This phrase (“what gets scheduled, gets done”) is often mentioned in time management courses. I may have been to a few time management courses in the last 2 decades and honestly,all of the instructors mentioned scheduling. People often complain about over-full diaries, schedule conflicts, that sort of thing. But it’s not often we consider our diaries and our ability to complete specific tasks given our current schedule.
I can hear you asking already – what the hell has this got to do with Brigid, Orlagh? Well…
I consider preparing for ritual to be as important, if not more so, than the ritual itself. And that means, I have to schedule the tasks I want to complete beforehand. Which means, I need to plan and schedule…
Now, I know, it’s Samhain coming up, not Imbolc, but really, how well my Imbolc ritual goes depends – partially – how well I manage my Samhain activities. My schedule this time of year is heavy. I have both parental birthdays in November, along with a few other key dates to remember. My maternal Grandad died on the 3rd November, many years ago, with the paternal Grandad following on the 9th December in the same year.
And that’s before I consider work, home, study, life…
OK fine, I need to schedule stuff, but come on
I’ve written before about my most basic Samhain activities, just so people are aware. But I think people underestimate just how much organisation even that much takes. Even a visit to a graveyard, which is an important part of my November activities, needs planning, scheduling and then JFDI-ing. (I mentally tie this to Samhain, although it’s not technically part of the festival)
If I want to do a more in-depth ritual, I need to take other things into account. For Samhain, I go through a more in-depth consideration in this class, but for a brief overview? Well, decide what you want to do, what resources you need to do that, assemble the resources, schedule out the time for the preparation and the ritual and the clean up… It’s like a mini project.
And I know – I have an unholy attraction to project plans and scheduling. My team at work often tells me so. But I also know that planning and scheduling makes success 100 times more likely.
Why are you bothered with this right now?
Well mainly because Samhain is getting closer. It’s already 9 days into October. Besides attending a party on the October bank holiday, I have no plans for Samhain yet. And I know that a good Samhain sets my dreaming and idea work in motion so when Imbolc comes round, I have plenty of seeds to plant for myself.
It might seem like a lot of work, but pursuing this cycle of festivals really helps me get shit done throughout the year. And I’m aware that for the last six months or so, I’ve been lurching from festival to festival, crisis to crisis, etc, etc. So, Samhain is a good time, in my opinion, to reset and restart again. I think any of the festivals are good times to do this, but Samhain is the one that close so…
So, this weekend, I will lay out what needs to get done and when I will do it. And I’ll have a chat with Al to make sure I’m not massively overestimating my own energy levels!!
Here’s a challenge: what do you need to site down and schedule or plan? What are you leaving til the last minute for whatever reason? What needs to change and can you use Samhain as a vehicle for that change?
I have previously written about UPG here, but I feel it’s time to revisit this issue. Especially in the light of the current tsunami of AI related content being produced as well in the world. (No, I’m not linking to anything – I won’t give them the traffic!)
Now, I get it. It may not be obvious why these things would be linked, but let’s delve into it ok?
What is UPG?
Unverified personal gnosis (UPG), sometimes referred to as subjective personal gnosis, is spiritual belief gained through personal experience or intuition that cannot be attributed to or corroborated by received tradition, professional scholarship, or direct citation in an accepted religious text.
Basically, UPG is personal gnosis, or that knowledge acquired through personal experience of the divine. (We’re not limiting who/what is included in “divine” here, ok?)
We all have some elements of UPG in our practice. I’m fairly certain my ongoing playful debate with Brigid regarding whether I work “with” or “for” her is pretty much UPG. I have some personal thoughts about who her mother is (not a debate I’m willing to get into in public, or indeed, in private!) that can only be based on my own experiences and a lot of extrapolation from the texts we have. There’s no problem with UPG.
If there’s no problem with UPG, then what’s the problem?
Well… the problem comes when people aren’t careful about labelling UPG as such. So for example, if I was teaching about Brigid, in a position of authority, and I gave a piece of seemingly solid information (let’s use the mother example again).
Just say, I was teaching and I said Fionnuala was Brigid’s mother (I picked Fionnuala cos it’s not a name in the Caith Maigh Tuireadh story… please, for the love of all you hold holy, don’t go saying Brigid’s mother was Fionnuala!!) People would pick that up and take it as fact. But we just don’t know who Brigid’s mother is. No where in the texts we have available to us does it outline who her mother is.
Now, I can say with certainty, Brigid’s mother is s a woman the Dagda had sex with. Which narrows it down slightly. But, y’know, he got about a bit… But we don’t know which woman. So, anyone saying X is Brigid’s Ma with certainty – is leading people down a false path.
Now, you may not see a major issue with this, but this is deity we’re dealing with. And there’s a common approach in certain areas of the internet that really, anything goes when it comes to spirituality – we’re building off partial texts and records at best. But here’s the thing. This isn’t something we all just decided to make up. There are traditions and practices, authentic traditions and practices, in Irish lore and Irish history about Brigid (and the other deities of the island). So just “making something up” isn’t going to help people create a real connection to the deity in question.
If we believe in the power of the gods, then surely we don’t want to piss them off too much by giving their rightful due and respect the runaround?
OK, but where does AI come into this?
AI, or artificial intelligence, is the simulation of human intelligence by machines. It’s not real intelligence. Machines can’t create, they can only re-create. Trust me – we’ve been chasing machine learning and AI in the engineering field for decades at this point. And where there’s an element of creative thinking or extrapolation, humans beat the machines every time.
Now, AI is useful in some respects. A lot of chatting tools on major websites use them. For example, you get in touch with customer services and type in your question. The chatbot or AI can come back with suggestions of helpful links in response to the keywords in your query. Sometimes that works, sometimes it’s more complicated and – again – you need an actual human to help you.
Again, where’s the problem?
Well… all these data bases that are churning out art or writing or poetry or whatever using AI, are doing so off the labour of artists. The unpaid labour of artists, writers, etc. Essentially, the AI is copying work that has previously been created and presenting it as new.
When someone is learning to write or draw or whatever, it is useful to do this – to copy a painting to see how to produce that effect. To use a similar turn of phrase or to look at the effect of certain words in a piece. But that isn’t then presented as something new and original. A copy of the Mona Lisa may be awesome, but it’s still a copy.
Presenting this work as original or new is unethical at least. To my mind, this is stealing someone else’s labour without adding any of your own.
Now, I do use AI myself. If I have a difficult conversation coming up, I will use AI to generate a potential list of questions to ask or to help drive the conversation. I would then heavily edit those questions to make them mine and to help me feel comfortable in using them. But I don’t present those questions as my own, original, creative work.
So you use AI as well?
Yes I do, in certain situations. But I don’t then present that work as my own or use that work to generate benefit for me. Benefit in this sense can mean social capital, actual earnings, obtaining resources in return for this work.
AI is hugely useful in automating regular, repetitive, consistent tasks. For example, a machine learning that this particular condition is a precursor to this particular failure and raising an alarm. Great use of AI there. It’s consistent, repetitive and the inputs and outputs are the same every time.
AI is not useful in producing new artistic or creative endeavors. AI can produce the same or similar results are what has gone before. It can’t create something new. So, all the AI bots out there producing art, writing etc – not creating something new, just copying things that have gone before and generating profit from the labour of others, without crediting them at all.
Who cares? Especially if it’s only for myself?
To a certain extent – no one. If you want to use AI to produce a new prayer to Brigid or a new piece of artwork, well, no one will stop you. If you then present that as new art or a new prayer in a public setting or in a setting that then gives you profit or social capital or other benefits – well it’s dishonest at best and stealing at worst.
This isn’t something created from thin air, it’s something stolen from others. The people who produced the work this “creation” is based on are getting no credit at all and their work has been stolen to feel into the AI bot’s database.
It’s benefitting from a crime.
Why link UPG and AI in conversation anyway?
They both come back to honesty, for me. Presenting AI results as creative personal endeavour and presenting UPG as fact are both dishonest.
I can say as a fact that “I had this experience with Brigid”. But I can’t say “this will be your experience with Brigid, because it was mine”. I can say, “I used AI to come up with the base list of questions for this quiz”. But I can’t say “I generated this list of questions myself”.
I, and many others in the Irish spirutal community, base my practice around right relationship. This doens’t mean I never lie – anyone who asks me how I am on a Monday morning will usually get a short “grand thanks” regardless of how I feel! But it does mean that when I’m dealing with others, there is a level of honesty I require of myself.
That means being very clear on the lore I base my practice on and where I deviate from the lore to veer into personal gnosis. It means being honest about the writing I do – honestly, I’m not sure AI could replicate my way of writing, cos it’s mainly the way I speak! But even if it could, I’d have to spend as long writing the prompts for AI as I would just writing it myself. What’s the point?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with having UPG or using AI. But there is something inherently wrong with passing either off as something they aren’t!
Pigs have always been important in Ireland, primarily as a food source, but for all sorts of other reasons as well. Most people are familiar with the Irish breakfast, which is heavily pig-based, and bloody delicious as well, but why is Brigid linked with pigs in the Lebor Gabala Erenn? Why is the king of boars, Triath, mentioned with her in the text?
Now, I’ll obviously go deeper into the Brigid connections in the upcoming class (this Saturday, 7pm in case you’re interested! Or available on demand if you’re reading this after Saturday 16th September 2023) But I wanted to go into the importance of pigs in Ireland throughout history because a) it’s interesting and b) I think people can underestimate the animal
Really ancient history of the pig in Ireland
The Irish word for pig is muc, and looking at dil.ie, this appears to be the old Irish word as well. Mucc is an alternative spelling, just for some variation. Because, as we know, prior to the Caighdeán in the 1950’s, spelling in Irish was a variable thing. To be fair, old spellings are still accurate and correct. It’s just that the newer spellings are simpler, even if they don’t always make as much sense from a linguistic point of view. Everything in the 50’s in Ireland was in short supply, even ink for pens…
But I digress. So, boars, the ancient, wild ancestors of the modern pig, were domesticated around 9000 years ago. Ish. It’s thought that the first pigs in Europe were domesticated round about 4500 BCE or about 6500 years ago. We’re talking archaeology here, so don’t give out to me for being a few thousand years off, alright? 🙂
Now, it looks like, from the Nature Journal, that wild boar were rampant across Europe. And famers basically bred the domesticated pigs that came from the Near East (I’m assuming through what is now Russia, Turkey and surrounding countries?) with the wild boar, eventually domesticating the boar.
This ties in with the relationship with other animals to Brigid in this selection. Animals that had been wild and people then domesticated… And were in the province of women for at least part of the time.
Kings and rich people kept large herds, since the upkeep was essentially zero, except possibly for a swineherd or two. Pigs appear in many of the old story – aside from Brigid ones. For example, they appear in the story of Diarmaid and Gráinne, Bricciu’s Feast and of course, swineherds play a major role in the kicking off of the Battle Raid of Cooley…
Slightly less ancient history of the pig in Ireland
If we move on to more modern times, well kinda… Dear old Giraldus of Wales, in his 12th century propoganda piece for the English invasion, wrote:
In no part of the world are such vast herds of boars and wild pigs to be found
See, the thing about it is, that pigs can be fed on almost anything. So, people turned them out into forests and such to fend for themselves almost. Or, in towns/ urban areas, they were fed from scraps. Or buttermilk/ sour milk. Seriously – can survive on almost anything. Obviously, there are diets they are more and less suited to, depending on how much meat you want to get off the animal, but survival? Not a major issue in terms of foodstuffs.
In saying that, in the 15th century in Ireland there was a fairly rapid phase of deforestation. It’s at this stage we see a massive decline – to the point of extinction – of the wild boar. From here on out, people kept domesticated pigs only. No more hunting parties. Well, not for boar, anyway!
And it’s about this time we start seeing a lot of by-laws covering pigs in urban area.
More modern angles
The pig, no more than Brigid herself, has lasted well into the modern day in Ireland. In 1841, just before the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) there were apparently 1.4 million pigs in Ireland. For comparison, there are apparently around 1.7million pigs in the country today.
Pork and pigs have always been a major export in modern Ireland. That mention of the famine? In 1846, Ireland exported 480,827 pigs to Britain. (Ireland Before and After the Famine, Cormac O Grada) If you extrapolate that over 5 years, that’s 2.5million pigs exported over the time period of the Famine. Ok, that’s not the most accurate calculation, but gives an idea.
Now, if you look at even more recent history, as I said in today’s email to my mailing list (want to join?) both my parents remember pigs at home and the slaughtering of pigs as a regular, normal event. In the 1960’s however, pork became more of a business/ consumer business. Now, to be clear, modernisation started in the late 19th century, but in the 1960’s things really kicked off. Smaller breeders gradually disappeared and modern, larger scale breeders developed. Today, the five main counties for pigs in Ireland are Cavan, Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and Longford.
Obviously though, pork and pork products are still a major part of Irish life.. Any supermarkets running out of rashers, sausages and black/white pudding would probably shut down for the duration. It wouldn’t be worth the scandal!!
The Brigid connection
Now, no more than a lot of Brigid connections, while this piece of lore comes from pre-Christian Ireland, a lot of the extrapolation comes from the hagiographies. St. Brigid is often mentioned as looking after pigs in the stories. She gives them away to the needy and hungry, only to have the correct amount of pigs appear when needed. (This is such a regular storiy in the hagiographies, I’m not even going to link to it – just have a read!)
Equally, the preparation of food stuffs was traditionally women’s work in Ireland, including making the puddings from the pig and the sausages and the rashers. This ties in with the work in the dairy that Brigid is closely related with and food prep in general.
The pig, similar t0 Brigid herself, has been here throughout Irish history, supporting the people as best it can. A relatively cheap source of food, and every part of the pig can be used in some way. The animal is present pretty much throughout human occupation of this island and in many ways has supported more Irish people than the cow has (sacrilege, I know!!)
Want to know more? Check out the Brigid in LGE class on Saturday, 16th September at 7pm. (Or it’s available at the link above on demand if you want to check it out after that date!)
I mention Brigid’shagiography a lot in my writing. And it’s mostly Cogitosus and Bethu BrigteI talk about. This is because Cogitosus is the earliest Life we have available to us readily and the Bethu Brigte is the earliest one using Irish, albeit it Old Irish, rather than the modern Irish I speak. I can usually double check a translation anyway with the Old Irish easier than I can the Latin either way.
And, if I’m honest, I thought the hagiography was just an old time biography when I started this journey, years ago. But, I learned differently.
What’s the meaning of the word “hagiography”?
Well, the word ” hagiography” comes from two Greek words: hagios meaning “holy” and graphia meaning writing. So, the term “hagiography” means literally: holy writing.
However, in terms of usage, it has come to mean a specific type of holy writing. It usually refers to a kind of biography of a holy person, ecclesiastical leader, saint. And yes, I say a “kind of biography” on purpose. These weren’t biographies in the modern sense – facts and the person’s experience of the events that shaped them.
Hagiographies recorded the way the holy person or saint lived, the miracles they completed, their martyrdom (if applicable). They were a way to show Christians how to live a Christian life. What were the values and principles and morals that the saints showed that mere humans could copy?
Copying the Son of God was one thing, but a hagiography showed how an “ordinary” person showed humanity as well as Christian values.
Why was hagiography so important in the early Christian Church?
Well, hagiography was quite important in the early church for spreading the word. It is easy to transport, copy, shared a book, while not necessarily available to the entire populace,… It was the early church equivalent of “going viral”, if you will.
And, yes, it was definitely a form of propaganda. The Cogitosus Life of St Brigit is well-recognised as a means of promoting Kildare as the potential primacy of Ireland (they were up for the honour with Armagh. Spoiler alert – Armagh won).
Hagiography inspired people. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about Christians or potential converts. Inspiration was the key. Either by the miracles wrought by the power or God or the way they stood fast in the face of martyrdom. Even someone like St Therese of Lisieux, although she lived in the 19th century, is an inspiration to many people today. Her example of the small ways to live a good Christian life is very valid today.
(Don’t worry, I’m not straying into a promotion of St Therese!!)
But, we must recognise – these miracles were hugely important in building that feeling of community for many people in the early church.
OK, fine, hagiography is important. But what has it to do with St. Brigid?
We have potentially 7 Lives of St Brigid. From these seven, it is possible that all seven were based on a compilation by a lad called Ultan, Bishop of Ardbraccon. Now, this is in Meath, near where Brigid’s mother, Broicseach, was born. His reasons for interest in St Brigid is obvious, right?
Anyway, we have seven early lives, although we only have authors for three of them.
The Seven main Lives of St Brigid
The Life of St Brigit by Cogitosus, written approx 650-675CE. Reputedly, as I said above, propaganda for Kildare. (70+ copies exist today!)
Vita Prima, author unknown, but thought to heavily reflect Ultan’s original text, written 7th or 8th century. (25 copies exist today)
Bethu Brigte, my favourite hagiography cos it’s written in Old Irish as well as Latin. The date here gets even more vague, sometime between 600CE and 900CE. And as far as I’m aware, the language determines that date, rather than anything else.
The Metrical Life (so-called because it’s written in Latin hexameter) written by a bishop of Fiesole, Italy called Donatus. Now Donatus was reputedly born and reared in Ireland, hence his interest in St. Brigid. 2004 lines of verse, so fair play to him! He lived 829 – 876, so it was written sometime during that period.
Life of St Brigid by an English monk called Laurence, prior of Durham, in the 1130s. Yeah, we’re getting later now alright, and this was in and around the time of some reformation in the church.
12th century redaction of the Vita Prima – interestingly, scholars sometimes call this the Animosus Life, because it was thought to be the Life referred to in Donatus, but more modern scholars believe Donatus was referring to Cogitosus. Please notice the “believes”, “thought” and distinct lack of definite fact here!
Abridged version of the Vita Prima, written- even more vaguely – sometime between 900 and 1200 CE. It’s in the form of a homily and appears in the Leabhar Breac and The Book of Lismore.
Are these the only hagiographies available?
There are plenty of other, more minor or less important, thorough lives available as well. Check out Chapter 3 of Noel Kissane’s Saint Brigid of Kildare: Life, Legend and Cult for more details. And indeed, this book provided the list above as well. Very useful book in generally.
Once the printing press was invented in the 15th century (thank you Herr Gutenberg), the laborious process of copying manuscripts by hand wasn’t completely eliminated, but it was certainly easier to print multiple copies of the same hagiography!
So, we can see a bit of an explosion of religious literature in particular following this invention. Indeed, the Gutenberg Bible was the first book to be printed. Now, the later or more minor lives add very little in terms of extra or new information to our knowledge on Brigid. But’s that’s ok. Really, those redactions or outlines show her popularity through the centuries more than anything else.
So there we go. An outline and explanation of what a hagiography is, what the major Brigid hagiographies are and why they are important.
Not bibliography, but a fascinating insight into how our ancestors from around the Christian world thought about one of Ireland’s most helpful and probably most venerated, saints. And a good insight into the deity as well, in my opinion!
I know, saints, even if they are as Irish as St Brigid, and love potions don’t usually mix. There is a bit in Bethu Brigte that makes me a bit uncomfortable. It’s where she apparently brews a love potion for a man, whose wife hates him passionately.
A certain man of Kells by origin, whom his wife hated, came to Brigit for help. Brigit blessed some water. He took it with him and, his wife having been sprinkled [therewith], she straightaway loved him passionately.
And, a question was raised by a member of Brigid’s Forge, following my post on Brigid and Sex. The poster was correct in saying this sort of charm (love potion kinda thing) was against Brehon Law. So why would St Brigid do it? I mean, as a matter of ethics as well as anything else, forcing someone to love someone else by means of magic, is not a good look.
Especially since, in my opinion, a love charm or potion could extremely easily breach consent as well! And as I said in that previous post – consent is important. As long as the people involved in any act are consenting adults in private – I don’t see how it’s anyone else’s business! And that will remain my position.
The law (i.e. Brehon law…)
But, if we look at this excerpt, let’s consider consent in the 5th century.
There are seven women in Irish law who are liable in their encounters [who are without remedy in their encounters] and who are not entitled to penalty or honour-price for their sleith; they are not entitled to fine or body-fine for rape whosoever may have done so: a whore who offers her body to all, until she becomes chaste; a woman who observes that she is the victim of sleith [and does nothing about it]; a woman who conceals her rape; a woman who is raped in a town and who does not cry out until the rapist has got away; a woman who agrees to have illicit intercourse in despite of her husband; a woman who trysts with a man in the bushes or in bed; a woman who invokes a body-surety, cleric or lay, by the offer of sexual favours; a woman who offers herself for something trivial. These are seven women who are capable of giving their bodies in sexual intercourse, provided they do not fail in their duties. Their children do not belong to the family and they are not entitled to the profits arising from cohabitation’.
It should also be noted, that even in modern times, marital rape was not listed as a crime until 1990. And worse – 2002 was the first occasion of a successful conviction of the crime. So, it is no wonder that marital rape isn’t listed in the Brehon laws. Donnchadh Ó Corráin wrote an interesting article about women in the law (where the above quote comes from). A telling commentary is:
Something of the punishment for rape—that is, the legal penalty, as distinct from the possibly violent summary justice of kinsmen—can be found elsewhere.
This would indicate at the time that any non-legal reprisal might be expected…
But where does this leave us with St Brigid and her love potion?
Well, I can think of a few different alternatives. First off, one of the reasons for a divorce includes one partner withholding sex. So, if the man didn’t want to divorce, this could have been a factor. Or if there were significant political reasons why the couple couldn’t divorce. I mean, marriage was fairly heavily covered in the Brehon laws. They weren’t messing about with it!
Equally, married women were traditionally deemed to consent by virtue of the marriage. A “blanket consent” if you will… not something I’d ever countenance in modern life. But this isn’t modern life. This is 5th century Ireland. Ideas around consent were… different. Just look at the Heptad about the “not crying out” issue.
And, it could have been that this was a temporary hatred. Anyone in a long term relationship knows that there are times when you could happily strangle your partner(s). It’s not a good thing. Let’s be very clear about that. But equally… it happens. And St Brigid offering a “love potion” isn’t clear in the text. She provided the husband with essentially, holy water. Maybe the bringing of the water was a sign. Maybe this was the husband making amends. It’s possible St Brigid made the water taste like beer…
The ultimate answer is, we just don’t know the answer. Whether there’s more to the story or not, we also have to remember the Church’s stance on marriage. The Church has always been clear (well… mostly…) that marriage is for life. Maybe St Brigid was trying to make life easier for the couple in question. Or she had a strong stance on sex in marriage.
We don’t know.
What I do know is: ideas around consent evolve and develop over time. Even within the last 20 years, my understanding of the topic has greatly improved. I better understand the nuance between “yes means yes” and “no means no”. I’m sure many people can say the same! And offering anyone a potion or charm to force them to love someone, or force them to have sex with someone? Well that’s rape. We know this.
I find love potions in general to be problematic for this reason. And I can’t see St Brigid, or deity Brigid supporting the use of them today.
I own and have read and use all of Lisa Lister’s books. I find her way of writing very engaging and very, very authentic. Her approach to everything is very real. And by everything, I mean: magic; living life; incorporating differing needs and wants into her life. So I surprised myself. While I pre-ordered this book and it arrived back in November right on schedule, it was only last Friday I picked it up. But then, I think Self Source-ery is the kind of book to be read on it’s own schedule. Now fair warning: Self Source-ery is not based in Irish paganism. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. If this sort of thing interests you.
Who is Lisa Lister?
In her own words, from her own website:
Crowned ‘the defender of female awesomeness’ by Cooler magazine, I offer support, space, remembrance, spiritual guidance, cyclic maps and counsel to women who are exploring, navigating and wanting to heal their relationship with their body, power, sex, creativity, pleasure + passionin these ‘interesting’ times
I first came across Lisa Lister when I was working on better understanding my body. In particular, my menstrual cycle and how to live with it. And how to manage my life so every month or six weeks, a week to ten days of hell didn’t completely throw my life off the bus by a week to ten days of hell. The first books I read from Lisa were Code Red and Love Your Lady Landscape. The books presented me with a new way of understanding and working with my body that proved invaluable. Especially in the days being told I was “subfertile”.
There is a whole lot that I love about Lisa, but also, I love this excerpt from the page quoted above:
ANOTHERNOTE: I often get asked, specifically in response to my books: ‘why SO MUCH womb talk? Am I less of a woman or witch without a uterus?’ My response: Yes, I do talk about wombs a LOT. You definitely DO NOT need a womb to be a witch or to be a woman, I celebrate the womb as a place of power, medicine + magic because doctors threatened to ‘whip mine out’ + I’ve worked really bloody hard to heal her + love her + to recognise the power I hold there + I want to support those who have had similar experiences to do the same. I only ever speak, teach + share from personal experience + wouldn’t DARE try to be a spokesperson for EVERYONE, but of COURSE you can be powerful, be a witch AND be a woman without a womb – abso-bloody-lutely. FYI: You also NEVER need permission from me, or from anyone for that matter, to tell you whether you’re a witch, a woman and/or a powerhouse of a human. ACTUAL FACTUAL.
This is in line with my own approach and I love that she is so open and honest about this topic. No one has the right to say whether you are or are not a woman other than you. And you can change your mind on a minute-by-minute basis, as far as I’m concerned. One decision doesn’t have to stand for the rest of your life. Now, in the interests of full transparency, whatever about Lisa Lister, I have not felt this way my entire life. For a long time, probably longer than I should have, I clung to the biological, binary view of gender. But books like those written by Lisa are how I changed my mind.
What about the book, Orlagh?
Self Source-ery is about 250 pages long, so compared to my fantasy books? Short. But there is a lot packed into it. Now fair warning (repeated): this isn’t Irish pagan related. Lisa draws from all sorts of sources and explains them all as she works through this.
I like the way the book is structured. We have an intro, three sections and an outro. There is a section at the start explaining what self source-ery is, what it means. There is an explanation of the different items that will reappear throughout the book, whether it is rituals to support the work described or journal prompts to explore deeper. Side note: I’ve read the book, but I fully intend to revisit those journal book.
The three sections are:
Come to your senses
Trust your instincts
Remember your magic
And Self Source-ery takes the reader through thinking, exercises, through exercises and Lisa’s own journey for each of those sections. Lisa reaches back to her mother and grandmother for practices they showed her. She describes her own experiences in places of power in this world. She gives us the opportunity to explore our own places of power. It feels raw and honest, while being hopeful and helpful.
Come to your senses
This section of Self Source-ery is about the physical. (If you were in my head, this would be Brigid the Smith area) Many of the exercises and suggestions are about getting back in touch with our bodies and what our bodies can tell us. This is always for me, the basis of any period of growth.
Lisa is very open about the fact that this is a messy process. That’s a thread through the whole book. But she consistently draws it back to us. Ourselves. Our bodies. our minds. And it’s gratifying to see that some of the things I practice myself are mentioned here (she talks about “Shakira-style hip movements“!
Trust your instincts
There are many ways in which the modern world tells us to not trust ourselves. For me, this ties into the emotional most of all (and links with Brigid the Healer). In this section, Lisa discusses the things where the body knows, but to which the mind can’t put words. She talks about past lives and their impact on our current lives. Speaking our truth, the patriarchy, good girl conditioning… it all comes up here.
As well as some hard hitting journal prompts around how it feels to speak and live our truths. (This bit hit a bit harder with the passing of Sinead O’Connor last week as well). Like the Healer, Lisa knows that the messy, the difficult, the bits we don’t really want to acknowledge are probably bits we need to look at more closely. Self knowledge…
Remember your magic
With a title like Self Source-ery, you’d expect some magic to be mentioned. And it is. Throughout the book. But in the third part, the magic really comes into it’s own. (Yup, Brigid the Poet for me). And Lisa gives us ceremonies and talking points and all sorts of things. But she talks about knowing ourselves most of all here.
Because there is magic in all of us. There is magic in our bones. What causes us to breath? That alone is magic. Our of all the millions of sperm/egg combinations, one single combination led to each of us. (Unless you’re part of identical twins… but even then – you’re unique!)
So I think it’s fair to say, I’m a fan of Self Source-ery. I’m a fan of Lisa Lister as well, in case that didn’t come through. It’s nice to get a confirmation that other people are doing some of the same or similar work that I’m doing. Both with myself and with other people. It’s nice to know that that bone-deep knowing I get sometimes isn’t unique to me.
I also like the way Lisa is so clear about the messiness that leads to these learnings and knowings. Seriously. Wisdom, I’m more and more certain, doesn’t come to those who never struggle. Thankfully – kinda – nearly all of us have struggles in life, albeit some more than others! But that messiness is where most of our learning can happen. Or at least, if you’re someone like me that struggles with learning from other people’s experiences.
If you’ve read any of Lisa Lister’s books, you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, you can start with this one, or indeed any of the rest of them. But she’s worth exploring, in my opinion. Especially if anything I’ve written here speaks to you.
I have often said that the worship and honouring of Brigid in Ireland is a syncretic blend of paganism and Christianity. And today I want to discuss this a bit more. Whether the saint or the deity, Brigid has had a long history in Ireland. Her worship is heavily influenced by the way Christianity came to this island. This was not at the point of the sword, but by persuasion and habit. And that makes a big difference when it comes to syncretism.
What do I mean by “syncretism”?
Syncretism is the merging or blending of distinct cultural, religious, or philosophical beliefs into a cohesive and harmonious system. (Or check out Merriam-Webster here.) In the case of Brigid, this meant that many of the pagan associations and practices were simply… carried over into the new Christian system. We must remember that Ireland was not, as many places were, converted at swordpoint. Our ancestors just kind of “absorbed” the new faith into the old practices. And then, because of things like monastic settlements having food during famine times, (among other influences) Christianity became the predominant religion. But Brigid was still there. (And yes, I know – I’m repeating that point. But people often miss that point when learning about Ireland)
Brigid in Christianity
Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century CE (roughly, anyway). And over time, things changed a lot. By the time the Normans arrived in the 12th century, Ireland was Catholic and well-established as such. The Gaelic way of life was significantly different from what they were used to. But from a religious point of view, Ireland conformed pretty well to the general practices of the wider church at the time.
Where then did Brigid fit in? Well, as she always has. She fit in by supporting her people, by being there, by hanging around. There is some evidence for a powerful abbess who founded the monastic settlement in Kildare that we still associate with Brigid today. There is evidence of up to 13 different St. Brigids around the country, although it might be just that the “main” St. Brigid travelled a lot. Or indeed, people knew of her, knew of her power, and kind of co-opted her for their local shrines.
The first hagiography we have, the Cogitosus one, the saint comes across as a reasonably “normal” female saint. By that I mean that the usual miracles are accorded to her. Plus, Cogitosus was really just writing a PR campaign for Kildare. I mean, Armagh won, but that’s at least partly down to the patriarchy, in my opinion.
Even in Christianity, Brigid’s stories had strong syncretic strands. For example, her links to the Otherworld highlight how pagan and Christian were interwoven. She could only drink from a white cow with red ears. Red and white being a sure-fire indication of magical or supernatural connections. Her healing potions tasted of beer. (Although that could be wishful thinking rather than syncretism) And possibly best of all, she hung her cloak on a sunbeam. (Whereas, a certain male saint couldn’t manage it. St. Brendan, I’m talking about. Patrick was far too high and mighty to be getting into that story!)
Pagan threads in Christian worship
Now, it’s not just the stories where we see this syncretic blend. We also see it in the ways we worship Brigid. The obvious one is candle lighting. I mean, Catholics the world over light candles as a means of prayer, but the Irish do take it to extremes. Doing an exam? Get your Mammy to light a candle. Waiting for test results? Light a candle. Going for a job interview? Definitely light a candle.
It doesn’t take much to subvert that candle lighting to paganism – almost in plain sight you might say. And it’s not a massive step from candle lighting to flame tending. Now, I have to admit that flame tending isn’t my favourite means of working with Brigid. It’s a bit passive for my liking. Although, to be fair, I do use flames in meditation. Which is a sort of flame tending. And meditation is good for the mind and the soul. Flame tending isn’t a bad thing. It’s useful in giving a structure to meditation if nothing else.
Fire tending is closely linked to Brigid’s pagan roots of course. Imbolc is one of the four major fire festivals in Ireland. And in another stunning example of syncretism, it’s nominally the night of the 31st January. With Feb 1st being St. Brigid’s Day…
As well, we have the Brigid’s cross. A simple change from a 4-armed cross to a 3-armed cross has you moving from Christian to pagan quite nicely. And there are several different types that wouldn’t be visually, obviously, Christian in nature as well.
In particular, I think the lozenge type cross in the top left hand side of the picture doesn’t hold too much resemblance to Christian crosses.
Want to learn more?
Yeah I know, I could write forever on the syncretism in pagan and Christian workshop in Ireland, in particular Brigid worship. But it’s 3:30 on a Friday of a very tough week for me, so I’m going to stop here. And let you know that next Sunday, 30th July, at 9pm I’m teaching a very updated intro to Brigid class at the Irish Pagan School. Link to enroll is here. The title of the class is “Brigid Goddess and Saint” and we’ll be exploring this whole syncretism thing in a lot more detail there. As well as sharing some of my own personal gnosis and practices around herself as well. Hope to see you there!
I woke up this morning with a song from the musical South Pacific in my head. Yeah, it’s that one. And it led to some exciting spellcraft in the shower. But, why??
So, obviously, this was a reminder to do some spellcraft in the shower. Oh yes! Now, you’ll need a bit of backstory for this. Monday and Tuesday in work were very tough. Lot of pressure from offsite, senior managers going ballistic, real anger being displayed. The atmosphere was just pure horrible. And there was one particular senior manager that really got under my skin.
What was so bad?
Well, I have problems with other people’s anger anyway. Now through a lot of shadow work, I’ve gotten much better at this. I no longer automatically cry or run away. I don’t shake or curl up in a ball. So, things have improved a lot.
But. But I’m still very sensitive to anger in others. The raised voices, the jabbing finger, the clenched fist… now you may think these signs are not that subtle, but there are people who don’t pick up on them or who take longer to notice. I notice very quickly.
And then there’s the energetic stuff. The atmosphere full of anger. The waves just radiating from people. The fury is a palpable thing. And it affects peopke in all sorts of ways. This, too is a form of spellcraft, just fyi. It’s just not always intentional!
So all in all, by yesterday evening, I was exhausted. And one particular man made it infinitely worse, berating one of my team in public.
So, why South Pacific? And why the shower?!?!
I had a dream where Brigid appeared and woke up singing that song. So I kept singing it. Well, under my breath cos my darlin husband wasn’t up yet.
And when you think about it, the shower is a really good place for this sort of spellcraft. As I rinsed the shampoo from my hair, I was literally washing the effects of this man out of my hair. As I washed down my body, I was washing off the effects of the horrible atmosphere in work.
Imagining the water as a renewing and replenishing substance (which it is) helped rebuild my defences and my energy. I felt cleansed, free of contamination and ready to face into work.
And, if I’m honest, today went a lot better for me, even if that horrible atmosphere was still around me. It was around me, but not part of me.
What can other people use from this?
Well, for any sort of cleansing work or personal spellcraft, the shower is a great place for it. For those who have taken any of my classes, you’ll know I base my practices in practicalities. Layering spiritual and energetic work over the physical reinforces the intent.
I mean, you don’t have to use music from a classic like I did. Most of ye know people like The Bloodhound Gang and Shakira also feature in my practice. But layering up the intent and the activity and the energy is how spellcraft works. Use what works.
But remember, you can always do something to help yourself feel better, even if it’s just a shower…
I often refer to Brigid as a “gateway deity” of sorts. Recently, though, I’ve been reading some disturbing trends online and in communities that almost put her in a “lesser bracket” because of this straddling of realms. Now, I’ve written previously on Brigid and Liminality. My views there are widely know, but today I want to explore this idea of Brigid as a gateway.
What do I mean by gateway?
The term “gateway deity” is a play on the messages from my youth of the dangers of “gateway drugs”. The thought was that drugs like hash/marijuana/cannabis , were technically low risk in and of themselves. (My names could date me immensely!) However, they , were dangerous in that they lead on to more dangerous substances.
I can’t find any studies to back this thought up. But even back in the 90’s, the notion that hash wasn’t over dangerous in itself. It is still a regular conversation in drug addiction prevention, as far as I can see, from conversations with more modern teenagers!
What has Brigid got to do with gateways?
Well, this ties into Brigid’s role as a liminal deity. Primarily, people are more comfortable move slightly outside the known rather than completely outside their known arenas. With that, Brigid’s role as both pagan deity and Catholic saint offers a means to learn more about a being that is both pagan and Catholic. (I’m not sure about other Christian denominations’ positions regarding saints, although I believe the Church of England reveres her as saint as well?)
She offers a route to explore, firstly, an alternative Christianity to the more fundamentalist sects, and then on to alternative religious structures altogether. She offers a more gentle change than the abrupt change that might occur with other deities.
Added to which, she is one who looks to include rather than exclude people. This isn’t a license to say/teach anything you like now, about Brigid. Lore exists, folklore exists, established practices from generations and centuries of ancestors exist. We can base our practices on these foundations. Separating personal gnosis from general gnosis is still really important.
What bothered me about what I’ve read recently?
Well, honestly, what bothered me was mainly the discussions, themes, threads that talked about Brigid as a gateway deity to more powerful deities. Or even to somehow “better”, “more authentic” deities.
Just because Brigid crosses boundaries that are largely human-created, in order to serve her people better, doesn’t make her a lesser deity than others who are strictly pagan, with no Christian connections. It annoys me, because I recognise just how powerful Brigid is and can be. She has an ability to pull people together and get shit done that is awesome. And I mean awesome there in the original sense, as in causes awe in observers. Well, in me anyway!!
Brigid is widely known and widely revered. She crosses national boundaries, religious boundaries, ecclesiastical boundaries. Even just by the pure numbers of her followers, she is powerful.
Having her viewed as some sort of “lesser deity” because she can serve as that gateway is abhorrent to me. She is not a stepping stone to “greater things” or “greater deities”. She is a a deity of great power, who covers a fairly large breadth of the modern human experience.
OK, so what does Brigid cover then?
I’ve said before that if you look at the Healer, Poet and Smith, there really isn’t that much left in the human experience that isn’t covered. Seriously – I won’t go into full details here, since there is already a 5 week course on those aspects, from me, over at the Irish Pagan School.
But here’s a brief overview:
The Healer: health, healing, physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, health promotion, ill-health correction, fertility, conception, childbirth, health sciences, anything at all in the health and healing realm. Also, vetinary work. (The medical and vetinary areas of a modern university)
The Poet: law, justice, words, poetry, activism, campaigning, government, history, literature, stories, finance, social issues, business … (The Arts and Humanities area of a modern university)
The Smith: engineering, science, construction, IT, maths, architecture, housing, sustainability, computers (the science and engineering parts of a modern university)
And yes, I know using the construct of the modern university might be off-putting to some people. I am sorry about that – it’s the easiest way for my brain to compile the information.
Brigid is powerful. Brigid is available. Brigid crosses boundaries. She is not a second-class deity!!
I’m going to be completely honest here. This blog post was not inspired by Brigid at all. It was inspired by these – the HalaraMagic™ High Waisted Crossover Pocket Cool Touch Breathable Washed Stretchy Knit Denim Plus Size Casual Super Flare Pants. I know – cool, name huh? Ok, well, maybe long more than cool. Now I have written about power and Brigid before, but this is a slightly different take. It’s not really about Brigid goddess power at all.
Before I dive into talking about these amazing new jeans , I will talk a bit about personal power. (no I swear I’m not being sponsored – if I’m ever sponsored, ye will hear the screams of joy across the Atlantic!!)
We often mistake this, especially when it comes to work with deities, even Brigid. Brigid, and indeed goddess power generally, is something we can borrow sometimes and use as personal power. But it’s not really ours.
Personal power can be described as the ability to influence people and events around us. If you google it, you will see millions of articles about personal power, but it’s from a mostly mundane rather than esoterical, spiritual or magical perspective. But at the fundamentals, I do agree with the basics. Personal power is te ability to influence people and events around us, but also maintain our own bodily integrity, mental integrity and spiritual integrity. Brigid, as I have said before, isn’t great with respecting boundaries she doesn’t see the need for. However, if you’re thinking in terms of personal power and the ability to say “no” to her, she will respect that. Always.
We underestimate our personal power. And by that I mean, we underestimate the resources we have at our disposal. We all have abilities we don’t fully utilise or maybe even, don’t fully appreciate we possess. And learning about those, utilising those resources, working to improve them? It’s all part of developing personal power.
Our feelings don’t always reflect our reality. I know – feelings are important. I absolutely agree. And, so does Brigid. But allowing feelings to get in the way of facts isn’t the most sensible thing to do. And we can absolutely affect our feelings.
Which brings me back to those magic jeans.
I generally wear loose-fitting, wide-legged trousers. Or leggings. Comfort is the name of the game here! So, jeans don’t often appear in my wardrobe these days. It’s hard to find a comfy pair of jeans that look good. But I did…
I put this pair on and they felt so good. And yeah, ok, the husband’s reaction wasn’t too bad either! But seriously. I pulled these on and I felt young. I felt powerful. And, I felt sexy (which is also a form of personal power). Brigid herself would feel good and powerful in these jeans!
Now, ok these jeans won’t work for a business meeting. Although I am looking for them in black so I might manage it. But it really highlighted to me how a piece of clothing or an outfit can elevate our feelings of power and self-reliant.
Clothes and power
Now, I have other clothes that help me feel powerful. I have what I call my “goddess dress”. I have a large collection of underwear for different types of power. “Interview clothes” is a general heading in my wardrobe.
But mostly, these are constructed outfits, to fulfill a specific purpose. These jeans? I put them on and I felt powerful. Seriously powerful. I felt young, strong, sexy, capable… ready to set the world on fire! (Which Brigid might object to, but still… pretty fire!)
From the perfect length, to the comfy fit, to the pockets… it’s all there.
We talk about Brigid, goddess powers, deity powers a lot in spiritual community. But we rarely look at how we generate our own power. And there’s different clothes for different events, sure. What makes me feel powerful in the bedroom wouldn’t work in the day job for example. Or actually – it might, but the lads are scared enough as it is!
Short of buying these damn jeans, Orlagh, what can I do?
Well here’s the thing. I know, a black vest top and a pair of well fitting jeans really helps me feel on top of the world. I can take on anything dressed like that, I feel badass to be honest. (How I look is an entirely different question, but it’s a good, powerful outfit for me!) I also know there is a power in the way I dress for work – my style in work is chosen very carefully.
Black trousers, with pockets, jersey material usually, comfy, not tight. Colourful top. Boring? Sure. but it downplays my femininity, which is important at times when I’m working with a group of men. It also allows me to move however I need to, whether climbing over pipework or just marching around the site.
OK, it’s hard to imagine Brigid as goddess, wielding her immense power, from a pair of glorified pair of trackies (track suit bottoms), but I can total see her commanding armies in jeans! I mean the black vest and jeans is a classic outfit right? For informal occasions anyway.
Other types of power clothing
But when it comes to VIPs visiting or an interview or an important presentation? Well I dress up a bit more. Things get more structured. This is when the underwired bras tend to come out, as well as the matching knickers. I will move towards a more shirt-like top, rather than a more casual top. The trousers might be a bit more structured as well. If it’s off site, I may go for a skirt or a dress.
The thing is – this type of dressing depends on two things: how you feel and how you feel about how you look. I have worked with personal shoppers in the past to help me expand my clothing repertoire. (Debenhams used to be great for this before they shut up shop in Ireland!) I buy cheap clothes to try out styles or colours or cuts and then look for better options if they work. I experiment to see how I feel and how I look. You know I mentioned the “goddess dress” earlier? It’s because I feel like a damn goddess in it. I feel like all the power in Brigid’s arsenal could come to me and I could contain it in that dress (How realistic that is is another day’s work, ok?)
And I’m very privileged to do this. I know there are people who can’t do this, because of resources, or lack thereof.
Let’s tie in Brigid here shall we?
Now, Brigid was a royal personage in Caith Maigh Tuired. So, she would have understood the power of clothes. Because she was also not part of the privileged group. (Seriously, the Brehon laws were not egalitarian and the word of a woman was equal to half that of a man’s word) So she will have worked with herself, her clothing, her situation to make the best of it. I’m fully sure of that. (Although to be fair, it is based on my own reading an interpretations) Brigid-as-goddess and the power contained within? Think of the many different ways she appears to us and how that magnifies or dampens her power. She knows damn well how to affect us like that!
And, if you think about, while I harp on about the power of words in magic and spirituality, wearing the right clothes can amplify your power as well. It effects how you feel about the probability of a positive outcome. Now I do believe that you can do a serious magical ceremony or ritual in your jammies, if that’s what suits. But maybe on occasion you might think about the clothes you’re planning on wearing, and how they might affect the work you’re trying to do.
OK, finishing up now!
Just as there is no point in a barrister turning up to court with their wig and robes and expect to be taken seriously, there is no point in turning up for our deities for a formal occasion without making the effort, either. This doesn’t mean run out a buy couture fashion. But it does mean thinking about what’s appropriate for the occasion and giving your best.
If you feel powerful, you will act powerful and probably get more positive outcomes in your endeavours. And if that means looking at the clothes you wear, using symbolism to support your case or your efforts? Then go for it! If it means adjusting your personal style slightly to better fit in or stand out? Go for it!
Work with the clothes you have to think about outfits for particular occasions in advance. That way you don’t have to scrounge around when the time comes. And if you know something is coming up, but aren’t sure what to wear, try visualising yourself in different outfits to see how it feels. Try them on. Really look at yourself. You might surprise yourself on what you end up with.
And yes, I have another 3 pairs of those jeans winging their way to me through the post!