A new look at shadow work

Trigger warning for abuse, sexual assault, and other horrible experiences

Any student, or causal reader of Jungian psychology will be familiar with his concept of our shadow selves. If you’re not familiar with it, and sure, there’s no reason you should be! it’s the exploration of the unconscious or hidden parts of ourselves, including those parts of us we repress or try not to acknowledge. Usually because they’re the less-nice bits.

You know – the bits that ache to punch someone cos they annoy you. Or the parts that enjoy some (what you consider to be) abnormal sexual position or activity. Or even some part of you that wasn’t accepted when you were growing up and therefore you swear isn’t part of you. (Not that I have experience in any of these! Ahem. Nope, not me…. totally lying here by the way)

Anyway, I came across what looked like an interesting book the other week called Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott and bought it. I mean look at it – why wouldn’t you?

Image of the front of the book Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott, PhD. which has a woman’s face, mostly covered in shadow, but a strip of light or non shadow over her eyes and with her right hand covering her right eye. There is a red circle with white writing on the top left hand side saying “A method for getting what you want by getting off on what you don’t”

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Many of the works on shadow work have a tendency to be a bit victim blamey and don’t take into account the fact of abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual assault and other horrible things that happen all over the world, every day. And, if I’m even more honest, there was a tinge of that in the book, although at least childhood abuse is eliminated from the question.

And ok, I can accept that someone who has had multiple abusive relationships may need help to figure out what is it about these partners that attracts them and how to work out the warning signs. I don’t think abuse is the victims/ survivors fault though. No one causing their own abuse. And that’s something these kind of books keep on putting out there. So, if you are, like me, the survivor or victim of an abusive relationship, just remember this: it’s not your fault. You didn’t force someone to abuse you. OK?

On the other hand, I can see, looking back, how I have done work similar to what is described in this book about things that might have led me down that path. The author describes getting very friendly with the physical feelings that certain situations evoke in us. As in – if you are constantly short of money, then imagine being completely broke and see what the physical feeling evokes in you and luxuriate in it. Obviously, this process is explained miles better in the book, but essentially, I like the idea of exploring fully the conditions we want to escape and never seem to be able to. The author encourages you to feel these emotions and physical sensations so thoroughly and deeply that you orgasm (hence the name!) Now, I can’t say I orgasmed from my experiments with the book, but I did find it useful to identify ways I no longer seek sensation in life, but have them covered through specific activities.

And the prologue is shite. Persephone and Plute are in different pantheons for a start and her ideas behind what happened to Persephone – well it’s rubbish in my eyes. However, I did follow on through with the rest of the book and I’m glad I did.

And at it’s core, the process is similar enough to most shadow work processes I’ve seen, but the sexual element is a new one for me and makes the whole thing more attractive (your mileage may vary!) Because a lot of the shadow work process, whether group or individual, I’ve worked with before can ignore sex and desire as part of shadow work. I’ve worked with one or two good ones that at least sexual desire exists and is part of human life, but it’s not widespread. Which I suppose speaks to the need for something like this.

Essentially this book works through with you a process taking you through as many of the taboo subjects or areas we’re not meant to be attracted to in life as possible and helps you see if these are things you need to address, and how to address them. From that point of view, it’s a good book.

It’s also well written, well researched, on solid foundations as they say. I mean, it’s not like you’ll completely go over to the dark side, unless you really want to. But understanding why we feel the way we feel or why we have “issues” we can’t move past is really helpful in actually moving past them.

Now this is an adult book, both by topics and language. It’s not aimed at kids. So, there’s a bit of language in it, there’s discussion of sexual things in general, there’s references to orgasms and other sexual acts. So, if that sort of talk offends you, don’t buy the book, it’s not for you. If you’re not interested in looking into the darkness of yourself, it’s not for you either. If you look to align yourself completely with “light and love” eliminating any mention of darkness from your life – ignore this completely, it’s not for you.

To be fair, if you already have a shadow work process that works for you, this may not be for you, although you might pick up something useful for yourself along the way.

But, if you are interested in exploring the deepest, darkest corners of your soul, where you know the skeletons are buried and looking to move past what is holding you back into a new future? This is definitely for you. If you want to explore the things that you have repressed, for whatever reason, and dig up the dirt on yourself – go for it here. And even if you want to dip your toe in, this is a reasonably safe process by which to start off as well – although maybe tackle your issues around toffee lattes before hitting the deep childhood stuff…

All in all, as with any shadow work, do your homework and don’t start engaging with something you don’t trust, but I found this book to be really good, enjoyable read and useful process to follow.

Brigid and her Da

Because I’ve been preparing for a Bealtaine ritual and practice class over the last few months, I’ve been working more than usual with the Dagda. I mean, he’s always there in the background anyway, it’s not like he’s not a regular visitor, but I’ve been actively working with him more than usual lately. To the extent that I exclaimed in one of the Brigid in Ireland classes just after Imbolc that I had only Frankincence & Myrrh incense available to me! (For reasons with that, check out the stories about How the Dagda Got his Staff, I think both Jon O’Sullivan and Morgan Daimler have the story on their blogs)

Anyway, as part of the work, I’ve been looking at the relationship between the Dagda and Brigid. And if I’m honest, it bears reflection on the relationship with my own Dad as well. I mean one of the Dagda’s epitaph’s is “Ollathair”, meaning “Father of many” and not “Father of all” as many translate it. That’s Zeus I think? Definitely not Irish anyway!

But the relationship between the Dagda and Brigid is really interesting. She’s one of his offspring that just don’t have a story with him as such, acting in a fatherly way. She’s clearly outlined as the Dagda’s daughter in several places in the lore, but they don’t get a story together really. So what follows here is extrapolated from the lore, but is UPG. Maybe I should put that in big red letters or something?

Anyway, for me, the Dagda comes across as a loving and caring Dad to his offspring. He brings one of the back from the dead, he arranges for another to get the land he wants, paying out of his own land for replacement for the previous occupant, he takes in foster kids, the general impression is a father who loves his kids and will do right by them. Now I don’t get the feeling he’s a complete push over, but I can also see him easily sneaking sweets or a few quid when it’s needed as well as providing the discipline when that’s needed as well.

And he doesn’t claim to be perfect one way or another, which is good. You add that impression to my impressions of Brigid as an independent, stubborn, dedicated deity who does what it takes to get the job done, and you can see where she’d get that work ethic from. The Dagda is good at it, whatever it is, y’see and I can’t imagine him allowing his daughter not to be prepared for anything life might throw at her.

I can easily see them sitting down by the fire, debating freely the topics of the day, or talking through problems, or working out difficulties. I imagine they have similar debates as the ones myself and my own Da have as well – where we know damn well the other one isn’t going to change their mind and the arguments are so old, we each know what the other will say, but sure it’s fun to revisit the classics anyway… A gentle teasing undercurrent, a mutual respect, an insistence on facts and proof…

Relating to parents or children as adults isn’t always an easy transition to make, but I figure after a few thousand years or so, they must have gotten there right?

I know from personal experience as well that the Dagda is an expert at the gentle chiding that my own Da can produce at times as well. He (the Dagda) isn’t too happy with how I’m nourishing myself lately, although he understands my issues with food, and isn’t pushing it too far. He’s also reminded me every morning this week that I’m teaching this class on Saturday and it’s not written yet (it will be don’t worry, he just wants to make sure it’s done right…)

That subtle, gentle “are you sure you want that” could be hugely annoying from someone else, but from the Dagda, I can take it since he doesn’t overdo it and it’s generally after 2-3 days of a 100% chocolate diet. (Oh yeah, that’s possible, trust me 😀 ) And it’s never given in a “you always do this” or ~”oh shite, you’re at this again?” type of way. It’s always more of a “look, you know you will feel better if…) Which helps a lot.

And he wants to keep an eye on his daughter as well. Even if she is a grown adult and is perfectly capable of helping herself, if he can help her, he will, whether it’s a few quid at the end of the month or dropping in to take care of a few small repairs she’s too busy to tend to herself. She’s his little girl after all, for all she’s a deity in her own right. And that’s isn’t to belittle her at all, more that he cares for her and loves her and won’t give up on her no matter what. And in return, she will pop by for him, when she feels he’s doing too much or invite him round for a bite to eat on a night she knows he’s been pushing himself hard, or even think up an excuse for him to have to do some gentler work urgently as a break from the more difficult stuff.

Or indeed, either of them can provoke a row or heated debate with the other, when they realise the other needs to let off steam. And offer a hug for comfort as well.

He’s a big man, the Dagda, both physically and energetically and he can be overwhelming sometimes, but he’s aware of this and wouldn’t want to cause accidental harm to people just saying hello. I’d still approach him with respect and courtesy initially at least, unless/ until you develop a relationship with him and be careful what you say to him. I once said he was welcome to what food we had in the house and very quickly changed it to he’s welcome to share in our meals, because otherwise, we might find ourselves out of food very quickly! He won’t come where he’s explicitly not invited, but he will come and visit members of his family from time to time, so don’t worry if he pops up as part of a Brigidine practice. It’s probably not you he’s checking up on, although it might be.

He’s fair, he’s steady, he’s dependable. He’s also highly attractive to the ladies, if the amount of mothers for his kids are anything to go by. He can be a rock in a crisis, but he’s a better rock after you develop a relationship with him. He’s big on hospitality and cooking and looking after people. But he can and will remind you to look after all your tools, even your own body, mind, spirit.

And there’s nothing specifically in the lore to tie him into Bealtaine, but the general themes of fertility (in Ireland mostly of the bovine sort or general prosperity, but human fertility fits the Dagda as well), preparing the ground, marshalling resources for the coming year fit him very well. So it’s UPG for him to be linked to Bealtaine, but he’s the most obvious one for me!

Has the Dagda appeared in your work with Brigid? How has it gone?

Ireland’s (other) patron saint

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland, and indeed all over the world, on 17th March, or your nearest day off, depending on whether you’re lucky enough to get the day off or not. And there’s “controversies” every year about the day, with Irish people moaning it’s yet another holiday associated with a religious holiday, pagans moaning that dear, old Paddy wasn’t all that great, and history experts (the real sort, not the internet sort) getting caught in between.

And after one of my recent emails to my fans (or at least people who agree to sign up to receive emails from me, click here if you’re interested) people came back asking what my thoughts on the day. So here you go…

I’ll be the first to admit that, for a lot of my life, Paddy’s was celebrated as a day off work or a day on double pay when I was in college. In my early years post-college, it was a chance to meet up with friends in Dublin, see the parade, or the tail-end of it, and then hit the pubs for the day. It was a day to relax and let our hair down, and drink quite a lot. So, having been in that tradition myself, I don’t really condemn those who celebrate in this way now. I can’t bring myself to be that hypocritical and, really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself.

Where I do get a bit annoyed is when people start saying that because it’s Paddy’s Day, there’s almost an onus on us to get plastered, sure cos aren’t the Irish all mad drinkers anyway? Alcohol causes a lot of problems in this country, so don’t be using that rhetoric to justify or excuse letting your own hair down. I drank for problematic reasons for years, beginning far younger than I really should have, I recognise now, even if it was the norm. I also know there are plenty of my friends who started drinking around the same age I did who didn’t end up with the years long dubious relationship with drink. So, that comes down to the individual (and I should add, the laws of the land. I’m not recommending anyone go breaking laws now!)

And the whole dying rivers green thing and the lighting up buildings green and all the rest – it’s great advertisement for Ireland and fair play to those places doing it. I did feel sorry for poor Micheál Mairtín though, getting COVID so he couldn’t meet with Joe Biden. Paddy’s being a chance for our politicians to go promote the Irish tourism industry all over the world – take advantage of it, if it brings in more money to deal with the problems we have at home!

The things I don’t like seeing? Well there’s the annual “Paddy is a druid-killer” debate, seeing as how he drove the snakes out of Ireland. As far as I’m aware, the whole “drove the snakes out of Ireland” thing was invented to explain the distinct lack of snakes on this island – apparently we’re too wet and cold for them. More joy to us, in that case! Also, Paddy wasn’t going around killing people as a general rule. He was a lone man in an isolated country, where he’d been a slave a few years previously, before escaping. He also wasn’t the first Christian on the island either, there were Christians before him, or so Pope Celestine 1’s letter to Palladius in 431 would indicate, referring as it does to Palladius being “first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.” So, he wasn’t the first, he wasn’t the last, he was just the one with the best propogandist.

He also didn’t eradicate paganism from Ireland. I can’t find anyone daring to specify a date from which we can consider Ireland to be Christian, but most academic resources outline a syncretic process happening over centuries rather than at the point of a sword over a single generation. I have read in various places that a few outbreaks of famine where the monastic settlements had more food than non-monastic settlements helped a bit as well. (Oh yeah, there’s way more than 1 famine in Irish history!!) And some would say, myself included, that Christianity in Ireland was always a thin enough veneer over a deep bedrock of paganism. In comparison to the more fundamentalist Protestant religions, Catholicism is often considered pagan anyway, but it is monotheistic officially, whatever about the realms of saints…

I also dislike intensely people from outside Ireland telling us how we should and shouldn’t celebrate the day. Let’s face it, for many of us, it’s a day off work or a day we get double pay for working. There’s few people would give that up just to satisfy other people’s notions of how we should celebrate our country. And for many of us, Paddy’s isn’t even a religious occasion any more. It’s a time for relaxing, maybe for venturing forth to your local parade, which will be extremely different to the big on in Dublin in most cases, for spending time with family, for catching up on housework or just relaxing and chilling. It’s a day off.

And it’s a day we can celebrate being Irish. Not that we can’t celebrate 365 days of the year, but there is a buzz about the day of the year when it seems the whole world turns green. It’s also fantastic in (very) recent years to see the communities of emigrants celebrated in the national parade, and this year was the first time I have seen the Travelling Community represented in the national parade (although they could have been there in previous years and I didn’t notice? Or did I imagine that? Either is possible and firm answers either way are welcomed.)

This is the day we can turn out our best image possible and let the world admire us.

It doesn’t take away from all the issues in the country – direct provision, homelessness, violence against women, poverty, hunger… All these things will still need to be dealt with. And I don’t mind St. Patrick having his day after all, haven’t I said plenty of times before, he has his day, but Brigid supports the people throughout the year? Patrick is our immigrant saint, the one that we have claimed as our own, as we have claimed other immigrants and invaders over the years. We now need to learn to extend that to the more recent immigrants, extend it to those who maybe don’t look quite like us? (Yes, I’m talking about non-white immigrants here, we need to be better about racism in this country. As in eradicate it and listen to the lived experience of those BIPOC in our society to do so).

Colmcille is our emigrant patron saint, who paved the way for so many emigrants over the centuries, some more willing than others. Brigid is our homegrown and stayed saint. No wonder she’s special!

But back to Patrick. This year, I slept in, no alarm clock. Read a bit. Watched the parade on the telly. Tried to moderate a bit online, but frankly, I’m unsure whether anyone was willing to listen. I didn’t even bother having a drink this year, cos I was looking forward to my bed!

If you’re Irish – no one really has the right to tell you how to celebrate our national holiday. People can give opinions all they like, but it’s up to you. If you’re not Irish, then maybe listen to the Irish around you. And remember, just because one Irish person once told you X was ok, doesn’t mean it is acceptable to any and all Irish people.

If you’re not Irish and if you want to celebrate Irish food and cooking – brown bread, fruit scones, bacon and cabbage, spuds with plenty butter, don’t go skimping now… If you want to celebrate Irish drink – the big named brands are all pretty much foreign owned. Try some of the smaller distilleries, Slane whiskey (distilled not far from where I grew up) is nice, as is Connemara whiskey. There are also some beer/ ale breweries around the country as well, just do your research because big names like Jameson are owned by Pernod Ricard (just as an example) There are also plenty of Irish food producers, whether you’re looking for chocolate or seaweed. Do your research and see what locals think of them – that’s usually your best bet.

Be respectful, don’t talk over native voices and listen to what’s being said. The Irish, no more than any other group of people on earth, are not a monolith and what I’ve said above may not pass for any other Irish person. But seriously – a day without the alarm clock going off, who’d refuse that??

So I took a week off

I was planning on a week off from the day job last week anyway, but then it turned into a week where nothing work related really got done at all. And I thought I’d explain how this happened!

I was travelling on the first weekend to see my new niece – those of you in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group will have seen the pic of the adorable little cherub. Now initially, we were meant to be staying with my baby brother and his wife, but her Dad was then in hospital so the house was given up to her family so they had a base to be going in and out of the hospital from. No problem for us, night in a hotel. And to help out, I was bringing up a boot load of food because I knew damn well my bro would be trying to feed everyone no matter what time they were coming and going at. A few freezer meals is no harm is these situations! But I still got a good 2 hrs solid cuddling with the niblet and I am so happy I did. Plus I managed to fit in a decent walk in Salthill which would rejuvenate the soul frankly, and spent some time with my feet in the sea and just reconnecting with myself essentially.

Then on the Monday, I was over in Waterford, talking to some academics on a new course we’re trying to put together to help technicians advance in their careers, or even just develop the skills to make them better technicians! And while I was there I fit in a lovely few hours in Tramore, again washing the feet, spending time with the sand and the sea and the sky. I was blessed both days that it was mostly fine, decently warm, although most other people were well wrapped up, I was fine in my cardie. Possibly some inner fire from herself there?

On Tuesday, I did nothing. I sat on the couch. I slept. I stared into space. I couldn’t even follow The Big Bang Theory on the telly. So all plans at that point were cancelled, because since I had the breakdown late last year, I am paying attention to my mental state.

Wednesday, I got my husband to Lidl to get some food in (we were reduced to instant noodles on Tuesday night – just on their own, not even a scallion chopped up in them!) and I got a couple of bottles of wine and we planned a quite Paddy’s day.

Oh yes, in case you missed in, last Thursday was Paddy’s Day, when suddenly everyone’s Irish, and has a license to start drinking at 9am or earlier. Well, that’s not how my Paddy’s went. Now don’t get me wrong, when I was younger, I loved the excitement of going into Dublin, spending the day with friends drinking, watching the parade, trying to find out favourite night club that wasn’t charging to get in and generally letting our hair down. We’d have cocktails, and catch up on all the goings on of the last year, because some of these friends I’d not seen for the last 12months. But time moves on. And the days of me spending a full day drinking are long gone. Mind you, so are the days of me needing hair of the dog to function the next day as well. I think the way I spent this Paddy’s was much healthier for me – mentally and physically.

I had a good long 10hr sleep. I watched the parade on the telly. I admired my niece’s latest photo (the poor child is going to be the most photographed child in Ireland!) I spend time chatting to family and friends. I read some books. We had chicken teriyaki for dinner. I didn’t bother with the wine cos I didn’t feel like it in the end. And you know, that probably wasn’t that different to most other people on this island, except anyone with kids would probably have been involved in their local parade as well. The % of Irish people going on the piss for the day fairly low. And if you want to know more about St Patrick, go look at the Irish Pagan School, there’s a grand course on there for the truth about him, not to mention the numerous videos on the youtube channel. And there was a fair bit of time spent on social media countering the various falsehoods about St Patrick and the Irish relationship with him. I could go into that here, but honestly, I’m still drained from it. If my opinions on this are something you’re interested in, let me know and I’ll see about gathering up the energy to do it later on.

Friday, I started to feel more energy, I was reading more, did a youtube workout video, I actually cooked something. Saturday was even better, my husband and I went out for a very late lunch, did some brief shopping around town, and I started to defrost the freezer. I know, I live an exciting life. In the middle of this, my brother messaged me to let me know his father-in-law had passed away, which was sad, but also a release from pain for the poor man. This doesn’t of course make it any less sad for his family though.

Anyway, this meant Sunday was spent finishing off the freezer (which is still empty and shining!!) getting food in for the week, getting to the bottom of the laundry basket and figuring out how I could manage all my expectations for this week, booking hotels and things like that. Also ringing my mother in a panic cos I thought it was Mother’s Day – it wasn’t, it’s next week, in Ireland at least! But still. It also meant packing my clothes to deal with three days away from home and deciding on what approach I’d take to food.

Now after typing all that, it doesn’t sound like a very restful holiday, but it was really. Defrosting the freezer is something I’ve been trying to do since before Christmas but couldn’t make myself start. It’s also been a while since we saw the bottom of the laundry basket, or had all the clothes put away instead of being in piles everywhere. There are loads of things I didn’t do – sorting out our medical receipts, getting last year’s taxes sorted out, getting in to the doctor, etc, etc, etc, but the 10+ hrs sleep a night was really healing and rejuvenating. I work just before my alarm clock this morning which was great, and I was able to do my morning routine with little pain.

Why did I give all that run down? Well, I talk about self care here a lot. And a lot of the time, it’s about eating right, moving my body, sleeping etc. But sometimes it means taking a week off and just going with the flow. A lot of the time it means adjusting your plans for the week to what must be done versus what you’d like to be done. A lot of the time it means eating instant noodles because the thought of having to get in the car and drive somewhere is just too damn hard to contemplate. And hell yeah, I’m privileged to be able to do this and have the flexibility to do this. I appreciate that very much. It also brought home to me how much more I need to tune into my energy levels and my general feelings on a day to day basis rather than waiting til I get to that “sitting on the couch staring” stage again.

My week off was far more and less of a week off than planned, but I’m happy with the way it came out. I was even able to sleep last night, without worrying about what I’d face in work this morning, which was a big change. So there you go. My week off! I didn’t even manage to light a single candle while I was off… I did have a few chats with herself though, more on that later 🙂

Daily devotion

One of the biggest responses I got from my support systems posts (check them out here and here) was a question about my own daily practice. As in what do I do. And I was answering everybody about it individually and then finally realised it might be easier to just write a blog post on it. (I’m a slow learner sometimes! Although to be fair, I wasn’t sure there’d be this much interest in the topic!)

So here we go. I had to think about this a bit because my daily devotional exercises are built into my life rather than specific things I do. But I did come across a few things I’m doing right now. (And it’s important to realise that these practices change over time as my needs and her needs change – staying the same for too long might lead to stagnation in both my spiritual life and elsewhere)

Usually in the morning I’ll acknowledge her in some way, shape, or form. This could mean a quick mental check in, lighting a candle or a more formal prayer or meditation. And by “quick mental check in”, I mean pausing for a min, thinking about her and seeing if I get any nudges or subtle hints. Or indeed not-so-subtle hints. There’s times I don’t listen very well!

Equally, there are things that are kinda like projects. I’m re-learning to walk right now, having some success, after a few years of a very bad ingrown toenail and multiple operations to sort it out. It’s amazing how much my walk had changed and put stress on my legs. So now, of course, I need to re-learn how to walk normally (for me) and am working with a physio on sorting out all the pains that are coming up because of that. Up to 5500 steps a day though, now so not doing to badly.

Then there are specifics she calls on me to do – like the other week, when I held a prayer session for Ukraine and all war-stricken places around the world in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group. Another, possibly more spiritual project, she has me working on is research into the Ulster Brigs as I call them – the three Brigs mentioned in the Senchas Mór as the mother, wife and daughter of Sencha, the brehon. That means time on academia.edu and chasing up obscure references in other papers. I hope to have a class on these Brigs shortly, although for anything more than a brief introduction, it will need to be a few weeks long I think. But that research is an act of devotion as well.

And then there’s the living my life stuff. I do my best to live my life according to the ethics and morals I’ve signed up to. And that’s more and more natural as time goes on. It doesn’t tend to be transactional, in the “If I do this things, you’ll do that thing” kinda way, but it does mean my life is easier and better when I consider those ethics and morals daily in what actions I do and don’t take. Mostly it’s about being in right relationship, treating people fairly, offering support to those who need it, that sort of thing. Sometimes it’s donating money to a given cause, other times it’s sending an email, sometimes it’s listening to someone. There’s an ad for butter in Ireland right now that has the tag line “Spread the Goodness” and it’s not a bad way to think of things. If you can do something nice or good for someone else, why not do it?

I do sometimes complete more formal rituals and honouring activities. I make sure to have several candles lighting for her if I’m teaching an online class, because she can keep the internet running for me! If I’m feeling low or unenergised, I might do a more formal meditation. Around Imbolc I have some practices I do – walking the bounds and grounds, making sure the house is clean for visitors, Brigid’s cross, the brat Bríde, that sort of thing.

But mostly, through the year, the main focus is teaching, living my life, being the best I can be. I can and am called on to enter some battles, usually online ones to be fair, but how I engage is up to me. She knows I’m no warrior, although I think part of the reason she’s pushing me so hard on the walking is so I can get fitted and be able to run when needed 🙂

Anyway, that’s a short insight into my daily practice, I hope ye found it interesting!

Support Systems part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Support Systems (you can check it out here) and honestly the response to that post surprised me. Not so much in likes and comments on the blog, but more in the emails I received afterwards. I was surprised so many people appeared taken by it.

And in my last post, I looked at the supports outside of ourselves, the organisations and people who offer support at different times and in different ways. Today, I’m going to look at the support systems we ourselves construct to help ourselves. I warn you now, you’ll be hearing a lot about my daily life in this one, so be prepared.

While obviously the people we spend time with are very important, it’s possible more important to look at the things we spend time on ourselves, whether by active choice or by habit. As people here know, I spent time off work last year because of mental health and coming back to work has had me reviewing the habits I had slipped into and what needed to change. So here we go.

The night before I go to work, I lay out my outfit for the morning and pack my bag with lunch. I also consciously decide on what breakfast I’m having. If I’m not travelling to work, i.e. working from home, I still lay out my outfit (it’s just more likely to be at the end of the bed rather than hung on the wardrobe door 😉 ) and plan my breakfast and lunch for the next day. I usually, but not always, have my shower at night as well.

When I wake up, I sometimes jump out of bed immediately, but other times I spend some time waking up before hopping out of bed. I go to the bathroom, take my meds and then sit on the couch for a bit to allow me to properly wake up. Here’s where I check my Noom lessons for the day, look at my sleep data from Fitbit, mess around on Facebook for a few mins, read a book for a bit, just generally and slowly wake up my brain. I dance at this point as well a few mornings a week, to ease myself into my body and feelings again. I’ll have breakfast, get dressed and head out the door. I usually drink a bottle of water before leaving the house as well.

I usually use my commute to listen to podcasts and I just line them up in the order they become available, but if I’m having a tough day mentally, I may change the podcast from a business/productivity orientated one to a more fun one. I usually drink a bottle of water while driving to work.

On arriving in work, I do a quick scan of emails, check my calendar for the day, check my t0-do list for the day, refill my water bottle and start work. At the end of the day, I check emails, note anything that needs dealing with in the morning, shut off laptop, refill water bottle, and hit the road.

When I arrive home, I check how long I have until dinner, see if I can do the clothes laying out etc in that time and chill a bit.

The routine helps me keep things going. I build in plenty of time for waking up and sleeping. I build in time for Facebook scrolling and playing games because I enjoy them and they relax me a bit. On the days I’m not in work, I usually do some exercise, some extra dancing or a walk on the treadmill or something like that.

At weekends, I tend to sleep more, catch up on housework a bit, do the shopping, etc. On Sundays, I prepare breakfast and lunch for a few days in advance to make the start of the week a bit easier for myself. even those breakfasts and lunches come out of a fairly small bunch of meals – breakfast is usually oat based, whether porridge or overnight oats or something like that. Lunch if I’m at home can be omelette or sandwiches or pasta, in work, anything that can be thrown in a box and doesn’t require reheating.

It sounds dull, but really, the idea is that what can I spend 5mins doing now that will make my life easier tomorrow or later on? You’ll also notice none of this is a detailed, min-by-min plan, but it’s a rough outline of what a typical morning/ evening might look at. Some days have different routines, e.g. Sunday nights are usually bath night, where I take the time to luxuriate in a long bath before bed to help me off to sleep and relax. Friday nights is our most likely night to have takeaway!

One of the things I do on a Monday morning is review the past week and look forward to the coming week to make sure I’ve not missed something and I’m aware of any upcoming appointments or deadlines. That way, I don’t end up planning a physio appt at the same time as a critical meeting at work or something. It also means I plan fun things ahead of time as well, and look at what friends I want to contact or msg during the week. Even just writing it down usually means it happens. I look at any birthdays coming up, events, disruptions to the routine, etc so things don’t take me by surprise and I can be prepared. I work better (both in work and in life!) when I can prepare.

Now, we can’t prepare for everything in life of course, but for the things I can prepare for, I want to be prepared. So if I know I’m going to be away for the weekend, I might look on Thursday/Friday to make sure I have the makings of breakfast and lunch for Monday in the house. Or if there’s a financial outlay coming up, I’ll make sure it’s noted so I don’t have the same money down to be spent twice or three times.

These routines are in place to support myself and lessen stress where possible in my life. They work for me – they might not work for you! But that basic question: what can I do now for 5mins that will make things easier later? What can I do the night before to make the morning easier? What can I do first thing that will make the day easier? What essential thing must I fit in to make the day easier for me? Looking at the days and weeks this way can help you place support systems for yourself to help you with life.

I’ve not included devotional activities here in detail, but usually if I’m dancing, I will light a candle. Before I sit down to work at home, I’ll light some incense or a candle or both. Part of my browsing/ idle time in the morning is time to check in with Brigid and see how things are with us. Part of my looking forward and back on a Monday is to make sure I’m covering devotional as well as mundane things in my life. It’s all incorporated rather than separated out and that works for me. You may have different mileage! But please, drop a comment or send me an email to let me know what you think! And if you’d like to join the email list, you can sign up here.

A look at women in Christianity

As those who are on my email list know, I read a really interesting book last week. (If you want to join the email list, click here to join and you’ll get a pdf of original lore Brigid resources as well 🙂 )

But back to the book. It’s called The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr (that’s not an affiliate link or anything, just straight to amazon!) I was interested in it, because I’ve always felt the message we receive from the Catholic Church about women’s roles in the Church has been more about control and submission than about Jesus’ message. And as Christians, surely, Jesus should matter more than a group of aul fellas? Beth Allison Barr might come from an evangelical background, but she’s had similar feelings as I have. The difference is, she actually got off her backside and wrote a book about it.

Barr is a historian by trade, so the book appears to be well researched to me. She covers women in the early church (Yes, Brigid is mentioned as being ordained a bishop :D), women in medieval times and women in (predominantly evangelical or what I would consider fundamentalist Protestant religions) in the modern church. She also traces the different ways the church – mostly the Roman Catholic Church, but post Reformation she includes the Protestant churches as well – has changed over time to keep women in control. For example, in the early church, it was quite clear that Jesus has removed all barriers, to quote Paul (yes, I know, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And there were a lot of female leaders in the church in the early days – the early Christian church was one that focused on the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, etc. Jesus was for the underdogs.

But, then Patriarchy got in the way. And Patriarchy is a clever little shit, adapting and changing as women get better at navigating it. For example, in the early church, women were encouraged to give up family and children, to hold God first and foremost in their hearts and minds, in effect to become as like men as possible. (Barr explains this comes from early understandings of women as imperfect men – honestly, how the human race has survived so long, I don’t know….) But post-Reformation, way more emphasis on the man being the head of the household as God is the head of the church came about. And the role of women became increasingly confined to the home, as wives and mothers, leading to the current situation in Protestant circles, or at least evangelical circles, of discussions being held about whether women should be allowed to work outside the home at all and women not being allowed to teach teenage boys in Sunday School. It seems very strange to me.

I will say, despite all this, Barr has an engaging and informative writing style. I detest most of the attitudes she’s writing about, and will fight to my last breath that men and women and non-binary people should be treated the same, but until we get there, things should be put in place to help the oppressed reach equity. But Barr goes in depth explaining about how the Scriptures have been translated with different agendas in mind; how the Bible has been used and abused to support different agendas; how even certain texts are cherry picked to force a particular message; how ever St Paul is misquoted or quoted out of context. I’ll give an example. Here’s a verse that’s frequently quoted to keep women from being ordained or speaking in church, etc, etc, etc

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:34–35

But here’s the thing. The next sentence could offer a redemption for Paul:

What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 1 Corinthians 14:36

As in, what the hell are ye thinking? Why should women be silent? But of course that bit isn’t ever quoted cos it changes the whole meaning of the section. It’s possible I’ve misjudged Paul, but honestly, he’s been used to hammer women for centuries at this point. I have more than a strong aversion to him, despite learning the above sections.

That’s just one example of how the Bible and Scriptures have been used to oppress women. There’s loads of them! And I think most of them are in this book. If at times, you feel that you want to know better how did we get from being “all one in Christ Jesus“, to a system of patriarchy and hierarchy and oppression – this book goes a long way towards explaining it – even for Catholics. Because while the church has been around for 2 millennia, if not in its current forms, the Reformation only happened in the 16th century, so really, for most of Christian history, there was pretty much only 1 show in town for Christianity, for the majority of people. And the Reformation brought a lot of good things with it, even for the Catholic church. The Counter Reformation is a fascinating time for the church and well worth reading up on.

But for this book – it’s worthwhile reading if you want to see how one particular text/ group of texts can be subtly and not-so-subtly altered to suit an agenda. As I said to my email list earlier this week, it’s something we all need to be aware of. Even the translations of Irish lore, as incomplete as they are, were translated with particular sensibilities in mind. We need to be careful of this whenever we read something – critical thinking basically. What’s the agenda behind the writer or translator of this piece? What context, historical, political, whatever, are they writing in? What are they trying to achieve here? What purpose are they working towards?

Even my blog here, it’s worthwhile thinking about what my aims are… (OK in my case, I’m usually rambling about whatever’s going through my head, but still, critical thinking is good practice!) Why do I write what I write? Why does this interest me? Why do I feel the need to share it?

In this case, it’s because this book is really interesting and helped me understand how women’s roles have changed and developed over time in the church, in Christianity and in the world generally. Understanding power structures and how they are applied is extremely valuable in the modern world and this book might help us understand the historical methods used for oppression, so we might recognise similar antics now and in the future.

Support Systems

In most of my bios, at least in relation to spirituality and my teaching, I say I’m a solitary pagan. Equally in work, I am often the only woman in the room, the meeting, the group etc. Solitary and alone are by defaults to be honest.

But I got a shove last night. I can’t even say it was a nudge or a hint, obviously Brigid has been dropping the subtle hints for a while and is now fed up with me not getting them! But I got a not-so-subtle reminder that actually, while my spiritual practice is predominantly solitary and while my engineering practice means I am usually the only woman around, that doesn’t really mean I’m alone.

I have support systems.

I would not be where I am today without those support systems and honestly, the internet has made this easier by far than it used to me.

I’ll talk about as an engineer first. When I was a baby engineer, fresh out of college, full of zim and zest and zap (I had to go consult dictionary.com to find a third word beginning with z and honest, I’m not even sure it fits, but it sounds good!) I was on my way, I was going to be successful, I was going to conquer the world.

It took about 3 years before I figured out that wasn’t going to happen. In that time, I dealt with an abusive personal relationship, chronic illness, bullys as bosses, assault in work, assault outside of work by work colleagues, lack of personal safety at work… I mean I often joked at the time it was lucky I’d had good bladder training because I couldn’t go to the toilet in work without something happening. Basically, life wasn’t good. And I felt really, really bad, thinking it was all my fault.

I started a new job with a manager that turned out to be closer to a second Dad than a manager (seriously, my Dad called him out at my wedding to acknowledge everything he had done for me!) He suggested trying to find other women in engineering. He knew damn well there weren’t many around the place where we were, so we spent a few hours on the internet. Well ok, I spent a few hours on the internet, while he sat encouragingly at the next desk. He is a great man, but not a tech wizard! And I found an organisation, Women’s Engineering Society. I remember my first event was one on how to dress for work.

Seriously.

Up to that time, my work wardrobe was either a white shirt and black trousers if I was in an office, or overalls (sometimes with PJs under them) if I was on plant. To say it was monochrome and consistent and bland and basic would be a serious understatement. But as an engineer, I didn’t think I should be focused on what I wore to work. I was there to be assessed on my skills, not my appearance right? And then someone pointed out to me on the course, that even though I wasn’t in work, I was wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans to this course. Which was not too far away from my “office” uniform. It was pointed out to me that I was allowed some other colours in my wardrobe. I was permitted to wear tops and trousers that had some shape to them. Not revealing, but things that made me feel good about myself.

It was a massive shock to me that I was permitted to wear something different. Then, this wonderful woman at the course introduced me to the Debenham’s personal shopping service. (This is no longer available due to Debenhams closing in 2020 unfortunately) I thought personal shopping was for rich people, honestly. The thought that it might be offered to someone like me was a revelation. And so, I went along to the personal shopper in Leicester – which was the closest place I was living at the time. It was so cool!! I talked to this fabulously dressed woman, like seriously stylish and cool and comfortable looking! We talked about my job and what I could and couldn’t wear and what I felt comfortable in and what parts of my body I liked/didn’t like (at the time, the “didn’t like” outweighed the “like” significantly!)

I came away with 2 full outfits and loads of ideas. And I went back to the next training course with WES. And the next. And the next. Over time, I covered things like being assertive, dealing with difficult conversations, more on how to dress… the list went on. But more importantly, I met other women in engineering at all stages of their career. I met women who had worked in similar environments to me. I met women who were just starting out like me. I met women who had created a career for themselves, essentially and opened my eyes to what was possible.

That was a support system. And it helped me immensely. These days, my engineering support system includes several good friends from my college days. In fact, with one particular friend, we have a system when we’re trying to write an email that needs to be diplomatic but we are feeling very undiplomatic. We send the drafts to each other – that way there’s no mistaken sending of an earlier draft to the intended recipient. And, if I’m honest, the first draft tends to be along the lines of “listen you fucking dribble of a fuckwit”. It sometimes gets as far as “Hi X, I feel you didn’t quite understand…” These friends are like gold dust. Keep them close!!

I could see the need for this support in my professional life. It had helped me immensely over the years, so it was proven, basically. And while I’m no longer in the UK and so WES events aren’t easy to attend, I’m still on their mailing list and I’m trying to help set up a similar organisation in Ireland.

But on to my spiritual support system next. I grew up in the Catholic faith, so there were support structures there. When I was growing up, kids prepared for First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation in primary schools all across the country. Not doing so was considered strange (which is problematic in itself, but that’s not the topic at hand here)

I went to a convent secondary school, where faith was assumed and the school year usually started and ended with a Mass. When I went to college, there was a church on campus and regular masses held – particularly around exam time. So I grew up with the security of knowing there was always somewhere I could go to practice my faith.

It changes when I went to England. For a start, English Catholics were in my experience, way more Catholic than Irish ones. As in, they appeared to take their religion extremely seriously and didn’t expect to have any fun at all with it. Instead of Halloween, their children went to a Festival of Light on 31st October – something that would be unheard of in Ireland. And then the scandals started becoming common knowledge. At home, the scandals in the church were described as specific priests rather than systemic in the system. But through the 90’s and for me, the noughties, things became clear that there were inherent, deeply held, systemic and systematic issues with the whole institution of the church. To explain the differences between my own practice and that of the English Catholics I met, I thought of myself as as Irish Catholic, but this was no longer true to what I was feeling.

I have described elsewhere an awakening I had after an initiatory weekend in England after I came back to Ireland. It involved sobbing in a Travelodge for hours on end, waiting for a ferry and the Dagda coming to help me. And support me. The notion of a deity as a support system had not occurred to me before that. Saints? Sure. The Virgin Mary? Absolutely. God Himself? Why would he care about someone like me?

When I came home from that weekend, things started changing in me. I spoke a lot to my husband and even though things were tight at the time, we came up with the money for me to attend a moot in a nearby town as a way of connecting in to the local pagan community. That decision was one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I met Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School at that moot (they were setting up the moot at the time) and a few months after my first moot, they held a moot pretty much just for me so I could avoid a trip I didn’t want to take. That was the start of a friendship I value dearly and the start of a support system for my spiritual growth in the last few years.

Brigid has always been in my life, although it is only in recent years that I have recognised her as the support she is. There are other deities hovering about (side-eye towards her Da here) but she’s my main deity and looks like staying that way. Through my work with Brigid and with the Irish Pagan School, I have been supported and helped through a journey that has led to me teaching, starting this blog, starting the Patreon account, starting my own school and so much more! I have been led to pray more, to conduct my own prayer sessions, as well as those for others. I have been led to a place where I’m applying to become a clergy member and representing those who perhaps are like myself in a liminal space with spirituality and carving our own path. I’ve been led to support and help others as well as receiving the support myself.

The problem with describing all this is that it’s hard to describe it without going into masses of detail, but this spiritual work has led to an overhaul of my life with much more of my time going on things that I hold important rather than things other people consider important. My spiritual support system has helped me through crises in my marriage, in my mental health, in my life in general. I have found people I know I can trust and who I know will be honest with me if they see me going astray from my values and core beliefs. People underestimate how valuable that is. I’m even including my (Church of England if you push him hard, but really not into religion or spirituality in general) husband in my rituals and my practices. He’s gotten used to candles burning pretty much constantly in the house and appreciates that incense isn’t just about hiding suspicious odours as well.

I suppose this blog post is about helping people realise that we all need support in our lives. No one can do it alone. We all need help and support in our lives and really, it is best to ensure we get that support through looking at it like a system. (I know, I’m an engineer, I like systems!) A single person can’t be a system, despite what modern views of marriage can tell us. And we may need different support systems for different aspects of our lives – that’s something I’ve certainly found. While dear friends might be willing to listen and help in diverse areas of our lives, it’s good to have people who fully understand what you’re going through as well. If you’re suffering from bullying at work, you probably have someone in your life who has gone through the same. If you’re suffering from lack of development or a feeling of ennui with life, you probably know someone who has gone through something similar. If you want to send an email pretty much filled with expletives – changes are you know someone who can help you with the editing. Or not. Y’know – whatever road you want to go down 🙂

At the end of the day though, we’re none of us islands. Even I, as an introvert who happily goes weeks without human contact aside from my husband (and him only cos we live together!), realise that I need to reach out to people and connect with people for support at times. So have a look about you. Who can you rely on for support in what situations? (Include deities, saints, ancestors, whatever you like in this!) Even when we feel we are completely alone, it can sometimes shock us when we take a look around to see how many supports we actually have in our lives.

The Anvil, what it is, what it isn’t and how to survive it!

The anatomy of an anvil (https://www.farmcollector.com/equipment/implements/history-of-anvils/)

Since I’ve posted the new graphics and logos, a few questions have come up, so I’ll spend a few weeks posting about them. One of the most commonly asked questions is why the anvil? Aside from the obvious forge connection anyway. So that’s what we’ll be exploring in this post.

I was looking up anvils before the logos got finalised and I came across the above link. Call me daft, but I do love learning about the history of these things. Now, you can see from the above drawing that an anvil is a fairly complicated bit of kit for a lump of iron. But it’s also hugely useful. There is an anvil rusting away in the shed at my grandparents place – I discovered it with my bare toe when I was younger, which is not something I recommend, just FYI. It was an extremely common farm tool. And as for how it was made, well…

Wrought-iron anvils were made of blocks that started out as piles of scrap iron. The scrap iron was forge-welded, and the resulting block was shaped into an anvil under a trip hammer. Next, the hardened steel faceplate was hammer-welded into place and final finishing was done by hand, using sledge hammers, flatters and other shaping tools as well as grinders. As many as seven men were needed to position and hammer a single anvil during this process. Present-day anvils are made mostly of cast steel with a hardened face.” (from Farm Collector again)

So, we’re talking about a tough bit of kit and one that used to hard treatment and work. What then do we mean about being put through Brigid’s Anvil?

Here’s where we need to deal with some misconceptions about Brigid. Very often, I see people new to working with Brigid, who see her as a kind, motherly, gentle deity. And in some ways she is. But no more than a parent has to instill discipline in their children, and usually shape their children to some extent at least, so too with Brigid. She doesn’t just see us as tools, but she does need to shape her tools to suit the work that is coming towards us.

It can be really hard. I’ve heard stories of people’s lives falling apart in many ways, relationships falling apart, jobs being lost, financial insecurity, loss, pain, strife. We need to be very clear though that this isn’t abuse. And it’s not the old “everything happens for a reason bullshit” (more on that later). What these changes and upheavals have in common is that generally we either learn skills she needs us to have or we are in a better position with work, relationships, life to be the tool she needs.

It’s even hard to describe what it’s like going through the anvil, because frankly, most people I know who talk about this, only really recognise it afterwards. But there are a few things it’s not:

  • It’s not abuse
  • It’s not your fault
  • It’s not miscarriage
  • It’s not trauma
  • It’s not something that someone else has done, i.e. not a robbery or not an attack
  • It’s not pointless
  • It’s not without end

If you have a chronic illness – this is not what I’m talking about. If you have lost someone close to you – this is not what I’m talking about. Rape, abuse, assault – none of these things. If it’s a decision that someone else has taken to do something to you, then no, this isn’t it.

But the end of what you realise now is an abusive relationship and the recovery after it, that could be it. Not the abuse, but the recovery and the painful steps to rebuild yourself afterwards. Brigid isn’t going to cause a miscarriage to better prepare you for something, miscarriage isn’t not something I believe happens for a reason. She may use the recovery from such an event to help you come back stronger, but she will not cause such things.

But she does want her tools shaped, so if there’s a great project at work that will help you develop skills she knows you’re going to need, but it will put pressure on you, eh… she might give you a push in the right direction. If there’s a short term emergency that means you risk burnout or extreme fatigue, but the payback will be massive – you might get a nudge for that as well. But she doesn’t want or need broken tools. Tempering – sure. Shaping – absolutely. Broken? Sure what use would you be to her?

Now, I’m going to return to the “everything happens for a reason” thing. It is my firm belief it doesn’t. I don’t see any benefit in thinking that an abused child “chose” their parents or abuser to learn a lesson. That to me is someone (not the child) choosing to abuse and torment someone weaker than themselves. All anyone learns from that is how to deal with trauma. Equally, I don’t see how a miscarriage happens for a reason, unless it is that the body recognises something in the foetus that isn’t compatibly with life. It’s a biological process, not a learning moment. A partner that turns violent? This is on them, not you – you’re not responsible for other people’s actions.

I hope this helps a little bit. If you think you are going through the anvil and would like some support, check out the school for the available options. I will be talking through some more about the new logos and images in the coming weeks, so if you have questions, shout up now!

Women, engineering, a new study, and Brigid

As many of you know, I have a keen interest in encouraging more women to join the engineering profession and continue their career paths in the profession. Recently I’ve been rethinking my own involvement in my chosen career, and as readers of the blog will know, I am looking at alternative income streams to relieve the pressure on the engineering thing at the minute.

With all that in mind, I was really interested when a friend of mine sent me a copy of How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis by Julia Yates and Sarah Skinner (Psychology, City, University of London, London, UK) (citation at the end of the post) It’s an interesting read and I recognise quite a few of my own behaviours in this article from over the years. It’s concerning really that as female engineers, we can both recognise the forces at work to make careers harder for us, but also hold a firm belief that we will be the ones to achieve and rise in spite of it all, no matter the cost.

Of course, some people do count the cost and work with that in mind, but perhaps I’m feeling more sensitive to these things given my recent mental health issues. The research asks two questions:

RQ1. How do female engineers conceptualise career development in engineering?

RQ2. What do women feel prevent them from fully developing their career competencies: knowing-why, knowing-how and knowing-whom?

Now it’s fair to say that the study is based in one UK company, with 32 female engineers interviewed for the study. There’s loads on the methodology in the paper – if you’re interested in that sort of thing, search out a copy of it. But I suppose, we need to be careful with extrapolating too far with the cohort studied being so limited. And I would be, except the findings tally very well with my own anecdotal evidence and experience. (Confirmation bias? Maybe!) The authors identified 3 overarching themes to the findings:

(1) promotions come to those who are widely known (seen in the narratives of 30 of the 32 participants),

(2) across the organisation, men are given a higher value than women (28 of the narratives)

(3) mothers have to contend with the conflicting ideologies of a good worker and a good mother (27 of the narratives)

Alongside these themes, there were also some findings about how these women explain away the obvious issues they see with career development as a female engineer:

  • Some feel that claims of sexism are overstated
  • Some acknowledged that women are under-represented in the higher ranks but saw this as the result of their own choice, not any discrimination
  • A number of the participants see that women do not get to the top, but they think it’s not about gender
  • Some noticed that they were excluded at times, but felt that it was for reasons other than gender including age, personality or level of seniority
  • A group of the participants acknowledged that there was some sexist behaviour within their teams but found explanations that would soften the intentions behind the behaviour
  • Some laid the blame outside the organisation, saying that it is simply because enough women are not coming through from the education system, and that is a much more widespread problem
  • A group of the women found ways to make the best of the situation, either because they are so used it, it has become the norm or through minimising the impact the incidents have had on them
  • Finally, some managed to see the positives, feeling grateful for what they have

Only 3 participants highlighted the conflict between the narratives (i.e. difficulty in career progression and mitigating explanations). Only 3. I know why, of course, it’s so you can survive in the atmosphere and think you can still manage, you can still progress, you can still work.  

At this point, you’re probably asking what on earth I’m going on about this so much for. Well, first off, as I said above, my keen interest in getting more women into engineering is widely known – although recently I’ve been feeling more concerned about that. How can I encourage women into a profession I know  will be difficult and awkward for them? But if I don’t encourage more women (and non-binary people and other non-cishet white men to be fair), how will things change? Is there a way to address the issues that this paper, and others, raise for women in the industry and continue to make engineering an attractive career?

There’s also a wider concept here that’s worth looking at. Where else do we hold cognitive dissonance in our lives? (The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes). As a female engineer, I’m really accustomed to the sort of cognitive dissonance the women in this study showed. As I said earlier, I have experienced all of these feelings, all of these thoughts in the last 20yrs. Most women I know working in industry do. It’s a part of our lives.

But with that tension in our lives, it can lead to stretch out elsewhere. It could have something to do with greater numbers of women leaving the profession than men. It could have to do with female engineers not encouraging their daughters or other female relations from pursuing a career in engineering. It can lead to greater stress and burnout for these women – it’s an extra mental load to carry.

I have no doubt that plenty of people can learn lessons from this sort of paper, and yet it will doubtless not be read widely beyond those interested in the pretty narrow field of women in engineering. I feel the issues brought forward can be addressed to any area of life however. And here’s where the Brigid talk comes in!

Because we make some choices in life almost by default, or we come into a situation that is already established, it can be hard to look at where we’re dealing with cognitive dissonance in our own lives. And it’s worth taking a look at. Where are you doing things on autopilot without even thinking about it? Where have you to compromise with your values and ethics and what cost or toll is that taking on your mental, physical, spiritual health and wellbeing?

I spent 2 yrs working for a defence company in the UK. Possibly two of the hardest years in my working career, because every day I was reminded I was working and collaborating in the creation of weapons to destroy life. It’s only now, looking back at it, that I can see where this was taking a toll on me. And I’ve dealt with assault, bullying, oppression in work in all sorts of ways, but that was external. The choice to work in the defence industry was mine. Now, it was the right choice in some ways, but I never factored in the personal toll it would take on me. It’s more than 10 yrs ago now, so the aftereffects are mostly dealt with, but nevertheless…

If something in this article resonates with you, use the opportunity to have a look at the values that Brigid espouses for you and how that conflicts or aligns with the way you live your life. For me, Brigid supports women in male-dominated spheres (the Smith), she supports those without other representation or little representation (Brig Ambue), she takes care of those in need of healing (the Healer, surprisingly enough), she cares about ethics and right relationship and right judgement (the Poet and Brig Ambue again, as well as Brig Brethach), she cares about hospitality, feeding people, ensuring people have their due (Brig Briciu). She cares about a lot in my experience. But fundamentally, it all comes down to allowing people to follow their path in life, removing obstacles, not putting obstacles in the way of others, maintaining right relationship and ethical living, however we define that for ourselves, and dealing with the consequences of our actions.

If you read the above discussion of the article, and the excerpts from it, and nothing resonates -that’s grand. Good on you! But if you can recognise the cognitive dissonance these women display and there’s a niggle at the back of your mind? Maybe take a walk through that niggle, sit with it, and see where it’s coming up for you in your life.

Yates, J. and Skinner, S., 2021. How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis. Career Development International, 26(5), pp.697-719.