action, you may struggle with it. In fact, you probably will. So stay on the safe side and stick with what you know until you learn it 🙂
We can always address Brigid by her professions or associations of course. Poet, Healer or Smith are all appellations I feel she connects with. The three titles come from Sanas Cormac (Cormac’s Glossary) and I suppose she could be addressed as a queen, seeing as how she was married to Bres and he was king. I’ve never addressed her as Majesty or anything like that, but it’s usually the Smith or the Healer I deal with, neither profession much given to rank or status beyond skill.
I would steer very far away from addressing her as maiden/mother/crone. It’s not Irish Brigid to be in that mould and I think it could be dangerous. She has a temper after all! I’ve heard of people addressing her as “Mistress” as well – again not something I understand, mistress being a fair long step below deity. “Holy One” might suit your spiritual beliefs and be safe enough as well, “Skilled One” is probably better, in my opinion. You could try “Great One”, but she’d probably be looking for the kick in the tail. She is an Irish deity after all – too much plámásery is suspect. (From teanglann:plámás, m. (gs. -áis). (Act of) flattering, flattery; soft talk, cajolery. ~ a dhéanamh le duine, to flatter, wheedle, s.o. Níl tú ach ag ~ liom, you are only trying to soft-sawder me. Cuir uait an ~! None of your palaver!)
It is, of course, highly respectful to learn how to address her as Gaeilge (in Irish). Bríd is Brigid in Irish (kinda pronounced “breedj”). Goddess is “bandia” (literally, female god – in Irish when you see the word “ban” at the beginning of the word it means it’s someone female). Duine Mór (literally big person) or Duine Uasail (person of respect) are two other phrases although both are very formal and would rarely be used in normal conversation. In fact, duine mór would rarely be used as an address, but more as a description of something.
Now, if you’re speaking Irish, you don’t just start off by saying “Bríd“. You say “A Bhríd“. The “A” denotes the fact that you’re talking to the person, a way of getting attention or directing the conversation. In a similar manner if you were using “bandia” as a form of address, you would say “A bhandia“. Now, it would be equally right to say “A dhia”, seeing as how the use of “ban” to indicate female gender is falling out of use in modern Ireland. And yeah – changing culture does change the langauge!
The Irish for Healer would be something like lia (and you wouldn’t add the “h” after an “l”, so you would say “A Lia”) The Irish for Smith is “Gabha”, so “A Ghabha” and of course, poet would be “File” or “A Fhile“. For anyone working with the saint, we say “Naomh Bhríd” and you don’t say “A Naomh Bhríd”, just “Naomh Bhríd”. Irish is a very simple language, with clear rules – until it isn’t 🙂
Addressing a deity in their own language would be a basic sign of respect, I’d say, no matter what deity you’re dealing with. Very few of them worked in English… certainly far fewer than the widespread use of English in dealing with matters spiritual would indicate.
As a summary then: calling her Brigid/Brighid/ Brigit is sensible, seeing as how that’s her name. Using her titles – Goddess, Poet, Healer, Smith, Queen / Your Majesty (although I have very ambivalent feelings about Queen to be honest). Remember titles like “Lady” might seem fine to us in the modern world, but it’s a fair steep step down from Deity. Those titles in Irish would be even better as outlined in the paragraphs directly above this one. And again, teanglann has great pronunciation help, and there’s also Abair (literally means “say” in Irish) which shows the three major dialects (or canúintí as Gaeilge – I was older than I want to admit before I realised there was an English word for canúintí!!)
Hope that helps people who are coming to Brigid or Irish deity from other traditions. I mean, if you make an honest mistake, Brigid isn’t recorded as blasting someone from the face of the planet. Yet. So be careful, little bit fearful but not necessarily terrified. Healthy respect, with a little tinge of fear – kind of like how I view the Other Crowd, but that’s another post!!
I hope everyone likes the new look of the blog. Please let me know what you think!
Over the last few months, I’ve had some debates, rows, discussions and plain fights with people online over the importance of citing sources when making a declaration with regard to spirituality or deity. Here’s the thing. I don’t mean going back through papers from 30 yrs ago, when you might first have read something, I mean saying things like “Oh I read this paper by such and such that linked this aspect to that aspect and came up with this”. For most people, that’s about all that’s needed. Or indeed, “it was a story in the Lives, the one that isn’t Cogistosus or Bethu”. And then someone else can come and suggest the Prima, and the original person says, “That’s the one, thanks!” I don’t expect people with no research training to do much more than that.
Now if you’re writing something for publication, either a research paper, a book, or a blog you know will be widely read, or if you’re known as a scholar of the subject, I expect more. I expect a proper research citation really at that point. Or at least a very clear indication where the information came from. It doesn’t need to be Harvard referencing or anything like that for blogs (although for books and papers, if your editor isn’t asking for some sort of official citation scheme, question what sort of publication it is!) but something like “In Bethu Brigte,…..” or “In X’s paper, The Red Book, …” things like that really help when trying to separate facts or primary/ secondary sources of gnosis from personal gnosis.
I’m always amazed I’m not pulled up more often when I go back over older things I’ve written because of the lack of references or at least a nod to where this is coming from.
Why is this important?
Well. There’s a few reasons. The first one is “paper never refused ink”. Anyone can write anything, particularly in these days of free blogs on the internet (ahem, look at what you’re reading!) and really, we have no idea what their credentials are or what experience they have or whether they’re speaking truth or lies. I’d advise reading anything, including anything on this blog, with a pinch of salt until you can determine for yourself the legitimacy of the author. And sometimes that’s harder than others.
I’ll give an example. Every Imbolc, I see things going round the internet about how “golden round foods” are the way to celebrate Brigid’s festival. This is then linked to the “fact” that Brigid is a “sun deity” and Imbolc is celebrating the return of the sun. These people have never been to Ireland in February. Seriously. Let’s attack this a bit at a time. From the variety of Lives of the saint we have, Brigid is strongly connected with the dairy, so butter, milk, cream, anything that can be made in the dairy is a good way to start with offerings, if you want to go down that road. But pancakes in Ireland are associated with Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent will start. The date of Ash Wednesday can vary from 4th Feb to 10th March every year because Easter Sunday is calculated by a combination of the spring equinox and the moon cycle. From https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/when-easter
The simple standard definition of Easter is that it is the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. If the full Moon falls on a Sunday then Easter is the next Sunday.
So it could be easy to say in Ireland, they use pancakes to celebrate Imbolc – except we don’t. When I was a child, pancakes were only served on Shrove Tuesday, because eggs and rich foods were not eaten during length traditionally, and pancakes were a handy and tasty way of using up such foods. It has nothing to do with Brigid or Imbolc at all. But someone somewhere didn’t really understand what was going on, linked some ideas about Brigid being a sun deity (which she isn’t, more on this later) with pancakes being round and golden like the sun and came up with pancakes being a great way to celebrate.
I mean, pancakes are a great way to celebrate anything, but it’s cos they’re so tasty and nice. There is no symbolism here linking them to Imbolc.
And then we come to the bit about celebrating the return of the sun at Imbolc. Not in Ireland. Imbolc is officially the start of spring in Ireland, but it’s more the beginning of spring, when we first see green shoots coming out of the ground. The weather is still, usually, miserable. It’s raining. It’s cold, it’s heavy, it’s unrelenting. It’s one of the prices we pay for those lovely green fields and for me, it’s worth it, but a celebration of sun return, it is not. We do sun celebrations at solstices. Kinda.
But the thing is, because this post saying Brigid is a sun deity and so anything round and golden , like eggs and pancakes and other foods, represent the sun, these are all good things to make for Imbolc, goes around every year and is celebrated across the internet every year, a lot of people are picking up some very inaccurate information. We don’t really have a sun deity as such in Ireland. If we did, the Dagda would be a much more likely candidate, but honestly, our deities are more to do with arts, crafts, and trades. They’re doing things. Brigid (from Sanas Cormac, or Cormac’s Glossary) is associated with poets, healing and smithcraft. There’s a list of animals as well – although it’s important to realise Cormac’s Glossary is not a modern dictionary, but that could be a whole other post! There’s definitely no mention of sun goddess in there or in the Leabhar Gabála Éireann (the Book of the Invasions of Ireland, essentially, our creation myth) or in Caith Maighe Tuireadh (Battle of Moytura).
But definitely not sun deities.
And I can already hear people asking, why this is important? Sure what harm can it do? Well, if you don’t believe that dealing with deity in the right manner is important, frankly, I’m wondering why you’re reading this blog at all? Every religion in the world has its ways of dealing with deity and observances around them. And yes, these things change over time and Brigid herself has shown herself very willing to change with the times – she supported the people of Ireland as a saint when paganism wasn’t really an option any more (although if you’ve read previous posts here, you’ll know of my belief that Christianity in Ireland was more of a thin veneer over deep roots of paganism anyway). So worship can change and what a deity does can change. Sure, I’ll accept that. But such changes happen gradually over generations, not overnight (relatively speaking) because someone got things wrong.
Now, Irish Brigid is not the only Brigid, I know that. But this all serves equally well for any other Brigid. I have yet to come across non-modern lore regarding Brigid as a sun deity. And yet, outside of certain circles, people accept this as true. It’s the same with the triple deity – triple deities in Ireland don’t fit the maiden/mother/crone mould – trust me!! – and yet, there’s a plethora of people out these insisting Brigid is a maiden, mother, crone. That’s a Wiccan process as far as I can figure out (and it was difficult to even narrow it down that far) but I’d strongly advise against telling Irish Brigid she fits that mould. Seriously. Or, if you’re going to have that conversation with her – let me watch? 😀
I can hear people screaming all over the place, “But that’s not my gnosis!!” Yeah, personal gnosis has a role to play in any spirituality. It’s really important and vital to your spiritual growth to develop your own gnosis. (Gnosis is the word used in many spiritual circles to cover knowledge and belief about a certain topic, comes from the Greek word for knowledge anyway). UPG, unverified personal gnosis, is such a common term around the place that it has it’s own acronym. It’s hugely important that you develop your own practices and beliefs, otherwise we end up with dogma and that’s not good. But it’s also crucial, absolutely crucial, to outline to others where something is based on your own experiences and where something is based on lore or writings or common knowledge. For example, Brigid to me is a friend, a support, a manager, a leader, a powerful force in this world. She is strong and capable and gets shit done. This is my personal gnosis. She appears this way to others as well. She also appears as a beautiful energy to others. She appears as a loving relation to others. She is more than one thing – deity is not simple. But it would be wrong of me to say she is only a support or only a capable doer of things. Because that leads others to doubt where their experiences have taken them. Now I do get annoyed at people who only see the beautiful energy thing, because that to me is a waste of energy. Energy is there to be used and useful – maybe it’s my engineering background, but I have a strong belief that deity needs to be useful as well, because, well why else would we do all of this? And even the belief that deity needs to be useful is personal gnosis as well.
It’s important to delineate between knowledge stemming from the lore and personal gnosis, because of the danger of leading others down an incorrect path. We’re not all called to do the same work, and why should we be? But the core of the lore concerning Brigid is quite brief, there’s not mounds of writing there (Irish Brigid again here!) so it’s worth being familiar with it and basing your practice on it. Working out from there is extremely useful. The Mary Jones website has a handy list of the lore concerning Brigid here, although I should note, I don’t necessarily agree with the links to Welsh mythology. I’m not familiar enough with Welsh mythology to comment more than that though. Clann Bhríde have a more complete list of lore here. They’ve also kindly provided a little commentary on each bit as well as links to where the originals can be found online.
There’s no reason not to look at the ancient lore we have, because it tells us what our ancestors deemed important to be recorded. We can work out our own practices from there. But it is work – it’s not enough to just decide something is right and go do it, you have to prove it to yourself and look for indications from herself that it is right. And, it’s really important to remember that while something might be fine and dandy for you to do, it might not be for someone else. Brigid doesn’t treat us all the same. That’s not in the old Irish ways. People were given their due, but their due was not constant. So, what is right and proper for me do to in relation to Brigid, might not be right or even safe for someone else to do.
We have a lot of commonalities for Brigid – fire, lighting candles, praying, writing – whether creative writing or otherwise, healing work, smithcraft… there’s a lot in it. And I go into it a lot in my courses in the Irish Pagan School as to how we can extrapolate from the lore and directions we might go in.
But just remember – the lore is there for a reason. It’s all we have. And “experiences may vary” is a valid warning no matter what we’re talking about! So label your UPG as such. You may find others have a similar UPG and that’s great. But they might not and that’s ok too – just as long as the experience is being labelled as UPG and nothing generally accepted practice.
Well, if you’re this far, you’ll have noticed some changes to the blog. I mainly changed the theme so I could have the “Categories” menu over there on the left hand side, to try and make navigation easier.
Another post will be following in a while, possibly tomorrow, but let me know what you think about the changes and if it makes things better or worse.
Part one of this series is here (Intro to Catholicism); part two of the series is here (The Problems)
In the last two posts, I covered a (very, very brief) introduction to Catholicism and the problems inherent with mixing Catholicism and Paganism. Now I’ll sort through just how I mix the two. And I’ll be honest, it was hard to pick this apart…
Lighting candles is so much a part of both Brigidine practices and Catholicism, it’s difficult to tell which in which practice the candle is lit. And yet, lighting candles for specific intentions is a part of my day-to-day activities (well maybe, week-to-week). I ask my parents to light candles for me for important meetings or interviews, I’ll light them myself to ensure the internet stays working during a class or to help focus my mind on something specific. The candles I light myself are done with little ceremony, a tea light, a match (although the search for a match that bloody works has become a ceremony in itself at this point!), a quick “please let the internet stay stable for the next X time” and the candle placed in front of a statue of either Brigid or Mary. Weirdly, I rarely if ever use St. Therese for this.
I’ve said a lot previously that I believe the physical reflects the energetical and vice versa, so a lot of my energy cleaning work looks extremely similar to normal housework. I mean, if I’m washing the windows to improve my outlook or my vision, the windows of my house still get washed. As well, if I’m hoovering up dust to clear out some energy, or clearing clutter to remove stagnation, the house ends up looking nicer afterwards. From the outside, there’s no real difference in these activities. And yet, I believe that regardless of whether I’m thinking of it or not, clearing out clutter from the corners does help the energy to flow around the house more. Bringing light (i.e. clearing all the crap) away from the corners bears light on the hidden or unnoticed issues, but also means the room looks better. House designers and decorators speak of creating moods with lighting, textures and fabrics – how is this not magic?
Taking some straw from the crib at Christmas to ensure wealth or at least financial comfort during the year is obviously Christian in origin, but with real hints of pagan practices. A lot of the Irish folklore practices are like this and for more, there area few courses on the Irish Pagan School on this. Or indeed, go look at Dúchas. Lots of the traditional practices there.
From a practical point of view, despite long holding out that I don’t have an altar in my home, I realised the other day that I keep the altar below. So, the first picture on the left hand side is a picture of St. Therese. The Russian dolls were given to me by my mother and the little bottle of solid perfume by my Nana. The purple painting at the back I bought from a friend, it says: Faith makes all things possible. Hope makes all things brighter. Love connects us all together. It’s bedecked with little gems and I’ve had it nearly 10yrs now. There is a bowl of crystals and stones in front of this painting – I don’t buy crystals anymore now that I’ve learned about some of the horrific practices involved in mining them, not to mention the stripping of wealth from countries who need it. But I won’t throw out the ones I already have either – if people died so I could have them, it’s not right to try and forget that. The candle is a random tealight that got dropped there and the cross is on that was given out at Easter (2yrs ago now cos I’ve not been to church since COVID hit). The glass statue was a gift from my husband before we got married and says: love; 1. vb. to have great attachment to and affection for. 2. an intense emotion of affection, warmth and strong feelings of fondness. Next to that is a carving of a cat I got in Gambia for my Nana and I got it back after she died (it stood on her mantlepiece until she went into a home and then it was on her bedside table). The wooden statue in front of that is also from Gambia and one I bought for myself – it always reminds me of strength and power. Hiding behind that statue is one of St. Therese again. The mass card is a recent one for my Aunt Maura who passed away about 18months ago. The cross was from my parents and the rosary beads are from a man I used to visit in hospital – they’re from Jerusalem, so extra holy (hence why they’ve not been taken out of the packet yet!)
Now as well as this, I also have my Brigid statue next to my desk (surrounded by clutter right now, I really need to do a tidy up!!) The card stuck in the back of the statue is one I got after an initiation a few years ago, outlining what that group of women saw as my gifts – something I like to read every now and again to remind me that there are people out there who see gifts in me. And to remind myself how far I’ve come in my spiritual journey
So with the altar-that-isn’t-an-altar, we have remembering my ancestors and where I come from, along with St. Therese and reminders of the important things in my life – family, love, work. And it’s very strange but that bookshelf that is my altar rarely gets dusted, but also rarely has dust on it. I like to think of my Nanas popping in to clean the place up every now and again, tutting at my lack of housekeeping at the same time as being really proud of me that I have a job supporting my family. My Aunt Maura wouldn’t be too impressed with the place either!
I’ve often said before that a lot of my work for Brigid is in the realms of being a female engineer and being a role model, an example for those coming after me. It’s not always comfortable or easy, I’m not someone who likes being the centre of attention really, but it has to be done. The more women we have in engineering, or I suppose the more people who aren’t men we have in engineering, the better! Diversity leads to better problem solving and solutions…
Teaching and educating people is another important aspect of my practice. This comes from educations people about Brigid as I know her, what the hell Catholicism in Ireland is all about and about what engineering can mean. I mean, the Tuatha de Danann were people of skills and crafts – none of our Irish deities could be limited to just one skill at all – why would they expect the same from their followers?
There are areas that I mentally rule out because of mixing the two (Catholicism and paganism). I abohor violence. Not that I don’t think it’s useful and necessary at times, but my deity and my saints don’t ask me to start fights, participate in them, that sort of thing. They do ask that I am clear on what will engage my violent tendencies and that I support heavily those that do engage with the enemy, whether monetarily, moral support, physical support, whatever. My deities and saints realise sending me in to fight will be a last resort because of my reactions to violence, but that doesn’t excuse me from supporting the necessary conflicts in our lives. That means you may see me sharing things on Facebook (other social media are available 😉 ), I give money to The Bail Project , rape crisis centres, homeless charities, and others. It’s not constant or consistent, but there are times I am called to support a specific charity by a direct intervention by a deity/saint or by something in the news. I use Kiva to support women in other parts of the world develop businesses or education routes – things that will better their lives and the lives of their families. My mother told me when I was younger that education women, allowing women to earn money means that money will be reinvested in their families and communities – something I have since seen proven by various studies. There is also an element here of supporting areas that have been forcibly converted to Christianity, as a sort of paying back for the injustices and wrongs done by my spiritual ancestors. And yeah, anything on Kiva for me goes to women. Other choices are definitely available! (Although I should note, I’ve not seen nonbinary options here, if someone has, please let me know – I think I auto-choose women at this point because the link is in my browser history)
Supporting the poor and in need is a fundamental requirement in Catholicism, although I don’t subscribe to the Church’s view that there are worthy and unworthy poor – if someone is hungry, feed them; homeless, house them; unclothed, clothe them… It seems pretty simple to me, came straight from Jesus. And yet, the Church has used poverty and hunger to force conversions and/or adherence to strict moral codes it doesn’t always follow itself (other Christian Churches do this as well, just fyi, but it’s Catholicism I’m focusing on here). Anyone who has taken any of my classes will have heard of Brig Ambue, Brig of the Cowless, so there is a vital interest there for Brigid in the poor and the hungry as well.
I also devote time to learning – both Irish history, Irish language and Catholic history. And not just the highlights – yeah, most people in Ireland can tell you bits and bobs of varying degrees of accuracy on An Gorta Mór (the Great Famine, officially 1845 – 1949, but starvation prevailed in the country for a few years after that as well). We also lost between 135 and 20% of our population in the 1740-1741 famine. There’s an entire book from Cork University Press devoted to the subject – and yes, that book is winging it’s way towards me now after reading about it in detail…. possibly along with a few more…. And it’s important to realise that there is more to the history of Ireland than English/British colonisation. We covered a lot of stuff in school of course, one of the reasons Red Hugh O’Donnell (Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill) is a hero of mine, from the story of him escaping from Dublin Castle, in the snow, wearing only his nightshirt and then legging back up to Donegal. You have to understand, when I was growing up, even driving to Donegal took about 6-8hrs, depending on whether we needed to avoid going through the North or not, so imagining someone setting off on foot really tickled my imagination. But of course, there’s more to the story than is told to 11yr olds in school and this is where the learning comes in. For me, understanding where my nation and the Catholic church came from is important in understanding how things came about the way they are today. There have been many mistakes made in both areas, and if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we repeat them.
My husband has recently started a practice of feeding the rabbits and birds in our vicinity – well not directly, but any scraps of food he thinks will help them is going in specific places around the house – outside, I mean, now, not inside. We don’t invite crows and rabbits inside the house. I mean, they have been known to try and get in anyway, but I have a reasonably strict “no wild animals in the house” rule. It gives us both great pleasure to look at the animals, the birds, crows in particular in our house, and rabbits move about and aren’t in any way tamed by this by the way, but it’s supporting our local wildlife. Now, there’s always a danger of rats, who can and do get in houses, but the food locations are away from the house and well, rats serve their purpose too in this world. (No, I can’t think what it is off the top of my head, but I’m sure they have one. Everyone having a purpose in the world is probably a Catholic idea, but it’s there in the Irish lore as well…) Now on the one hand, this is a practical use of our compost heap for later use in fertilisation. But it’s also a way of supporting wildlife without making them dependent on us. And if you said to him this was a spiritual practice, he’d be confused at best. Allowing space for the wild things is important!!
I don’t subscribe to the Christian view of “my body is a temple” thing (although most people I’ve heard say that aren’t what I would consider Christians either…) but I do believe in taking care of and developing the gifts that the G/gods give us. This can be tied into my scholastic work, my teaching, my job, but also the physical body I have. I spent years living through eating disorders, abuse, generally pretending any pain signals my body were sending me were fake or non existent. It’s left me with long term issues, I now have to deal with. But I can do this. So this looks like doing my physio exercises daily or nearly daily. It means eating a mostly balanced diet and paying attention when my body tells me something isn’t working. It means making sure I get enough sleep and water. It means constantly and consistently looking at what’s working, what isn’t and what needs to change. Right now, I’m limited in the movement I can do – an ingrown toe nail (that has grown back FIVE TIMES at this point!) is being sorted out (nail bed excised) on 12th July and I can’t wait cos right now, I can’t walk properly at all. By this I mean, I’m trying to walk without putting any weight on that big toe, which is causing my knees, hips and back to struggle and inflicting a lot of pain on me. Add to that the jumping about every time anything even touches the bloody toe, which further causes pain and it’s a recipe for disaster. But I have an goal for myself to be able to walk 4 miles in an hour without pain by the end of the year, which means once the toe is healing, I have a plan for re-learning to walk. And ok, the Catholic platitudes of “offering up pain for the holy souls in Purgatory” may not suit everyone, but it’s nice to think of my pain causing someone else some good…. So the pain can go to the holy souls and the walking is part of my deal with the deities/saints to look after the physical body. This paragraph more than any other might outline my approach to mixed spirituality….
So there you go. I’m more than 2500 words in here, so I’ll leave it here for today. Any questions or further requests – hit the comments!
(The first part of this post is here: here in case you missed it. That one was an intro to Catholicism)
For this post, I’m going to be looking at some of the Big Issues with combining a Catholicism and Paganism. I mean, I could probably write a book on this one (but I won’t!!) I’m going to start from a Catholic side since we’re on a roll with this.
Now, most of the people working with paganism are looking towards polytheism, so Commandment 1 is a bit of an issue. And many would say the way I work this into my personal gnosis is semantics at best, but here we go. My belief is this: there is a divine force in this world and there’s one divine force in this world. But we as humans can’t conceive of the whole of this force, any more than we can mentally encompass what “eternity” really means (like seriously, I am the only one who just get’s the feeling of a completely empty chest trying to conceive of eternity?) Because we can’t encompass all of what this divinity is, we can, at best, capture sub spectra of the force – like as if light was passed through a prism and separated into its colours. Those sub spectra are the deities we can encompass through paganism.
I mean, to be clear, I think the Patriarchal God supported by most of the Christian Churches is bullshit anyway, those ideas have been filtered through men’s minds and I can’t imagine any force of nature gives a shit about most of the things the Catholic Church considers sins. I have real issue with the image of “God” as presented by Catholicism, but I suppose it does fulfil the requirement to be awe and terror inspiring…
But this patriarchal approach permeates Catholic thinking – from the clerical side anyway. In the (very recent) past, clerics were (and still are in many ways) powerful men in their communities. And in Ireland, they are in pretty much all communities even now. They have a say in what teachers are hired, even though the teachers are hired by the department of education. They have a say in how our hospitals are operated. They have a say in our politics. And this has been the way for most of our recorded history in Ireland – while we were oppressed and colonised by the English, the priests and Catholicism could be a source of strength and support in the community: everyone was so oppressed anyway, that a lot of the problems with Catholicism didn’t really apply.
Here is where I separate the Catholic Church and its teachings and the Catholicism that I grew up with. I don’t know how my parents managed it, but their fundamental approach to religion is very similar to my own right now: you look after those who need looking after. People aren’t on different tiers of being fundamentally more or less worthy of respect (their actions might lead you to believe they are less worth, such as a dirty politician or a dishonest shopkeeper, but each human being is in and of themselves equally worthy of respect). This extends to animals as well in our family – animals aren’t family, but regret is expressed if a rabbit was hit by a car accidentally. Pain would not be inflicted on animals unnecessarily (and by this I mean that say cattle and sheep would be treated as necessary by a vet, which sometimes means an injection, which leads to distress for the animal, but would be inflicted anyway because of the benefits to the animals health). The approach is, and it’s one I’ve seen over and over again in Irish farming communities, that due respect is paid to God’s creations in terms of land and animals. Ireland is still a fairly rural country and this respect for the land and the animals is inbuilt into most of the practices of farming even today. Ireland’s farms are still predominantly run by families, not corporations. This notions of care of land and people are very core to the ideas of paganism for me – and it’s a good example of how the thin veneer of Catholicism in Ireland covers a deep well of paganism…
I also grew up not knowing a lot of the inbuilt inequalities in Catholicism officially speaking. I mean under official Catholic teaching, all human beings are born equal but…. But baptised babies and children are that bit more equal than non-baptised and boys are that bit more equal than girls. (The notion of transgender people existing is something the Church is only recently beginning to address, and it’s doing it badly.) People are not considered equal really in the Catholic Church. For a religion that started off appealing to the poor, the oppressed, the lowly, the Church has risen very high in the world and I think at times, it forgets its origins.
But that respect for people and land and animals permeated the practices I grew up with. And here is where I really begin to intertwin my pagan and Catholic practices. I leave the Church as institution out of it completely really. Because that institution is about control of the masses, not about bringing people along a spiritual journey. Let’s not underestimate that problem. While some priests take a vow of poverty at ordination, many do not and it is said that the vow of obedience to their bishop is considered more important. For an institution that’s based on a man who told us all “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, the Church has amassed a LOT of wealth over the millennia. Now, giving beautiful things to honour God is grand – but there’s a lot of religious folk out there who aren’t listening to the words of the man who supposedly is the foundation of our religion.
The use of that money is suspect as well. the Church has not moved well in the modern world – it has fallen behind in women’s rights, gender rights, bodily respect and rights, poverty, hunger…. many of the things they have done in the past are now particularly suspect. Take a look at some of the issues with Mother Teresa in India here for an example of how the initial appearance looks good but the devil is in the detail, as the saying goes. The practices that were enforced in her places were not supporting people and helping people beyond the absolute bare necessities for life. Spiritual life was ignored there for a start and some very unhealthy, and indeed anti-health, practices were enforced.
Then we need to address the scandals. We in Ireland used to think the scandals in the Catholic Church were a particularly Irish problem. As it turns out, it’s more of a colonialism/ elitism/ clericalism problem. Women and children in particular were open to being abused in institutions with very, very little appropriate oversight, in the blatantly false belief (in hindsight anyway) that religious people would do the “right thing”. The thing is, the Church is always more interested in the soul and the life to come rather than the here and now. And when they get under their control someone they feel is a black sinner, with little to no hope of redemption, they will act accordingly to save the soul not the person. I’ve written before about the scandals in the Church and it’s a hugely upsetting and distressing subject – as it bloody well should be – so I won’t go over them in detail again. However, in the interests of transparency, here’s a brief list (from Ireland) of the major Church related scandals that have come to light in the last few decades:
Mother and Baby homes
Control of health and education
If you look at the Catholic Church, the institution, the institution is in no way compatible with pagan practices. However… however, the basic principles of Catholicism, when you clear away the teachings implemented by man, when you clear away the dross of custom and practice, there are some very solid values underlying the Catholic ethos. Look after the people, uplift the lowly, bring down the high, everyone is equal in the eyes of God…
The problems are the clericalism, the hierarchy endemic with the institution, the belief that certain people have better knowledge of the issues at hand than those people who are actually experiencing them. And that elitism, that certainty that by virtue of their office, they knew better than anyone else, is what led directly and indirectly to the above scandals in Ireland (and elsewhere) In 2018, Pope Francis even admitted clericalism is an issue:
Clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.
There can be a tendency in paganism, from what I can see, particularly in the US/ North America, to veer towards elitism and exclusion, but seriously people, the Catholic Church has been doing this a lot longer and they have this shit down pat. Even the leader of the institution recognises the problems inherent with this sort of practice. He is encouraging his people to listen and learn from others – the problem is, he’s trying to overturn 1500 yrs of solid practice.
For me, the root of combining a pagan and Catholic practice, particularly in the work with Brigid, is about taking the root good that is there in Catholicism and ignoring the institution and their elitist views. There are many, many people out there who don’t agree with this and think anything linked to the Catholic Church should be wiped out, particularly in the face of the scandals from the Church. That’s grand, there is no One True Way in this world. We each choose our own path. I’m explaining mine here, but yours will almost certainly be different!!
My next post will go into the detail of how this translates into the daily practice of my life.
Fair warning here, I started this thinking it would be one post. Then I hit 3000 words and thought I’d better split it! I’ve gone through it to see if there are any references to other parts that have now moved to another post, but apologies if I’ve missed any!! And for this first post, if you are Catholic, you can probably skip this one 🙂
I’ve been asked in different guises a few times lately about how to respectfully and non-appropriatively combine Catholicism and Paganism (and in particular in relation to Brigid). This is coming from both people who started out Catholic, moved to Paganism and now want to combine the two as well as people who either started as something other than Catholic and moved to Pagan or who were always Pagan and want to start looking at Catholicism. It’s an interesting one and not something for which I necessarily want to outline definitive answers. There’s so much of my practice that’s wrapped in both Catholicism and Paganism, it’s hard sometimes for me to separate. But there’s people interested, so here’s my attempt to outline what’s respectful and what’s not.
It’s important to note as well that the specifics of what I’m talking about are Irish focused. The Catholic Church is not homogenous in all things (although there are unfortunate aspects in which it seems to excel at homogeneity for some reason) Practices can and do vary from country to country. For example, no one in Ireland takes much notice of bare arms or lower legs in Ireland (I mean hot pants would probably raise an eyebrow or two, depending on the age of the wearer, but knee length or just above knee length skirts would be grand in most parishes) However, I know when I was in Rome, elbows and knees had to be covered on entering a church. Covering hair hasn’t been a requirement for Mass in Ireland for 70 yrs or more, but elsewhere I believe it still is. So, while what I’m saying here is applicable to most sacred spaces, I will outline what’s needed to stay respectful in Catholic churches and when dealing with Catholic entities.
I’ll start with the basics. This is for people who have never been Catholic (anyone who has been Catholic, you can probably skip most of this!) The Catholic Church is a monotheistic religion, believing there is One God. It also, as with a lot of other religions, believes only the adherents of the One God can get to Heaven and that the suffering we experience here on earth is part of the human experience and the more suffering here on earth, the less suffering after death before being allowed into Heaven. There are a few places you can end up in after death in Catholicism: Heaven and Hell are the most known ones, Purgatory is reasonably well known, Limbo has been put to bed so to speak in recent years. Heaven is where those who are in a state of grace and in friendship with God end up. Purgatory is for someone who is friendly with God, but not fully in a state of grace. (It’s assumed by most people who believe that they will spend a period of time in Purgatory, unless they manage to confess directly before death or receive Last Rites) Hell is for those who turn from God. Limbo was for those who died in a state of original sin (i.e. hadn’t been baptised, such as unbaptised babies) but the Church softened its stance on this about a decade ago and admitted that really, ours is a forgiving God and frankly, there are plenty of theological reasons why unbaptised babies can get to Heaven. The whole “we are worthless scum without the grace of God” thinking permeated Catholic thinking for centuries, although it was worded very differently, but has been changing for decades at least among the practitioners if not the leaders of the Church.
The One God is a triune God as well (cos why would it be simple!!) God the Father (or God), God the Son (Jesus Christ, who is the son of God and Mary) and God the Holy Spirit (who’s hard to pin down, but who is often mentioned as possessing various holy figures in the Bible) Catholicism is a patriarchal religion, with only men being allowed to be priests/ bishops/ archbishops/ cardinals/ pope/ people of power. This wasn’t the case in the early church, in the first few centuries of the church, there are plenty of documented powerful female figures, but that was changed at some point. We do have holy women, who live lives devoted to God, called nuns. They can be both wonderful and terrifying, sometimes at the same time. I mean, they’re human, come in all shapes and sizes, both physically and spiritually. Think of the episode of Family Guy where the battalions of nuns are the shock troops of the Vatican… And I say that having known some truly wonderful women who were also nuns. There are also groups of men who devote their lives to God but under similar guise as nuns, called monks. These are not priests. Honestly – google again. Try some of the official websites rather than Wikipedia. This is the Vatican website for a start: http://www.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html There are orders of both nuns and monks, with different focuses in the world. Some look at education, which is where most of Ireland gets their first experience with them, health, prayer, seclusion from the world… the list goes on and on. And these orders can be rich and powerful, although most of the individual vows include some sort of poverty promise. Nuns and monks tend not to own much for themselves. Clothes, rosary beads, maybe some photos or a teddy or something. All else is owned in common with the order.
There are a few established sacraments for Catholicism, some of which you go through once, some of which you do on the regular… Baptism is usually carried out as a baby in the Catholic Church and is usually only done once. It’s the sacrament through which you are welcomed into God’s family essentially. Confession (Sacrament of Penance) and Communion (Sacrament of the Eucharist) happen usually about 6-8yrs of age. Confirmation (sacrament of Confirmation) happens usually around 12-13 ish. Most Catholics go through these sacraments. First Confession precedes Communion, at the age when kids can tell right from wrong, so that you can receive Communion in a state of grace (i.e. free from sin). In Communion, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine transforms through the sacrament of the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Jesus, when consecrated by an ordained priest. It’s a reminder that Jesus gave his life to save us as well. Confirmation is when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are conferred on the young Catholic. (Have a google for the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit given at Confirmation). Marriage is also a sacrament and is the only sacrament where it is not conferred by a priest, although a priest usually facilitates the sacrament. The man and woman (yeah, the Catholic Church hasn’t gotten the letter on non-heterosexual partnerships yet!) confer the sacrament on each other. And, very strangely for those who know the Church, the appearance at least of consent is hugely important in this sacrament. Both parties are asked a few times, in different ways, do they consent to this marriage. Holy orders are conferred on men only when they become priests. Last Rites (or Extreme Unction) is for those who are looking at a serious illness. In modern times, we tend to associate this with people on the point of death, but that’s not correct. Old age or serious illness, as long as someone isn’t persevering in grave state of sin (that last bit of wording is a big dodgy in my opinion, but there are and have been priests who have refused this sacrament to people because they feel they are “obstinately persevering in manifest grace sin”… (“Code of Canon Law, canon 1007”. www.vatican.va) The eagle-eyed among you will have figured out that women can only receive six of the seven sacraments, seeing as how Holy Orders is for men only. Women aren’t consecrated as nuns essentially.
This isn’t even a brief overview of Catholicism, but it’s a start. Now, most people, if you’re looking to dip a toe into Catholicism, or dip a toe back into Catholicism, you’re going to encounter a church. Catholic churches comes in many shapes and sizes, but they tend to have a lot in common when you break things down to the basics. It’s a sacred place for a start. It will usually be quiet, peaceful and in the older stone churches, definitely cool. As in temperature. Great on a hot day, not so great in winter. The altar is the focus of the church and on the church the focus is the tabernacle, which is usually a very fancy looking locked box or cabinet in which the hosts (the bread that transforms into the body of Christ during Mass) are stored. The presence of the Body of Christ is indicated by a (usually red) lamp or light shining on the altar. It is common practice to genuflect to the altar (or more accurately to the host) on entry to the church or when you walk past the altar. Genuflecting is going down on the right knee for a second or more and getting back up again, usually accompanied by the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross is where you take your right hand, lift it to your forehead, then to your heart (ish, somewhere on your lower chest/ sternum) then to your left shoulder, then to your right shoulder, as you say “In the name of the Father (touch forehead), and the Son (touch chest) and the Holy (touch left shoulder) Spirit (touch right shoulder) Amen”. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us can complete the sign of the cross can do this in about a second and usually with a final touch to the upper chest on the line between the two shoulders. So describing both genuflection and the sign of the cross takes so much longer than it actually does to complete these actions. If genuflection isn’t possible or you don’t want to, you can also bow, usually with hands clasped at the chest for a brief second. The point is to show respect to the host, the Body of Christ, in the tabernacle on the altar or behind the altar.
On either side of the altar there are usually a few statues, to the Virgin Mary (mother of Christ and very important in the Catholic Church), sometimes to Joseph (Jesus’ foster father to all intents and purposes) or to the saint(s) to whom the church is dedicated. Usually, but not always, there are banks of candles here. Lighting candles to saints is a big practice in most Catholic communities. There is usually a charge for this to allow the church to continue supplying said candles, but it’s usually on the honour system as well. People usually wouldn’t light a candle without dropping something in the offering box, but really, if you’re in a position where you have nothing, go ahead. Most of us throw in extra when we have it, or when we have no change. You don’t blow out a candle that’s already lighting, nor do you replace it. Place your candle in an empty slot, say your prayers and off you go. Sometimes, beside the candle banks, there are posters or writings to outline suggested prayers. One of my favourites for Mary is the Memorare:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but gracefully hear and answer me. Amen
There’s a modern version of the prayer as well, with none of the thees and thous, but that the version I learned and it’s the one that comes most easily to my tongue.
If you’re wanting to engage with a Catholic saint or the Virgin Mary or even Jesus himself, lighting a candle (whether in a church or not) and saying a prayer is no bad way to start.
I was asked as well how I use the rosary in my practice. The Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, Mary the Mother of Christ has appeared to many of the faithful over the years and one of the things she always says is to pray the rosary. The rosary consists of sets of prayers called decades: 1 x Our Father, 10 x Hail Marys, 1 x Glory Bes. For each decade of the rosary (one round of the prayers above), you’re meant to focus on one of the 15 Mysteries and the idea would be that each mystery would help you reap the fruit mentioned below. I have to admit, most of the time when I’m praying the rosary, I don’t have the mysteries in my head and I’d be hard pushed to recite them off like a good Catholic should, but they’re an important part of the rosary. Not the only part and I like to believe (massive UPG alert here!!) that one of the reasons Mary constantly highlights the rosary is that it is essentially a prayer to her, in the midst of a very patriarchal religion. She is the closest we have to a Divine Feminine in Catholicism, although some would now own Mary Magdalene in that role as well. Mary Magdalene would require a few posts on her own, so let’s put her to one side for now. Although if you Google her, check the sources. There’s a lot of crap out there as well.
There would usually be a fair few decades of the rosary said at a wake for example, and they would usually come from the Sorrowful Mysteries. Also in Ireland, in my family at least, it is common to say the rosary as Gaeilge, particularly if the deceased was someone who loved the Irish language. That is the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be beome the Ár n-Athair, Sé do bheatha, Mhuire agus Glór don Athair. Funnily enough, one of the ways to refer to the rosary in Irish is as an Choróin Mhuire, the crown of Mary. (Mary transalted into Máire in Irish means a normal person, Mary translated into Muire in Irish always refers to the Virgin Mary)
The rosary, and the veneration of Mary as the Mother of God is one of the things that sets Catholicism apart from most of the Protestant religions (I didn’t say all here, before people start yelling!!)
Back to the church building. If you meet a man dressed in black with a white collar, he’ll be the priest. I’ve put a pic of the collar (sometimes and slightly disrespectfully in an affectionate way, called a “dog collar”) below, since it’s the single easiest way to identify them. The respectful way to address a priest is as “Father”. Don’t need to know his name, Father does the job. Some of them in more modern times, as they get to know you, might invite you to address them with their name, but at times and places and circumstances when respect is fully due, Father is always best. It’s meant to indicate the priest is as a father to his flock (or congregation) As any cursory google search will tell you, this hasn’t always been the case, and the abuses conducted and condoned by priests and other religious authority all over the world are myriad and unfortunately common. But I have also known some good, conscientious, hard working and caring men who are truly hurt by the actions of their brethren and superiors. That doesn’t excuse the institution, mind, but I suppose #notallpriests?
If you meet a nun, the correct form of address is “Sister”. There’s no sure way to identify them I’m afraid. The robes and massive crosses of the past are no longer ubiquitous and many orders allow modern dress these days. I mean, it’d be hugely unusual to see a nun in a bikini, but skirts, blouses, cardigans, low heeled or flat shoes…. Usually grey or navy, depending on the colours of the order, but even that isn’t a given. Honestly, unless someone tells you they’re a nun or someone close to them tells you, it’s nearly impossible to be sure. It’s a similar case for monks and friars (a monk is a religious person who lives in a self sufficient community with other monks, a friar is more likely to live and work among lay or non-religious people). The friars more often have the robes to identify them when they want to be identified, otherwise we’re back to the same problem as with the nuns. They don’t have giant haloes or special inbuilt signs to identify them. Unless they tell you, or someone close to them tells you, there’s no way to know for sure. If someone is introduced to you as Sister Jane or Brother David, best to address them as Sister/Brother. Otherwise, first names as you usually would address a layperson would be grand.
A last paragraph on the basics then: angels and saints. I’ve written elsewhere that Catholics are known as the “communion of saints”. It caused some trouble, since there are blatantly plenty Catholics out there that couldn’t be considered saints by any measure. I’ll try and explain better here. Calling the Catholic community a “communion of saints” is meant to indicate the aim of all Catholics to get to Heaven. Simply put, anyone who gets to Heaven is a saint. I said up above, most practicing Catholics expect to spend some time in Purgatory before going to Heaven, to atone for sins not accounted for on earth. But once that time is done, Heaven it is. We venerate those people who we’re fairly certain reached Heaven – and I’ve discussed that in a previous post, how it works and the changes over the millennia. But this is why I feel no bother in asking my grandparents for help, since I feel certain they’re in Heaven and would be closer to God than I am. It’s not ancestor worship, it’s more ancestor – helpdesk. Kinda.
Angels are different. Angels are pure spirits created by God. They’re not human. Not traditionally anyway. Also, they are usually used as messengers by God – think of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell her a) she was pregnant and b) God was the father of the child. Poor Mary. In fact, apparently the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Bible have words that translate to “messenger” for where we have “angels” in English. I think the Greek version is “angelos” but I’m not 100% sure and Wikipedia is the only source I can find for it this morning! This is obviously very different to the modern actions and beliefs around angels, but in the Catholic Church, this is what angels are.
So that’s the Catholic part of it. Now, how to respectfully engage in a Pagan Catholic practice. It’s hard. It’s easier as an Irish person, to be honest, because as I’ve said elsewhere, Catholicism in Ireland is a thin veneer over pagan practices. Much of the attitude of farmers for example, would be of respect to the land and the living made off the land. The Sí are a real presence in this land and disruption to their abodes or frequented places is viewed as pure daft, cos they will get you back. Bad luck will only follow you for engaging in this sort of thing. Even our saints, Brigid in particular, can sometimes be linked back to pre-Christian entities. But as pagans, how can we engage with Catholicism or Christianity?
I might do that on the next post, since we’re nearly at 4000 words here now!!
Everything comes in cycles. Sometimes the cycles are easy to spot, sometimes they aren’t, but I believe, well ok, most things come in cycle. I’m in a cycle at the minute of rebuilding a meditation practice after a few months hiatus.
There are spiritual benefits to meditation, of course. I’ve said plenty of other places that prayer is when we talk to deity, meditation gives deity an option of answering back. Or, y’know, saying something completely off topic, cos… deity. But I’m not talking about the spiritual benefits today. I’m talking about the mechanics (for me) of building up my meditation practice (again!) and the physical benefits I see from this.
A good night’s sleep is really a foundational aspect of my everyday health. If I get 8hrs, I’m good for the day, mostly able to handle whatever is thrown at me. My ability to deal with life decreases in proportion to the amount of sleep I get. If I’m down to 4hrs, unless it’s a very easy day, I’m going to struggle. (Actually, my team at work can back me up on this!) Falling asleep to a guided meditation is one of the best ways I have to a) ensure that good night’s sleep and b) start rebuilding my meditation practice. I’ve long been a fan of 2 of Jason Stephenson’s guided meditations on Youtube. I’ve yet to hear the end of either of them, which for me is brilliant. Of course, he won’t work for everyone, but there are loads of choices out there to try and see how you go. I’m at the point now where I’m wondering is it a Pavlovian response I have to these meditations, that I’ve trained myself to associate these meditations with falling into a deep and restful sleep. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which it is, they work! (for me – your mileage may vary. Individual responses to voice and music are well… individual!)
So that’s step one. I’m going to be open and honest here. I’ll probably keep at that for about a month before I add in anything extra on the daily to the meditation practice. But this is a really good first step for me.
Next though, I’ll be going back to a deep meditation around the time I start menstruating. This again serves two purposes. 1) It forces me to take some time out on the days I’m menstruating to relax and listen to my body. This won’t be a guided meditation, it will be one of my own visual meditations I’ve adapted and used over years. Usually it’s a visualisation of a journey to my womb or to check in with my womb and spend some time with her. Which leads be to the second purpose: 2) It helps me check in with my womb, afford myself the space to acknowledge what might or might not be going on either physically or spiritually with my womb and from there lead out into the rest of my body. This deep meditation (I call it deep because I usually need longer than my normal daily meditations and I make a bit of a fuss about it for myself – nice blankie, warm room, candles lighting, that sort of thing) is time for me. It’s time when I am called on to do absolutely nothing else other than be. There is no other focus for that time other than me. Now this can be uncomfortable when I’m not feeling particularly happy with myself, but it’s almost always worth doing.
The reason I’m going to look at my menstrual meditation next is because I’m due in the coming days, actually slightly overdue if I’m honest, but I have things ready to go when the blood appears. Now, not everyone menstruates and not everyone who does menstruate wants to acknowledge the event or considers it a part of who they are. Honestly – perfectly alright, no matter where you are with that. I would encourage you to look at some cycle, whether it’s a given day in the month or a moon phase or equinox/solstice thing or a fire festival thing – some regularly occurring event, where you can tie into it and spend some extra time in meditation to check in with your body. Again, checking in with the womb is probably not for everyone. Sure more than half the population doesn’t have a womb, so y’know, may not resonate at all. But the important thing for me, in this situation, is the checking in with myself. My womb is a part of my body I rarely think about in day-to-day life unless I’m bleeding, so it’s a good “way in” to the rest of my body. I can’t dismiss it as easily as I can an arm or a leg, I need to make the effort. Really – the liver, the pancreas, the appendix, the lungs, heart, stomach… any of the major organs would fulfil the same purpose.
Next I’ll be looking at morning meditation. This will probably happen in a month or 6 weeks, I’ll start adding “morning meditation” to my morning rituals again. This tends to be a more free form meditation. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone, have the sound of a blazing fire going, sit back, get comfy, close my eyes and focus on emptying my mind. It’s a pain in the arse, I’ll tell ye know, when I’ve not done it for a while and to start with, I’ll be looking at 5mins and probably not achieving that every day. But if I do it, 5 days out of 7 (cos my weekend routines are different), I will get there. I find 20mins is a sweet spot for me on this. It’s short enough that I can fit it into the morning routine, even with my long commute but it’s long enough that I see real benefits throughout my day. As for these benefits? Well, I come out of most sessions feeling refreshed and capable. My mind is calm, or at least calmer. My body falls into that loose but prepared state and I feel able to move my body, get creative with my brain, all that good stuff.
If I’m starting off where even 1-2mins seems impossible for my morning meditation, it could take me months to get up to the 20mins again. But it’s worth it. And the progress is rarely linear, just as an FYI. Some mornings, it feels like I can meditate for hours (I don’t have time most mornings, but it’s a feeling of disappointment when the timer goes off). Some mornings, even after I’ve increased to 10 or 20mins, even 30seconds feels impossible and the time until the timer goes off seems endless. When that happens, sometimes I give up and sometimes I keep going. Quieting the mind sounds so so easy, but it’s really not and sometimes the only benefit I get is the resting of my eyes while I mentally mutter and fume my way through this “waste of time” (it’s not a waste of time, but some mornings it feels that way!)
Once I have my morning, night and monthly meditations up and running I feel like I’m in a good place with meditation and I will see the benefits. I’ll be calmer, better able to problem solve and be creative, better able to deal with people, better able to manage my life. Things that were insurmountable problems before become manageable or even small annoyances. Life is better for me when I meditate. I also use mindful movement and movement meditation maybe 2-3 times a week which helps keep me in tune with my body.
There are other occasions when I meditate as well – if I have a big decision to make, if there’s a massive problem I can’t see a solution to, if I need some alone time, if I’m in a lovely area, if the sun is just that nice on my skin and I want to slip into a mindfulness meditation just to enjoy it…. but if I have my morning, night and menstruation meditation practice up and running, things are on a good track.
Now, this is my approach and what works for me. No one size fits all though and you may find that this is way too much, way too little or just doesn’t suit you. What I will say is, if you are in doubt about the benefits of meditation, go have a search on Google Scholar for the benefits of meditation. Google Scholar is a great resource that searches academic works rather than general web pages. When I did a quick search there now, I got 322,000 results for “benefits of meditation”. Some of these will be behind a paywall, but if there’s an article you really want to read, most authors will send you a copy of their work if it’s a paper and if they still have it, once you ask them. I mean, y’know, don’t demand it, but a polite email works wonders.
If you’re starting from scratch or returning to meditation after a hiatus, as I am doing, it’s important to remember to build things up slowly. This is like any other muscle you work in the body – if you hit it too hard at the start, there’s a possibility of injury. Or in the case of meditation, maybe not physical injury, but meditation burnout maybe. As well, maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you pray the rosary regularly – that’s a form of chanting meditation in my opinion. Maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you take a daily walk where your mind focusses on the beauty around you and absorbs nature’s goodness – that’s a form of meditation in my opinion. There’s all sorts of different meditation, so if you’re interested, there’s bound to be something out there to help you. And remember, life happens and gets in the way sometimes and we all need to start again sometimes.
Start small, work your way up to where you want to get to and keep at it.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”
We’ve all heard the above rhyme right? Certainly those of Gen X or older were told this in school, in response to a bully, whatever the situation was. We were told words wouldn’t hurt us and to let it wash off like the rain. (OK in other countries, you might not have been told the rain bit, but in Ireland it’s relevant!)
The people who told us this were trying their best, but they were wrong. Words matter. Language matters. It all matters. The words we use show other people what we think is important and how we want them to think as well. No really! So why am I talking about this? Well it’s the 3rd of May here in Ireland (an tríú lá de mhí na Bealtaine, as Gaeilge) which means that Friday sunset to midday Saturday was the festival of Bealtaine.
Cue memes all over the internet celebrating “Beltane”.
Now, I’ll admit, this particular language issue probably isn’t going to solve world hunger and yes, I do agree world peace, world hunger, gender equality, etc are more important than this. But here’s the thing – this is important too. “Beltane” is the anglicisation of Bealtaine and like most anglicisations, it loses all meaning in the translation. Bealtaine (or indeed Bealltinne in Scottish Gaelic, although I’m less sure of this one and very open to correction by someone who knows better!) comes from “bright fire”, “blazing fire”, something like that. “Beltane” means nothing really. It’s like many of the anglicisations forced on my country: by making the word more “acceptable” to non-Irish speakers, it loses all meaning and context.
And yeah, it’s appropriation. I know, it’s not cool to think of appropriating from Irish culture, cos after all, we’re European, we’re white, how can people appropriate from us? Really easily as it happens. Our culture and traditions are living and breathing – just look at all the reports of yellow flowers scattered across thresholds or May bushes being used across the country this weekend. And yeah, fire is an integral part of the festival. If you want an overview of the traditions associated with the festival here in Ireland, the Irish Pagan School has a class on it, go take a look. Or check out www.duchas.ie (there’s 688 manuscripts on Bealtaine, 2195 for May Day)
But back to appropriation. Many Irish people won’t create a fuss, will say “Beltane” is grand, will say just there’s no point nitpicking about things like this. This is part of our post-colonial bullshit which taught us our own language was worthless, barbaric and rustic at best. We were taught over centuries that our language was less than that of our oppressors (the language of our oppressors being English, just in case anyone was in doubt). And yeah, this is political. A lot of every day life is political – that’s no reason to not speak about this.
So what has this to do with Brigid? Well, she’s a poet. Words matter to anyone in creative wordsmithing. Whether it’s stories, histories, poems, whatever, the language and words we use, matter. That’s why I encourage people to learn na cúpla focail, the few words of Irish, because language is important. Brigid has been through millenia of the Irish language. She’s used it, she uses it, she will use it in the future. But Beltane? Why on the gods green earth would that mean anything to her?
And as I’ve said before, if you really think Brigid doesn’t give a damn about politics, I strongly invite you to go look at the role of the filí in the Ireland of the past.
This post is an expanded version of a post I’ve been typing on Facebook for most of the weekend. I’m getting really tired of dealing with people who tell me this isn’t important. It damn well is. We work with a deity of words. The majority of the Irish magic system is one of words. How did Amergin claim Ireland? How did the Dagda lose Brú na Boinne to his son? How do the prophecies of the Morrigan come true? Words, words, words.
If you’ve been a practicing pagan for decades and never heard of this issue before, then maybe don’t reject it off hand, but have a think about how great it is that even after decades you can learn something new. If you’re an Irish person who’s feeling really uncomfortable with the fuss I’m making about this – I feel you. Have a think about why you feel uncomfortable about this and where that’s coming from. If you think this is all bullshit – well I’m questioning why you’re reading the blog at all to be honest.
Words have power. Have a read of this article from the Scientific American to consider why: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-words-matter-what-cognitive-science-says-about-prohibiting-certain-terms/ And even if you don’t celebrate an Irish Bealtaine, but insist that your festival of Beltane has nothing to do with Ireland, have a look into where “Beltane” comes from and who were the influences that caused it to be so widespread and where their information came from. The real stories, not the myths. There’s nothing to say you can’t keep marking the festival as you currently do, but know the history and context of what you’re doing and learn from it.
Sticks and stones may break my bones and words most certainly can hurt me.
A question that gets asked a lot in the various forums I’m in regarding Brigid is her relationship with the other deities in the Irish pantheon. As ever with Brigid, the answer is not straightforward.
Her father is really straightforward. The Dagda is outlined several times as her da and in my experience, both of them are happy with this situation. Well, most of the time. Who’s happy with their Da 100% of the time?
Brigid’s mother I’ve addressed in several places. We don’t know is the short answer. The longer answer is, most people working with Brigid have their own ideas, but it’s not based in lore as such. “Any woman the Dagda slept with” is basically how limited this is….
In saying that, there are a few that come up reasonably regularly. There are no stories in the lore that I’m aware of where Brigid interacts with any of the other deities outside of the lines in Caith Maighe Tuireadh (Battle of Moytura, round 2 to be precise). We tend to piece together relationships after this on the basis of common areas of interest and personal experience. I don’t think Brigid has a feud going on with any other deity, despite what some modern fiction would suggest (looking at you here, Kevin Hearne!)
So for example, since the Dagda and the Morrigan are linked in the stories, there’s a feeling that Brigid must have a relationship with the Morrigan just by virtue of hanging around her Da. People often ask are the Morrigan and Brigid ok to have on the same altar. To my mind, there’s no difficulty here, but your personal experience may vary. If it does vary, have a look inside to see why you might feel uncomfortable with the two deities being together. I mean, they’re two powerful beings, no more than any other two people in the world they might not get on all the time, but I’ve not experienced any reticence here at all. Other than Brigid wants me for herself, of course, but that’s just the way she is at the minute.
Now the three gods of skill, Credne the brazier, Luchtae the wright, and Goibniu the smith, would have a fair overlap with Brigid, with herself being so connected to smiths in particular. (If you want to learn more about the 3 of them, Jon O’Sullivan has a great course on them over at the Irish Pagan School: https://irishpaganschool.com/p/the-three-gods-of-skill well worth the money) I can see the four of them settling around a fire and comparing stories on the divilment of apprentices (divilment is an Anglo-Irish/ Hiberno-English word indicating pranks, tricks etc.), new techniques, allocation of resources etc. There’s nothing in the lore to suggest this happens, it comes from my knowledge of the 4 of them and the overlap of their areas of interest.
As well, Airmid, Dian Cecht and Miadh would fall into a similar bunch, but this time with healing. I feel like Brigid and Airmid would get on well (again, based on nothing but my own experience of them) and can see them swopping recipes for healing brews and potions and lotions. I’m not a fan of Dian Cecht myself (much that he cares whether I am or not!) and I always feel sorry for Miadh, seeing how he ended, but I’m very sorry there isn’t more in the lore about Airmid. I’d love to know more about her.
Someone like Manannán Mac Lir would be comfy having a chat as well, although once or twice in a journey I’ve experienced herself getting sea sick – that’s pure personal gnosis now, no basis in lore or general experience whatsoever – but not all the time. Cordial relations here maybe?
People like Boann or Áine I don’t see much overlap with Brigid, although there is the link with Boann and cattle. With Áine, there might be a bit of commonality with them both being linked to provinces – Áine with Munster and Brigid with Leinster and both being known to help out here and there with sovereignty issues. Or maybe I’m misremembering some of Áine’s stories there.
That’s a selection of the better known Irish deities, I think, and how I imagine they all get on together. I’ve no doubt they have their rows at times, sure doesn’t every family have those, but this notion that Brigid would be going around having long standing feuds with members of her tuath just doesn’t seem right. It would distract too much from the work to be done to support the community. And that’s it really in the end. The Irish deities come from a time when the tuath really was all-important. The survival of the community was paramount and if you had to work with someone you weren’t overly fond of to get the work done, well do it.
Now, this doesn’t mean you must get on with everyone, forgive abuse in the name of the community, forgive gross transgressions, not at all. That’s what justice is for and the Irish deities were pretty big on that as well. They had no problems with driving people out of the tuath or indeed killing them, if such retribution was justified. But I’m talking about people that maybe just rub you up the wrong way. Or have that funny conversational tick that drives you up the wall. or always wears a black hat that you feel looks ridiculous… you know the type of thing I mean? I don’t think our deities get on like a house on fire all the time, but I kinda feel like most of the time, they’ll pull together to get the damn job done!
If you’d like to learn more about the Irish gods in general, or Brigid in particular, the Irish Pagan School has plenty courses to keep you occupied, there’s even some of my own teaching up there! If not, Morgan Daimler has a good book on the deities of Ireland (Pagan Portals – Gods and Goddesses of Ireland: A Guide to Irish Deities) that has a sound basis for anyone she has listed in there.
But seriously, if you’re looking to add another deity to the altar alongside Brigid, first person to ask is herself. A bit of meditation, quiet your mind, see what she’s actually saying and away you go!