Brigid, Imbolc and Food

An exploration of some of the strange food posts I see around this time of year and some suggestions for what to look at for your Imbolc celebration!

Every year, around this time, I start seeing a flood of posts and pages on the internet posting about what food to eat and make for Imbolc. What are traditional Imbolc foods? What should we be making that is appropriate and traditional for Imbolc? Along with recipes and the links between Brigid and this food. And a lot of it is pure bull shit. Now, to be clear, I’m coming at this from an Irish Brigid perspective, as always. But there’s a load of dubious information around the place that we need to clarify. So here’s a list on commonalities I see permeating these posts:

Selection of potatoes
A picutre of a pile of potatoes, white, red, yellow in colour, in a variety of sizes
  • Brigid as sun deity. Now, you might, might I say, have a case for this in Scotland. They tell the legend of the Cailleach ruling the winter and Brigid the summer there. Brigid being released or rescued or escaping is One of the signs of spring and the returning of the sun. But this isn’t the case in Ireland. There might again be an extremely loose, dodgy link between Brigid and the sun. I mean, the sun is a great big fiery ball, but this isn’t something that happens in Irish lore. Irish deities just plain aren’t set up that way, to be the “Deity of X”. There are things we can connect them to, because of the lore and the stories, but we wouldn’t refer to them as the deity of X. And this rules out a lot of what follows through this type of post.
  • The absolute lack of differentiation between Irish and Scottish practices and beliefs. Seriously – there’s a reason I specify it’s Irish Brigid I follow. Because I know the beliefs, the lore, the practices are different in Ireland and Scotland. There’s some overlap, sure. The countries are close enough that fluent speakers of Irish and Gaelic can make themselves understood enough to hold a conversation. But that doesn’t mean the beliefs and practices are the same. It is irresponsible at best to smush them together like this.
  • Brigid as maiden. Or being part of the maiden/mother/crone trio. Again. Not the way triple deities work in Ireland. We have no tradition of this at all in our lore. Seriously. There will be a future blog post coming on this soon and why I find the whole construct of MMC so problematic. But please – read our lore. Examine how both our traditions and our modern practices look at women. Just, please…
  • Associating colours with Brigid. I have a lot of UPG around the colours I associate with Brigid, built up over my years of practice. But, the important word (well ok, it’s an acronym) is UPG. It is unverified, it is personal. There’s really nothing in the lore associating Brigid with colours. Ditto with shapes, just FYI. As far as I’m aware, there is nothing in our lore telling me Brigid is happier with round over any other type of shape. I mean, she’s a blacksmith as well as anything else!
  • Linking Imbolc with Candlemas. Candlemas is a short name for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. Or the Feast for the Purification of Mary. There’s a Catholic website that gives a good explanation here of the feast. Basically, it’s explained to Catholics, or at least to this one, that after 40 days the first born of any Jewish family had to be presented to the temple and the mother had to visit to be purified after childbirth. There’s a much better explanation, complete with Bible references, in the link above. Now, there is a link in Irish lore between Brigid and Mary. Aside from the way Brigid is called “the Mary of the Gael”, there is a story about Brigid drawing crowds away from Mary and the Holy family as they escaped Herod’s persecution and massacre to Egypt. In this way, Brigid earned the right to precede Mary after that. This means her feast day, 1st Feb comes before Mary’s feast day, 2nd Feb in the Catholic calendar. Can I buggery find a link to that story right now though! But back to my problem with linking Imbolc with Candlemas. They are beside each other in the calendar. Although at least one entry in Duchas equates St. Brigid’s Day with 2nd February rather than the first. However, the blessing of the candles has nothing to do with Brigid. And calling Brigid the Goddess of Light or the Goddess of Illumination makes me feel dodgy. You know – I’ll make a full blog post on this on as well. There’s just too much!
  • The lack of valid information on what foods can be used at this time in Ireland traditionally. Pancakes in Ireland are traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, not Imbolc. They are made from eggs, milk, butter and fat all of which were on the list of “abstain from” foods for Lent. Now, I have no problems with pancakes being used as foods for Imbolc celebrations. They’re wonderful food, can be savoury, sweet, sized as you choose….wonderful things. As long as we’re talking about the crepe style pancake more popular in Ireland certainly and not the American breakfast pancake, which is far less versatile in my opinion, but possibly better for eating on the go. But what bugs me about these posts really is they take no notice of what foods might traditionally be available in early February in Ireland, but make it seem like the foods they are suggesting would have been easily available. I have no problem with including seeds in your Imbolc feast – wonderful symbolism in my opinion. Our ancestors wouldn’t have traditionally eaten seeds in Ireland. I mean modern Ireland has seeds, go into any health food store and you’ll find them. But go back a few generations, and it was the desperate who ate their seedstock. It left you nothing to sow for the coming year. Don’t worry, I have a list coming below for this one!
  • Spuds. Potatoes. No.The English coloniers brought the spud to Ireland , “credited” to Sir Walter Raleigh. Jon O’ Sullivan has a great exploration of the role of the spud in Irish history here. Now, spuds are such a staple in Ireland that until very recently, a meal couldn’t be considered a dinner without some potatoes being served along with it. Like within my lifetime. I’ve never seen my Dad take so much interest or concern over what or how my mother cooked as the first time she made lasagne. It was in the late 80’s for reference. If you are going to force a nation to depend on one food for nutrition, the spud isn’t a bad choice. Add in dairy for fats, required for health, and you have a fairly decent nutritional intake. But using spuds to celebrate a deity in Ireland… it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Pun sort of intended.
  • An overwhelming dependency on the Oimelc origin story for Imbolc. Now, I can’t argue too much with this one, since it at least brings dairy into the picture, but really, drinking ewe’s milk is and has been fairly rare in Ireland. I remember asking my Grandad about this once as a child – his reaction was not positive and was along the lines of “we’re not that desperate”. Milk and dairy in ireland were and still are, predominantly, almost exclusively bovine in nature. But there are very strong links between Brigid and dairy/cows, whether it’s the saint or the deity you’re looking at. So I won’t argue too much with this one, even if it’s taking a convoluted way to reach a destination.
PIcture of dairy foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, curds,
PIcture of dairy foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, curds,

So after all that, what would I suggest? Well here’s a few thoughts.

  • Dairy. Brigid is heavily associated with dairy foods – butter, cream, cheese, milk. Think of all the stories in the hagiographies of her making one churn of butter supply twice the butter it should have – usually because she had given the first half away to the less well off.
  • Lamb, Mutton, Beef, Bacon, Pork. Lebor Gabala Érenn explicitly links Brigid to ox, boar and ram. There are traditional Irish recipes for all of this – just remember, an Irish rasher bears very little resemblance to the US/Canadian bacon slices other than they come from the same animal. Allegedly…
  • Foods that are in season in Ireland in late January/February. Leek, Celeriac, Parsnip, Kale, Swede, Purple sprouting broccoli, Beetroot, Winter cabbage, Mushrooms, Turnip, Thyme, Parsley, Lettuce, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Carrot. From storage: spuds, apples, onion. Check out the Bord Bia website, it’s wonderful!
  • Ancient Irish foods. In general, our ancestors had a wide variety of food to eat in this country. Seriously – cereals like oats and barley, made into porridge and bread. Wild and domesticated meat – although this always depends on wealth. (As it does today.) “Birds, wild boar and goats, deer and even hedgehogs were commonly eaten“. Fish. Nuts- if you’ve read Irish lore, you know hazelnuts feature prominently, but there are other nuts about. Seaweed – although considered a food of the less well off and since the famine consumption has dropped significantly. Rumour has it, consumption is increasing again though.
  • Spiritually or ritually significant foods. I know I said earlier seeds weren’t eaten in Ireland traditionally – and I stand by that. But I do appreciate the symbolism of seeds at Imbolc – I’d just prefer to see people planting them than eating them ritually speaking. Make the special cake. Try out the fancy recipe. You’re welcoming a deity into your home, it’s worth the effort. Just remember to differentiate the items you include because they are special food stuffs versus the food you include because it is linked to Brigid.

There’s a massive variety of food in this country and we are immensely lucky that with the mild climate we have, we can grow food all year round. So fresh fruit and veg are possible most of the year. With planning and preparation of course. And in modern times we have supermarkets, so y’know – that helps. And if you really love some of the recipes that the “Imbolc Food Blogs” describe – go ahead. Use them. But try and delineate for yourself at least the food you are eating to bring you closer to your ancestors (physical, spiritual or other) and the food you are eating cos it tastes good and Imbolc is an excuse for a party. I don’t have problems with the food that’s recommended, as such. It’s the convoluted routes people take to say this particular recipe is ancient or spiritual or connected directly with Brigid.

Is Brigid Calling Me? (Part 2)

I wrote a post a few years ago called Is Brigid calling me? And I still stand by everything I wrote then. (Also – how is 2020 3 years ago now???) But I wanted to offer a bit more help this time. So here are the signs that might possibly indicate Brigid is calling you. I will still say though that if you’re doing good work in your community or in society at large – keep doing it! (If you have the resources to do so)

An imgae of my Brigid stature, showing Brigid holding a flame, with a Brigid's cross between Brigid and the cauldron in front of her and a lit tea light sitting on the cauldron.
  • You’re seeing her name everywhere you look. Did you know there are people who go through the months of January and February without ever seeing the name Brigid? Or indeed hear mention of Imbolc? It’s very possible to do this, however strange it may seem to some of us. Now I wouldn’t take seeing her name everywhere as the ultimate sign Brigid is calling you, but it’s up there. And by her name, I include the following: Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Brig, Bríd, Ffraid (Welsh), Bride (Scottish), Bridey (also Scottish, I think, but also used in Ireland) Brigantia… She has many names and is known in many places. And while I (as usual) will be focusing on Irish Brigid, I will always acknowledge there are other Brigids out there.
  • You’ve started feeling an intense urge to light candles. Now, I always smile when I hear or use the phrase “to light candles”, because in my family it’s a euphemism for swearing up a storm. If you’re “lighting candles all around yourself” it’s even heavier swearing you’re doing. But fire is associated with Brigid, and lighting candles is one of the ways in which a lot of practitioners start their journey. You may not even realise you’re lighting a lot of (real, physical) candles. You might be dealing with electric candles. You might be lighting fires in a fire pit. There are all sorts of reasons one might be lighting candles, but I do see it as something people who are coming towards a relationship with Brigid do and it might be a sign Brigid is calling.
  • You start coming across Brigid stories randomly, when you’re looking up something else. Say you just fancied researching a new stove or a new book or a new laptop. Now Google is pretty good at determining what we’re searching for, sometimes before we even realise it ourselves, so we trust the search results. But then you see a result that looks a bit different from the others and you land on a blog like this one and start going down a rabbit hole of Brigid related content, forgetting all about the new tech you were going to research. Tech was important even back in the Tuatha de Danann days and I firmly believe that Brigid the Smith is covering modern tech and engineering these days, so it matches up for me.
  • You feel like you want to learn more about domestic animals such as the pig, the cow and the sheep. Lebor Gabala Erenn is an important part of Irish lore, collecting as it does, all the stories of the takings or invasions of Ireland. It’s a great read, but it’s also where we get the links from Brigid to the ox, the boar and the ram (although in some places “ram” is replaced with “wether”, which is a castrated ram, slightly less useful in the sheep farm…) There are strong links to Brigid and animals in general, but to these animals in particular. You may start noticing these animals, feel like eating the meat of these animals in a different way, want to learn more about them. Or become involved in campaigns for better treatment of animals raised for food. Respect for our food is a core part of Irish farming.
  • You suddenly find yourself drawn to a craft or practice you’d never heard of before. Brigid is a craftsperson and she has a tendency to draw her followers to learning new crafts or getting better at old ones. This could be music, knitting, sewing, writing, programming, healing, energy work, poetry… there’s a long list that we can extrapolate from the lore, but if you feel drawn to a new craft, particularly one that can be practiced in the home, it could be a sign that Brigid is calling you.
  • You find yourself getting really interested in Imbolc customs and practices. There are loads of Imbolc customs and practices, from making Brigid’s crosses like shown in the picture above or a brat Bhríde (Brigid’s cloak) as shown below. Check out the links below to both the Brigid’s Forge school and the Irish Pagan School for more information on the general fire festival customs, but also Imbolc in particular.
A picture of the red ribbon I use as my brat Bhríde (Brigid's cloak)  every year. Picture is of a red ribbon against a dark grey background, with the ribbon tied in a half know.

So there’s five signs Brigid might be calling you. But you’ll notice I say “might” a lot in this post. That’s because there’s no defined checklist to tick off to say “yup, that’s definitely her”. Here’s some advice I’d give for anyone wanting to check if the being calling them is Brigid:

  • Ask them. Irish deities are not usually shy about telling you who they are. In fact, it can be hard sometimes to stop them from doing so. So in meditation or prayer, ask from your heart who is calling you; or if it’s Brigid that is calling you and they’ll answer. Honestly.
  • Use divination. Whether it’s a pendulum, or tarot, or nature signs or Ogham, whatever divination methods you feel most comfortable with, but use what skills you have to determine what’s going on. “Is Brigid calling me” is a straightforward enough yes/no answer for divination purposes.
  • Ask other people. Discuss the signs with other people, maybe ask them to help you confirm or deny your feelings or divination about whether Brigid is calling you. Talk it through with other practitioners, whether they follow Brigid or not. Think about the signs and the feelings you have – laying them out logically for someone else will at least help you clarify you’re own thinking on the matter.
  • Learn more about Brigid. Most of the Irish lore is free online. UCC Celt is wonderful; UCD has another repository of lore and manuscripts and you can see the actual manuscripts on screen here. All of the above is free and you can read them original lore there. Equally, I have a free class on the lore here if you want to take it, as well as other classes on the Brigid’s Forge school and some of my teaching is over on the Irish Pagan School as well.

Whatever you decide on, whether Brigid is calling you or not, remember you can decide to answer the call or not as well. And be prepared – I often joke that once you start working with a member of the Irish Pantheon, the rest of the family will pop in as well as they see they are needed. Or just cos they fancy a cuppa and a chat. You can say no to them as well, but it really sometimes feels rude when they just want a cuppa. And then you end up with jobs to do. So, y’know, don’t go declaring eternal devotion til you know what you’re getting yourself into, alright?

New year new me??

Well… no, actually. I’m the same old me I’ve always been and frankly, I’ve worked hard on this me for the last 4+ decades, so I don’t want to wipe her out just on a whim. OK not all New Year New Me activities are about wiping out the old me, but it sure feels like that sometimes! I know this is the time of year when everyone appears to go a bit over-enthusiastically at self improvement and reinvention and determination to do all sorts of new things.

You know what I’m planning? Definitely not a New Year New Me activity. More rest, for things I love, for friends I love. More time for my husband. I’m starting as I mean to go on with a long weekend this weekend to make up for the time I didn’t take off work over Christmas. And yes, ok, this weekend will start the big clean up for Imbolc (less than a month away now, y’know, depending on when you’re planning on celebrating!)

As I take the Christmas decorations down, I’ll start cleaning. For me, getting both the clutter and the energy moving out of all the nooks and crannies is an important part of my preparation for Imbolc. It feels like to plant new seeds of growth, I need to clear out the dead growth from previous years – both metaphorically and physically. So I’ll work this week on a plan, room by room, to take in everything and discard what’s no longer needed.

Another side of this New Year New Me thing, of course, and it’s work that takes a bit longer, is to discard beliefs and ways of thinking that no longer work. It’s so easy to go to the gym twice a week, for example, than to change your mind about deeply held beliefs that you have held for decades. Well, it’s easier to go to the gym for the first few weeks than challenge the deeply held beliefs anyway. This year, I’m working on my beliefs about money.

I’ve read Ramit Sethi’s I will teach you to be rich and I’m working my way through Tori Dunlap’s Financial Feminist. (No, I don’t get paid for the links of anything!) It’s amazing to me that there are so many things to challenge in my head about money. And don’t get me wrong – money is one of the big ones to tackle cos it’s made up of all these tiny little things that have built up over time, from what our families tell us, to our friends, to our organisations, religions, society in general…

A picture of a yellow sign reading CAUTION MINEFIELD in red text. A smaller illegible white sign with black writing is behind this with hilly background, mainly covered in scrub with green bushes and a woody bit at the top of the hill with a paler green field to the right hand side. New Year New Me is a minefield!

Minefield.

But no less worth working on for that.

So, I’ll still be the same old me, but hopefully with improving attitudes to money throughout the year. And yes, I know this will be a long, slow transformation. Some of it’s even already started, just by the fact that I’m openly saying I want to work on my attitude to money. But I’m starting small. And I’d encourage you to do the same.

I have a year round structure for myself on how to make changes – I cover a lot of it in the Preparation for Imbolc class I’m currently running. And it’s covered over at IPS with the festival classes I have there. It works better for me than the pressure around New Year New Me. Basically, Samhain for dreaming and prepping, Imbolc for planting, Bealtaine for growing and Lúnasa for harvesting. It’s a good routine for me. It means I’m in a continuous cycle rather than a one-and-done kinda through process.

Some of the changes I commit to are very small – like 5 mins of meditation a day. Others started small, such as starting off at 1000 steps a day at the start of last year, and building to being able to walk 10,000 steps a day without pain by the end of the year. (Yeah, I did that!) Still others don’t always come to fruition – my savings goals bombed last year. But that’s not a failure as such, it just means I need to address some things and move on.

It works with the spiritual as well. My 30 Days of Brigid class is based on the notion of small daily practices to build a relationship with deity. (The Jan 2023 is closed for enrollment, but if there’s enough interest, I’ll run it again in April.) It’s not New Year New Me! Small steps work better, in my opinion, particularly at the start of a relationship than really big gestures. The course is definitely based around small, continual activities.

Think about it – if a new partner suddenly bought you somewhere to live after a few hours, you’d be a bit concerned right? I would – I’d run screaming in the opposite direction. (My husband tells me he’s in no position to my me somewhere to live even after 15 yrs. So I’m ok on that score!) So even though Imbolc is coming up, you don’t need to swear undying devotion to Brigid. Just cos of the time of year it is. Honestly, she’ll be grand with you building up a practice slowly. No need for the Big Gesture related to New Year New Me.

In fact, I’d strongly advise against it, especially given the time of year it is. Sure, there is going to be a lot of information out there on Brigid in the coming weeks. Some of it will be accurate and based on good information. Some of it will be a mish-mash of different traditions and practices or indeed, pure bullshit.

So, if you see someone writing something that doesn’t link back to the lore you know, ask them how it does link back. Even me! There’s no harm in that! If people come back with “everyone knows” or ” that’s common knowledge”: check with trustworthy sources before committing to that particular belief. For example, there’s a relatively recent thing that Brigid is a meek and mild type deity. Anywhere you see that – run. Seriously – I don’t know who they’re dealing with, but meek/mild are not words I’d use to describe her.

But to come back to the New year, new me thing. You may promise yourself a wonderful new spiritual life, considering all the elements of the 2 rounds of festivals (fire festivals and sun festivals) in great detail and with great aplomb. But, I’ll tell you now, a small act, done with intention and consideration and meaning is better than the biggest, wildest, fanciest ritual with no heart to it. Not that I have anything against a big, wild, fancy ritua. I’m just saying if you can’t commit to that, then don’t. Commit to what you know you can do.

If what you can do is have a clean home to welcome Brigid for Imbolc – do that.

If what you can do is have a Brigid’s cross made, or put out a brath Bhríde, then do that.

If what you can do is commit to saying a prayer on the day you celebrate or acknowledge Imbolc, do that.

This isn’t about the best, it’s about doing the best that you can do. Considering the resources you have at your disposal. New Year New Me almost forces big, overwhleming lifestyle changes. That doesn’t always work! If you have 30seconds before the baby wakes up and use them – brilliant. If you have an entire week to devote to Imbolc – brilliant. We’re not judged in comparison with others, we’re judged in comparison with ourselves.

So don’t go trying to reinvent yourself – you’ve worked hard to get where you are. But think of the small things. Think of the things that will definitely improve your life that you can also see yourself doing for a while. And if you do something for 3 days and stop, but those 3 days are better because you did the thing – celebrate that! Just doing something once, doesn’t mean you’ve committed to it forever. And maybe those 3 days were special. You were off work, or the kids were remarkably well behaved. Or maybe your partner was able to step up to do something you usually do, or you plain had more energy those days. Whatever the reason, even doing something for a short time, again and again, makes those days easier/better – brilliant. Well done you!

But you don’t need to overhaul your entire life. Trust me. Cos if you go down that road, she will make it happen. And it might not entirely be under your control. Just ask people who know what Brigid’s Anvil is as well as her healing well…

Rest and recuperation and Christmas mayhem

This won’t be news for those of you on my mailing list (and if you’re not, you can sign up here) but I spent 2 days over my 3 day Christmas break in bed with a migraine. This, as you can imagine, put some spanners in my plans for reading and staring at the telly for hours on end – neither of these activities are really possible with a migraine. Neither is scrolling through Facebook, just fyi. Or putting up the Christmas tree. I mean, I had to wear sunglasses driving home on Friday evening from work. In Ireland. In December. I should’ve known something was up.

But you know something? I’m taking it as my body telling me I needed to just completely shut down and now engage my brain at all. Sometimes, paying attention to these little hints from the body is important. So remember that plan I had for the Christmas break? It got cut down even further.

For the first time in known memory, my darling husband put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve for me. He did a great job, although my photography skills don’t do it justice! Picture below shows our (fake) Christmas tree that I’ve had for at least 13 yrs, with tinsel, baubles, etc in colours of gold and red. And some reindeer lights, cos why wouldn’t you!! It also shows a set of shelves covered in junk behind the tree and a set of crutches leaning against the door, cos we’re just that kinda house.

A picture of my Christmas tree that made it up in spite of the odds! And I still managed to rest and put up some other decorations as well.

I managed the Christmas shop on Sat morning. The fridge resembled a game of tetris for a while but it’s emptying out slowly now. And yesterday I came back to work cos we’re on shutdown. In the mean time, I did manage to get the videos recorded for the 30 Days of Brigid. And all while wearing the same top as well, so some of the merriment from the August course won’t be there this time. We’ll make it up in other ways though. And I managed to complete the journal I’ve been planning for this for months as well. I haven’t quite figured out how to make it typable, but I’m working on that. For now, you can print it out and write all over it!

And yes, got all this done while recovering from a migraine and “resting”. I think I need to redefine what I mean by a rest! However. I am taking this weekend off because I will be going up home to the Mammy and Daddy for New Year’. I’m taking a four day weekend the following weekend where very, very little is planned at all. That might be my “lounging around, reading, staring at crap films on the telly and eating stuff” break from the world. I may take a drive over to Tramore to enjoy some sea time. I may break into my Christmas books – most of which I haven’t even ordered yet! We might finally watch the Hobbit films that have been on the Sky box for a couple of years now…

But what I’m doing right now, most of all, is listening to my body. Cos I can feel the aches and pains starting to build up. A lot of it is because of my current long commute and the time it eats into. It eats into my movement time, cos that’s my least favourite time of all… But that time is necessary if I’m going to keep said body in use for another 40-50 yrs. I was stiff this morning because I did a lot of walking in work yesterday. And I have another 2-3 days of this before shutdown is over. With the days getting longer, I may need to revisit some of my “run up to the end of the year” survival tactics.

Remember around Samhain, when I said that that was the time of year I put aside for dreaming the new? Well we’re moving into Imbolc energy now, in my world. It’s time to start planting seeds and setting things up to make those dreams happen. Some of it I’m doing, but other bits are falling behind. There’s a challenge for you so: what things do you need to start thinking about putting in place to be in a position to plant seeds by Imbolc? Cos that’s my challenge for the coming weeks…

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.

The things we love

This is Bruno. Bruno is 42 this Christmas- yes I got him from my aunt on my first Christmas. He’s named after the dog my grandparents had when I was growing up, a sheepdog who was so well trained to look after me that, even at the age of 16 when he could barely walk, he’d get himself between me & the door until Grandad told him it was OK for me to go out.

But back to the teddy, Bruno. Bruno has just had his sewing & washing session. There are parts of Bruno that are now more thread than teddy, so I’m thinking I may have to get some teddy material and do some more intensive repairs soon. As for washing… I can’t remember the last time I washed Bruno. To be fair, I don’t tend to cry, throw up, wee on him as much as I used to either!

Because yes, growing up, Bruno (and Big Ted to be fair, but there’s no way Big Ted would fit in the washing machine) was my confidante. He was clutched while I cried, while I was sick, while I was angry, while I was lonely, while I was happy… he has slept with me the vast majority of the nights I’ve been alive, yes, even now. My husband is a wonderful man in many ways and realised fairly quickly in our relationship that he either put up with Bruno or there wouldn’t be a relationship.

Why am I making a big deal of this? Well 1) Bruno’s just been washed so he won’t be in my ned for a few nights til he dries out (yup timed for when I’ll be distracted with my spa trip) and 2) I was thinking of the care and attention we give to inanimate objects* compared to the care and attention we give to ourselves. Self care is something we talk about a lot in the modern world, but it’s mostly about bubble baths, or face masks or things. We don’t usually talk about the fundamentals.

And yes, this is linked to my preparation for Imbolc. Aside from the more esoteric stuff, I’m also looking at the absolute basics. Sleep is usually #1 to check in with. Am I feeling rested or tired in the morning? Am I feeling like caffeine is an essential vitamin or something pleasant to drink? Am I depending on chocolate or other foods to “get me through the day”? None of the above is evil & wrong of course, but I also know there will be a lot of social engagements in the coming months and having a good foundation of sleep will help immensely.

Sometimes this means giving the bedroom a good deep clean & tidy out. Sometimes it means investing in some nice candles. Sometimes it means new jammies. Sometimes it means stocking up on bedtime tea. Sometimes it means changing nothing at all. But it’s good to give it a think.

And it’s entirely possible you have a think and say, yup, I’m happy with my sleeping habits. It’s possible you’re reading this thinking, yes, I’d feckin love more sleep but where do I fit it in?? It doesn’t have to be sleep, sleep is just where I start. But start thinking of how you treat a precious object or a small child.

In particular with small children, we’re careful they have enough sleep eat at regular intervals, eat food that supports them and they enjoy, have comfy clothes suitable for their activities… now how often do you look at yourself that way? How often do you think to plan out quiet time for yourself? How often do you put yourself last so that you’re running on dregs?

We can’t all suddenly change our lives overnight of course to put ourselves first all the time and turn into magical people who have it together all the time! But even thinking about it is hard sometimes. So, take a few mins, or 30 seconds if that’s what you’ve got, and think of something you can do to put in supports to yourself? Even if that’s a comment on here asking if I’m completely out of my mind, a vent in an email to me, a chat with a friend. Because if I spent 2 hrs this morning sewing up my teddy, I could surely spend 10mins putting together a breakfast for myself right?

* just a note, Bruno is obviously not an inanimate object. Just like all teddies, he’s a wonderful confidante, great friend, supportive counselor. And a brilliant pillow when needed as well.

Would it surprise you to know…

… that my preparation for Imbolc begins in earnest on Tuesday with a trip to a spa for a couple of nights? Why? Well the first phase of my preparation framework is physically focused and the first phase of that for me is my body. My body is not quite in rack and ruin right now, but it’s feeling fairly beat up – 2+ months of an ear infection, a chest infection, lingering cough… there’s been a lot going on, and my body needs some downtime.

Now this trip has been planned for about six months, I’m going away with my Mam and combining my own need for luxury and pampering with her birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day presents. Well, I couldn’t expect her to go alone right? We’re off to Monart which is yes, expensive, but also, very much worth it to me and I’ve been saving up so I can relax and not think about the money while we’re there. I fully intend spending the three days in my swimming togs and robe and slippers, with lots of steaming, saunaing, infra-red-heating, hot pool bathing… I can’t wait.

See, preparation for a ritual usually involves deprivation and restraint – but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes we need this pampering. Sometimes we need the luxury. Now, I can’t always afford to go on a fantastic trip like this, but then, if I couldn’t do the spa thing, a fancy bath at home would be taking centre stage. (To be clear, a fancy bath at home will be happening several times over the coming months as I prepare for Imbolc, as well!) I have stocked up on bath bombs and candles and bubbles etc. And I can transform my usually pedestrian bathroom into a lovely candlelit paradise as well to help with the ambience.

There will be other preparations that are less fun of course. Making sure I can meet my own eyes in the mirror is always a fun exercise, not, but it’s necessary for me to know that I’m on the right path still and doing the right thing. There is rarely a judge as harsh as your own eyes, in my experience. Other people make excuses or take into account what they see an extenuating circumstances – our own eyes don’t though. It’s not that I expect to find I’ve done something majorly wrong – I’ve not killed anyone, stolen, hurt anyone that I know of, so the major stuff is out, but I may find thoughts coming to mind I want to make amends for and get myself back in right relationship with before Imbolc. As an exercise, it’s no harm to do that every now and again.

Because after meeting my own eyes, comes meeting her eyes. And that can be hard as well – especially if I’ve been letting my practices slip and need to make up some ground. Or if I’ve been steadfastly ignoring her increasingly unsubtle hints about something. And getting that back on plan or having a straight conversation about whether or not I’ll be doing something is important to have out before Imbolc as well.

For the next three months, I’ll be working my way through my preparations for Imbolc and some of the prep is the wonderfully luxurious treatments I’ll be undergoing next week and some of the prep is scrubbing the desk I’ll be using as part of my ritual. Some of it is exciting and wonderful and cool, and frankly, some of it is drudgery. But I know I will arrive at Imbolc with a clean slate and prepared for a ritual that suits me, my resources and my needs this year.

it will be an exciting three months, and if you’d like to join me on the journey, you can sign up here. It will be a small group though, so sign up quickly before all the places are filled! The course includes the practical exercises that I go through, and the development of those exercises over the three months. Each month, there’s 2 sessions – the first where I’m outlining the background, the thinking and the exercises, and the second session is where you get to ask or discuss anything that comes up for you when you try them out. And of course, email support as you need it through the three months. I hope to see you there!

It’s a filthy day out…

This is not an unusual comment in Ireland at this time of year. It refers to a very specific kind of rain, where the day is dark, the lights and the fires and the heating goes on pretty much as soon as we get up in the morning and stay on all day. You can’t leave the house without getting soaked to the skin, and yes, you get covered in muck, if you go anywhere on foot or by bike… even by public transport. These are the days when we all end up with sniffles, or colds, or flus, when the Lemsips and the hot whiskeys come out. These are the days when really, there’s nothing better than being the second one home in the evening so that someone else has lit the fire and it’s blazing away in the hearth when you come in.

It’s the kind of day when the rain just comes down, relentlessly, all day. (While we do tend to get rain 365.5 days a year, it doesn’t usually rain all day every day!) And while I know new houses in this country and being built with no fireplaces, I can’t imagine ever living in a house without a fireplace or a stove or something. That feeling of a fire being lit in winter brings with it comfort as well as heat – it’s no wonder our major festivals are called the “fire festivals”. No more than most other societies in the world, we have learned to live with our climate in this country, which means houses built to keep in the heat, plenty of light, and real fires.

But the thing is, our climate is changing. And our houses need to change with it, to a certain extent. Temperatures of 30oC+ are not usual in this country, but we’re getting them more often. The use of air con in this country is limited at best, but I find myself thinking of trying to pick up a unit over the winter in hopes it might be a bit cheaper than in the summer. But fires are as much a part of our Bealtaine and Lúnasa celebrations as they are our Samhain and Imbolc celebrations. And that might be because even in May and August, the evenings can get fairly cool in Ireland traditionally speaking. Of course, no one was determining how big a fire had to be either, but one would assume giving the term “bonfire” would give a certain size element…

But where do we go in a changing world? Even lighting a fire these days can be problematic, since most of our fires require some element of fossil fuels. Do we change our traditions to better align with current practicalities? Well yes, we do. We keep the heart of the tradition, the bit that’s important and we work with the modern practicalities. So, for example, my fire festivals move to the closest weekend to the calendar date most of the time, although at least all four fire festivals now have a bank holiday associated with them! (Despite complaints from people about another holiday in Ireland being linked to a religious holiday, but I think there’s been some education around that as well.) So, even within our own personal practices, we adapt and change things to suit our lives.

When does this become a problem? Well, when someone presents something as “traditional” when it’s really not. So for example, someone claiming that their practice of always lighting a red candle at Imbolc (I’m making this up!!) is a long held, deeply rooted tradition in Ireland, when we know most of the candles in Ireland were natural coloured, cos dyed ones were more expensive – that’s a problem. Someone “suggesting” something by adding in a maybe, as in “maybe since the times of the Tuatha De Danann”, that’s an issue, since we really don’t know what day to day practices the TDD had in their spiritual lives, neither our stories, nor our archaeology can tell us that.

It’s important to know what the traditions are, in my opinion so you can work out how to make them work for you. And as long as we’re all clear on the difference between a tradition (light a fire on Imbolc) and a personal tradition (my habit of celebrating on the weekend closest to the festival), we’re all ok. So you can check out my free class on Basic Intro to Imbolc in Ireland this Wednesday, to get a high level reminder of the traditions in Ireland and a sneak peek at the framework I use to prepare for the Imbolc festival. Or indeed, check out duchas.ie to see those wonderful entries from the Schools Collection. Or check out Lora O’Brien’s and other classes at the Irish Pagan School. But remember, fires were and are an important part of Irish society for a reason – and if you live in a place where wild fires are a significant risk, don’t. Try a candle, or an electrical option. Change the tradition to suit your circumstances, and make sure you understand the heart of the tradition. For me – I’m in work, so no open fires here, but I’m off to get a nice cup of coffee to warm myself up! (For some reason, they won’t allow hot whiskeys in work!!)

Free class!

Last night I took a notion and decided that next Wednesday (9th November, 7pm Irish time) I’ll put on a free class to give a brief (well, brief for me…) overview of Irish traditions around Imbolc. Every year, come January, people start worrying over Imbolc – and I understand, I really do. The period between Samhain and Imbolc is full of various winter celebrations, all over the Northern Hemisphere, or at least the bits that have 4+ seasons.

In the dark of the winter, we turn to community, celebrations, lights, candles, food, drink, stories, to carry us through the dark times of the year. This is the time of year when those of us who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) have to concentrate a bit more on our mental health, getting light where and when we can (my use of fairy lights and candles dramatically sky rockets from about this point on!) It’s dark and it’s miserable, the weather is crap – especially in Ireland where the rain shows the incredible talent of being cold enough for snow but never quite making the transition…

So filling up the time with celebrations makes sense. The only thing is that Imbolc, coming as it does at the end of winter, start of spring (spring starts in Ireland on 1st February, remember, regardless of weather conditions), can creep up on us very easily as we’re lying around in January, metaphorically speaking, trying to recover from all the celebrating and swearing high up and low down that next year will be different…

So I’m putting together this class now, so people can have it in their heads and include Imbolc in their winter planning. I have started my planning and preparation already for Imbolc, from checking out where the rushes are growing, where the paths have changed, so last year’s access point might not be as safe this year, planning my time in January so I have energy to do what I want to do… this is a hugely important celebration to me, so I take the time to plan it – and yes, the planning and preparation does take the 3 months from Samhain!

The class includes an overview of the Irish traditions, and – possibly more importantly, some ideas for making sure of your prosperity for the coming year! This class will only be available to those who sign up in advance, but the recording will be available if you can’t make it live. Sign up here. Hope to see you there!

EDIT: I screwed up. I’ll be emailing people about this as well, but here we go. I called the class “Imbolc in Ireland” completely forgetting that the amazing Lora O’Brien has a class of the same name over at the Irish Pagan School. So, I’ve changed the name of my class to Basic Introduction to Imbolc in Ireland, because that’s what it is -shorter, higher level overview with a quick intro to my own framework for preparing for the Imbolc festivities!

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.

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, with a hot water bottle on one ear & some chappy 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 my Samhain observances will be limited this year to an extra place set at the table tonight and 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 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, through the physical, emotional and magical realms. Maybe realms isn’t the right word there… but areas just doesn’t sound as grand does it?

So, today, I’m sitting down with my planning (Bank Holiday here in Ireland) and working out what needs to be done in the next three or so months. Cos it’s a busy season – Samhain probably heralds one of my busiest seasons 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, so things get even more intense then as well.

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 and 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.

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 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. 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 and feel like crap still, I don’t think I did too badly, did I? All prayers and well wishes for helping shake off this bloody thing are welcome!

%d bloggers like this: