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Imbolc Ritual and Brigid

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

The date of to hold your Imbolc Ritual

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

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

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

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

The need for a grand gesture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what to do?

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

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

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

Brigid and the Maiden/Mother/Crone thing

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

Maiden mother crone in Irish lore

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

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

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

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

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

Maiden mother crone more generally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtic

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

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

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

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

To finish…

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

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

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

Brigid, Imbolc and Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Brigid Calling Me? (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

New year new me??

Well… no, actually. I’m the same old me I’ve always been and frankly, I’ve worked hard on this me for the last 4+ decades, so I don’t want to wipe her out just on a whim. OK not all New Year New Me activities are about wiping out the old me, but it sure feels like that sometimes! I know this is the time of year when everyone appears to go a bit over-enthusiastically at self improvement and reinvention and determination to do all sorts of new things.

You know what I’m planning? Definitely not a New Year New Me activity. More rest, for things I love, for friends I love. More time for my husband. I’m starting as I mean to go on with a long weekend this weekend to make up for the time I didn’t take off work over Christmas. And yes, ok, this weekend will start the big clean up for Imbolc (less than a month away now, y’know, depending on when you’re planning on celebrating!)

As I take the Christmas decorations down, I’ll start cleaning. For me, getting both the clutter and the energy moving out of all the nooks and crannies is an important part of my preparation for Imbolc. It feels like to plant new seeds of growth, I need to clear out the dead growth from previous years – both metaphorically and physically. So I’ll work this week on a plan, room by room, to take in everything and discard what’s no longer needed.

Another side of this New Year New Me thing, of course, and it’s work that takes a bit longer, is to discard beliefs and ways of thinking that no longer work. It’s so easy to go to the gym twice a week, for example, than to change your mind about deeply held beliefs that you have held for decades. Well, it’s easier to go to the gym for the first few weeks than challenge the deeply held beliefs anyway. This year, I’m working on my beliefs about money.

I’ve read Ramit Sethi’s I will teach you to be rich and I’m working my way through Tori Dunlap’s Financial Feminist. (No, I don’t get paid for the links of anything!) It’s amazing to me that there are so many things to challenge in my head about money. And don’t get me wrong – money is one of the big ones to tackle cos it’s made up of all these tiny little things that have built up over time, from what our families tell us, to our friends, to our organisations, religions, society in general…

A picture of a yellow sign reading CAUTION MINEFIELD in red text. A smaller illegible white sign with black writing is behind this with hilly background, mainly covered in scrub with green bushes and a woody bit at the top of the hill with a paler green field to the right hand side. New Year New Me is a minefield!

Minefield.

But no less worth working on for that.

So, I’ll still be the same old me, but hopefully with improving attitudes to money throughout the year. And yes, I know this will be a long, slow transformation. Some of it’s even already started, just by the fact that I’m openly saying I want to work on my attitude to money. But I’m starting small. And I’d encourage you to do the same.

I have a year round structure for myself on how to make changes – I cover a lot of it in the Preparation for Imbolc class I’m currently running. And it’s covered over at IPS with the festival classes I have there. It works better for me than the pressure around New Year New Me. Basically, Samhain for dreaming and prepping, Imbolc for planting, Bealtaine for growing and Lúnasa for harvesting. It’s a good routine for me. It means I’m in a continuous cycle rather than a one-and-done kinda through process.

Some of the changes I commit to are very small – like 5 mins of meditation a day. Others started small, such as starting off at 1000 steps a day at the start of last year, and building to being able to walk 10,000 steps a day without pain by the end of the year. (Yeah, I did that!) Still others don’t always come to fruition – my savings goals bombed last year. But that’s not a failure as such, it just means I need to address some things and move on.

It works with the spiritual as well. My 30 Days of Brigid class is based on the notion of small daily practices to build a relationship with deity. (The Jan 2023 is closed for enrollment, but if there’s enough interest, I’ll run it again in April.) It’s not New Year New Me! Small steps work better, in my opinion, particularly at the start of a relationship than really big gestures. The course is definitely based around small, continual activities.

Think about it – if a new partner suddenly bought you somewhere to live after a few hours, you’d be a bit concerned right? I would – I’d run screaming in the opposite direction. (My husband tells me he’s in no position to my me somewhere to live even after 15 yrs. So I’m ok on that score!) So even though Imbolc is coming up, you don’t need to swear undying devotion to Brigid. Just cos of the time of year it is. Honestly, she’ll be grand with you building up a practice slowly. No need for the Big Gesture related to New Year New Me.

In fact, I’d strongly advise against it, especially given the time of year it is. Sure, there is going to be a lot of information out there on Brigid in the coming weeks. Some of it will be accurate and based on good information. Some of it will be a mish-mash of different traditions and practices or indeed, pure bullshit.

So, if you see someone writing something that doesn’t link back to the lore you know, ask them how it does link back. Even me! There’s no harm in that! If people come back with “everyone knows” or ” that’s common knowledge”: check with trustworthy sources before committing to that particular belief. For example, there’s a relatively recent thing that Brigid is a meek and mild type deity. Anywhere you see that – run. Seriously – I don’t know who they’re dealing with, but meek/mild are not words I’d use to describe her.

But to come back to the New year, new me thing. You may promise yourself a wonderful new spiritual life, considering all the elements of the 2 rounds of festivals (fire festivals and sun festivals) in great detail and with great aplomb. But, I’ll tell you now, a small act, done with intention and consideration and meaning is better than the biggest, wildest, fanciest ritual with no heart to it. Not that I have anything against a big, wild, fancy ritua. I’m just saying if you can’t commit to that, then don’t. Commit to what you know you can do.

If what you can do is have a clean home to welcome Brigid for Imbolc – do that.

If what you can do is have a Brigid’s cross made, or put out a brath Bhríde, then do that.

If what you can do is commit to saying a prayer on the day you celebrate or acknowledge Imbolc, do that.

This isn’t about the best, it’s about doing the best that you can do. Considering the resources you have at your disposal. New Year New Me almost forces big, overwhleming lifestyle changes. That doesn’t always work! If you have 30seconds before the baby wakes up and use them – brilliant. If you have an entire week to devote to Imbolc – brilliant. We’re not judged in comparison with others, we’re judged in comparison with ourselves.

So don’t go trying to reinvent yourself – you’ve worked hard to get where you are. But think of the small things. Think of the things that will definitely improve your life that you can also see yourself doing for a while. And if you do something for 3 days and stop, but those 3 days are better because you did the thing – celebrate that! Just doing something once, doesn’t mean you’ve committed to it forever. And maybe those 3 days were special. You were off work, or the kids were remarkably well behaved. Or maybe your partner was able to step up to do something you usually do, or you plain had more energy those days. Whatever the reason, even doing something for a short time, again and again, makes those days easier/better – brilliant. Well done you!

But you don’t need to overhaul your entire life. Trust me. Cos if you go down that road, she will make it happen. And it might not entirely be under your control. Just ask people who know what Brigid’s Anvil is as well as her healing well…

Rest and recuperation and Christmas mayhem

This won’t be news for those of you on my mailing list (and if you’re not, you can sign up here) but I spent 2 days over my 3 day Christmas break in bed with a migraine. This, as you can imagine, put some spanners in my plans for reading and staring at the telly for hours on end – neither of these activities are really possible with a migraine. Neither is scrolling through Facebook, just fyi. Or putting up the Christmas tree. I mean, I had to wear sunglasses driving home on Friday evening from work. In Ireland. In December. I should’ve known something was up.

But you know something? I’m taking it as my body telling me I needed to just completely shut down and now engage my brain at all. Sometimes, paying attention to these little hints from the body is important. So remember that plan I had for the Christmas break? It got cut down even further.

For the first time in known memory, my darling husband put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve for me. He did a great job, although my photography skills don’t do it justice! Picture below shows our (fake) Christmas tree that I’ve had for at least 13 yrs, with tinsel, baubles, etc in colours of gold and red. And some reindeer lights, cos why wouldn’t you!! It also shows a set of shelves covered in junk behind the tree and a set of crutches leaning against the door, cos we’re just that kinda house.

A picture of my Christmas tree that made it up in spite of the odds! And I still managed to rest and put up some other decorations as well.

I managed the Christmas shop on Sat morning. The fridge resembled a game of tetris for a while but it’s emptying out slowly now. And yesterday I came back to work cos we’re on shutdown. In the mean time, I did manage to get the videos recorded for the 30 Days of Brigid. And all while wearing the same top as well, so some of the merriment from the August course won’t be there this time. We’ll make it up in other ways though. And I managed to complete the journal I’ve been planning for this for months as well. I haven’t quite figured out how to make it typable, but I’m working on that. For now, you can print it out and write all over it!

And yes, got all this done while recovering from a migraine and “resting”. I think I need to redefine what I mean by a rest! However. I am taking this weekend off because I will be going up home to the Mammy and Daddy for New Year’. I’m taking a four day weekend the following weekend where very, very little is planned at all. That might be my “lounging around, reading, staring at crap films on the telly and eating stuff” break from the world. I may take a drive over to Tramore to enjoy some sea time. I may break into my Christmas books – most of which I haven’t even ordered yet! We might finally watch the Hobbit films that have been on the Sky box for a couple of years now…

But what I’m doing right now, most of all, is listening to my body. Cos I can feel the aches and pains starting to build up. A lot of it is because of my current long commute and the time it eats into. It eats into my movement time, cos that’s my least favourite time of all… But that time is necessary if I’m going to keep said body in use for another 40-50 yrs. I was stiff this morning because I did a lot of walking in work yesterday. And I have another 2-3 days of this before shutdown is over. With the days getting longer, I may need to revisit some of my “run up to the end of the year” survival tactics.

Remember around Samhain, when I said that that was the time of year I put aside for dreaming the new? Well we’re moving into Imbolc energy now, in my world. It’s time to start planting seeds and setting things up to make those dreams happen. Some of it I’m doing, but other bits are falling behind. There’s a challenge for you so: what things do you need to start thinking about putting in place to be in a position to plant seeds by Imbolc? Cos that’s my challenge for the coming weeks…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Or is it? I know – there are a whole load of think pieces and “how to make Christmas stress free this year” type pieces coming out at this time of year. And honestly, I worry about some of the advice given. I mean, I’m not sure when I’ll do the food shop this week, never mind get a facial or a relaxing massage. So I’m going to share what my Christmas period will look like.

I’m working until 3:30 tomorrow (23rd December) I may or may not be putting up some Christmas lights or a tree after I finish work, but who knows how my energy will be. My husband isn’t in any condition to put up decorations, so we may just be lighting a few extra candles instead of decorating the house, and you know what? It’s not the first time we’ve done this. It’s ok. We survived. If decorations aren’t your thing – skip them.

On Christmas Eve, I’ll probably be doing the shop for the week. My aim would be to get to Lidl as soon as it opens and stock up for the week. There’s only two of us, we’ll probably have duck on Christmas Day, we still have crackers and napkins from a few years ago – be grand. For the rest of Christmas Eve, I’ll be recording the daily videos for the upcoming 30 Days of Brigid course, starting on 1st January. I have to pre-record the videos, because otherwise it’s too much stress on me. At least if I can set things up a week in advance, I can relax and adjust as needed and pay attention to what support people need during the course rather than worrying about uploading videos. Hopefully I can get the back broken on the 30+ videos in one day, so I can leave them to upload overnight.

On Christmas Day, I’ll be preparing the Facebook posts and emails etc for the course, linking them to the videos and making sure the words are alright and I haven’t accidentally written a curse instead of a prayer. I’ll also be spending a good portion of the day snuggling on the couch with my darling husband, although we haven’t decided what DVDs we’re going to watch this year. I may see if I can persuade him to a rewatch of True Blood…

On Stephen’s Day, I’ll be finished up the 30 Days of Brigid stuff and hopefully managing some more hours snuggling on the couch. Or sleeping. Or both. I can multitask, y’know!

On the 27th I’m back in work for the annual shutdown, 3 days of highly organised, safe mayhem on site, where my job is to spend the days walking down jobs and making sure permit conditions are adhered to. And to be available for people to bring me issues to solve, concerns to listen to, that sort of thing. I rarely have to come up with solutions you understand – people mostly want to just talk through the issue and get support for the decision they make. But it means for the 27th – 29th, I’ll be busy.

On the 30th, I’m hoping to work from home, and keep an eye on any start up issues after the shutdown. That evening, husband and I will be heading up to my parents to see in the New Year with them. Also hoping for some dedicated sleeping time here as well – Mam has already given me a piece of Christmas cake, some mince pies, Christmas pudding and her extra special, Bailey’s chocolate biscuit cake, but there’ll be more goodies for the New Year as well. Mam is an amazing cook and baker and she goes all out this time of year, so it will be a lovely time.

We’ll be back home on the 2nd January at the latest, back into work on the 3rd.

I mean, we don’t have kids, we don’t have too much visiting to do (for those wondering my husband’s parents are in the UK and we’ll hopefully get over to them in the New Year sometime – we ruled out travelling at Christmas years ago!) but it’s still hectic with little time for rest. So we’re cutting back on the non-essentials. We have a tradition between the two of us that on Christmas Day we have our starter for breakfast, main meal for dinner and dessert for tea/supper cos that suits us. And there won’t be a great deal of fancy prepping either – I like cream cheese with lemon juice and red onion wrapped in smoked salmon for starters, husband likes eggs of some description. Main meal is a roast duck with spuds, carrots, parsnips and gravy – basically, if it can be thrown in an oven to cook, I’m ok with that. Dessert will be some of that lovely biscuit cake or Christmas pudding with brandy butter or ice cream. If I’m feeling really energetic, we might get custard with it. St Stephen’s Day is leftovers day. Microwave day. Possibly even takeaway day if things get really bad.

We deliberately reduce our social engagements and our housework and all the rest of it at this time of year, because we know we’ll be exhausted. And this took a while to arrange for ourselves. But it’s still busy, because of the minimal days I have off work this year. So things like decorations may not happen. And you know something – that’s ok.

Everyone talks about the importance of the real meaning of Christmas, but when you take steps to allow yourself that rest, that reflection time and that has a knock on effect on the outward symbols of the season, people start to worry or give out or not like it in general. So here’s my advice to you this Christmas – be strong for yourself and your family. Hold the lines you need to hold to make it as good a Christmas for you as you can. Ask Brigid for help – she’s usually more on the seeping through boundaries side, but she’s good at holding the really important ones – think of the forge, and the hammer blows and the shaping of things to work for you. Here’s the energy we need this season.

Brigid, at this season, help me and my family, by blood or by choice or by circumstance, to create the holiday we need and want this year. Help us to establish and hold our boundaries against the creeping tide of expectation and other people’s wishes. Help us give ourselves the gift of a period we feel happy about rather than exhausted by.

The strange ways the work can take us

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos from someone called Love 518. It’s a wonderful channel, where a hairdresser takes people’s hair that has been matted, or untended for a long time and she carefully unmatts it (no I don’t know if that’s a proper word, but ye know what I mean right?), tends it carefully and sends them on their way feeling some pride in themselves again. She is also really careful with her people, offers some amazing masks to allow them to keep anonymous and gives them hairstyles they love and feel good about.

Why would I think a random hairdresser in Miami, Florida is doing the gods’ work? Well, she’s giving people back their respect. She’s giving people a new start. She doesn’t give a damn how or why the hair gets matted, she regularly says none of us know when we might have a bad run of luck or have mental health issues, her aim is trying to give people back their hair. She just accepts people as they are and where they are and move on.

And hair is something that’s really obvious when there’s something not right. Skin is easy enough to keep clean and looking semi presentable, but hair… well hair can go wrong very easily. All it takes is a bad week and the knots get amazingly difficult to get out. Add a few weeks, a month, a few months, and hair gets really messy and difficult and a big job to tackle, and sometimes -well sometimes that’s just too damn much to face into. And so, it gets worse and worse. Now my hair isn’t too curly, ( I think I’m about a 2B according to this evaluation) but it still knots easily, and knots are the first step to matting for me.

But I don’t need to go to the hairdresser regularly to keep control over my hair, I can throw it into plaits when I need to, it’s easy enough to deal with. Added to which, I like it long because at least I can throw it up in a pony tail as well. But I like my hair. There are times when my hair is the only thing I really love about my body. (Don’t worry – there are times I can love other things as well) My hair is my crowning glory and I love it. So, I can completely understand how the work that Love 518 is doing is Divine Work. As far as I can tell, the hairdresser is Christian, but the faith doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is the right thing, in my opinion.

People deserve their self respect and hair is a massive part of that. Recognising that, and then moving to do something to help people – it’s amazing. This hairdresser spend days, 12 hour days on people’s hair and the transformations she makes for people are amazing.

I could rhapsodise for a while here, but go check out her videos. To expand the point – I don’t know if this hairdresser realises what she is giving back to people, but I hope she does. For women in particular, hair has long been considered a “crowning glory” (see the Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:6 and 11:15) and cutting the hair or shaving the hair has been long been a punishment for immodesty or vanity or whatever. Hair can be used to make a statement, it can be a way to identify ourselves or hide ourselves, to stand out or to blend in.

Sometimes, doing the work doesn’t mean lots of praying or fasting or deprivation or whatever else we think of when we think of spirituality. Sometimes, doing the work means taking the skills we already have, taking the work we already do, and pushing it out to help those who need it. What I mean by “pushing it out” is by looking at those skills and talents and work and seeing how we can use them to make this world a better place. Maybe that means you affect one person’s life, maybe it means you affect thousands of people’s lives. It doesn’t matter. To leave the world a better place than we found it is a good thing in general.

For me – engineering is my job, teaching is my work. So I share the way I think about things here, on my email list, in the school, in the facebook group, on the facebook page – all in an attempt to do the work I have to do and to make this world a better place. Mind you, engineering is also my work, cos why have just one bit of work to do – I work for a very practical and efficient deity! Persuading more women into engineering and making sure the ones already in engineering get the supports they need to keep going are also part of the work I do. My work will never be as clear as the work that hairdresser is – the changes I help people make are more private for a start, and sometimes I won’t ever know what changes are actually made, but I have hope. And that keeps me going.

Today, it’s a cold, freezing day in Ireland and I’ve had a tough weekend. I’m going into work tomorrow to face a shitstorm that because of reasons I wasn’t able to sort out over the weekend. But I can and will deal with it and in doing so, I will make the path clearer and easier for the women coming after me. It is unlikely I will have someone weeping on my shoulder because I made a fundamental change to their appearance that helps them to make them recognise themselves again. I have had people be thankful for my teaching and support, which is lovely, but it’s also important to realise that I don’t do this for that feeling, as awesome as it is, and I need to be careful to not depend on that feeling either. That was lies a lot of pain and badness.

I went down a potentially dark path there, but it’s important to recognise that it would be really easy to come to depend on people telling me how great I am, and that’s just not healthy for anyone. Don’t get me wrong – if something I say helps you or affects you or you just want to reach out – please feel free to do so. But it’s down to me to manage the me side of that interaction. And the me side needs to recognise that my feet need to stay firmly on this earth and not be rising up pretending to be something I’m not. I know already my daily practice tomorrow will be a brief gesture towards the east as I get into my car in the morning, long long before the sun rises. I might include a prayer on my way to work and while I’m in work asking for help and for support throughout the day. There’s a chance I’ll remember to say thank you tomorrow evening when I get home safely.

So, I’m not some genius guru with all the answers. I can’t fix all spiritual problems as easily or patiently as Love 518 solves hair problems. But I can help people along the way. I can help with small things (like the 30 Days of Brigid class coming up in January). I can ask the questions to get you thinking. Actually, I usually ask the questions here that get me thinking. And then work them out in the words here. I can help disentangle a problem or a spiritual issue with words, the same as Love 518 does with her combs, her brushes, her hands, her products, her knowledge… but really, it’s down to each of us ourselves to maintain once the help has been had. Just as it’s down to me to make sure I’m not claiming to be something I’m not and I’m making sure I keep up to date on my knowledge for Brigid, for engineering, for my own practices… It’s down to all of us to look after ourselves, whatever that looks like for us. If someone comes to me for help – I’ll give it if I can. If someone keeps coming back asking the same questions, getting the same answers and not working on it – well Brigid lost patience at times so I figure she won’t mind me losing it as well 🙂

That’s not to say anyone needs to be nervous about asking questions. But when someone has put time, work, effort into helping – make sure to do the work you need to do to get the best out of that help. Now there are times when you ask for help (indeed, times when I’ve asked for help) and you’re not in a position to act on the help, or you recognise the value of the help, but you just can’t fit in the work to use the help – honestly, that’s grand. Say it! I had someone say to me a few month’s ago that they very much appreciated the offer of a scholarship but they knew they wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the course right then, so it would be unfair to take me up on the offer. I love hearing people be honest with themselves and me like that. I respect it, I appreciate, it shows self knowledge and awareness.

So where am I going with all this rambling? Watching the Love 518 videos really has me thinking about how I can further help people – and I have a few new ideas coming up. It also has me thinking of ways I can reach out for help for myself as well, in both practical and spiritual terms.

And if anyone can spare a prayer or a candle tomorrow to help me through a tough work day, with challenging weather conditions (for Ireland anyway!) , I’d appreciate it!!

Signs and symbols

This morning, as I left the house and drove down the hill, I saw the most gorgeous fox disappearing into the hedge ahead of me. Well, they were crossing the road in front of me, not that I was driving into the hedge. I’m not that bad, even at 6am…

It reminded me of Brigid, although she was on my mind anyway since I’d just done my “face towards the east and spend a second thinking of her before getting into the car” activity. And then I started thinking about signs. Now, of course, with her links to the clever fox in the hagiographies, foxes always have me thinking of herself, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually a sign of something at all times. This fox was just going about their business. And, I know we had a set of four cubs earlier in the year in the back yard. (It was pure gorgeous watching them play and sniff about and generally being cubs…) So, it’s highly unlikely that the fox was there as a sign to me.

But how then would I be able to interpret a sign or symbol from herself? It’s a fair question. And please remember, interpreting symbols and signs is a personal thing, but what I’m offering here are some ideas to determine if something is a sign or symbol or not.

Well here’s the thing. If an animal or a tree or a piece of the natural landscape is just living away, doing its thing, then it’s probably not a sign, unless it’s for you to live your life as well. If said animal or tree or rock is acting a bit strange – well it could be a sign, but it could also be that the animal is sick, the tree is reacting to something you can’t see or sense, the rock is having an existential crisis… The world doesn’t revolve around us, much as we’d want it to. So, my first thought after thinking “Was that a sign?” is usually pure skepticism. I look for ways for the sign to be natural or an ordinary event, rather than a sign just for me.

But maybe there’s more to it. Maybe you’re looking around and you’re thinking, “Orlagh, I’m in Antarctica, there are no foxes here and one’s just come wandering around the house”. OK, that might be a sign. Or a very confused and lost fox. I’d still be hanging on to skepticism for a while longer. And I’d be seeing if I needed to help said fox, cos if it’s in Antarctica, the only continent where foxes can’t be found, something’s gone wrong somewhere!

I’d look for back-up confirmation (probably after I figured out what on earth the fox was doing in the middle of the ice and the snow!) I’d use a pendulum, cards, prayer, meditation, ogham, whatever other divination tools I had at my disposal to help support the sign I received. And, as I have said before, the more drastic the action to take, the more confirmation I’d look for. I’ll be honest – I usually take the mere presence of my favourite chocolate in the supermarket as a sign I should buy some – which is handy, cos it’s always there! But when it came time to move home from England? I thought long and hard about that. Changing a job? I thought long and hard about it. Moving house? Again, I thought long and hard about it. Wearing a dress instead of trousers – ok, that one takes a little less though.

But you get the idea. If the sign you’re looking for is to completely overhaul your life, change your career, move to the other side of the world – I wouldn’t necessarily be doing it on the basis of one sign. I’d research, investigate what the possible outcomes were, determine how realistic this is and work from there. Now sometimes, we need to work on faith. I mean, when I set up this blog, the school, etc, I was working on faith that it would be a worthwhile endeavor. And it has been – I’ve improved my spiritual life, my physical life, my emotional life… it’s been a really great experience so far and I have hopes that I can use this blog and the school to replace my day job and be able to devote my life more fully to Brigid.

Which would be awesome – but in the meantime, I still need to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. So, working on it!

If you have a crow appear to you in my area – that’s not a sign, the damn things are living in half my chimney pots and sound like people tramping over my roof on a daily basis. If a bald eagle showed up – I’d look into a bit. They’re not known for their Irish journeys too often. If you’re meditation or journeying and something random appears to you – be cautious. Don’t take everything at face value. Check out who or what you’re dealing with. Check how honest and straightforward they are. Irish deities tend towards the straightforward by the way – subtle as a sledgehammer to the face most of the time, to be honest. So if you ask out straight, “Who are you?”, you don’t tend to get the “I am the wind and the air, I am the light at night, I am the whisper in the darkness”. You tend to get “I’m Brigid. Now here’s what I need you to be doing…”

Well that’s my experience anyway. But if you ask someone their name and they reply with “You may call me X” then you can almost be certain their name isn’t X. Or at least now their full name. If they start down the “You may call me Master” just get out of there. No good will come of it.

But you know the most important part of interpreting signs and symbols? Knowing yourself. Be aware of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your faults, your areas of awareness, your areas of lack of awareness. Have a think about ways you respond to flattery, to cajoling, to oppression. The better you know yourself, the easier it is to deal with signs and symbols. the better you know yourself, the less need you have of signs and symbols. The better you know yourself, the harder it is for other beings to pull the wool over your eyes.

So spend some time getting to know yourself. Reflection isn’t often promoted in modern life, but it’s a worthwhile exercise. Now, this month’s Patreon offering is a short exercise to help you get to know yourself a bit or maybe highlight areas you might want to pay attention to. You can sign up for as little as a fiver a month. Otherwise the 30 Days of Brigid in January might help explore your relationship with herself a bit more and build that deeper connection to herself, so maybe signs and symbols might not mean as much.

In the end though, how you interpret signs and symbols is really up to you. It’s a deeply personal process and while I can help you discuss things and think things out, really, the meaning of what you see, hear, touch, smell, taste, sense is up to you. Smelling roses – I think of St. Therese of Lisieux and Mary. Smelling lavender – I think of my Nana. The sound of a range being cleaned -I think of my other Nana. The smell of Sweet Afton cigarettes – that’s Grandad. All deeply personal. It would be very strange if smelling Sweet Afton cigarettes made you think of my grandad, unless you’re a cousin of mine, in which case, hi!

Do the work and the signs and symbols mostly take care of themselves. And beware of mysterious messages. Seriously – it’s probably someone up to no good!!

Morality

Or rather, the discussion of right and wrong. I had the misfortune to go down a rabbit hole of some very right wing Catholic blogs earlier today and it got me thinking of morality and the notion of an absolute value of “right and wrong”.

I know, deep thoughts of a Monday morning. I blame my weekend…

What shocked me was that these discussions (no, I won’t link them because I don’t want to drive traffic to their sites in any way!) seem to look at a very black and white view of morality. Almost, if not actually, fundamentalist in nature. Now, I know, we get fundamentalist Christians the same as any other flavour of religion, but the standing joke when I was growing up was the closest thing to a fundamentalist Catholic was the auld grannies saying their rosaries before, during and after Mass on a Sunday. We were wrong. Very, very wrong.

There are such things as fundamentalist Catholics and their views on the world are very strict, rigid and controlling. I found it shocking, really, some of the views expressed in these blogs. It’s worse than Ireland in the 50’s. And it brings me back to a line in a Mercedes Lackey book, about a religion changing when priests view their congregations as sheep and start offering answers to everything rather than allowing and assisting people to follow their own questions to the answers that make sense for them. I think this has happened in the Catholic Church definitely. If you look at the early church, there’s a lot of focus on self development, learning for yourself what makes sense and what doesn’t, defining good, bad, right wrong, etc, in the context of your own life.

That’s disappeared by the time we come to the Medieval Church. It’s all about rigid, dogmatic viewpoints, with exceptions for the rich. And I sense the same thought process in some of these blogs I ended up reading earlier. Take any topic in the world and there’s rarely a harsh, definitive, yes/no answer: is violence wrong? Well yes, but what if it’s in defence? What if it’s preventing a greater violence? The ways of life are not black and white, but varying shades of grey for the most part.

There are specific events we can decry and condemn – the Holocaust, mass shootings, incarceration of innocents… but these are specific events. Is there a time I could rationalise a mass shooting as the lesser of two evils? Not off the top of my head, but “never” is a long time to commit to.

Where does this leave us? Well, we can learn the lessons we can from our writings, from our lore, from our modern lives. We can look at what looks right to us, learn from other people’s perspectives, accept we’re not always going to get it right, whether “it” is a singular action or a broader based attitude. We all mess up. We all do things that we think is the right thing but later find out is not. This is human. Learn from it, make amends where possible and move on. Do better next time.

Rigid rules are too inflexible for humans. Declaring that X is right and Y is wrong – well sure, in that situation, but then the whataboutery starts. For example, I will stand behind a woman’s right (or a man’s right) to choose what happens to their bodies. Consent should be a core tenet of medicine as well as every other aspect of life. But if someone has been in a traffic accident and needs life saving surgery and is unconscious or in a coma – I don’t expect the medical staff to try and wake that person up to gain consent. If there are files available to check specific religious views and preferences, fine, but otherwise, go ahead and save the life.

It’s easier sometimes to depend on rigid rules and limitations of acceptable behaviour. It’s a way to dodge responsibility (“I was following orders”) But it’s not enough. Brigid is a liminal deity after all, she lives in the grey, the less definite, the amorphous areas of life, she won’t lay down the law for us in that way. So we have to figure this stuff out for ourselves. There are some things we can follow fairly easily: we can’t give money to every charity, but we can choose where we give money, spend money, etc. We can decide on the things that are important to us – for example, it will surprise no one reading this that I actively work towards getting more woman into engineering positions and jobs. It’s something I feel evangelical about and consider really important. Is it more important that homelessness or poverty or any of the other myriad of social issues plaguing Ireland today? Hell no. But it’s what I’m choosing to work on.

And in saying “yes” to that, I’m saying “no” to other things. I’m ok with this, now. There was a time when I thought I had to support everything but really, I can’t do that. It’s simple. We make choices. Sometimes the choices are the right ones, sometimes they’re not, but they’re ours to make.

So, when someone starts on about morality, have a think about what they mean, where they’re coming from and how they build their morality for themselves. See if their ideas agree with yours and if yours need changing or adaptation on the basis of new information and experiences. And remember, we live in the grey, always the grey.

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