Brigid and Grief

It’s coming up to Samhain, and with it All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day for Catholics. It’s natural to think of those who have passed, particularly in the last year, but those who passed before as well. And with me putting together the course on Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh for next week as well, grief is on my mind. Plus, the weather appears to be grieving here in Ireland as well – we’re into our usual October weather. I wasn’t even willing to step outside to take the pick below, hence the window frame on the LHS.

Picture of the outside of my house as I type this, showing the edge of the window on the left hand side of the frame, puddles of water in the middle, slightly out of control grass looking very green, a great big bush of ivy and holly and something else in the middle that’s as tall as a tree, a pine tree in the background on the right hand side, the neighbour’s house, faded in the rain behind the pine tree and a row of trees, kinda faded as well in the background on the left hand side. Grey/black clouds over the top half of the photo… In other words, it’s ag stealladh out there!

Kübler-Ross & Kessler (2005) identified 5 stages of grief, but this has since been expanded to 7:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Bargaining
  5. Depression
  6. Acceptance & hope
  7. Processing grief

Of course, it’s not as simple as moving through each of these stages, one by one, in a pre-ordained manner, until we’re better. In my experience (which isn’t universal of course!) grief goes in a spiral, like a lot else in life. So I might work through shock, denial, etc only a few months later to be overcome by anger at my loss again, or to feel entirely depressed by it again, for no apparent outward reason. And there’s no “normal” timeframe to get over the loss of someone close to you, human or otherwise.

In short, grief is as personal as any other emotion there is. And it can crop up at different times for different people. But when we speak of times like Samhain, or All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, it brings out memories closer. And in both Catholicism and Paganism, we’re encouraged to remember those who have gone before us, whether that’s ancestors altars or praying for their souls, or asking for help or a combination of all. So, grief can come back to haunt us as we do this. Of course, we can also be laughing in our grief – the memory of my Nana threatening my Dad with an iron for something he said is bittersweet now, but it still makes me laugh (She was 5’3″ and he’s 5’10” ish… and he had been pulling the piss rather than anything serious) The memory of my other Nana sitting down enjoying a brandy in a Doolin pub is a great memory, but I most often remember her putting me to bed as a child and stroking my hair til I went to sleep. My Grandad admiring my new pair of Docs, much to my Ma’s chagrin or my other Grandad telling my Dad that “there’s a long road ahead of ye” and “those children should be in bed by now” (all subtle hints to go home!)

Our memories keep our loved ones alive in a way – they don’t cling to earth by us remembering them, but it keeps them alive in our hearts, in my opinion, and those memories are all the more precious because no more can made with them in this life. And some of the memories are painful, some of them hurt, some of them feel horrible… but sometimes those are precious as well.

As I delve into the story of Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, I think more and more of the various losses and griefs that must have struck Brig on her journey through the story. She married Bres, and no matter how political the marriage, they both must have had some hopes for the joining that didn’t end in war and death. She lost Ruadhán, and then Brian, Iuchar and Uar as well. She lost her husband – well the last we hear of Bres in CMT is when the Dagda goes to fetch his harp and Bres is there and is put to sleep along with the rest of them. I mean, there’s no mention of him coming back to Brig, so I’m assuming once your husband incites war on your people and goes back to his father’s people, that’s grounds for a legal separation at the very least?

It’s a different grief than the loss of a son, but it’s a loss and a grief all the same. Political marriages aren’t based on love, indeed marriage for most of history appears to have been more business-like than modern notions of love and romance, but still and all, the loss of a marriage is still a loss. Bres and Brig had children together, that means they had sex a few times, and Bres was probable as distraught as Brig over Ruadhán’s death. Courtney Weber in her 2015 book references a story of Bres and Brig meeting on the sea shore to mourn Ruadhán together, but unfortunately, she can’t remember where she found the story and I’ve not been able to find it since.

Either way – Brig has experienced loss and she can understand and help us on our own journey. And while, yes the 7 stages of grief seem all sensible, and logical, and progressive to move through one by one – human emotions aren’t. They really don’t work like that. Human emotions are messy, and ugly, and primal, and blood and bone, and don’t fit into neat boxes… So remember that. And if you are thinking of loved ones gone from your life in the run up to and past Samhain – cut yourself some slack. Devote some time to the experience and allow yourself to grieve, as best you can. It’s ok. And you can always ask herself for help!!

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth, and David Kessler. On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Weber, Courtney. Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Weiser Books, 2015.

How to get started with Brigid

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately on how to start off a relationship with Brigid. Now, as ye know, I’m working for/with Irish Brigid, so while anything I say here can be used more generally for any Brigid, show some sense as well – Gaeilge is less useful with Scottish Brigid or Welsh Brigid than it is with Irish Brigid. (cos yeah, the Scots and the Welsh have their own languages… although to be fair, Scottish Gaedlig is reasonably similar to Irish) Anyway, here we go. How to get started with Brigid in Ireland:

  1. Read her lore. Seriously – within Irish lore, outside her hagiographies and folk tales, there are four mentioned of Brig/Brigid. There’s a few more if you include the Brigs in Ulster, they get some brief mentions on the Seanchas Mór (the law texts) but really, the core of our Brigidine lore comes from 4 mentions. I have a free course here on these if you want to have a look. You can also graba copy of Morgan Daimler’s book “Pagan Portals – Brigid: Meeting The Celtic Goddess Of Poetry, Forge, And Healing Well” which contains a lot more than Irish lore, but is a really great primer for anyone starting out with Brigid (and no, sadly, not an affiliate link!)
  2. Check out the Irish folklore around Brigid, Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day etc. Dúchas is a wonderful site and what you’re mainly looking at here is the School’s Collection. Way back in the 1930’s, Irish schoolchildren were sent out into their areas to collect folk tales, lore and any stories their elders saw fit to tell them. From the website: Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. This collecting scheme was initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission, under the direction of Séamus Ó Duilearga and Séan Ó Súilleabháin, Honorary Director and Registrar of the Commission respectively, and was heavily dependent on the cooperation of the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organization. It was originally to run from 1937 to 1938 but was extended to 1939 in specific cases. For the duration of the project, more than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents and neighbours. We are so lucky to have this collection, but please remember, these were adults talking to children, in Ireland in the 1930’s – there’s no salacious tales here!! (not that you’d be expecting them really in relation to Brigid, but still)
  3. Start a daily practice with Brigid. Now I ran a “30 days with Brigid” in August to help people start off a daily practice and it was a huge success, so I’m likely to run it again, probably in January. If you’d like to hear more about that, click here and you’ll get some emails about it as it’s approaching. But, your daily practice can be as simple as lighting a candle, or even taking one deep breath. Really – spending a few seconds every day thinking about or talking to Brigid is the initial goal. You may expand further than that as time goes on – and I hate to break it to you, but if you’re useful to her, she will push you that way! – but to start with, commit to doing one thing daily. And then do it. (that’s the key bit – the doing bit)
  4. Pray! I know, it seems a bit twee sometimes, but really – either learning a previously written prayer or making up your own, or just talking to Brigid, is a great way to start a relationship with her. I do have a prayer in Irish here (free again) that you’re welcome to use as well.
  5. Learn a bit of Irish. Look, this can be contentious, but it’s a fact that the language we use helps shape the way we think, but also – it’s good manners to at least try to greet someone in their own language when you’re starting off a relationship with them. Here’s a few sample phrases to get you start, but you can use duolingo or any of the apps on line. Teanglann is also a great resource as an online dictionary and Abair gives pronunciations in all the dialects of Irish as well.
    • Maidin mhaith agat – good morning – myy-gin wo ogut
    • Tráthnóna mhaith agat – good afternoon – thraw noan-a wo ogut
    • Oíche mhaith agat – good night – ee-ha wo ogut
  6. Learn about Irish culture and history. Things have changed here since the Great Famine of the 1840’s. They’ve even changed significantly since the foundation of the State. Irish history is an important part of who we are and how we got to where we are now and to understand our relationship with our saints, our spirituality, our deities, ourselves, you need to understand a bit about that as well. As for culture – yeah, we’re not all knocking pints of Guinness back on a Saturday night and singing rebel songs til the wee hours. Have a look at the things that shape us, the plays, literature that’s being written right now. Take a look at modern Irish writers – Louise O’Neill, Emma Donohue, Marian Keyes, Maeve Higgins, Sally Rooney. Please don’t use films like Far and Away or Wild Mountain Thyme as your touchstones. Please.
    • Check out our newspapers. The Irish Times is our paper of record, but because of a transphobic slant they have (slant is being generous there) activists have asked us to boycott them. The Journal is an online newspaper. The Indo and the Examiner are online as well, although there are people who claim the Examiner is a Cork newspaper still, for all it claims to be national. No comment from me! I live too close to Cork to raise their ire 🙂
    • Our native TV and radio stations are also online. Check our national broadcaster, RTE, and for those learning Irish, Radio na Gaeltachta broadcasts online as well. So you can see the kinda of programming we deal with in the country and learn a bit more about our social, cultural, life environments.

So there’s a starting point for anyone. I suppose, I could stretch it out for 10 points, but it was getting waffly enough really towards the end there. But the most important thing? Is to start. Do something. Pick something ridiculously easy and say you’ll do it today. And then do it tomorrow as well. I’m not talking signing up for a language course, or spending 30mins a day praying. I’m saying commit to one deep breath a day while thinking of Brigid. When I say start easy, I really do mean it! You can always expand and develop from there, don’t worry!

A grieving mother

[As I’ve been working on my upcoming “Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh” course, the following story came to me. It’s a fictional outline of how I think that bit in CMT played out at the time. As always, please, please PLEASE note this is a work of fiction based on the mention of Brig as Ruadhán’s mother in Caith Maighe Tuireadh. You know: Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)But the story is fiction ok?]

She came as soon as the shouts went up of course, saw Goibniu carried off to the healers, saw a wrapped body being taken out of camp, saw her Da coming towards her. She wasn’t particularly worried about Goibniu, the rumours already starting about the eejit who tried to kill the Smith using his own spear? Ludicrous. Like one of his own would turn on the powerful man. No mention yet of the perpetrator, but surely one of the Formorians, if they were taking the body. And sure, really, who among their own would even think of such a thing?

Her Da’s arms came around her, turning her, moving her towards her tent.

“Come away, pet, come away, no need for you to be here for this.”

Confused, for surely during this war, she had seen far worse than the Smith’s injury, tending the ill and tending the dead with the rest of her people as needed, she turned, and moved with him, waiting for the explanation she was sure was coming.

“Did you know, love? Had he mentioned anything to you?”

“Had who mentioned what to me, Da?”

“Ruadhán, love, Ruadhán, had he mentioned his plans to you?”

“He was off to see his father last night, Da, I haven’t seen him since.” Her feet stopped, frozen to the earth. What had her Ruadhán to do with this?

“Oh no, oh Da, oh no, not him, not my Ruadhán?” She clung to her Da then, the rock in the flood, the port in the storm, the pillar of strength for her grief. No tears came, just the shaking of her body and the strength drawn from her Da. “I must go to him, Da, I must go to my son.”

No thought but this in her mind, that she must go to her son, knowing he must be at best sorely wounded, her mind even now veering away from the sure knowledge that while Goibniu’s spears would not harm him unduly, in his hands they were always fatal. She knew, at a level apart from her current state. that she could not just march into the enemy camp and claim the body of her son. She knew this was more work for her Da and the heralds and all the other folk who worked so hard to keep communications going between the two armies. She knew she was asking for more work, for her son who had betrayed his mother’s people. She knew, and yet she asked. And her Da could not tell her no.

It took what seems like week to get it all arranged, although afterward, she was told it was mere hours. The heralds went back and forth between the armies, the initial request of a full honour guard befitting the king’s wife laughingly rejected by the Formorians and the return dismissive message that the king’s wife was always welcome to visit her husband as a properly submissive wife equally laughed out of the Tuatha De councils.

In the end, she could take no more.

“Tell my husband I come to see my son. I will take no more than a staff to support myself and one handmaiden of my choice, neither of us warriors in this conflict. I will come, I will sit with my son and we will decide as his parents the next steps to be taken with him. If I need to stay overnight, my husband will provide shelter for his wife and her handmaiden as he is obliged to do so and we will take no more than we can carry in our two hands with us. Are the Formorian assembly so terrified of a wife and mother that this is inacceptable?”

Challenging their fear like that, she knew what the answer would be. For all the Formorians knew she was more than a wife and mother, given their first message, they could not now admit she was full warrior as well. As for handmaiden, maybe her husband would remember her handmaidens had the same training as herself, maybe he wouldn’t – some memories, he chose to forget for the challenge to his own masculinity they posted – but he could not admit that she, never mind her handmaidens – could defeat him if needed.

It took a small time after that, but soon, soon, she was walking across the western edge of the battlefield, with Laoise beside her, a bag and staff each with them. Muttering to each other about the mess and the hassle and the pain of this, as well as the ignorance of people thinking just because a woman became a wife that she forgot her previous skills and training. At the entrance to the Formorian camp, a group of men waited, spears standing high.

“Wait, wife of our king, we would blindfold you.”

“Either I am wife of your king and therefore one of your own, or I am a mother coming to see her son, but either way, your camp holds no interest for me. I will not be blindfolded and this was not mentioned as part of the negotiations. “

Her voice was close to breaking at this point, the pent up emotion, the forced patience, the worry all adding together to an immense pressure inside her. Laoise laid her hand on Brig’s arm, lending what support she could, but also lending force to the image of a worried mother.

The men parted, apparently shamed into allowing a mother pass to her son. But behind them, in the clearing behind the entrance, Bres was on his knees beside the body of her son. The body. The still, white body.

She tore from Laoise’s hands. She jumped, she ran, she knew not how she moved, but suddenly she was pushing Bres from the body of her beloved son. She gathered the body in her arms and she opened her mouth to sing.

Song was not what emerged. She screamed. She shrieked. All that pent up emotion was fed into the sounds that came from her body. This was no stately outline of her son’s achievements and honours – how could it be and he still barely more than a child? This was a mother’s grief given voice. This was the worry, the patience, the emotion released in sound form, blasting the surrounding Formorians with her pain, her grief, her power. They knelt before her tears, her words, her voice.

She knew not how long she knelt there, by the body of her son, but eventually, the body was cool and Laoise was trying to feed her water. She tried to speak, but no sound would come out, only a croak. Laoise shook her head, laying a hand on her shoulder and nodding towards her right. There sat Bres, legs akimbo, surrounded by his warriors. They were not exactly surrounding him with spears, but then, they were not exactly not surrounding him with spears either. They finally, at the last, admitted what he would not – that she would rend him limb from limb if she could for this. He destroyed his son for his own failings. Son-killer. But she would not name him so, even in the depths of her grief.

She rose, she gathered her cloak around her, she grasped her staff and she turned for home, Laoise beside her. In silence, they left the Formorian camp, since her son would be sent on his way according to his father’s rights. In silence, they returned to their own camp, and stopped abruptly.

Her Da, and all his advisors waited for them, worried.

“Daughter, what have you done?”

“My son is dead. Ruadhán is no more.” Not her voice. Not yet. Not this creaky, gravelly, tortured thing. But it served for now.

“There was some… disruption… in the camp as you expressed your grief, daughter.”

Confused, she looked around, saw the people, looking haggard and worn and tired. How long had she grieved? Knowing even as she asked, it was both far too long and not half long enough.

“Three days, daughter and three nights, and none of our people could talk, or sleep, or eat. Have the Formorians been so affected?”

She shook her head, she knew not. But Laoise did.

“They are worse. The full force did not reach here.”

Nodding, her Da opened his arms and she went gratefully to him. She would pay honour price for what she had done, for the power her words and grief had unleashed on the land. She would sit with her teachers and the other file to see how this new power could be controlled and managed to limit the devastation. She would harness the power and use it to help her people.

But now, she would rest. Her Da would look after her, would protect her, would fend off her responsibilities for some time so she could heal the first pain…

Relationships

I was speaking to someone last night who got me thinking about what it is that I do – they were asking me about whether I knew anyone else about the place who worked with Brigid the way I do in Ireland. And y’know, I’m sure there are – loads of us – but what context we put it into, how we frame it to ourselves, what we speak to other people about… all of this limits to a certain extent how much any of us knows about another person’s practice or even if they have a practice.

And sometimes it’s a lot easier to explain these things to a stranger on the internet who doesn’t really know you from Adam, and who hasn’t been there for the past few decades as you grew to where you are now. Because, as humans, we all grow and change over time. I mean, there’s nothing quite like a friend who’s known you for decades pointing out your current stance on something is diametrically opposed to where you stood 20 yrs ago when you’re trying to focus on the improved you. And this can be difficult to deal with. So how do we deal with it?

The me of 20 yrs ago was very different to the me of today. My attitudes to social issues, gender rights, religion, politics, all that has changed. I’m no longer one of those girls who “isn’t like other girls”, or someone who “doesn’t see colour”. And there’s a part of me that wants to cringe at remembering these things. But the thing is, I didn’t know any better at the time and I’ve done a lot of work since then to get better at things.

And I’m still not perfect and there’s a fairly high chance that in another 20 yrs I’ll be looking back at my attitudes today and saying something similar about my views today. I hope to grow more inclusive and more aware of privilege and better able to navigate diversity over time.

But then there’s the friends that seem like they have a need for you not to change as well. You know the ones that express surprise every single time you express a view that isn’t consistent with your younger self? The ones that can really only connect with you on the “old days” or appear to need or want you to stay that younger self? (Side note here – this isn’t aimed at any of my friends, it’s a train of thought I’ve been running through for a while and the conversation last night followed by a dream I had crystallised it for me!)

We talk about romantic break ups a lot but we rarely talk about platonic break ups or how awkward it can be when you stop being friends with someone. And especially if these are friends from childhood, you’ve poured out your heart and soul to them and they’ve poured theirs out to you… there are so many links and ties and memories – it’s like they’re part of you in some ways and losing them is hard. I’m not talking about a drifting away here – that happens through lack of common interests or lives taking different turnings. I’m thinking about a more deliberate separation. Even to think about it appears wrong, right?

And yet… it happens. It doesn’t matter how long the friendship or how intense or how deep – there comes a time to step away and decide that this isn’t for you anymore. It’s not the end of the world, but it can be really difficult, and we don’t discuss this in society at all. Even a bad relationship can be mourned. But the breakup of a friendship? Sure you have other friends right?

And this can be part of the reason we keep our spiritual endeavours to ourselves or to people on the internet.  It’s safer not to rock the boat. It’s easier to not have these difficult conversations with our friends. It’s not like we’re still teenagers, with hours to waste rambling on about this and that and nothing at all, right? We don’t want to face our friends with the truth of who we are now, because they still, at some part of themselves, see us as the person we were decades ago (and to be clear – we do the same to them! This isn’t necessarily a one-way street!!) So we stick to the safe topics. We have the light-hearted conversations. We regress to the selves we were at a certain point in time, rather than truly and wholly who we are now. And for most of us, it’s not really an issue.

But where does that leave us with deity? One of the biggest questions I see around the place is “Why isn’t Brigid responding the way she used to?” or “It feels like she’s abandoned me!!” (Last of which technically isn’t a question, but bear with me) And yes, it can feel like that sometimes. And there’s a few things to think about.

So for a start – a relationship with a deity is like any other relationship: it takes work and attention to make it work. And while I’m loath to state that Brigid will never abandon you, I will say it’s not my experience that she would do such a thing. Will she step away to allow you space and time to get your head around something? Oh yes. Can it feel like she’s just dumped a whole pile of work on you and walked away? Oh yes. Does it sometimes feel like the feeling you had around her previously isn’t there anymore? Oh yes.

But these aren’t necessarily bad things. She thinks you can deal with it, or there is something else going on. And sometimes… well sometimes, it’s time to move on from that relationship. I’ve not had that experience with Brigid, but I have had it with others. So, I know, it feels like the loss of something massive. But not all of us are cut out for life long or lives long relationships with a specific deity. Some of us are barely cut out for a lifelong relationship with ourselves! Now, there’s nothing to stop you continuing to pray to Brigid or make offerings or whatever you like. Really, no one but no one can dictate that but you (assuming you’re an adult and have complete control over your spiritual life – I recognise there are times in life and places in the world where this isn’t true!)

So a few things to check: is there someone else trying to get your attention? Have you tasks left undone for Brigid that’s she’s waiting for you to complete? Are you in the middle of a crisis in your life and don’t have time for spirituality? Is there something else going on?

Are you working with a deity out of habit?

Are you mostly there because of past shared experiences?

Are you feeling confined and restricted rather than supported?

All of these can be signs you might want to take a break or look around or see is there something else you’re missing. And it might not even be a new deity but a new area with this deity to investigate. But either way, whether we’re talking romantic, friendship or divine relationships, it does no harm to stop and take stock every once in a while. Especially if you feel there’s something wrong or not quite right and it needs to change.

What did I learn from “30 days of Brigid”

The inaugural “30 Days of Brigid” course finished up last week and one of the final challenges I set the group was a reflection on the course and what it will change for them. So I thought sharing the same exercise for myself here for people who didn’t get the chance to take part might help.

I’ll admit, when I started off, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to think of 30 useful, short activities for people to try and incorporate into their daily spiritual practice. As it happens, I could have done 50 or 60 days (I won’t, cos this was very intense for me – more on that later!) I actually do have a wide variety of daily activities that I regularly use in my daily spiritual practice.) Part of the reason I can feel as if I don’t have a daily spiritual practice sometimes, is because there is such a wide range of activities I use for this. And I do use one or more most days. So whether it’s a deep breath or a prayer or a dance, I have a daily spiritual practice that’s constant and regular if not consistent in the actual practice itself.

Second – this took a lot of energy. It’s a holding container for people to explore and it was great fun and I’m happy I did it, but I found it took an awful lot from me as well. Checking in daily, managing the tech (yes there were a few hiccups!), keeping on top of the energy I was feeling from the group – it all took a lot more out of me than I was expecting. It took a few weeks to realise that actually this was siphoning energy in ways I didn’t expect, and so I managed that as well. Now, that siphoning isn’t a bad thing necessarily, just something I wasn’t 100% prepared for. I’ll know better next and set myself up a battery type situation rather than direct from me situation. (For those who don’t work with energy this may sound like rubbish, but trust me, it means something!!)

Third – I was right, the tech did need learning and managing. I think there was only one major hiccup and I figured out what was wrong, but each day there was an email, a lecture, a video and a Facebook post – and I think all were good and valuable, but all took time. Especially the videos – the uploading was a pain! But I think it worthwhile to appeal to as many learning styles/ info gathering styles as possible.

Fourth – most days, the activity was under 5mins. However, on some days, it went longer, particularly those days where we were using some Gaeilge. It’s to be expected I guess, but I might see about streamlining those days for the next time to fit in the 5mins slot, or offer a shorter video for those in a hurry with the longer video still available to those who have the time.

Fifth – this is definitely something I want to do again. It was valuable for me and I think really valuable for those who took part. This is something I can see myself running a few times a year for people, because tuning in and consciously examining our daily practices is hugely beneficial.

Sixth – finally, did this help me deepen my relationship with Brigid? Yes, I think it did. Just consciously and carefully showing up for 30 days, even when I know I do it the vast majority of days anyway, really helped. There are a few things percolating now for future courses, some of which I mentioned in last week’s email (sign up here if you haven’t already) and some of which are still percolating. I’ve also been percolating the next steps in my own journey with Brigid and where that is going to go next (seriously – long term relationships with deity develop and change the same as long term relationships with people do. We’re meant to grow and change as humans and mortals, not stay stagnant!!) A lot of that is hugely personal as yet, so I won’t be sharing it here, but eventually, over time, some of it will naturally become public.

I’m delighted I did this, it was a last minute thing, it was something I had not planned for at all this year, but I’m thinking maybe after Samhain of running it again. If you’re interested in hearing about future offerings of this, please drop your email here.

So there we go – my reflections on the course. I really had forgotten about everything I do in a spiritual way and the different moods and circumstances I can work with. There really is something you can do the vast majority of days, even if it’s a single deep breath, taken consciously.

Warnings

(And yes, I know it’s been ages since I last posted. Those on my email list already know this – you can sign up here – but I started a new job in mid-August that’s taking up some time and running the 30 Days of Brigid course has been great fun, but also a lot of work and well… the blog fell off the to-do list I’m afraid! But normal service will resume now 🙂 )

But today I want to talk about warnings and how we pay attention or don’t as the case may be. I lost my wedding ring last week. And it had been loose on my finger for months now, but I was “being careful” and dealing with it. But suddenly I was in the check out at Tesco, when the cashier handed me my engagement ring, which had also fallen off my finder. And I realised my wedding ring was gone. I haven’t found it yet, despite a lot of searching. And ok, on the one hand, it’s a ring, it can be replaced. But on the other hand… well it’s special. And there things I could have done – resizing it, putting it aside so it didn’t get lost, that sort of thing. But I love my ring and didn’t want to be without it.

Equally, this morning coming out of the house to go to work, laden down with phone, water bottle, gym bag, work bag, and I almost slipped on the muck outside the door that we always get after rain. Now, I didn’t fall, but it could have been bad if I did. And I actually heard An Dagda warning me to be careful on this on and even with all that, I nearly dropped the work bag (which might have meant the laptop was kaput. Why did I save it again???) But will I do something about this? Scrape up the muck? Park in a different spot? Wear better shoes? Will I hell. Although now I’m writing it, I may ask the husband to scrape it up for me since he’s at home today.

What has this got to do with spirituality, I hear you ask? Well, a lot. No more than we get physical warnings, like I mention above, but also, the yellow fuel light on the car, the flashing lights at a railway crossing, the alarm going off in the morning, we can also get spiritual warnings. I know I’m usually all about the practical, but sometimes, you have to go with your gut. And for “your gut”, substitute your best feeling in your body for when something doesn’t feel right. For me, it tends to be gut or knees. (Yeah, I know – knees!) But if there’s someone I just met or a group I just joined, sometimes I get a really good feeling or a really bad feeling. And honestly, even with the really good feeling isn’t always right – so don’t just pay attention to your gut (or knees!) but if you’re regularly working with your intuition and you’re regularly keeping on top of your energy work and if you’re regularly paying attention to yourself, your body, your mind, then that gut feeling is probably worth paying attention to.

Now, of course, sometimes you can’t extract yourself safely from certain situations immediately – I’ve been in places that were grand at the start but then something happens and I plan my escape immediately. I may not get out immediately, but I will leave. Similarly, if I meet someone at work that my gut just says, “No” to, I can’t necessarily avoid that person, but I can make sure I’m aware of them, I’m careful around them, whatever I need to do to feel safer or make meetings with them more manageable for me.

What if someone joins a social group and you suddenly get that feeling? You can call it energy, gut, whatever you like, but sometimes we get such strong warnings you can’t help but react – think of the electricity you feel when you meet someone you find really attractive and the feeling is mutual? That’s a warning as well – may be positive, may be negative in the end, but it’s a warning! So, it’s maybe not always a reason to retreat or worry, but the warnings are there for a reason – this is something to pay attention to.

But, Orlagh, I hear you screaming, how do I develop this sense? Well a lot of it is paying attention to your body and how it feels. I know, I had to come back to prosaic eventually. If you work with energy, you will be aware of some of this already, in how energy moves through your body and how it interacts with your body – all hugely important work. But if you’re starting with this and it’s something you want to pay attention to – pay attention to your body. No more than the body will tell us when we’re too hot or too cold, we can learn when we’re picking up on something not obvious.

Have a think about watching films. When you watch a scary film, where do you feel it? When you watch a romantic film, where do you feel it? When you watch a tense, thriller-type film, where do you feel it? These can be really good places to start. Start checking in with your body throughout the day – or even once a day. How do you feel physically? Hot, cold, comfortable, tense, stiff, soft, hard, pain, aches – it’s amazing what you pick up on when you do this.

When the physical becomes easier, start in on the mental – how’s the head feeling? Or the mind to be better… busy, quiet, high, low, full, empty, tight, loose, tense, comfortable. These can be harder to manage than physical sensations, but again hugely valuable. When you get used to checking in with yourself like this, you will start to react to the feelings in a more timely manner. And as you get into the habit, you will find yourself recognising these warnings your body and mind are giving you. You will start to notice feelings and warnings and sensations in changing circumstances – the important thing is to acknowledge them to yourself, even if you don’t/ can’t act on them immediately.

And, for the love of all you hold holy, if there’s a piece of jewelry that you hold dear and it starts falling off – pay attention before you lose it!!

What does a daily spiritual practice look like?

As some of ye will be aware, on Monday, there is a group of us starting a 30 day journey to deepen and develop our relationship with Brigid. You can check out more details here. But, I cheated a bit and asked a Day 0 question…

I asked people to think about what a daily spiritual practice means to them. And I started to talk about what it means to me, but then… I needed more space than Facebook gives. So here we are. Now, people who have been reading this blog for a while know that I don’t believe it takes a massive amount of effort to build a daily spiritual practice and it needs to fit in with your life. If your daily spiritual practice is a single deep breath while you get the 3 seconds between one child dropping off to sleep and the next waking up, or if it’s a trip to the toilet during the work day where you look in the mirror and tell yourself “you got this” that’s fine. Honestly – spirituality needs to fit into our lives, not cause more stress and strain.

But I know that when people start thinking about this (for people read: me), their (my) brain goes off in all sorts of different directions. For example, when I look at this, I think of what I’d love to be able to do. I would like to get up in the morning and have a nice relaxing cuppa while leafing through my games on my phone. Then have 20-30 mins meditation, followed by a good half hour of dance or walking in nature. Then a nice relaxing shower, breakfast and out the door. That would all take a good 2 hrs, and frankly my mornings usually go about like this: wake up, leaf through phone, shower, breakfast, what do I have for lunch, out the door. And I really don’t have 2 hrs to get ready in the morning. But when someone says “daily spiritual practice”, this calm, serene, blissful morning comes to mind, even when I know it’s not practical. But you know what might be practical? 5-10 mins meditation. Taking that walk at lunchtime. Prepping clothes and meals the night before to ease the stress in the morning.

And, before I go any further – that’s just me I have to get ready. No kids, no dependents that need to get up and go in the morning. I struggle with just me! But it’s there all the time, it’s a “should” in my life, that I should be doing this cos what else am I doing? Well I’m spending time with my husband. I’m sleeping. I’m dealing with a long commute. Like I said, any spiritual practice has to fit into your life.

But at the same time, when looking at developing a practice, it’s useful to get this ideal out of your head and onto paper (or whatever medium is most useful for you to record thoughts – for me it’s online documents usually, typing is now easier than writing for me!) So there’s a challenge for you – spend a few mins to think about what your ideal daily spiritual practice would look like. What do you think you should be doing? What do you think is absolutely essential? Get all the stuff you feel guilty about not doing out of your head and into some other medium for storage.

And then, put it away for 30 days or a month. Trust me! If you want to join us on our 30 day journey with Brigid, you’re more than welcome, but even if you don’t – put that away and out of your head for a month and then come back to you and start looking at how practical it is and what might be doable in your life!

A 30 day journey with Brigid

Yesterday I taught a class on Crom Dubh (you can check it out here) Crom Dubh has been taking a lot of attention lately, and it was part of the deal for me being allowed to finish the Lúnasa class I taught a few weeks ago with IPS that I teach that class. And it was great – I had fun learning about Crom Dubh, and sorting out between him and Crom Cruach and all the different stories there are about him. It was great.

But, it meant I wasn’t paying as much attention to Brigid as I had been previously, because Crom Dubh is an old, old deity and communication is a bit more complicated that with the newer ones. Worth it, but more effort is required.

So, as part of making this up to Brigid, I’m developing a 30 day journey that I’d like you to come along with me on. The idea being that every morning an email will arrive in your inbox, directing you towards the days activities. I am designing this so the activities won’t take more than 5 mins but if you wish to/ have time to go deeper by journalling or further meditation or something else, they are easily expandable as well. So for example, one item I have on the list already is a few mins of chanting a short prayer in either English or Irish (I’ll have an audio for any Irish ones, don’t worry!)

If your interested in this, please sign up here for further updates!

Faith vs religion

I had a really interesting conversation with my parents at the weekend. My darling niece was baptised and I was honoured to be allowed to be her godmother. so I paid more attention to the ceremony than I usually would. And I wasn’t sure the child would be baptised, but her parents decided it was important to do so. (Which is entirely their choice and business) But I was surprised by the ceremony – it was far more relaxed and inclusive of the people in the church than I remembered from the last baptism I attended.

Now in case this is your first time here, I consider myself a Pagan Catholic and this was a Catholic baptism. Also, if you’re not Irish, you may not understand the role the Catholic Church plays and has played in our society and culture, so check out the other posts I have on that. It might help with background.

Before I get into the details of the faith vs religion conversation, I do want to talk about Brigid in the ceremony as well – because there is a part of the ceremony where the priest calls on various figures to pray for us, in this case: Mary, Jesus, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Patrick and St. Brigid. (So I was feckin delighted with that!) Then there is a part of the ceremony where the child’s baptism candle is lit from the Paschal Candle (the big candle, usually on its own holder, standing on the altar towards the back usually when it’s not being used) to symbolise the light of faith being passed on. And I got the job of lighting that candle, which probably seemed less important to others in the church, but to me, that was hugely important. Here is a ceremony, where we’re calling on Brigid to protect a child and using water and fire to bless the child… And then people wonder why I say I’m a Pagan Catholic!

But anyway, on to the conversation about faith vs religion. For me it’s simple: faith is the belief and religion is the structure and the system. So for me to say I believe in God, in Jesus, in Mary – I do. But my opinions of the Catholic Church as an institution, as an organisation, as a structure – well, suffice to say my opinion wouldn’t be high. Individuals within the church have done some good, I will not argue that, but at this point I would say, it’s in spite of the church rather than because of it.

So it was easy to say to my parents that my faith is strong – it is. That’s not to say I don’t have doubts, but I believe there is a Divine power out there to help us in this life. I have had too many incidents in my life that I should not have survived to say otherwise. But the religion, well now that’s a different thing. And my parents have a different view on it as well. I commented at the weekend that I wanted to go to mass in a particular building because it always lifts my spirits. My Dad is of the opinion that it’s the man saying mass should lift the spirits, whereas my Mam agrees that architecture helps the whole experience along. For me, my respect for and opinion of the man saying mass affects my experience of the ritual. For me Dad, it’s the spiritual experience itself that matters, not who facilitates it. Perhaps my Dad is the better Catholic for being able to sidestep the physical representation of the experience and go straight to the source… I don’t know, but I know right now, it’s easier to go to mass with a priest I don’t know and will probably never speak to rather than one that I know has what I consider to be hideous opinions or a belief in maintaining the status quo.

So what is more important? Faith or religion? For me it’s faith. We can create our own structures and systems to support our spiritual life and as long as we’re not selling them as the One True Way, no harm, no foul. The structure should never be mistaken for the faith. Faith is something that can be easily faked using systems and structures, in public view anyway. But a firm belief in the divine, a faith that there is a higher power of some description, is something that can’t really be faked to oneself. And that faith for me is the feeling inside me that there is something looking out for me. That something is far outside my ability to comprehend fully, so I divide it into saints, deities, powerful beings, but yet ones that I can comprehend.

It’s like thinking of space. I get panic attacks at night sometimes thinking of the great blackness of space, that massive, unending, emptiness, from which we came and to which we shall return. It’s simply too big for me to think about, and my mind closes over. It’s the same with the Divine. It’s too big to think about and so I break it up. But the faith is still there, underpinning my actions and life.

This is how I can call on Mary for patience or Brigid for help in times of need. It’s why I don’t often have the perfect prayer, but I have the shape of a thought to throw at the divine. It’s why I know that while my prayers might not seem to be answered, or might not be answered in the way I want them to be answered, they will eventually be answered. It’s how I know that somethings I won’t understand in this life and that’s alright. Maybe I don’t need to. But I have faith that I have what I really do fundamentally need in this life.

Religion can be a community; it’s usually rules and strictures and man-made restrictions. Faith is a power force linked to the divine that can move mountains.

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil

Or – the Official Standard. Of Irish that is! Now prior to the country gaining complete independence from Britain, standards in Irish were variable to say the least. While we speak now of three main dialects, or canúintí, before the Caighdeán was established, there were many many more pre-1950’s ish. It could prove difficult for speakers of different dialects to understand each other – and indeed, even in English accents and dialects were far more pronounced before the advent of international telly/ radio. One only needs look at the entries in Irish on Dúchas to see the differences in spelling and grammar across different areas.

The Caighdeán was an attempt to make things easier for Irish learners and fight against the lowering rates of people speaking the language. Irish has, and continues to be, a major part of the Irish identity for many people, although in modern Ireland, there are those who lament time “wasted” on learning it. In case you’ve not read this blog before – I love the language, love speaking it and work on improving my Irish. But it has to be said, looking at those old Dúchas entries, there were an awful lot of extra letters banging around teh place!

The Caighdeán was focused on making things simpler for new learners, but it kinda left out those who had learnt spelling, grammar and even font before it was implemented. Oh yes, there was a specific font used for writing Irish – you’ll have noticed this from Dúchas as well, I hope – but here’s an example of what it looked like. Many silent letters were left out in the new Caighdeán (an caighdeán nua) meaning that words like Lughnasadh now became Lúnasa August, or the festival of Lúnasa). Or, for a more extreme example, Gaedhealtacht became Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area). It was a way of making the written word look less intimidating.

But the Caighdeán was dealing with many different dialects – the one quoted most often is the Roscommon dialect, spoken by our first president Douglas Hyde (Dubhghlas de hÍde) which has now died out. Even trying to pick a “correct” option from Munster, Connacht and Ulster Irish would be difficult – try telling any native speaker of any language that the grammar or pronunciation they’ve been using since birth is incorrect? Ah go, I dare yah! So, the Caighdeán is a bit of a mess alright when it comes to picking one or the other. And really, if you’re speaking Connacht Irish, for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “Cá bhfuil my bhicycle?” instead of “Cá bhfuil mo rothar?” since as it was explained to me, the word “bicycle” had been used in the Gaeltacht for decades before this new-fangled “rothar” came along. Equally, the official word for potato in Irish is práta (prátaí in the plural, cos who’d need to know what 1 spud is??), but for my mothers family in Clare, it was always fataí/ phataí. And I’m not telling her she’s wrong!!

So what ended up being in the Caighdeán was a mixture of what was most commonly used, what the particular contributor liked or pure accident. Now my Dad, good Galwayman that he is, would claim that Connacht Irish is the best, although I have read things on the internet (cos everything written on the internet is true!) indicating that Munster Irish would be closer to the written Irish we have from the 16th century on. To me, it doesn’t matter, as long as the language is being spoken. I mean, in English, we don’t argue whether the Dublin “Staarhy” (the word story, short for “any story?” or “what’s the story”) is any more or less correct than the more rural “how’s she cuttin’?” Both are understood to be colloquialisms rather than standard language. Why shouldn’t the local idiosyncrasies in Irish be treated the same? In practice, it is – it’s really only when dealing with scholarship, education and political publications the Caighdeán become important.

But that’s part of the issue. Children from the age of 4 in schools are taught Irish, sometimes according to the Caighdeán, sometimes according to the teacher’s own Irish, which may or may not be fluent or approaching fluent in standard. I remember going over the irregular verb to be/ 5 times in my first year in secondary school, but whereas in primary school we had covered the aimsir chaite, aimsir láithreach, aimsir fháistineach, módh choinníollach, aimsir ghnáthchaite, aimsir ghnáthláithreach, and a few other bits and bobs, in secondary school, we just did 3 of them (aimsir chaite, aimsir láithreach, aimsir fháistineach), cos the rest were deemed too scary. There are 11 irregular verbs in Irish and the verb to be is one of them, but to cover it 5 times in one year, and only in 3 verb tenses at that? Well it was a bit of overkill to me, even as a 12 yr old.

The language is presented as a big deal to kids and the Caighdeán is complicated – it’s trying to condense an entire language to a system of rules and grammars and syntax. I never knew there was tenses in verbs in English until my teenage years – I knew they were there in Irish, French and German though. I though the tuiseals, the cases of nouns, were an Irish only thing, until I started learning German. Even now, if you ask me for the Tuiseal Ginideach of any noun, I’ll struggle, but most of the time if I put it into a sentence, it will come to me. Equally, knowing whether a noun is male or female is mostly beyond me, but I can usually get the use of a séimhiú roughly right.

No more than we have “Learning English as a foreign language” classes, I think we need to do the same with Irish. It doesn’t matter which canúint you’re learning – and I’d argue the Caighdeán or “school Irish” is a fourth canúint all on its own – it doesn’t matter if you mix the words and syntax and grammar from all 4 of the canúintí. No more than other languages, the official standard of the language doesn’t always bear a resemblance to the actual spoken, every day language and that’s ok. I mean, think of someone from Ayrshire in Scotland and Somerset in England and the differences between the English they speak. Hell, think of the difference between Liverpudlian and Mancunian English, and they’re much closer together, geographically speaking! None of those could be considered to be “Standard English” but there’s no problem with the deviations.

The Caighdeán caused a gap in the passing on of the language from generation to generation, since those who had learned the language for writing pre-Caighdeán would struggle with the spelling at least post-Caighdeán, and so, would struggle with helping the next generation. But it’s not exactly the evil that many people call it. It’s a mixed bag like so much else in this world. And it’s been updated since the 1950’s, which is good, cos Ireland has changed since the 1950’s, why wouldn’t the language?

The Caighdeán is a useful tool to have in your back pocket, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t conform to it. Equally, if you have a fierce love of silent letters, sure fire ahead, it’ll look strange to modern eyes, but we’ll cope. And the cló gaelach is a lovely font, sure why wouldn’t you want to use it occasionally!