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 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 was listening to a podcast from the Irish Pagan School on the way to work this morning. Jon was discussing whether the Dagda and Lugh get on… And of course it got me thinking, as Jon’s thoughts tend to do. Yes, I was thinking of Brigid! And how I built a relationship with the deities that appear in my home at times.
Now, I’ve never had an issue with the various deities that appear in my home. I’ve had a few circling through over the last few years because of the various courses I’ve been doing for the IPS. So, there’s been the Morrigan, the Dagda, Lugh and of course Brigid. There’s also been Crom Dubh and Tailtiu, and I have a feeling Crom Cruach will be making an appearance shortly. There’s also St. Therese and the Mother Mary hanging around as well. Although to be fair, they tend to be a bit busier than others. But how do you manage a relationship with multiple deities? How do you start a relationship with a deity at all?
Well, ye know from previous postson this topic, I’m a strong believer in reading the lore and learning from it. How to start a relationship with a deity, in my opinion, is to get to know what you can about them, from reputable source. I highly recommend UCC Celt to find either original manuscripts and translations of them as a starter. Now, to be honest, the CODECS site is far better for sourcing academic work. But the UCC Celt one is easier to search and find things on, so if you’re starting out – try there first!
How to build a relationship with deity can move on from there, once you know the basics. Start a daily check in. A few mins every day, or even a single minute of less every day, is a good way to start. A lot of my practice with Brigid right now is a pause on my way to the car in the morning. I stop, take a breath, thank her for the weather or something, then move about my day.
How to manage multiple deities at once?
Well, it’s more of the same really. Build the relationship with the deity gradually. Start with the basics. Learn what you can about whoever you want to welcome to your home. But here’s the important bit. And Jon highlighted this in his podcast as well – your home, your altar, it’s your space. You get to decide who is invited in and who isn’t. Youcan create your altar as a space for you, as you need it to be. If a deity chooses to come visit, that’s up to them. To my mind, the usual guest responsibilities apply.
Deities don’t have the same relationships as humans. So, just because, for example, Tailtiu and the Dagda were on opposite sides in the first battle of Moytura, doesn’t mean they have any issues visiting my home at the same time. For a start, it was a long time ago. For a second, I’ve built my relationship with them in different ways. And they’re deities – they don’t think like humans. We have a habit of anthropomorphising them at times, but they aren’t human. Building a relationship with multiple deities is harder work – and I’d advise doing it one at a time. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I focus on Brigid for the most part, because she is my main relationship. But I burned frankincense and myrrh incense for over a year, accidentally, because of the influence of the Dagda (the sneaky fecker!) I picked flowers last year for Crom Dubh. I gave blood to the Morrigan – again, not entirely voluntarily, but it wasn’t a massive wound, so, grand. It is entirely possible to work with multiple deities and have multiple deities on your altar.
Altars and sharing space
Now, your altar doesn’t have to be something grand and big like the one pictures above. It can be a statue. A mug of coffee and a slice of bread. A flower. Your altar is your sacred space, it’s for you to maintain and keep up, so it must suit you and your lifestyle. If it needs to be hidden – shoebox! (Also works for not much space as well) If you need multiple deities represented there – no problem. Maybe having separate places in your home works better for you, in which case, grand as well. But don’t think you can’t put two deities together on an altar just because of one story from two millennia ago!
As I said above, a deity’s relationship with deities is different from ours. They’re not human. So, naturally, our relationship with deities will vary as well. There are very few hard and fast lines I adhere to with deity. (Unless you’re trying to argue that Brigid is meek and mild – that’s a hill I will die on!) So, if you have multiple deities calling you, don’t panic. Build it up as you normally would with each individual. Maybe ask one if it’s ok to wait while you deal with another one. Don’t commit to more than you can manage. And then move forward, as it works in your life.
It’s not often we discuss Brigid, or indeed any Irish deity, and political power, but here we go. In researching for the upcoming Brigid in Cormac’s Glossary class (and you can get a $15/€15 discount if you sign up to the mailing list and buy the class before 6:30pm Irish time on Saturday), I’ve been diving deep into the political power of the church/religion in Ireland in the 10th century. It’s wild – like the Cormac of Cormac’s Glossary? Described as a king-bishop. No separation of Church and State here!! He was off on war campaigns and all sorts. And his chief advisor? An abbot…
So, really it’s no wonder our own Brigid was used for various purposes over the generations as well. Now at some point, I want to look at the political power she herself would have wielded as an abbess of a major religious institution in her own right. Today, I want to look at how she was used and the way women deemed as “powerful women in politics” have operated in this country throughout the ages.
Irish history time…
In the mid-7th century, there was a bit of a disagreement (or potentially all-out ecclesiastical war, depending on what source you’re reading) between Armagh and Kildare for the Primacy of Ireland. It’s down to money really, money and political power. The winner (ended up with St. Patrick’s home patch of Armagh) would essentially rule the clerical portions of Ireland and be in direct contact with the Holy See. We’re heading for a lot of power and control through religion here. But sure, that’s no strange thought to any of us.
Religion is a great way to wield political power – just look at all the bishops in the House of Lords in England! So, this is when Cogitosus started writing his Vitae. It’s propoganda to increase the visibility of Brigid of Kildare and to show how awesome and wonderful the place was. Talk about power politics? Basically, no more than some of the writers we’ll mention later, Cogitosus was running a PR campaign for Kildare and promoting the life of St. Brigid as such a great holy woman, and an awesome leader, even after her death, was all part of the gig.
Now, don’t worry – the lot in Armagh were doing the same for St. Patrick (I still think it was pure patriarchy that got him the win in the end, but that’s only my own opinion). But Brigid wasn’t 2 centuries dead and her followers were using her legend for alternative purposes.
Just after the Norman’s arrived in the 12th century, they sent a lad call Giraldus of Wales or Giraldus of Monmouth (which is in Waltes) around Ireland to present some more propaganda back home. This time – the goal was to paint the Irish as barbarians of the worst sort. He goes through a whole list of ways the Irish are less than human, setting the tone for centuries later. It’s ridiculous how often this text is quoted in following centuries.
In saying that though, we remember this man in his descriptions of the sacred fire in Kildare. He wrote of the priestesses tending the holy flame in Kildare. He also wrote of the punishments facing men who tried to enter. So, he probably wasn’t all bad. He was definitely a Norman though. And he strongly encouraged his audience to pop over to take advantage of the natural resources of the island to their west. (#nevernotatit)
The fact that women appeared to hold political power was another problem. St. Brigit wielded much power as an abbess. Her successors in the abbey were also women who wielded a lot of power. This continued until the attack on the abbey in the 13th century, when the attackers raped the abbess to strip her power from her. And then, the local ruler appointed his niece as abbess. Somehow, after that, the abbess was just another abbess… Wonder how that happened? This was definitely not one of the powerful women in politics!
In medieval Ireland, no more than in the rest of Europe, women didn’t hold political power, or much other power either. There are lots of tales of the convoluted marriages, with first, second and third or higher wives fighting for precedence, inheritance for children etc. Powerful women in politics worked more behind the scenes than in public. Brigid and her successors really stood out in this sense, and had to be removed. No woman could be seen to wield political power as a norm.
More modern times
Brigid really started to come to prominence again in Ireland during the #Repealthe8th campaign. Ireland’s move from the 1983 referendum to ban abortion to removing said amendment in 2018. Grainne Griffin, Orla O’Connor, Ailbhe Smyth, Co-Directors of Together for Yes campaign showed a new mode of leadership during this campaign. All three were joint leaders, wielding power in a new way. This grassroots campaign worked very differently from previous political campaigns in Ireland. From the start, the focus was on individual conversations, people talking to each other, sharing stories… This was not a campaign won with posters, with traditional political power, with power politics.
This campaign, much like Brigid herself, worked differently. It wasn’t the behind-the-scenes “powerful women in politics” seen in the 10th century and later. It wasn’t the traditional domination type of politics either. The political power wielded here was the power of the people. Brigid was invoked as the first abortionist in Ireland, even if there are at least 2-3 other saints that have similar miracles attributed to them. She has remained as a feminist icon since then as well. The move to gain 1st February as a bank holiday is a further sign of Brigid’s growing popularity. Although there were complaints from all types of religion at that as well!
In the end, St Brigid had political power as the abbess of a major religious establishment. Her legacy has been used in power politics to support or belittle according to the whims of the person telling the story. And they’re all stories – even what I’ve said here is a story, of sorts. So what do you think? Of Brigid, of power, of the story I’ve told here?
Yup, this is the second time in 6 weeks or so I’ve written about Brigid and Hope. But I feel it’s worth exploring from another perspective as well.
I’ve felt hope. I’ve felt desperation so deep, I thought life was over. And I’ve moved from one to the other almost in a heartbeat. And of course, Brigid was there all along. Now, ye know, my bent is fairly firmly towards the practical, so hope to me needs to come with an action plan, or a purpose or something to support it. I’m not great on hope for hope’s sake.
What does desperation look like for me?
Desperation for me is when I see no way out. It’s happened with abuse, it’s happened with a horrible work situation, it’s happened when I’ve been so broke I was struggling to feed myself and the husband. In all those situations, there was no way out, hope was non existent.
Life was tough in all those situations and it was harder to get myself out of those situations (to be fair the abuse situation was one of the easiest for me. He left. Three months later, hope arrived… The usual experience, as we all know, is very very different.) And I won’t be one of those people who say they dragged themselves put by their bootstraps. That’s not how life works.
I had friends who helped me. Resources, education, language skills, professional skills… I had a lot to support me. And I still struggled.
What does hope look like?
Hope to me looks like having a plan. Now, it’s not always the best plan (at the time my ex left, my plan was essentially “curl in a ball and cry”). If I have a route to escape, a route to fix the problem, that’s what brings hope to me. But sometimes, when I’m so deep in the mire, even a plan can’t bring me to that level of expectation, that hope of a positive outcome.
Brigid plays a role here though. Aside from the general hope associated with spring, Imbolc, new growth, etc, it’s not like she has any particular connections with hope. So, this can probably be termed UPG.
For me – the goal is to have a plan to escape the current situation. Brigid, being the practice deity she is, is big on plans. She doesn’t always understand the level of plan I need to feel that hope in my chest, but she’s willing to work with me! After my last post and emails, I got a lot of emails saying “Orlagh, I don’t have the funds to even spend on healing my abundance“. And you know something – I get you. I have been there. At one point, even buying a book was beyond me… So I’m not underestimating what seem unachievable.
So what the hell can I do???
But, to a certain extent, there are times when we need to generate hope for ourselves. So, while, I totally understand that not everyone has $44 dollars for a course or $20 for a book (I have no idea how much books in the US are, but that would cover everything but a brand new hardcover for me… most of the time), there are always routes available to us. There are libraries. There are free blogs and podcasts associated with both Ramit Sethi and Tori Dunlap.
Huge amount of information there and one of the best things as far as I’m concerned? A lot of it is about how to manage on very little money. OK some of it is about how to cope when you’re dealing with $25k+ a month… I live in hope that might one day be my problem! But there is help there. I’m not throwing a “spend money to make money” at ye.
And, you know there’s always prayer. I don’t usually count prayer as a concrete plan, but there are times when prayer is what we have. Just be very careful about what precisely you’re praying for… Brigid can take things very literally!
I’m trying something new today and getting vulnerable about sharing something I honestly have not had the courage or the will to do before. So bear with me. Attracting abundance is probably one of the most searched items on the internet (oh yes, I went there, over 11 million results in 0.34 seconds according to Google). Living an abundant life is apparently a big deal for a lot of us! And it crosses communities as well – you can get people searching (and providing information) from a spiritual context, pure cash money, wealth, food, water…
It’s one of those things that everyone has a different definition for and a different mindset about. And of course, Brigid, while not anti-abundance per se, isn’t usually associated with the concept, which I think is a real oversight. So today, I’m going to talk about how I link herself with being abundant, what strategies I use from different places and the next steps I’m taking to make another step change.
Brigid and Abundance
Then baskets were brought to her to be filled from the wife of the druid. She had only the butter of one and a half churnings. The baskets were filled with that and the guests, namely the druid and his wife, were satisfied. The druid said to Brigit: ‘The cows shall be yours and let you distribute the butter among the poor, and your mother shall not be in service from today and it shall not be necessary to buy her, and I shall be baptized and I shall never part from you.’ ‘Thanks be to God’, said Brigit.
This is one of the many miracles associated with food and Brigid. Mostly they’re like this one – what I term the “loaves and fishes” type,. The original of course, coming from here (Matthew 14:17-19) and here (John 6:1-14) in the Bible. It’s amazing how many saints come up with this sort of miracle. But I suppose food, for most of human history, has been a major concern. Being able to feed the multitudes, having that abundance of food, was a serious sign of wealth.
However, our Brigid, was the daughter of a slave and not in possession of much in terms of wealth. She still gave away quite a lot to those in need.
On a certain day a guest came to Dubthach’s house. Her father entrusted her with a flitch of bacon to be boiled for the guest. A hungry dog came up to which she gave a fifth part of the bacon. When this had been consumed she gave another [fifth]. The guest, who was looking on, remained silent as though he was overcome by sleep. On returning home again the father finds his daughter. ‘Have you boiled the food well?’, said her father. ‘Yes’, said she. And he himself counted [them] and found [them intact]. Then the guest tells Dubthach what the girl had done. ‘After this’, said Dubthach, ‘she has performed more miracles than can be recounted.’ This is what was done then: that portion of food was distributed among the poor.
This time the saint is giving away bacon. It’s amazing to me that the stories never mention her getting into trouble. She always has enough to feed the people she’s meant to feed. I know – these are fairly standard in the saints’ lives, hagiographies, etc, but still. You think someonesomewhere would have taken umbrage – especially in this case, where the not-spare food is going to a stray dog.
Once at Eastertide: ‘What shall we do?’, said Brigit to her maidens. ‘We have one sack of malt. It were well for us to prepare it that we might not be without ale over Easter. There area moreover seventeen churches in Mag Tailach. Would that I might keep Easter for them in the matter of ale on account of the Lord whose feast it is, that they might have drink although they should not have food. It is unfortunate for us only that we have no vessels.’ That was true. There was one vat in the house and two tubs. ‘They are good; let it be prepared(?).’
This is what was done: the mashing in one of the tubs, in the other it was put to ferment; and that which was put to ferment in the second tub, the vat used to be filled from it and taken to each church in turn, so that the vat kept on coming back, but though it came back quickly that which was in the tub was ale. Eighteen vatfuls had come from the one sack, and what sufficed for herself over Easter. And there was no lack of feasting in every single church from Easter Sunday to Low Sunday as a result of that preparation by Brigit.
This is one of my favourite stories. Now, the history of alcohol in Ireland is not really a good one. I know we have a history of enjoying ourselves, and drinking a lot, and being able to hold out drink. But alcoholism is a blight on this country. If you are interested, Drink Aware, HRB National Drugs Library and our national health organisation, the HSE, all have further information if you want to explore. Hell, even wikipedia has a decent enough article about it.
That said, this is another miracle related to an abundant good that Brigid is recorded as performing, so I’ve included it here. I love that it at the end: “what sufficed for herself over Easter”. It’s one of the few times that Brigid herself benefits from the abundance she creates.
What do I mean by abundance?
Alright, so I’ve been talking about abundance, but what do I actually mean by it? Explanations range from “a very large quantity of something” (dictionary.com) to “having more than enough of something (Cambridge University Press). For me, I hold abundance as feeling like I have enough and some to spare.
Except books. I don’t think I will ever have enough books. But that’s another story!
Now we come to “an abundance of what?” Food? Money? Wealth? Clothes? This is a personal question, definitely. And defining what “abundance” or “being abundant” means to you is a really important first step. 6 years ago, I put “being able to buy any book I want without thinking too hard” as my “abundance” sign. Part of the reason I’m writing this is because I need to redefine that now, because, as my husband will tell you, I can now buy any book I want. This is proven by the amount of book deliveries our poor postwoman delivers weekly!
Now this definition of abundance is highly promoted by one of the resources I’m going to talk about.
A Rich Life
(In this section, please read “rich life” to mean “abundant life” as far as I’m concerned!)
A man called Ramit Sethi wrote a book called I will teach you to be rich back in 2020 I think. The first thing he asks you to do as a reader? Define your rich life. This is a huge acknowledgement: not everyone has the same idea of what “rich” means. For me, it meant at one point, to be able to buy any book I wanted. My rich life still includes this, but it also includes more. Sethi guides you through a means to really imagine what your life would be like for you to feel truly rich. He includes things like: the restaurants you’d eat at, the clothes you’d buy, the house you’d live in, the car you’d drive, the place you’d live in… the list goes on.
And I like this approach, as I’ve said above. I won’t go into the full detail of this, because he says it way better on his blog and in his book (both linked above). But I will say the components of my rich life now include: owning our own home without a mortgage, working part time, giving away money to people I love and who need it, hiring someone to take over household management and food management. I mean, very little of this is within my reach right now. But that’s ok. 6 years ago, I couldn’t imagine a time when I bought a book on a whim without having a crisis of conscience when it arrived in the post! This approach to money really caused a step change in the way I viewed the abundance in my life.
A Feminist Rich Life
Tori Dunlap made her first $100k by the time she was 25. This was a goal of hers and she made it. I actually think she had $100k in savings and investments by the time she was 25. Now, this is not possible for me – I’m long past 25 at this point. But reading about her story and then reading her book again brought me a step change in thinking how I can attract abundance and live my abundant life.
She also looks at finances through a feminist lens, which lies close to my own ethics and principles, and frequently discusses topics related to this in her podcast. The first exercise in Dunlap’s book? What is your first money memory?
I found this enlightening. Maybe you will too.
My First Money Memory
My first money memory involves losing money. I lost a little purse of French francs in our local supermarket because I was too caught up in reading the book I wanted to buy. This was just before we went on holidays to France as well, and I was so proud of my little purse with all of, approx. 5 Francs in it (very approx. €5/ $5). I was reading and then when my parents called me, I was so shocked out of the world I was in, I forgot all about my purse and when I went back it was gone.
So, money has been heavily linked with “distress” to me. And of course, I then got the name of being “bad” with money in the family. (These are self fulfilling prophecies people!) So whenever I attracted abundance in my life, it seemed to slip through my fingers. I never felt abundant. Even when I started earning money, I didn’t feel like I had enough.
(This fed into clothes, books, food, and all sorts of other things as well, but let’s focus on money for now as a symbol of abundance. If we go into food, that’s a whole other blog!)
I had to sit with that memory for a long, long time. I have lots of good memories, by the way, this is just the earliest memory I have that has to do with money. And it coloured a lot of my relationship with money and abundance since.
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle…
… than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, I know that preaching of the prosperity gospels is a big thing in some Protestant arenas, but as a child growing up, this was sold to us as a good reason to not be rich. In fact, poverty was as a virtue, since it was seen as having fewer temptations than richness. Or abundance. And if you had an abundance of something, as a good Catholic, you should be giving it away to those less well off anyway. Way to promote an abundant life, there!
How this was equated with the richness in with the church hierarchy lived and still lives, I don’t know.
But essentially, I had a lot of abundance issues to overcome and truth be told, I’m still overcoming some. My life is abundant in many ways, but there’s still a way to go!
Then, a few years ago, I came across Joanna Hunter. And she was running an experiment called “Heal Your Abundance“. The experiment asked the question:
Can ancient metaphysical knowledge create a significant change in YOUR abundance in just 4 weeks?
Now, from my last time around, it can! This option is more “woo” than the others I’ve put up above and I will admit, I thought hard before committing $44 for a 4-week course. I mean, can abundance really be healed? But then I thought that it was <€50 and a few minutes a day commitment to making a potentially big change in my life. And it did. I didn’t even finish the damn course!
But by working through the exercises that I did manage to get to, I adjusted my mindset enough to get a new job with a 33%+ payrise. This was massive to me at the time. Hell, it would be massive to me now! I felt abundance pouring out of my pores! I was so excited.
And here’s where I get really vulnerable. Part of the course that I didn’t sign up for last time was the affiliate program. I didn’t feel like I was an affiliate type of person. I didn’t feel it was ethical to want to make money for basically – sharing a link. This time, I’ve signed up for the affiliates program and I’m sharing the link here. There is zero difference for anyone who wants to sign up using my link instead of the website link. In fact, in the spirit of abundance, they aim to give away $1,000,000 (yeah that’s a million) in affiliate fees this time round. And if you have a business paypal account, you can sign up for an affiliate link as well.
But I’m at a stage again, in my abundant life, where I’m stalling. I can feel my energy around abundance stagnating. And I want another step change. I have the practical things in place: standing orders and direct debits for savings and bills. I’m clear in my mind about my guilt-free money. I’m happy with the % I’m putting in my pension. It’s time to upgrade my mind again.
Are you not asking Brigid for help here, Órlagh?
And you can bet I’m asking Brigid for help here! She understands my need for a home of my own, owned outright, with not mortgage. She gets the need for stability and putting down roots. Some of the things she is asking me for will be massively easier to complete with that foundation beneath me.
So I know she’s behind me in this. She did not come from a culture where poverty was glorified. She was, and in my experience still is, well able to both gather wealth, abundance, riches and give them away as well. I said to a friend of mine a few years ago that I’d consider myself wealthy when I can imitate a Victorian nobleman and replace a relation’s wardrobe at need. I’m not there yet (unless they’re very into Penneys!) but I’m getting there. And opening myself up to critique about sharing an affiliate link is part of that.
So, check out Joanna Hunter’s work and if you like the look of it, use this link to sign up. I’m really looking forward to it!
And in the mean time, think about what you mean by abundance? Do you consider your life abundant? Have you enough of all you need and a bit to spare? Are you heavily abundant in some areas but extremely tight in others? We are really not encouraged to think this way, but we deserve abundance in our lives. If you don’t believe me, ask her!
This tends to be the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of “transformation” – the typical caterpillar – to – butterfly. It’s obvious, it’s clear, there is a process involved. But what the hell does it have to do with Brigid? Well, ye know it’s coming!
Transformation is change. Now, I have changed significantly in the last, say, 20 years. It’s not all entirely down to Brigid of course. Some of it is just the generally changes that come in life between your 20’s and your 40’s. There are very few people I know living the same life at 40 that they did at 20.
And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”
I love that quote, you know. It sums up the changes and transformations we go through as we move through life. And ok, it might seem a bit miserable, but it’s true. There are natural changes our bodies go through as we age (not to sound all primary school teacher-ish!)
But… what does Brigid have to do with transformation?
Fair question. And it’s not something we consider very often with Brigid. But, think about her links with liminality. That’s where the transformation, the change, happens. It’s not usually in the core of things, our comfort zones, the things we do, same old, same old. It’s in the differences. Transformation happens when we push ourselves a little bit. Or indeed, when Brigid pushes us a little. Or maybe a lot.
Take me as an example. I am far more comfortable in my own skin than I was 20yrs ago. Now part of that is, as I said above, just getting older. But part of it is the transformation that Brigid has helped me achieve. When I talk about shadow work, I’m talking about transformation. When I talk about pushing myself to teach, I’m talking bout transformation. Even the simple act of lighting candles, consciously and with intent, has helped me change and grow.
Part of the work that I do is to know myself. Be able to look myself in the eyes. To not be ashamed of myself. And I like helping other people, women in particular, to achieve this as well. That is a massive transformation for me. Both knowing myself and being willing to put myself out there to help other people. Because for a long time, the thought I had was “who the hell would listen to me?” As it turns out – a fair few people. And I’m very happy about that, even if I still get those doubts sometimes.
Alright, so what kinds of transformation are we talking about?
Well, first and foremost – honesty. I spent a lot of my youth lying. Lying to myself, to those around me, strangers, friends… it didn’t really matter. Lies came as easily to me as truth, and in some cases, easier. It took a lot of work to get to the point where the truth comes first now. Sometimes it comes a bit quickly or bluntly, but I can live with that. It saves me so much energy and emotional output to just – be honest. I don’t have to remember who knows what about what. I don’t have to consider what stories I’ve told where. It’s just easier.
Now this doesn’t mean I reveal all to everyone of course. I took the warnings in the book The Circleto heart! (Great book by the way, raised some very interesting questions) But I don’t lie much at all anymore.
Another major transformation is to accept myself as I am. This doesn’t mean I won’t work to change things I don’t like. But the first step in any meaningful, long term change, in my experience, is that acceptance. The ability to say “This is who I am, today”. You wouldn’t believe the hassles I had with this. Even accepting that I used to be a certain way that I really don’t approve of anymore – major work involved there. But…
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
What did the work of transformation look like?
As I said above – shadow work. Looking myself in the mirror. A lot of navel gazing. Writing. Remembering. Accepting there are some things I don’t remember and probably never will. That was hard. I had to give up the image I had of myself. I had some very long talks with Brigid about this. Crying, begging forgiveness.
But, I have to live with the fact that I did things I am very definitely not proud of when I was younger. I probably will do things I’m not proud of in the future. They’ll be different things I’m not proud of – there’s that transformation again. But it will happen.
Y’see, no matter how much I change and transform – Brigid isn’t one for forgiveness as such. As in, she was fairly blunt about the fact that her forgiveness for these things wasn’t going to be worth much at all. And some of the people I’ve wronged can’t be tracked down or aren’t alive anymore. Forgiveness is something I have to live without. What I can do, is to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again.
Any journey will lead to transformation
There is a school of thought that any journey will lead to transformation. And I kinda agree with that, to an extent. I think any journey with Brigid will definitely lead to transformation. Change happens in the margins, in pushing the envelope. Changes happens when we’re forced to view things differently.
Think of the different aspects of Brigid – deity, saint, druid, nun, healer, smith, poet. She’s not too keen on being put into boxes, so she’s really a great guide for a transformative journey. With her, I have found a day job that fulfils me and pays the bills with a little bit spare. I have found a side gig that brings in some extra, allows me to speak to some amazing people and develops my skills and talents in ways that I can then use in the day job. I got married to a man who is a brilliant support and counterpart for me. (And, I hope, I to him!) I live in a place I can find peace.
A journey with Brigid, over days, months or years, will bring transformations, whether it’s something as small as a new 5 min daily practice you can commit to, or, in a more extreme case, asking her for help and finding your life completely turned upside down overnight. I mean, be careful what you ask for with Brigid – sometimes the transformation can be a bit extreme. Or a lot extreme.
She can and will help, whether is the slow and gradual work of years, or the overnight option. I mean, I’ve suffered the overnight option once or twice. Life was definitely better afterwards, once the dust settles, but slow and gradual was definitely easier. So, y’know, be careful what you wish for.
Brigid can be many things to many people. I often say there are as many Brigids as there are people who work with/for her. (Yes, I’m still not fully sold on the preposition there) And yes, I’ve written before about why to bother with deity, and why deity bothers with us. I could probably write entire volumes on what I’ve heard called “god-bothering” as well.
But today, I want to talk about herself specifically and the good and bad she can bring into our lives.
The good of Brigid
Yeah, I’m following the age-old structure of the good, the bad and the ugly. But we’ll start with the good anyway.
Brigid is a powerful deity in my experience. She can and will bring change to your life, as long as you do your part as well. She will open your mind and heart to possibilities you never suspected existed. You don’t believe me?
Ten years ago, I had just married, in a hell of a lot of debt, feeling fairly unhappy with myself, the world, but having no idea how to change things. I felt prompted, by something I didn’t fully understand to sign up to the waitlist of a women’s transformational retreat. It took me three years from the time I was first offered a place on this retreat to the time I actually turned up.
One my first night there, I spent the entire time planning how I could escape if I needed to. Car keys, and other items had been taken away since we “didn’t need them”. I felt some relief when I heard the following morning that someone had left and had been allowed to leave. When I voiced this, the woman leading that session was a bit shocked. I had thought I was trapped, but we moved through it.
I won’t go into the details of what happens in the retreat, in case anyone ever wants to attend. But it was indeed transformational. And at one point, I called on Brigid, along with some other Irish deities. Not expecting a return answer, but I called nonetheless. I remember standing in the final circle and saying outright “These lands are not my lands. These gods are not my gods. But I have land and gods to go home to.” It was a powerful reclamation of myself.
Now, ok, on the one hand, the almost-immediate answer came from the Dagda rather than Brigid, but he came and then kinda pointed me in the direction of Brigid herself. This was as I was sitting in a Travelodge, bawling my eyes out crying, just allowing a lot of emotion to leave my body.
Since then, my journey has continued through up and down, but always with herself beside me. That’s the good. Brigid commits when needed.
The bad of Brigid
I mean, it’s not really horrendous, but she does have a tendency to forget sometimes that we are human rather than inanimate tools. And, even with her inanimate tools, she’s not always too careful to mind them when she’s deep in the work. Check out the Scealaí Beag’s take on that here! It’s a story that rings true for me, because she is like most engineers of my experience. When you’re deep in the work, the work consumes you and the details like looking after your tools, whether your body or your mind or your actual tools, kinda slips.
But with Brigid, we are not powerless. You can, and should, shout out to her to get the support and rest you need. It’s easy to forget – most of what she asks is eminently practical and useful. But there are times when we need to say no. There might be consequences for saying no. We have to accept that and live with it. But prioritising ourselves is important!
She asks a lot. And this isn’t a Christian “you won’t be asked more than you can give”. Brigid can and will drive you to the edge of your abilities and beyond, when she chooses to push. “Comfort zones” mean nothing, really. Now, you still have to consent, but remember a deity has different ideas of consent than a human court would.
On the other hand, she helps you develop your abilities. She pushes you to achieve things you never thought possible. Brigid will stand behind you and push you to improve. For some of us, that looks like forcing ourselves through physio exercises, even if we don’t want to. For others, it looks like founding a school to talk about Brigid. Still others, she will push to publish a book. She is a deity of skill and craft, and if she sees a need for it. she will pester you until you give in.
How does Brigid get ugly?
I’ll be honest, starting this post, I was mostly thinking about how many times I’ve ugly cried in her service. That’s a lot of the ugly. But there have been ugly conversations. Ugly confrontations – even with myself.
I mentioned shadow work in my last post. You think that was pretty? Aside from the vomiting and diarrhoea, I mean. Looking into the parts of myself that I had suppressed led me down some very dark paths at times. Confronting those parts of myself that I was most ashamed of or embarrassed by – it’s not easy. None of it is easy.
But it helps things improve. Seriously. And yes, it’s hard and it’s difficult, and yes, ugly. We like to think of ourselves as good people, usually. But inside all of us is the capacity for positive and negative actions. We all have the capacity to be ugly in and of ourselves.
That work isn’t pretty. Whether it’s personal or group work, we end up exposing ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable and risking judgement and displeasure from others. Sometimes it can lead to friendships or other relationships breaking.
Brigid can, and does in my experience, insist on you knowing yourself though. She asks us to read to lore, fair enough, there’s little enough of it. But learning about ourselves, the ugly, dark, shameful parts of ourselves? That’s tough. And of course, you can have a good row with Brigid as well. I’ve done it and survived.
Not being disrespectful you understand, but a definite airing of views on different items. That rarely looks pretty either.
With all of this, why bother with Brigid?
Long time followers of Brigid, or those who have with/for her for a long time, often joke about the time on the Anvil. The time when Brigid shapes and hammers her tools into what she needs and wants. And it is hard, really hard going through those times.
Ultimately, it comes back to something I said in a previous post.
But when we work in line with our deities priorities and desires, things happen.
Yes, I realise quoting myself in my own blog post is a bit strange, but it’s true. Brigid has a need to get things done, and get things done in the most efficient way possible. There are times this feels like a steamroller passing over you. Time on the Anvil is not comfortable. But in my experience, I come out of those periods with my life being better.
When I’ve been sick, or needed to change a job, or needed a major change in my life – it has been really painful at times, but she has come through for me. For my last three job changes, I’ve only gone to one company’s interviews to get the job I wanted. That’s almost unheard of! But that’s her power.
Brigid can be comforting. She can be motherly, warm, helpful. But she won’t coddle you unnecessarily – and it’s her opinion, not yours that counts there. She will heal, shape and form you in ways you probably can’t even imagine at the start of your journey. She will push you into liminal spaces so uncertain, you’re not entirely sure where you are or what you’re doing there. But always, always, she is there at your back.
Why bother with Brigid? She is a force for necessary change in this world and by all the gods, do we need it!
Every year around this time, I start seeing posts pop up exploring Brigid as a triple deity. Which is brilliant, except at least half the posts explore her under the Maiden/Mother/Crone construction – which is problematic as far as I’m concerned. And it’s for a few different reasons. Even worse, I then start seeing “Celtic maiden mother crone”, but I am less qualified to address than. I will try, but less qualified.
Maiden mother crone in Irish lore
First off, the “maiden mother crone” construction isn’t one we have in Irish deities. If you google “Irish triple goddesses” you get mentions of Brigid, the Morrigan, the three sovereignty goddesses: Éire, Banbha and Fódla. Mary Jones suggests that Lugh is the lone survivor of triplets and mentions the sons of Tuireann and the sons of Cainte as potential male triple deities. So the idea of triple deities isn’t out of the question in Irish lore. It’s just the construction of the triplets that doesn’t conform to the Roman notion of the “maiden mother crone” construct. (I’m using “construct” here because I can’t think of a better word. It’s not intended to indicate “made up” or otherwise “not authentic”).
We have powerful deities in Ireland, and Brigid is just one (or three) of them. Cormac’s Glossary outlines three sisters, a woman of healing, a woman of wisdom/ protector of poets and a smith. And this is fundamentally where we get the idea of the triple deity from in Ireland. It also leads me down roads of “why call three sisters by the same name”, but that’s for another time! There is no notion that any of the three (poet, healer or smith) conform to maiden, mother or crone.
If anything, Brigid is definitely a mother. She loses her son Ruadhán in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, which is one of our foundational snippets of lore about her. There is a hint that she might be the mother of the sons of Tuireann. (Although other possible mothers are Ana or Danu depending on the source you read.) And, spoiler alert, the sons of Tuireann all die in the end as well. As a mother, I sincerely hope she had daughters or less famous sons rather than losing all her children to heroic deeds. However misguided said heroic deeds might appear from a distance of a few millennia.
Do I think Brigid can appear as a maiden, mother or crone as she chooses? She’s a bloody deity, she can appear however she wishes. And yes, I have experienced her at most adult ages at this point. I’d suggest if you want to limit how a deity appears to you – well just warn me so I can get out of the way, alright? But trying to understand Brigid through the construct of “maiden mother crone” would be very difficult. The history, the folklore, the traditions just aren’t there to support it. For Brigid or any of the other Irish deities.
Maiden mother crone more generally
So there’s my issues with Brigid as maiden mother crone. But I also have some issues with the maiden mother crone concept itself. Now, if you use this construct and it works for you – that is brilliant. Good for you! I’m delighted. If that’s the case, you may wish to skip the rest of this post. So… fair warning.
Now, obviously, my own experience as a woman and with Brigid and other deities/ divine figures will influence the discussion that follows. I make no apologies for that. I am writing this post as a white, Irish, cisgendered, able bodied, reasonably healthy, fat woman. (Admittedly one who wears glasses and has ankle issues, but nothing that majorly impacts on my life choices.) I’m also writing as a woman who can’t have children, for no apparent medical reason. (I don’t want advice on that one by the way!)
And one who has done a lot of work on menstruation spirituality and getting in tune with my body. So while I might managed the maiden and crone bit, the mother bit will be a push. And yes, I know it’s not necessarily a “physical mother who has born children of her body”. I know it can be creative mother, spiritual mother, the energy of the mother. I still have problems with the whole construct.
Plus, it’s my blog, which gives me freedom to outline my thoughts here 😊
The first way this construct annoys me is this: it’s limiting women to their reproductive stages in ways we don’t really limit men at all. Maiden is traditionally innocent, virginal, awakening. New-start energy, enthusiasm, that sort of thing. Mother is fertility, fecundity, growth, caring, homemaking and other adjectives along those lines. The Crone is wise woman, the hag, the moving closer to death. Now, I understand that this can relate to creative pursuits, innovation and all sorts of other things. I get that part. But this still accounts for women by their reproductive season in life.
We don’t do this with men – who have similar stages in their reproductive cycles, it’s just not as pronounced. Or at least the end date isn’t as pronounced.
For me – this construct of the maiden, the mother and the crone is putting me in boxes I never agreed to. Or want to agree to. My chosen career possibly influences this – I’m an engineer and spend a lot of my time with men. I can be in touch with my female power and still not think about my reproductive stages. In fact, it’s preferably in many cases. It’s another way to limit my career if I draw too much attention to my reproductive cycle. In fact, very often in work, I need to forget about my reproductive cycle and work with it outside of work, to support myself in work.
I’m never going to be a mother, unless the Divine presents a miracle. It’s a kick in the teeth to tell me I’m in my fertile phase of life. I think as well, this minimises the effect that older women, post menopause, who contribute so much to life, society, families, work, etc. It minimises women in the “maiden” stage as well, limiting their impact as youthful enthusiasm, when much of the time, our young women are the ones with energy to do things. And yes, I know – I can already hear the proponents of maiden mother crone yelling at the screens. I know it’s not intended to limit people. I know technically we can all feel the “energies” of the different stages at any time. Hell, it’s used in menstruation spirituality to describe the phases of the menstruation cycle. I get it.
It’s still limiting women though. It’s still putting us in boxes. We’re more than all of this. And we deserve to be more than our reproductive stages. The construct appears to have it’s roots in Robert Graves’ work, rather than anything more ancient – which is not necessarily a bad thing. New doesn’t always equal bad. Old doesn’t always equal good. (Just go look at some of the Brehon laws dealing with rank!)
Finally, I’ll come on to the issues with the “celtic maiden mother crone” thing. Basically, no more than it appears in Irish lore, the construct doesn’t appear in other “Celtic” lore as well. First off, “Celtic” as a word usually is best reserved for languages, i.e. Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton and Cornish. There are many arguments about why Celtic should or shouldn’t be used in terms of anything other than language. For myself – describing something as “Celtic” is similar to describing something as “European” or “African”. It’s squishing an entire continent into one culture. Frankly, all you have to do is taste food from Ireland and compare it to the tastes in France (one of our nearest European neighbours) to see how different things can be.
And the word “Celtic” has sometimes been used with racist undertones (or with outright racism in mind) in recent history as well. I’m not going to link to site that use the word in that way, for, I hope, obvious reasons. The Celtic cross has managed to become a racist symbol of hate. I don’t think every depiction of the Celtic cross is a racist symbol (see picture below). Various hate groups have co-opted the cross as a symbol. That doesn’t mean using the word Celtic as a word is racist, but it’s just something to be aware of.
And when it comes to “maiden mother crone” there’s nothing specifically Celtic about it. Sure, if you wanted, you could pick Irish deities to fit in the maiden category, the mother category and the crone category. Although I would warn you, Irish deities like being put in boxes just as much as I do! For me, it would be more important to reach out and learn out lore about these deities.
So, if you’re interested in Brigid – look at the lore of the region you’re in first of all. I know there are Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx legends anyway about Brigid. People all over the world honour the saint. If you’re interested in the maiden mother crone construct – use it. Just don’t try and squish every goddess you meet into that framework cos, let me tell you, some of them will react strongly to that. And don’t assume all goddesses fit the mould you’re most comfortable with. Spirituality, faith – they’re not meant to be comfortable all the time. If you are feeling so comfortable all the time – are you really working at things?
While any deity is more than a construct we humans put about them, Brigid in particular is more than these three phases suggest. I have a basic introduction to Brigid class over at the Irish Pagan School, as well as some more at the Brigid’s Forge School. And the lore is free online as well – check out UCC Celt for any Brigid lore translated into English. There’s only 4 bits in the Irish pre-Christian stories. While the written copies we have today were recorded post Christianity’s arrival in Ireland, it’s obvious from the context of the stories that they happened pre-Christianity.
It’s always important to question our beliefs and work through our thoughts on particular issues. And you may read this and think I make perfect sense, but still find the maiden mother crone construct useful, whether in a Celtic context or not. That’s all fine. But don’t try to push Brigid into that structure – she won’t fit easily and she will let you know!