It’s not often we discuss Brigid, or indeed any Irish deity, and political power, but here we go. In researching for the upcoming Brigid in Cormac’s Glossary class (and you can get a $15/€15 discount if you sign up to the mailing list and buy the class before 6:30pm Irish time on Saturday), I’ve been diving deep into the political power of the church/religion in Ireland in the 10th century. It’s wild – like the Cormac of Cormac’s Glossary? Described as a king-bishop. No separation of Church and State here!! He was off on war campaigns and all sorts. And his chief advisor? An abbot…
So, really it’s no wonder our own Brigid was used for various purposes over the generations as well. Now at some point, I want to look at the political power she herself would have wielded as an abbess of a major religious institution in her own right. Today, I want to look at how she was used and the way women deemed as “powerful women in politics” have operated in this country throughout the ages.
Irish history time…
In the mid-7th century, there was a bit of a disagreement (or potentially all-out ecclesiastical war, depending on what source you’re reading) between Armagh and Kildare for the Primacy of Ireland. It’s down to money really, money and political power. The winner (ended up with St. Patrick’s home patch of Armagh) would essentially rule the clerical portions of Ireland and be in direct contact with the Holy See. We’re heading for a lot of power and control through religion here. But sure, that’s no strange thought to any of us.
Religion is a great way to wield political power – just look at all the bishops in the House of Lords in England! So, this is when Cogitosus started writing his Vitae. It’s propoganda to increase the visibility of Brigid of Kildare and to show how awesome and wonderful the place was. Talk about power politics? Basically, no more than some of the writers we’ll mention later, Cogitosus was running a PR campaign for Kildare and promoting the life of St. Brigid as such a great holy woman, and an awesome leader, even after her death, was all part of the gig.
Now, don’t worry – the lot in Armagh were doing the same for St. Patrick (I still think it was pure patriarchy that got him the win in the end, but that’s only my own opinion). But Brigid wasn’t 2 centuries dead and her followers were using her legend for alternative purposes.
Just after the Norman’s arrived in the 12th century, they sent a lad call Giraldus of Wales or Giraldus of Monmouth (which is in Waltes) around Ireland to present some more propaganda back home. This time – the goal was to paint the Irish as barbarians of the worst sort. He goes through a whole list of ways the Irish are less than human, setting the tone for centuries later. It’s ridiculous how often this text is quoted in following centuries.
In saying that though, we remember this man in his descriptions of the sacred fire in Kildare. He wrote of the priestesses tending the holy flame in Kildare. He also wrote of the punishments facing men who tried to enter. So, he probably wasn’t all bad. He was definitely a Norman though. And he strongly encouraged his audience to pop over to take advantage of the natural resources of the island to their west. (#nevernotatit)
The fact that women appeared to hold political power was another problem. St. Brigit wielded much power as an abbess. Her successors in the abbey were also women who wielded a lot of power. This continued until the attack on the abbey in the 13th century, when the attackers raped the abbess to strip her power from her. And then, the local ruler appointed his niece as abbess. Somehow, after that, the abbess was just another abbess… Wonder how that happened? This was definitely not one of the powerful women in politics!
In medieval Ireland, no more than in the rest of Europe, women didn’t hold political power, or much other power either. There are lots of tales of the convoluted marriages, with first, second and third or higher wives fighting for precedence, inheritance for children etc. Powerful women in politics worked more behind the scenes than in public. Brigid and her successors really stood out in this sense, and had to be removed. No woman could be seen to wield political power as a norm.
More modern times
Brigid really started to come to prominence again in Ireland during the #Repealthe8th campaign. Ireland’s move from the 1983 referendum to ban abortion to removing said amendment in 2018. Grainne Griffin, Orla O’Connor, Ailbhe Smyth, Co-Directors of Together for Yes campaign showed a new mode of leadership during this campaign. All three were joint leaders, wielding power in a new way. This grassroots campaign worked very differently from previous political campaigns in Ireland. From the start, the focus was on individual conversations, people talking to each other, sharing stories… This was not a campaign won with posters, with traditional political power, with power politics.
This campaign, much like Brigid herself, worked differently. It wasn’t the behind-the-scenes “powerful women in politics” seen in the 10th century and later. It wasn’t the traditional domination type of politics either. The political power wielded here was the power of the people. Brigid was invoked as the first abortionist in Ireland, even if there are at least 2-3 other saints that have similar miracles attributed to them. She has remained as a feminist icon since then as well. The move to gain 1st February as a bank holiday is a further sign of Brigid’s growing popularity. Although there were complaints from all types of religion at that as well!
In the end, St Brigid had political power as the abbess of a major religious establishment. Her legacy has been used in power politics to support or belittle according to the whims of the person telling the story. And they’re all stories – even what I’ve said here is a story, of sorts. So what do you think? Of Brigid, of power, of the story I’ve told here?
Yup, this is the second time in 6 weeks or so I’ve written about Brigid and Hope. But I feel it’s worth exploring from another perspective as well.
I’ve felt hope. I’ve felt desperation so deep, I thought life was over. And I’ve moved from one to the other almost in a heartbeat. And of course, Brigid was there all along. Now, ye know, my bent is fairly firmly towards the practical, so hope to me needs to come with an action plan, or a purpose or something to support it. I’m not great on hope for hope’s sake.
What does desperation look like for me?
Desperation for me is when I see no way out. It’s happened with abuse, it’s happened with a horrible work situation, it’s happened when I’ve been so broke I was struggling to feed myself and the husband. In all those situations, there was no way out, hope was non existent.
Life was tough in all those situations and it was harder to get myself out of those situations (to be fair the abuse situation was one of the easiest for me. He left. Three months later, hope arrived… The usual experience, as we all know, is very very different.) And I won’t be one of those people who say they dragged themselves put by their bootstraps. That’s not how life works.
I had friends who helped me. Resources, education, language skills, professional skills… I had a lot to support me. And I still struggled.
What does hope look like?
Hope to me looks like having a plan. Now, it’s not always the best plan (at the time my ex left, my plan was essentially “curl in a ball and cry”). If I have a route to escape, a route to fix the problem, that’s what brings hope to me. But sometimes, when I’m so deep in the mire, even a plan can’t bring me to that level of expectation, that hope of a positive outcome.
Brigid plays a role here though. Aside from the general hope associated with spring, Imbolc, new growth, etc, it’s not like she has any particular connections with hope. So, this can probably be termed UPG.
For me – the goal is to have a plan to escape the current situation. Brigid, being the practice deity she is, is big on plans. She doesn’t always understand the level of plan I need to feel that hope in my chest, but she’s willing to work with me! After my last post and emails, I got a lot of emails saying “Orlagh, I don’t have the funds to even spend on healing my abundance“. And you know something – I get you. I have been there. At one point, even buying a book was beyond me… So I’m not underestimating what seem unachievable.
So what the hell can I do???
But, to a certain extent, there are times when we need to generate hope for ourselves. So, while, I totally understand that not everyone has $44 dollars for a course or $20 for a book (I have no idea how much books in the US are, but that would cover everything but a brand new hardcover for me… most of the time), there are always routes available to us. There are libraries. There are free blogs and podcasts associated with both Ramit Sethi and Tori Dunlap.
Huge amount of information there and one of the best things as far as I’m concerned? A lot of it is about how to manage on very little money. OK some of it is about how to cope when you’re dealing with $25k+ a month… I live in hope that might one day be my problem! But there is help there. I’m not throwing a “spend money to make money” at ye.
And, you know there’s always prayer. I don’t usually count prayer as a concrete plan, but there are times when prayer is what we have. Just be very careful about what precisely you’re praying for… Brigid can take things very literally!
I’m trying something new today and getting vulnerable about sharing something I honestly have not had the courage or the will to do before. So bear with me. Attracting abundance is probably one of the most searched items on the internet (oh yes, I went there, over 11 million results in 0.34 seconds according to Google). Living an abundant life is apparently a big deal for a lot of us! And it crosses communities as well – you can get people searching (and providing information) from a spiritual context, pure cash money, wealth, food, water…
It’s one of those things that everyone has a different definition for and a different mindset about. And of course, Brigid, while not anti-abundance per se, isn’t usually associated with the concept, which I think is a real oversight. So today, I’m going to talk about how I link herself with being abundant, what strategies I use from different places and the next steps I’m taking to make another step change.
Brigid and Abundance
Then baskets were brought to her to be filled from the wife of the druid. She had only the butter of one and a half churnings. The baskets were filled with that and the guests, namely the druid and his wife, were satisfied. The druid said to Brigit: ‘The cows shall be yours and let you distribute the butter among the poor, and your mother shall not be in service from today and it shall not be necessary to buy her, and I shall be baptized and I shall never part from you.’ ‘Thanks be to God’, said Brigit.
This is one of the many miracles associated with food and Brigid. Mostly they’re like this one – what I term the “loaves and fishes” type,. The original of course, coming from here (Matthew 14:17-19) and here (John 6:1-14) in the Bible. It’s amazing how many saints come up with this sort of miracle. But I suppose food, for most of human history, has been a major concern. Being able to feed the multitudes, having that abundance of food, was a serious sign of wealth.
However, our Brigid, was the daughter of a slave and not in possession of much in terms of wealth. She still gave away quite a lot to those in need.
On a certain day a guest came to Dubthach’s house. Her father entrusted her with a flitch of bacon to be boiled for the guest. A hungry dog came up to which she gave a fifth part of the bacon. When this had been consumed she gave another [fifth]. The guest, who was looking on, remained silent as though he was overcome by sleep. On returning home again the father finds his daughter. ‘Have you boiled the food well?’, said her father. ‘Yes’, said she. And he himself counted [them] and found [them intact]. Then the guest tells Dubthach what the girl had done. ‘After this’, said Dubthach, ‘she has performed more miracles than can be recounted.’ This is what was done then: that portion of food was distributed among the poor.
This time the saint is giving away bacon. It’s amazing to me that the stories never mention her getting into trouble. She always has enough to feed the people she’s meant to feed. I know – these are fairly standard in the saints’ lives, hagiographies, etc, but still. You think someonesomewhere would have taken umbrage – especially in this case, where the not-spare food is going to a stray dog.
Once at Eastertide: ‘What shall we do?’, said Brigit to her maidens. ‘We have one sack of malt. It were well for us to prepare it that we might not be without ale over Easter. There area moreover seventeen churches in Mag Tailach. Would that I might keep Easter for them in the matter of ale on account of the Lord whose feast it is, that they might have drink although they should not have food. It is unfortunate for us only that we have no vessels.’ That was true. There was one vat in the house and two tubs. ‘They are good; let it be prepared(?).’
This is what was done: the mashing in one of the tubs, in the other it was put to ferment; and that which was put to ferment in the second tub, the vat used to be filled from it and taken to each church in turn, so that the vat kept on coming back, but though it came back quickly that which was in the tub was ale. Eighteen vatfuls had come from the one sack, and what sufficed for herself over Easter. And there was no lack of feasting in every single church from Easter Sunday to Low Sunday as a result of that preparation by Brigit.
This is one of my favourite stories. Now, the history of alcohol in Ireland is not really a good one. I know we have a history of enjoying ourselves, and drinking a lot, and being able to hold out drink. But alcoholism is a blight on this country. If you are interested, Drink Aware, HRB National Drugs Library and our national health organisation, the HSE, all have further information if you want to explore. Hell, even wikipedia has a decent enough article about it.
That said, this is another miracle related to an abundant good that Brigid is recorded as performing, so I’ve included it here. I love that it at the end: “what sufficed for herself over Easter”. It’s one of the few times that Brigid herself benefits from the abundance she creates.
What do I mean by abundance?
Alright, so I’ve been talking about abundance, but what do I actually mean by it? Explanations range from “a very large quantity of something” (dictionary.com) to “having more than enough of something (Cambridge University Press). For me, I hold abundance as feeling like I have enough and some to spare.
Except books. I don’t think I will ever have enough books. But that’s another story!
Now we come to “an abundance of what?” Food? Money? Wealth? Clothes? This is a personal question, definitely. And defining what “abundance” or “being abundant” means to you is a really important first step. 6 years ago, I put “being able to buy any book I want without thinking too hard” as my “abundance” sign. Part of the reason I’m writing this is because I need to redefine that now, because, as my husband will tell you, I can now buy any book I want. This is proven by the amount of book deliveries our poor postwoman delivers weekly!
Now this definition of abundance is highly promoted by one of the resources I’m going to talk about.
A Rich Life
(In this section, please read “rich life” to mean “abundant life” as far as I’m concerned!)
A man called Ramit Sethi wrote a book called I will teach you to be rich back in 2020 I think. The first thing he asks you to do as a reader? Define your rich life. This is a huge acknowledgement: not everyone has the same idea of what “rich” means. For me, it meant at one point, to be able to buy any book I wanted. My rich life still includes this, but it also includes more. Sethi guides you through a means to really imagine what your life would be like for you to feel truly rich. He includes things like: the restaurants you’d eat at, the clothes you’d buy, the house you’d live in, the car you’d drive, the place you’d live in… the list goes on.
And I like this approach, as I’ve said above. I won’t go into the full detail of this, because he says it way better on his blog and in his book (both linked above). But I will say the components of my rich life now include: owning our own home without a mortgage, working part time, giving away money to people I love and who need it, hiring someone to take over household management and food management. I mean, very little of this is within my reach right now. But that’s ok. 6 years ago, I couldn’t imagine a time when I bought a book on a whim without having a crisis of conscience when it arrived in the post! This approach to money really caused a step change in the way I viewed the abundance in my life.
A Feminist Rich Life
Tori Dunlap made her first $100k by the time she was 25. This was a goal of hers and she made it. I actually think she had $100k in savings and investments by the time she was 25. Now, this is not possible for me – I’m long past 25 at this point. But reading about her story and then reading her book again brought me a step change in thinking how I can attract abundance and live my abundant life.
She also looks at finances through a feminist lens, which lies close to my own ethics and principles, and frequently discusses topics related to this in her podcast. The first exercise in Dunlap’s book? What is your first money memory?
I found this enlightening. Maybe you will too.
My First Money Memory
My first money memory involves losing money. I lost a little purse of French francs in our local supermarket because I was too caught up in reading the book I wanted to buy. This was just before we went on holidays to France as well, and I was so proud of my little purse with all of, approx. 5 Francs in it (very approx. €5/ $5). I was reading and then when my parents called me, I was so shocked out of the world I was in, I forgot all about my purse and when I went back it was gone.
So, money has been heavily linked with “distress” to me. And of course, I then got the name of being “bad” with money in the family. (These are self fulfilling prophecies people!) So whenever I attracted abundance in my life, it seemed to slip through my fingers. I never felt abundant. Even when I started earning money, I didn’t feel like I had enough.
(This fed into clothes, books, food, and all sorts of other things as well, but let’s focus on money for now as a symbol of abundance. If we go into food, that’s a whole other blog!)
I had to sit with that memory for a long, long time. I have lots of good memories, by the way, this is just the earliest memory I have that has to do with money. And it coloured a lot of my relationship with money and abundance since.
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle…
… than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, I know that preaching of the prosperity gospels is a big thing in some Protestant arenas, but as a child growing up, this was sold to us as a good reason to not be rich. In fact, poverty was as a virtue, since it was seen as having fewer temptations than richness. Or abundance. And if you had an abundance of something, as a good Catholic, you should be giving it away to those less well off anyway. Way to promote an abundant life, there!
How this was equated with the richness in with the church hierarchy lived and still lives, I don’t know.
But essentially, I had a lot of abundance issues to overcome and truth be told, I’m still overcoming some. My life is abundant in many ways, but there’s still a way to go!
Then, a few years ago, I came across Joanna Hunter. And she was running an experiment called “Heal Your Abundance“. The experiment asked the question:
Can ancient metaphysical knowledge create a significant change in YOUR abundance in just 4 weeks?
Now, from my last time around, it can! This option is more “woo” than the others I’ve put up above and I will admit, I thought hard before committing $44 for a 4-week course. I mean, can abundance really be healed? But then I thought that it was <€50 and a few minutes a day commitment to making a potentially big change in my life. And it did. I didn’t even finish the damn course!
But by working through the exercises that I did manage to get to, I adjusted my mindset enough to get a new job with a 33%+ payrise. This was massive to me at the time. Hell, it would be massive to me now! I felt abundance pouring out of my pores! I was so excited.
And here’s where I get really vulnerable. Part of the course that I didn’t sign up for last time was the affiliate program. I didn’t feel like I was an affiliate type of person. I didn’t feel it was ethical to want to make money for basically – sharing a link. This time, I’ve signed up for the affiliates program and I’m sharing the link here. There is zero difference for anyone who wants to sign up using my link instead of the website link. In fact, in the spirit of abundance, they aim to give away $1,000,000 (yeah that’s a million) in affiliate fees this time round. And if you have a business paypal account, you can sign up for an affiliate link as well.
But I’m at a stage again, in my abundant life, where I’m stalling. I can feel my energy around abundance stagnating. And I want another step change. I have the practical things in place: standing orders and direct debits for savings and bills. I’m clear in my mind about my guilt-free money. I’m happy with the % I’m putting in my pension. It’s time to upgrade my mind again.
Are you not asking Brigid for help here, Órlagh?
And you can bet I’m asking Brigid for help here! She understands my need for a home of my own, owned outright, with not mortgage. She gets the need for stability and putting down roots. Some of the things she is asking me for will be massively easier to complete with that foundation beneath me.
So I know she’s behind me in this. She did not come from a culture where poverty was glorified. She was, and in my experience still is, well able to both gather wealth, abundance, riches and give them away as well. I said to a friend of mine a few years ago that I’d consider myself wealthy when I can imitate a Victorian nobleman and replace a relation’s wardrobe at need. I’m not there yet (unless they’re very into Penneys!) but I’m getting there. And opening myself up to critique about sharing an affiliate link is part of that.
So, check out Joanna Hunter’s work and if you like the look of it, use this link to sign up. I’m really looking forward to it!
And in the mean time, think about what you mean by abundance? Do you consider your life abundant? Have you enough of all you need and a bit to spare? Are you heavily abundant in some areas but extremely tight in others? We are really not encouraged to think this way, but we deserve abundance in our lives. If you don’t believe me, ask her!
This tends to be the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of “transformation” – the typical caterpillar – to – butterfly. It’s obvious, it’s clear, there is a process involved. But what the hell does it have to do with Brigid? Well, ye know it’s coming!
Transformation is change. Now, I have changed significantly in the last, say, 20 years. It’s not all entirely down to Brigid of course. Some of it is just the generally changes that come in life between your 20’s and your 40’s. There are very few people I know living the same life at 40 that they did at 20.
And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”
I love that quote, you know. It sums up the changes and transformations we go through as we move through life. And ok, it might seem a bit miserable, but it’s true. There are natural changes our bodies go through as we age (not to sound all primary school teacher-ish!)
But… what does Brigid have to do with transformation?
Fair question. And it’s not something we consider very often with Brigid. But, think about her links with liminality. That’s where the transformation, the change, happens. It’s not usually in the core of things, our comfort zones, the things we do, same old, same old. It’s in the differences. Transformation happens when we push ourselves a little bit. Or indeed, when Brigid pushes us a little. Or maybe a lot.
Take me as an example. I am far more comfortable in my own skin than I was 20yrs ago. Now part of that is, as I said above, just getting older. But part of it is the transformation that Brigid has helped me achieve. When I talk about shadow work, I’m talking about transformation. When I talk about pushing myself to teach, I’m talking bout transformation. Even the simple act of lighting candles, consciously and with intent, has helped me change and grow.
Part of the work that I do is to know myself. Be able to look myself in the eyes. To not be ashamed of myself. And I like helping other people, women in particular, to achieve this as well. That is a massive transformation for me. Both knowing myself and being willing to put myself out there to help other people. Because for a long time, the thought I had was “who the hell would listen to me?” As it turns out – a fair few people. And I’m very happy about that, even if I still get those doubts sometimes.
Alright, so what kinds of transformation are we talking about?
Well, first and foremost – honesty. I spent a lot of my youth lying. Lying to myself, to those around me, strangers, friends… it didn’t really matter. Lies came as easily to me as truth, and in some cases, easier. It took a lot of work to get to the point where the truth comes first now. Sometimes it comes a bit quickly or bluntly, but I can live with that. It saves me so much energy and emotional output to just – be honest. I don’t have to remember who knows what about what. I don’t have to consider what stories I’ve told where. It’s just easier.
Now this doesn’t mean I reveal all to everyone of course. I took the warnings in the book The Circleto heart! (Great book by the way, raised some very interesting questions) But I don’t lie much at all anymore.
Another major transformation is to accept myself as I am. This doesn’t mean I won’t work to change things I don’t like. But the first step in any meaningful, long term change, in my experience, is that acceptance. The ability to say “This is who I am, today”. You wouldn’t believe the hassles I had with this. Even accepting that I used to be a certain way that I really don’t approve of anymore – major work involved there. But…
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
What did the work of transformation look like?
As I said above – shadow work. Looking myself in the mirror. A lot of navel gazing. Writing. Remembering. Accepting there are some things I don’t remember and probably never will. That was hard. I had to give up the image I had of myself. I had some very long talks with Brigid about this. Crying, begging forgiveness.
But, I have to live with the fact that I did things I am very definitely not proud of when I was younger. I probably will do things I’m not proud of in the future. They’ll be different things I’m not proud of – there’s that transformation again. But it will happen.
Y’see, no matter how much I change and transform – Brigid isn’t one for forgiveness as such. As in, she was fairly blunt about the fact that her forgiveness for these things wasn’t going to be worth much at all. And some of the people I’ve wronged can’t be tracked down or aren’t alive anymore. Forgiveness is something I have to live without. What I can do, is to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again.
Any journey will lead to transformation
There is a school of thought that any journey will lead to transformation. And I kinda agree with that, to an extent. I think any journey with Brigid will definitely lead to transformation. Change happens in the margins, in pushing the envelope. Changes happens when we’re forced to view things differently.
Think of the different aspects of Brigid – deity, saint, druid, nun, healer, smith, poet. She’s not too keen on being put into boxes, so she’s really a great guide for a transformative journey. With her, I have found a day job that fulfils me and pays the bills with a little bit spare. I have found a side gig that brings in some extra, allows me to speak to some amazing people and develops my skills and talents in ways that I can then use in the day job. I got married to a man who is a brilliant support and counterpart for me. (And, I hope, I to him!) I live in a place I can find peace.
A journey with Brigid, over days, months or years, will bring transformations, whether it’s something as small as a new 5 min daily practice you can commit to, or, in a more extreme case, asking her for help and finding your life completely turned upside down overnight. I mean, be careful what you ask for with Brigid – sometimes the transformation can be a bit extreme. Or a lot extreme.
She can and will help, whether is the slow and gradual work of years, or the overnight option. I mean, I’ve suffered the overnight option once or twice. Life was definitely better afterwards, once the dust settles, but slow and gradual was definitely easier. So, y’know, be careful what you wish for.
Shadow work and tummy bugs. Yes, that’s me… If you have been receiving my emails recently, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, I was completely wiped out with a tummy bug that my darling niece shared with me. I mean, it’s not her fault, she’s just turned one, and she’s bound to catch every bug going. That bit was grand. The bit that really bothered me was the “opportunity” given to me.
That opportunity was the chance to work through some shadow work type things while simultaneously throwing up and emitting things at force from the other end as well. Thankfully, our en-suite is small enough to sit on the toilet and reach the sink at the same time. TMI? Sorry. But this is bringing the “brutal honesty” part of me to the fore.
What is shadow work?
For those who who don’t know, the term “shadow work” refers to dealing with the parts of ourselves that we try to hide from ourselves or otherwise repress. (Carl Jung was the one who came up with this I think, but it developed from work that Sigmund Freud had done. IIRC) This isn’t a conscious act, of course, cos why would it be that simple?
A picture explaining what shadow work is…
But realistically speaking, what does shadow work really involve. It’s all very well saying to look at the parts of you that you have repressed or disowned, but how do you know what you have repressed or disowned?
Well for many of us, shadow work looks like examining our childhood. Yeah, I know, the joys… but really, revisiting what was and wasn’t allowable for ourselves in childhood can lead us to the parts of ourselves that we’ve repressed. For example, I have a problem with anger. For many years, I swore I never felt angry. This is because – at an extremely simplistic level – the first people I was angry at, the first people I remember being angry at, were my parents. And showing or displaying anger towards my parents just was not acceptable in my family. So I learned to repress. I learned to shove down my anger, to the point where I was sure and certain I never felt any.
I did, of course, but that’s another story.
How to do shadow work?
The shadow work involved in me addressing that anger was messy, and painful, and long, and arduous. It involved journaling, screaming, crying, raging, punching… It was not pretty to say the least.
And, if I’m honest, I did a lot of the work before I realised it was shadow work, before I’d even heard of the term! For me, it involved looking at the lessons taught to me throughout my life with a critical gaze and determining what was still relevant. More importantly, what wasn’t still relevant. Shadow work sounds more complicated than that right?
But it’s not really.
I mean, most often, deep personal spiritual work is presented as the above picture: calm, serene, peaceful.
Well, not in my experience.
My experience reads much more like the woman in the picture above, except, I wasn’t fully clothes, nor did I look nearly that healthy. It’s well-nigh impossible to feel sexy while simultaneously throwing up and releasing things from the other end as well. It certainly wasn’t possible for me. But in the darkness – because of course this was in the middle of the night – I had to face myself. I could hear the sounds of my husband sleeping peacefully away. The odd random car along the road. I could hear the neighbours’ dogs sharing “all’s well” barks, or occasionally slightly more frantic “what’s that noise” barks.
Ultimately though, all there was… was me. And while my body was miserable, my mind was active and desperate for anything to distract it from what was physically going on. Plus, the vomiting was partially metaphorically. I mean, mostly physical, but partially metaphorical.
What shadows did I face?
I looked at myself in the mirror, and I really did not look good. Facing myself, I was questioning life choices. I questioned why my husband wasn’t just up and walking away from me – all throughout that week he was there, when he could, to help, to get 7-Up, to try and tempt me with anything I could face.
I questioned why he stuck around – in my experience, men usually walk away from illness or a less-than-perfect partner. This is the man who has stuck by me through a miscarriage, depression, anxiety… And I thought he would leave me alone through a tummy bug? After 10yrs of marriage, we have seen each other at our best and our worst. And I still wondered when he kept on coming back.
This is shadow work.
It’s shadow work when he told me I’m beautiful, as I dragged myself from the bathroom for the umpteenth time that day and I tried to believe him. It’s shadow work when he supported me in staying home from work all week, cos I really wasn’t able to the drive. I looked at myself in the mirror each night and tried to see what he saw – I couldn’t, but I have to accept he does.
It wasn’t just my appearance, of course. There were other things happening in the dark of the night. But the appearance stuff is the stuff I’m most comfortable sharing in public. There were other things happening that I can’t share, or don’t want to share, not yet. They’ll come out soon again.
Where does this leave us?
Or leave me rather? Shadow work isn’t clean and simple and straightforward. It’s messy and ugly and goes round in spirals. I revisited lessons I thought I had learned already. My trust for my husband was reinforced at least, if not regenerated. I saw other things in the dark of my soul that I partially addressed, but know there is more work to be done.
Yeah, if this is so messy, and so horrible at times, why bother? For me? It’s so I don’t have blind spots about myself. With the work I do for Brigid, it’s kinda important to at least recognise I have blind spots. And to work to eliminate them. It’s a life long calling to do this. It’s not over in a weekend, or a short course. There are tools to learn and help ourselves to do this. And I’m not an expert, I’m just an expert in what works for me.
But I will say this – I’ve not met anyone I consider authentic and real about shadow work that hasn’t gone through the anvil, or their version of it. The Anvil isn’t a place any of us want to be, but it’s where Brigid tempers and shapes her tools. She needs tools that won’t break. Tools that know what they can do and under what circumstances. Shadow work is addressing the parts of ourselves that we subconsciously choose to hide – from ourselves. These are not the parts of ourselves that we are proud of. These are not the parts of ourselves we necessarily share in public. We hide these parts, in part because of shame.
Our spiritual journey and shadow work
Shame is not a useful emotion in my opinion. And accepting that something embarrasses me or that I’m ashamed of something I did in the past – well that’s an invitation to do something about it. Can I fix it? If not, can I make sure it doesn’t happen again? I’m not one much for the esoteric, but I do believe we have a responsibility to learn from our mistakes and to know ourselves. Being honest with oneself is the first step on any real spiritual journey.
The problem is, this shit doesn’t just come up once. It keeps on coming up, as we spiral through life. And we are different people every time we address it. I’m not the same person I was 10, 20, 30 yrs ago. Neither are you. And so, the elements of the shadow work we need to engage in change as well. This is a life long process, not a one-and-done thing.
And sometimes… it’s a 3am while puking your guts up and just wanting it all to end…
Every year around this time, I start seeing posts pop up exploring Brigid as a triple deity. Which is brilliant, except at least half the posts explore her under the Maiden/Mother/Crone construction – which is problematic as far as I’m concerned. And it’s for a few different reasons. Even worse, I then start seeing “Celtic maiden mother crone”, but I am less qualified to address than. I will try, but less qualified.
Maiden mother crone in Irish lore
First off, the “maiden mother crone” construction isn’t one we have in Irish deities. If you google “Irish triple goddesses” you get mentions of Brigid, the Morrigan, the three sovereignty goddesses: Éire, Banbha and Fódla. Mary Jones suggests that Lugh is the lone survivor of triplets and mentions the sons of Tuireann and the sons of Cainte as potential male triple deities. So the idea of triple deities isn’t out of the question in Irish lore. It’s just the construction of the triplets that doesn’t conform to the Roman notion of the “maiden mother crone” construct. (I’m using “construct” here because I can’t think of a better word. It’s not intended to indicate “made up” or otherwise “not authentic”).
We have powerful deities in Ireland, and Brigid is just one (or three) of them. Cormac’s Glossary outlines three sisters, a woman of healing, a woman of wisdom/ protector of poets and a smith. And this is fundamentally where we get the idea of the triple deity from in Ireland. It also leads me down roads of “why call three sisters by the same name”, but that’s for another time! There is no notion that any of the three (poet, healer or smith) conform to maiden, mother or crone.
If anything, Brigid is definitely a mother. She loses her son Ruadhán in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, which is one of our foundational snippets of lore about her. There is a hint that she might be the mother of the sons of Tuireann. (Although other possible mothers are Ana or Danu depending on the source you read.) And, spoiler alert, the sons of Tuireann all die in the end as well. As a mother, I sincerely hope she had daughters or less famous sons rather than losing all her children to heroic deeds. However misguided said heroic deeds might appear from a distance of a few millennia.
Do I think Brigid can appear as a maiden, mother or crone as she chooses? She’s a bloody deity, she can appear however she wishes. And yes, I have experienced her at most adult ages at this point. I’d suggest if you want to limit how a deity appears to you – well just warn me so I can get out of the way, alright? But trying to understand Brigid through the construct of “maiden mother crone” would be very difficult. The history, the folklore, the traditions just aren’t there to support it. For Brigid or any of the other Irish deities.
Maiden mother crone more generally
So there’s my issues with Brigid as maiden mother crone. But I also have some issues with the maiden mother crone concept itself. Now, if you use this construct and it works for you – that is brilliant. Good for you! I’m delighted. If that’s the case, you may wish to skip the rest of this post. So… fair warning.
Now, obviously, my own experience as a woman and with Brigid and other deities/ divine figures will influence the discussion that follows. I make no apologies for that. I am writing this post as a white, Irish, cisgendered, able bodied, reasonably healthy, fat woman. (Admittedly one who wears glasses and has ankle issues, but nothing that majorly impacts on my life choices.) I’m also writing as a woman who can’t have children, for no apparent medical reason. (I don’t want advice on that one by the way!)
And one who has done a lot of work on menstruation spirituality and getting in tune with my body. So while I might managed the maiden and crone bit, the mother bit will be a push. And yes, I know it’s not necessarily a “physical mother who has born children of her body”. I know it can be creative mother, spiritual mother, the energy of the mother. I still have problems with the whole construct.
Plus, it’s my blog, which gives me freedom to outline my thoughts here 😊
The first way this construct annoys me is this: it’s limiting women to their reproductive stages in ways we don’t really limit men at all. Maiden is traditionally innocent, virginal, awakening. New-start energy, enthusiasm, that sort of thing. Mother is fertility, fecundity, growth, caring, homemaking and other adjectives along those lines. The Crone is wise woman, the hag, the moving closer to death. Now, I understand that this can relate to creative pursuits, innovation and all sorts of other things. I get that part. But this still accounts for women by their reproductive season in life.
We don’t do this with men – who have similar stages in their reproductive cycles, it’s just not as pronounced. Or at least the end date isn’t as pronounced.
For me – this construct of the maiden, the mother and the crone is putting me in boxes I never agreed to. Or want to agree to. My chosen career possibly influences this – I’m an engineer and spend a lot of my time with men. I can be in touch with my female power and still not think about my reproductive stages. In fact, it’s preferably in many cases. It’s another way to limit my career if I draw too much attention to my reproductive cycle. In fact, very often in work, I need to forget about my reproductive cycle and work with it outside of work, to support myself in work.
I’m never going to be a mother, unless the Divine presents a miracle. It’s a kick in the teeth to tell me I’m in my fertile phase of life. I think as well, this minimises the effect that older women, post menopause, who contribute so much to life, society, families, work, etc. It minimises women in the “maiden” stage as well, limiting their impact as youthful enthusiasm, when much of the time, our young women are the ones with energy to do things. And yes, I know – I can already hear the proponents of maiden mother crone yelling at the screens. I know it’s not intended to limit people. I know technically we can all feel the “energies” of the different stages at any time. Hell, it’s used in menstruation spirituality to describe the phases of the menstruation cycle. I get it.
It’s still limiting women though. It’s still putting us in boxes. We’re more than all of this. And we deserve to be more than our reproductive stages. The construct appears to have it’s roots in Robert Graves’ work, rather than anything more ancient – which is not necessarily a bad thing. New doesn’t always equal bad. Old doesn’t always equal good. (Just go look at some of the Brehon laws dealing with rank!)
Finally, I’ll come on to the issues with the “celtic maiden mother crone” thing. Basically, no more than it appears in Irish lore, the construct doesn’t appear in other “Celtic” lore as well. First off, “Celtic” as a word usually is best reserved for languages, i.e. Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton and Cornish. There are many arguments about why Celtic should or shouldn’t be used in terms of anything other than language. For myself – describing something as “Celtic” is similar to describing something as “European” or “African”. It’s squishing an entire continent into one culture. Frankly, all you have to do is taste food from Ireland and compare it to the tastes in France (one of our nearest European neighbours) to see how different things can be.
And the word “Celtic” has sometimes been used with racist undertones (or with outright racism in mind) in recent history as well. I’m not going to link to site that use the word in that way, for, I hope, obvious reasons. The Celtic cross has managed to become a racist symbol of hate. I don’t think every depiction of the Celtic cross is a racist symbol (see picture below). Various hate groups have co-opted the cross as a symbol. That doesn’t mean using the word Celtic as a word is racist, but it’s just something to be aware of.
And when it comes to “maiden mother crone” there’s nothing specifically Celtic about it. Sure, if you wanted, you could pick Irish deities to fit in the maiden category, the mother category and the crone category. Although I would warn you, Irish deities like being put in boxes just as much as I do! For me, it would be more important to reach out and learn out lore about these deities.
So, if you’re interested in Brigid – look at the lore of the region you’re in first of all. I know there are Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx legends anyway about Brigid. People all over the world honour the saint. If you’re interested in the maiden mother crone construct – use it. Just don’t try and squish every goddess you meet into that framework cos, let me tell you, some of them will react strongly to that. And don’t assume all goddesses fit the mould you’re most comfortable with. Spirituality, faith – they’re not meant to be comfortable all the time. If you are feeling so comfortable all the time – are you really working at things?
While any deity is more than a construct we humans put about them, Brigid in particular is more than these three phases suggest. I have a basic introduction to Brigid class over at the Irish Pagan School, as well as some more at the Brigid’s Forge School. And the lore is free online as well – check out UCC Celt for any Brigid lore translated into English. There’s only 4 bits in the Irish pre-Christian stories. While the written copies we have today were recorded post Christianity’s arrival in Ireland, it’s obvious from the context of the stories that they happened pre-Christianity.
It’s always important to question our beliefs and work through our thoughts on particular issues. And you may read this and think I make perfect sense, but still find the maiden mother crone construct useful, whether in a Celtic context or not. That’s all fine. But don’t try to push Brigid into that structure – she won’t fit easily and she will let you know!
Well… no, actually. I’m the same old me I’ve always been and frankly, I’ve worked hard on this me for the last 4+ decades, so I don’t want to wipe her out just on a whim. OK not all New Year New Me activities are about wiping out the old me, but it sure feels like that sometimes! I know this is the time of year when everyone appears to go a bit over-enthusiastically at self improvement and reinvention and determination to do all sorts of new things.
You know what I’m planning? Definitely not a New Year New Me activity. More rest, for things I love, for friends I love. More time for my husband. I’m starting as I mean to go on with a long weekend this weekend to make up for the time I didn’t take off work over Christmas. And yes, ok, this weekend will start the big clean up for Imbolc (less than a month away now, y’know, depending on when you’re planning on celebrating!)
As I take the Christmas decorations down, I’ll start cleaning. For me, getting both the clutter and the energy moving out of all the nooks and crannies is an important part of my preparation for Imbolc. It feels like to plant new seeds of growth, I need to clear out the dead growth from previous years – both metaphorically and physically. So I’ll work this week on a plan, room by room, to take in everything and discard what’s no longer needed.
Another side of this New Year New Me thing, of course, and it’s work that takes a bit longer, is to discard beliefs and ways of thinking that no longer work. It’s so easy to go to the gym twice a week, for example, than to change your mind about deeply held beliefs that you have held for decades. Well, it’s easier to go to the gym for the first few weeks than challenge the deeply held beliefs anyway. This year, I’m working on my beliefs about money.
I’ve read Ramit Sethi’s I will teach you to be rich and I’m working my way through Tori Dunlap’s Financial Feminist. (No, I don’t get paid for the links of anything!) It’s amazing to me that there are so many things to challenge in my head about money. And don’t get me wrong – money is one of the big ones to tackle cos it’s made up of all these tiny little things that have built up over time, from what our families tell us, to our friends, to our organisations, religions, society in general…
But no less worth working on for that.
So, I’ll still be the same old me, but hopefully with improving attitudes to money throughout the year. And yes, I know this will be a long, slow transformation. Some of it’s even already started, just by the fact that I’m openly saying I want to work on my attitude to money. But I’m starting small. And I’d encourage you to do the same.
I have a year round structure for myself on how to make changes – I cover a lot of it in the Preparation for Imbolc class I’m currently running. And it’s covered over at IPS with the festival classes I have there. It works better for me than the pressure around New Year New Me. Basically, Samhain for dreaming and prepping, Imbolc for planting, Bealtaine for growing and Lúnasa for harvesting. It’s a good routine for me. It means I’m in a continuous cycle rather than a one-and-done kinda through process.
Some of the changes I commit to are very small – like 5 mins of meditation a day. Others started small, such as starting off at 1000 steps a day at the start of last year, and building to being able to walk 10,000 steps a day without pain by the end of the year. (Yeah, I did that!) Still others don’t always come to fruition – my savings goals bombed last year. But that’s not a failure as such, it just means I need to address some things and move on.
It works with the spiritual as well. My 30 Days of Brigid class is based on the notion of small daily practices to build a relationship with deity. (The Jan 2023 is closed for enrollment, but if there’s enough interest, I’ll run it again in April.) It’s not New Year New Me! Small steps work better, in my opinion, particularly at the start of a relationship than really big gestures. The course is definitely based around small, continual activities.
Think about it – if a new partner suddenly bought you somewhere to live after a few hours, you’d be a bit concerned right? I would – I’d run screaming in the opposite direction. (My husband tells me he’s in no position to my me somewhere to live even after 15 yrs. So I’m ok on that score!) So even though Imbolc is coming up, you don’t need to swear undying devotion to Brigid. Just cos of the time of year it is. Honestly, she’ll be grand with you building up a practice slowly. No need for the Big Gesture related to New Year New Me.
In fact, I’d strongly advise against it, especially given the time of year it is. Sure, there is going to be a lot of information out there on Brigid in the coming weeks. Some of it will be accurate and based on good information. Some of it will be a mish-mash of different traditions and practices or indeed, pure bullshit.
So, if you see someone writing something that doesn’t link back to the lore you know, ask them how it does link back. Even me! There’s no harm in that! If people come back with “everyone knows” or ” that’s common knowledge”: check with trustworthy sources before committing to that particular belief. For example, there’s a relatively recent thing that Brigid is a meek and mild type deity. Anywhere you see that – run. Seriously – I don’t know who they’re dealing with, but meek/mild are not words I’d use to describe her.
But to come back to the New year, new me thing. You may promise yourself a wonderful new spiritual life, considering all the elements of the 2 rounds of festivals (fire festivals and sun festivals) in great detail and with great aplomb. But, I’ll tell you now, a small act, done with intention and consideration and meaning is better than the biggest, wildest, fanciest ritual with no heart to it. Not that I have anything against a big, wild, fancy ritua. I’m just saying if you can’t commit to that, then don’t. Commit to what you know you can do.
If what you can do is have a clean home to welcome Brigid for Imbolc – do that.
If what you can do is have a Brigid’s cross made, or put out a brath Bhríde, then do that.
If what you can do is commit to saying a prayer on the day you celebrate or acknowledge Imbolc, do that.
This isn’t about the best, it’s about doing the best that you can do. Considering the resources you have at your disposal. New Year New Me almost forces big, overwhleming lifestyle changes. That doesn’t always work! If you have 30seconds before the baby wakes up and use them – brilliant. If you have an entire week to devote to Imbolc – brilliant. We’re not judged in comparison with others, we’re judged in comparison with ourselves.
So don’t go trying to reinvent yourself – you’ve worked hard to get where you are. But think of the small things. Think of the things that will definitely improve your life that you can also see yourself doing for a while. And if you do something for 3 days and stop, but those 3 days are better because you did the thing – celebrate that! Just doing something once, doesn’t mean you’ve committed to it forever. And maybe those 3 days were special. You were off work, or the kids were remarkably well behaved. Or maybe your partner was able to step up to do something you usually do, or you plain had more energy those days. Whatever the reason, even doing something for a short time, again and again, makes those days easier/better – brilliant. Well done you!
But you don’t need to overhaul your entire life. Trust me. Cos if you go down that road, she will make it happen. And it might not entirely be under your control. Just ask people who know what Brigid’s Anvil is as well as her healing well…
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.
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…
Or is it? I know – there are a whole load of think pieces and “how to make Christmas stress free this year” type pieces coming out at this time of year. And honestly, I worry about some of the advice given. I mean, I’m not sure when I’ll do the food shop this week, never mind get a facial or a relaxing massage. So I’m going to share what my Christmas period will look like.
I’m working until 3:30 tomorrow (23rd December) I may or may not be putting up some Christmas lights or a tree after I finish work, but who knows how my energy will be. My husband isn’t in any condition to put up decorations, so we may just be lighting a few extra candles instead of decorating the house, and you know what? It’s not the first time we’ve done this. It’s ok. We survived. If decorations aren’t your thing – skip them.
On Christmas Eve, I’ll probably be doing the shop for the week. My aim would be to get to Lidl as soon as it opens and stock up for the week. There’s only two of us, we’ll probably have duck on Christmas Day, we still have crackers and napkins from a few years ago – be grand. For the rest of Christmas Eve, I’ll be recording the daily videos for the upcoming 30 Days of Brigid course, starting on 1st January. I have to pre-record the videos, because otherwise it’s too much stress on me. At least if I can set things up a week in advance, I can relax and adjust as needed and pay attention to what support people need during the course rather than worrying about uploading videos. Hopefully I can get the back broken on the 30+ videos in one day, so I can leave them to upload overnight.
On Christmas Day, I’ll be preparing the Facebook posts and emails etc for the course, linking them to the videos and making sure the words are alright and I haven’t accidentally written a curse instead of a prayer. I’ll also be spending a good portion of the day snuggling on the couch with my darling husband, although we haven’t decided what DVDs we’re going to watch this year. I may see if I can persuade him to a rewatch of True Blood…
On Stephen’s Day, I’ll be finished up the 30 Days of Brigid stuff and hopefully managing some more hours snuggling on the couch. Or sleeping. Or both. I can multitask, y’know!
On the 27th I’m back in work for the annual shutdown, 3 days of highly organised, safe mayhem on site, where my job is to spend the days walking down jobs and making sure permit conditions are adhered to. And to be available for people to bring me issues to solve, concerns to listen to, that sort of thing. I rarely have to come up with solutions you understand – people mostly want to just talk through the issue and get support for the decision they make. But it means for the 27th – 29th, I’ll be busy.
On the 30th, I’m hoping to work from home, and keep an eye on any start up issues after the shutdown. That evening, husband and I will be heading up to my parents to see in the New Year with them. Also hoping for some dedicated sleeping time here as well – Mam has already given me a piece of Christmas cake, some mince pies, Christmas pudding and her extra special, Bailey’s chocolate biscuit cake, but there’ll be more goodies for the New Year as well. Mam is an amazing cook and baker and she goes all out this time of year, so it will be a lovely time.
We’ll be back home on the 2nd January at the latest, back into work on the 3rd.
I mean, we don’t have kids, we don’t have too much visiting to do (for those wondering my husband’s parents are in the UK and we’ll hopefully get over to them in the New Year sometime – we ruled out travelling at Christmas years ago!) but it’s still hectic with little time for rest. So we’re cutting back on the non-essentials. We have a tradition between the two of us that on Christmas Day we have our starter for breakfast, main meal for dinner and dessert for tea/supper cos that suits us. And there won’t be a great deal of fancy prepping either – I like cream cheese with lemon juice and red onion wrapped in smoked salmon for starters, husband likes eggs of some description. Main meal is a roast duck with spuds, carrots, parsnips and gravy – basically, if it can be thrown in an oven to cook, I’m ok with that. Dessert will be some of that lovely biscuit cake or Christmas pudding with brandy butter or ice cream. If I’m feeling really energetic, we might get custard with it. St Stephen’s Day is leftovers day. Microwave day. Possibly even takeaway day if things get really bad.
We deliberately reduce our social engagements and our housework and all the rest of it at this time of year, because we know we’ll be exhausted. And this took a while to arrange for ourselves. But it’s still busy, because of the minimal days I have off work this year. So things like decorations may not happen. And you know something – that’s ok.
Everyone talks about the importance of the real meaning of Christmas, but when you take steps to allow yourself that rest, that reflection time and that has a knock on effect on the outward symbols of the season, people start to worry or give out or not like it in general. So here’s my advice to you this Christmas – be strong for yourself and your family. Hold the lines you need to hold to make it as good a Christmas for you as you can. Ask Brigid for help – she’s usually more on the seeping through boundaries side, but she’s good at holding the really important ones – think of the forge, and the hammer blows and the shaping of things to work for you. Here’s the energy we need this season.
Brigid, at this season, help me and my family, by blood or by choice or by circumstance, to create the holiday we need and want this year. Help us to establish and hold our boundaries against the creeping tide of expectation and other people’s wishes. Help us give ourselves the gift of a period we feel happy about rather than exhausted by.
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.