Lá Fhéile Bríd

All-focus

There are of course different days and ways to celebrate Imbolc, even going by hard calendar dates, it ranges from 31st Jan – 2nd Feb, but out of habit for some pagans and definitely for followers of the saint, 1st February is St. Brigid’s Day or Lá Fhéile Bríd (pronounced Lá ‘le Bríd because the “h” makes the “F” silent). So let me tell you a story…

This morning, in the dark, a woman got up and out of bed. She made her way around the house, not needing a light, completing her ablutions, gathering her candles, the matches, lighting the matches – after a brief struggle to find the damn things, putting them out in the window.

She gather the brait, for she had two, from the door, they made it through the night, thank the gods, and folded them and put them away.

She went out, barefoot and wrapped in a robe, into the dark and wet, to greet the coming sun (although to be fair, she doesn’t stay out long, cos it’s bloody freezing and her feet hurt!).

Then she came back inside, stuck on the kettle and sat down at the computer.

Yeah, this is what I did this morning. Lighting a candle is so much a part of most celebrations, I tend to light them regardless of the holiday. I’ve haven’t come across a deity yet who takes offense at a lit candle. And of course, with herself and her links to fire, she really never says no to a candle! And it’s a signal to people passing by, because there’s few adults in Ireland who won’t be aware today is St. Brigid’s Day, whether they celebrate or not. The cross won’t be seen, but the candles will and maybe noted for the future.

And maybe they won’t. It’s not important either way, more that there is a light, shining in the darkness. She gave us the wherewithal to signal at night, by her whistle, she does, at times, light the way for us when we are lost, although to be fair most of the time she’ll give us the tools we need or tell us where to find them and let us get on with it.

Today, there is evidence that there are solar installations around the country that mark Imbolc, in a similar way to the chamber at Newgrange marking the winter solstice. The Tomb of the Nine Hostages at Tara is one example of this, although I’ve not seen it, and won’t this year either. But they’re not as well known as the solstice ones. And as well, there’d be few enough people venturing out on a cold February morning like this, with the country water logged after the 3 months of winter (winter in Ireland running from November to January, and today marking the first day of Spring. No, really.)

Last night, we were going to celebrate with a full roast chicken dinner, with mashed spuds and green, followed by apple tart, but it was so late when Al got back from shopping that we decided to skip the chicken (otherwise, dinner would’ve been 9pm and that was far too late!) so we have the mashed spuds, with plenty butter and the broccoli and green beans in a sauce from Joanne Faulkner’s latest book, Good Food, Better Sex. (We’ve not had the chance to try anything else from it yet, neither have we tried sex, but the sauce tasted damn good!)

Plans change, from year to year, from day to day, from cycle to cycle. There’s no harm in that, the same way there’s no harm in me jumping into a good hot shower now, after my foray outside in the cold and wet.

Lá ‘le Bríd, a chairde!

Brigid, Imbolc, Imbolg, etc

It’s that time of year again, when I’m picking up my brait Bhríde (the extra i in “brat” is cos it’s plural there, yup, I do multiples!), making sure the house is visitor-tidy and maybe even Mammy-tidy, seeing about walking the bounds and grounds and generally doing an energetical tidy up as well.

I’ll be celebrating Imbolc on Sunday this year, mainly cos Monday is a very busy work day. These things have to be adaptable as well. I’m seeing a lot of people asking about food to eat, rituals in a COVID world, offerings to leave, etc, etc. So here is a bit of what I’ll be doing, although there isn’t really a set piece I do.

I’m a solitary practitioner, although my husband does get dragged into things at times. I mean, he’ll definitely partake of whatever meal I cook on Sunday anyway 🙂 But for me, a group ritual is not something I’ve ever engaged in really. However, I know for many in the COVID world, this might be their first time celebrating Imbolc alone. And it’s a bit scary for some, concerning, different, that sort of thing. It’s fairly impossible to recreate a multi-person ritual with one person, especially one that was designed and written for public spectacle. But, you know what? This is an opportunity for you to make the most of your own ritual – or even not have one at all.

As an idea, here’s a format I sometimes use:

  • Plan what you want to do.
  • Do any cooking and baking beforehand – trust me on this one! Ditto with shopping for special items. Have everything handy when you start. Including any favourite prayers or songs.
  • Make a sacred space. this might be a clear space on the floor. It might ordinarily be called your kitchen table. It might be the couch. Really, what makes a space sacred, is that we make it so. Clean this area as best you can – physically as well as energetically, now mind. (If you can – herself can and will take into account physical limitations or realities)
  • Mark out, even if only mentally, what space you are counting sacred.
  • Lay out some candles or some lamps or some wool or thread or something to mark the boundaries of the sacred space.
  • Dress in the clothes you want to wear for the ritual – this can be as dressed up or dressed down as you like.
  • Take a minute to gather yourself, some deep breaths, quick meditation or prayer, bit of music, whatever takes your fancy.
  • Formally step into the ritual space with intention.
  • Start with lighting the candles or turn on the lights.
  • Say a prayer or sing a song.
  • Spend some time in meditation.
  • Share food with herself. Share a drink as well – doesn’t have to be alcoholic, milk is good, tea, coffee, minerals – give the best you can, she will appreciate it. Dairy is always associated with Brigid, cattle were so important in Ireland that beef is grand, lamb is a delicacy in Ireland, home baking is always appreciated, but shop bought is grand if that’s what you have. The important bit here is sharing with her the best you have.
  • After eating, or even before it, maybe throw on some music and have a bit of a dance. Have some time for joy and happiness in the ritual. It doesn’t have to all formal and serious and portentous. I’ve been known to throw on anything from Shakira to Metallica to Clannad to Enya.
  • Spend some time in silence as well. Allow time for her to talk to you, as well as the other way around.
  • Close out with another prayer or song or dance.
  • Formally leave the sacred space with intention.
  • Tidy up 🙂

Now, the above is a rough outline, it might or might not suit you. I’ve spoken above of also walking the bounds and grounds – this is an act of formally claiming our home and garden as ours and declaring our intention of it being our sanctuary. The important thing is the walking with intention (it takes ten mins going slowly!) but I also mix up a jug of water, salt and blood if I’m bleeding, as well as some incense or a candle and pour out the water as I go to physically encircle the bounds and grounds as well. That’s a me thing, not a general thing though.

There’s a whole lot on the web about food for Brigid. I’ve gone into a bit up above there and there are elements of Scottish and Welsh lore that I know of that call out specific plants that would be associated with Brigid. I don’t buy into the whole “sun goddess” thing, so yellow isn’t a big deal with me. Dairy, home baking, good meat and a special meal are generally the way I go. In saying that, I’m not the ultimate guide here. You are. What feels right to you, what you are capable of, what you want to do is important.

There’s whole essays and youtube videos on how to make Brigid’s crosses of varying designs so I won’t bother here, as well as brideógs and brait Bhríde and leaba Bhríde and all the rest. These are fun, as well as being ways to include younger members of the family in all the drama.

Fertility rituals abound in this time of year as well – Seán Ó Dúinn’s book on Brigid outlines a lot of them. From fisherfolk leaving shells in the corner of the house to farmers leaving sheaves of oats outside the door, to ask Brigid’s blessing on the prosperity of the family for the year, there’s plenty of scope to make this suitable for your own livelihood. A pen for writers, a bit of cloth for tailors, something to indicate your way(s) of making a living for her to bless.

Another option is to have a younger member of the family (or indeed, you yourself if you don’t have people around) to go outside on Brigid’s Eve (31st January for me) and be welcomed inside in the guise of the saint or deity, thus welcoming Brigid in for the year. Just be warned, when you welcome her in, her leaving isn’t always easy!

This is obviously a short enough post to cover what is an important day for me. Candles lighting, cakes baking, food prep… It’s a pretty domestic day for me really, which is in total contrast to my usual days. That works for me – you may need to look at something different. But maybe there’s some ideas you can take and use from here. Either way, celebrate the day somehow and enjoy it. It is a celebration remember!

Praying

I find praying difficult. I’m grand with the whole having a casual chat with herself, communicating through meditation and journeying, that sort of thing, but prayer itself? Actually sitting down and composing a prayer and uttering it aloud? Not my thing.

But a few weeks ago, someone asked for prayer in exchange for something else. And I was told I couldn’t refuse. Well now, of course I could have refused, we all have free will, but it was a strong intimation I shouldn’t on this occasion decline. So I didn’t. And I’m two into a 3 session commitment, where I’m leading about 45mins of prayer.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. I find myself almost trying to put it off, but I’ve committed to a time of the week to do it. And now, with 2 out of 3 sessions done, I’m finding myself really looking forward to going back to not formally praying again on a schedule. But then I started thinking – as one does.

Prayer is a part of the relationship with deity. And I speak quite casually of chats with Brigid and some others, but that isn’t to say the relationship is casual. It’s like any other relationship – it needs work. A lot of the time, that work is actual work for me – engineering, healing, writing. But sometimes, the work is prayer and meditation, personal work, finding the limits of who and what I am.

And while prayer isn’t a major part of my devotional activities, it’s still there, when I look. I joke about lighting a candle – but that’s a prayer. Even my “casual chats” are sometimes a prayer more than a chat. Every time I asked for help, for clarity, for assistance – that’s a prayer. So it’s not praying as such I have a problem with, it’s formal, designated time for prayer. Prayer where I actively open myself up, prepare, mentally and physically, take my time formulating and composing. That’s the kind of prayer I struggle with.

And there’s nothing wrong with this. Either the struggling or the formal prayer. Prayer is an important part of spirituality really. I’ve said it before – prayer is when we speak to the gods, meditation is when we listen. And I’ve been reminded this last week, that while being self sufficient is a bonus and a positive thing most of the time, there are times when we all need help and this is where prayer comes in.

Prayer can be a means of deepening our relationship to deity. Prayer can be a means to ask for help or understanding. Prayer can be a means to keep one channel of communication open when it seems all else is falling apart. Prayer can be many things.

I still believe the gods help those who help themselves as well – as in, we actively need to work towards our aims as well as asking them for help – but there is a role for them to play when we reach out and ask them for help. They rarely step in unasked. And as well, sometimes they do something so big that a formal thank you is important as well. Taking the time to compose thoughts and images so that it forms something cohesive is time spent honouring them. And so, it’s more about the balance for me then. Would you spend weeks preparing to thank someone for a small favour? Or cobble together a 2 word thanks for something that gave you life changing benefit? Sometimes we don’t always realise the scale of the help at the time of thanking, but with deity in particular, there’s always time later on to come back and make the big thank you.

I’m not saying I’ll be continuing the prayer sessions once I have the 3 completed, but I will say I’ll be looking at ways of making more space for formal prayer in my life I think. Although it might be a more private activity…

Brigid and grief

But after the spear had been given to him, Rúadán turned and wounded Goibniu. He pulled out the spear and hurled it at Rúadán so that it went through him; and he died in his father’s presence in the Fomorian assembly. Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)

The above is an excerpt from Caith Maige Tuired, gthe Second Battle of Moytura. And I’ve written about this excerpt before. I’ve even written a devotional on the lines. But it’s hitting me hard this week. I lost my godfather last week and because of COVID couldn’t attend the funeral. All the usual rituals of grief are lost to me. I watched his funeral on YouTube, which, while better than nothing is still not the same as the usual rites.

There was no final visit to him. There was no rosaries over the coffin. There were few stories exchanged, and those only with my parents, rather than the wider group of his family and friends. (These things happened, of course, with his wife and children and grandchildren, those family and friends who lived close enough to be able to visit and mourn together, but not for those of us further away).

Usually at a time of grief, those who can’t attend are few in number and so attention can be spared to help them, talk them through all the bits and bobs that happen in an Irish funeral. The jokes about how he’d be very happy with the way he looked in the coffin and how, yes, he still has the earrings in. The accidental references to him as if he were still alive. The plans for who stays with the body so he’s not left alone. The small ways we reach out to include people in a time of grief.

But with so many not able to attend, all that becomes impossible. And here we are, a year on, with a vaccine in sight, but still with months at best left before any sort of normal life can continue. And we grieve in private, as we always did, but also alone, which we did not always do.

Brigid knows grief. Her loss of a son is keener than my loss this week. She knows. Her Da knows as well. As does the Virgin Mary. All three have been around me this week to help, to support, to be here with me. I’ve sheltered under both the blue cloak and the green for peace and sanctuary, for heart’s ease. I’m almost certain the Dagda carried me to bed one night cos I know I didn’t get there by myself. They’ve reminded me to eat, to wash, to drink water, to move, to allow myself tears. To accept that ok, my eyes are not going to work properly for a while after that much crying.

And now, they are all reminding me that life does indeed go on. This doesn’t mean an end to grief, of course, but an end to the first, immediate, gut wrenching pain of separation. For me, right now, it’s an end to that stage of grief. It’s time to re-don the mantle of semi normal every day living. It’s time to light the candles and say the prayers. It’s time to drink water to ease the headache, get dressed and face the world. It’s time to get going again basically.

They’re right of course. I am sure his immediate family will be in that first stage for a while longer, they have the immediate reminders of him not being there all around them, on a minute by minute, hour by hour basis, in ways I don’t. It doesn’t make my grief less, or theirs more worthy, but it is different and will be dealt with in different ways.

So, today, I’m back on my usual schedule. I’m writing a blog post. I’m taking care of myself. I’m preparing for the week in work. I’m sorting out clothes and food and schedules. I will, no doubt, cry again because he’s moved on to the next life. But I will also start living again, rather than remain in a sort of limbo as I have been doing for almost a week now.

Brigid (and the Dagda and Mary and others) will be here with me for support and help, and the odd clip up the back of the head, as I need it. And I have tools and ability to mark this loss for myself, to make it less bad for me. They’ve helped with that too. And I have a community of friends who will and have been helping as well.

There are many things this pandemic has changed forever and possibly for the better – my attitude to working from home for a start – but I don’t think our grieving rituals are included there. Our grieving rituals are so intrinsic to the rhythm of life, to how we say goodbye to people, I can’t imagine them changing overnight like this. As soon as we can, we’ll be back to the rounds of handshakes and “sorry for your troubles”, the crowds of people lining up outside the funeral home or the home place, the endless cups of tea and the sandwiches and the cakes and the buns, the stories after a few drinks and the reminders at about 11pm or midnight that “we have something important to do in the morning”. We’ll be back to the communal support, the escorting of the coffin, the silence and the black. Because it’s written into our ancestral memories now, that this is what grief looks like and this is how we cope with grief. We have all this to do in that horrible, horrible first 3 day period so we can get through it all. We just keep going and if we keep going that long, we can still keep going past it.

Brigid’s relationships with other deities

Hello everyone! For me, I’m back at work tomorrow after 4 full days off, so as far as I’m concerned, normal service is resuming. As part of this, I checked back with the list of topics on Brigid that people wanted me to visit and came up with this one. Ok it’s a kind of cheat, since I’ve written in far more detail than this about Brigid’s relationships with other deities in the book on her I’m writing, but still. Here’s a taste. Now for this, I’m limiting myself to the deity rather than the saint or the other appearances of Brigid in the lore. Here we go…

First off, Brigid’s Da is fairly well recognised as the Dagda. No one else is claiming that role (and I can almost hear the mutter from him of “who’d want to” – he’s being very Irish Dad and proud here, not putting her down!)

Her Ma on the other hand… well it’s just never clearly stated. It’s limited to anyone woman in Ireland the Dagda is known to have had relations with. Which, really, limits it to any woman in Ireland in some ways… There are a few front runners though. First off is the Morrigan, since that’s who the Dagda is most clearly linked with. However, the Morrigan, in my experience, is not backwards about claiming her own, and nowhere in the lore is it stated she’s Brigid’s Ma. Boann is another option.

Now I have a bit of an attraction towards Bóann myself. I have been told that this is probably cos I grew up in close proximity to the Boyne, and it’s certainly no more substantiated than the links to the Morrigan. It’s possibly also because I see Bóann as a bit more motherly than the Morrigan. (yeah, I can feel the “Hey, I can be motherly” glare as well here) but it’s entirely UPG, with very little other than Boann having other kids with the Dagda as well.

Danú is a bit more complicated. I believe the thought that Danú is the mother of Brigid stems from the notion that Danú is the “mother-goddess” of the Tuatha Dé Danann – with Danann being assumed to be a grammatical form of Danú. Just to keep things interesting, there is a recension of Leabhar Gabhala Eireann conflating Brigid with Danú as the mother of the TDD… Anyone ever trying to make out a proper family tree of the Irish deities has their work cut out for them!

They’re the three front runners for her Ma anyway. Her siblings are bit more straightforward. There is a suggestion of the daughter of Indech, the Formorian king as Brigid’s mother, but I don’t rate this one even as much as the others above, since the timelines are all off. Of course, the Dagda was able to stop the sun in its course to allow Boann to conceive and bear Aonghus in one day so maybe time isn’t an issue here…

Back to the siblings so… First off, we have Oengus or Aonghus, or Mac Óg, the son of Bóann that the Dagda stopped the passage of the sun so that Bóann could get through the nine months of pregnancy without her husband Elcmar noticing anything wrong. (He’s not the Good God because of any moral leanings, mainly because the notion of Christian morality, good and evil etc didn’t really exist during his time).

Cermait is the son that plays a major role in the story of how the Dagda got his famous club. Apparently, Cermait slept with Lugh’s wife Briach and Lugh killed him for it. The Dagda, understandably, wasn’t too happy about this so took himself off on a round the world tour to engage in all sorts of adventures and ended up with the life and death club.

A third son of the Dagda, was Aed or Aodh in modern Irish (Anglicised as Hugh). Not as detailed a story about this son, although he does appear and sleeps with the wife of Corrgrend of Cruarch, who then kills him (anyone seeing a theme here?) This time the Dagda doesn’t manage to revive his son, but there’s a curse involved and it’s still a riveting tale.

Bodhb Dearg is named as a son of the Dagda, although it’s possible this was a later device to try and put some order on the pantheon (I don’t know why they bothered, any such ordering appears to have made things more complicated!) However, in Aonghus’ story about finding the beautiful woman of his dreams, the Dagda consults with the King of the Sí in Munster, also a son of his, Bodhb Dearg, who manages to find the woman in question, to ease Aonghus’ way. Here we enter into a bit of a conundrum since an later spelling of “Bodhbh” is “Badhbh” who is generally considered to be one of the Morrigna or an aspect of the Morrigan. So, was Bodhbh Dearg a daughter of the Dagda he slept with (as aspect of the Morrigan) or a son who ended up being King of the Sí in Munster?

There is a brief mention in the Banshechas of another sister, Echtgi, who is described as the “loathsome daughter of the Dagda” and her story described as a spiteful one. Not much detail other than this…

On to children so… And yeah, there’s about as much linearity here as well.

Ruadhán was Brig and Bres’ son in Caith Maighe Tuired 2. That bit is well outlined, given it’s pretty much all of the 3 lines poor Brig gets in the story by name. Fairly solid ground here.

Then we move on to… sons of Tuireann. I know – where did they come from? Well… There is a suggestion in some places (ok more than a suggestion) that Brigid is the mother of Brian, Iucharba, Iuchair, the sons of Tuireann, that Lugh sends off to to collect these items as a fine for murder: three apples, and the skin of a pig, and a spear,and two horses, and a chariot, and seven pigs, and a dog’s whelp, and a cooking-spit, and three shouts on a hill. (It’s all more complicated than that of course, but I’ll leave ye to read the story for yourselves for now, or wait for the book to come out if ye want – don’t be holding yere breath though!) of course the other suggestion is that Danand is the mother of the three sons in question – as ever, things are clear and straightforward in the family tree.

Isn’t that all fun? And we haven’t even gotten into the suggestions of incest and other skullduggery either.

Happy New Year

I hope all are waking this morning looking to face the new year and here’s hoping, praying and begging that 2021 is better than 2020.

1st Janury is always for me a reminder that Imbolc is fast approaching. I mean, the Christmas season isn’t finished as far as I’m concerned until 6th January (Nollag na mBan in Ireland) so the decorations will be staying up until then at least, but now I’m looking towards the 1st February and plans for how to acknowledge the occasion will be forming.

A good clean of the house is nearly always part of the equation. After the scrub it gets for Christmas, this isn’t as bad as it might be, but it’s always worth while. An acknowledgement of the lengthening days as well is always good – it’s from about now ish that the days get longer again after the daily shortening up to the solstice period. A re-walking and claiming of the bounds and grounds is also part of my Imbolc habit.

None of that gets done today though. Today is usually a very quiet day – although this year, most of the Christmas season is quiet. We’ll potter about, doing the least we can get away with, rest and face the New Year with the best face we can.

This year in particular, I got a nudge to finish things up before the end of the year. Whether it was squeezing in a few more books I’ve read or dealing with a situation between an old friend as best I can, I ticked a few things off the mental load in the last few days to face the new year feeling a bit less burdened. And while on other years, other times, I might have done a ritual last night to burn away what I didn’t want to take into 2021, this year, I’m planning a ritual tonight with my husband to declare what we want to bring into 2021. Making it a positive rather than a negative action.

What we’ll be doing is simple, but it helps focus the mind. We’ll talk and discuss plans for the year between us and then each will take a few bits of paper and write down what we want to do this year, whether is save money, or write a book or visit a particular place, we’ll write it down and then we’ll bury it somewhere, with the intent that these plans grow.

Now just writing things down on its own won’t manifest them magically of course. We actually have to take action as well by ourselves. But writing them down, with ceremony and intention, will lead those plans to be firmed in our minds. Having discussion on what we want as a couple will help ensure we’re not planning in isolation, but are working together, even if on different things. And having done this once, we can continue having these discussions throughout the year to make sure we’re both still happy and on track.

It’s almost like how the best performance reviews work in industry, but so rarely do.

As well, we will eat well today. We will hydrate. We will move about. We will watch some truly shite telly. It’s not all about the doing and the manifesting. Sometimes it’s about the being as well.

However you’re marking the changing of the calendar, I hope you’re safe, warm, fed, hydrated. I hope 2021 is better than 2020. I hope we hit 2022 with a lot more hope and joy and peace. (Yup I said 2022, I don’t think 2020 will be washed away entirely by 2021, but we can work on it!)

How are you planning on marking the turn?

For the day that’s in it

Seeing as how it’s Christmas Eve and I just yelled to my husband we have no candles lighting in the front window, it reminded me that maybe people would like to hear some of the traditions prevalent in Ireland around this time. Now some of these, like the aforementioned candles, are old traditions, but others are fairly new. See if you can figure out which 🙂

As I said, lighting the Christmas candle is a big deal. Where we live, the window sills are wide enough and there’s no curtains, so we put indoor lanterns in the window at the front. We also have a battery operated candelabra as well. In my parents house, it’s the battery operated only because it’s a bedroom at the front of the house, but there was always a Christmas candle lit and put on the mantlepiece as well. Now the tradition holds that the light in the window is to show the holy family there’s a place to lay their heads, but in other times, the candles in the window could serve as a guide for those out late, or even not so late, or even show those without a roof that there might be a roof for them here at least. In modern times, we don’t really expect to see a stranger coming to door on Christmas Eve, but this night of all nights, you’d be hard pushed to turn someone away. Just in case like.

I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say it’s a more modern tradition to have the car washed for Christmas. Now, there’s a part of me thinking this is to show off to the neighbours at Mass, but there’s queues at car washes all over the country on Christmas Eve in normal times, to make sure the car is looking it’s best as well as the house.

A tradition I miss now that I don’t bother cooking a ham, is the cut of ham in the hand after Midnight Mass at 9pm. Traditional Christmas dinner in Ireland, since I was a child anyway, is turkey and ham, but the ham would be boiling away on Christmas Eve, taking a good few hours to get properly done, before getting rubbed with honey, or sugar, or cloves or some other nice things and chucked in the oven to finish off. Now the smell of the ham would be driving you crazy and it tastes oh so good coming out of the oven. Added to the fact that by the time Midnight Mass at 9pm is over, you’re generally starving, a cut of ham in the hand is welcome indeed. I have very fond memories of standing around the kitchen table, with Dad cutting off hunks of ham, trying to remember to leave enough for tomorrow’s dinner (to be clear, we always had enough, almost like it was planned that way!) and feeding us hand to hand, family member to family member. I don’t do the ham or indeed the turkey any more since it’s just the two of us in the house and there’s a limit to how much meat one can get through, but every Christmas Eve, I can smell the ghosts of hams past.

Speaking of which, Midnight Mass in Ireland happens at 9pm. Honestly, there’s very, very few actual Midnight Masses said for the public across the country. It’s almost like the whole country decided that the Midnight Mass was nicer than the Vigil Mass (for those who aren’t aware, the readings are a bit different, seeing as how we have to wait til after midnight, technically, to welcome the Christ Child to earth again) but midnight was far to late to be staying up, or worse, keeping the kids up, on Christmas Eve. Equally, with the pubs closing shortly before midnight (usually, this year is different), services could be disturbed by those who had partaken of the Christmas cheer… So, if someone in Ireland says “Midnight Mass” for Christmas, you can be 99% certain, they’re talking about a 9pm mass.

Now Christmas Eve is a grand auld time for people to congregate in the pub and catch up with friends and neighbours they haven’t seen in a while. You’ll also see an inrush to all airports and ports of emigrants coming home for the holidays. (again, this year is different!) so the news reports from Dublin airport on Christmas Eve are another tradition. I was part of that crowd for over a decade and even if I was flying in late Christmas Eve night and flying out again early Stephen’s Day, you better believe I was coming home for the Day. When I was younger though, it was Stephen’s night was the big night out. You’d just spent a good 24 hrs in the company of your family, it was time to escape to your friends. So, while Christmas Eve was a casual laid back affair, Stephen’s night was time to get the glad rags out!

For Christmas Eve as well, many people, people now, not just the children, get new jammies. Fierce important part of the festivities to be waking up on Christmas morning in brand new jammies, all crisp and fresh. Usually good warm comfy ones as well – it’s bloody cauld out there in December (those who regularly measure snow in feet or metres may laugh at this point!) And the excitement of seeing which jammies you get is immense. Of course, it’s less immense when you’ve bought the bloody things for yourself, but I still get a kick out of the new jammies for tonight.

Christmas is also a time when people visit graves in Ireland. The recently deceased will had fresh flowers or plants, the less recently deceased will have something done to recognise the occasion. It’s an important day and sure there’s no reason to leave our dead out of it.

There is also the tradition of going shopping and buying enough food to survive an apocalypse. Just in case, with the shops shut for 24 or 48hrs, you might run out of something vital. Plus, boxes of chocolates. Wars have been fought (ok, slight exaggeration here) over whether Roses is better than Quality Street, while in recent years, Heros and Celebrations have gained real market share. Either way, it’s few houses won’t have at least one box of chocolates being passed around to tide you over from breakfast to dinner or dinner to the late night turkey sandwiches. Oh yes – the auld turkey and stuffing sandwiches. Y’see, after a hard days work, unwrapping presents, getting the dinner, eating the dinner, cleaning up the bare minimum after the dinner, lying around, watching telling, nibbling chocolates and cakes and pudding, round about 10-11pm, someone always suggests turkey and stuffing sandwiches. And frankly, it’s sometimes the best meal of the day!

Now, there are people who decide to go for a dip or a run on Christmas morning – usually for charity. My own brother is doing it this year, on the Irish Sea. He did the Atlantic last year. We’re looking forward to the comparison of temperatures for him. It’s certainly a bracing way to start the day, but not one I’d be too fond of! Lots of people do it, and there’s a real community spirit about it all. It will be interesting to see how it’s managed this year with social distancing etc.

Added on to all this, there is of course present giving, the visiting of family and friends, the sales, the massive over consumption, the joy the kids take in presents, the joy the adults take in presents, the quiet times over a fire, with old friends putting the world to rights. there’s the pulling out of the game boards and remembering why no one ever lets Dad be banker any more (that might be just my family!) or pulling out the decks of cards and teaching the younger members of the family the traditional family games. There’s kids falling asleep, adults falling asleep at any and all times of the day and night. There’s joy and laughter, the sadness and tears, rows started, feuds ended. It’s a great big mess in other words. And while this year, with COVID, it’s different (my usual visit to my parents was condensed into a 2hr visit this morning to get there before lockdown), each family will have it’s own traditions they will hold to.

If you celebrate Christmas, Nollag shona duit! If you don’t celebrate Christmas, Saoire shona duit! Now, whatever about you, I’m worried about Santaí arriving while I’m still awake, so I’m off to get into my new jammies, light the candles, pour a glass of wine, settle down in front of the fire and enjoy some time with my husband.

I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, I know not every country has the time off that Ireland usually enjoys at this time of year. But whatever your faith, creed or beliefs, I hope you get some time to spend relaxing and enjoying life during these dark days. And remember- every day now, we’re getting another minute or two of sunshine (even if it’s hidden by rain).

Christianity

It’s possibly the week I’ve had, but I’ve seen a lot around the place declaring Christianity to be fake, weak, not healthy, not for strong people, abusive, patriarchal and a whole lot of other things as well. And, there are Christian religions that are fake, weak, unhealthy, not for strong people, abusive and patriarchal in nature. It’s not something inherent in Christian spirituality itself though. That’s as a result of the structures and systems and people in power of each Christian church and religion.

I’m getting a strong sense of moral superiority for people who are no longer part of a Christian church or have never been involved in one. And it’s… well bluntly, it’s not nice.

I posted in one group that Christianity was once the religion (or actually, a cult really at the time) for the oppressed. For the poor. For those without power or money or free will. The first people who were enticed to Christianity, who were actively recruited in Rome in particular? Women and slaves. And women were very definitely not equals in Roman society.

Christianity, Jesus, preached a message of love. Of unconditional love. This was radical at the time. In the modern world, we almost take the notion of unconditional love as a given, but really it’s not. It’s a huge and powerful gift. And it doesn’t make one weak to need that gift. Just knowing that there is a being out there, anyone at all, that loves you unconditionally, is a huge part of keeping hope alive.

Now, that’s not to say that modern Christianity doesn’t have faults. The patriarchal structures, the abuse, the oppression, the elimination, the rigid thinking… all of these things are problematic and need to be addressed. But they are not connected to the original message of Jesus.

I regularly say I’m a Pagan Catholic as far as religion goes. This is because I was baptised Catholic, but also reach back to my pagan forebears and their practices (as best I can, there is frustratingly little there in the lore about the day to day practices!) One of the reasons I started down this path was because of the abuses within the Catholic church that came to light in Ireland in the 90’s. And if I’m honest, we thought it was just us. It was only in Ireland that women were locked up on flimsy excuses, that babies were torn from mothers, that fathers sometimes didn’t even know they were fathers, that children had the supposed sins of the parents heaped on them. But we weren’t. In recent decades, such abuses have come to light in most, if not all, Christian countries, and definitely the Catholic ones. The restriction of women’s rights over their bodies by the Catholic Church is something that causes immense pain and anguish every year, although thankfully modern governments are shaking off the control of the Church and at least passing legislation to allow for such rights to be enacted in law (I mean, in case it’s not obvious, the Catholic Church’s stance against abortion is what I’m talking about here and the widespread effects this has on women’s health in countries where that stance is held as law).

Early penitentials from the 5th Century on in Ireland show a lesser penance being enacted for an abortion that for carrying a child to term, or for anal or oral sex. Seriously. Although, to be fair, said penitentials appear to take all aspects of human life and apply a penance to it. It is my belief that these penitentials may not have been applied to the whole population, but possibly to religious communities alone (please note the word belief there though, not fact!) The current Catholic Church stance on abortion stems from 1869. Yeah, you read that right – 1869. Just about 150yrs ago…

In Ireland, the Catholic Church did a lot of good along with the bad. Our education systems, our health care system would not exist if it wasn’t for the religious orders. There have been some deeply devoted men and women in my own life who have lived a spiritual Christian life, even within Catholicism, and are examples to me of how best to live life – giving to others of their time, energy and knowledge. Not judging people. Not accusing people.

I’m lucky to have had those examples, and perhaps it colours for me the role of the Catholic Church in my life. I think the institution and structures should be razed to the ground and the great wealth that the Church hold distributed to the poor. I think the princes of the Church – for indeed, they are called princes – should be held accountable for the abuses that have occurred under their watch. I think they all , every single one, should spend some time engaged in the type of life they condemn many of their followers to. the whole thing about it being easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven is something they have preached for centuries, to keep control of the masses, while side-stepping the issue with their vows of poverty, and claiming not to own any of what they use on a daily basis.

My rage at the Catholic Church could go on for a while.

But Christianity, as a religion, is a shorthand for the followers of Christ. Not the followers of St. Paul or St. Augustine, or the latest Pope. For the followers of Jesus Christ. Read his messages. He spoke of that love, that great divine love, that encompasses us all. He didn’t speak of those who were more deserving or less deserving. He didn’t speak of paying to enter Heaven. He actively overturned those who were using his Father’s home, the temple, as a marketplace. He consistently and continually recognised those who were oppressed, even tax collectors, who were despised then, as probably now. He was a left wing, radical socialist, who argued and demonstrated his commitment to gender equality, to supporting children, to treating people with decency and respect.

When we, as modern pagans, look at Christianity, we need to look at it’s origins, it’s belief structures and the differences between the message of the founder – Jesus – and the limitations and rules and oppression that those who followed after him implemented. Think back to how the gods were viewed in antiquity – they were to be obeyed, and frankly, it was only those who were rich or powerful might have been allowed the gentler service or higher service. A slave serving in a temple had about as much control over their lives as a slave serving in the fields or in someone’s house. An abused woman won’t really care if she is working in a temple or a marriage. Being continually and consistently told, by deed and word, that you were worthless and helpless and you are forever condemned to this state, with no hope of escape.

The prospect of a happy-ever-after, an after life that might be better than our current one, is not something the oppressed could depend on. How can you impress the gods when all you do is shovel shit all day? The unconditional love of a divine being a massive help to the oppressed, to those who humans say are worthless. There is a power in knowing someone loves you, no matter what.

The early messages also say we need to strive to be worthy of that love, now. We, no matter how oppressed or judged worthless by other people, have a responsibility as a result of that love. We have a responsibility to be the best we can be. There are days when that means dragging ourselves out of bed. There are days when that means taking the time to speak to someone who looks lonely. There are days when it might just mean acknowledging another person exists. The early Church was built around community, supporting each other, helping each other, teaching and learning from each other. Exploring Jesus’ message and showing that love to each other.

People underestimate constantly the power of love. It’s nothing to brush off lightly. And yes, the modern Christian Churches we see are hotbeds of abuse of power, abuse of people, patriarchy, etc. But that’s the fault of the people who set up these structures, the politicians in priests robes, the controllers and the oppressors. Those who converted populations at the point of a sword. This was fundamentally wrong. But the love that Jesus preached is still available to us.

Christian Churches have a lot of faults and it would be difficult to reform most of them I think. Any time a priest turns from leading their people by questioning to leading their people by providing both permittable questions and answers, there is power imbalance problem there. There is the point when the congregation turns from community to flock.

But that’s no reason to look down at those who practice spiritual Christianity. They are not weak – that is the fault our forebears had of Christians as well. They thought those who spoke of love were weak, when love can drive you to do things fear never will. I believe that Brigid loves me, as I love her. I believe Jesus loves me as I try to love him. I believe there is power in that love. It’s not passive, gentle or weak. It’s fiery, bright and strong. But it is still love.

So I would ask that as the popular people about you look down on those following a Christian spiritual path, look at the path those people are following. Look at the difficulties and obstacles they deal with. See what, if any, difference there is to your own. Don’t assume the meek have no power available to them. Don’t assume someone who shows a different form of respect to their deity is weaker than you are. Don’t assume you’re better. Don’t be like the people who decided that Christianity was too weak and needed to be made stronger.

Be true to yourself, your path and allow others to be true to theirs.

Native vs Non-Native Brigid

I had planned a post on the animals related to Brigid, but after a discussion on Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I’m going to leave that alone for a bit. The discussion did bring forward to me the need to discuss native Irish vs non-native Irish Brigid.

I don’t believe I have kept quiet that it is Irish Brigid I work for/with. I am aware there are other Brigids out there, but it is the Irish Brigid I deal with. So what I write here today is coming from that perspective. It doesn’t necessarily mean your practice is wrong if you feel a connection with one of the other Brigids. Hell, it might not even mean your practice is wrong if you connect with Irish Brigid – UPG is a valid concept, as long as it is highlighted as such and not passed off as general lore. (I do try to highlight all the areas where my beliefs and practices are UPG or at least how I link it back to the lore, but everyone slips up on this sometimes. If you do, deal and move on. It’s what I try to do!)

With that in mind, here we go.

The Brigid I work with is the daughter of the Dagda and her mother is not named. I mean the list of her possible mothers is anyone the Dagda is ever linked to in either a sexual or co-parental relationship. I have my favourite options, same as anyone else, but this is definitely an area that is personal gnosis. It’s highly unlikely to be unique, it may be unverified, but it will be personal. Do your reading, see who you favour. And remember, who you favour may change over time as you learn and work more.

Irish Brigid is a triple deity (see Cormac’s glossary) but she is NOT a maiden, mother, crone archetype. I feel very strongly about this. I think in Wicca practices, she is considered under the maiden, mother, crone shape, but there isn’t an equivalent in Irish lore. In Irish lore, the triple deity for Brigid is under the goddess of poets, the goddess of smiths and the goddess of healing. There’s a lot to explore there, in terms of what poets, smiths and healing meant in the Iron Age in Ireland and even unto the present day. In fact, in the book I’m writing, I extrapolate from these three to most professions, activities, work in the modern world. There’s very few areas Brigid isn’t interested in when it comes to community.

There is a strong link for me between the Irish deity and the Irish saint. St. Brigid is one of the three patron saints in Ireland. St. Patrick is the most famous, mainly because of our exportation of the celebrations, although it should be noted that as recently as my parents’ generation the drinking culture just wasn’t there that is today. Also – dying stuff green is grand, but if you want to explore Irish roots go beyond both dying stuff green and St. Patrick. St. Colmcille is the third patron saint – an exile from the land himself.

But St. Brigid is our homegrown saint who stayed. She’s ours, through and through. And through the saint, we have a lot of links to dairy, cattle, food, drink – in one of my classes I reference the poem about the lake of beer in heaven. While Jesus transformed water into wine, Brigid turns water into beer. Support your local products people!

There is still, I believe, a huge devotion to St. Bride in Scotland, with different lore there to support the actions there taken. For example, in Ireland, while the saint’s day is 1st Feb, one potential date for Imbolc, there is no tradition of Brigid ruling over summer, as there is in Scotland. There is a tradition in Wales of an Irish nun called Ffraid, feeding the poor, as well as turning various things to food. There is also the tale in Welsh lore of Brigid plucking her eye from her head to get out of marrying a suitor her father picked out.

There is a possibility that Brigantia in England is a fore-runner of Brigid in Ireland, brought by the settlements of Brigantes in Leinster. I know nothing about the lore of Brigantia though, although I understand the Romans, those loveable scamps, syncretised her with Minerva and Victoria. There is also a link to healing wells as well.

There’s nothing wrong with working with Brigid from different lands. There’s a St. Brigitte in Sweden, who is one of six patron saints of Europe (who knew??), a Maman Brigitte in vodou (please someone who know better correct me here!) who is associated with death, and doubtless many more I don’t know about. I’ve previously said there’s probably as many Brigids as there are people who work with her, and that’s grand.

But if you’re putting out information on Brigid, be clear about which one you’re talking about. Because each of these aspects or beings has a clear and distinct traditional practice behind them. Each of these aspects or beings has things they do, things they look for, things they work best with…

When it comes to Irish Brigid, well, I find it simple, but I focus almost exclusively on Irish Brigid, so I may be over simplifying it. The records in our lore, even including the saint’s lives, are few, so it’s reasonable easy read them, learn from them etc. We have Brigid as mother, Brigid as healer (saint), Brigid associated with cattle, oxen, sheep, boars. We have the hearth fire, the smith fire, the muse fire. We have our healing wells. We have our crafts and our arts. We have our rushes-based weaving and our dairy based miracles. We have the three Brigs in the Ulster cycle, the hospitaller, the judge and the cowless. We have strong women, doing what needs doing.

Lighting a candle is so ubiquitous in Irish culture (The Mammy had a candle lighting for me for a difficult meeting last week!) it’s impossible to rule out flame tending as a native practice, not to mention the Brigidine sisters in Kildare re-igniting the sacred flame there. Weaving a cross or whatever symbol you wish on Imbolc. Leaving out the brat Bhríde on Imbolc to give us healing, particularly for headaches, for the rest of the year. Leaving out the sheaf of oats (or something that represents your coming prosperity and fertility in the coming year) to ask for a blessing from her and making sure there’s enough food and other resources for the coming year.

All of these are actions taken by generations in Ireland, and probably elsewhere as well, given how long emigration from this island has been occurring, and still happening today. But the most important part of Irish Brigid? Living up to her standards. What are you doing for the community, the people, those around you? How do you support that community, virtual or physical, that you are a part of? How do you develop your skills and knowledge to make the world a better place? Honestly, that’s the best thing you can do to work with her.

Brigid as support

Pretty much all of this post is UPG or a very close relation to it, so please, please, please don’t go taking it as sanctioned canon.

I’ve often written and spoken of Brigid need us, as human tools, to get certain parts of her work done, and I still believe that. I’ve also written that there’s times she needs reminding that tools, especially human ones, need rest and respite and care as well as work. What I haven’t written about is when things get so bad that she takes one look and mandates such a respite. That’s what’s going on for me right now.

I’m worn out. It’s been a long, tough year for a lot of us, me included. Added on top of COVID, I, like so many others, have had the normal every day, pressures that happen all the time, complemented and enhanced by the fact that a lot of my usual pressure relief valves are shut right now cos of COVID. It’s a perfect storm of sorts. And there hasn’t really been the chance to sit down and think about what can replace those usual pressure relief valves.

So I got a slap upside the head yesterday. I got notice I had to do something before my body forces me to do something. And I have.

Brigid isn’t necessarily a gentle deity, although she can be that way, and she’s not being gentle now. There’s too much to do to talk me into doing shit she knows I need to do, so she’s taking the direct route.

But the things she’s asking of me: setting boundaries around what I will and won’t be doing at Christmas, taking time for me and spending it in activities that I will find pleasurable (my local spa is opening up again next week and I’m booked in for an afternoon), taking steps to make difficult occasions easier for me. These are all things I know will help long term and in the short term. They will set me up to begin preparing for Imbolc and my responsibilities around then. They will help my body realise there is still life here and I need to replenish and re-energise to deal with the shit that’s coming.

(Please note: this isn’t some big, world wide shit I’m expecting, just the usual shit I deal with on a regular basis. This isn’t a call to arms – or at least not in the traditional sense)

Biggest of all for me, she’s demanding that I spend time, money and resources on myself rather than others for preparation of what’s to come. And what’s coming is another round of seasons, with their own challenges and requirements.

Until I started researching and meditating and journeying, I didn’t have this kind of relationship with Brigid, the messages came in different ways. But now I do and the messages get clearer. And she is a support.

The things she asks of me are not always difficult or hard or needing lots of effort – but sometimes booking that time in the spa is as difficult as a major activism effort. And I will recognise my privilege here in that I have access to the spa and the money to get time in there. Not everyone does. When money was a lot tighter than it is now, that spa afternoon would have been a ritual bath at home – something I do still do! – or a walk in the fresh air or cooking myself a decent meal. She won’t ask more than she thinks you’re able for, in as many different ways that “able” can be interpreted there. So listen to her when she’s offering this support. It’s not always given in the fluffy blanket mode, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as valuable for all that.