The loss of a true file

I woke this morning to find the world has lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a Jewish woman, albeit one that left her faith was not observant for many decades by the accounts I’ve read, I doubt she would appreciate the usual gestures endemic in Irish culture, linked as they are to a Christian view of the world. (I had originally typed “left her faith” in this sentence, but I have been informed by a friend that this is not appropriate for Judaism and saying she was not observant is. Thank you to Sophia for telling me this!!) I will say that wherever she is now, I hope she gains the rest and happiness she deserves after a lifetime of work and perseverance.

Today, there will be many, many tributes paid to the great woman, a legacy she has earned. And many of them will be better worded, more informed, better researched and probably more appropriate than what I am about to write. But I’m crying this morning and mourning the loss of a file, one we sorely needed in the US, especially given the announcement this morning that the Senate in the US is likely to push ahead with a vote on a Trump nominee, even after the debacle in the last year of Obama’s tenure.

I’ve already seen one comment on an Irish group, questioning why we care so much about someone who, after all, had so little influence on Ireland and Irish culture? Well I hope to address that in my words here – or at least partly address it.

First and foremost, RBG was a feminist. She was the second woman appointed to the US Supreme Court – in 1993. That’s within my lifetime. She was compelled to hide her second pregnancy until her teaching contract was renewed (1965). She has dealt with two bouts of concer, continued to work from her hospital bed when she broke some ribs a few years back and was thinking of her country up until her last minutes by all accounts – expressing a wish that her replacement would not be nominated by the current president of the USA. She thought of others. She upheld the law.

She was a file. The word in modern Irish means poet – and anyone who has read or heard some of her judgments will realise that she held and understood the power of words. But in our history, the filí were not just poets. They were the judges, the givers of law, the upholders of the law, the developers of the law. Our own Brigid was deemed deity of the filí, and her namesakes after her ( Brig Ambue -Brigit of the Cowless, Brig Briugu – Brigit of Hospitality, Brig Brethach – Brigit of the Judgments) in the Ulster cycle were the mother, wife and daughter of Senchas (translated as lore or tradition). Brigid cared about the law, cared about right judgement. Brig’s husband, Bres, in Caith Maigh Tuiread was brought down in the first instance by a wrong judgement and lost his kingship over it.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a file in the Irish tradition, of working with the law, changing it, as did the three Brigs of the Ulster cycle, when it was deemed unfair – particularly when it came to women. She was a liberal leader – not so far left or liberal as I’d like her to be, but nevertheless, the senior liberal judge on the Supreme Court in the past few years. She fought for equality for women. And yes, her remarks on the protests of Colin Kapernick and his fellow protestors were not supportive, which is a disappointment, but if even our deities are imperfect, then how can we expect more from our human heroes?

Because Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero of mine. A personal hero – she worked and fought in a male dominated profession, as I do. She paved the way for others to come after her – as I hope I do. She spoke out and voted with her conscience – as I hope to always do. She persisted, she persevered, she continued on. She accepted the weight of expectations on her and didn’t retire, but kept going to the end.

She was 87 when she passed away and she is a massive loss to the US, to this world. She showed us a way to fight the inequalities of the system, she showed us a way we might follow if we so choose. Hers is not the only way, but it is a way.

There are Jewish traditions and no doubt family traditions that her nearest and dearest will be following right now. If our grief is hard and long, imagine what those who knew her and loved her personally are feeling?

For those of us who admired her from afar, this is a time when “thoughts and prayers” might actually be appropriate. For myself, I will be lighting a candle in her honour today. And I will reflect on how I can use her example to further my own work in this world.

What can we do to continue her legacy and improve upon it?

How perspectives change

One of the questions that came up in my recent request for topics to write about on this blog was how my perspective and practice on Brigid has changed over time. It’s difficult to answer this one – so naturally, I decide to tackle it on a Sunday afternoon when I’m feeling a bit knackered and miserable. Glutton for punishment, sometimes, me!

In all seriousness though, it does no harm to look back and reflect sometimes, so here we go.

If I look back over my life, Brigid has always been there, certainly since I started school. In primary school, making crosses and hearing stories of her piety, her generosity were all part of St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st. As a teenager, I strayed away from her, and indeed religion in general, as I grew and tried to integrate things I knew to be right and the teachings of the church as I was presented with them. I will also say, I found St. Brigid to be fairly generic at this point anyway. Sure she was a virgin, she was humble, she was pious, she was kind… her stories appeared to me to be typical of the female saints.

In recent years however, I’ve realised those stories are not the same as other saints. Brigid didn’t die a martyr, she founded monastic communities, the first one with a group of women (shock, horror!!). She was ordained a bishop – officially accidentally, but we’ll take it. She wasn’t a meek healer, called to cure any brought before her, she put the onus on the sick many times to do something themselves, or else she made them well by assuming they were so, and such was her power that the world bent to her will. She is a better role model than I would have thought for the modern world.

And then the deity came along. And I’ll admit, it’s only as an adult I realised how different the day to day practices of Irish Catholicism are different to those in other countries. I spent 11 years as a Catholic in England for example and their approach to the religion was far more stringent, strict and less fun all in all. (One parish I was in, encouraged parents to send their children to a Festival of Light to pray for All Saints on Halloween rather than allowing them to dress up and go trick or treating. Very strange to an Irish woman!) I realised that things I had always taken for granted were not Catholic in nature at all, in fact the Church didn’t really support such things in the slightest. Things like the existence of the Otherworld, of lands such as Tír na nÓg, of the stories and the histories that we were taught – not really acknowledged by the Church at all. Our activities at Halloween, May Day, and other holidays were… not Christian?

And even frowned upon? It was disconcerting to say the least.

I started reading and learning. I found out that the Catholicism practiced by my ancestors was at best a thin veneer over older practices. That other Catholic nations didn’t have the traditions of leaving cream and butter by the door. That other Catholic nations didn’t have saints, particularly female ones, that claimed land with a magic cloak. That other Catholic nations viewed what I considered harmless childhood adventures of dressing up and playing as something else…

Anyway, as part of my learning, I came across the goddess. And the goddess I was introduced initially was a triple deity in the classical sense – maiden, mother, crone. This was wrong to me, since no goddess in Irish lore appears like this. I mean, some of them appear as whatever age they happen to choose, but the notion that the triple was the maiden, mother, crone wasn’t part of our stories. So I came to what I call the “Wiccan Brigid” first. (Wiccan Brigid may not be accurate, in fact neopagan is probably more accurate, but it’s what I called that entity when I came to her first). But I could tell, this wasn’t the deity I was sensing and working with.

Then I was guided towards the UCC Celt website (https://celt.ucc.ie//) and discovered the manuscripts where our mythology comes from (well the manuscripts that captured at least part of the oral tradition anyway). I read of the triple deity, daughter(s) of the Dagda. I learned about Brigid being goddess of poets, smithcraft and healing. I found her familial connections. I found people lighting candles to her, saying it was part of an ancient tradition (and it probably is, don’t want to denegrate the flamekeeping tradition!) I found people talking about the “beautiful energy” of the deity, showing ornate, intricate altars, craft work, all things devoted to her.

And some of it chimed with me and some didn’t. The flamekeeping sounded like a great thing to do, but doing it on a regular basis wasn’t something I wanted to do. Not something I felt called to do. Some were called to write poetry and songs to her – not me. Some were called to make and paint and write and create… not me. Not to say I didn’t or don’t do these things – I did and do, sometimes. But it wasn’t the core of what I felt was needed.

Around this time as well, I was introduced to meditation in a way that worked for me. And I started meditating. Then I discovered Lora O’Brien’s work on a native tradition of Irish spirituality and started looking with discernment and consideration with all I had learned and worked on. And I started building my current practice.

It’s pretty simple actually. I am an engineer, which I consider a descendant of smithcraft, so by my daily work, I honour herself. I have a statue where I will light tealight on occasion, sometimes at her request, sometimes of my own volition and sometimes it’s not clear which is which, but sure, I can live with that. I meditate most days, and most days during meditation, I have a bit of a chat with her, sometimes more one-sided than others.

I find myself feeling very close to her by the sea and whenever I’m by the sea, I think of her, talk to her, thank her, and other things. This was a lot easier when I had a job 10 mins from the beach and COVID wasn’t restricting travel. But I’ve managed to go for a swim in the sea this year anyway, so I’m reasonably happy.

I try to do right by people in my daily life. It’s not always easy, but being in right relationship with people has become more and more important to me over time. Living as ethically as I can, working as ethically as I can, spending my money as ethically as I can… all these things are important to her and therefor to me. The energy goes where the money goes is something I try to remember. That means donating to causes I think important to her, writing letters to TDs (Irish politicians) on topics I feel important, taking part in campaigns and activities I think support her areas of concern. I also consider my work on getting more women into engineering as part of my work for her.

In short, I try to make my life my practice. It’s not so simple for me to divide up my life into devotion and non-devotion. I’m also heavily influence by my parents in this regard, who are devout Catholics, but firmly believe that while Mass attendance is important, it doesn’t outweight the duty and requirement to live life properly and in a good way. My mother calls my modern activities a “social conscience” and I suppose it is, but Brigid looks after the voiceless and asks us to help give them our voice when needed, so I try.

It’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier to face a difficult conversation in work knowing I have her backing than doing it on my own…

When I was younger, I thought religion and spirituality were things you did on specific occasions, confined to times and places. The rest of the time, you did the best you could. As an adult, the major change in my practice is that – it’s how I live my life. It means rarely using words like “always” and “never” since I know there are occasions I would break those terms. It means looking at where and how I work and incorporating the ethics distilled into me from childhood as part of my work. It means looking at where and how I spend money and avoiding places and entities who support practices I don’t agree with. It means offering my home as sanctuary to those who need it. It means offering prayers and healing practices (specifically reiki, reflexology and womb blessing) and accepting that these offerings may be refused. It means looking at the land and taking action to heal it. It means looking at our nation and supporting action to heal it. It means looking at the world and seeing what positive difference I can make.

It might be small, but I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. And that, really, is the core of my current practice.

The nature of beauty

I know, beauty and Brigid? it’s not my usual style. But things have come up in recent weeks that has me thinking about this. It stemmed originally from a comment that Brigid has a beautiful energy that can be experienced in many ways. Now, on the surface of it, yeah, sure, energy can be beautiful. But it got me thinking on the nature of beauty and how it’s used by subsections of the population to minimise or control things. Bear with me here.

I practice energy work. A few different kinds and a few things that aren’t really part of any training at all. And yes, it can be beautiful. But it can also be messy, dark, bloody, sweaty and hard. Just because it’s energy, doesn’t mean it’s serene or calm or wise or whatever other word you want to use. Sometimes it’s screaming and yelling and dancing in a storm and forcing sound through your throat so hard you end up hoarse and exhausted. It’s not gentile. It really isn’t.

As well, I see a lot of “spiritual people”, mainly white women, comfortable in themselves and looking for positivity rather than hard work. I jokingly refer to them as the “light and love” crowd when speaking to friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with either light or love, but it can be used to keep people silent and oppressed. Have a look online for toxic positivity for the negative side of it. Essentially, this to me says someone is looking for spirituality which won’t challenge her ways of thinking, won’t change her life too dramatically, won’t cause any hurt or upset. I mean, she’s doing her best, can’t I accept that?

Sure I can – if I think someone is really doing the work. But often they’re not. Often, they’re using the motions, language of spirituality to cocoon themselves in a pleasant world with little challenge or disruption. This is not necessarily the way we grow. And very often, the thought that “Brigid has a beautiful energy that can be experienced in many different ways” comes from here. Why? Ok….

Beauty has been a way to control and oppress women for centuries. While we’re worried about appearing beautiful, we’re also often encouraged to focus our energies on this, looking acceptable and staying that way. Remaining still and stagnant in many ways. Static even. Beauty by itself is not a bad thing, but as a means to tie up energy and time and money and thoughts…. yeah, it can be a great way to keep control over women in particular.

Beauty is by default peaceful, quiet, non-disruptive, accepting… Brigid is not these things. She is fire and water, she is fight and protection, she is law and story and words. She is not peaceful. Even the Christian monks writing her Bethu Brigte couldn’t portray her as the ideal, passive Christian woman, they had to show her fire, her temper, her fight. Don’t diminish her by reducing her to beauty.

She can appear as beautiful, sure, no bother, but she can appear as anything she wants really. If she’s working in a forge, while accepting that deity isn’t subject to the same anatomical rules as humanity, she’s still likely to have strong muscles and a bit of weight behind her to handle the weight she’s dealing with in the metal. If she’s working for equality and rights of the cowless, she’s going to need to be loud and capable of dealing with conflict as it’s presented to her. Any performer, whether the bards of the Iron Age or modern comics, need to be able to deal actively with heckling, judgement, etc. She is no passive beauty, but an active force in this world.

And so, calling her a beautiful energy, to me, is a way to minimise and control her in ways not really suitable to her lore and stories. She is listed among the demons in the Dindshenchas. She is listed as have the king of boars, the king of rams working with her. She is listed as restoring leprosy to the leper who enraged her. She will not be minimised and will not be passive about the things she cares about. Don’t try to make her so.

Is Brigid calling me?

It’s a question that comes up a fair bit, in relation to many deities, but lately, I’ve been getting a fair few questions along these lines myself. And the answer is both extremely simple and extremely complicated.

For me, I didn’t necessarily feel ‘called’, as in, she didn’t appear in a flash of light and thunderous music, saying, “Right, it’s time, come on, get your arse in gear”. I mean, that might be the way she does it for some people but not for me. For me it was more a realisation that I was doing the work she wanted done anyway, so I might as well do it with her help as without it.

Explaining what that realisation was like is a bit more difficult though. If you’ve read the blog, or taken any of my classes over at the Irish Pagan School or are a member of the Brigid’s Forge group on Facebook, you’ll know I grew up Irish Catholic, and still identify as Pagan Catholic (and really, Irish Catholicism in the traditional pre-20th century sense, was really only skin deep with all sorts of pagan practices still trundling along nicely thank you very much. Just try asking most of us if we’d go so far as to disturb a fairy ring….) Growing up Irish Catholic, Brigid (as in St. Brigid) was always there, one of our three patron saints, a strong female holy figure, someone who promoted education, learning, justice…. Plus a decent excuse for at least a day a year of making Brigid’s crosses to take home to the Mammy and Daddy. (usually only in primary school that last bit!)

So, I knew the stories of St. Brigid. I also, I thought, knew the myths and legends fairly well. (As it turned out, I didn’t, those tales are heavily sanitised in schools!) But in my late 30’s, things began to change a bit for me. Now the Catholic Church I’d pretty much given up on as an institution at this point. It has done a lot of good in Ireland and elsewhere over the years, but it’s also done a lot of harm at the same time. Individual members of that church are a different story, but the institution itself… well I could be here for a while typing on that!

So, mid-30’s things began to change. From the time I graduated as an engineer, I got involved in getting more women into engineering (most companies want to use female engineers for promotional purposes anyway tbh, to maximise their image) I had always thought of myself as a feminist, even if I did proudly proclaim for many years that “I wasn’t like those other girls”. I rejected for a long time any pretense of liking or wanting traditional “female” concerns – boyfriends (although I was more than willing to have sex, just not any sort of commitment), looking pretty (my thoughts were that I was fat and ugly, so what was the point?), marriage (tying myself down and actually trusting a man????)… this list could go on for a while. I was pretending I was male while insisting I was female (not trans in any way, just didn’t want to be seen as less and I saw being female as being less). As far as I was concerned I could out-drink, out-shag and out-work any man.

Then I hit my late 20’s and met someone special (ended up marrying him). I started researching different areas of study – hitting the arts and humanities as well as STEM subjects. I saw the value in literature, stories, in creating a better world. I started thinking on a wider scale, not just my own life. It was suddenly not enough that my own life was getting better, I needed to do something about the world.

Sounds fierce grandiose, doesn’t it? This is what I mean about her sneaking up on me….

I started to do work on myself. I realised things were very wrong with me – I was showing all the signs of anorexia, except I was fat (and doctors don’t see fat people as getting eating disorders for some reason), I was desperately unhappy, drinking miles too much… I was not in a good place. The Church, my upbringing was telling me, should by my place of comfort, but frankly, it appeared to think that getting married to a fine, upstanding Catholic would solve all my issues (but I’d met a lot of those fine, upstanding Catholics as young men and frankly, an awful lot of them weren’t and aren’t…) So I started looking into women’s spirituality, menstrual spirituality. I went on some “reclaiming your power” retreats. I went into some dark places.

And then I realised there were “presences” in my life, especially when I was doing this inner work. Now I was still based in the UK at this point, so when they appeared, the old Irish deities were not first on my mind, especially since lot of the inner work practices I was taking part in were drawing on classical Greco-Roman structures and deities. It didn’t fit properly and it was hard to absorb some of what was happening. Plus two of the “presences” were strongly related to both the Virgin Mary and St. Therese of Lisieux. Both strongly Catholic images, rather than pagan.

And then I came home. And I started listening to the land I was born in again. I started listening to Irish podcasts, Irish telly, Irish radio, Irish stories. I realised how cut off I had been from the land of my home. (“Home” is probably worth another post all on it’s own!) I firmly remember going back to England at this point for a self-development weekend and standing in the closing circle, bare feet on the ground and declaring that “this is not my home. This is not my land. I have no deep roots here. My roots are elsewhere.”

Now I’m lucky to have that root system in the land of my birth. Many don’t. But it was part of my call. I started meditating, studying the old lore, seeing what elements of what I was being called towards. And by called, I mean I could read through the entire text of the Caith Maighe Tuireadh and return over and over and over again to that single paragraph that names Brig. I returned to the parts of the various glossaries dealing with Brigid. I found myself learning about how the poet, the smith and the healer operated in the world they inhabited. Most importantly, I learned how the work I was feeling interested in, feeling called to do, linked in to those stories and scriptures.

I found a need in my to do some energy training and specifically training aimed at the womb and menstruality. I found myself writing again, fiction, after years or not doing so. I found myself promoting and forcing myself into various spotlights to highlight engineering as a career for women and speaking out about the barriers to that.

I see many people out there questioning “Is Brigid calling me to do this?” My answer is “Why is it important? Is this work worthwhile and a positive force in the world? Does it lead the world to a better please? Is it making things better?” If the answer to any or all of those is “yes”, then why wait for the bolt of lightening to JFDI?

But the backing of a deity is a comfort, I know that. And if you want a relationship with Brigid, then you need to put some work in as well. Meditate, use guided meditations to meet her, develop your own. Look into her lore (and I’d strongly encourage you to read up on the saint as well as the deity), see what sort of person she is. Light a candle occasionally. Pray – we underestimate this in the modern world. (Prayer for me tends to be extemporaneous now, rather than the formula of my youth, but there is a comfort in repeating prayers as well).

I’m a strong supporter of study and learning for deepening our relationship with deity. Learn about the being your interested in. Learn what others experience with them, learn with tends to be general gnosis and what appears to be more restricted. Learn the lore – we are lucky to have so much of our original lore still intact (ish) in Ireland and there are loads of places out there that allow free access to original texts (virtually I mean!) I’d recommend UCC Celt website for starters and you can move on from there. Spend time meditating and praying on your chosen deity on a regular basis.

Finally, if Brigid does call you, or you think she does – talk to people. Don’t just take one point of confirmation as a definite response, take your time. And for the love of whatever god you currently support, don’t go making lifelong or further promises without really serious care over wording, intent, content etc.

Brigid is a good deity to work for/with. (The very fact that she and I are actually arguing over the preposition there is a sign of this!) She uses tools, she’s not always great at remembering tools need rest and TLC as well as work, but she will listen when you point this out. She can and will also force a rest on you if she feels it’s needed. For me, she has a close link to the Dagda (her Da), as well as links to Airmid (herb healing) and some others in the Irish pantheon. But she is a being with a non-human outlook, non-human perspective, non-human priorities. It’s important to remember that. It’s always important to remember that!

Brigid as support in time of pandemic

So, Brigid as a healer is a fairly well established entity. So she seems an obvious choice to ask for support in time of pandemic. But what support and how to ask? Well, ok, right now, a lot of my prayers and requests are somewhat gibberish ranting some version of “please keep me and mine safe in this time of plague and pestilence”. Sometimes it’s “please give me the patience to survive this crap”.

But that’s personal and not really looking out for the world. I’m going to be honest, I’ve not asked for any help on a worldwide or pandemic wide basis. I hadn’t thought of doing it until earlier this week and I get a feeling of “yeah, doing what I can” when the thought comes into my head, so I’m leaving it alone for now. Plus, I tend to be big on the practical and the deity helps those who help themselves side of things…. Here’s what I’m thinking:

What helps you, supports you, mentally, physically, emotionally right now? What can you do on the daily, weekly, monthly basis to help yourself? What food do you enjoy eating that feels good and gives you what you need right now? What movement can you do with the resources available to you? Will meditation help? Will just taking time to get a deep breath help? What do you need to do for you, to keep yourself in one piece?

Who around you can you ask for help? Is there governmental assistance in your area? Have you family you can ask for help? Sometimes just having a listening ear at the end of the phone is such a massive help. Are there organisation in your area offering help with shopping/ meds collection?

If you’ve done all that you can do and you still need help – reach out to Brigid. See what you need, just be aware that she may not agree with you with what’s best for you. Ask – however formally or informally you feel best suits. I mean, I wouldn’t go asking her for stuff straight off the bat, maybe see what kind of relationship you already have there, but if you’ve already had a few conversations, contacts, etc, then reach out. Have a chat, do a meditation, create the thoughts…

Now a lot of the above is obviously UPG. These are thoughts based on my relationship with Brigid and my experiences with her. But I think from my experiences, she’s going to be looking at the community support, the food, the mental support, the balance between supporting ourselves and supporting our communities. Right now, she’s not asking me to do a lot of in-person work because my husband is sick and we’re isolating. But she is asking for virtual support, sharing of experiences, letting people know they’re not alone.

Not all healing is medicine based, plant based, etc. Sometimes healing involves a listening ear, a hug, a sleep, or just being able to read the random ramblings on a blog of someone just saying – it’s ok. Whatever you’re doing right now to support yourself, to maintain yourself, it’s ok. (well you know if it’s going to actively hurt someone else, maybe rethink it… maybe… depending)

You’re presumably an adult, if you’re reading this blog. (If you’re not an adult, check with your parents ok, I do discuss adult themes here!) You are probably on a journey to know yourself (to me this is the first step in any spiritual journey), and so you may do things at this time that you will look back at with a sense of shame or disappointment in yourself. That’s ok, learn from them, make what reparations you can. But right now, be very clear about all the asks on you, whether from yourself, family, work and deity. Prioritise, see what you have time for and look at what’s most important to you.

She is here but not necessarily to help us… She has her own things to do and she will see them done. But she will support where she can, especially if you already have a relationship with her. Right now, she’s saving me a space in a quiet meditation space, she’s allowing me space to give my brain a break every now and then. But I’m also keeping going in the virtual support I offer and trying to offer that space further on. It’s not a completely transactional relationship, but it has elements of the transaction about it. I do my bit, she does her bit, those two things are not necessarily equal over time but as long as we’re both happy with it…. we’re ok.

See what you can do for yourself. See what support you can find for yourself. See where the gaps are and where you think she can help fill them in. And of course, if you wish to do a formal ritual, prayer circle, etc that’s always useful. I grew up with and still adhere to the belief that a true, heartfelt prayer is always useful. Just… don’t necessarily expect her to solve all your problems, or at least not in the way you expect 🙂

A visit

A few nights ago, as I was just finishing up work, cos in this new world we’re living in, I work from home for now, I heard an almighty ferocious roaring outside the window. It sounded like a cow stuck in labour. After frantically wandering around the inside of the house for a few mins, I saw a beast outside the window.

Not a cow, but one very upset bullock. (For those who are not familiar with the nomenclature, a bullock is a bull who’s had the snip) The poor thing was pawing the ground, shaking his head (with a fairly decent set of horns on him for Ireland now….) rubbing up against the house, generally upset. So naturally, I withdrew from the room and told my husband to do the same. The last thing I wanted was for the bullock to see us through the window and try to come through the wall.

Our house is well built but still….

Anyway, I started ringing round, cos while I know of the names of the farmers around us, I don’t have contact details. No luck at all. The bullock at this point was doing laps of the house, not in any sort of focussed way, mind, just meandering around the house, still letting his displeasure be known. (A bullock making his displeasure known is LOUD!!)

So I rang my Ma, who reminded me it’s been more than 5 decades since she had to deal with any breed of bovine creature, but mainly, once she was satisfied it wasn’t a cow in labour, said to leave it alone. It was entertaining once I stopped worrying the poor thing would hurt itself. It inspected our cars, nibbled a bit of grass, gave us a bit of fertiliser in exchange and after about an hour moseyed out the gate. At which point my darlin husband went out to close the gate.

Why am I writing about this? Well very often, people speak of signs and symbols in paganism (and in other belief systems as well). With Brigid’s association with cows, or lack thereof, I could look at this as a sign of something, couldn’t I? But well… what would it be? A bit of company for the evening? I was going nowhere near the animal knowing as little as I do about cattle and not knowing how used said animal was to humans) An attention getting tactic? She usually manages that all on her own. A sign I should go out and buy some cattle? Highly unlikely -we have no land, no space and most importantly, no experience.

Now, if I had just done some working or some prayer or something, possibly I might be looking at this differently. but the most I’d be taking from this is that she hasn’t forgotten me. She’s still here in this time of crisis and pain and woe. She’s still looking out for us, still keeping her eye on us, still being herself.

Sometimes, a bullock in the garden is just a bullock in the garden. It happens in rural Ireland, with the best farmer in the world, animals escape (and bullocks aren’t near as bad as goats….) But for all that, it was a nice break from the ongoing horribleness in the world right now, and sure just maybe, that was her intent all along…

Ethics, energy and Brigid

As part of my work with/for Brigid, honesty and integrity have become very important to me. Not necessarily in the sense of telling lies (I’m as prone to an “I’m grand” when I’m really not as the next person) but more in the sense of being true and honest with myself. And this to me spreads out to my actions, my energy and my intent in this world.

It’s come up for me because I had to write a difficult email to someone explaining things I didn’t really want to explain. But here’s my thoughts.

Either we think that our intentions, our energy, our magic, our prayers in this world make a difference… or we don’t. And if we don’t, why bother? To make ourselves feel better? If we do, we need to be conscious and aware of our actions and our energy and how they affect not just our own world, but the worlds of those around us and in the vicinity of where we work our energy and magic. This is really important.

It also comes into money. Where we spend money, we also give support, no matter how peripherally or tangentially. Where we spend our time, where we spend our money, where we spend our energy – these are the things that will grow and grow. We all know this deep down. If everyone in Ireland decided tomorrow they were never going to eat a spud again, and stuck to it, then we’d need to be looking for other crops to provide all the vitamins, minerals and energy the humble spud still provides us with. It would cause farmers to produce other crops. It would have a massive knock on effect.

We don’t of course. It may be a symbol of great torment and pain in this country, but also a symbol of a bloody tasty food and an easy way to feed multitudes. And so we live with our own internal inconsistencies for a few generations more anyway.

For me, Brigid hasn’t specifically asked me to stop spending money with certain companies ,to stop spending time with certain people, to stop supporting certain causes. But she has asked me to be clear with myself about what my intentions are and where my energy is going. I’ll give you an example. I usually very rarely shop in tesco. It’s usually for Cadbury’s chocolate, Green & Black’s chocolate and fresh guacamole. That’s usually it. Occasionally the odd bottle of wine. This isn’t because I have an issue per se with Tesco. It’s more because of things I’ve heard about the way they treat their supplier and because they are a symbol of how insidiously British companies have taken over the Irish market. We may be politically a separate entity, but commercially, many of our towns are populated with foreign companies. Now part of this is a wider trend of globalisation, but with Ireland, the encroachment of British entities is a bit of an alarming trend.

So where I can, I choose to spend my time and energy supporting local Irish businesses. Of course, I also do most of my weekly shop in Lidl, liking as I do the Irish meat, dairy and vegetables they provide. It’s not possible for me usually to shop entirely locally in greengrocers, butchers, etc, for a number of reasons. So Lidl is my compromise. Many can say Tesco also source meat and other produce from Ireland – it’s true, they do – but not enough and they are quintessentially British.

Of course, in recent times, with the virus restricting movement, I’ve been getting more than those products in Tesco, to limit my exposure to the outside world. Tesco has implemented clearer arrangements for people management than Lidl has, the aisles are wider, there’s just more space, so it’s easier to pop in there and steer clear of people. For the short term, I’m overriding my ethics on supporting a foreign entity to keep myself and my family as safe as I can make it.

But for all of us, pagan, Christian, Buddhist, Muslem…. whatever religion or none you ascribe to, remember, where the money goes, the energy go. What are you supporting in where you do your shopping? Where you buy your clothes? Where you go for a pint? Are you happy with those choices? If you are, great! Brilliant in fact!

But if you’re not, then maybe it’s time to take a step back and consider a few things again. Maybe it’s time to look at the practices and energies you are supporting and providing more energy for. Maybe it’s time to look at what kind of world you want to live in and how you can spend money, time and energy to see that world come about.

Brigid really doesn’t care where I do my shopping. But she sure as hell cares what kind of world I’m working towards.

What is deity?

On the last session of my recent 5 week course, I challenged people to think about what they mean and understand by the word “deity”. I thought it might be a good idea to formulate my ideas around this topic for myself as well. This is one of those things that’s not a bad idea to do in general on a regular basis – now, I don’t mean once a week or so, but even annually is no bad idea. Our thoughts and understanding change over time. Our relationship with deity changes over time. It’s important to reconsider and reflect, given our new learnings and personal development. And so, here we go…

To me, there is a single divine force in this world, but we as humans can’t comprehend or cope with the whole of that force. So we filter down this force to what we can comprehend and cope with. And this changes over time. If you think about it, the deity or divine a young child can deal with and comprehend is very very different to an elderly person.

And so, my current appreciation of deity is Brigid, fairly obviously from this blog, I’d say. But there’s so many depictions of Brigid out there, I’d best explain a bit more.

There is an element of supporting the community. What point is there of deity if they don’t work with the community and have communities working with them? What are these communities made of? What type of people are attracted to what aspects of deity?

For Brigid, the healing aspect is all-important. Not just healing of illness, but energetic healing, environmental healing, relationships healing, community healing. There is so so much there in terms of healing to look at and what we can all do to support that.

There is also the aspect of creation and destruction. What do we need to destroy to create more? What needs to be cut away as deadwood to allow new growth? This can apply on a personal level as well as a community level. What anchors to the past are still useful, relevant and valuable and what anchors are now irrelevant, hurtful, and needing to be discarded. Learned from, but discarded.

Finally, there is the element of social justice. Who else but the gods will support us in our pursuit for social justice, looking to help those who don’t have the resources to help themselves. Of course, not all the gods look at this level of society, but Brigid does. Just read up on Brig Ambue to see how much…

Brigid also uses us as her tools to get what she needs done, done. With consent, with acknowledgement, preferably as part of a bargain rather than just her dictating orders, but still… as her tools. She will forge her tools sometimes. She will break and re-forge when needed. She is not an easy deity to follow at times. However…

She’s worth it. There is value, there is joy, there is worth in working with her (she may use the term working for her, but y’know, whatever term suits you!) And while your idea or appreciation of deity may be very different to mine, that’s ok. We all need to do our own work, our own understanding, our own energy to develop our own ideas.

So, what’s your idea of deity? What does deity mean to you?

Brigid and fertility

Last week, I wrote about my ideas on Brigid and war. Another aspect of Brigid, to me, is her link to fertility, of both land and people.

This again is a personal link, since my husband and I have been trying to have a family for some years now and some of my work with Brigid is linked to this. Unfortunately, currently, any fertility going through my body appears to be in the teaching and producing areas rather than the family one.

But there are some more solid links to fertility than there are with war. The most prominent for me is the story in the Latin Life of Brigit (Cogitosus is the author here, Google is your friend for more details!) where she caused the foetus of a fellow nun to disappear. Now it makes sense to me that to know how to make a foetus disappear, you have to have some knowledge of the process of procreation and childbearing, as well as the activities, plants, herbs etc that either promote or suppress it. Indeed, in the lists of penances in medieval Ireland, the penance for abortion was a relatively mild one, being one third the length of the one for actual childbirth (one wonders what activities the clerical leaders were trying to promote here)

As well, there are multiple accounts of Brigid healing the sick, which is standard fare for the early saints, to be fair, but also of causing the recently healed to be re-infected if they didn’t react appropriately! To either heal or re-infect suggests a knowledge of how health and the body works. To know how the body works, especially seeing as how she was a woman herself, makes it seem unlikely she didn’t have an understanding of the reproductive systems – from the female side anyway!

To me, the links to human fertility are strong. I personally extend this to other forms of fertility as well – whether the land, the arts, the crafts, the sciences… all need some element of fertility to produce anew, whether in cycles or in one-off endeavours. Brigid has strong links to the arts and humanities through her being a file (poet in direct translation), and equally strong links to healing through the sheer number of healing wells devoted to her in Ireland. But modern medicine is very different to the traditional ways people tried to keep healthy don’t forget. Very often, the wise woman knowing which herbs in the forest helped keep teeth in your head would save more lives than a doctor giving out medicine – especially if you look at some of the “medicines” that were touted in recent centuries.

A wise woman in many cultures give rise to fear – while priests rarely if ever showed interest in the process of childbirth, they were sometimes resentful of the power of the women who did. (please note: not all priests!) A woman who had some control over the mysteries of life and death, birth and death, would have power in the community, especially when that woman might also be, saints preserve us, independent of men!!

In Ireland though, because for many centuries, women were left alone for a variety of reasons and the bean feasa or wise woman was a regular and valued member of the community, being the only source of medicine for the poor. When you have a rebellion every generation or so, a famine every generation or so, are severely oppressed and downtrodden… well you don’t antagonise the woman who can help with life’s troubles.

Where does this bring us with Brigid and fertility? Well, I still have hopes. Technically, it’s still possible for me to bear a child, although there is that imaginary clock ticking. Brigid will support me in becoming who I need to be become – hopefully without a trip back to her forge for re-tempering! – and I believe in her.

What does this look like in my daily life? I take my folic acid. I work with my darlin husband to ensure sex is enjoyable, varied, and try and make an effort around ovulation time. We prepare mentally, physically and emotionally for children entering our lives.

And I pray. I meditate. I read. I research. I work on past traumas. I work on new traumas. I do all I can do. And I wait. She’ll make it happen when it’s right. And if it isn’t right… well, we’ll have to live with that. But there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth on the day we agree all hope is lost!!

When it comes to the land – things are a bit different. Ireland is still a breadbasket and modern advances in agriculture help us get more out of our land without exhausting it. But for centuries, the farmers, the fishermen, all had their rituals to ensure the fertility of the land on Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day. Whether it was the sheaf of oats outside the door for her to bless on her path over the land or the shellfish scattered in the four corners of the house, there were many households busy to ensure the fertility of the coming year around the 1st February. There were customs too about no wheels to be turned before noon, and how to manage the butter and the dairy on this day as well. I’d strongly suggest Seán Ó Dúinn’s book on Brigid for a very detailed account of this folklore.

It may be personal because of the difficulties in my own life, but for me, Brigid is intrinsically linked with fertility. Whether creating or destroying, as in my last post, she is there, she has power and she will use it.

Brigid and war

I’m currently teaching a class with the Irish Pagan School on Brigid in Ireland, going back into the lore and seeing what we can and can’t extrapolate from the stories our ancestors told. Last night we were dealing with Brigid as Goddess of Smithcraft and the aspect of Brigid and war came up.

It seems only fair to mention at this point that I have, at best, ambivalent feelings about the idea of war, killing, destruction. However, a fight engaged in righteousness is a holy thing, in my opinion… but this has been used as the excuse for every war, ever, pretty much. So what I’m going to talk about now is war as a destructive force. I’ll leave my rant on the modern military industrial complex for another time and focus on what war might, can and does achieve.

First off, of course, is destruction. Destruction of lives, families, livelihoods, land, buildings, monuments, knowledge, society… War destroys. It’s what it does. And – this is rarely an unadulterated Good Thing. Even World War 2, which many would agree is a good thing to have destroyed the power of the Nazis and their reign of terror, led to millions of deaths, a massive refugee crisis, destruction of economies… There are still scars from that war visible over most of the world and it’s almost 75 years since the ceasefire was declared.

If that war can have such massive effects more than 7 decades later, can we really say it was a good thing? I say no. Yes, finishing the power of the Nazis was a good thing, but a better thing would have been to prevent their policies being implemented at all. And we must remember, they were voted into power by a democratic process. (How they retained that power is another story…)

I cannot look at any war and say, yes that was a worthwhile and good war. It was worth the destruction and loss of life. Even the War of Independence here in Ireland (1921-1922) – yes, it brought us freedom from our oppressors, but I can’t help looking at the attempts to gain such a thing through peaceful means and despair.

So, ultimately, I have to agree there is a time for violence. I may regret it and pray I never need take part in it, but there is a time for violence. Peaceful protest gets us so far… but I’ve not seen peaceful process finish any of the great liberation movements of the last century: civil rights activities in the US, Europe, etc all involved violence, the current (admittedly unstable,with the advent of Brexit) situation in the North of Ireland was only brought about because of a violent campaign and I’m sure you can think of examples in your own community.

So where does this leave us with Brigid? Well, she was there in the army camp in Caith Maighe Tuiread 2 (as is sometimes referred to as The Rebellion 🙂 ) so I think we can say she sees the need for war in some cases. But I don’t think I see her on the front lines unless things get very bad and everyone’s called out to raise weapons. I see her more in the supportive roles: making sure the injured get care and attention, everyone gets fed at regular intervals, damaged or lost weapons are replaced and repaired. I see her standing in from of her home, ready to defend it from invaders, but not taking the fight to the invaders home. I see her in between an attacker and their victim, protecting those who need protecting rather than attacking herself. I see her protecting the land from whoever wishes to destroy it.

She is not a pacifist, no more than I am myself, but she sees fighting as a last resort, as the last defense, as something not to be glorified, but just another job that needs to get done on occasion and a less than pleasant one at that.

Of course, this is UPG. This isn’t verified in any way shape or form. These are my thoughts and how I interpret her stories and actions as I see them. You may differ. I can’t see her as a war goddess. If you think – the smith creates weapons of creation and destruction. No farm could survive without the smith’s arts, yet no war would be fought without them either.

And here we come to the crux of it: the powers of creation and destruction. Sometimes, things must be destroyed so that other things can be created and grow. Sometimes we must take up our weapons and defend our homes against invaders, whether of abhorrent ideology or physical force, no matter how much we despair of the waste.

Sometimes in the forge, when things go wrong, you have to toss the lump back into the fire, remelt it and start again. She’s got experience in the forge. She knows this. It just doesn’t mean she revels in or enjoys it.