Brigid and the Maiden/Mother/Crone thing

Every year around this time, I start seeing posts pop up exploring Brigid as a triple deity. Which is brilliant, except at least half the posts explore her under the Maiden/Mother/Crone construction – which is problematic as far as I’m concerned. And it’s for a few different reasons. Even worse, I then start seeing “Celtic maiden mother crone”, but I am less qualified to address than. I will try, but less qualified.

Maiden mother crone in Irish lore

First off, the “maiden mother crone” construction isn’t one we have in Irish deities. If you google “Irish triple goddesses” you get mentions of Brigid, the Morrigan, the three sovereignty goddesses: Éire, Banbha and Fódla. Mary Jones suggests that Lugh is the lone survivor of triplets and mentions the sons of Tuireann and the sons of Cainte as potential male triple deities. So the idea of triple deities isn’t out of the question in Irish lore. It’s just the construction of the triplets that doesn’t conform to the Roman notion of the “maiden mother crone” construct. (I’m using “construct” here because I can’t think of a better word. It’s not intended to indicate “made up” or otherwise “not authentic”).

PIcture of my Brigid stature, holding a flame, in front of a cauldron, with a lit tea light on the cauldron and a Brigid's cross in between Brigid and the cauldron. Maiden mother crone?
Picture of my Brigid stature, holding a flame, in front of a cauldron, with a lit tea light on the cauldron and a Brigid’s cross in between

We have powerful deities in Ireland, and Brigid is just one (or three) of them. Cormac’s Glossary outlines three sisters, a woman of healing, a woman of wisdom/ protector of poets and a smith. And this is fundamentally where we get the idea of the triple deity from in Ireland. It also leads me down roads of “why call three sisters by the same name”, but that’s for another time! There is no notion that any of the three (poet, healer or smith) conform to maiden, mother or crone.

If anything, Brigid is definitely a mother. She loses her son Ruadhán in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, which is one of our foundational snippets of lore about her. There is a hint that she might be the mother of the sons of Tuireann. (Although other possible mothers are Ana or Danu depending on the source you read.) And, spoiler alert, the sons of Tuireann all die in the end as well. As a mother, I sincerely hope she had daughters or less famous sons rather than losing all her children to heroic deeds. However misguided said heroic deeds might appear from a distance of a few millennia.

Do I think Brigid can appear as a maiden, mother or crone as she chooses? She’s a bloody deity, she can appear however she wishes. And yes, I have experienced her at most adult ages at this point. I’d suggest if you want to limit how a deity appears to you – well just warn me so I can get out of the way, alright? But trying to understand Brigid through the construct of “maiden mother crone” would be very difficult. The history, the folklore, the traditions just aren’t there to support it. For Brigid or any of the other Irish deities.

Maiden mother crone more generally

So there’s my issues with Brigid as maiden mother crone. But I also have some issues with the maiden mother crone concept itself. Now, if you use this construct and it works for you – that is brilliant. Good for you! I’m delighted. If that’s the case, you may wish to skip the rest of this post. So… fair warning.

Now, obviously, my own experience as a woman and with Brigid and other deities/ divine figures will influence the discussion that follows. I make no apologies for that. I am writing this post as a white, Irish, cisgendered, able bodied, reasonably healthy, fat woman. (Admittedly one who wears glasses and has ankle issues, but nothing that majorly impacts on my life choices.) I’m also writing as a woman who can’t have children, for no apparent medical reason. (I don’t want advice on that one by the way!)

And one who has done a lot of work on menstruation spirituality and getting in tune with my body. So while I might managed the maiden and crone bit, the mother bit will be a push. And yes, I know it’s not necessarily a “physical mother who has born children of her body”. I know it can be creative mother, spiritual mother, the energy of the mother. I still have problems with the whole construct.

Plus, it’s my blog, which gives me freedom to outline my thoughts here 😊

The first way this construct annoys me is this: it’s limiting women to their reproductive stages in ways we don’t really limit men at all. Maiden is traditionally innocent, virginal, awakening. New-start energy, enthusiasm, that sort of thing. Mother is fertility, fecundity, growth, caring, homemaking and other adjectives along those lines. The Crone is wise woman, the hag, the moving closer to death. Now, I understand that this can relate to creative pursuits, innovation and all sorts of other things. I get that part. But this still accounts for women by their reproductive season in life.

We don’t do this with men – who have similar stages in their reproductive cycles, it’s just not as pronounced. Or at least the end date isn’t as pronounced.

For me – this construct of the maiden, the mother and the crone is putting me in boxes I never agreed to. Or want to agree to. My chosen career possibly influences this – I’m an engineer and spend a lot of my time with men. I can be in touch with my female power and still not think about my reproductive stages. In fact, it’s preferably in many cases. It’s another way to limit my career if I draw too much attention to my reproductive cycle. In fact, very often in work, I need to forget about my reproductive cycle and work with it outside of work, to support myself in work.

I’m never going to be a mother, unless the Divine presents a miracle. It’s a kick in the teeth to tell me I’m in my fertile phase of life. I think as well, this minimises the effect that older women, post menopause, who contribute so much to life, society, families, work, etc. It minimises women in the “maiden” stage as well, limiting their impact as youthful enthusiasm, when much of the time, our young women are the ones with energy to do things. And yes, I know – I can already hear the proponents of maiden mother crone yelling at the screens. I know it’s not intended to limit people. I know technically we can all feel the “energies” of the different stages at any time. Hell, it’s used in menstruation spirituality to describe the phases of the menstruation cycle. I get it.

It’s still limiting women though. It’s still putting us in boxes. We’re more than all of this. And we deserve to be more than our reproductive stages. The construct appears to have it’s roots in Robert Graves’ work, rather than anything more ancient – which is not necessarily a bad thing. New doesn’t always equal bad. Old doesn’t always equal good. (Just go look at some of the Brehon laws dealing with rank!)


Finally, I’ll come on to the issues with the “celtic maiden mother crone” thing. Basically, no more than it appears in Irish lore, the construct doesn’t appear in other “Celtic” lore as well. First off, “Celtic” as a word usually is best reserved for languages, i.e. Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton and Cornish. There are many arguments about why Celtic should or shouldn’t be used in terms of anything other than language. For myself – describing something as “Celtic” is similar to describing something as “European” or “African”. It’s squishing an entire continent into one culture. Frankly, all you have to do is taste food from Ireland and compare it to the tastes in France (one of our nearest European neighbours) to see how different things can be.

And the word “Celtic” has sometimes been used with racist undertones (or with outright racism in mind) in recent history as well. I’m not going to link to site that use the word in that way, for, I hope, obvious reasons. The Celtic cross has managed to become a racist symbol of hate. I don’t think every depiction of the Celtic cross is a racist symbol (see picture below). Various hate groups have co-opted the cross as a symbol. That doesn’t mean using the word Celtic as a word is racist, but it’s just something to be aware of.

Two pictures, first of a stylised "Celtic cross" in black on a which background, second of an actual stone Irish Celtic cross with carvings depicting images from the Bibile
Two pictures of a Celtic cross,first of a stylised version often used in tattoos, second of a stone Irish cross with carvings of knotwork and imagery

And when it comes to “maiden mother crone” there’s nothing specifically Celtic about it. Sure, if you wanted, you could pick Irish deities to fit in the maiden category, the mother category and the crone category. Although I would warn you, Irish deities like being put in boxes just as much as I do! For me, it would be more important to reach out and learn out lore about these deities.

To finish…

So, if you’re interested in Brigid – look at the lore of the region you’re in first of all. I know there are Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx legends anyway about Brigid. People all over the world honour the saint. If you’re interested in the maiden mother crone construct – use it. Just don’t try and squish every goddess you meet into that framework cos, let me tell you, some of them will react strongly to that. And don’t assume all goddesses fit the mould you’re most comfortable with. Spirituality, faith – they’re not meant to be comfortable all the time. If you are feeling so comfortable all the time – are you really working at things?

While any deity is more than a construct we humans put about them, Brigid in particular is more than these three phases suggest. I have a basic introduction to Brigid class over at the Irish Pagan School, as well as some more at the Brigid’s Forge School. And the lore is free online as well – check out UCC Celt for any Brigid lore translated into English. There’s only 4 bits in the Irish pre-Christian stories. While the written copies we have today were recorded post Christianity’s arrival in Ireland, it’s obvious from the context of the stories that they happened pre-Christianity.

It’s always important to question our beliefs and work through our thoughts on particular issues. And you may read this and think I make perfect sense, but still find the maiden mother crone construct useful, whether in a Celtic context or not. That’s all fine. But don’t try to push Brigid into that structure – she won’t fit easily and she will let you know!

The strange ways the work can take us

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos from someone called Love 518. It’s a wonderful channel, where a hairdresser takes people’s hair that has been matted, or untended for a long time and she carefully unmatts it (no I don’t know if that’s a proper word, but ye know what I mean right?), tends it carefully and sends them on their way feeling some pride in themselves again. She is also really careful with her people, offers some amazing masks to allow them to keep anonymous and gives them hairstyles they love and feel good about.

Why would I think a random hairdresser in Miami, Florida is doing the gods’ work? Well, she’s giving people back their respect. She’s giving people a new start. She doesn’t give a damn how or why the hair gets matted, she regularly says none of us know when we might have a bad run of luck or have mental health issues, her aim is trying to give people back their hair. She just accepts people as they are and where they are and move on.

And hair is something that’s really obvious when there’s something not right. Skin is easy enough to keep clean and looking semi presentable, but hair… well hair can go wrong very easily. All it takes is a bad week and the knots get amazingly difficult to get out. Add a few weeks, a month, a few months, and hair gets really messy and difficult and a big job to tackle, and sometimes -well sometimes that’s just too damn much to face into. And so, it gets worse and worse. Now my hair isn’t too curly, ( I think I’m about a 2B according to this evaluation) but it still knots easily, and knots are the first step to matting for me.

But I don’t need to go to the hairdresser regularly to keep control over my hair, I can throw it into plaits when I need to, it’s easy enough to deal with. Added to which, I like it long because at least I can throw it up in a pony tail as well. But I like my hair. There are times when my hair is the only thing I really love about my body. (Don’t worry – there are times I can love other things as well) My hair is my crowning glory and I love it. So, I can completely understand how the work that Love 518 is doing is Divine Work. As far as I can tell, the hairdresser is Christian, but the faith doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is the right thing, in my opinion.

People deserve their self respect and hair is a massive part of that. Recognising that, and then moving to do something to help people – it’s amazing. This hairdresser spend days, 12 hour days on people’s hair and the transformations she makes for people are amazing.

I could rhapsodise for a while here, but go check out her videos. To expand the point – I don’t know if this hairdresser realises what she is giving back to people, but I hope she does. For women in particular, hair has long been considered a “crowning glory” (see the Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:6 and 11:15) and cutting the hair or shaving the hair has been long been a punishment for immodesty or vanity or whatever. Hair can be used to make a statement, it can be a way to identify ourselves or hide ourselves, to stand out or to blend in.

Sometimes, doing the work doesn’t mean lots of praying or fasting or deprivation or whatever else we think of when we think of spirituality. Sometimes, doing the work means taking the skills we already have, taking the work we already do, and pushing it out to help those who need it. What I mean by “pushing it out” is by looking at those skills and talents and work and seeing how we can use them to make this world a better place. Maybe that means you affect one person’s life, maybe it means you affect thousands of people’s lives. It doesn’t matter. To leave the world a better place than we found it is a good thing in general.

For me – engineering is my job, teaching is my work. So I share the way I think about things here, on my email list, in the school, in the facebook group, on the facebook page – all in an attempt to do the work I have to do and to make this world a better place. Mind you, engineering is also my work, cos why have just one bit of work to do – I work for a very practical and efficient deity! Persuading more women into engineering and making sure the ones already in engineering get the supports they need to keep going are also part of the work I do. My work will never be as clear as the work that hairdresser is – the changes I help people make are more private for a start, and sometimes I won’t ever know what changes are actually made, but I have hope. And that keeps me going.

Today, it’s a cold, freezing day in Ireland and I’ve had a tough weekend. I’m going into work tomorrow to face a shitstorm that because of reasons I wasn’t able to sort out over the weekend. But I can and will deal with it and in doing so, I will make the path clearer and easier for the women coming after me. It is unlikely I will have someone weeping on my shoulder because I made a fundamental change to their appearance that helps them to make them recognise themselves again. I have had people be thankful for my teaching and support, which is lovely, but it’s also important to realise that I don’t do this for that feeling, as awesome as it is, and I need to be careful to not depend on that feeling either. That was lies a lot of pain and badness.

I went down a potentially dark path there, but it’s important to recognise that it would be really easy to come to depend on people telling me how great I am, and that’s just not healthy for anyone. Don’t get me wrong – if something I say helps you or affects you or you just want to reach out – please feel free to do so. But it’s down to me to manage the me side of that interaction. And the me side needs to recognise that my feet need to stay firmly on this earth and not be rising up pretending to be something I’m not. I know already my daily practice tomorrow will be a brief gesture towards the east as I get into my car in the morning, long long before the sun rises. I might include a prayer on my way to work and while I’m in work asking for help and for support throughout the day. There’s a chance I’ll remember to say thank you tomorrow evening when I get home safely.

So, I’m not some genius guru with all the answers. I can’t fix all spiritual problems as easily or patiently as Love 518 solves hair problems. But I can help people along the way. I can help with small things (like the 30 Days of Brigid class coming up in January). I can ask the questions to get you thinking. Actually, I usually ask the questions here that get me thinking. And then work them out in the words here. I can help disentangle a problem or a spiritual issue with words, the same as Love 518 does with her combs, her brushes, her hands, her products, her knowledge… but really, it’s down to each of us ourselves to maintain once the help has been had. Just as it’s down to me to make sure I’m not claiming to be something I’m not and I’m making sure I keep up to date on my knowledge for Brigid, for engineering, for my own practices… It’s down to all of us to look after ourselves, whatever that looks like for us. If someone comes to me for help – I’ll give it if I can. If someone keeps coming back asking the same questions, getting the same answers and not working on it – well Brigid lost patience at times so I figure she won’t mind me losing it as well 🙂

That’s not to say anyone needs to be nervous about asking questions. But when someone has put time, work, effort into helping – make sure to do the work you need to do to get the best out of that help. Now there are times when you ask for help (indeed, times when I’ve asked for help) and you’re not in a position to act on the help, or you recognise the value of the help, but you just can’t fit in the work to use the help – honestly, that’s grand. Say it! I had someone say to me a few month’s ago that they very much appreciated the offer of a scholarship but they knew they wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the course right then, so it would be unfair to take me up on the offer. I love hearing people be honest with themselves and me like that. I respect it, I appreciate, it shows self knowledge and awareness.

So where am I going with all this rambling? Watching the Love 518 videos really has me thinking about how I can further help people – and I have a few new ideas coming up. It also has me thinking of ways I can reach out for help for myself as well, in both practical and spiritual terms.

And if anyone can spare a prayer or a candle tomorrow to help me through a tough work day, with challenging weather conditions (for Ireland anyway!) , I’d appreciate it!!

Showing up

I spent last night at home (in the homeplace, with my parents). This is great, for all sorts of reasons – Ma’s cooking not the least of them- but it also got me thinking. As I’m sure ye expected seeing as how I’m writing about it.

I found myself getting really irritated last night. At first I thought it was because I was reading a book, while they were watching telly, but they kept pausing the telly to talk to me. Then I thought it was because of all the comments on how I looked “frowny” (don’t ask!!) Then I thought maybe I was too hot, cos they tend to keep the place good and warm (well Dad is 83 now, so it’s expected).

But as I woke up this morning, I thought of something I cover in the Preparation for Imbolc course (registration is closed, but you can register your interest for next year here) – being in tune with your body. And I started thinking – I was very much out of my usual routine. Normally, my evenings are quiet, with myself and himself at home, and usually he knows I need to not talk for a bit. My parents on the other hand, don’t see me every day, so when I do see them, they want to talk about anything and everything.

So I instead of my usual quiet, peaceful evening, I had an evening punctuated by questions. Lots and lots of questions. What are you reading? Are you too hot (yes!!) Will I put more logs on the fire? (please don’t!) Are you tired? (Yes) Do you want a cuppa? (No, thanks) What time do you go to bed? (9:30) Are you going soon so? (in 10 mins) Do you remember these doctors? (M*A*S*H*, just FYI) and more and more and more

I’m not used to being questioned like this – and it’s their way of making conversation and keeping in tune with my life. But I still took myself off to bed possibly slightly earlier than I had planned. Because I needed to rest my brain. And this morning it occurred to me that usually, by 8:30, myself and the husband are sitting by the couch in companionable silence, punctuated by brief comments on whatever we’re watching on the telly. I don’t have to think. I can relax, knowing if I don’t answer him, he’ll poke me or say whatever it is again or generally just take it as I didn’t hear him, not as me sulking or not talking or whatever. But my parents usually see me at times when I can stay up late, or I’ve geared myself up for a long conversation, or otherwise prepared.

Yesterday, I had a long day in work and a longer drive afterwards, plus I ate dinner a good hour later than usual, so I was hungry and tired. I wasn’t myself. Or at least not the self that they’re used to seeing these days.

Now, what has this to do with Brigid? Well, here’s the thing. My Dad still got up this morning to make sure the alarm was turned off well before I woke up. He’s just made me a nice cup of coffee to start off my day and he’s going about his business around me as I get started for my day here. There’s no judgement – he knows I was tired last night and he knows I always think the house is too hot and he knows I laugh at them worrying about me being too cold etc in the bed. These are all long standing, loving conversations/ debates we have. And he still loves me, in spite of the differences between us.

We don’t always have to show up perfectly to Brigid either. I’m not saying I believe in unconditional love mind you, but I think my parents accept most of what I am (they really don’t understand the lack of a sport interest, but after 4 decades, they’re getting used to it!) They know that last night I really was tired, out of my usual routine, etc, etc, etc. They also know that all the questions drive me cracked. (Again doesn’t stop them asking, because they are genuinely interested, but, you know, this love thing works both ways!)

I often hear/read people talking about the efforts they go to, to show up for their deity. They dress up, they prepare, they make the effort. And don’t get me wrong – this is great. But when we’re talking about a daily practice, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you show up in your jammies. Or sometimes you show up tired, hungry, sore, grumpy. Or sometimes, you show up and all you can do is sit there because all you have is the energy to show up, nothing else. This is all ok. You don’t need 4 decades of a relationship with someone to start to recognise their energy levels or when something is wrong. OK, sometimes Brigid needs to be reminded we’re human and not inanimate tools, but she’ll recognise this – that we’re not on top form.

Sometimes it will make a difference to what she asks, or when she asks it, sometimes it won’t. And again, that’s ok. Sometimes we’re tired, hungry, lost, and we need a kick up the bum. Sometimes we need rest. Sometimes we can afford to take that rest, sometimes we can’t. This is all life and it’s not perfect.

So, I suppose, here’s what I’m saying. There’s a saying here in Ireland that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. My parents will always take me in… and so will Brigid. If I have faith in nothing else, I can have faith in that. Maybe you don’t have that. I know I am very lucky with the parents I have, however irritating at times they can be. They love me, want the best for me, care for me, support me… not everyone is so lucky. I’m also lucky in the husband I have, for many of the same reasons. I have two places in this land that if I show up, I will be able to enter the home. And I have my home in Brigid as well – although that’s not so much she must take me in, as she will take me in.

I can rest in her when I choose. My showing up on a daily basis is sometimes as basic as a few deep breaths or taking a few seconds to recognise her in my life. Sometimes it’s launching a massive three month course at short notice, or a 30 day course at even shorter notice! Levels of “showing up” exist…

So here’s what I’m saying. Our deities know, deep down, they really do know, that we’re human. We’re not machines. (Although as an engineer, machines can be temperamental as well sometimes!) You can show up dirty. You can show up tired. You can show up hungry. You can show up grumpy. You can show up wishing desperately you could be doing anything else at all. The important thing is to show up. The important thing is to even show up long enough to say “I can’t show up today”. I know it sounds daft, but really – it’s not.

Communication is as important in deity relationships as in human relationships. Your deity knows you can be tired, hungry, out of sorts etc. Still, take the 30seconds to show up. Consistently showing up is more important than showing up looking glam or energetic or anything. Consistently showing up is the basis of any relationship and deity is no different.

And now, the parents are both up so I’m off to enjoy my morning porridge with fresh fruit – fancier than normal – and maintaining that relationship for a while longer!! And remember – show up. Regardless of how you look or feel. She won’t mind.

Samhain & cycles

Today is the 31st October, Halloween, Samhain. OK, so Samhain can be considered more of a season than a day, but as we all know, in modern life (as in all time periods in history), unless you’re very privileged, it’s difficult to allow spiritual practice centre stage in life all the time. ( I do have another post on Brigid and Samhain if you’re interested!) And Samhain is part of the annual cycle of fire festivals in Ireland

Image above is of a carved turnip, the traditional means of decorating in Ireland for the Samhain part of the annual cycle. And then pumpkins started arriving from the States, and frankly, they’re a lot easier to carve out!!

In my own case, right now, I’m writing this on my phone, while snuggled up on the couch, looking at the Level Orange Rain Warning through the window. Oh and a hot water bottle on one ear & some happy Netflix romcom on in the background. Yup, that lurgy I mentioned last week still isn’t shaking, despite a week in bed! But it means that I will be limiting my my Samhain observances this yea. An extra place set at the table tonight. Walking the bounds & grounds at some point in the next week when the rain lets up a bit. I mean, it’ll be November in Ireland – hoping for a fully dry day might get pushing it a bit!

But also, once my Samhain cycle activities are over, I start preparing for Imbolc. Last year, I ran a course that people seemed to really enjoy, called Preparation for Imbolc. I’ll be running the same course again this year. (If you want to sign up for more info on that, please click here). It’s an almost three month course taking you through my framework for preparing for Imbolc.

So, today, I’m sitting down with my planning (Bank Holiday here in Ireland) and working out what I need to do in the next three or so months. Cos it’s a busy season. Samhain probably heralds one of my busiest cycles in the year, in direct contrast to that of agricultural folk. But here we go – there are observations I do around November in relation to ancestor work and the Catholic stuff. December is solstice and Christmas of course. January is the final run in to Imbolc. I find things get even more intense around then!

Just to be clear, this isn’t me moaning by the way. Being in tune with the cycles of the year, however that looks for me and acknowledging that I have a busy season coming up, means I’m aware of what’s coming. All of the above is voluntary. By planning I can fit it into my life sensibly, instead of running myself into the ground by trying to get everything done at the last minute. And while Samhain is a major festival, it’s also the signal to start getting things in order for the next three months as well. We forget the cycle runs through the year. Taking it easy for one of the fire festivals isn’t the end of the world!

So, wishing people a happy Samhain always seems a bit strange to me, but I hope you get to celebrate or acknowledge the season in a way that’s meaningful to you. For this part of the cycle anyway. And that everything you want to do works out well. If you have to cut your cloth a bit, as I’m doing this year, focus on what’s truly important to you. I’ve explained above what this looks like for me. Spare plate at the dinner. Walking the bounds and grounds. Bit of divination. Visiting a graveyard and remembering my loved ones who are dead during November. Short post today, but given I can’t move off the couch yet , I don’t think I did too badly, did I? All prayers and well wishes for helping shake off this bloody thing are welcome!

Brigid and Grief

It’s coming up to Samhain, and with it All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day for Catholics. It’s natural to think of those who have passed, particularly in the last year, but those who passed before as well. And with me putting together the course on Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh for next week as well, grief is on my mind. Plus, the weather appears to be grieving here in Ireland as well – we’re into our usual October weather. I wasn’t even willing to step outside to take the pick below, hence the window frame on the LHS.

Picture of the outside of my house as I type this, showing the edge of the window on the left hand side of the frame, puddles of water in the middle, slightly out of control grass looking very green, a great big bush of ivy and holly and something else in the middle that’s as tall as a tree, a pine tree in the background on the right hand side, the neighbour’s house, faded in the rain behind the pine tree and a row of trees, kinda faded as well in the background on the left hand side. Grey/black clouds over the top half of the photo… In other words, it’s ag stealladh out there!

Kübler-Ross & Kessler (2005) identified 5 stages of grief, but this has since been expanded to 7:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Bargaining
  5. Depression
  6. Acceptance & hope
  7. Processing grief

Of course, it’s not as simple as moving through each of these stages, one by one, in a pre-ordained manner, until we’re better. In my experience (which isn’t universal of course!) grief goes in a spiral, like a lot else in life. So I might work through shock, denial, etc only a few months later to be overcome by anger at my loss again, or to feel entirely depressed by it again, for no apparent outward reason. And there’s no “normal” timeframe to get over the loss of someone close to you, human or otherwise.

In short, grief is as personal as any other emotion there is. And it can crop up at different times for different people. But when we speak of times like Samhain, or All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, it brings out memories closer. And in both Catholicism and Paganism, we’re encouraged to remember those who have gone before us, whether that’s ancestors altars or praying for their souls, or asking for help or a combination of all. So, grief can come back to haunt us as we do this. Of course, we can also be laughing in our grief – the memory of my Nana threatening my Dad with an iron for something he said is bittersweet now, but it still makes me laugh (She was 5’3″ and he’s 5’10” ish… and he had been pulling the piss rather than anything serious) The memory of my other Nana sitting down enjoying a brandy in a Doolin pub is a great memory, but I most often remember her putting me to bed as a child and stroking my hair til I went to sleep. My Grandad admiring my new pair of Docs, much to my Ma’s chagrin or my other Grandad telling my Dad that “there’s a long road ahead of ye” and “those children should be in bed by now” (all subtle hints to go home!)

Our memories keep our loved ones alive in a way – they don’t cling to earth by us remembering them, but it keeps them alive in our hearts, in my opinion, and those memories are all the more precious because no more can made with them in this life. And some of the memories are painful, some of them hurt, some of them feel horrible… but sometimes those are precious as well.

As I delve into the story of Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, I think more and more of the various losses and griefs that must have struck Brig on her journey through the story. She married Bres, and no matter how political the marriage, they both must have had some hopes for the joining that didn’t end in war and death. She lost Ruadhán, and then Brian, Iuchar and Uar as well. She lost her husband – well the last we hear of Bres in CMT is when the Dagda goes to fetch his harp and Bres is there and is put to sleep along with the rest of them. I mean, there’s no mention of him coming back to Brig, so I’m assuming once your husband incites war on your people and goes back to his father’s people, that’s grounds for a legal separation at the very least?

It’s a different grief than the loss of a son, but it’s a loss and a grief all the same. Political marriages aren’t based on love, indeed marriage for most of history appears to have been more business-like than modern notions of love and romance, but still and all, the loss of a marriage is still a loss. Bres and Brig had children together, that means they had sex a few times, and Bres was probable as distraught as Brig over Ruadhán’s death. Courtney Weber in her 2015 book references a story of Bres and Brig meeting on the sea shore to mourn Ruadhán together, but unfortunately, she can’t remember where she found the story and I’ve not been able to find it since.

Either way – Brig has experienced loss and she can understand and help us on our own journey. And while, yes the 7 stages of grief seem all sensible, and logical, and progressive to move through one by one – human emotions aren’t. They really don’t work like that. Human emotions are messy, and ugly, and primal, and blood and bone, and don’t fit into neat boxes… So remember that. And if you are thinking of loved ones gone from your life in the run up to and past Samhain – cut yourself some slack. Devote some time to the experience and allow yourself to grieve, as best you can. It’s ok. And you can always ask herself for help!!

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth, and David Kessler. On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Weber, Courtney. Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Weiser Books, 2015.

How to get started with Brigid

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately on how to start off a relationship with Brigid. Now, as ye know, I’m working for/with Irish Brigid, so while anything I say here can be used more generally for any Brigid, show some sense as well – Gaeilge is less useful with Scottish Brigid or Welsh Brigid than it is with Irish Brigid. (cos yeah, the Scots and the Welsh have their own languages… although to be fair, Scottish Gaedlig is reasonably similar to Irish) Anyway, here we go. How to get started with Brigid in Ireland:

  1. Read her lore. Seriously – within Irish lore, outside her hagiographies and folk tales, there are four mentioned of Brig/Brigid. There’s a few more if you include the Brigs in Ulster, they get some brief mentions on the Seanchas Mór (the law texts) but really, the core of our Brigidine lore comes from 4 mentions. I have a free course here on these if you want to have a look. You can also graba copy of Morgan Daimler’s book “Pagan Portals – Brigid: Meeting The Celtic Goddess Of Poetry, Forge, And Healing Well” which contains a lot more than Irish lore, but is a really great primer for anyone starting out with Brigid (and no, sadly, not an affiliate link!)
  2. Check out the Irish folklore around Brigid, Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day etc. Dúchas is a wonderful site and what you’re mainly looking at here is the School’s Collection. Way back in the 1930’s, Irish schoolchildren were sent out into their areas to collect folk tales, lore and any stories their elders saw fit to tell them. From the website: Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. This collecting scheme was initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission, under the direction of Séamus Ó Duilearga and Séan Ó Súilleabháin, Honorary Director and Registrar of the Commission respectively, and was heavily dependent on the cooperation of the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organization. It was originally to run from 1937 to 1938 but was extended to 1939 in specific cases. For the duration of the project, more than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents and neighbours. We are so lucky to have this collection, but please remember, these were adults talking to children, in Ireland in the 1930’s – there’s no salacious tales here!! (not that you’d be expecting them really in relation to Brigid, but still)
  3. Start a daily practice with Brigid. Now I ran a “30 days with Brigid” in August to help people start off a daily practice and it was a huge success, so I’m likely to run it again, probably in January. If you’d like to hear more about that, click here and you’ll get some emails about it as it’s approaching. But, your daily practice can be as simple as lighting a candle, or even taking one deep breath. Really – spending a few seconds every day thinking about or talking to Brigid is the initial goal. You may expand further than that as time goes on – and I hate to break it to you, but if you’re useful to her, she will push you that way! – but to start with, commit to doing one thing daily. And then do it. (that’s the key bit – the doing bit)
  4. Pray! I know, it seems a bit twee sometimes, but really – either learning a previously written prayer or making up your own, or just talking to Brigid, is a great way to start a relationship with her. I do have a prayer in Irish here (free again) that you’re welcome to use as well.
  5. Learn a bit of Irish. Look, this can be contentious, but it’s a fact that the language we use helps shape the way we think, but also – it’s good manners to at least try to greet someone in their own language when you’re starting off a relationship with them. Here’s a few sample phrases to get you start, but you can use duolingo or any of the apps on line. Teanglann is also a great resource as an online dictionary and Abair gives pronunciations in all the dialects of Irish as well.
    • Maidin mhaith agat – good morning – myy-gin wo ogut
    • Tráthnóna mhaith agat – good afternoon – thraw noan-a wo ogut
    • Oíche mhaith agat – good night – ee-ha wo ogut
  6. Learn about Irish culture and history. Things have changed here since the Great Famine of the 1840’s. They’ve even changed significantly since the foundation of the State. Irish history is an important part of who we are and how we got to where we are now and to understand our relationship with our saints, our spirituality, our deities, ourselves, you need to understand a bit about that as well. As for culture – yeah, we’re not all knocking pints of Guinness back on a Saturday night and singing rebel songs til the wee hours. Have a look at the things that shape us, the plays, literature that’s being written right now. Take a look at modern Irish writers – Louise O’Neill, Emma Donohue, Marian Keyes, Maeve Higgins, Sally Rooney. Please don’t use films like Far and Away or Wild Mountain Thyme as your touchstones. Please.
    • Check out our newspapers. The Irish Times is our paper of record, but because of a transphobic slant they have (slant is being generous there) activists have asked us to boycott them. The Journal is an online newspaper. The Indo and the Examiner are online as well, although there are people who claim the Examiner is a Cork newspaper still, for all it claims to be national. No comment from me! I live too close to Cork to raise their ire 🙂
    • Our native TV and radio stations are also online. Check our national broadcaster, RTE, and for those learning Irish, Radio na Gaeltachta broadcasts online as well. So you can see the kinda of programming we deal with in the country and learn a bit more about our social, cultural, life environments.

So there’s a starting point for anyone. I suppose, I could stretch it out for 10 points, but it was getting waffly enough really towards the end there. But the most important thing? Is to start. Do something. Pick something ridiculously easy and say you’ll do it today. And then do it tomorrow as well. I’m not talking signing up for a language course, or spending 30mins a day praying. I’m saying commit to one deep breath a day while thinking of Brigid. When I say start easy, I really do mean it! You can always expand and develop from there, don’t worry!

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.


(And yes, I know it’s been ages since I last posted. Those on my email list already know this – you can sign up here – but I started a new job in mid-August that’s taking up some time and running the 30 Days of Brigid course has been great fun, but also a lot of work and well… the blog fell off the to-do list I’m afraid! But normal service will resume now 🙂 )

But today I want to talk about warnings and how we pay attention or don’t as the case may be. I lost my wedding ring last week. And it had been loose on my finger for months now, but I was “being careful” and dealing with it. But suddenly I was in the check out at Tesco, when the cashier handed me my engagement ring, which had also fallen off my finder. And I realised my wedding ring was gone. I haven’t found it yet, despite a lot of searching. And ok, on the one hand, it’s a ring, it can be replaced. But on the other hand… well it’s special. And there things I could have done – resizing it, putting it aside so it didn’t get lost, that sort of thing. But I love my ring and didn’t want to be without it.

Equally, this morning coming out of the house to go to work, laden down with phone, water bottle, gym bag, work bag, and I almost slipped on the muck outside the door that we always get after rain. Now, I didn’t fall, but it could have been bad if I did. And I actually heard An Dagda warning me to be careful on this on and even with all that, I nearly dropped the work bag (which might have meant the laptop was kaput. Why did I save it again???) But will I do something about this? Scrape up the muck? Park in a different spot? Wear better shoes? Will I hell. Although now I’m writing it, I may ask the husband to scrape it up for me since he’s at home today.

What has this got to do with spirituality, I hear you ask? Well, a lot. No more than we get physical warnings, like I mention above, but also, the yellow fuel light on the car, the flashing lights at a railway crossing, the alarm going off in the morning, we can also get spiritual warnings. I know I’m usually all about the practical, but sometimes, you have to go with your gut. And for “your gut”, substitute your best feeling in your body for when something doesn’t feel right. For me, it tends to be gut or knees. (Yeah, I know – knees!) But if there’s someone I just met or a group I just joined, sometimes I get a really good feeling or a really bad feeling. And honestly, even with the really good feeling isn’t always right – so don’t just pay attention to your gut (or knees!) but if you’re regularly working with your intuition and you’re regularly keeping on top of your energy work and if you’re regularly paying attention to yourself, your body, your mind, then that gut feeling is probably worth paying attention to.

Now, of course, sometimes you can’t extract yourself safely from certain situations immediately – I’ve been in places that were grand at the start but then something happens and I plan my escape immediately. I may not get out immediately, but I will leave. Similarly, if I meet someone at work that my gut just says, “No” to, I can’t necessarily avoid that person, but I can make sure I’m aware of them, I’m careful around them, whatever I need to do to feel safer or make meetings with them more manageable for me.

What if someone joins a social group and you suddenly get that feeling? You can call it energy, gut, whatever you like, but sometimes we get such strong warnings you can’t help but react – think of the electricity you feel when you meet someone you find really attractive and the feeling is mutual? That’s a warning as well – may be positive, may be negative in the end, but it’s a warning! So, it’s maybe not always a reason to retreat or worry, but the warnings are there for a reason – this is something to pay attention to.

But, Orlagh, I hear you screaming, how do I develop this sense? Well a lot of it is paying attention to your body and how it feels. I know, I had to come back to prosaic eventually. If you work with energy, you will be aware of some of this already, in how energy moves through your body and how it interacts with your body – all hugely important work. But if you’re starting with this and it’s something you want to pay attention to – pay attention to your body. No more than the body will tell us when we’re too hot or too cold, we can learn when we’re picking up on something not obvious.

Have a think about watching films. When you watch a scary film, where do you feel it? When you watch a romantic film, where do you feel it? When you watch a tense, thriller-type film, where do you feel it? These can be really good places to start. Start checking in with your body throughout the day – or even once a day. How do you feel physically? Hot, cold, comfortable, tense, stiff, soft, hard, pain, aches – it’s amazing what you pick up on when you do this.

When the physical becomes easier, start in on the mental – how’s the head feeling? Or the mind to be better… busy, quiet, high, low, full, empty, tight, loose, tense, comfortable. These can be harder to manage than physical sensations, but again hugely valuable. When you get used to checking in with yourself like this, you will start to react to the feelings in a more timely manner. And as you get into the habit, you will find yourself recognising these warnings your body and mind are giving you. You will start to notice feelings and warnings and sensations in changing circumstances – the important thing is to acknowledge them to yourself, even if you don’t/ can’t act on them immediately.

And, for the love of all you hold holy, if there’s a piece of jewelry that you hold dear and it starts falling off – pay attention before you lose it!!

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!

Veiling & modesty

Veiling has nothing to do with my prep for Samhain, but I’ve been thinking about it and so here we go…

A while back, in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, someone asked about the role veiling plays in people’s practice. And, I have strong feelings about veils, their uses and their role in modesty culture, subjugation, and modern living.

First off, if, for whatever reason, you like to wear a veil – that’s your choice, fair play to you, on you go. I am making no comment on people who choose to wear the veil, a veil, for whatever reason. What I’m discussing here are the reasons why the saint or the nun might be depicted with a veil and some of the considerations in relation to the use of a veil in practice.

I don’t use a veil as a general rule. I also don’t have much use for modesty in my deities, saints or other Beings around me. I don’t have much use for physical modesty in myself either. I tend to wear comfy clothes and, if the weather gets hot, this tends to mean a lot less clothing. Of course, when the weather gets cold, I’m covered up in as many layers as necessary.

There are times when I cover my hair with a bandanna – usually if the pollen count is high. Helpful hint there, wearing a bandanna restricts the pollen getting trapped in your hair and, if you have hair like mine, less pollen then gets into your nose and eyes. So when it’s practical, yes, I will use a bandanna. I don’t think of it as modesty though – as always practicality wins the day for me.

Modesty culture though – modesty culture to me is a continuation of respectability politics, a means to control women. It’s rarely men who are expected to cover up in a certain way or ensure they don’t arouse lust in the opposite sex (yeah, same sex relationships tend not to be considered in these situations either). It’s offensive to me to suggest that I must dress a certain way to ensure the men around me don’t get inspired to rape or other forms of violence against women. I tend to put more faith in the men I know than that. I mean most of them are well familiar with the terms “No” and “Not interested” and “hell no, get off me, you prick”. Not that they’re heading out trying to pick up women all the time, but they understand the words and most of them can admire a woman without assuming dress means an invitation.

There are plenty of women (and men to be fair) who choose to dress modestly, out of choice or habit or ease. I’ve no problem with that. I do have a problem with people being ordered to dress a certain way though.

The veil can be useful in a spiritual practice though. I can see a value in donning a certain article of clothing as a signal someone is about to engage in spiritual practice. And I have in the past thrown a scarf over my head (well actually, a coat or hoodie is more likely) to give myself some privacy in a public space. I have used certain objects, certain items of clothing, certain habits to indicate to myself I’m entering a spiritual space. It takes time and practice, but it’s an important way to signal to oneself that the mundane world is being left behind, or that this is an action that has more consequences than we might immediately think of.

I wouldn’t be thinking of giving Brigid, or indeed any other deity, instructions on how I expect them to dress mind. Modestly or otherwise, it’s up to them how they choose to appear and I for one amn’t going to give them guidance. How we as humans depict them however – well that’s another story. I think I’ve ranted here before about the “sexy goddess” statues and paintings that abound on the internet. Sure, it’s grand, but when Every. Single. Statue. looks like the wet dream of a teenager, there’s an issue.

So in short, my attitude to veiling is the same as with most things clothes-related. If it’s your choice – go ahead, have fun. It can be useful. Where I start getting issues is when people start trying to force others to veil or be modest or dress a certain way or whatever. And really, seriously, trust me on this one – don’t try it with deities!!