Relationships

I was speaking to someone last night who got me thinking about what it is that I do – they were asking me about whether I knew anyone else about the place who worked with Brigid the way I do in Ireland. And y’know, I’m sure there are – loads of us – but what context we put it into, how we frame it to ourselves, what we speak to other people about… all of this limits to a certain extent how much any of us knows about another person’s practice or even if they have a practice.

And sometimes it’s a lot easier to explain these things to a stranger on the internet who doesn’t really know you from Adam, and who hasn’t been there for the past few decades as you grew to where you are now. Because, as humans, we all grow and change over time. I mean, there’s nothing quite like a friend who’s known you for decades pointing out your current stance on something is diametrically opposed to where you stood 20 yrs ago when you’re trying to focus on the improved you. And this can be difficult to deal with. So how do we deal with it?

The me of 20 yrs ago was very different to the me of today. My attitudes to social issues, gender rights, religion, politics, all that has changed. I’m no longer one of those girls who “isn’t like other girls”, or someone who “doesn’t see colour”. And there’s a part of me that wants to cringe at remembering these things. But the thing is, I didn’t know any better at the time and I’ve done a lot of work since then to get better at things.

And I’m still not perfect and there’s a fairly high chance that in another 20 yrs I’ll be looking back at my attitudes today and saying something similar about my views today. I hope to grow more inclusive and more aware of privilege and better able to navigate diversity over time.

But then there’s the friends that seem like they have a need for you not to change as well. You know the ones that express surprise every single time you express a view that isn’t consistent with your younger self? The ones that can really only connect with you on the “old days” or appear to need or want you to stay that younger self? (Side note here – this isn’t aimed at any of my friends, it’s a train of thought I’ve been running through for a while and the conversation last night followed by a dream I had crystallised it for me!)

We talk about romantic break ups a lot but we rarely talk about platonic break ups or how awkward it can be when you stop being friends with someone. And especially if these are friends from childhood, you’ve poured out your heart and soul to them and they’ve poured theirs out to you… there are so many links and ties and memories – it’s like they’re part of you in some ways and losing them is hard. I’m not talking about a drifting away here – that happens through lack of common interests or lives taking different turnings. I’m thinking about a more deliberate separation. Even to think about it appears wrong, right?

And yet… it happens. It doesn’t matter how long the friendship or how intense or how deep – there comes a time to step away and decide that this isn’t for you anymore. It’s not the end of the world, but it can be really difficult, and we don’t discuss this in society at all. Even a bad relationship can be mourned. But the breakup of a friendship? Sure you have other friends right?

And this can be part of the reason we keep our spiritual endeavours to ourselves or to people on the internet.  It’s safer not to rock the boat. It’s easier to not have these difficult conversations with our friends. It’s not like we’re still teenagers, with hours to waste rambling on about this and that and nothing at all, right? We don’t want to face our friends with the truth of who we are now, because they still, at some part of themselves, see us as the person we were decades ago (and to be clear – we do the same to them! This isn’t necessarily a one-way street!!) So we stick to the safe topics. We have the light-hearted conversations. We regress to the selves we were at a certain point in time, rather than truly and wholly who we are now. And for most of us, it’s not really an issue.

But where does that leave us with deity? One of the biggest questions I see around the place is “Why isn’t Brigid responding the way she used to?” or “It feels like she’s abandoned me!!” (Last of which technically isn’t a question, but bear with me) And yes, it can feel like that sometimes. And there’s a few things to think about.

So for a start – a relationship with a deity is like any other relationship: it takes work and attention to make it work. And while I’m loath to state that Brigid will never abandon you, I will say it’s not my experience that she would do such a thing. Will she step away to allow you space and time to get your head around something? Oh yes. Can it feel like she’s just dumped a whole pile of work on you and walked away? Oh yes. Does it sometimes feel like the feeling you had around her previously isn’t there anymore? Oh yes.

But these aren’t necessarily bad things. She thinks you can deal with it, or there is something else going on. And sometimes… well sometimes, it’s time to move on from that relationship. I’ve not had that experience with Brigid, but I have had it with others. So, I know, it feels like the loss of something massive. But not all of us are cut out for life long or lives long relationships with a specific deity. Some of us are barely cut out for a lifelong relationship with ourselves! Now, there’s nothing to stop you continuing to pray to Brigid or make offerings or whatever you like. Really, no one but no one can dictate that but you (assuming you’re an adult and have complete control over your spiritual life – I recognise there are times in life and places in the world where this isn’t true!)

So a few things to check: is there someone else trying to get your attention? Have you tasks left undone for Brigid that’s she’s waiting for you to complete? Are you in the middle of a crisis in your life and don’t have time for spirituality? Is there something else going on?

Are you working with a deity out of habit?

Are you mostly there because of past shared experiences?

Are you feeling confined and restricted rather than supported?

All of these can be signs you might want to take a break or look around or see is there something else you’re missing. And it might not even be a new deity but a new area with this deity to investigate. But either way, whether we’re talking romantic, friendship or divine relationships, it does no harm to stop and take stock every once in a while. Especially if you feel there’s something wrong or not quite right and it needs to change.

What did I learn from “30 days of Brigid”

The inaugural “30 Days of Brigid” course finished up last week and one of the final challenges I set the group was a reflection on the course and what it will change for them. So I thought sharing the same exercise for myself here for people who didn’t get the chance to take part might help.

I’ll admit, when I started off, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to think of 30 useful, short activities for people to try and incorporate into their daily spiritual practice. As it happens, I could have done 50 or 60 days (I won’t, cos this was very intense for me – more on that later!) I actually do have a wide variety of daily activities that I regularly use in my daily spiritual practice.) Part of the reason I can feel as if I don’t have a daily spiritual practice sometimes, is because there is such a wide range of activities I use for this. And I do use one or more most days. So whether it’s a deep breath or a prayer or a dance, I have a daily spiritual practice that’s constant and regular if not consistent in the actual practice itself.

Second – this took a lot of energy. It’s a holding container for people to explore and it was great fun and I’m happy I did it, but I found it took an awful lot from me as well. Checking in daily, managing the tech (yes there were a few hiccups!), keeping on top of the energy I was feeling from the group – it all took a lot more out of me than I was expecting. It took a few weeks to realise that actually this was siphoning energy in ways I didn’t expect, and so I managed that as well. Now, that siphoning isn’t a bad thing necessarily, just something I wasn’t 100% prepared for. I’ll know better next and set myself up a battery type situation rather than direct from me situation. (For those who don’t work with energy this may sound like rubbish, but trust me, it means something!!)

Third – I was right, the tech did need learning and managing. I think there was only one major hiccup and I figured out what was wrong, but each day there was an email, a lecture, a video and a Facebook post – and I think all were good and valuable, but all took time. Especially the videos – the uploading was a pain! But I think it worthwhile to appeal to as many learning styles/ info gathering styles as possible.

Fourth – most days, the activity was under 5mins. However, on some days, it went longer, particularly those days where we were using some Gaeilge. It’s to be expected I guess, but I might see about streamlining those days for the next time to fit in the 5mins slot, or offer a shorter video for those in a hurry with the longer video still available to those who have the time.

Fifth – this is definitely something I want to do again. It was valuable for me and I think really valuable for those who took part. This is something I can see myself running a few times a year for people, because tuning in and consciously examining our daily practices is hugely beneficial.

Sixth – finally, did this help me deepen my relationship with Brigid? Yes, I think it did. Just consciously and carefully showing up for 30 days, even when I know I do it the vast majority of days anyway, really helped. There are a few things percolating now for future courses, some of which I mentioned in last week’s email (sign up here if you haven’t already) and some of which are still percolating. I’ve also been percolating the next steps in my own journey with Brigid and where that is going to go next (seriously – long term relationships with deity develop and change the same as long term relationships with people do. We’re meant to grow and change as humans and mortals, not stay stagnant!!) A lot of that is hugely personal as yet, so I won’t be sharing it here, but eventually, over time, some of it will naturally become public.

I’m delighted I did this, it was a last minute thing, it was something I had not planned for at all this year, but I’m thinking maybe after Samhain of running it again. If you’re interested in hearing about future offerings of this, please drop your email here.

So there we go – my reflections on the course. I really had forgotten about everything I do in a spiritual way and the different moods and circumstances I can work with. There really is something you can do the vast majority of days, even if it’s a single deep breath, taken consciously.

What does a daily spiritual practice look like?

As some of ye will be aware, on Monday, there is a group of us starting a 30 day journey to deepen and develop our relationship with Brigid. You can check out more details here. But, I cheated a bit and asked a Day 0 question…

I asked people to think about what a daily spiritual practice means to them. And I started to talk about what it means to me, but then… I needed more space than Facebook gives. So here we are. Now, people who have been reading this blog for a while know that I don’t believe it takes a massive amount of effort to build a daily spiritual practice and it needs to fit in with your life. If your daily spiritual practice is a single deep breath while you get the 3 seconds between one child dropping off to sleep and the next waking up, or if it’s a trip to the toilet during the work day where you look in the mirror and tell yourself “you got this” that’s fine. Honestly – spirituality needs to fit into our lives, not cause more stress and strain.

But I know that when people start thinking about this (for people read: me), their (my) brain goes off in all sorts of different directions. For example, when I look at this, I think of what I’d love to be able to do. I would like to get up in the morning and have a nice relaxing cuppa while leafing through my games on my phone. Then have 20-30 mins meditation, followed by a good half hour of dance or walking in nature. Then a nice relaxing shower, breakfast and out the door. That would all take a good 2 hrs, and frankly my mornings usually go about like this: wake up, leaf through phone, shower, breakfast, what do I have for lunch, out the door. And I really don’t have 2 hrs to get ready in the morning. But when someone says “daily spiritual practice”, this calm, serene, blissful morning comes to mind, even when I know it’s not practical. But you know what might be practical? 5-10 mins meditation. Taking that walk at lunchtime. Prepping clothes and meals the night before to ease the stress in the morning.

And, before I go any further – that’s just me I have to get ready. No kids, no dependents that need to get up and go in the morning. I struggle with just me! But it’s there all the time, it’s a “should” in my life, that I should be doing this cos what else am I doing? Well I’m spending time with my husband. I’m sleeping. I’m dealing with a long commute. Like I said, any spiritual practice has to fit into your life.

But at the same time, when looking at developing a practice, it’s useful to get this ideal out of your head and onto paper (or whatever medium is most useful for you to record thoughts – for me it’s online documents usually, typing is now easier than writing for me!) So there’s a challenge for you – spend a few mins to think about what your ideal daily spiritual practice would look like. What do you think you should be doing? What do you think is absolutely essential? Get all the stuff you feel guilty about not doing out of your head and into some other medium for storage.

And then, put it away for 30 days or a month. Trust me! If you want to join us on our 30 day journey with Brigid, you’re more than welcome, but even if you don’t – put that away and out of your head for a month and then come back to you and start looking at how practical it is and what might be doable in your life!

A 30 day journey with Brigid

Yesterday I taught a class on Crom Dubh (you can check it out here) Crom Dubh has been taking a lot of attention lately, and it was part of the deal for me being allowed to finish the Lúnasa class I taught a few weeks ago with IPS that I teach that class. And it was great – I had fun learning about Crom Dubh, and sorting out between him and Crom Cruach and all the different stories there are about him. It was great.

But, it meant I wasn’t paying as much attention to Brigid as I had been previously, because Crom Dubh is an old, old deity and communication is a bit more complicated that with the newer ones. Worth it, but more effort is required.

So, as part of making this up to Brigid, I’m developing a 30 day journey that I’d like you to come along with me on. The idea being that every morning an email will arrive in your inbox, directing you towards the days activities. I am designing this so the activities won’t take more than 5 mins but if you wish to/ have time to go deeper by journalling or further meditation or something else, they are easily expandable as well. So for example, one item I have on the list already is a few mins of chanting a short prayer in either English or Irish (I’ll have an audio for any Irish ones, don’t worry!)

If your interested in this, please sign up here for further updates!

Faith vs religion

I had a really interesting conversation with my parents at the weekend. My darling niece was baptised and I was honoured to be allowed to be her godmother. so I paid more attention to the ceremony than I usually would. And I wasn’t sure the child would be baptised, but her parents decided it was important to do so. (Which is entirely their choice and business) But I was surprised by the ceremony – it was far more relaxed and inclusive of the people in the church than I remembered from the last baptism I attended.

Now in case this is your first time here, I consider myself a Pagan Catholic and this was a Catholic baptism. Also, if you’re not Irish, you may not understand the role the Catholic Church plays and has played in our society and culture, so check out the other posts I have on that. It might help with background.

Before I get into the details of the faith vs religion conversation, I do want to talk about Brigid in the ceremony as well – because there is a part of the ceremony where the priest calls on various figures to pray for us, in this case: Mary, Jesus, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Patrick and St. Brigid. (So I was feckin delighted with that!) Then there is a part of the ceremony where the child’s baptism candle is lit from the Paschal Candle (the big candle, usually on its own holder, standing on the altar towards the back usually when it’s not being used) to symbolise the light of faith being passed on. And I got the job of lighting that candle, which probably seemed less important to others in the church, but to me, that was hugely important. Here is a ceremony, where we’re calling on Brigid to protect a child and using water and fire to bless the child… And then people wonder why I say I’m a Pagan Catholic!

But anyway, on to the conversation about faith vs religion. For me it’s simple: faith is the belief and religion is the structure and the system. So for me to say I believe in God, in Jesus, in Mary – I do. But my opinions of the Catholic Church as an institution, as an organisation, as a structure – well, suffice to say my opinion wouldn’t be high. Individuals within the church have done some good, I will not argue that, but at this point I would say, it’s in spite of the church rather than because of it.

So it was easy to say to my parents that my faith is strong – it is. That’s not to say I don’t have doubts, but I believe there is a Divine power out there to help us in this life. I have had too many incidents in my life that I should not have survived to say otherwise. But the religion, well now that’s a different thing. And my parents have a different view on it as well. I commented at the weekend that I wanted to go to mass in a particular building because it always lifts my spirits. My Dad is of the opinion that it’s the man saying mass should lift the spirits, whereas my Mam agrees that architecture helps the whole experience along. For me, my respect for and opinion of the man saying mass affects my experience of the ritual. For me Dad, it’s the spiritual experience itself that matters, not who facilitates it. Perhaps my Dad is the better Catholic for being able to sidestep the physical representation of the experience and go straight to the source… I don’t know, but I know right now, it’s easier to go to mass with a priest I don’t know and will probably never speak to rather than one that I know has what I consider to be hideous opinions or a belief in maintaining the status quo.

So what is more important? Faith or religion? For me it’s faith. We can create our own structures and systems to support our spiritual life and as long as we’re not selling them as the One True Way, no harm, no foul. The structure should never be mistaken for the faith. Faith is something that can be easily faked using systems and structures, in public view anyway. But a firm belief in the divine, a faith that there is a higher power of some description, is something that can’t really be faked to oneself. And that faith for me is the feeling inside me that there is something looking out for me. That something is far outside my ability to comprehend fully, so I divide it into saints, deities, powerful beings, but yet ones that I can comprehend.

It’s like thinking of space. I get panic attacks at night sometimes thinking of the great blackness of space, that massive, unending, emptiness, from which we came and to which we shall return. It’s simply too big for me to think about, and my mind closes over. It’s the same with the Divine. It’s too big to think about and so I break it up. But the faith is still there, underpinning my actions and life.

This is how I can call on Mary for patience or Brigid for help in times of need. It’s why I don’t often have the perfect prayer, but I have the shape of a thought to throw at the divine. It’s why I know that while my prayers might not seem to be answered, or might not be answered in the way I want them to be answered, they will eventually be answered. It’s how I know that somethings I won’t understand in this life and that’s alright. Maybe I don’t need to. But I have faith that I have what I really do fundamentally need in this life.

Religion can be a community; it’s usually rules and strictures and man-made restrictions. Faith is a power force linked to the divine that can move mountains.

Perspective and how it changes how we live

A cartoon showing 2 people point at a number written on the ground. For one of them it looks like a 6, for the other a 9

I know – that cartoon above makes so many engineers and scientists and mathematicians go cracked, because in their view, if someone goes to the trouble of writing a number down, then they intended it to be either a 6 or a 9 and which is is would be clear from the orientation of the other numbers around it. (not that this is an argument I’ve heard at all, you understand!! 🙂 )

But here’s the thing, perspectives do matter. I’ll give a clearer example. Last week I worked from home because I was sick. What was up with me? I had a cold. Now, if you had told me 3 years ago that I’d stay away from work because of a simple cold, I’d have laughed in your face. Stay home cos of a cold? Are you joking? Who’d do that?? But because of the pandemic, and the close interrelation between the symptoms of the common cold and COVID, I didn’t even think of going into work, despite getting that negative antigen test result. And you know something? I realised this weekend, it was better for my health to stay off work anyway. I don’t think I’ve slept so much in one go in years, possibly decades! The body usually needs rest to heal from these things and for years I wasn’t interested in giving my body that rest because there was always work, work, and more work. Dragging myself into work regardless of how I felt, because work was such a huge part of my identity and my sense of worth that to miss it lead to major issues for me.

Now though – personal health takes precedence because it affects public health in a much clearer way when 1 person with COVID is in public versus 1 person with the common cold. It took a global pandemic for me to change my perspective on my own personal health. And I know there are other people out there who feel the same. If that’s what it takes to change our perspective on our own personal health, what will it take to change our perspectives on deeply held spiritual beliefs?

I mean, come on, ye had an idea I was coming back to herself at some point right?

There are so many Brigids in the world. I have said there are as many Brigids in the world as there are people working with her. (For her. Whatever!) And when it comes to personal work, our own personal relationship with the deity, that’s absolutely fine. Even my ongoing issues with the preposition I use (with/for) is part of my relationship with Brigid – other people are very clear on their prepositional use here. And sometimes, we come across a piece of writing that is hugely persuasive on a particular aspect of our believes and we absorb it to the extent that we forget where we first read it, we just accept it as generally accepted gnosis. And if it works for our personal relationship with herself, or indeed any deity, that’s grand. It really is.

Where the trouble comes in, is presenting that sort of gnosis, personal gnosis, as generally accepted fact. I have, along with most spiritual practitioners, parts of my practice that will never be made public. It’s kinda like marriage or long term relationships – there are things that are just between the two of ye. No one needs to know the intimate details of the bedtime dance or the weird way ye decide whose turn it is to do the washing up. And it’s the same in spiritual relationships, there are things that stay private or at least, only discussed with trusted people .

Actually, comparing a spiritual relationship with a sexual one isn’t a bad thing at all. You remember when you were first finding out about sex, when the first people you knew started having sex, the whispered conversations, the “oh my god, no, he did what??” And yeah – a new spiritual relationship can feel the same. Especially if it’s outside the forms and formulas of formalised religious structures. And it’s important to get outside validation sometimes to help us on our journey (both for sex and spiritual relationships). In the early days, that sense of community, that sense of having each others backs, of sharing information, is really great.

But it can also lead to bad information sharing. I don’t know of the equivalent in other countries, but I remember in my teenage years of rumours of Taytos bags being used instead of condoms. Yeah – the silvery foil bags. As condoms. *shudders*

A bag of Taytos crisps

And in swapping rumours and misinformation like this, we can accept as true things that are plainly not. I mean, I hope that rumour wasn’t true. Even Ireland in the 90’s had to be better than that right???

And here’s where we come back to perspective. Something like the Taytos crisps packet rumour was reasonably easy to denounce, even as a teenager. (I mean, can you imagine???) But with Brigid it can be harder to disseminate the personal from the generally accepted to the lore based. And from a certain perspective sharing personal gnosis shouldn’t cause any harm, because it’s all relevant right? Well, yes, but…

In any relationship journey, the greater the degree of intimacy and trust build-up, the more risks that can be taken. The more confidence one builds up in any relationship, the more one can “risk” because the feeling of safety is increasing (well hopfeully – if you’re in a relationship where you don’t feel safe, please reach out for help, whether that relationship is with another human or a deity) I mean, sitting down with your partner to say you’d like to give a new sexual position a go is one thing. Sitting down to say you’d like to try moving from monogamy to polygamy is another level of conversation. And depending on the relationship you have, will depend on how risky that conversation would feel to you.

So, the deeper the relationship we build with Brigid, or indeed any other deity, the higher the rewards, in my opinion. So from my perspective of decades long relationship with her, some risks might appear very small. But for someone just learning about Brigid, it could appear high. Equally, there are activities that I would view as highly risky, even now, that a beginner to working with Brigid might not view in the same way at all. Whether it’s because I am viewing things with more information and experience or because the beginner is limiting the activity in ways I wouldn’t consider any more – there is a difference in perspective. Of course, the beginner just might not be aware of some of the pitfalls in front of them in a given course, which can lead to other problems.

So I am careful, when I share things, to be clear about what is part of my personal relationship and what is generally accepted for Brigid. I’ll also often say this is Bride in Scotland as far as I know, but it’s not that way in Ireland, or whatever. And for some people, this can appear like gatekeeping or being unnecessarily pedantic. But it isn’t. Because understanding the perspective of someone can help mightily in understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing, or saying what they’re saying. And while “beginner’s mind” is important in any course of learning, being confident of what you yourself know and have proven to your own satisfaction is important as well.

Perspectives can change, sometimes easily, sometimes less so, but they can changes. And really, perspective change is a sign of growth as well. A deeper understanding of something can lead to a startling shift in perspective sometimes. But when it comes to Brigid, we can always go back to what our ancestors left us, whether in terms of the myths and legends from the Iron Age, or the folklore of more recent generations, or the stories we still tell of the saint. And if we are unsure of something, we can ask. That’s why we have communities around us. Just think about the perspectives of the those you are sharing with as well…

Lessons from fiction

I’ve written/ discussed before how fiction informs some of my morals and I still think it’s relevant. (most recently in last month’s Patreon devotional, you can sign up here for it!) I hope never to be caught in a war, but I can learn from reading about one – and I prefer my wars to be fictional. Otherwise, severe nightmares ensue. But one book that has been on my mind lately is the below, Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell. Now I didn’t fully pick up the lesson in this when I read it first as a teenager, but as with many of Gemmell’s books, I’ve reread it a lot over the years and one thing struck me graphically on this latest reread.

Image of the David Gemmell book, Echoes of the Great song, with the authors name written in white and gold across the top of the book and the title in white across the bottom of the book. A line “A humdinger… a masterly tale told with clarity and verve” is quoted from The Times just under the author’s name and the picture shows the grip of a sword, banded in black on silver, with the top of the blade entwined with a thorny branch. In the background is a green man’s face with either a tongue or a waterfall falling from his mouth.

The story is not quite relevant to what I’m about to say, but from the back cover: The Avatars were immortal and lived like kings, even though their empire was dying. Their immortality was guaranteed by magic crystals, crystals whose influence was now waning, overwhelmed by the power of a great flood and a freak ice age. But when two moons appeared in the sky and the ruthless armies of the Crystal Queen swarmed across the land, bringing devastation and terror, the Avatars united with their subjects to protect their universe. As the cities faced imminent destruction, three heroes emerged, Talaban, a warrior haunted by tragedy. Touchstone, the mystic tribesman, seeking his lost love, and Anu, the Holy One, the Builder of Time. And when all seemed lost, two others entered the fray: Sofarita, the peasant girl who would inspire a legend, and the madman, Virul, who would become a god.

It’s some story, and I love it, although there are elements that feel less comfortable now than in the 90’s! But the bits I wanted to talk about today were the bits that highlighted how legends change over time as people’s understanding and language changes. Every few chapters, there are excerpts from the Morning, Noon and Evening Songs of the Anajo, outlining how the legends grew up around these feats and events. And to me, it shows the difference between the actual events and the stories we tell about them. I’ll use the names of those mentioned in the blurb above as examples, because one crucial thing to remember is that the tribesman speaks the language of the Avatars as a second language, hard won following his captivity following a raid on his land. So all through the book, he is speaking less sophisticated language than the people around him, purely because he has not been speaking the language since birth.

And it is this man’s tribe (it is implied anyway) that records the events.

Talaban, the haunted warrior, becomes Tail-avar, the god of wisdom

Questor Sto, the techincal wizard, becomes Storro, Speaker of Legends

Touchstone the tribesman, becomes Touch-the-Moon, god of tribes.

The ice age becomes the Ice Giant, and the fearsome creatures living on the ice beomce demons living in the giant’s hair.

Viruk, the madman, becomes Virkokka, god of war

Sofarita becomes the Star Woman, that the All Father created from earth and starlight.

The Crystal Queen becomes the Queen of Death.

And even in the book (in my copy it’s page 422) there is a line that I will paraphrase here because it might contain spoilers otherwise: “They will not remember you. Not as men. You will first become legends, and then the gods you dreamed of being.”

And this is the crux of things for me. Who are these people we call gods? Are they simply the ones that learned to harness the power of the universe and change things so that we remember the echoes of their songs? Or are they all-powerful beings from the beginning, never wavering, never doing wrong? Or is it a mix of the two? While I’m not sure David Gemmell ever set out to write a spiritually challenging book, this book does cause me to examine and reflect on questions like this. It is also a bloody good story, but let’s put that to one side right now.

To a certain extent, part of me thinks it doesn’t matter. I recognise the power of Brigid in my life, the journey I’ve been on to get this far and recognise there is a journey yet to come. I can see times and places in my life where she has intervened, helped, guided, etc. I also know that another person could look at my life and see something entirely different – but that’s ok, there is no One True Way in life. But I think examining these questions, asking uncomfortable questions is how we grow, how we develop our spirituality and our consciousness. Staying stagnant and still is just another form of death, because stasis =/= life.

But there’s also hope here. If our stories have turned humans into legends and then into gods, then what’s to say we can’t do the same? In 1000 years, will people be remembering Carrie Fisher as Saint Carrie Fisher, Our Lady of Rebellion, Our Blessed Rebel Queen? Will people be remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the Lady of Dissent? Will people remember Donald Trump as the evil god of supremacy and opression?

I mean, ok I’d prefer to be on the side of Carrie Fisher and Ruth Bader Ginsburg there – anyone reading my blog knows my opinion of Trump I hope, at this stage! But still… We tend to think of today’s world as the pinnacle of human achievement – and in some ways it so, so far at least. But there are hopefully more generations to come. We can learn from history and from folklore and from legends, we can see what stories have survived through the ages and what haven’t. What traditions were so common even 100 yrs ago that have now died away? The written word has given us great power in maintaining the collective memory, but with great power comes great responsibility as well. What are we writing? What do we say? Is it accurate? Are we carefully separating acknowledged fact from gnosis, whether unique or generally accepted?

Even the language issue with a big one. We can see how in the book, names got changed due to the different use of language between the Avatars and the tribe recording the legend. Sounds work differently in different languages – we’re seeing this change in Irish in this generation in that the r sounds, the ch sounds, are changing and morphing into something closer to the Irish version of English. Even listening to recordings in English from people in the 1980’s in Ireland, you can hear the differences in sounds and accents. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means that when I write about things like the meanings of words, particularly from Old Irish. I try to be careful not to be definitive about it.

If this prompts any thoughts on your part, I’d really love to hear them. Also, if you’re a David Gemmel fan, cos his books really are good stories!! And if this poses questions you’d like to think through or see as the topic on a future post, let me know!

What’s in a name?

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

They have 4 (see the link here)

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

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

c) meaning (of words, sayings)

d) In phrases with prepp. and verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go mbeannaí Íosa duit, a Bhríd Naofa,

Go mbeannaí Muire duit, is go mbeannaím féin duit,

Chugat a thána’ mé ag géarán mo scéil chugat,

Agus d’iarraidh cabhair in onóir Dé ort.

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

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

Beannachtaí an lae ort, a Bhríd,

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

Chugat a tháinig mé ag géarán mo scéal chugat,

agus d’iarraidh cabhair ort.

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

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

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

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

St. Brigid’s Shoe Shrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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