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!
An exploration of some of the strange food posts I see around this time of year and some suggestions for what to look at for your Imbolc celebration!
Every year, around this time, I start seeing a flood of posts and pages on the internet posting about what food to eat and make for Imbolc. What are traditional Imbolc foods? What should we be making that is appropriate and traditional for Imbolc? Along with recipes and the links between Brigid and this food. And a lot of it is pure bull shit. Now, to be clear, I’m coming at this from an Irish Brigid perspective, as always. But there’s a load of dubious information around the place that we need to clarify. So here’s a list on commonalities I see permeating these posts:
Brigid as sun deity. Now, you might, might I say, have a case for this in Scotland. They tell the legend of the Cailleach ruling the winter and Brigid the summer there. Brigid being released or rescued or escaping is One of the signs of spring and the returning of the sun. But this isn’t the case in Ireland. There might again be an extremely loose, dodgy link between Brigid and the sun. I mean, the sun is a great big fiery ball, but this isn’t something that happens in Irish lore. Irish deities just plain aren’t set up that way, to be the “Deity of X”. There are things we can connect them to, because of the lore and the stories, but we wouldn’t refer to them as the deity of X. And this rules out a lot of what follows through this type of post.
The absolute lack of differentiation between Irish and Scottish practices and beliefs. Seriously – there’s a reason I specify it’s Irish Brigid I follow. Because I know the beliefs, the lore, the practices are different in Ireland and Scotland. There’s some overlap, sure. The countries are close enough that fluent speakers of Irish and Gaelic can make themselves understood enough to hold a conversation. But that doesn’t mean the beliefs and practices are the same. It is irresponsible at best to smush them together like this.
Brigid as maiden. Or being part of the maiden/mother/crone trio. Again. Not the way triple deities work in Ireland. We have no tradition of this at all in our lore. Seriously. There will be a future blog post coming on this soon and why I find the whole construct of MMC so problematic. But please – read our lore. Examine how both our traditions and our modern practices look at women. Just, please…
Associating colours with Brigid. I have a lot of UPG around the colours I associate with Brigid, built up over my years of practice. But, the important word (well ok, it’s an acronym) is UPG. It is unverified, it is personal. There’s really nothing in the lore associating Brigid with colours. Ditto with shapes, just FYI. As far as I’m aware, there is nothing in our lore telling me Brigid is happier with round over any other type of shape. I mean, she’s a blacksmith as well as anything else!
Linking Imbolc with Candlemas. Candlemas is a short name for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. Or the Feast for the Purification of Mary. There’s a Catholic website that gives a good explanation here of the feast. Basically, it’s explained to Catholics, or at least to this one, that after 40 days the first born of any Jewish family had to be presented to the temple and the mother had to visit to be purified after childbirth. There’s a much better explanation, complete with Bible references, in the link above. Now, there is a link in Irish lore between Brigid and Mary. Aside from the way Brigid is called “the Mary of the Gael”, there is a story about Brigid drawing crowds away from Mary and the Holy family as they escaped Herod’s persecution and massacre to Egypt. In this way, Brigid earned the right to precede Mary after that. This means her feast day, 1st Feb comes before Mary’s feast day, 2nd Feb in the Catholic calendar. Can I buggery find a link to that story right now though! But back to my problem with linking Imbolc with Candlemas. They are beside each other in the calendar. Although at least one entry in Duchas equates St. Brigid’s Day with 2nd February rather than the first. However, the blessing of the candles has nothing to do with Brigid. And calling Brigid the Goddess of Light or the Goddess of Illumination makes me feel dodgy. You know – I’ll make a full blog post on this on as well. There’s just too much!
The lack of valid information on what foods can be used at this time in Ireland traditionally. Pancakes in Ireland are traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, not Imbolc. They are made from eggs, milk, butter and fat all of which were on the list of “abstain from” foods for Lent. Now, I have no problems with pancakes being used as foods for Imbolc celebrations. They’re wonderful food, can be savoury, sweet, sized as you choose….wonderful things. As long as we’re talking about the crepe style pancake more popular in Ireland certainly and not the American breakfast pancake, which is far less versatile in my opinion, but possibly better for eating on the go. But what bugs me about these posts really is they take no notice of what foods might traditionally be available in early February in Ireland, but make it seem like the foods they are suggesting would have been easily available. I have no problem with including seeds in your Imbolc feast – wonderful symbolism in my opinion. Our ancestors wouldn’t have traditionally eaten seeds in Ireland. I mean modern Ireland has seeds, go into any health food store and you’ll find them. But go back a few generations, and it was the desperate who ate their seedstock. It left you nothing to sow for the coming year. Don’t worry, I have a list coming below for this one!
Spuds. Potatoes.No.The English coloniers brought the spud to Ireland , “credited” to Sir Walter Raleigh. Jon O’ Sullivan has a great exploration of the role of the spud in Irish history here. Now, spuds are such a staple in Ireland that until very recently, a meal couldn’t be considered a dinner without some potatoes being served along with it. Like within my lifetime. I’ve never seen my Dad take so much interest or concern over what or how my mother cooked as the first time she made lasagne. It was in the late 80’s for reference. If you are going to force a nation to depend on one food for nutrition, the spud isn’t a bad choice. Add in dairy for fats, required for health, and you have a fairly decent nutritional intake. But using spuds to celebrate a deity in Ireland… it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Pun sort of intended.
An overwhelming dependency on the Oimelc origin story for Imbolc.Now, I can’t argue too much with this one, since it at least brings dairy into the picture, but really, drinking ewe’s milk is and has been fairly rare in Ireland. I remember asking my Grandad about this once as a child – his reaction was not positive and was along the lines of “we’re not that desperate”. Milk and dairy in ireland were and still are, predominantly, almost exclusively bovine in nature. But there are very strong links between Brigid and dairy/cows, whether it’s the saint or the deity you’re looking at. So I won’t argue too much with this one, even if it’s taking a convoluted way to reach a destination.
So after all that, what would I suggest? Well here’s a few thoughts.
Dairy. Brigid is heavily associated with dairy foods – butter, cream, cheese, milk. Think of all the stories in the hagiographies of her making one churn of butter supply twice the butter it should have – usually because she had given the first half away to the less well off.
Lamb, Mutton, Beef, Bacon, Pork. Lebor Gabala Érenn explicitly links Brigid to ox, boar and ram. There are traditional Irish recipes for all of this – just remember, an Irish rasher bears very little resemblance to the US/Canadian bacon slices other than they come from the same animal. Allegedly…
Foods that are in season in Ireland in late January/February. Leek, Celeriac, Parsnip, Kale, Swede, Purple sprouting broccoli, Beetroot, Winter cabbage, Mushrooms, Turnip, Thyme, Parsley, Lettuce, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Carrot. From storage: spuds, apples, onion. Check out the Bord Bia website, it’s wonderful!
Ancient Irish foods. In general, our ancestors had a wide variety of food to eat in this country. Seriously – cereals like oats and barley, made into porridge and bread. Wild and domesticated meat – although this always depends on wealth. (As it does today.) “Birds, wild boar and goats, deer and even hedgehogs were commonly eaten“. Fish. Nuts- if you’ve read Irish lore, you know hazelnuts feature prominently, but there are other nuts about. Seaweed – although considered a food of the less well off and since the famine consumption has dropped significantly. Rumour has it, consumption is increasing again though.
Spiritually or ritually significant foods. I know I said earlier seeds weren’t eaten in Ireland traditionally – and I stand by that. But I do appreciate the symbolism of seeds at Imbolc – I’d just prefer to see people planting them than eating them ritually speaking. Make the special cake. Try out the fancy recipe. You’re welcoming a deity into your home, it’s worth the effort. Just remember to differentiate the items you include because they are special food stuffs versus the food you include because it is linked to Brigid.
There’s a massive variety of food in this country and we are immensely lucky that with the mild climate we have, we can grow food all year round. So fresh fruit and veg are possible most of the year. With planning and preparation of course. And in modern times we have supermarkets, so y’know – that helps. And if you really love some of the recipes that the “Imbolc Food Blogs” describe – go ahead. Use them. But try and delineate for yourself at least the food you are eating to bring you closer to your ancestors (physical, spiritual or other) and the food you are eating cos it tastes good and Imbolc is an excuse for a party. I don’t have problems with the food that’s recommended, as such. It’s the convoluted routes people take to say this particular recipe is ancient or spiritual or connected directly with Brigid.
I wrote a post a few years ago called Is Brigid calling me? And I still stand by everything I wrote then. (Also – how is 2020 3 years ago now???) But I wanted to offer a bit more help this time. So here are the signs that might possibly indicate Brigid is calling you. I will still say though that if you’re doing good work in your community or in society at large – keep doing it! (If you have the resources to do so)
You’re seeing her name everywhere you look. Did you know there are people who go through the months of January and February without ever seeing the name Brigid? Or indeed hear mention of Imbolc? It’s very possible to do this, however strange it may seem to some of us. Now I wouldn’t take seeing her name everywhere as the ultimate sign Brigid is calling you, but it’s up there. And by her name, I include the following: Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Brig, Bríd, Ffraid (Welsh), Bride (Scottish), Bridey (also Scottish, I think, but also used in Ireland) Brigantia… She has many names and is known in many places. And while I (as usual) will be focusing on Irish Brigid, I will always acknowledge there are other Brigids out there.
You’ve started feeling an intense urge to light candles. Now, I always smile when I hear or use the phrase “to light candles”, because in my family it’s a euphemism for swearing up a storm. If you’re “lighting candles all around yourself” it’s even heavier swearing you’re doing. But fire is associated with Brigid, and lighting candles is one of the ways in which a lot of practitioners start their journey. You may not even realise you’re lighting a lot of (real, physical) candles. You might be dealing with electric candles. You might be lighting fires in a fire pit. There are all sorts of reasons one might be lighting candles, but I do see it as something people who are coming towards a relationship with Brigid do and it might be a sign Brigid is calling.
You start coming across Brigid stories randomly, when you’re looking up something else. Say you just fancied researching a new stove or a new book or a new laptop. Now Google is pretty good at determining what we’re searching for, sometimes before we even realise it ourselves, so we trust the search results. But then you see a result that looks a bit different from the others and you land on a blog like this one and start going down a rabbit hole of Brigid related content, forgetting all about the new tech you were going to research. Tech was important even back in the Tuatha de Danann days and I firmly believe that Brigid the Smith is covering modern tech and engineering these days, so it matches up for me.
You feel like you want to learn more about domestic animals such as the pig, the cow and the sheep. Lebor Gabala Erenn is an important part of Irish lore, collecting as it does, all the stories of the takings or invasions of Ireland. It’s a great read, but it’s also where we get the links from Brigid to the ox, the boar and the ram (although in some places “ram” is replaced with “wether”, which is a castrated ram, slightly less useful in the sheep farm…) There are strong links to Brigid and animals in general, but to these animals in particular. You may start noticing these animals, feel like eating the meat of these animals in a different way, want to learn more about them. Or become involved in campaigns for better treatment of animals raised for food. Respect for our food is a core part of Irish farming.
You suddenly find yourself drawn to a craft or practice you’d never heard of before. Brigid is a craftsperson and she has a tendency to draw her followers to learning new crafts or getting better at old ones. This could be music, knitting, sewing, writing, programming, healing, energy work, poetry… there’s a long list that we can extrapolate from the lore, but if you feel drawn to a new craft, particularly one that can be practiced in the home, it could be a sign that Brigid is calling you.
You find yourself getting really interested in Imbolc customs and practices. There are loads of Imbolc customs and practices, from making Brigid’s crosses like shown in the picture above or a brat Bhríde (Brigid’s cloak) as shown below. Check out the links below to both the Brigid’s Forge school and the Irish Pagan School for more information on the general fire festival customs, but also Imbolc in particular.
So there’s five signs Brigid might be calling you. But you’ll notice I say “might” a lot in this post. That’s because there’s no defined checklist to tick off to say “yup, that’s definitely her”. Here’s some advice I’d give for anyone wanting to check if the being calling them is Brigid:
Ask them. Irish deities are not usually shy about telling you who they are. In fact, it can be hard sometimes to stop them from doing so. So in meditation or prayer, ask from your heart who is calling you; or if it’s Brigid that is calling you and they’ll answer. Honestly.
Use divination. Whether it’s a pendulum, or tarot, or nature signs or Ogham, whatever divination methods you feel most comfortable with, but use what skills you have to determine what’s going on. “Is Brigid calling me” is a straightforward enough yes/no answer for divination purposes.
Ask other people. Discuss the signs with other people, maybe ask them to help you confirm or deny your feelings or divination about whether Brigid is calling you. Talk it through with other practitioners, whether they follow Brigid or not. Think about the signs and the feelings you have – laying them out logically for someone else will at least help you clarify you’re own thinking on the matter.
Learn more about Brigid. Most of the Irish lore is free online. UCC Celt is wonderful; UCD has another repository of lore and manuscripts and you can see the actual manuscripts on screen here. All of the above is free and you can read them original lore there. Equally, I have a free class on the lore here if you want to take it, as well as other classes on the Brigid’s Forge school and some of my teaching is over on the Irish Pagan School as well.
Whatever you decide on, whether Brigid is calling you or not, remember you can decide to answer the call or not as well. And be prepared – I often joke that once you start working with a member of the Irish Pantheon, the rest of the family will pop in as well as they see they are needed. Or just cos they fancy a cuppa and a chat. You can say no to them as well, but it really sometimes feels rude when they just want a cuppa. And then you end up with jobs to do. So, y’know, don’t go declaring eternal devotion til you know what you’re getting yourself into, alright?
Well… no, actually. I’m the same old me I’ve always been and frankly, I’ve worked hard on this me for the last 4+ decades, so I don’t want to wipe her out just on a whim. OK not all New Year New Me activities are about wiping out the old me, but it sure feels like that sometimes! I know this is the time of year when everyone appears to go a bit over-enthusiastically at self improvement and reinvention and determination to do all sorts of new things.
You know what I’m planning? Definitely not a New Year New Me activity. More rest, for things I love, for friends I love. More time for my husband. I’m starting as I mean to go on with a long weekend this weekend to make up for the time I didn’t take off work over Christmas. And yes, ok, this weekend will start the big clean up for Imbolc (less than a month away now, y’know, depending on when you’re planning on celebrating!)
As I take the Christmas decorations down, I’ll start cleaning. For me, getting both the clutter and the energy moving out of all the nooks and crannies is an important part of my preparation for Imbolc. It feels like to plant new seeds of growth, I need to clear out the dead growth from previous years – both metaphorically and physically. So I’ll work this week on a plan, room by room, to take in everything and discard what’s no longer needed.
Another side of this New Year New Me thing, of course, and it’s work that takes a bit longer, is to discard beliefs and ways of thinking that no longer work. It’s so easy to go to the gym twice a week, for example, than to change your mind about deeply held beliefs that you have held for decades. Well, it’s easier to go to the gym for the first few weeks than challenge the deeply held beliefs anyway. This year, I’m working on my beliefs about money.
I’ve read Ramit Sethi’s I will teach you to be rich and I’m working my way through Tori Dunlap’s Financial Feminist. (No, I don’t get paid for the links of anything!) It’s amazing to me that there are so many things to challenge in my head about money. And don’t get me wrong – money is one of the big ones to tackle cos it’s made up of all these tiny little things that have built up over time, from what our families tell us, to our friends, to our organisations, religions, society in general…
But no less worth working on for that.
So, I’ll still be the same old me, but hopefully with improving attitudes to money throughout the year. And yes, I know this will be a long, slow transformation. Some of it’s even already started, just by the fact that I’m openly saying I want to work on my attitude to money. But I’m starting small. And I’d encourage you to do the same.
I have a year round structure for myself on how to make changes – I cover a lot of it in the Preparation for Imbolc class I’m currently running. And it’s covered over at IPS with the festival classes I have there. It works better for me than the pressure around New Year New Me. Basically, Samhain for dreaming and prepping, Imbolc for planting, Bealtaine for growing and Lúnasa for harvesting. It’s a good routine for me. It means I’m in a continuous cycle rather than a one-and-done kinda through process.
Some of the changes I commit to are very small – like 5 mins of meditation a day. Others started small, such as starting off at 1000 steps a day at the start of last year, and building to being able to walk 10,000 steps a day without pain by the end of the year. (Yeah, I did that!) Still others don’t always come to fruition – my savings goals bombed last year. But that’s not a failure as such, it just means I need to address some things and move on.
It works with the spiritual as well. My 30 Days of Brigid class is based on the notion of small daily practices to build a relationship with deity. (The Jan 2023 is closed for enrollment, but if there’s enough interest, I’ll run it again in April.) It’s not New Year New Me! Small steps work better, in my opinion, particularly at the start of a relationship than really big gestures. The course is definitely based around small, continual activities.
Think about it – if a new partner suddenly bought you somewhere to live after a few hours, you’d be a bit concerned right? I would – I’d run screaming in the opposite direction. (My husband tells me he’s in no position to my me somewhere to live even after 15 yrs. So I’m ok on that score!) So even though Imbolc is coming up, you don’t need to swear undying devotion to Brigid. Just cos of the time of year it is. Honestly, she’ll be grand with you building up a practice slowly. No need for the Big Gesture related to New Year New Me.
In fact, I’d strongly advise against it, especially given the time of year it is. Sure, there is going to be a lot of information out there on Brigid in the coming weeks. Some of it will be accurate and based on good information. Some of it will be a mish-mash of different traditions and practices or indeed, pure bullshit.
So, if you see someone writing something that doesn’t link back to the lore you know, ask them how it does link back. Even me! There’s no harm in that! If people come back with “everyone knows” or ” that’s common knowledge”: check with trustworthy sources before committing to that particular belief. For example, there’s a relatively recent thing that Brigid is a meek and mild type deity. Anywhere you see that – run. Seriously – I don’t know who they’re dealing with, but meek/mild are not words I’d use to describe her.
But to come back to the New year, new me thing. You may promise yourself a wonderful new spiritual life, considering all the elements of the 2 rounds of festivals (fire festivals and sun festivals) in great detail and with great aplomb. But, I’ll tell you now, a small act, done with intention and consideration and meaning is better than the biggest, wildest, fanciest ritual with no heart to it. Not that I have anything against a big, wild, fancy ritua. I’m just saying if you can’t commit to that, then don’t. Commit to what you know you can do.
If what you can do is have a clean home to welcome Brigid for Imbolc – do that.
If what you can do is have a Brigid’s cross made, or put out a brath Bhríde, then do that.
If what you can do is commit to saying a prayer on the day you celebrate or acknowledge Imbolc, do that.
This isn’t about the best, it’s about doing the best that you can do. Considering the resources you have at your disposal. New Year New Me almost forces big, overwhleming lifestyle changes. That doesn’t always work! If you have 30seconds before the baby wakes up and use them – brilliant. If you have an entire week to devote to Imbolc – brilliant. We’re not judged in comparison with others, we’re judged in comparison with ourselves.
So don’t go trying to reinvent yourself – you’ve worked hard to get where you are. But think of the small things. Think of the things that will definitely improve your life that you can also see yourself doing for a while. And if you do something for 3 days and stop, but those 3 days are better because you did the thing – celebrate that! Just doing something once, doesn’t mean you’ve committed to it forever. And maybe those 3 days were special. You were off work, or the kids were remarkably well behaved. Or maybe your partner was able to step up to do something you usually do, or you plain had more energy those days. Whatever the reason, even doing something for a short time, again and again, makes those days easier/better – brilliant. Well done you!
But you don’t need to overhaul your entire life. Trust me. Cos if you go down that road, she will make it happen. And it might not entirely be under your control. Just ask people who know what Brigid’s Anvil is as well as her healing well…