What’s in a name?

As some of ye know, I’ve been working on a book for Irish Brigid, investigating what we have in the lore, what we can extrapolate from that and a few other bits and pieces. (Yup, I am still working on it, it’s not been forgotten!) As part of that, I’ve been spending a lot of time on dil.ie looking at the various meanings of “brig”.

They have 4 (see the link here)

a) power, strength, force, authority; vigour, virtue

b) value, worth; advantage; validity, virtue, efficacy

c) meaning (of words, sayings)

d) In phrases with prepp. and verbs

Now a) and b) would be fairly well known I think generally – that brig would be linked to power, value, strength, etc. But I was surprised by c) meaning of words, sayings and I wanted to investigate that a bit. Because to me, that links Brigid to the meaning of words and sayings, to the power of words and sayings, which of course as a poet and protector of poets she’d be well aware of.

The website has 3 phrases that I want to talk about (bearing in mind that I’m not good with medieval Irish and some of the stuff I draw out here may be inaccurate. I’ve done the best I can, but with limited knowledge! So with that warning clear, I hope, on we go!)

brígh na cédlitre = tenour is the first phrase in the entry. (Truth to tell, I had to look up tenour for a meaning as well. wiktionary.com gives me: “The (primary) intended message or purpose of something. The tone or character of something; the tenor of something; the usual mode of life” Now I can’t find a meaning for “cédlitre” to be able to break this down further, but having “Brig” linked to the tenour of words, the intended message, the purpose to me gives us a further link to the poet and the power of words.

bríogh na guidhei-se comes without a direct English translation, but… I looked up various forms of guidhei, and anything that comes up with a guid in the root of it is linked to begging earnestly, praying, pleading, so I would say it’s linked to power of prayer, power of asking appropriately, that sort of thing. Again, something easily linked to the power of words and poetry for Brig I would say.

fios a bhríghe is the last one under this section and it adds in English “of a prov. saying” which I think means of a proverb or proverbial saying? Now, fios is the modern Irish word for knowledge and although I can’t find an entry for it in the eDIL, any time it’s mentioned it appears to be linked to some sort of knowledge. Here again so we have the power of knowledge, which to me again links Brigid strongly back to the poets, where the power of knowledge and the ability to use it was pretty much the root of their power – and the acknowledgement of that power by the general population of course!

Now, of course, I could be talking out of my ass here, gods know it wouldn’t be the first time I’d gone on a wrong train of thought, but the strong links in the dictionary between the root word brig and the power of words, the value of words is a reasonable jump for me to Brigid’s links with poets and poetry. Does it bring anything new to my practice? Well maybe a few new words for me, in both Irish and English, which is never any harm. A deeper understanding of the potential meanings of Brigid’s name? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m unconsciously biased and I’ve missed something glaring here! Either way, I hope it’s interesting and it encourages people to do their own exploring through the meanings of words!

St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor

A picture of the well entrance, white washed stone hut on the left, with a bench outside and 2 potted plants at the entrance, a set of stone steps to the right, with a low wall and hint of tree trunks and greenery. From: http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2014/01/saint-brigids-well-liscannor-county.html

I have often said that there as wells dedicated to Brigid in most counties in Ireland and I’ll stand by that statement (although the paper I discuss below mentions Patrick Logan’s “The Holy Wells of Ireland”, which outlines 15 wells dedicated to St. Brigid in 11 counties. It also mentioned there are probably more undocumented, so my initial thoughts might be still valid…

Some, however, are a bit more famous than others. St Brigid’s Well in Liscannor, Co. Clare is one such. Now my mother grew up not far from the well and she has mentioned in the past the days when the crowds would come to the well, from the Aran Islands and all over Co. Clare (and I’m sure elsewhere as well) but until I was in Clare a few summers ago (thank you COVID), I didn’t realise how big an insitution it was. We had the (mis)fortune of driving by on the Feast of the Assumption (my grandad’s birthday) and getting stuck in the traffic jam. Honestly – it’s a quiet country road usually, but it took us a good hour to go a mile… my own fault really, I should have been paying attention to the date!

A picture from Google Maps, showing green hedges in the front and a glass/plastic enclosed statue of St. Brigid, holding a crozier and book in the middle, with a stone wall and tall trees behind her

Anyway, over the last few days, following on from my delight over the Brigid Shoe Shrine in the last post, I was doing some mooching around academia.edu and came across a wonderful paper called Saint Brigid: Holy Wells, Patterns and Relics by David W. Atherton and Michael Peter Peyton. It explore Peyton’s memories of the regular Pattern or Patron Days at the well, and he maintains there were four times a year when people would visit the well en masse: St. Brigid’s Eve (31st January), the Saturday and Sunday of Crom Dubh (the last Sunday of July and the vigil) and the Feast of the Assumption, as mentioned above is the 15th July. Now at another time I’d like to come back and visit the connection to Crom Dubh, but I’m forcing myself to put that aside for now.

The paper refers to the “Catholic authorities” being concerned about the morality of these gatherings, given that there was drinking and dancing and all sorts of things going on – even, God forbid! “those practices that involve a striving to have children and such, since such practices smack more of superstition than devotion“. Ah yes, the striving to have children and such??? Anyone else wondering what the “and such” entails?? All in all though, as many a good Irish Catholic will tell you, when the priest is warning you off a party, gathering or event, it’s usually a good sign it’ll be worthwhile going! Things had calmed down a bit in the mid-20th century, and I have to say I saw no signs of debauchery of any kind when I was driving by a few years ago, although it was in the middle of the afternoon. Maybe I should have gone back that night…

As well as the commentary on the morals of the gatherings, the paper includes the “rounds” or the practices to go through to gain the saint’s favour or help in your endeavour. Now, they say they got these from Wikipedia, but I can’t find them on there, which is a bit annoying. On the other hand, as far as prayers go, I don’t see any issue with using this one and the rounds are very well described in the paper. I’d suggest reading the paper to get the full extent of the rounds, as they involve the upper and lower sanctuary and are something I will be doing myself when next I’m down there. But I’ll reproduce the prayer here:

Go mbeannaí Íosa duit, a Bhríd Naofa,

Go mbeannaí Muire duit, is go mbeannaím féin duit,

Chugat a thána’ mé ag géarán mo scéil chugat,

Agus d’iarraidh cabhair in onóir Dé ort.

In English, this is: May Jesus bless you, St. Brigid/ Holy Brigid, May Mary bless you and may I myself bless you. It is to yourself I have come, voicing my complaint and asking your help for the honour of God.

Now I can understand that this is a fairly Catholic prayer and sure the well is devoted to St. Brigid these days, so there’s no surprise there, but there are ways to alter it to a more pagan option. I’ve done my best below.

Beannachtaí an lae ort, a Bhríd,

Beannachtaí an oíche ort, is mo bheannchtaí féin ort comh maith.

Chugat a tháinig mé ag géarán mo scéal chugat,

agus d’iarraidh cabhair ort.

In short, this translates as “blessings of the day to you, Brigid, blessings of the night to you and my own blessings as well. It is to yourself I have come, voicing my complaint and asking your help”.

The prayer isn’t necessarily tied to St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor of course and could be adapted, as could the rite, to any well or water really in my opinion.

Finally, the Irish for well is usually taught these days as tobar, but in the paper, the well in Liscannor is consistently referred to as Dabhach Bhríde. And dabhach has other meanings in Irish as well, which I found interesting: copper, tank, trough, vat. And this had me thinking of the forge again, because coper, tanks, troughs and vat are likely to be found in a forge. PURE UPG alert here, folks, this is my brain rambling and making connections that may or may not be there. But I’d like to think that the well had some connection, at some point to the older versions of Brigid, in her forge, hammering away.

And now, I want to go explore Crom Dubh and see why people would be going to St. Brigid’s well on the Sunday of Crom Dubh, so I’ll leave it there!

St. Brigid’s Shoe Shrine

Yeah, you read that right!! St. Brigid has a shoe shrine, that is on displayed National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology (Kildare Street in Dublin for those able to get there). Now, I’ve not made it up to Dublin yet to see this shrine, cos I only found out about the shrine this morning, but there a great page on it here (it’s on the website of the National Museum of Ireland, so it’s a pretty legitimate source!)

There’s a video on there as well, going over what is known and/ or believed about the saint. The video also goes over the 7 known lives of St. Brigid (although honestly, Cogitosus and Bethu Brigte are the two I hit on most often!) and how accurate/ inaccurate they might be, as well as the customs and traditions associated with St. Brigid and her feast day.

The most exciting bit of the video, in my opinion, is the bit about the shoe shrine. I mean, I’d never heard of a shoe shrine before… But anyway, a shrine is something that would be created to hold a relic of the saint, in this case a shoe was the relic, so it’s a shoe shrine. A relic can be any object associated with the saint – you often see bones or blood for example in Catholic tradition anyway, but it can also be something that belonged to the saint as well. As another example, in the Middle Ages, there were apparently so many fragments of the “True Cross” wandering around Europe, you could have built a good sized town out of them all if you got them all together. And of course there are loads of relics and shrines still around today.

In honour of the fact these items held sacred objects, these shrines were often heavily decorated and were prayed to/over (the preposition used here depends on your point of view) and could be used to swear oaths. They were usually held in churches or monasteries and in later years found their way into private antiquaries (it’s colonialism, Chad….)

Now this shrine is thought to have held a shoe, hence the shape (either one of Brigid’s own or a relic she herself held), although said shoe is not longer in existence. It’s made of metal – copper or bronze, I think the video said, and the metal is carved with various inscriptions in Latin and pictures of St John the Baptist and Christ on the cross. Now the shoe depicts a later period than Brigid herself would have worn, which is described in the video. (I mean, really, by this point, I’m assuming you’ve already gone to the video in question, cos it’s amazing and only 10mins long!)

Now, the shrine suggests a link between Brigid and St Mary’s Church in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo – not the part of the country we usually associate with herself to be fair, and I find myself itching to head over to duchas.ie to see what it has to say around Ballinrobe and Brigid. That may be a later post… I may even take a trip up there over the summer to see the stained glass window mentioned in the video. It sounds great.

Anyway, why am I so excited? Well aside from the fact it’s a shrine I didn’t know about – cos that’s exciting in and of itself. And it shoes me that Brigid’s relics were being used and treasured, in this case in a Carmelite monastery dedicated to her in the Lough Rea area of Galway (that might have to be investigated in the same trip as Ballinrobe. It could be Lough Ree as well, but that’s not in Galway, but covers bits of Longford, Westmeath and Roscommon, so I’m hoping it’s Lough Rea – my Dad is from near there and it’s a much smaller lake as well! There is a Carmelite abbey and monastery in Loughrea town itself, but the convent is empty now as the nuns left in 2020. I’m not sure how much of a presence the monastery has in the town, masses are still being held there… This would be the same Abbey that my grandmother regularly went to Mass at before she died. This is also the same Nana that refused to go to Mass when they changed the time of the Mass so it no longer suited her. As far as she was concerned for those few months in Loughrea, there was no Mass held. (It’s not off the side of the road I got my stubbornness!)

Interestingly, that Carmelite convent started off in 1680, when Eleanor Bourke (a “young lady of noble birth” according to Declan Kelly’s Loughrea: A Parish History where I got some more info!) decided she wanted to live a life of piety and the first Carmelite house in Ireland was supplied to her near St. Brigid’s Well in Loughrea (which is now thought to be St. Bride’s on Bride Street). This could be why the video on the National Museum website says the convent was dedicated to St. Brigid?

At this point, I find myself intrigued by the history of St Brigid in the west and I can see a few road trips in my future as I explore this more fully. Including a more careful reading of Declan Kelly’s book. And seeing if the Carmelites have any histories of their own…

And yes, this did all come from a random mention of St. Brigid’s Shoe Shrine in a paper on academia.edu by Niamh Whitfield called Dress and Accessories in the Early Irish Tale “The Wooing Of Becfhola”. I got to page 6 of a 34 page document and just had to pop off and do all this other looking up about the shoe shrine and then I was so excited I had to write to all ye about it. And it doesn’t include the list of other writings, books, papers etc already referenced that I have noted to look up later. As to why I started reading it? I wanted to know how accurate my mental images are of the clothes our ancestors would have worn, whether Iron Age type clothing or Middle Age type clothing. I have the brat and the léine in my head of course, but I’m not sure how accurate that is, so hence the reading to find out.

I know I keep going on about it, but really, reading up on this stuff is fascinating and this morning’s activities are yet another example of how a simple article reading exercise progresses to a rabbit hole of research… a labyrinthine mind is a wondrous thing!

Know yourself

I won’t speak to other pantheons, but I feel the Irish pantheon kinda insists on their followers doing a lot of work around knowing themselves. And within that pantheon, I feel like Brigid pushes her followers to know themselves a lot. Her followers speak about going through the anvil almost as a rite of passage, except it rarely is a one-time journey and it demands self-knowledge in a way my experience of organised religion never did.

(side note: as I was typing the above, I could feel other Irish deities kinda poking their heads up and saying “What now?” Brigid is of course not the only deity that pushes self knowledge among her followers, she’s just the one I have most experience with. )

But what does self-knowledge mean? And how does one go about learning about it? We should know ourselves right? After all, most of the people reading this blog have probably been living on this earth for a few decades at least?

Well true, but there’s many people who can live their lives and not delve deep into themselves at all. And when I think of self-knowledge, I tend to divide the knowledge into 3 realms, similar to how I prepare for festivals: physical, emotional/mental, spiritual. In physical terms, “knowing yourself” often comes up in sexual conversations, particularly with women (or at least, particularly in my experience of being a woman, which is not universal) And it usually comes in related to sexual pleasure, which is an important part of life, in my opinion, so I’m not knocking it. Knowing how your body receives pleasure, whether sexual or otherwise, is hugely important. But there’s also other things to know about your body. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What sensations does it like? What textures, fabrics, surfaces does it like? What foods have what effects on it? (Yeah, there are days I live on chocolate, no harm in admitting it, but really, long-term, that’s not what my body looks for!) What movement does it like? You may not be able to give your body everything it likes, but know what works best can help a lot.

For example, over the years, because of my work and lifestyle, my body has gotten used to a lot of sedentary time. In fact, there are days I can go by with fewer than 500 steps if I don’t make an effort. That’s not the preferred state for my body, it works better with more movement. Equally, washing my body daily is a good idea for me, washing my hair daily – less so. It works better if my hair is washed a few times a week rather than daily. Nothing life threatening really here, but it’s about knowing myself.

You can take this and work through the mental/emotional realm and the spiritual realm as well. What works best for you? And while you might think that quitting your job and running away to wilderness would suit you best, maybe figure out how you’re going to live beforehand and pick up a few of the skills you’ll need before such a major commitment?

What brought this to mind? Well, we’re on the May Bank Holiday weekend here in Ireland and celebrated Bealtaine over the weekend. As part of my celebrations, I didn’t spend money between midday 30th April and midday 1st May. And I found it difficult. I rarely spend money physically, at the weekends anyway, but it is a time when I can spend a lot on Amazon and other online sites. I didn’t realise how much of a habit it was until I found myself very uncomfortable on Saturday night, not browsing my usual websites. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’m not spending money we don’t have, but it was interesting to note my levels of discomfort and this is now something I’m going to explore some more over the coming weeks.

It may just be a habit and my discomfort was the usual discomfort of changing a habit, for however short a time. It might also be that this is a soothing activity of some kind for me. It may be completely harmless, but such a marked experience is worth exploring further.

I have heard people ask what use is it following the habits of our ancestors in the modern world and what use they have for us. Well, this is one of the uses for me – it can expose parts of ourselves we might not otherwise have noticed. My husband and I regularly have something neither of us are interested in on the telly at the weekends, while we read or browse the internet, so that didn’t bother me. Stopping myself hitting “Checkout” though was very interesting and caused some internal discomfort so it’s worth exploring a bit more.

This is just one habit of course, at one festival, one person’s experience. And there are other ways to know yourself – journaling is more consistent, if done regularly, shadow work is useful if done with solid theory and foundations, there are loads of ways to explore self knowledge. Hell, lighting some candles, putting on your favourite underwear and having a good explore session with your body is an amazing way to spend an evening, the work doesn’t always have to be difficult and painful!

Have a think over your practices and which bits can cause unexpected reactions in you and see what you can learn or explore further there. You might be surprised what you learn!

Brigid and her Da

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily devotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support Systems part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A look at women in Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support Systems

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

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

I have support systems.

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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