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My first blog post

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Please note, the below story is fiction, based on myths in Ireland about Brigid being present at the birth of Christ and, indeed, serving as his foster mother (which in Ireland was a much bigger deal back in the Iron Age, and even later, than it currently is). This is not fact, not even generally accepted, but a story to show Brigid, her Da and a few other important figures at a time of change.

“You don’t have to come with me.”

“It’s been a while since I was over that way.”

“I am a grown woman y’know, well capable of looking after myself.”

“A bit of company on the journey will make it all the shorter.”

“That’s what I was hoping, but having me Da along will cramp my style a bit, don’t yeh think?”

“Ah sure I wouldn’t know anything about that…”

“Sure yeh wouldn’t… and I suppose it was always cold and lonely yeh slept the last time yeh went on walkabout?”

“That’d be my own business.”

“Hmph. You’re not coming.”

“It’s a free country, be the gods, and you can’t stop me.”

“Da, I’m a woman grown, I don’t need my da looking after me.”

“Sure it’s been a while since I had a decent stretch of the legs.”

“Since when is 5,000 miles a decent stretch of the legs?”

“Well, I suppose we could call it a stroll, but that seems a bit overly modest, like.”

“It’s me they need y’know. It’s woman’s things…”

“And I suppose I know nothing about it?”

“If you come out with the same-as-a-mare-birthing speech again…”

“No, no, but there are similarities y’know.”

“Will yeh not be needed here though? I mean the place is in a bit of a mess.”

“The others can manage it. They’ve done so before.”

“Just the two of us is it?”

“Well that depends on how lucky we get on the road.”

“Da!!”

“Have yeh got everything?”

“Of course I’ve bloody well got everything!”

“Just checking, you remember the time-”

“Yeh’ll never let me forget it yeh auld goat, will yeh, it was my first trip out.”

“Still, no harm in checking.”

“I suppose if you’re coming along, there’s a few more things I can bring along. Wait a mo.”

She disappeared into the cabin, reappearing in seconds with a nice big pack, bursting at the seams.

“Don’t come, Da, was it. I don’t need yeh, Da, was it.”

“There was no point telling yeh it was my idea, was it? Come on, daylight’s wasting.”

The pair of the set off, leaving the cabin safe and secure behind them. 

“Did you remember any bit of a snack to keep me going, darlin?”

“Left pocket, Da.”

“Good girl.”

“Da!!”

A bit later on: “Da. the distance between Ireland and the big land seems to have gotten a lot shorter.”

“I’d say the distance is the same as it always was, now.“

“Have you completely reversed the tides for the last few hours then?”

“Ah no, just asked an gealach for a bit of a helping hand, like…”

“Da, we’re really not meant to be doing that – look at the poor fish!”

“Fair point, don’t worry, I’ll send them back once we’re over.”

“You could’ve just let me help, you know”

“My poor baby girl? I couldn’t be doing that now”

“Da!”

A bigger bit later on: “Da seriously – someone is going to notice the bloody mountain just moved half a continent away!”

“You’d be surprised what people don’t notice… and sure I put it back, didn’t I?”

“I’m telling Aengus when we get home. No cheating, kids, a job worth doing is a job worth doing right.”

“Well and it is worth doing right – I didn’t do it wrong, did I? Time’s awasting, pet and we need to be getting on really.”

“I wasn’t the one who spent 3 weeks in that last camp.”

“I didn’t notice you leaving”

“You hid the bloody packs on me!”

“You do know you’re a deity, pet, don’t you? I mean technically, you don’t need the packs.”

“I’m starting to see why Ma insisted you come with me – she needs the break!”

“I love you too, pet. Now look, yer Ma was clear – arriving too early is as bad as arriving too late. That poor cratur is going to need help so we have to be accidentally sharing the bloody stable with them. I mean a stable? I get the whole humble origins myth making, we have a few ourselves, but a bloody stable? The poor woman deserves better than that. We need to have a word with the man in charge of this.”

“You can have a word after I get that child safely birthed and the mother happy and well. You know what he’s like Da, there’s no reasoning with him on some of this stuff.”

“I know, I know – sure aren’t you lucky your head of pantheon is so reasonable and affable like…”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever described Ma as affable, Da.”

“Bloody brats, don’t know why I bother”

He elbows her in the side. 

“Race you to that next mountain – go!”

“Hey, no fair, you cheated, Da!”

Nearing the end of the journey now: “Da you are not going into that town looking like that.”

“I don’t remember you being this fussy as a youngster?”

“I grew up. Look compared to home, the water will be nice and warm really. Just strip and get in, I’ve got clean clothes for you.”

“Who’s the bloody parent here and who’s the child??”

“You and me. Or possibly the other way round – just bloody wash yourself, would you?”

“Bloody kids, once they reach your shoulder, they think they can order you about….”

Nearly there: “Now look Da, there’s no need for a hullaballoo going in the gates. Do your ‘I know no Latin’ impression”. 

“They don’t need to think we’re a bunch of ill educated louts, pet.”

“I know, I know, but we’re here incognito, remember?”

“All right, all right. So instead of a nice polite Im homini negotiatori, we’ll try the old negotiator, negototiator chant?”

“That’s it Da.”

“This is how those rumours of our countrymen being incapable of education start, y’know.”

“No, Da, that’ll be the millenium of others doing their damndest not to educate us. Now come on, your best effort on a non-Latin speaking, yet wealthy enough trader please?”

So close I can almost taste it: “Is this it?”

“I dunno, there’s at least one pregnant woman in there. Look at it, they’ve not even had the sense to put the straw into a mattress for her!”

“Easy now, pet, sure they’re wealthy, don’t forget, this is the worst hardship they’ve known…”

“Still, it’s the man’s wife, could he not make an effort?”

“His wife who he knows damn well isn’t pregnant by him.”

“So?”

“Fair point, I suppose. OK you’re going to be all earthy midwife then – ow!”

“Serves you right, you auld goat. Right, I’m going in to sort out some bedding at least, you make sure those bloody wise men turn up on time will you?”

“What about the cowherds?”

“Shepherds. They’ll be grand, all they have to do is follow the sheep.”

“Fair enough. Need a hand?”

“I might later on with the husband, but for now, I’ll be grand.”

The stable smelled about as fragrant as any stable, although there had been goats in there at some point. The lady was sitting on a pile of straw, looking miserable and in pain. Her husband was not quite wringing his hands, but he looked close. Sure what could you do? I poked my head round the door, let out as merry a “Bhur ndéithe daoibh” as I could, and bustled in. They looked confused ,obviously, but it was unlikely they’d heard the Irish before I suppose. 

The stables were big and airy – well built really, even Da wouldn’t have too many problems with them – but stables they were. Piles of straw for the animals, a tackroom over in the corner (room might be overstating the case there, but it was sectioned off), upper floor for more storage. Now this lot didn’t have any of the usual travel amenities to help them along. They hadn’t planned on staying this long of course, aiming instead to have been home at this point. But it was too late now. I could tell by looking at her, the child was coming along soon. Slight problem there since it was barely daybreak, and the shepherds wouldn’t be along til there stars were out. Still, maybe Da could do something about that.

Now look, it was Aramaic these people spoke, but seriously, translating and writing in that language after all this time would take me too long, so just trust me on it alright? I had a few words of it, and enough Greek to back it up, so we muddle along. This isn’t a precise rendition, more of an overview, anyway. 

Not wanting to butt in too early, I prepped up our sleeping arrangements and made sure Da’s midnight snack was handy. The woman was staring at me as if she’d never seen a bed made before. Alright, I might have made one slightly fancier than usual to make a point, but still. Anyway, even in her pain, she knew my version of sleeping arrangements would be far more comfortable than hers. Her husband, being a devout man, was reluctant to talk to me, but she was less shy. She called over, I went over to their side and we had a bit of a chat. 

Now a woman in labour is not a woman to be pulling and prodding at straw, shaping it and placing it, so I did most of the work, but by the end of it, we were close enough that I could make a few enquiries as to how things were going. Her first child, her midwife at home (wasn’t allowed travel with them for some reason), her husband not even having Da’s experience with mares (just don’t get me started) – sure the poor thing was terrified about it all. Added on to that, the pressure of needing a live birth because she was delivering the Saviour of the World… well you can imagine the state she was in. I always thought if the child was that important, that particular Deity  could have managed a bit more help and comfort for the poor woman, but Da reckons we were enough. Some people make things harder on themselves for no good reason. “No direct influence” indeed. What good is free will when people are dying? 

Must remember we are not puppet masters and our people deserve to make their own mistakes. Doesn’t mean I can’t drop a few warnings every now and again though…..

Anyway, back to the woman in question. Well, I was just about to figure out how to ask how she was doing in broken Greek, when Da popped his head round the door to get the husband out of there. I looked a bit surprised since the baby wasn’t due til starlight, but he was muttering to himself and indicated that things might be moving a bit quicker than expected. Or maybe, perhaps, the stories we knew were coming to our people weren’t 100% accurate….

Either way, I looked at the woman who was moaning quietly away to herself, probably trying not to make a fuss, but definitely starting to feel the labour pangs. Someone messed up somewhere with the distribution of pain in childbirth, but I had been hoping the birth would be as easy as it could be. I mean, if you were in charge of bringing your son into the world, wouldn’t you try to make it as easy as possible on the woman who was going to be rearing him? Obviously, that particular Deity and I have different views on these things. 

Now, the birth was straightforward I suppose – the babe was in the right position, no cords round his neck, etc, etc, etc, but the poor woman suffered something awful with the pain she went through. I used any of the herbs I had that I thought might help, but they were older than I’d like and I didn’t know enough to be able to send Da out to get some local ones. Plus, by the sounds of it, he had the husband chopping wood and it wasn’t going too well. Now, I had thought he was a carpenter, but he’d obviously not been involved at this stage of the process before…

Still, the babe was alive and healthy, the mother was also alive and healthy, and recovering nicely, so that it was about sunset when I was able to let the husband and Da back in. Da had his hand on the poor man’s back – I was sure if he was holding him up, or propelling him forwards, but the man was moving like he was in a trance towards the woman on the bed, nearly tripping over the haybox I’d put the child in for the minute. 

Da made all the usual noises over the child (isn’t he the spitting image of you, fine healthy lungs, etc) before muttering something about more visitors arriving. 

The first lot weren’t too bad. The night was cold alright and a few sheep are as good as any blanket or hot water bottle once you persuade them to lie down where you want them. The shepherds had brought gifts of food and firewood, bless them, cos really, there’s only so long you can keep a fire going without adding anything to it before people start noticing. Even brand new parents would cop there’s something going on there. Between the sheep and the food, it was a bit of a feast we had going then. I even brought some out to Da, who I found rummaging through the packs – destroying my system he was, but you know Da. He got most of it back where it should have been. Eventually. 

The next lot weren’t as useful in my opinion. Da reckons they were the propaganda people, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been useful as well. I’ve heard he claims 12, but all I remember is a crowd of them anyway, all done up in fancy gear and arguing between themselves. They could have been some of our own folk debating a prophecy really. Not a decent gift between them though. I mean, these are first time parents, you’d think a bit of cash towards this and that would’ve been sensible, but they were so concerned with the Saviour of the World bit, they forgot about the newborn baby with first time mother bit. Honestly. I don’t think any of them were married. Still, gold is always welcome and Da’s bits of frankincense and myrrh were useful as well – even if they sold it for more gold, it would come in handy. 

I have to admit, they didn’t look too impressed with the new baby. I mean he was lying there, snoozing away to himself, looking as cute as all newborns do (well, otherwise, they’d never survive if they didn’t look so cute!) and all they could do was mutter to themselves and point at me and the mother as if trying to figure out who was who. Well the breastfeeding sorted that out. Shocked them a bit, mind, but they deserved it really. Eventually, I had to get Da in to shoo them out again cos the father had fallen in love by this point and would put up with anyone as long as they weren’t interrupting his oogling of his baby. (Oh the child was his now, alright, never mind any discrepancies of timings)

The major problem with prophecies, as far as I can see it, is that once they’re made, anyone can get hold of them. So when the ruler over there, Herod I think it was, got wind of the fact that someone important was born and of course, those bloody Important Visitors were too important to get away without having to pay him a visit. To their credit, I suppose, they did their best to mislead him, but it was still time to get this little family away from that place, or indeed any place where that man had power. 

Seeing as how I was meant to be a simple midwife and not knowing much about the world, I couldn’t just say something, but Da had a word with Someone and the next thing is, Joseph’s had a dream to get out. Well that was handy now, wasn’t it?

Da had to head home at that point. (He doesn’t like to admit it but ever since that business with Cermait and the club he doesn’t like being away from home too long). But I could hang around for a while longer and frankly, they were going to need the help. The whole issue of heading for Egypt and not for home took a while to sort out, but eventually, the father was persuaded it might be an idea to lay low while the massacre of the innocents was underway. (Look it up, we didn’t hang around, so I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of the stories, but the rumours were horrible. His own sons, even!)

I waved goodbye to Da as he hit off for home and the rest of us turned towards Egypt. I’m still not 100% sure why we chose Egypt, but it was reasonably close. I think they might have had family there or something. 

But the soldiers were close after us (I mean they took their time at the start, we had time to stop off at the temple in some town or other to get the birth rites seen to – actually, I wonder if that’s why Da left us in the stable?) But there were times in Egypt when it got a bit close for anyone’s liking. 

Now I will say now, I never did anything as daft as wander about with a crown of candles on my head. I’m not vain, but if there was ever a recipe for losing your hair…

I did intercede with the spider though. Lovely thing, very obliging, whipped us up a grand web in no time – and over a fairly hefty cave mouth as well. As for the legend of the mother with the date palm and the well – I’m my father’s daughter, alright. Asking the water to flow a bit differently for a few days wasn’t a massive deal. Not that little trickle. And in that dry place, a trickle goes a long way.

In the end though, it was mainly exhausting. We had to mostly do things without my help since the local folk look to different power sources than we do at home. I got very good at cleaning the child’s backside on the run though. Even the most unexposed soldier can tell a baby’s output smell…

We got word from someone (don’t ask me who, the familial connections would rival an Irishperson’s for complications and 3rd cousins twice removed etc and in a foreign language, sure I could hardly follow at all), anyway, we heard that the old king was dead. Painfully, it must be said and I can’t say I was overly sorry to hear it. Now it still wasn’t exactly safe, what with all the upheaval and hassle that comes with a change in rulership, but certainly, there didn’t seem to be anyone specifically after the child any more. Plus, they needed to settle down and raise him now, not be gadding about over half the Middle East. Not that it was called that then, being part of that wonderful Roman Empire. 

I was sad seeing them go – sure didn’t we know even then the man wouldn’t live to see his grandkids. Still, he’d have a good life for a few decades before the burden of saving the world started weighing on him. He was a gorgeous child though – I mean, they all are, but even so. You spend long enough looking at a baby in the hours before dawn and you’ll fall in love too. 

The journey home was fierce long though. Don’t tell him I said it, but Da does know how to make time pass and miles pass. Even if it does involve jumping half a continent to move things along. When I arrived home, the fire was going in my little house, the hearth not the forge, and there was bread and cheese laid out. There are some advantages to having not-quite-human parents. 

I still gave out to them about going through my stuff behind my back though. 

Combining Catholicism and Paganism: The problems

(The first part of this post is here: https://mybrigidsforge.com/2021/05/25/combining-catholicism-and-paganism-intro-to-catholicism/ in case you missed it. That one was an intro to Catholicism)

For this post, I’m going to be looking at some of the Big Issues with combining a Catholicism and Paganism. I mean, I could probably write a book on this one (but I won’t!!) I’m going to start from a Catholic side since we’re on a roll with this.

First and foremost is that Catholicism is a monotheistic religion. The First Commandment is “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me”. (If you want to have a look at the other 9, this website is accurate as to the wording of the commandments: https://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/catholicism-and-the-ten-commandments/ )

Now, most of the people working with paganism are looking towards polytheism, so Commandment 1 is a bit of an issue. And many would say the way I work this into my personal gnosis is semantics at best, but here we go. My belief is this: there is a divine force in this world and there’s one divine force in this world. But we as humans can’t conceive of the whole of this force, any more than we can mentally encompass what “eternity” really means (like seriously, I am the only one who just get’s the feeling of a completely empty chest trying to conceive of eternity?) Because we can’t encompass all of what this divinity is, we can, at best, capture sub spectra of the force – like as if light was passed through a prism and separated into its colours. Those sub spectra are the deities we can encompass through paganism.

I mean, to be clear, I think the Patriarchal God supported by most of the Christian Churches is bullshit anyway, those ideas have been filtered through men’s minds and I can’t imagine any force of nature gives a shit about most of the things the Catholic Church considers sins. I have real issue with the image of “God” as presented by Catholicism, but I suppose it does fulfil the requirement to be awe and terror inspiring…

But this patriarchal approach permeates Catholic thinking – from the clerical side anyway. In the (very recent) past, clerics were (and still are in many ways) powerful men in their communities. And in Ireland, they are in pretty much all communities even now. They have a say in what teachers are hired, even though the teachers are hired by the department of education. They have a say in how our hospitals are operated. They have a say in our politics. And this has been the way for most of our recorded history in Ireland – while we were oppressed and colonised by the English, the priests and Catholicism could be a source of strength and support in the community: everyone was so oppressed anyway, that a lot of the problems with Catholicism didn’t really apply.

Here is where I separate the Catholic Church and its teachings and the Catholicism that I grew up with. I don’t know how my parents managed it, but their fundamental approach to religion is very similar to my own right now: you look after those who need looking after. People aren’t on different tiers of being fundamentally more or less worthy of respect (their actions might lead you to believe they are less worth, such as a dirty politician or a dishonest shopkeeper, but each human being is in and of themselves equally worthy of respect). This extends to animals as well in our family – animals aren’t family, but regret is expressed if a rabbit was hit by a car accidentally. Pain would not be inflicted on animals unnecessarily (and by this I mean that say cattle and sheep would be treated as necessary by a vet, which sometimes means an injection, which leads to distress for the animal, but would be inflicted anyway because of the benefits to the animals health). The approach is, and it’s one I’ve seen over and over again in Irish farming communities, that due respect is paid to God’s creations in terms of land and animals. Ireland is still a fairly rural country and this respect for the land and the animals is inbuilt into most of the practices of farming even today. Ireland’s farms are still predominantly run by families, not corporations. This notions of care of land and people are very core to the ideas of paganism for me – and it’s a good example of how the thin veneer of Catholicism in Ireland covers a deep well of paganism…

I also grew up not knowing a lot of the inbuilt inequalities in Catholicism officially speaking. I mean under official Catholic teaching, all human beings are born equal but…. But baptised babies and children are that bit more equal than non-baptised and boys are that bit more equal than girls. (The notion of transgender people existing is something the Church is only recently beginning to address, and it’s doing it badly.) People are not considered equal really in the Catholic Church. For a religion that started off appealing to the poor, the oppressed, the lowly, the Church has risen very high in the world and I think at times, it forgets its origins.

But that respect for people and land and animals permeated the practices I grew up with. And here is where I really begin to intertwin my pagan and Catholic practices. I leave the Church as institution out of it completely really. Because that institution is about control of the masses, not about bringing people along a spiritual journey. Let’s not underestimate that problem. While some priests take a vow of poverty at ordination, many do not and it is said that the vow of obedience to their bishop is considered more important. For an institution that’s based on a man who told us all “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, the Church has amassed a LOT of wealth over the millennia. Now, giving beautiful things to honour God is grand – but there’s a lot of religious folk out there who aren’t listening to the words of the man who supposedly is the foundation of our religion.

The use of that money is suspect as well. the Church has not moved well in the modern world – it has fallen behind in women’s rights, gender rights, bodily respect and rights, poverty, hunger…. many of the things they have done in the past are now particularly suspect. Take a look at some of the issues with Mother Teresa in India here for an example of how the initial appearance looks good but the devil is in the detail, as the saying goes. The practices that were enforced in her places were not supporting people and helping people beyond the absolute bare necessities for life. Spiritual life was ignored there for a start and some very unhealthy, and indeed anti-health, practices were enforced.

Then we need to address the scandals. We in Ireland used to think the scandals in the Catholic Church were a particularly Irish problem. As it turns out, it’s more of a colonialism/ elitism/ clericalism problem. Women and children in particular were open to being abused in institutions with very, very little appropriate oversight, in the blatantly false belief (in hindsight anyway) that religious people would do the “right thing”. The thing is, the Church is always more interested in the soul and the life to come rather than the here and now. And when they get under their control someone they feel is a black sinner, with little to no hope of redemption, they will act accordingly to save the soul not the person. I’ve written before about the scandals in the Church and it’s a hugely upsetting and distressing subject – as it bloody well should be – so I won’t go over them in detail again. However, in the interests of transparency, here’s a brief list (from Ireland) of the major Church related scandals that have come to light in the last few decades:

  • Mother and Baby homes
  • Industrial Schools
  • Magdalen Laundries
  • Control of health and education

If you look at the Catholic Church, the institution, the institution is in no way compatible with pagan practices. However… however, the basic principles of Catholicism, when you clear away the teachings implemented by man, when you clear away the dross of custom and practice, there are some very solid values underlying the Catholic ethos. Look after the people, uplift the lowly, bring down the high, everyone is equal in the eyes of God…

The problems are the clericalism, the hierarchy endemic with the institution, the belief that certain people have better knowledge of the issues at hand than those people who are actually experiencing them. And that elitism, that certainty that by virtue of their office, they knew better than anyone else, is what led directly and indirectly to the above scandals in Ireland (and elsewhere) In 2018, Pope Francis even admitted clericalism is an issue:

Clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.

(You can see more of his address here: https://zenit.org/2018/10/03/pope-francis-address-to-the-synod-fathers-at-opening-of-synod2018-on-young-people-the-faith-and-vocational-discernment/)

There can be a tendency in paganism, from what I can see, particularly in the US/ North America, to veer towards elitism and exclusion, but seriously people, the Catholic Church has been doing this a lot longer and they have this shit down pat. Even the leader of the institution recognises the problems inherent with this sort of practice. He is encouraging his people to listen and learn from others – the problem is, he’s trying to overturn 1500 yrs of solid practice.

For me, the root of combining a pagan and Catholic practice, particularly in the work with Brigid, is about taking the root good that is there in Catholicism and ignoring the institution and their elitist views. There are many, many people out there who don’t agree with this and think anything linked to the Catholic Church should be wiped out, particularly in the face of the scandals from the Church. That’s grand, there is no One True Way in this world. We each choose our own path. I’m explaining mine here, but yours will almost certainly be different!!

My next post will go into the detail of how this translates into the daily practice of my life.

Combining Catholicism and Paganism: Intro to Catholicism

Fair warning here, I started this thinking it would be one post. Then I hit 3000 words and thought I’d better split it! I’ve gone through it to see if there are any references to other parts that have now moved to another post, but apologies if I’ve missed any!! And for this first post, if you are Catholic, you can probably skip this one 🙂

I’ve been asked in different guises a few times lately about how to respectfully and non-appropriatively combine Catholicism and Paganism (and in particular in relation to Brigid). This is coming from both people who started out Catholic, moved to Paganism and now want to combine the two as well as people who either started as something other than Catholic and moved to Pagan or who were always Pagan and want to start looking at Catholicism. It’s an interesting one and not something for which I necessarily want to outline definitive answers. There’s so much of my practice that’s wrapped in both Catholicism and Paganism, it’s hard sometimes for me to separate. But there’s people interested, so here’s my attempt to outline what’s respectful and what’s not.

It’s important to note as well that the specifics of what I’m talking about are Irish focused. The Catholic Church is not homogenous in all things (although there are unfortunate aspects in which it seems to excel at homogeneity for some reason) Practices can and do vary from country to country. For example, no one in Ireland takes much notice of bare arms or lower legs in Ireland (I mean hot pants would probably raise an eyebrow or two, depending on the age of the wearer, but knee length or just above knee length skirts would be grand in most parishes) However, I know when I was in Rome, elbows and knees had to be covered on entering a church. Covering hair hasn’t been a requirement for Mass in Ireland for 70 yrs or more, but elsewhere I believe it still is. So, while what I’m saying here is applicable to most sacred spaces, I will outline what’s needed to stay respectful in Catholic churches and when dealing with Catholic entities.

I’ll start with the basics. This is for people who have never been Catholic (anyone who has been Catholic, you can probably skip most of this!) The Catholic Church is a monotheistic religion, believing there is One God. It also, as with a lot of other religions, believes only the adherents of the One God can get to Heaven and that the suffering we experience here on earth is part of the human experience and the more suffering here on earth, the less suffering after death before being allowed into Heaven. There are a few places you can end up in after death in Catholicism: Heaven and Hell are the most known ones, Purgatory is reasonably well known, Limbo has been put to bed so to speak in recent years. Heaven is where those who are in a state of grace and in friendship with God end up. Purgatory is for someone who is friendly with God, but not fully in a state of grace. (It’s assumed by most people who believe that they will spend a period of time in Purgatory, unless they manage to confess directly before death or receive Last Rites) Hell is for those who turn from God. Limbo was for those who died in a state of original sin (i.e. hadn’t been baptised, such as unbaptised babies) but the Church softened its stance on this about a decade ago and admitted that really, ours is a forgiving God and frankly, there are plenty of theological reasons why unbaptised babies can get to Heaven. The whole “we are worthless scum without the grace of God” thinking permeated Catholic thinking for centuries, although it was worded very differently, but has been changing for decades at least among the practitioners if not the leaders of the Church.

The One God is a triune God as well (cos why would it be simple!!) God the Father (or God), God the Son (Jesus Christ, who is the son of God and Mary) and God the Holy Spirit (who’s hard to pin down, but who is often mentioned as possessing various holy figures in the Bible) Catholicism is a patriarchal religion, with only men being allowed to be priests/ bishops/ archbishops/ cardinals/ pope/ people of power. This wasn’t the case in the early church, in the first few centuries of the church, there are plenty of documented powerful female figures, but that was changed at some point. We do have holy women, who live lives devoted to God, called nuns. They can be both wonderful and terrifying, sometimes at the same time. I mean, they’re human, come in all shapes and sizes, both physically and spiritually. Think of the episode of Family Guy where the battalions of nuns are the shock troops of the Vatican… And I say that having known some truly wonderful women who were also nuns. There are also groups of men who devote their lives to God but under similar guise as nuns, called monks. These are not priests. Honestly – google again. Try some of the official websites rather than Wikipedia. This is the Vatican website for a start: http://www.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html There are orders of both nuns and monks, with different focuses in the world. Some look at education, which is where most of Ireland gets their first experience with them, health, prayer, seclusion from the world… the list goes on and on. And these orders can be rich and powerful, although most of the individual vows include some sort of poverty promise. Nuns and monks tend not to own much for themselves. Clothes, rosary beads, maybe some photos or a teddy or something. All else is owned in common with the order.

There are a few established sacraments for Catholicism, some of which you go through once, some of which you do on the regular… Baptism is usually carried out as a baby in the Catholic Church and is usually only done once. It’s the sacrament through which you are welcomed into God’s family essentially. Confession (Sacrament of Penance) and Communion (Sacrament of the Eucharist) happen usually about 6-8yrs of age. Confirmation (sacrament of Confirmation) happens usually around 12-13 ish. Most Catholics go through these sacraments. First Confession precedes Communion, at the age when kids can tell right from wrong, so that you can receive Communion in a state of grace (i.e. free from sin). In Communion, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine transforms through the sacrament of the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Jesus, when consecrated by an ordained priest. It’s a reminder that Jesus gave his life to save us as well. Confirmation is when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are conferred on the young Catholic. (Have a google for the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit given at Confirmation). Marriage is also a sacrament and is the only sacrament where it is not conferred by a priest, although a priest usually facilitates the sacrament. The man and woman (yeah, the Catholic Church hasn’t gotten the letter on non-heterosexual partnerships yet!) confer the sacrament on each other. And, very strangely for those who know the Church, the appearance at least of consent is hugely important in this sacrament. Both parties are asked a few times, in different ways, do they consent to this marriage. Holy orders are conferred on men only when they become priests. Last Rites (or Extreme Unction) is for those who are looking at a serious illness. In modern times, we tend to associate this with people on the point of death, but that’s not correct. Old age or serious illness, as long as someone isn’t persevering in grave state of sin (that last bit of wording is a big dodgy in my opinion, but there are and have been priests who have refused this sacrament to people because they feel they are “obstinately persevering in manifest grace sin”… (“Code of Canon Law, canon 1007”. www.vatican.va) The eagle-eyed among you will have figured out that women can only receive six of the seven sacraments, seeing as how Holy Orders is for men only. Women aren’t consecrated as nuns essentially.

This isn’t even a brief overview of Catholicism, but it’s a start. Now, most people, if you’re looking to dip a toe into Catholicism, or dip a toe back into Catholicism, you’re going to encounter a church. Catholic churches comes in many shapes and sizes, but they tend to have a lot in common when you break things down to the basics. It’s a sacred place for a start. It will usually be quiet, peaceful and in the older stone churches, definitely cool. As in temperature. Great on a hot day, not so great in winter. The altar is the focus of the church and on the church the focus is the tabernacle, which is usually a very fancy looking locked box or cabinet in which the hosts (the bread that transforms into the body of Christ during Mass) are stored. The presence of the Body of Christ is indicated by a (usually red) lamp or light shining on the altar. It is common practice to genuflect to the altar (or more accurately to the host) on entry to the church or when you walk past the altar. Genuflecting is going down on the right knee for a second or more and getting back up again, usually accompanied by the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross is where you take your right hand, lift it to your forehead, then to your heart (ish, somewhere on your lower chest/ sternum) then to your left shoulder, then to your right shoulder, as you say “In the name of the Father (touch forehead), and the Son (touch chest) and the Holy (touch left shoulder) Spirit (touch right shoulder) Amen”. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us can complete the sign of the cross can do this in about a second and usually with a final touch to the upper chest on the line between the two shoulders. So describing both genuflection and the sign of the cross takes so much longer than it actually does to complete these actions. If genuflection isn’t possible or you don’t want to, you can also bow, usually with hands clasped at the chest for a brief second. The point is to show respect to the host, the Body of Christ, in the tabernacle on the altar or behind the altar.

On either side of the altar there are usually a few statues, to the Virgin Mary (mother of Christ and very important in the Catholic Church), sometimes to Joseph (Jesus’ foster father to all intents and purposes) or to the saint(s) to whom the church is dedicated. Usually, but not always, there are banks of candles here. Lighting candles to saints is a big practice in most Catholic communities. There is usually a charge for this to allow the church to continue supplying said candles, but it’s usually on the honour system as well. People usually wouldn’t light a candle without dropping something in the offering box, but really, if you’re in a position where you have nothing, go ahead. Most of us throw in extra when we have it, or when we have no change. You don’t blow out a candle that’s already lighting, nor do you replace it. Place your candle in an empty slot, say your prayers and off you go. Sometimes, beside the candle banks, there are posters or writings to outline suggested prayers. One of my favourites for Mary is the Memorare:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but gracefully hear and answer me. Amen

There’s a modern version of the prayer as well, with none of the thees and thous, but that the version I learned and it’s the one that comes most easily to my tongue.

If you’re wanting to engage with a Catholic saint or the Virgin Mary or even Jesus himself, lighting a candle (whether in a church or not) and saying a prayer is no bad way to start.

I was asked as well how I use the rosary in my practice. The Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, Mary the Mother of Christ has appeared to many of the faithful over the years and one of the things she always says is to pray the rosary. The rosary consists of sets of prayers called decades: 1 x Our Father, 10 x Hail Marys, 1 x Glory Bes. For each decade of the rosary (one round of the prayers above), you’re meant to focus on one of the 15 Mysteries and the idea would be that each mystery would help you reap the fruit mentioned below. I have to admit, most of the time when I’m praying the rosary, I don’t have the mysteries in my head and I’d be hard pushed to recite them off like a good Catholic should, but they’re an important part of the rosary. Not the only part and I like to believe (massive UPG alert here!!) that one of the reasons Mary constantly highlights the rosary is that it is essentially a prayer to her, in the midst of a very patriarchal religion. She is the closest we have to a Divine Feminine in Catholicism, although some would now own Mary Magdalene in that role as well. Mary Magdalene would require a few posts on her own, so let’s put her to one side for now. Although if you Google her, check the sources. There’s a lot of crap out there as well.

Here’s a list of the Mysteries from Wikipedia:

Joyful Mysteries

  1. The Annunciation. Fruit of the Mystery: Humility
  2. The Visitation. Fruit of the Mystery: Love of Neighbour
  3. The Nativity. Fruit of the Mystery: Poverty, Detachment from the things of the world, Contempt of Riches, Love of the Poor
  4. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: Gift of Wisdom and Purity of mind and body (Obedience)
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: True Conversion (Piety, Joy of Finding Jesus)

Sorrowful Mysteries

  1. The Agony in the Garden. Fruit of the Mystery: Sorrow for Sin, Uniformity with the Will of God
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar. Fruit of the Mystery: Mortification (Purity)
  3. The Crowning with Thorns. Fruit of the Mystery: Contempt of the World (Moral Courage)
  4. The Carrying of the Cross. Fruit of the Mystery: Patience
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of our Lord. Fruit of the Mystery: Perseverance in Faith, Grace for a Holy Death (Forgiveness)

Glorious Mysteries

  1. The Resurrection. Fruit of the Mystery: Faith
  2. The Ascension. Fruit of the Mystery: Hope, Desire to Ascend to Heaven
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Mystery: Love of God, Holy Wisdom to know the truth and share it with everyone, Divine Charity, Worship of the Holy Spirit
  4. The Assumption of Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Union with Mary and True Devotion to Mary
  5. The Coronation of the Virgin. Fruit of the Mystery: Perseverance and an Increase in Virtue (Trust in Mary’s Intercession)

Pope John Paul II added in the Luminous Mysteries, apparently, something I was surprised to find out! Anyway here there are:

Luminous Mysteries

  1. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Fruit of the Mystery: Openness to the Holy Spirit, the Healer.
  2. The Wedding at Cana. Fruit of the Mystery: To Jesus through Mary, Understanding of the ability to manifest-through faith.
  3. Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Fruit of the Mystery: Trust in God (Call of Conversion to the Messiah)
  4. The Transfiguration. Fruit of the Mystery: Desire for Holiness.
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist. Fruit of the Mystery: Adoration.

There would usually be a fair few decades of the rosary said at a wake for example, and they would usually come from the Sorrowful Mysteries. Also in Ireland, in my family at least, it is common to say the rosary as Gaeilge, particularly if the deceased was someone who loved the Irish language. That is the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be beome the Ár n-Athair, Sé do bheatha, Mhuire agus Glór don Athair. Funnily enough, one of the ways to refer to the rosary in Irish is as an Choróin Mhuire, the crown of Mary. (Mary transalted into Máire in Irish means a normal person, Mary translated into Muire in Irish always refers to the Virgin Mary)

The rosary, and the veneration of Mary as the Mother of God is one of the things that sets Catholicism apart from most of the Protestant religions (I didn’t say all here, before people start yelling!!)

Back to the church building. If you meet a man dressed in black with a white collar, he’ll be the priest. I’ve put a pic of the collar (sometimes and slightly disrespectfully in an affectionate way, called a “dog collar”) below, since it’s the single easiest way to identify them. The respectful way to address a priest is as “Father”. Don’t need to know his name, Father does the job. Some of them in more modern times, as they get to know you, might invite you to address them with their name, but at times and places and circumstances when respect is fully due, Father is always best. It’s meant to indicate the priest is as a father to his flock (or congregation) As any cursory google search will tell you, this hasn’t always been the case, and the abuses conducted and condoned by priests and other religious authority all over the world are myriad and unfortunately common. But I have also known some good, conscientious, hard working and caring men who are truly hurt by the actions of their brethren and superiors. That doesn’t excuse the institution, mind, but I suppose #notallpriests?

Photo ID Cards Being Issued to Catholic Priests - World Religion News
Picture of the “dog collar”

If you meet a nun, the correct form of address is “Sister”. There’s no sure way to identify them I’m afraid. The robes and massive crosses of the past are no longer ubiquitous and many orders allow modern dress these days. I mean, it’d be hugely unusual to see a nun in a bikini, but skirts, blouses, cardigans, low heeled or flat shoes…. Usually grey or navy, depending on the colours of the order, but even that isn’t a given. Honestly, unless someone tells you they’re a nun or someone close to them tells you, it’s nearly impossible to be sure. It’s a similar case for monks and friars (a monk is a religious person who lives in a self sufficient community with other monks, a friar is more likely to live and work among lay or non-religious people). The friars more often have the robes to identify them when they want to be identified, otherwise we’re back to the same problem as with the nuns. They don’t have giant haloes or special inbuilt signs to identify them. Unless they tell you, or someone close to them tells you, there’s no way to know for sure. If someone is introduced to you as Sister Jane or Brother David, best to address them as Sister/Brother. Otherwise, first names as you usually would address a layperson would be grand.

A last paragraph on the basics then: angels and saints. I’ve written elsewhere that Catholics are known as the “communion of saints”. It caused some trouble, since there are blatantly plenty Catholics out there that couldn’t be considered saints by any measure. I’ll try and explain better here. Calling the Catholic community a “communion of saints” is meant to indicate the aim of all Catholics to get to Heaven. Simply put, anyone who gets to Heaven is a saint. I said up above, most practicing Catholics expect to spend some time in Purgatory before going to Heaven, to atone for sins not accounted for on earth. But once that time is done, Heaven it is. We venerate those people who we’re fairly certain reached Heaven – and I’ve discussed that in a previous post, how it works and the changes over the millennia. But this is why I feel no bother in asking my grandparents for help, since I feel certain they’re in Heaven and would be closer to God than I am. It’s not ancestor worship, it’s more ancestor – helpdesk. Kinda.

Angels are different. Angels are pure spirits created by God. They’re not human. Not traditionally anyway. Also, they are usually used as messengers by God – think of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell her a) she was pregnant and b) God was the father of the child. Poor Mary. In fact, apparently the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Bible have words that translate to “messenger” for where we have “angels” in English. I think the Greek version is “angelos” but I’m not 100% sure and Wikipedia is the only source I can find for it this morning! This is obviously very different to the modern actions and beliefs around angels, but in the Catholic Church, this is what angels are.

So that’s the Catholic part of it. Now, how to respectfully engage in a Pagan Catholic practice. It’s hard. It’s easier as an Irish person, to be honest, because as I’ve said elsewhere, Catholicism in Ireland is a thin veneer over pagan practices. Much of the attitude of farmers for example, would be of respect to the land and the living made off the land. The are a real presence in this land and disruption to their abodes or frequented places is viewed as pure daft, cos they will get you back. Bad luck will only follow you for engaging in this sort of thing. Even our saints, Brigid in particular, can sometimes be linked back to pre-Christian entities. But as pagans, how can we engage with Catholicism or Christianity?

I might do that on the next post, since we’re nearly at 4000 words here now!!

Meditation

Everything comes in cycles. Sometimes the cycles are easy to spot, sometimes they aren’t, but I believe, well ok, most things come in cycle. I’m in a cycle at the minute of rebuilding a meditation practice after a few months hiatus.

There are spiritual benefits to meditation, of course. I’ve said plenty of other places that prayer is when we talk to deity, meditation gives deity an option of answering back. Or, y’know, saying something completely off topic, cos… deity. But I’m not talking about the spiritual benefits today. I’m talking about the mechanics (for me) of building up my meditation practice (again!) and the physical benefits I see from this.

A good night’s sleep is really a foundational aspect of my everyday health. If I get 8hrs, I’m good for the day, mostly able to handle whatever is thrown at me. My ability to deal with life decreases in proportion to the amount of sleep I get. If I’m down to 4hrs, unless it’s a very easy day, I’m going to struggle. (Actually, my team at work can back me up on this!) Falling asleep to a guided meditation is one of the best ways I have to a) ensure that good night’s sleep and b) start rebuilding my meditation practice. I’ve long been a fan of 2 of Jason Stephenson’s guided meditations on Youtube. I’ve yet to hear the end of either of them, which for me is brilliant. Of course, he won’t work for everyone, but there are loads of choices out there to try and see how you go. I’m at the point now where I’m wondering is it a Pavlovian response I have to these meditations, that I’ve trained myself to associate these meditations with falling into a deep and restful sleep. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which it is, they work! (for me – your mileage may vary. Individual responses to voice and music are well… individual!)

So that’s step one. I’m going to be open and honest here. I’ll probably keep at that for about a month before I add in anything extra on the daily to the meditation practice. But this is a really good first step for me.

Next though, I’ll be going back to a deep meditation around the time I start menstruating. This again serves two purposes. 1) It forces me to take some time out on the days I’m menstruating to relax and listen to my body. This won’t be a guided meditation, it will be one of my own visual meditations I’ve adapted and used over years. Usually it’s a visualisation of a journey to my womb or to check in with my womb and spend some time with her. Which leads be to the second purpose: 2) It helps me check in with my womb, afford myself the space to acknowledge what might or might not be going on either physically or spiritually with my womb and from there lead out into the rest of my body. This deep meditation (I call it deep because I usually need longer than my normal daily meditations and I make a bit of a fuss about it for myself – nice blankie, warm room, candles lighting, that sort of thing) is time for me. It’s time when I am called on to do absolutely nothing else other than be. There is no other focus for that time other than me. Now this can be uncomfortable when I’m not feeling particularly happy with myself, but it’s almost always worth doing.

The reason I’m going to look at my menstrual meditation next is because I’m due in the coming days, actually slightly overdue if I’m honest, but I have things ready to go when the blood appears. Now, not everyone menstruates and not everyone who does menstruate wants to acknowledge the event or considers it a part of who they are. Honestly – perfectly alright, no matter where you are with that. I would encourage you to look at some cycle, whether it’s a given day in the month or a moon phase or equinox/solstice thing or a fire festival thing – some regularly occurring event, where you can tie into it and spend some extra time in meditation to check in with your body. Again, checking in with the womb is probably not for everyone. Sure more than half the population doesn’t have a womb, so y’know, may not resonate at all. But the important thing for me, in this situation, is the checking in with myself. My womb is a part of my body I rarely think about in day-to-day life unless I’m bleeding, so it’s a good “way in” to the rest of my body. I can’t dismiss it as easily as I can an arm or a leg, I need to make the effort. Really – the liver, the pancreas, the appendix, the lungs, heart, stomach… any of the major organs would fulfil the same purpose.

Next I’ll be looking at morning meditation. This will probably happen in a month or 6 weeks, I’ll start adding “morning meditation” to my morning rituals again. This tends to be a more free form meditation. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone, have the sound of a blazing fire going, sit back, get comfy, close my eyes and focus on emptying my mind. It’s a pain in the arse, I’ll tell ye know, when I’ve not done it for a while and to start with, I’ll be looking at 5mins and probably not achieving that every day. But if I do it, 5 days out of 7 (cos my weekend routines are different), I will get there. I find 20mins is a sweet spot for me on this. It’s short enough that I can fit it into the morning routine, even with my long commute but it’s long enough that I see real benefits throughout my day. As for these benefits? Well, I come out of most sessions feeling refreshed and capable. My mind is calm, or at least calmer. My body falls into that loose but prepared state and I feel able to move my body, get creative with my brain, all that good stuff.

If I’m starting off where even 1-2mins seems impossible for my morning meditation, it could take me months to get up to the 20mins again. But it’s worth it. And the progress is rarely linear, just as an FYI. Some mornings, it feels like I can meditate for hours (I don’t have time most mornings, but it’s a feeling of disappointment when the timer goes off). Some mornings, even after I’ve increased to 10 or 20mins, even 30seconds feels impossible and the time until the timer goes off seems endless. When that happens, sometimes I give up and sometimes I keep going. Quieting the mind sounds so so easy, but it’s really not and sometimes the only benefit I get is the resting of my eyes while I mentally mutter and fume my way through this “waste of time” (it’s not a waste of time, but some mornings it feels that way!)

Once I have my morning, night and monthly meditations up and running I feel like I’m in a good place with meditation and I will see the benefits. I’ll be calmer, better able to problem solve and be creative, better able to deal with people, better able to manage my life. Things that were insurmountable problems before become manageable or even small annoyances. Life is better for me when I meditate. I also use mindful movement and movement meditation maybe 2-3 times a week which helps keep me in tune with my body.

There are other occasions when I meditate as well – if I have a big decision to make, if there’s a massive problem I can’t see a solution to, if I need some alone time, if I’m in a lovely area, if the sun is just that nice on my skin and I want to slip into a mindfulness meditation just to enjoy it…. but if I have my morning, night and menstruation meditation practice up and running, things are on a good track.

Now, this is my approach and what works for me. No one size fits all though and you may find that this is way too much, way too little or just doesn’t suit you. What I will say is, if you are in doubt about the benefits of meditation, go have a search on Google Scholar for the benefits of meditation. Google Scholar is a great resource that searches academic works rather than general web pages. When I did a quick search there now, I got 322,000 results for “benefits of meditation”. Some of these will be behind a paywall, but if there’s an article you really want to read, most authors will send you a copy of their work if it’s a paper and if they still have it, once you ask them. I mean, y’know, don’t demand it, but a polite email works wonders.

If you’re starting from scratch or returning to meditation after a hiatus, as I am doing, it’s important to remember to build things up slowly. This is like any other muscle you work in the body – if you hit it too hard at the start, there’s a possibility of injury. Or in the case of meditation, maybe not physical injury, but meditation burnout maybe. As well, maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you pray the rosary regularly – that’s a form of chanting meditation in my opinion. Maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you take a daily walk where your mind focusses on the beauty around you and absorbs nature’s goodness – that’s a form of meditation in my opinion. There’s all sorts of different meditation, so if you’re interested, there’s bound to be something out there to help you. And remember, life happens and gets in the way sometimes and we all need to start again sometimes.

Start small, work your way up to where you want to get to and keep at it.

Words matter

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”

We’ve all heard the above rhyme right? Certainly those of Gen X or older were told this in school, in response to a bully, whatever the situation was. We were told words wouldn’t hurt us and to let it wash off like the rain. (OK in other countries, you might not have been told the rain bit, but in Ireland it’s relevant!)

The people who told us this were trying their best, but they were wrong. Words matter. Language matters. It all matters. The words we use show other people what we think is important and how we want them to think as well. No really! So why am I talking about this? Well it’s the 3rd of May here in Ireland (an tríú lá de mhí na Bealtaine, as Gaeilge) which means that Friday sunset to midday Saturday was the festival of Bealtaine.

Cue memes all over the internet celebrating “Beltane”.

Now, I’ll admit, this particular language issue probably isn’t going to solve world hunger and yes, I do agree world peace, world hunger, gender equality, etc are more important than this. But here’s the thing – this is important too. “Beltane” is the anglicisation of Bealtaine and like most anglicisations, it loses all meaning in the translation. Bealtaine (or indeed Bealltinne in Scottish Gaelic, although I’m less sure of this one and very open to correction by someone who knows better!) comes from “bright fire”, “blazing fire”, something like that. “Beltane” means nothing really. It’s like many of the anglicisations forced on my country: by making the word more “acceptable” to non-Irish speakers, it loses all meaning and context.

And yeah, it’s appropriation. I know, it’s not cool to think of appropriating from Irish culture, cos after all, we’re European, we’re white, how can people appropriate from us? Really easily as it happens. Our culture and traditions are living and breathing – just look at all the reports of yellow flowers scattered across thresholds or May bushes being used across the country this weekend. And yeah, fire is an integral part of the festival. If you want an overview of the traditions associated with the festival here in Ireland, the Irish Pagan School has a class on it, go take a look. Or check out www.duchas.ie (there’s 688 manuscripts on Bealtaine, 2195 for May Day)

But back to appropriation. Many Irish people won’t create a fuss, will say “Beltane” is grand, will say just there’s no point nitpicking about things like this. This is part of our post-colonial bullshit which taught us our own language was worthless, barbaric and rustic at best. We were taught over centuries that our language was less than that of our oppressors (the language of our oppressors being English, just in case anyone was in doubt). And yeah, this is political. A lot of every day life is political – that’s no reason to not speak about this.

So what has this to do with Brigid? Well, she’s a poet. Words matter to anyone in creative wordsmithing. Whether it’s stories, histories, poems, whatever, the language and words we use, matter. That’s why I encourage people to learn na cúpla focail, the few words of Irish, because language is important. Brigid has been through millenia of the Irish language. She’s used it, she uses it, she will use it in the future. But Beltane? Why on the gods green earth would that mean anything to her?

And as I’ve said before, if you really think Brigid doesn’t give a damn about politics, I strongly invite you to go look at the role of the filí in the Ireland of the past.

This post is an expanded version of a post I’ve been typing on Facebook for most of the weekend. I’m getting really tired of dealing with people who tell me this isn’t important. It damn well is. We work with a deity of words. The majority of the Irish magic system is one of words. How did Amergin claim Ireland? How did the Dagda lose Brú na Boinne to his son? How do the prophecies of the Morrigan come true? Words, words, words.

If you’ve been a practicing pagan for decades and never heard of this issue before, then maybe don’t reject it off hand, but have a think about how great it is that even after decades you can learn something new. If you’re an Irish person who’s feeling really uncomfortable with the fuss I’m making about this – I feel you. Have a think about why you feel uncomfortable about this and where that’s coming from. If you think this is all bullshit – well I’m questioning why you’re reading the blog at all to be honest.

Words have power. Have a read of this article from the Scientific American to consider why: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-words-matter-what-cognitive-science-says-about-prohibiting-certain-terms/ And even if you don’t celebrate an Irish Bealtaine, but insist that your festival of Beltane has nothing to do with Ireland, have a look into where “Beltane” comes from and who were the influences that caused it to be so widespread and where their information came from. The real stories, not the myths. There’s nothing to say you can’t keep marking the festival as you currently do, but know the history and context of what you’re doing and learn from it.

Sticks and stones may break my bones and words most certainly can hurt me.

Brigid and others in the Irish pantheon

A question that gets asked a lot in the various forums I’m in regarding Brigid is her relationship with the other deities in the Irish pantheon. As ever with Brigid, the answer is not straightforward.

Her father is really straightforward. The Dagda is outlined several times as her da and in my experience, both of them are happy with this situation. Well, most of the time. Who’s happy with their Da 100% of the time?

Brigid’s mother I’ve addressed in several places. We don’t know is the short answer. The longer answer is, most people working with Brigid have their own ideas, but it’s not based in lore as such. “Any woman the Dagda slept with” is basically how limited this is….

In saying that, there are a few that come up reasonably regularly. There are no stories in the lore that I’m aware of where Brigid interacts with any of the other deities outside of the lines in Caith Maighe Tuireadh (Battle of Moytura, round 2 to be precise). We tend to piece together relationships after this on the basis of common areas of interest and personal experience. I don’t think Brigid has a feud going on with any other deity, despite what some modern fiction would suggest (looking at you here, Kevin Hearne!)

So for example, since the Dagda and the Morrigan are linked in the stories, there’s a feeling that Brigid must have a relationship with the Morrigan just by virtue of hanging around her Da. People often ask are the Morrigan and Brigid ok to have on the same altar. To my mind, there’s no difficulty here, but your personal experience may vary. If it does vary, have a look inside to see why you might feel uncomfortable with the two deities being together. I mean, they’re two powerful beings, no more than any other two people in the world they might not get on all the time, but I’ve not experienced any reticence here at all. Other than Brigid wants me for herself, of course, but that’s just the way she is at the minute.

Now the three gods of skill, Credne the brazier, Luchtae the wright, and Goibniu the smith, would have a fair overlap with Brigid, with herself being so connected to smiths in particular. (If you want to learn more about the 3 of them, Jon O’Sullivan has a great course on them over at the Irish Pagan School: https://irishpaganschool.com/p/the-three-gods-of-skill well worth the money) I can see the four of them settling around a fire and comparing stories on the divilment of apprentices (divilment is an Anglo-Irish/ Hiberno-English word indicating pranks, tricks etc.), new techniques, allocation of resources etc. There’s nothing in the lore to suggest this happens, it comes from my knowledge of the 4 of them and the overlap of their areas of interest.

As well, Airmid, Dian Cecht and Miadh would fall into a similar bunch, but this time with healing. I feel like Brigid and Airmid would get on well (again, based on nothing but my own experience of them) and can see them swopping recipes for healing brews and potions and lotions. I’m not a fan of Dian Cecht myself (much that he cares whether I am or not!) and I always feel sorry for Miadh, seeing how he ended, but I’m very sorry there isn’t more in the lore about Airmid. I’d love to know more about her.

Someone like Manannán Mac Lir would be comfy having a chat as well, although once or twice in a journey I’ve experienced herself getting sea sick – that’s pure personal gnosis now, no basis in lore or general experience whatsoever – but not all the time. Cordial relations here maybe?

People like Boann or Áine I don’t see much overlap with Brigid, although there is the link with Boann and cattle. With Áine, there might be a bit of commonality with them both being linked to provinces – Áine with Munster and Brigid with Leinster and both being known to help out here and there with sovereignty issues. Or maybe I’m misremembering some of Áine’s stories there.

That’s a selection of the better known Irish deities, I think, and how I imagine they all get on together. I’ve no doubt they have their rows at times, sure doesn’t every family have those, but this notion that Brigid would be going around having long standing feuds with members of her tuath just doesn’t seem right. It would distract too much from the work to be done to support the community. And that’s it really in the end. The Irish deities come from a time when the tuath really was all-important. The survival of the community was paramount and if you had to work with someone you weren’t overly fond of to get the work done, well do it.

Now, this doesn’t mean you must get on with everyone, forgive abuse in the name of the community, forgive gross transgressions, not at all. That’s what justice is for and the Irish deities were pretty big on that as well. They had no problems with driving people out of the tuath or indeed killing them, if such retribution was justified. But I’m talking about people that maybe just rub you up the wrong way. Or have that funny conversational tick that drives you up the wall. or always wears a black hat that you feel looks ridiculous… you know the type of thing I mean? I don’t think our deities get on like a house on fire all the time, but I kinda feel like most of the time, they’ll pull together to get the damn job done!

If you’d like to learn more about the Irish gods in general, or Brigid in particular, the Irish Pagan School has plenty courses to keep you occupied, there’s even some of my own teaching up there! If not, Morgan Daimler has a good book on the deities of Ireland (Pagan Portals – Gods and Goddesses of Ireland: A Guide to Irish Deities) that has a sound basis for anyone she has listed in there.

But seriously, if you’re looking to add another deity to the altar alongside Brigid, first person to ask is herself. A bit of meditation, quiet your mind, see what she’s actually saying and away you go!

10 things about Brigid

I asked in the Brigid’s Forge group on Facebook for people to list out their top peeves about Brigid and I’d do a “top 10” type post. Well here it is! (in no particular order now, to be fair!) I will, as usual, try to point out specifically the UPG aspects here as I go, but if there’s anything you’re unsure of, ask!

  1. All Brigids and Brigid related beings are one (this could also be part of the hard vs soft polytheism thing as well to be fair!) I mention on this blog often that it’s Irish Brigid I deal with, while acknowledging that there are other Brigids out there: Scottish, Welsh, Manx for a start, a potential (potential I said!) link with Brigantia as well. And in Irish Brigid, I include both deity and saint. To some people the division between deity and saint is important and I respect that, for me, moving between the two is reasonably straightforward and easy, and she tends not to be overly bothered who I’m talking to, it’s whoever is best suited to deal with me at the time will answer. I believe that the lore and practice in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man are different and therefor the Brigids in each area is different as well. There is overlap, of course, areas of common interest, that sort of thing, but in my experience, they’re not the same. (And this is before we get into the Irish druid, nun, lawyer etc….) So if you’re a soft polytheist and believe that all deity is one (gross over simplification here) I fundamentally disagree with you.
  2. Ignoring the saint completely. Yeah this. So, in Ireland, it must be recognised that our ancestors were not converted to Christianity at the point of a sword and many of our pagan practices made it into Catholicism anyway. Just look at our history of well visiting, candle lighting, fairy rings, fairy forts, fairy trees… The pagan practices didn’t go away precisely, just got buried under a thin (extremely thin in some cases!) layer of Christianity. You don’t believe me? Look at this news article in our paper of record from 1999: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/fairy-bush-survives-the-motorway-planners-1.190053 Plus, a lot of our knowledge about the saint feeds into what we understand about the deity as well. The actual lore about Brigid in our myths and legends is not voluminous. It’s scanty in fact. And at least the hagiographies, especially the two later ones (Bethu Brigte is my favourite for many reasons!) give us a few more stories to be going on it. Further complicating the fact is there were up to 15 St Brigids in Ireland at one time of another, so stories and legends may related to one or more of them. Either way, the saint is a powerful force in her own right, with relations to the deity at the very least, so I wouldn’t be ruling her out. Now there are people with trauma from Christianity who can and do find it difficult to deal with anything related to that religion. That’s grand. But remember Christianity in Ireland was not forced on our ancestors, didn’t steal from paganism, but was syncretised and absorbed into the basic belief system.
  3. Over sexualisation of deity. Yeah this comes up a lot. There are many depictions of the deity out there, and this is true for many female presenting deities, not just Brigid, where they’re depicted as a teenage boys wet dream. Now there’s nothing wrong with sex, I’m a fan of it myself, great fun altogether. But reducing a powerful woman/ goddess to just a sex object is demeaning to them and a way to reducing them to a “manageable” level. Brigid is a smith, remember, and anyone who has ever seen a smith working will know formidable muscles are part of the job. Also, scanty clothing doesn’t really work in a forge. To be fair, it doesn’t work in healing either, you want to be not touching people too much if they’re infectious or infected… Safety, people, safety! But surely our deities deserve more respect than being represented as a sex object anyway? I know I often speak about Brigid in ways people are surprised by, since they don’t think I respect her enough, but I do. And one of the ways I respect her is to accord her the right to be whatever she chooses, not just a sex object. (I mean, my own UPG is she is fairly sex positive anyway, so she won’t mind a bit of dressing up or down as the case may be, but it’s at her choice, not ours)
  4. The triple goddess. Oh this one…. ok look, yes Brigid is a triple goddess in the Irish tradition but that does not mean she fits the maiden, mother, crone structure. That structure just isn’t there in the Irish stories. The triple goddess here is the healer, the smith and the poet. Not, not ever, no, no, no, not the maiden, mother, crone (I mean that structure is problematic in its own right, and yeah I know, it’s not purely on the function of the womb but it’s a fairly big part of it, but let’s not try and trap a powerful goddess into what her womb is doing alright? In fact, let’s not do that to anyone. Not every woman has a womb, not everyone with a womb is a woman, etc) So yeah. Triple goddess for Brigid means healer, smith, poet. It’s something different for the Morrigan. Ireland is different in many ways and this is one of them.
  5. Brigid’s mother. Anyone who works with Brigid, or indeed the Irish pantheon, has their own theories about who Brigid’s mother was/is. So far, we’ve reduced the list to any woman the Dagda had sex with or might have had sex with. There is nothing in the lore to indicate one way or the other who her mother was and frankly, (UPG alert!) she’s told me it’s none of my business and not to worry about it. If Brigid wanted her mother known or if her mother wanted to be known, I have no doubt she would be. But anyone who says for definite it’s X goddess or Y goddess is wrong. There’s nothing that absolute about it.
  6. That she’s a fluffy goddess who only wants to help. Maybe you’ve come across healers that are that fluffy and nice all the time and continuously helpful etc. Most of the true healers I’ve come across are fairly strident – they have to be, to get their patients to do as their told. Not to mention, a true healer, whether modern doctor or bean feasa or energy healer, can and will stand up for the good of their patient in the face of adversity. Fluffy won’t cut it. Equally, she’s a smith. Go back up to point 3 and reread the bit about the forge. She makes tools and uses them. If you are, we’ll say lucky, enough to be one of her tools, she will use you hard. People who work with Brigid mention being put on the anvil cos we don’t sort shit out quickly enough or effectively enough to suit her. That’s not a pleasant experience. She can and will use brute force if it’s needed. I mean for this point, also see the idea that she is meek and mild cos she’s a Christian saint – go read the hagiographies on that one. She pulled out her own eye to avoid marriage and in some stories, she pulls out her brother’s eye to replace it cos he was pressuring her into the marriage. She’s a fighter when needed.
  7. The name Brigid means “Fiery Arrow”. OK this comes from Cormac’s Glossary, from the Book of Leinster. It wasn’t written by an etymologist, but a bishop looking to get some fame for his diocese (seriously, looking into the aggro between diocese and monastries and churches in the medieval church in Ireland is better than any modern action thriller – modern politicians could learn a lot from the propoganda). The best I can do here is point to http://dil.ie/search?q=brig&search_in=headword The eDIL is the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language and is the best resource I’ve got for Old Irish. (Yeah the language changed over the millennia, bloody inconsiderate really!) The meanings given for Brig are: power, strength, force, authority; vigour, virtue OR value, worth; advantage; validity, virtue, efficacy. It appears to be linked to respect as well, as in the respect accorded someone, but it’s definitely not “fiery arrow” from the information we have available to us now. But yeah, Cormac’s Glossary is not a dictionary to say the least. Wonderful source of information, but not a dictionary, nor an encyclopedia, as we would understand it today.
  8. “Correspondences”. I’m grouping all this in one go – too tedious otherwise. So, around Imbolc in particular, you see a lot a articles with “crystals for Brigid”, “colours for Brigid” that sort of thing. And I get it, these lists are fierce handy when you’re starting out and wanting to do things right. The thing is – they’re not based in lore. Crystals and colours not really mentioned in relation to Brigid at all (In the Irish lore this is, I won’t speak for other lore) Now food – well for food, anything food wise is good, but dairy, poultry, beef, pork/ham, those sorts of things. Domesticated animals and the dairy is where she’s strong. Spuds – not so much. Spuds were brought to Ireland 1589 by Sir Walter Raleigh apparently, so a bit after the Tuatha De Danann were walking the land. They’re so synonymous with Ireland now, it’s hard to remember, but they’re not a native plant. But to get back to the original point – there are no real correspondences such as crystals, colours, etc with the Irish Brigid, or indeed the Irish deities in general. Our lore doesn’t work that way. Now, there is a correspondence between red and the Otherworld – as in a red and white animal is almost certainly from the Otherworld, including the cow that fed the saint as a baby. But that’s separate from Brigid.
  9. Celtic goddess. This is a hard one, but really, “Celtic” is like saying “European”. And let’s face it, if the EU has taught us anything it’s that getting even 3 countries in Europre to agree on something is well nigh impossible, never mind having a homogenous culture across the whole continent. Celtic is used to describe a group of languages, Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton) and non-Brythonic or Gaelic (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx) Irish culture, even 2 millenia ago, was different from the continent. The lore is different. The stories are different. It’s not the same. And lumping such disparate cultures together like this is disrespectful when dealing with deity at least. (I mean, it’s disrespectful when dealing with people as well, but let’s not get into that right now). So, when talking about ancient Irish culture, say ancient Irish culture. When talking about an Irish deity or Irish goddess – say Irish. As I said above, there are overlaps and connections with other Brigids, but they aren’t the same, so don’t lump them all together. Now of course, this is further complicated by the fact that up until about 100yrs ago, Gaelic was used for the Irish language as well. You won’t find that in modern Ireland. We use Irish for our language when speaking English, Gaeilge when speaking Irish. If we’re talking about Gaelic, we’re either talking about the Gaelic chieftains/ culture of the pre- and post- Norman period (up until the Flight of the Earls in 1609 anyway) or we’re talking about football. Yeah, we have a type of football that isn’t anything to do with soccer other than the ball is roughly the same shape. Google Gaelic football. Actually, while you’re educating yourself, google “hurling” as well. National sports, great craic, etc, etc. But don’t be lump separate cultures, separate deities, separate lore into one lump as Celtic.
  10. Red hair, green dress. It’s most likely the saint was blonde from descriptions and art we have around the place. And yeah, I know, red hair is almost synonymous with Irish people as well, we have the highest % of red haired people in the world at about 10% (according to Wikipedia, who I wouldn’t usually recommend as a resource, but this isn’t overly worrying). But there was a 90% chance Brigid wasn’t a red head. I know, it’s hard to take, but really, think about why it’s so important to you that she was a red head? As for the green dress – green is only a very recent addition to being Irish, y’know. It was St. Patrick’s blue for centuries. (although that was based on Henry II having a blue flag, so not exactly Irish either). Green came about as a way to unite disparate groups across the country and showing a different colour to the British. And if you look at the Union Jack, Ireland is represented on there (yes, even now) with St. Patrick’s saltire, which is a red X on a white field. Our currently green, white and orange flag is meant to represent nationalists (green), unionists (orange) with peace between them (white). Also, some of the green comes from the green colour of our land. This again is problematic, since the reason we have such green fields is that the forests of the past were stripped from us by colonisation. To bring it back to Brigid – fundamentally, I think she can appear however she wishes, wearing what she wants, looking how she wants. But trying to contain her in a red haired, green dress is tying into problematic stereotypes of the “Irish colleen” rather than based in reality.

So there you have it. Ten pet peeves addressed, as best I can in a single blog post. Have you any others? Are there things you want to point out?

Impact vs Intent

This has popped up a few times in various groups over the last few weeks so I think it’s time to explain my thoughts here.

Fundamentally, I believe that impact is more important than intent. Let me state that clearly here and now so if you don’t agree and think I’m not a person you want to follow, listen to, hang around with etc anymore, you can exit here and now.

The reasons I feel impact matters more than intent is because I feel that we very often inflict an unintentional impact on other people without even realising it. We can make a joke, not realising it hits someone at their core and they realise we don’t actually think of them as the same human as everyone else. We try to do the right thing and end up hurting someone unintentionally. (Check out this link for some more on the governmental issues with the law of unintended consequences: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/540/handouts/french/unintconseq.html )

And we’re all done this, we all know this. But if, as the general thrust of Irish paganism aims towards, we are looking towards maintaining a healthy community and we are all working towards that goal, surely looking at the impact of our actions and statements is far more important than worrying and proclaiming our intentions. Look, I know, I hate admitting I was wrong or misguided or misinformed as well. I really bloody hate it. But that’s no reason not to admit it – it’s not worth harming those around me just so I can avoid a bit of discomfort.

Now I’m not talking about whether Angel or Spike was a better boyfriend for Buffy (it was Spike, obviously!) or whether Batman or Superman was really the better superhero (yeah, couldn’t give a damn about that one!), this is about upholding people’s right to exist and live their lives as they choose. While I don’t follow the Wiccan Rede (Do what you will an’ it harm none), and while I think there’s deeper layers to it anyway beyond the immediately obvious, there is a measure of this thinking here.

Why would you want to hurt someone else? To maintain boundaries? To return pain inflicted on you? To protect others? There’s all sorts of reasons we might intentionally aim to hurt someone. And to a certain point, I don’t have an issue with that. Where I do have an issue is retaliating for someone being who they are rather than what they did/do. For me this line is drawn in looking at people’s existence versus their behaviour. So, I would find it hard to tease someone or harass someone for their religion, gender, sexuality, romantic persuasions, etc, but teasing them over a shared experience, some historical fashion we both indulged in etc. Equally, if someone has inflicted real harm on me, I’d be looking more at appropriate reactions to the behaviour, not attacking their religion, colour, sexuality etc.

However, we all cross that line somewhere. It may be that what is a reasonable action to take or comment to make against someone who is of a majority religion may not be for someone who is not of that religion. For example in Ireland, the vast majority of people (70+%) are Catholic, although practicing Catholics would probably bring that figure a lot lower. So joking about Catholicism or having heated debates about the problems with the Catholic Church in this country or in the world, probably grand. No one here is getting discriminated against cos they’re Catholic. But if someone is pagan and they’re uncomfortable in their work or home life about disclosing that, then making leading remarks or calling them out on pagan leaders and their issues in places where people in their workplace or home might hear them, probably isn’t a good idea.

If you’re not sure about the potential impact of something, try asking. I can’t guarantee a polite answer or even an answer at all, but that as well will tell you something. If you make a joke and you think about it later and aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask. If you can’t ask the person themselves, ask someone who might know around you. Say something like, “Hey I did this thing or said this thing earlier and thinking back, I’m not sure if it was ok. Can you help me? Do I need to apologise?”

Now, of course, slip ups between friends are easier to deal with that public issues. A government cutting social welfare in an attempt to get more people back to work, but failing to follow through on offering either training or more job opportunities, thus leading to an exponential rise in the existence and use of foodbanks… Well, I’m not sure that can be considered an unintentional impact, but it’s certainly an impact. Reparations should be made – and bloody quickly! And those governments should be held to account or voted out. But that’s just my opinion. Not looking at anyone in particular there at all now…

So where does it leave us in every day life. Consider your audience. It’s easier for most of us to accept at a high level that all human beings are entitled to live their lives, exist, as they choose in relation to religion, colour, sexuality, gender, etc. But when it comes to imagining the unintended impacts of our actions and statements, it can be easier to consider a particular person, especially if we have limited experiences or dealings with people who aren’t exactly like us. (I appreciate for the more global nations this may seem ridiculous, but seriously, I grew up in rural Ireland in the 80’s, I was 10 before I met my first black man and in college before I met my first black woman. And my experience is not that unusual for the time. )

You may think you’re addressing someone’s behaviour (well, if they’d only dress correctly…) when in fact, that could be felt as an impact or attack on someone’s culture (that’s what’s fashionable/ acceptable in the culture they come from). The dangers and long term impacts of forcing people to conform to some uniform ideal are well documented. Don’t be that person.

And if you do find yourself acting in that way, step up and apologise. I’ve done this in the past and there are people gone from my life that I can never apologise to now. Learn from it. Do better next time. Assess, as best you can, the potential impact of your actions and statements. Consider why your need to get this off your chest is more important than the potential impact on the person you’re speaking to.

Learn to do better. We all need to do this, there is no perfect person in this world and we’ve all done shitty, horrible things. The trick is to do better in the future. And remember that your intention is rarely more important than the impact your actions and words cause.

Building a daily practice

A frequent question that comes up in relation to Brigid, but indeed with many other deities, is how to build a daily practice or what does a daily practice look like. It can be confusing at first, particularly for those of us coming from either a secular background or a very formulaic spiritual background. I mean as a Catholic, the Catechism tell us (or used to anyway!) that we should pray “every morning, and every night, and in all dangers, temptations and afflictions”.  Interestingly, I found this story, from www.duchas.ie outlining how often this phrase is used: One day a priest went in to a school and asked a little girl when should she pray? The little girl did not know. Then he said, “When does your mother milk the cow?” She said, “every morning, and every night, and in all dangers, temptations, and afflictions.” (From School: Tuaim Gréine, Lúbán Díge Location: Tomgraney, Co. Clare Teacher: Pádraig Ó Cadhla)

In fact that phrase is a catch all answer in Ireland for when something should be done in general – although dying out now as the Catechism is no longer rote learned. Although there are signs it might be returning, I hope not!

But back to a daily practice. First things first – start small. While it’s grand to imagine a wonderful daily ritual with all sorts of bells and whistles, chances are, you won’t keep that up for long. I don’t care if you feel you have 5 free hours in the day, trust me, as soon as you put something long and arduous into place, it’s easy to find things to fill that space. So, start small. In a recent chat I had with Lora O’Brien over at the Irish Pagan School (the chat’s on youtube, so have a look for it) she mentions a time in her life when her daily practice was 3 deep breaths. Because that was the time she had to deal with with three kids needing attention. So, when I say “start small” I really mean small. Three deep breaths is as good a way as any to start really. But make them intentional. Three random breaths probably won’t have the effect you want. But a conscious thought of “right, I’m going to take my three deep breaths now, here we go” will make all the difference.

Now with Brigid, she’s never adverse to a candle being lit or a fire being lit. This might be a wax candle or an LED candle, it’s up to you. The point is to light it with intention. (I know, here we go with intention again!) These days, I work from home about half the week. When I’m working at home, I light a candle to start off the working day, as a way to both demarcate between “home” and “work” and also to get some help with the broadband. But it’s an intention that I’m about to start work and since I’m an engineer, that’s part of my daily practice. But more generally, lighting a candle is an act, a physical act, to take the time to breath, maybe do a bit of meditation or prayer, acknowledge the existence of herself.

A daily practice of meditation is a good habit to get into (she says, as someone who needs to get back into regular meditation after a few weeks hiatus!) It’s good for mind and spirituality, in my opinion. Now the physical and mental benefits of meditation are well documented at this point. Go have a look at Google Scholar or something similar if you want to read up on it. But it’s also allowing time and space to let Brigid in, creating room for her to get in touch or at least make her aware you’re paying attention. In most of my courses, I have a meditation element involved because of this. They are useful. And because I, myself, prefer a visualisation element to my meditation, I use those meditations regularly. And building up that habit is like building a muscle – it becomes easier over time.

For me as well, I use my daily movement practice as part of my devotion – cos frankly, otherwise I’d never feckin move! I’m generally not a fan. But by making it a devotional act to help my body working as best it can for as long as it can, I’m taking care of her tools. It’s important to me to do this. You may find cooking, baking for your family is a devotional practice. You may find knitting or sewing something for yourself or a loved one or a complete stranger is a devotional practice. You may find lots of things you can do that might be part of a daily practice. And look, some days my movement might be 5 mins so I can technically say I moved. That’s ok too. Sometimes even just going through the motions is enough. Not every practice will involve deep inspiration or divine contact. But going through the motions is just as important.

Alongside this I will mention offerings. This is not something I usually feel called to do, because she has a lot of other things for me to do. However, I do know people like the idea of leaving offerings out for Brigid. And this can be part of your daily practice. Make her a nice cuppa in the morning when you’re making your own. Give her the first or the best bits of meals. If you bake a loaf of bread, trust me, she’d love a bit of it, warm from the oven, covered in butter. Or, y’know, whatever you want. As to how long to leave things out, that’s up to your own personal circumstances. Liquids can usually be left out for a few hours or overnight, unless you have animals or kids that might get their hands on them. I mean, Brigid is a mother too, she knows what kids are like, but make an effort to make sure they don’t get hold of it. Won’t do them any harm, but it’s my belief that some essence of the food is gone once we offer it to deity. And dispose of the food carefully as well. We’re lucky to have a compost heap on which most waste things food related get chucked. But putting them in the bin is just as alright, if you can’t throw them out for animals etc. Also, if you are throwing things out for animals, just be careful you won’t poison said animals with the food you’re throwing out. I’ll not give any advice here, since you’ll know your local area better than I will.

My work, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions before, is part of my devotion to her. Part of that is to be a visible female engineer, to allow myself be used as a role model and sometimes, an example of what not to do… But it is part of my work with Brigid. Not everyone can say their career is an act of devotion and frankly, you might not want to! But you might do things on a regular if not daily basis that might be acts of devotion. You might create poetry or prayers for her. You might help out in a soup kitchen. You might be active in community groups, be a mentor, be there for a friend in need. There are all sorts of things that can add up as part of a regular, if not daily, practice. To me, ultimately, the best daily practice we can have, is to live lives as ethically and morally as we can. Note I didn’t outline what either “ethical” or “moral” mean. That’s up for each person to figure out. But once you do, living up to your own standards is the way to go. Live a congruous life – in harmony with your beliefs and values. It’s easier that working in a role that directly opposes what your core beliefs are (Trust me – personal experience!) Be a force for good in this world. Support the community in which you live. Support the communities of which you’re a part. Ultimately that’s the best place to end up

Brigid, menstruation and inclusivity

I’ll have to be more careful than usual in this post about highlighting the bits that are based in lore and the bits that are based in my own gnosis. Fundamentally, we don’t have much relating to menstruating in the Irish lore. I lie – there’s shag all, if you don’t count the numerous weird and wonderful ways people managed to get pregnant and give birth in the lore. Even duchas.ie, usually a wonderful trove of treasure to look at the practices and spells and folklore of our ancestors, is bereft of such things. Now there’s a good reason for that, particularly in the duchas case – it was primary school children sent out to gather these stories and while people wouldn’t mind telling kids the stories that might scare the bejasus from them, there were some topics not suitable for children at all.

Manchán Magan, in his recent book “Thirty-Two Words for Field” (2020, Gill Books), explains why some of this is so: “Some of the most renowned female seanchaithe (storytellers) were known for their bawdy humour and they shared this openly with the folklorists who sought their knowledge in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. However, when speaking into the wax cylinder recorder they tended to be more circumspect, censoring certain things”. In the following passage, he recalls how these same seanchaithe, when settled into the chair by the fire and relaxed in themselves, would revert to the earthier version. The transcribed tales would be sanitised though. As well, the author recounts a story from Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, celebrated Irish poet, where although she grew up in a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area from the age of six, it was only after her marriage that she was inducted into the realm of the back kitchen and learned a whole new vocabulary.

Given these words couldn’t be shared with an unmarried woman, it’s no wonder strangers in the 19th century wouldn’t be told of them, particularly if, as was sometimes the case, the local priest had come along to smooth the stranger way into the community. So, a history of sending strange and sometimes foreign men, of different class and history, as well as children, to collect these words and stories, means many of them have been lost.

Even though we have lost much of our language and folklore, particularly in the area of women’s lives, including menstruation, these memories may not tell us the exact words use, they do tell us there were rich vocabulary surrounding these elements and menstruation, sex, intercourse, were spoken about! Mangan’s book has improved my vocabulary around my menstrual cycle immeasurably, even if I’m still struggling to remember some of the words off the top of my head!

So, sex, menstruation, the workings of the body were definitely spoken of in Ireland. Sex wasn’t invented in the 80s and 90s, with the advent of Gay Byrne and the Late Late Show on a Friday night (yes, Gaybo was once an avant garde presenter on both radio and television, speaking of issues that had hitherto been hidden – not saying he did a brilliant job at all times, but he was willing to speak and discuss issues like women’s rights, domestic abuse, sex outside marriage…)

On then to Brigid and her links to menstruation. She is listed in Cormac’s Glossary as goddess of healing and we know from Fergus Kelly’s A Guide to Early Irish Law (1988, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) that a woman-physician as one of the women that could be not dependent on a husband according to the law. He does add however, that in his sources, there is an indication that the term used, banliaih tuaithe, might refer to a midwife or a women who attends a woman at childbirth. So we have at least a loose link between Brigid and one end of the menstruation cycle!

Added to which, I can’t imagine that she would have an interest in healing and not have an interest in her own body…

Now all along here, I’ve been mentioning women, women’s bodies, Brigid as female, etc. It’s important to note that despite what modern menstruation spirituality tends to outline, not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women. That leads towards a very binary, static and outmoded vision of what gender is. While I have nothing in the lore that outright states Brigid would be accepting of someone who is a different gender to that which they were assigned at birth, I can’t help looking at her relationship with me, her work in healing and in the forge, her work with people who were maybe not valued as much in society as they should have been, the work with Brig Ambue and the cowless, and think she would not support those who are, due to the previously described outmoded understandings of gender, struggling to be accepted as they are in this world.

I’m not an expert in gender issues, it must be said, and I won’t conflate my experiences as a white, straight cis woman with those who are not any or some of those things. But I will say, I know something of what’s it’s like (a small part of what’s it’s like) to not be accepted as you are – I’m a woman in engineering and even to this day, I tend to have to prove myself over and over and over as an engineer purely because I don’t fit the stereotypical image of either woman or engineer. I can only imagine how much worse it might be when it’s not only your profession, but your sense of self that’s being challenged/ignored/scorned. And that’s before the abuse, the harassment, the oppression, etc, etc, etc.

If you’re struggling with menstruating or looking to gain a better understanding of your body and how it works, it’s easy to drop into menstruation spirituality or menstruation teachings in the modern world. But there are some serious issues there. There is an assumption that every woman moves through, or wants to move through, the great triple cycles of maiden, mother, crone (there’s been a fourth phase added in recent years of queen or enchantress, but let’s not go there for now, that’s a whole other blog post. And I do like the extra stage, I just don’t want to have to write three blog posts in one!)

Now there are huge issues in forcing all women into these boxes of maiden, mother, crone. And yes, I know, modern paganism has said it’s not about biological changes or stages, but more about appreciation, learning and development of self. The fact remains that these words are very gendered, very restricting and plain don’t work for all women, never mind the gender spectrum (I’m not even sure if gender spectrum is the correct way of putting it, but I’m damned sure we don’t have a gender binary so it’s the best I can do right now. Open to learning better though)

I’m a woman who can’t have children, for no apparent reason according to science – now, I’m not looking for advice, trust me that I’ve tried everything out there from acupuncture, meditation, visualisation, foods, movement… if you’ve heard of it, I’ve tried it. Not interested in hearing what worked for your friend or your cousin or this woman you know 🙂

It’s not a sore topic at all, right?

Anyway, back to the point. I’m a woman who can’t have children. While many people tell me the mother phase is one of creativity, of nurturing, of growing and doesn’t necessarily mean parenting a child, still when I hear “mother”, I think of the family I don’t have. And that’s just women with fertility issues. That doesn’t help women who don’t want children, or can’t have them for other reasons – financial, physical, emotional reasons, for a start.

Using maiden/mother/crone is limiting and exclusionary, in my opinion.

But where do we go from here? Well I’m working on a structure and outline that might help people deal with, come to terms with, work with their menstrual cycles or lack thereof without using gendered language or traditional gendered roles to work through it. It’s not easy cos it means examining everything I’ve learned and known about menstruation and body cycles and assessing it from an inclusionary point of view. Testosterone driven bodies have cycles just like oestrogen driven bodies do.

Plus, pretty much every body is different anyway. So, how do we inclusively group certain phases of different cycles to work for everyone? I’m not entirely sure this is possible. I think what is possible, though, is for everyone to have a better understanding and knowledge of their body and have a loose framework to hang that knowledge off. I know that understanding myself the times of my cycles when I’m more prone to tiredness, more prone to certain activities, more prone to anger, more prone to sleeping, more prone to reading certain things, eating certain things, etc, etc, etc, helps me live life a bit better and not get taken aback by my reactions or needs during any given phase. And I’d like more people to gain that awareness of their body, without having to trawl through information that’s abhorrently presented to them in the first place.

Saints in the Catholic Church

Image description: Picture of my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Second Edition revised in accordance with the official Latin test promulgated by Pope John Paul II

Following some questions in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I decided to write a post on saints in the Catholic Church. So I dug out my copy of the Catechism and started looking at what the official teachings of the church are and then I’ll follow on with the general Irish habits around saints and then some more specific stuff from me or my family. Fair warning, the Catechism is almost a thousand pages long and deals with many different aspects of Church teaching, so I’m not going to cover all of it in this post. In fact, if I wanted to cover the whole Catechism, I’d need to start an entire new blog and well, I’m busy enough with Brigid.

In the Catechism, a saint is defined as: the “holy one” who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life. The Church is called the communion of saints, of the holy ones. The process of being officially designated a saint by the Church is called canonisation: the solemn declaration by the Pope that a deceased member of the faithful may be proposed as a model and intercessor to the Christian faithful and venerated as a saint on the basis of the fact that the person lived a life of heroic virtue or remained faithful to God through martyrdom.

The Church has an official stance on the intercession of saints between human and God: “being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in Holiness. They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (paragraph 956 on the Communion of the Church of Heaven and Earth)

There is loads more on how we can interact officially with saints according to the Catechism, but this holds the nuts and bolts of the matter. The closer eyed among ye may have noticed, that actually, canonisation is only the formal recognition of sainthood. Anyone who reaches heaven is a saint, it’s just that the official saints are the ones the Church is reasonably certain are there in Heaven. (There’s a bit of the HUGE sense of superiority here, which is strange, or maybe not so much, coming from a religion that started with the most downtrodden members of society in Rome – obviously speaking to the Roman Church here and not anywhere else!)

In the early Church, many martyrs, those who died for their faith, were canonised, on the basis of their heroic witness to Christ, not denying him and choosing to die and join him rather than renounce him. (This was red martyrdom, due to the blood spilled). But of course, that violence and campaign against the early Christians didn’t last long, so the Church started looking for other evidence of holiness. Enter white martyrdom: the daily living of a Christian live that was so close to the perfection of Christ’s example that it was noted by the community. (note that no human can ever reach perfection, that’s solely the province of God). The white martyrs were famous for their holy living – there’s plenty examples of these in the Irish chronicles, seeing as our land converted to Christianity peacefully and about five centuries after the birth of Christ, there were no red martyrs in Ireland that I can remember now. (There may have been a few, but they were small in number!) Our own Brigid would be an example of this. It was almost canonisation by popular acclaim – people knew this person was holy and living the Christian life, so it was deemed appropriate to consider them heading straight to heaven instead of pausing in Purgatory for a while first. It was only in 1170 that it was officially determined no one could be declared a saint without the official approval/ permission of the pope. (This was Pope Alexander III and was brought about by the public acclaimation for a Swedish saint by public acclaim who was killed while drunk and so could not be said to have been a truly, 100% willing witness for Christ…)

A final type of martyrdom, extensively practiced in Ireland in about 5-7th centuries (ish) was the green martyrdom. Now the earliest mention I can find of this is from the Cambrai Homily (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrai_Homily – yes I know, it’s a wikipedia source, but it’s a decent enough starter for ten and it’s written in reasonably accessible language. Also there is some doubt as to whether the Cambrai Homily was actually a homily or actually an extract from a longer text/ gathering of texts). I should also not at this point that I’m not a scholar, so there could be many, many other sources out there for the green martyrdom. But essentially, the green martyrdom was through the physical deprivation in an attempt to get closer to God or possibly an extension of the older practice of fasting to gain justice. Here is where we get the Irish hermits. The ones that ended up on Skellig Michael of Star Wars fame, or out in the wilds, subsisting rather than existing, fasting and doing penance in order to become closer to God.

It is interesting to note though, that in any reference to martyrs I can find on Vatican websites, the shedding of blood is closely related to the idea of martyrdom.

Anyway, to sum up – while all Catholics are considered potentially saints, and once you get to Heaven, you are by definition a saint, the Church limits those who are officially designated saints to those they are sure, as close as can be, are in Heaven. So while, for example, on the occasion of my Grandad’s death, many called him a pious man and a saint, and while I might privately pray to him (and all my dead relatives at time to be honest), since I’m fairly certain if anyone is in heaven, he is, I can’t publicly venerate him or create a cult around him, since the Church doesn’t recognise him as a saint.

Every official saint in the Catholic Church has an official feast day. The practices around such feast days in folk tradition vary from nation to nation, tradition to tradition, region to region (and in some instances, parish to parish!) The Church practices though don’t as such vary. There is a special liturgy (this would be the celebration of Mass with particular readings relating to the saint usually, or a bit of the Bible that ties in with them, with a sermon or homily being delivered that is linked to the saint), sometimes novenas (series of prayers/activities over days), but that’s usually it.

In the folk tradition though, there can be other celebrations. The making of Brigid’s crosses throughout Ireland is a very common thing around the 1st February. The wearing of shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day would be common. The pattern day for many saints in rural Ireland mostly (in my life time anyway, presumably it was more widespread previously) were celebrations of the patron saint of the parish or area. The pattern day usually started at the local church with Mass, then moved on to a local shrine or holy well. (Seriously you can hardly walk 2 miles in Ireland without falling over some holy well or other!)Even today, pattern days are very popular among a subset of society, although the reforms enacted by the Church in the years following the famine removed much of the drinking, fighting and other non-religious activities. To be fair, the Church hierarchy also has an issue with the magical nature attributed to the shrines and wells, seeing as how they were seen as healing places for various ailments. None of this coincides with proper church teaching. However, even today, if you hit down near Liscannor in Co. Clare, around the time of the Feast of the Assumption in August, you’ll find a grand crowd in the area, visiting the well as they have done for generations. Not joking here – I forgot what day it was last summer and we got caught in the traffic jam… Liscannor is still reasonably famous, but there are other wells in this country that have similar traditions.

So, as an overview, saints can be used as intercessors for the faithful. It’s not exactly that we pray to the saint, technically speaking, it’s more that we ask for their support and help in making our prayers to God. Most of us though, will speak of praying to the saint for help or intercession. Some of the more common saints to be asking for help: St. Jude – lost causes, hospital workers; St. Anthony – lost items, native Americans, amputees, asses, barren women, elderly people, harvests, hogs/pigs/swine, mail, monks, oppressed people, poor, Portugal, shipwrecks, starvation/ starving people swineherds, travelling people, hostesses; St. Christopher – travel; Patrick – snakes, Ireland, engineers(who knew???) Nigeria and a few USA dioceses; St. Brigid – blacksmiths, cattle, dairy workers, fugitives, healers, Ireland, nuns, poultry and chicken farmers, printing presses, scholars; St Colmcille (3rd of our patron saints for Ireland) – Ireland, poets, exiles (although it should be noted that St Colmcille is known as St Columba in many records); St Therese of Lisieux – AIDS patients, aviators/ aviation, florists, foreign missions, France, missionaries, tuberculosis/consumption.

There are loads of lists on line for saints and what they’re patrons of, but do some research on it as well and make sure it’s the right saint you’re asking to intercede for you 🙂

On to my personal practice with saints now.

Picture of the book by John Beevers: Saint Therese, the Little Flower The Making of Saint. Book’s cover has a photo of St. Therese on the front with a bunch of red roses in the bottom. Also shown the statue of the Little Flower standing on the book.
Photo of a small tin statue of St Therese of Lisieux, holding her cross and a bunch of roses, standing on the book in the previous photo

Above are two photos that sum up my devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. I took St Therese as my confirmation name (Google it, it’s a sacrament of the Church), mostly due to the influence of my Dad, who gave me both the statue and the book in the pictures above. The statue is a small tin statue that was gilded long ago, but has faded. It was given to my Dad by his grandmother in the early 50’s when he went away to school so he’d have someone to look after him. He then gave it to me in the early 90’s for the same purpose. For the years I was in school, St. Therese sat on my bedside table and I would often kiss her goodnight as I went to bed. These days, she usually sits on our kitchen table at home, and I often pick her up to kiss her as I pass by – something I only realised when my husband pointed it out the other day! St. Therese is famous for her Little Way – this idea that living Christian life is not in the big acts, but in the small everyday things we do. How we act with others, how we treat others, how we interact with the world around us. St Therese is a modern saint as well, having been born in 1873 and dying young at age 24 in 1897. She was canonised in 1925.

She was born in France to two parents who both themselves wanted to enter religious life, but refused. She lived a life of small devotions, but her impact on the world, and most particularly on me, was huge. Seeing her relics as they toured Ireland a while ago was a very big deal to me. When I look at my statue, I see not only my Dad, but my great-grandmother as well (although she passed away long before I arrived on the scene!) I see the tradition of devotion in my family to this saint, that goes back generations. I see the practice of living life well, in right relationship, of doing the right thing as best we can, although it would be unusual for any of us to use those terms.

Through St Therese a lot of my feelings about daily life come to the fore: do the right thing, live as best you can, be ethical, examine what ethics mean to me, set up my life so it is easier to be in compliance with this goal. I will likely never have the influence of St Therese on this world, but I do have influence on those around me on a daily basis and so I try to follow her example as I live my life. I might go days, weeks, months, without consciously thinking of St. Therese in my daily life, but the little statue is always there on the kitchen table and I do, unthinkingly, regularly pick her up and kiss her.

On some occasions, I have asked for her intercession – now, there are specific prayers to St. Therese, but I can never remember them, so it’s more a case of ordering my thoughts as best I can and laying out my request to her. They’re not usually connected to the items listed in the paragraph above either, seeing as how I’ve never been called to serve France or go on a mission. I hate flying! I do take to heart though, that it is by living our lives in the right way, the good way, that we are an example to others and that is what I try to do. While my belief system is not the same as hers, there are massive overlaps.

It could be said I have a devotion to St Therese – in Ireland, this means a person is known for contacting a particular saint above all others, no matter what the circumstances. This is part of building that relationship that we often speak of in paganism. Why would I bother St Anthony to find something when I never speak to him otherwise? St Therese might know me at this point…

Relationship with the saints is a complicated thing in Catholicism and we accept and absorb much of it as we grow up. Most of us think nothing of mentioning St Jude when times appear dark or St Anthony for when something is lost. I’ve seen St Anthony being invoked at 3am on Harcourt Street in Dublin. To describe Harcourt Street – well… there’s more than a few nightclubs there and the image of a reasonable well oiled college student down on his knees in the middle of the street calling out to St. Anthony for his wallet is one that won’t leave you. He found the damn thing a few mins later as well! I’ve heard people mutter to themselves to various saints on different occasions. Official Church teaching doesn’t always match what’s actually happening on the ground.

But I hope this gives an insight into how this Catholic (however pagan) related to saints and how they work in the system of worship. Any questions that come out of this, post them in the comments 🙂