Brigid and hope

I’ve always loved the story about how God sent the rainbow as a message to humanity that He’d never again send a flood. Mind you, in Ireland, we have tested the “40 days and 40 nights” thing to it’s limit. Like to “40days and 39.5 nights” type thing. Be that as it may, I’ve always associated the rainbow with hope. But I don’t often see Brigid being related to hope.

A picture of an Irish roadway in the rain, with a green tree on the left hand side and bare trees on the other. A red bus is coming towards the front of the picture and in the background is a watery looking rainbow. Always a sign of hope to me!
An Irish roadway, with a red bus facing the viewer and a watery rainbow in the background.

I know, I keep going down rabbit holes with Brigid and associating her with different things, but really, truly, I mean this. Now, I’m not talking about the annual listing of Brigid as a “Spring Maiden Goddess” – there are associations with Brigid and spring, in both Ireland and Scotland, but the whole yellow, cheerful, sun associations I’m less keen on.

But, hope, now, I do link to herself. It became clear to me a few years ago, when I was taking part in a shadow work group. All around the group, women were saying “I can’t…” as if that put a stop to it. As if “I can’t” indicates a position that meant it could never be changed. And it’s not the case for me – mainly because of work. As an engineer, pretty much anything is possible, given enough resources. And by resources, I usually mean time and money! When I said this in that group, there was incredulity. Because what came out then was that people assumed things weren’t available for them to do whatever it was that they were claiming they couldn’t.

I took the notion that with the right resources, anything is possible, as a sign of hope. They took it as further proof the thing couldn’t be done, because obviously the resources weren’t available. For me, it’s hope. This came up again during my impromptu shadow work sessions a few weeks ago. Brigid asked me to do certain things and my response was “I can’t”. What I meant was “Are you fucking joking right now? Can you not see what I’m doing here?” And her response was “What resources do you need to do this?”

From previous experience, I knew not to say that I needed time. I did point out the conditions required for me to achieve what I was being asked to do. And I felt the hope rising. Because, at her heart, Brigid is an engineer – I firmly believe this! (Although I should note, is it UPG. As in there is no mentioned of engineers in any of the lore regarding Brigid. In saying that, the word engineer only came about in 1325. The lore is based on oral traditions going back well before then, so…)

But seeing a bad situation as a temporary thing, only continuing until certain conditions are met, is a hopeful way of looking at things, in my opinion. Now, we also have to work towards those conditions being met of course. The good old engineering approach of getting your hands dirty!

But in other ways, I find Brigid hopeful. I associate her with childbirth – an incredibly hopeful time. Her connection with grieving – ok, not hopeful in and of itself, but the notion that life goes on, even with grieving, is hopeful. Her work with healing and poetry and social justice – all give me hope. All ways in which there is light at the end of tunnel for us poor humans. Brigid works hard with us, to ensure we have the ways, the means and the resources to work out our issues.

Even when you look at the big things: the environment, poverty, homelessness, hunger. We have the means to solve these issues. It would mean certain people giving up wealth and status, maybe, but still possible. Have you ever heard of golden rice? This product solves a lot of food related issues in deprived parts of the world. It doesn’t suit many large corporations to have people growing it though. That led to a lot of publicity about the horrors of genetic engineering. Humans have been engineering food for millennia. Do you know what an original banana looked like?

A picture of a wild banana, cut in two, showing heavily seeded interior
A picture of a wild banana, cut in two, showing a heavily seeded interior

Genetic engineering didn’t start in the 20th century. As humans, we have been at it for pretty much all of our existence. If you don’t believe me – go check out a google on ancient cattle, horses. Hell, go look at the types of horses medieval knights were riding.

But back to Brigid. And hope. She’s not going to solve our problems for us. That’s not what any of the Irish deities are about really. They’re big on giving you the tools to do the job yourself, most of the time. But. Brigid will help. She will coach and assist. You can reach out to her and ask for help. Why would we work with her otherwise?

Brigid – why bother?

Brigid can be many things to many people. I often say there are as many Brigids as there are people who work with/for her. (Yes, I’m still not fully sold on the preposition there) And yes, I’ve written before about why to bother with deity, and why deity bothers with us. I could probably write entire volumes on what I’ve heard called “god-bothering” as well.

But today, I want to talk about herself specifically and the good and bad she can bring into our lives.

Picture of my Brigid statue, with a lit candle on a cauldron, a 4 armed Brigid's cross stuck between the image of Brigid and the wall behind her, Brigid holding a flame, a small pile of books to her side and a representation of a hearth behind her.
Brigid and flame
The good of Brigid

Yeah, I’m following the age-old structure of the good, the bad and the ugly. But we’ll start with the good anyway.

Brigid is a powerful deity in my experience. She can and will bring change to your life, as long as you do your part as well. She will open your mind and heart to possibilities you never suspected existed. You don’t believe me?

Ten years ago, I had just married, in a hell of a lot of debt, feeling fairly unhappy with myself, the world, but having no idea how to change things. I felt prompted, by something I didn’t fully understand to sign up to the waitlist of a women’s transformational retreat. It took me three years from the time I was first offered a place on this retreat to the time I actually turned up.

One my first night there, I spent the entire time planning how I could escape if I needed to. Car keys, and other items had been taken away since we “didn’t need them”. I felt some relief when I heard the following morning that someone had left and had been allowed to leave. When I voiced this, the woman leading that session was a bit shocked. I had thought I was trapped, but we moved through it.

I won’t go into the details of what happens in the retreat, in case anyone ever wants to attend. But it was indeed transformational. And at one point, I called on Brigid, along with some other Irish deities. Not expecting a return answer, but I called nonetheless. I remember standing in the final circle and saying outright “These lands are not my lands. These gods are not my gods. But I have land and gods to go home to.” It was a powerful reclamation of myself.

Now, ok, on the one hand, the almost-immediate answer came from the Dagda rather than Brigid, but he came and then kinda pointed me in the direction of Brigid herself. This was as I was sitting in a Travelodge, bawling my eyes out crying, just allowing a lot of emotion to leave my body.

Since then, my journey has continued through up and down, but always with herself beside me. That’s the good. Brigid commits when needed.

The bad of Brigid

I mean, it’s not really horrendous, but she does have a tendency to forget sometimes that we are human rather than inanimate tools. And, even with her inanimate tools, she’s not always too careful to mind them when she’s deep in the work. Check out the Scealaí Beag’s take on that here! It’s a story that rings true for me, because she is like most engineers of my experience. When you’re deep in the work, the work consumes you and the details like looking after your tools, whether your body or your mind or your actual tools, kinda slips.

But with Brigid, we are not powerless. You can, and should, shout out to her to get the support and rest you need. It’s easy to forget – most of what she asks is eminently practical and useful. But there are times when we need to say no. There might be consequences for saying no. We have to accept that and live with it. But prioritising ourselves is important!

She asks a lot. And this isn’t a Christian “you won’t be asked more than you can give”. Brigid can and will drive you to the edge of your abilities and beyond, when she chooses to push. “Comfort zones” mean nothing, really. Now, you still have to consent, but remember a deity has different ideas of consent than a human court would.

On the other hand, she helps you develop your abilities. She pushes you to achieve things you never thought possible. Brigid will stand behind you and push you to improve. For some of us, that looks like forcing ourselves through physio exercises, even if we don’t want to. For others, it looks like founding a school to talk about Brigid. Still others, she will push to publish a book. She is a deity of skill and craft, and if she sees a need for it. she will pester you until you give in.

How does Brigid get ugly?

I’ll be honest, starting this post, I was mostly thinking about how many times I’ve ugly cried in her service. That’s a lot of the ugly. But there have been ugly conversations. Ugly confrontations – even with myself.

I mentioned shadow work in my last post. You think that was pretty? Aside from the vomiting and diarrhoea, I mean. Looking into the parts of myself that I had suppressed led me down some very dark paths at times. Confronting those parts of myself that I was most ashamed of or embarrassed by – it’s not easy. None of it is easy.

But it helps things improve. Seriously. And yes, it’s hard and it’s difficult, and yes, ugly. We like to think of ourselves as good people, usually. But inside all of us is the capacity for positive and negative actions. We all have the capacity to be ugly in and of ourselves.

That work isn’t pretty. Whether it’s personal or group work, we end up exposing ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable and risking judgement and displeasure from others. Sometimes it can lead to friendships or other relationships breaking.

Brigid can, and does in my experience, insist on you knowing yourself though. She asks us to read to lore, fair enough, there’s little enough of it. But learning about ourselves, the ugly, dark, shameful parts of ourselves? That’s tough. And of course, you can have a good row with Brigid as well. I’ve done it and survived.

Not being disrespectful you understand, but a definite airing of views on different items. That rarely looks pretty either.

With all of this, why bother with Brigid?

Long time followers of Brigid, or those who have with/for her for a long time, often joke about the time on the Anvil. The time when Brigid shapes and hammers her tools into what she needs and wants. And it is hard, really hard going through those times.

Ultimately, it comes back to something I said in a previous post.

But when we work in line with our deities priorities and desires, things happen.

Yes, I realise quoting myself in my own blog post is a bit strange, but it’s true. Brigid has a need to get things done, and get things done in the most efficient way possible. There are times this feels like a steamroller passing over you. Time on the Anvil is not comfortable. But in my experience, I come out of those periods with my life being better.

When I’ve been sick, or needed to change a job, or needed a major change in my life – it has been really painful at times, but she has come through for me. For my last three job changes, I’ve only gone to one company’s interviews to get the job I wanted. That’s almost unheard of! But that’s her power.

Brigid can be comforting. She can be motherly, warm, helpful. But she won’t coddle you unnecessarily – and it’s her opinion, not yours that counts there. She will heal, shape and form you in ways you probably can’t even imagine at the start of your journey. She will push you into liminal spaces so uncertain, you’re not entirely sure where you are or what you’re doing there. But always, always, she is there at your back.

Why bother with Brigid? She is a force for necessary change in this world and by all the gods, do we need it!

The places shadow work takes us

Shadow work and tummy bugs. Yes, that’s me… If you have been receiving my emails recently, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, I was completely wiped out with a tummy bug that my darling niece shared with me. I mean, it’s not her fault, she’s just turned one, and she’s bound to catch every bug going. That bit was grand. The bit that really bothered me was the “opportunity” given to me.

That opportunity was the chance to work through some shadow work type things while simultaneously throwing up and emitting things at force from the other end as well. Thankfully, our en-suite is small enough to sit on the toilet and reach the sink at the same time. TMI? Sorry. But this is bringing the “brutal honesty” part of me to the fore.

What is shadow work?

For those who who don’t know, the term “shadow work” refers to dealing with the parts of ourselves that we try to hide from ourselves or otherwise repress. (Carl Jung was the one who came up with this I think, but it developed from work that Sigmund Freud had done. IIRC) This isn’t a conscious act, of course, cos why would it be that simple?

What is shadow work? Shadow work is the process of exploring your inner darkness or "shadow self". 
Shadow work uncovers every part of you that has been disowned, repressed and rejected. It is one of the most authentic paths of enlightenment.

A picture explaining what shadow work is…

But realistically speaking, what does shadow work really involve. It’s all very well saying to look at the parts of you that you have repressed or disowned, but how do you know what you have repressed or disowned?

Well for many of us, shadow work looks like examining our childhood. Yeah, I know, the joys… but really, revisiting what was and wasn’t allowable for ourselves in childhood can lead us to the parts of ourselves that we’ve repressed. For example, I have a problem with anger. For many years, I swore I never felt angry. This is because – at an extremely simplistic level – the first people I was angry at, the first people I remember being angry at, were my parents. And showing or displaying anger towards my parents just was not acceptable in my family. So I learned to repress. I learned to shove down my anger, to the point where I was sure and certain I never felt any.

I did, of course, but that’s another story.

How to do shadow work?

The shadow work involved in me addressing that anger was messy, and painful, and long, and arduous. It involved journaling, screaming, crying, raging, punching… It was not pretty to say the least.

And, if I’m honest, I did a lot of the work before I realised it was shadow work, before I’d even heard of the term! For me, it involved looking at the lessons taught to me throughout my life with a critical gaze and determining what was still relevant. More importantly, what wasn’t still relevant. Shadow work sounds more complicated than that right?

But it’s not really.

Image of a woman sitting in cross legged pose, hands on thighs, eyes closed shadow work
A woman sitting in meditation

I mean, most often, deep personal spiritual work is presented as the above picture: calm, serene, peaceful.

Well, not in my experience.
A woman sitting on the toilet, leaning over a sink
A woman with a tummy bug, sitting on a toilet, leaning over a sink

My experience reads much more like the woman in the picture above, except, I wasn’t fully clothes, nor did I look nearly that healthy. It’s well-nigh impossible to feel sexy while simultaneously throwing up and releasing things from the other end as well. It certainly wasn’t possible for me. But in the darkness – because of course this was in the middle of the night – I had to face myself. I could hear the sounds of my husband sleeping peacefully away. The odd random car along the road. I could hear the neighbours’ dogs sharing “all’s well” barks, or occasionally slightly more frantic “what’s that noise” barks.

Ultimately though, all there was… was me. And while my body was miserable, my mind was active and desperate for anything to distract it from what was physically going on. Plus, the vomiting was partially metaphorically. I mean, mostly physical, but partially metaphorical.

What shadows did I face?

I looked at myself in the mirror, and I really did not look good. Facing myself, I was questioning life choices. I questioned why my husband wasn’t just up and walking away from me – all throughout that week he was there, when he could, to help, to get 7-Up, to try and tempt me with anything I could face.

I questioned why he stuck around – in my experience, men usually walk away from illness or a less-than-perfect partner. This is the man who has stuck by me through a miscarriage, depression, anxiety… And I thought he would leave me alone through a tummy bug? After 10yrs of marriage, we have seen each other at our best and our worst. And I still wondered when he kept on coming back.

This is shadow work.

It’s shadow work when he told me I’m beautiful, as I dragged myself from the bathroom for the umpteenth time that day and I tried to believe him. It’s shadow work when he supported me in staying home from work all week, cos I really wasn’t able to the drive. I looked at myself in the mirror each night and tried to see what he saw – I couldn’t, but I have to accept he does.

It wasn’t just my appearance, of course. There were other things happening in the dark of the night. But the appearance stuff is the stuff I’m most comfortable sharing in public. There were other things happening that I can’t share, or don’t want to share, not yet. They’ll come out soon again.

Where does this leave us?

Or leave me rather? Shadow work isn’t clean and simple and straightforward. It’s messy and ugly and goes round in spirals. I revisited lessons I thought I had learned already. My trust for my husband was reinforced at least, if not regenerated. I saw other things in the dark of my soul that I partially addressed, but know there is more work to be done.

Why bother?

Yeah, if this is so messy, and so horrible at times, why bother? For me? It’s so I don’t have blind spots about myself. With the work I do for Brigid, it’s kinda important to at least recognise I have blind spots. And to work to eliminate them. It’s a life long calling to do this. It’s not over in a weekend, or a short course. There are tools to learn and help ourselves to do this. And I’m not an expert, I’m just an expert in what works for me.

But I will say this – I’ve not met anyone I consider authentic and real about shadow work that hasn’t gone through the anvil, or their version of it. The Anvil isn’t a place any of us want to be, but it’s where Brigid tempers and shapes her tools. She needs tools that won’t break. Tools that know what they can do and under what circumstances. Shadow work is addressing the parts of ourselves that we subconsciously choose to hide – from ourselves. These are not the parts of ourselves that we are proud of. These are not the parts of ourselves we necessarily share in public. We hide these parts, in part because of shame.

Our spiritual journey and shadow work

Shame is not a useful emotion in my opinion. And accepting that something embarrasses me or that I’m ashamed of something I did in the past – well that’s an invitation to do something about it. Can I fix it? If not, can I make sure it doesn’t happen again? I’m not one much for the esoteric, but I do believe we have a responsibility to learn from our mistakes and to know ourselves. Being honest with oneself is the first step on any real spiritual journey.

The problem is, this shit doesn’t just come up once. It keeps on coming up, as we spiral through life. And we are different people every time we address it. I’m not the same person I was 10, 20, 30 yrs ago. Neither are you. And so, the elements of the shadow work we need to engage in change as well. This is a life long process, not a one-and-done thing.

And sometimes… it’s a 3am while puking your guts up and just wanting it all to end…

Liminality and Brigid

Brigid, or St. Brigid, is closely associated with liminality. But often, we don’t really think about what “liminality” actually means. So ,today, I’m going to explore the concept a bit and why we link Brigid so closely with it. I’ll be looking at liminal space as well and how it affects us. And I will be looking at both Christian and pagan resources here, because even Brigid’s ability to permeate that boundary is an example of liminality!

What is liminality?

Well, when in doubt, check out the dictionary…

Liminality is a state of transition between one stage and the next, especially between major stages in one’s life or during a rite of passage.

The concept of liminality was first developed and is used most often in the science of anthropology (the study of human origins, behavior, and culture). In a general sense, liminality is an in-between period, typically marked by uncertainty.

So we’re looking at a state of transition, a non-stable state, a time of change. These are always difficult. I think this is why people look to rituals and actions at these times of change. Look at the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK. There was an outpouring of public grief and mourning, there was an eruption of cancellations of all sorts of events. But there were also people calling for life to go on – because for many people, it had to! There was widespread speculation at this time about countries (ahem – former colonies) removing the British monarch as head of state or leaving the Commonwealth. To date, only Ireland (1948) and Zimbabwe (2003) have done both.

Charles III was head of state and monarch since the moment of his mother’s death. But the space between the woman’s death and her burial were a liminal space, a period of transition. Particularly when you think that for a great percentage of her subjects, she was the only monarch they had known.

Personal liminality

That’s at a country level. But liminality comes at a personal level as well. Changing jobs, moving home, the death of a loved one – these are all transitional spaces, major incidents in life. It’s interesting to note that there are all among the highest stressors in modern life as well. I know from my own experiences of family members passing away, the three days between the death and the burial can seem like a time apart. Brigid gave us the ability to keen and mourn our dead, but the Irish have many customs surrounding death. From the newer notices on to the bottle of whiskey traditionally given to the volunteer grave diggers… There are traditions and expectations surrounding each element of the event.

And it can feel surreal in those times. On the one hand, you’re extremely busy for a lot of the time, trying contact people and make arrangements. On the other, you can find yourself at a loss at times, or staring into space, struggling to come to terms with the loss. It is an uncertain time, where the traditions and expectations can help ground and focus us and help us through the transition.

Liminal space

Liminal space then is another consideration.

a state or place characterized by being transitional or intermediate in some way: Motels are such liminal spaces—everyone there is either coming or going.

Informal. any location that is unsettling, uncanny, or dreamlike: The classroom when school is out for the summer is a liminal space.

Did you know this is why we sometimes forget why we came into a room? Liminal space, transitions between one allocated space and the next, is a place of transition. It changes the way our brains work and focus on things.

Many means of initiation use this to great effect. The idea of being withdrawn from the world in a different environment. The sense of no longer being in this world. The thoughts of a mental or spiritual transition aided by such a withdrawal. I’ve experienced it myself and it worked. It brought about new ways of thinking and means to change parts of the way I do things.

A liminal space won’t do this all on its own of course, but liminality is one of the elements of a successful initiation.

Liminality and St. Brigid

Most of our associations with Brigid and liminality come from St. Brigid. She was born on a threshold (a definitely liminal space), as sunrise (liminal time of day), to a pagan father and a Christian mother (liminal family lineage). She was fed from a cow from the Otherworld (white with red ears), which is in itself a liminal space in many way.

But we have links to the liminal in the deity as well. Brigid’s associations with death in Caith Maigh Tuireadh would link her to that liminal time. Her acknowledgement as a healer would have her dealing with births and deaths and serious illness. A all transitions of a fairly major sort. Liminality again. Her work as a poet, a file, would have links to the Otherworld and magi. Not to mention physically moving through the liminal spaces between dwelling places. Her work as a smith has elements of creation and destruction, as well as the forge itself being a liminal space of transmutation and transformation.

And of course, as I mentioned before, we have the movement between the deity and the saint, the pagan and the Christian. Brigid is a being that is comfortable with these transitions and liminality in general.

Managing liminality

So, Brigid being associated with liminality and change is well documented. But we, as humans, don’t always deal well with change. Even when it is something we look forward to… There are reasons a new marriage or a new job are on the list of high stressors. They are times of uncertainty and change.

How do we deal with this then?

Well, as with death, it can help to have long standing traditions to help use through these times. Half the reasons most people follow traditional paths in marriage is that it removes the stress of decision making. Families in Ireland will use the same undertakers for generations, because they know how things are done in the family. The same with solicitors, banks and even tea bags!

We can actively seek liminal times, liminal spaces. Places where land, sea and sky meet, I would consider liminal. As we change from one state to another – children changing schools for example, or graduating from college. Dedicating yourself to a new deity, committing to a new course of spirituality… All liminal times, liminal spaces. But even when we break new ground for ourselves, we like to see what those who have gone before us have done. We look for rituals in books, online, to feel like we have a tradition of some sort to back us up. (Nothing wrong with any of this, by the way!! Traditional ways of doing things can help keep us safe!)

So tell me, how do you deal with liminality? Is it something you’ve grown more accustomed to? Has Brigid “encouraged” you in this area? Or indeed, has she taken you and shoved you on the anvil so hard you’re still confused when you emerged? (Some of us can be a bit slower on the uptake than others and she gets impatient…) Let me know!!

The joys of menstruation

I don’t often contemplate the joys of menstruation, indeed, most of the time if those words come out of my mouth, it’s in a very sarcastic or cynical way. I don’t really find joy in bleeding once a month (ish). But, no more than some of my work for Brigid doesn’t cause me joy either, it’s a necessary part of life for (and a lot of other people who happen to have a uterus). And it does form part of my spiritual life. Now I’ve done a class on this over at the Irish Pagan School, but that a few years ago now and things have developed a bit since then. Whether you call it a bleed, your period or menstruation, all phraseology is welcome here!

Image of lower part of the body showing vulva with different elements labelled

Well things have, of course changed slightly. I’m still shocked no one ever mentioned Bartholin glands to me, very important in engaging the vagina’s lubrication systems (Look I’m a mechanical engineer, it’s part of my job to get excited about lubrication!!) By engaging with reading and learning (like this course at DCU I’m doing right now) I’m learning ever more about my own body and in general about how bodies with uteruses (uterii?) work!

General practices

But of course the spiritual element also changes. And since we’re in the Imbolc season, I’m reviewing my spiritual practices in general. I’m considering how my menstruation practices work currently and if I need to adapt or change anything. Change occurs naturally over time, of course, like changing from a menstrual cup to period knickers has changed how I deal with my menstrual blood. I can add the rinse water from the knickers to the ground now rather than pure blood so to speak. It also changes how I look at my period. Aside form putting a different pair of knickers on during my period, outwardly, things remain pretty much the same.

Well, I say the same, but I do take things easier during my period these days. I can usually manage to either work from home (during the week) or rest on the couch (at weekends) on the first day, or sometimes the second day. My energy levels will be lower at this time and I can’t be running around like a March hare while I’m bleeding. I accept my reading tastes and food tastes and clothes tastes will all change. And that this is not the time to have difficult conversations in work, unless I need to be very very quiet during them! All that will be staying the same unless there is a very high need to change – like for example an important meeting that I can’t move or avoid during that menstruation time.

Spiritual practices

My spiritual practices around my period these days mostly involve around reflection and meditation, inner work that suits the mood my body is in. This sometimes leads to revelations about next steps in various things I’m working on, or a path forward. Sometimes, I’m giving myself space to disengage from a problem that’s bothering me, to return to it later with a fresh mind. Sometimes I get the equivalent of a nice hug or a slap upside the head from herself about various things. It varies.

Other spiritual practices around my period involve a sacred wash, whether bath or shower.

I need to be very clear here. I do not think having my period means I am unclean in any way.

Picture of a bath with candles, at water level, look at a pillar candles on a stand, 3 tea light in small holders, 2 amber, middle one is blue, a larger candle (pink) and a final candle holder that is blue, light reflected on the surface of the water, white bath, white tile background. Sinking into hot water during your period can really help relax the muscles, never mind anything else!
Picture of a bath with candles – not my bath!!
Bathing and indulgence

Nor is anyone else, for that matter. But as I shed my uterine lining, I think it’s important to consider what else I might want to shed as well. And a sacred wash helps with this. Now, this can be as simple as lighting a candle before getting into the shower and consciously and intentionally cleaning my body, my mind and my spirit. Or it can be a lovely luxurious bath with lots of candles and bubbles and bath bombs and all sorts. I sometimes use music to help clear out the energy, I sometimes don’t. I sometimes use herbs, I sometimes don’t. It’s important to me that the relinquishing of things I need to let go of and clear out falls in line with my energy levels and capabilities. Some months, menstruation is just harder than others.

I will indulge my body during this week as well. Some may say this isn’t a spiritual practice, but frankly, screw them! If I want chocolate – I’ll have it. If I want to lie on the floor in a yoga pose I like to call “flopping” – I will. If I want to sleep all day and all night and just not move – I will. If I want soft clothes and jammies and that sort of thing, then that’s all I’ll wear. Ok, some of this is limited to the weekend, but not all of it. This indulgence is part of what makes the inner work easier. I feel more in tune with my body and mind at this time.

Connection to Imbolc

Well, there is the old thing about Brigid and Imbolc being related to fertility. And our menstrual cycles are definitely related to fertility. When we were trying for a baby (we = the husband and myself here), I did some extra fertility work around this time. Trying to tie in with the season that’s in it, you understand. These days, the fertility work I do is more along the lines of prosperity rather than fertility specifically. I like to light the candles to acknowledge the day. Leave out something that represents the household’s prosperity to encourage things to grow in the coming year. You know the sort of thing I mean!

I still use my menstrual blood when I walk the bounds and grounds. Or at least, I do when the timings right. I believe there is power in blood, more so in menstrual blood. Period blood is the blood that starts off life, it has all the nourishment a growing fetus needs. I don’t particularly want to go creating a wound just to add blood to that ritual though. So, I take advantage of the period blood when it’s convenient and manage without when it’s not.

What if you don’t bleed?

When I talk about menstruation spirituality, for me it is centred around my blood. That, to me, is the most obvious sign of the practice. But not everyone bleeds. (Whether you have a uterus or not, I believe you can engage with menstruation spirituality. Just to be clear. And not all people with uteruses bleed either.) But you can follow the rising and falling energy of your body. You can honour your body’s needs over the course of a cycle. Some people follow the lunar cycle to make sure they are not overdoing. The dark moon is a great time for inner work, reflection, retreat.

You may find, whether you bleed or not, that actually, there are other cycles that influence your energy. Maybe you work on shift and that affects you more than anything else. Maybe you have children and their energy cycles have more of an effect on you. Solar energy might the energy you’re most attuned to.

Honestly, there are so many energy cycles in this world. And to a certain extent, we are all exposed to them differently. So, ultimately, you do you. You don’t really need me to tell you how to manage your energy. I can advise, and share things that help me. I can share how I use certain things as signals for certain types of work. But how you manage yourself, your energy is entirely up to you!

Imbolc/ St. Brigid’s Day/ Lá ‘le Bhríde

Here we are on the 1st February, Imbolc, if you’re using the calendar dates, Lá ‘le Bhríde, or Lá Fhéile Bhríde in Irish, St. Brigid’s Day for Catholics (and possibly other Christians?) Every year on 31st January, I get questions from people panicking about the minute details of how to do things properly in preparation for Imbolc/ Lá ‘le Bhríde so I’m going to answer them here. I’ve written before about my own practices on this day, so you can check them out here and here.

Why do we do a 4-armed cross, isn’t that Christian?

Well, yes, the 4-armed cross is Christian, so why would we be using it in a pagan Imbolc celebration? Fair questions. But the cross woven of rushes or straw comes from a story about the saint, where she converted a chieftain on his deathbed and wove a cross quickly from the rushes on the floor so he could die under the sign of the cross. And of course, in Ireland, any magic is a syncretic blend of Christian and pagan, we just don’t have the clear separation there is in other places. (I mean, Brigid herself is a great example of this!) There are other styles (see pic below from T. G. F. Paterson’s collection, shown in Harvet Home: The Last Sheaf, 1975), some of which use wood as well as more pliable materials.

PIcture from the book Harvest Home: The Last Sheaf (1975) showing a range of Brigid's crosses, lozenge shaped, the Connacht cross, 3 and 4 armed versions and more intricate versions.

Picture of crosses collected by T. G. F. Paterson, shown in Harvet Home: The Last Sheaf, 1975

So, across the country there are options to look at – I’ve also seen a five-armed cross, although aside from the weaving challenge, I’m not sure of the connection of 5 to Brigid. The 3 armed version I can see for the Smith, Healer and Poet… But this brings us to the next question:

What materials do I make my Brigid’s cross from?

There are many places in the world where either straw or rushes aren’t readily available. People worry that there is an inherent magical or spiritual property in using these materials. I don’t think so. I think my ancestors used straw or rushes because they were free, readily available and suitable for the purpose, especially at this time of year. Ireland around Imbolc/ Lá ‘le Bhríde/ St. Brigid’s Day is wet. Very wet. So if you live somewhere where you’re buried under 6 feet of snow right now, then maybe don’t go rooting for materials under all that.

Ideally, in my opinion, use natural materials that you can fold in two. Grasses are usually good, some herbs can work, leaves… If you can’t find natural materials, maybe because of the aforementioned 6 feet of snow or because you’re in an urban environment, then use something as close to natural as you can. Wool, paper, card… If it can fold in 2, you can make a Brigid’s cross out of it.

What do I do with last year’s cross?

Traditionally, people would leave last year’s cross either in place in the rafters, so you’d have years worth of crosses up in the thatch, or else they would burn it. Not everyone can burn things though, so burial would also work. If you can’t burn it and the ground is too hard at Imbolc/ Lá ‘le Bhríde/ St. Brigid’s Day for digging, composting is the next thing to try.

Prosperity magic – what does the “four corners” mean?

People are concerned that this might mean north, east, south, west or the literal four corners. I’ve always taken it as the four corners of the house, but I don’t see any problems with using NESW either. Whether it’s inside or outside I think will depend on your own circumstances. I mean, if you’re on the 5th floor of an apartment block, maybe don’t try outside. Just for safety reasons.

Also, take into account the smel. If you’re using something biodegradable that will end up smelly in the process, make sure they’re easily accessible! But for me, I’ve always imagined people taking them in on the morning of the 1st February (calendar date for Imbolc/ Lá ‘le Bhríde/ St. Brigid’s Day). And mixed in with a larger group to help encourage the magic spread through the family’s goods. So, if you’re using coins – put them into your wallet, purse or wherever you store said money. Or lodge a coin into your account. But let the blessed/magic coins touch your other money.

What can I use for my brat Bhríde?

Any bit of material really. Some people have beautiful embroidered clothes they use, others have bits of ribbon (ahem, me….) I’ve seen football scarves being used, teatowels, actual towels, blankets… If you have a piece of cloth that you can tie up outside. (I usually tie my ribbon to the inside handle of the door and leave it flapping in the breeze then. Ideally you’re leaving it tied to a bush or a growing thing, but not everyone has that option. I’ve known people to have it flapping from a car window because they were driving on the night in question.

How do I use my brat Bhríde?

Well, in some parts of the country, the brat Bhríde is used solely for headaches. In other parts of the country, it’s for anything. In certain parts of the country, it’s still considered an essential part of an athlete’s kit bag. People use them for any sprains or twists that might occur during training. Essentially, wrap the brat round the body part that’s hurting or injured and leave it there. Hence why we use a ribbon in this house, the brat is most often used for ankle problems!

So there you go: a few questions answered for those who celebrate the celestial Imbolc/ Lá ‘le Bhríde/ St. Brigid’s Day. If you’d like to know more, there are a few classes over at the Irish Pagan School to look at for Imbolc and for Brigid. And of course there’s my classes at the Brigid’s Forge school as well.

Imbolc Ritual and Brigid

As ye are probably aware, I am in month three of running the Preparation for Imbolc course. Last night, one of the students said they felt a pressure to have some grand gesture, important dedication, really fancy Imbolc Ritual, cos well… as a Brigid follower, shouldn’t we be making a special effort here? They also felt bad because the 1st February isn’t easy for them to do anything because it’s a work day. So, I thought I’d write a bit about this.

The date of to hold your Imbolc Ritual

We use 1st February as a short hand for the celebration of Imbolc. It ties in with 1st May for Bealtaine, 1st August for Lúnasa and 1st November for Samhain. Except… then we run into the idea that really, since the day began at sunset in Ireland, the festivals were the night before – certainly, it’s usually 31st January I’ll leave my brat Bhríde out for blessing. So there’s a bit of variability there already for the date on which the Imbolc Ritual is held.

Then, there are people who follow the astronomical Imbolc, being the midway point between the winter solstice & the spring equinox. This year, it’s Friday, 3rd February, I think. And there are reasons people follow the astronomical dates rather than the calendar dates, to do with the energy of the festival mainly.

Finally then, there’s people like me. I look back even 2 generations ago, at my grandparents. Even that short time ago in Ireland, the calendar date wasn’t as important as other things in celebrating important events. I remember making Brigid’s crosses any time from mid-January to mid-February, depending on time, energy and other resources. These days, I tend to celebrate Imbolc with a ritual for Brigid on the closest weekend to 1st February. Now that we have a bank holiday in Ireland for the first Monday in February, the chances are I will be celebrating on the bank holiday weekend. I will simply have more time & energy on a three day weekend than I will on a weekday evening.

We have to remember that Brigid is a fundamentally practical deity. She knows we have lives, jobs, family, etc. So, my response to the date would be to choose a day to celebrate. Make it a day that works for you. If, like my student last night, you’ll be travelling or working long hours on the 31st of January or the 1st of February, then pick a day that works for you!

The need for a grand gesture

Now, I’ll come on to this feeling of a need for a “Grand Gesture.” I understand this. Imbolc is Brigid’s Big Day. It’s the one day all year that everyone falls in on Brigid, celebrates her, acknowledges her, etc, etc. And ok, for some people, this is true. But, if you’re working with Brigid regularly, checking in, doing those smaller, consistent, continuous activities to build relationship and develop yourself- that’s far more important than a Big Grand Imbolc Ritual once a year!

I know, there are people out there who have detailed, intricate, fancy Imbolc rituals and/ or dedication ceremonies and all sorts. And it looks really awesome, and, frankly, we all can feel a bit jealous because our offerings just feel less in comparison. But here’s the thing: the daily grind, the regular action, the small consistent steps taken regularly will get you much further with a deity like Brigid than the occasional Grand Gesture.

We all do the Grand Gesture sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with them. Think about weddings – they definitely come in under the Grand Gesture heading for me. And I loved my wedding day(s) (it ended up being an unofficial 3 day thing cos people travelled a bit). It was a wonderful way to celebrate the love my husband and I have for each other and our intention to spend the rest of th8s life together.

The wedding isn’t the basis of our relationship though. We’ve been together 15 years, ten of them married. That’s >5475 days. So even if you count 3 days, the wedding really only makes up 0.05% of our time together. That’s a ridiculously small proportion of our time together. What built, and continues to build our relationship are the daily things: the “I love you” as I slip out of the bedroom in the morning, the hug when I get back, the offers to do something for the other person, the listening ear, the shoulder to cry on, the shared experiences, the ups, the downs, the daily humdrum of life. Why would we expect a relationship with deity to work any differently?

Yes, there are people who gave bigger & smaller weddings. There are some people who don’t feel the need for a wedding at all. There are some who want a wedding they can’t afford. And it’s the same for Imbolc Ritual- or indeed any ritual. Having a wonderful day with friends and family to recognise a big life event is great and brilliant- but the relationships are built far away from the big events.

An image of my front garden on a very wet day, with a great big green bush in the middle. On a day like this - any Imbolc ritual will be inside!!
An image of my front garden on a very wet day, with a great big green bush in the middle.

Well, marking the festival as a follower of Brigid is important to me. Over the weekend, I’ll be holding at least two semi-public rituals: one in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook Group and one for one of my classes. I’ll also be doing a private ritual for myself & my husband. Depending on the weather, I’ll walk my bounds and grounds, I.e. the garden above, claiming and warding and protecting my home and those in it. I may cook a special meal, depending on my energy levels. I might do some extra meditation for guidance for the coming year.

Not all of this will be on the same day or even in the same week. I will spread these things that are important to me over a timescale that works for me. This is what I would strongly encourage you to do as well. Think about what energy, time, and other resources you have. Think about what makes this festival special for you. Maybe think about what you’d do if you had unlimited resources and then pick out the really important bits, that parts that you consider vital to your celebration.

So what to do?

Working with Irish deity is both better and worse than with traditional religions. There’s no grand traditions built up over generations for Imbolc Ritual with Brigid. The things we have ( the cross, the brat, the crois) are reasonably simple to do and not overly time-consuming. The Imbolc Ritual doesn’t need to look like a ritual to outsiders or those not involved.

But that can make us susceptible to thinking that what other people are doing must be the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t fit with our available resources. And we need to be careful about that. There are enough pressures in modern life that encourage us to overspend, both energy and money, without adding Imbolc to the mix. Brigid needs tools she can use, not people beaten down by trying to keep up with the Jonses!

So, take a step back. There are 365 days in the coming year to build a relationship with Brigid. There are 365 days in the coming year to dedicate yourself or celebrate and glorify Brigid. It doesn’t all have to be fit into One Big Important Day. In fact, it’s probably better if it doesn’t. Plan your ritual to suit you – your time, your energy, your resources. And enjoy it!

Brigid and the Maiden/Mother/Crone thing

Every year around this time, I start seeing posts pop up exploring Brigid as a triple deity. Which is brilliant, except at least half the posts explore her under the Maiden/Mother/Crone construction – which is problematic as far as I’m concerned. And it’s for a few different reasons. Even worse, I then start seeing “Celtic maiden mother crone”, but I am less qualified to address than. I will try, but less qualified.

Maiden mother crone in Irish lore

First off, the “maiden mother crone” construction isn’t one we have in Irish deities. If you google “Irish triple goddesses” you get mentions of Brigid, the Morrigan, the three sovereignty goddesses: Éire, Banbha and Fódla. Mary Jones suggests that Lugh is the lone survivor of triplets and mentions the sons of Tuireann and the sons of Cainte as potential male triple deities. So the idea of triple deities isn’t out of the question in Irish lore. It’s just the construction of the triplets that doesn’t conform to the Roman notion of the “maiden mother crone” construct. (I’m using “construct” here because I can’t think of a better word. It’s not intended to indicate “made up” or otherwise “not authentic”).

PIcture of my Brigid stature, holding a flame, in front of a cauldron, with a lit tea light on the cauldron and a Brigid's cross in between Brigid and the cauldron. Maiden mother crone?
Picture of my Brigid stature, holding a flame, in front of a cauldron, with a lit tea light on the cauldron and a Brigid’s cross in between

We have powerful deities in Ireland, and Brigid is just one (or three) of them. Cormac’s Glossary outlines three sisters, a woman of healing, a woman of wisdom/ protector of poets and a smith. And this is fundamentally where we get the idea of the triple deity from in Ireland. It also leads me down roads of “why call three sisters by the same name”, but that’s for another time! There is no notion that any of the three (poet, healer or smith) conform to maiden, mother or crone.

If anything, Brigid is definitely a mother. She loses her son Ruadhán in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, which is one of our foundational snippets of lore about her. There is a hint that she might be the mother of the sons of Tuireann. (Although other possible mothers are Ana or Danu depending on the source you read.) And, spoiler alert, the sons of Tuireann all die in the end as well. As a mother, I sincerely hope she had daughters or less famous sons rather than losing all her children to heroic deeds. However misguided said heroic deeds might appear from a distance of a few millennia.

Do I think Brigid can appear as a maiden, mother or crone as she chooses? She’s a bloody deity, she can appear however she wishes. And yes, I have experienced her at most adult ages at this point. I’d suggest if you want to limit how a deity appears to you – well just warn me so I can get out of the way, alright? But trying to understand Brigid through the construct of “maiden mother crone” would be very difficult. The history, the folklore, the traditions just aren’t there to support it. For Brigid or any of the other Irish deities.

Maiden mother crone more generally

So there’s my issues with Brigid as maiden mother crone. But I also have some issues with the maiden mother crone concept itself. Now, if you use this construct and it works for you – that is brilliant. Good for you! I’m delighted. If that’s the case, you may wish to skip the rest of this post. So… fair warning.

Now, obviously, my own experience as a woman and with Brigid and other deities/ divine figures will influence the discussion that follows. I make no apologies for that. I am writing this post as a white, Irish, cisgendered, able bodied, reasonably healthy, fat woman. (Admittedly one who wears glasses and has ankle issues, but nothing that majorly impacts on my life choices.) I’m also writing as a woman who can’t have children, for no apparent medical reason. (I don’t want advice on that one by the way!)

And one who has done a lot of work on menstruation spirituality and getting in tune with my body. So while I might managed the maiden and crone bit, the mother bit will be a push. And yes, I know it’s not necessarily a “physical mother who has born children of her body”. I know it can be creative mother, spiritual mother, the energy of the mother. I still have problems with the whole construct.

Plus, it’s my blog, which gives me freedom to outline my thoughts here 😊

The first way this construct annoys me is this: it’s limiting women to their reproductive stages in ways we don’t really limit men at all. Maiden is traditionally innocent, virginal, awakening. New-start energy, enthusiasm, that sort of thing. Mother is fertility, fecundity, growth, caring, homemaking and other adjectives along those lines. The Crone is wise woman, the hag, the moving closer to death. Now, I understand that this can relate to creative pursuits, innovation and all sorts of other things. I get that part. But this still accounts for women by their reproductive season in life.

We don’t do this with men – who have similar stages in their reproductive cycles, it’s just not as pronounced. Or at least the end date isn’t as pronounced.

For me – this construct of the maiden, the mother and the crone is putting me in boxes I never agreed to. Or want to agree to. My chosen career possibly influences this – I’m an engineer and spend a lot of my time with men. I can be in touch with my female power and still not think about my reproductive stages. In fact, it’s preferably in many cases. It’s another way to limit my career if I draw too much attention to my reproductive cycle. In fact, very often in work, I need to forget about my reproductive cycle and work with it outside of work, to support myself in work.

I’m never going to be a mother, unless the Divine presents a miracle. It’s a kick in the teeth to tell me I’m in my fertile phase of life. I think as well, this minimises the effect that older women, post menopause, who contribute so much to life, society, families, work, etc. It minimises women in the “maiden” stage as well, limiting their impact as youthful enthusiasm, when much of the time, our young women are the ones with energy to do things. And yes, I know – I can already hear the proponents of maiden mother crone yelling at the screens. I know it’s not intended to limit people. I know technically we can all feel the “energies” of the different stages at any time. Hell, it’s used in menstruation spirituality to describe the phases of the menstruation cycle. I get it.

It’s still limiting women though. It’s still putting us in boxes. We’re more than all of this. And we deserve to be more than our reproductive stages. The construct appears to have it’s roots in Robert Graves’ work, rather than anything more ancient – which is not necessarily a bad thing. New doesn’t always equal bad. Old doesn’t always equal good. (Just go look at some of the Brehon laws dealing with rank!)


Finally, I’ll come on to the issues with the “celtic maiden mother crone” thing. Basically, no more than it appears in Irish lore, the construct doesn’t appear in other “Celtic” lore as well. First off, “Celtic” as a word usually is best reserved for languages, i.e. Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton and Cornish. There are many arguments about why Celtic should or shouldn’t be used in terms of anything other than language. For myself – describing something as “Celtic” is similar to describing something as “European” or “African”. It’s squishing an entire continent into one culture. Frankly, all you have to do is taste food from Ireland and compare it to the tastes in France (one of our nearest European neighbours) to see how different things can be.

And the word “Celtic” has sometimes been used with racist undertones (or with outright racism in mind) in recent history as well. I’m not going to link to site that use the word in that way, for, I hope, obvious reasons. The Celtic cross has managed to become a racist symbol of hate. I don’t think every depiction of the Celtic cross is a racist symbol (see picture below). Various hate groups have co-opted the cross as a symbol. That doesn’t mean using the word Celtic as a word is racist, but it’s just something to be aware of.

Two pictures, first of a stylised "Celtic cross" in black on a which background, second of an actual stone Irish Celtic cross with carvings depicting images from the Bibile
Two pictures of a Celtic cross,first of a stylised version often used in tattoos, second of a stone Irish cross with carvings of knotwork and imagery

And when it comes to “maiden mother crone” there’s nothing specifically Celtic about it. Sure, if you wanted, you could pick Irish deities to fit in the maiden category, the mother category and the crone category. Although I would warn you, Irish deities like being put in boxes just as much as I do! For me, it would be more important to reach out and learn out lore about these deities.

To finish…

So, if you’re interested in Brigid – look at the lore of the region you’re in first of all. I know there are Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx legends anyway about Brigid. People all over the world honour the saint. If you’re interested in the maiden mother crone construct – use it. Just don’t try and squish every goddess you meet into that framework cos, let me tell you, some of them will react strongly to that. And don’t assume all goddesses fit the mould you’re most comfortable with. Spirituality, faith – they’re not meant to be comfortable all the time. If you are feeling so comfortable all the time – are you really working at things?

While any deity is more than a construct we humans put about them, Brigid in particular is more than these three phases suggest. I have a basic introduction to Brigid class over at the Irish Pagan School, as well as some more at the Brigid’s Forge School. And the lore is free online as well – check out UCC Celt for any Brigid lore translated into English. There’s only 4 bits in the Irish pre-Christian stories. While the written copies we have today were recorded post Christianity’s arrival in Ireland, it’s obvious from the context of the stories that they happened pre-Christianity.

It’s always important to question our beliefs and work through our thoughts on particular issues. And you may read this and think I make perfect sense, but still find the maiden mother crone construct useful, whether in a Celtic context or not. That’s all fine. But don’t try to push Brigid into that structure – she won’t fit easily and she will let you know!

Brigid, Imbolc and Food

An exploration of some of the strange food posts I see around this time of year and some suggestions for what to look at for your Imbolc celebration!

Every year, around this time, I start seeing a flood of posts and pages on the internet posting about what food to eat and make for Imbolc. What are traditional Imbolc foods? What should we be making that is appropriate and traditional for Imbolc? Along with recipes and the links between Brigid and this food. And a lot of it is pure bull shit. Now, to be clear, I’m coming at this from an Irish Brigid perspective, as always. But there’s a load of dubious information around the place that we need to clarify. So here’s a list on commonalities I see permeating these posts:

Selection of potatoes
A picutre of a pile of potatoes, white, red, yellow in colour, in a variety of sizes
  • Brigid as sun deity. Now, you might, might I say, have a case for this in Scotland. They tell the legend of the Cailleach ruling the winter and Brigid the summer there. Brigid being released or rescued or escaping is One of the signs of spring and the returning of the sun. But this isn’t the case in Ireland. There might again be an extremely loose, dodgy link between Brigid and the sun. I mean, the sun is a great big fiery ball, but this isn’t something that happens in Irish lore. Irish deities just plain aren’t set up that way, to be the “Deity of X”. There are things we can connect them to, because of the lore and the stories, but we wouldn’t refer to them as the deity of X. And this rules out a lot of what follows through this type of post.
  • The absolute lack of differentiation between Irish and Scottish practices and beliefs. Seriously – there’s a reason I specify it’s Irish Brigid I follow. Because I know the beliefs, the lore, the practices are different in Ireland and Scotland. There’s some overlap, sure. The countries are close enough that fluent speakers of Irish and Gaelic can make themselves understood enough to hold a conversation. But that doesn’t mean the beliefs and practices are the same. It is irresponsible at best to smush them together like this.
  • Brigid as maiden. Or being part of the maiden/mother/crone trio. Again. Not the way triple deities work in Ireland. We have no tradition of this at all in our lore. Seriously. There will be a future blog post coming on this soon and why I find the whole construct of MMC so problematic. But please – read our lore. Examine how both our traditions and our modern practices look at women. Just, please…
  • Associating colours with Brigid. I have a lot of UPG around the colours I associate with Brigid, built up over my years of practice. But, the important word (well ok, it’s an acronym) is UPG. It is unverified, it is personal. There’s really nothing in the lore associating Brigid with colours. Ditto with shapes, just FYI. As far as I’m aware, there is nothing in our lore telling me Brigid is happier with round over any other type of shape. I mean, she’s a blacksmith as well as anything else!
  • Linking Imbolc with Candlemas. Candlemas is a short name for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. Or the Feast for the Purification of Mary. There’s a Catholic website that gives a good explanation here of the feast. Basically, it’s explained to Catholics, or at least to this one, that after 40 days the first born of any Jewish family had to be presented to the temple and the mother had to visit to be purified after childbirth. There’s a much better explanation, complete with Bible references, in the link above. Now, there is a link in Irish lore between Brigid and Mary. Aside from the way Brigid is called “the Mary of the Gael”, there is a story about Brigid drawing crowds away from Mary and the Holy family as they escaped Herod’s persecution and massacre to Egypt. In this way, Brigid earned the right to precede Mary after that. This means her feast day, 1st Feb comes before Mary’s feast day, 2nd Feb in the Catholic calendar. Can I buggery find a link to that story right now though! But back to my problem with linking Imbolc with Candlemas. They are beside each other in the calendar. Although at least one entry in Duchas equates St. Brigid’s Day with 2nd February rather than the first. However, the blessing of the candles has nothing to do with Brigid. And calling Brigid the Goddess of Light or the Goddess of Illumination makes me feel dodgy. You know – I’ll make a full blog post on this on as well. There’s just too much!
  • The lack of valid information on what foods can be used at this time in Ireland traditionally. Pancakes in Ireland are traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, not Imbolc. They are made from eggs, milk, butter and fat all of which were on the list of “abstain from” foods for Lent. Now, I have no problems with pancakes being used as foods for Imbolc celebrations. They’re wonderful food, can be savoury, sweet, sized as you choose….wonderful things. As long as we’re talking about the crepe style pancake more popular in Ireland certainly and not the American breakfast pancake, which is far less versatile in my opinion, but possibly better for eating on the go. But what bugs me about these posts really is they take no notice of what foods might traditionally be available in early February in Ireland, but make it seem like the foods they are suggesting would have been easily available. I have no problem with including seeds in your Imbolc feast – wonderful symbolism in my opinion. Our ancestors wouldn’t have traditionally eaten seeds in Ireland. I mean modern Ireland has seeds, go into any health food store and you’ll find them. But go back a few generations, and it was the desperate who ate their seedstock. It left you nothing to sow for the coming year. Don’t worry, I have a list coming below for this one!
  • Spuds. Potatoes. No.The English coloniers brought the spud to Ireland , “credited” to Sir Walter Raleigh. Jon O’ Sullivan has a great exploration of the role of the spud in Irish history here. Now, spuds are such a staple in Ireland that until very recently, a meal couldn’t be considered a dinner without some potatoes being served along with it. Like within my lifetime. I’ve never seen my Dad take so much interest or concern over what or how my mother cooked as the first time she made lasagne. It was in the late 80’s for reference. If you are going to force a nation to depend on one food for nutrition, the spud isn’t a bad choice. Add in dairy for fats, required for health, and you have a fairly decent nutritional intake. But using spuds to celebrate a deity in Ireland… it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Pun sort of intended.
  • An overwhelming dependency on the Oimelc origin story for Imbolc. Now, I can’t argue too much with this one, since it at least brings dairy into the picture, but really, drinking ewe’s milk is and has been fairly rare in Ireland. I remember asking my Grandad about this once as a child – his reaction was not positive and was along the lines of “we’re not that desperate”. Milk and dairy in ireland were and still are, predominantly, almost exclusively bovine in nature. But there are very strong links between Brigid and dairy/cows, whether it’s the saint or the deity you’re looking at. So I won’t argue too much with this one, even if it’s taking a convoluted way to reach a destination.
PIcture of dairy foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, curds,
PIcture of dairy foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, curds,

So after all that, what would I suggest? Well here’s a few thoughts.

  • Dairy. Brigid is heavily associated with dairy foods – butter, cream, cheese, milk. Think of all the stories in the hagiographies of her making one churn of butter supply twice the butter it should have – usually because she had given the first half away to the less well off.
  • Lamb, Mutton, Beef, Bacon, Pork. Lebor Gabala Érenn explicitly links Brigid to ox, boar and ram. There are traditional Irish recipes for all of this – just remember, an Irish rasher bears very little resemblance to the US/Canadian bacon slices other than they come from the same animal. Allegedly…
  • Foods that are in season in Ireland in late January/February. Leek, Celeriac, Parsnip, Kale, Swede, Purple sprouting broccoli, Beetroot, Winter cabbage, Mushrooms, Turnip, Thyme, Parsley, Lettuce, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Carrot. From storage: spuds, apples, onion. Check out the Bord Bia website, it’s wonderful!
  • Ancient Irish foods. In general, our ancestors had a wide variety of food to eat in this country. Seriously – cereals like oats and barley, made into porridge and bread. Wild and domesticated meat – although this always depends on wealth. (As it does today.) “Birds, wild boar and goats, deer and even hedgehogs were commonly eaten“. Fish. Nuts- if you’ve read Irish lore, you know hazelnuts feature prominently, but there are other nuts about. Seaweed – although considered a food of the less well off and since the famine consumption has dropped significantly. Rumour has it, consumption is increasing again though.
  • Spiritually or ritually significant foods. I know I said earlier seeds weren’t eaten in Ireland traditionally – and I stand by that. But I do appreciate the symbolism of seeds at Imbolc – I’d just prefer to see people planting them than eating them ritually speaking. Make the special cake. Try out the fancy recipe. You’re welcoming a deity into your home, it’s worth the effort. Just remember to differentiate the items you include because they are special food stuffs versus the food you include because it is linked to Brigid.

There’s a massive variety of food in this country and we are immensely lucky that with the mild climate we have, we can grow food all year round. So fresh fruit and veg are possible most of the year. With planning and preparation of course. And in modern times we have supermarkets, so y’know – that helps. And if you really love some of the recipes that the “Imbolc Food Blogs” describe – go ahead. Use them. But try and delineate for yourself at least the food you are eating to bring you closer to your ancestors (physical, spiritual or other) and the food you are eating cos it tastes good and Imbolc is an excuse for a party. I don’t have problems with the food that’s recommended, as such. It’s the convoluted routes people take to say this particular recipe is ancient or spiritual or connected directly with Brigid.

Is Brigid Calling Me? (Part 2)

I wrote a post a few years ago called Is Brigid calling me? And I still stand by everything I wrote then. (Also – how is 2020 3 years ago now???) But I wanted to offer a bit more help this time. So here are the signs that might possibly indicate Brigid is calling you. I will still say though that if you’re doing good work in your community or in society at large – keep doing it! (If you have the resources to do so)

An imgae of my Brigid stature, showing Brigid holding a flame, with a Brigid's cross between Brigid and the cauldron in front of her and a lit tea light sitting on the cauldron.
  • You’re seeing her name everywhere you look. Did you know there are people who go through the months of January and February without ever seeing the name Brigid? Or indeed hear mention of Imbolc? It’s very possible to do this, however strange it may seem to some of us. Now I wouldn’t take seeing her name everywhere as the ultimate sign Brigid is calling you, but it’s up there. And by her name, I include the following: Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Brig, Bríd, Ffraid (Welsh), Bride (Scottish), Bridey (also Scottish, I think, but also used in Ireland) Brigantia… She has many names and is known in many places. And while I (as usual) will be focusing on Irish Brigid, I will always acknowledge there are other Brigids out there.
  • You’ve started feeling an intense urge to light candles. Now, I always smile when I hear or use the phrase “to light candles”, because in my family it’s a euphemism for swearing up a storm. If you’re “lighting candles all around yourself” it’s even heavier swearing you’re doing. But fire is associated with Brigid, and lighting candles is one of the ways in which a lot of practitioners start their journey. You may not even realise you’re lighting a lot of (real, physical) candles. You might be dealing with electric candles. You might be lighting fires in a fire pit. There are all sorts of reasons one might be lighting candles, but I do see it as something people who are coming towards a relationship with Brigid do and it might be a sign Brigid is calling.
  • You start coming across Brigid stories randomly, when you’re looking up something else. Say you just fancied researching a new stove or a new book or a new laptop. Now Google is pretty good at determining what we’re searching for, sometimes before we even realise it ourselves, so we trust the search results. But then you see a result that looks a bit different from the others and you land on a blog like this one and start going down a rabbit hole of Brigid related content, forgetting all about the new tech you were going to research. Tech was important even back in the Tuatha de Danann days and I firmly believe that Brigid the Smith is covering modern tech and engineering these days, so it matches up for me.
  • You feel like you want to learn more about domestic animals such as the pig, the cow and the sheep. Lebor Gabala Erenn is an important part of Irish lore, collecting as it does, all the stories of the takings or invasions of Ireland. It’s a great read, but it’s also where we get the links from Brigid to the ox, the boar and the ram (although in some places “ram” is replaced with “wether”, which is a castrated ram, slightly less useful in the sheep farm…) There are strong links to Brigid and animals in general, but to these animals in particular. You may start noticing these animals, feel like eating the meat of these animals in a different way, want to learn more about them. Or become involved in campaigns for better treatment of animals raised for food. Respect for our food is a core part of Irish farming.
  • You suddenly find yourself drawn to a craft or practice you’d never heard of before. Brigid is a craftsperson and she has a tendency to draw her followers to learning new crafts or getting better at old ones. This could be music, knitting, sewing, writing, programming, healing, energy work, poetry… there’s a long list that we can extrapolate from the lore, but if you feel drawn to a new craft, particularly one that can be practiced in the home, it could be a sign that Brigid is calling you.
  • You find yourself getting really interested in Imbolc customs and practices. There are loads of Imbolc customs and practices, from making Brigid’s crosses like shown in the picture above or a brat Bhríde (Brigid’s cloak) as shown below. Check out the links below to both the Brigid’s Forge school and the Irish Pagan School for more information on the general fire festival customs, but also Imbolc in particular.
A picture of the red ribbon I use as my brat Bhríde (Brigid's cloak)  every year. Picture is of a red ribbon against a dark grey background, with the ribbon tied in a half know.

So there’s five signs Brigid might be calling you. But you’ll notice I say “might” a lot in this post. That’s because there’s no defined checklist to tick off to say “yup, that’s definitely her”. Here’s some advice I’d give for anyone wanting to check if the being calling them is Brigid:

  • Ask them. Irish deities are not usually shy about telling you who they are. In fact, it can be hard sometimes to stop them from doing so. So in meditation or prayer, ask from your heart who is calling you; or if it’s Brigid that is calling you and they’ll answer. Honestly.
  • Use divination. Whether it’s a pendulum, or tarot, or nature signs or Ogham, whatever divination methods you feel most comfortable with, but use what skills you have to determine what’s going on. “Is Brigid calling me” is a straightforward enough yes/no answer for divination purposes.
  • Ask other people. Discuss the signs with other people, maybe ask them to help you confirm or deny your feelings or divination about whether Brigid is calling you. Talk it through with other practitioners, whether they follow Brigid or not. Think about the signs and the feelings you have – laying them out logically for someone else will at least help you clarify you’re own thinking on the matter.
  • Learn more about Brigid. Most of the Irish lore is free online. UCC Celt is wonderful; UCD has another repository of lore and manuscripts and you can see the actual manuscripts on screen here. All of the above is free and you can read them original lore there. Equally, I have a free class on the lore here if you want to take it, as well as other classes on the Brigid’s Forge school and some of my teaching is over on the Irish Pagan School as well.

Whatever you decide on, whether Brigid is calling you or not, remember you can decide to answer the call or not as well. And be prepared – I often joke that once you start working with a member of the Irish Pantheon, the rest of the family will pop in as well as they see they are needed. Or just cos they fancy a cuppa and a chat. You can say no to them as well, but it really sometimes feels rude when they just want a cuppa. And then you end up with jobs to do. So, y’know, don’t go declaring eternal devotion til you know what you’re getting yourself into, alright?

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