Pigs, Ireland and Brigid

Pigs have always been important in Ireland, primarily as a food source, but for all sorts of other reasons as well. Most people are familiar with the Irish breakfast, which is heavily pig-based, and bloody delicious as well, but why is Brigid linked with pigs in the Lebor Gabala Erenn? Why is the king of boars, Triath, mentioned with her in the text?

A sepia/black drawing, looks like pencil of an Irish greyhound pig, showing a shorter and more hairy pig than the modern pink version. Long curly tail, longish triangular ears, long snout with the hint of horns by the mouth.
Image from here of Irish greyhound pig

Now, I’ll obviously go deeper into the Brigid connections in the upcoming class (this Saturday, 7pm in case you’re interested! Or available on demand if you’re reading this after Saturday 16th September 2023) But I wanted to go into the importance of pigs in Ireland throughout history because a) it’s interesting and b) I think people can underestimate the animal

Really ancient history of the pig in Ireland

The Irish word for pig is muc, and looking at dil.ie, this appears to be the old Irish word as well. Mucc is an alternative spelling, just for some variation. Because, as we know, prior to the Caighdeán in the 1950’s, spelling in Irish was a variable thing. To be fair, old spellings are still accurate and correct. It’s just that the newer spellings are simpler, even if they don’t always make as much sense from a linguistic point of view. Everything in the 50’s in Ireland was in short supply, even ink for pens…

But I digress. So, boars, the ancient, wild ancestors of the modern pig, were domesticated around 9000 years ago. Ish. It’s thought that the first pigs in Europe were domesticated round about 4500 BCE or about 6500 years ago. We’re talking archaeology here, so don’t give out to me for being a few thousand years off, alright? 🙂

Now, it looks like, from the Nature Journal, that wild boar were rampant across Europe. And famers basically bred the domesticated pigs that came from the Near East (I’m assuming through what is now Russia, Turkey and surrounding countries?) with the wild boar, eventually domesticating the boar.

This ties in with the relationship with other animals to Brigid in this selection. Animals that had been wild and people then domesticated… And were in the province of women for at least part of the time.

Kings and rich people kept large herds, since the upkeep was essentially zero, except possibly for a swineherd or two. Pigs appear in many of the old story – aside from Brigid ones. For example, they appear in the story of Diarmaid and Gráinne, Bricciu’s Feast and of course, swineherds play a major role in the kicking off of the Battle Raid of Cooley…

Slightly less ancient history of the pig in Ireland

If we move on to more modern times, well kinda… Dear old Giraldus of Wales, in his 12th century propoganda piece for the English invasion, wrote:

In no part of the world are such vast herds of boars and wild pigs to be found

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_in_Ireland

See, the thing about it is, that pigs can be fed on almost anything. So, people turned them out into forests and such to fend for themselves almost. Or, in towns/ urban areas, they were fed from scraps. Or buttermilk/ sour milk. Seriously – can survive on almost anything. Obviously, there are diets they are more and less suited to, depending on how much meat you want to get off the animal, but survival? Not a major issue in terms of foodstuffs.

In saying that, in the 15th century in Ireland there was a fairly rapid phase of deforestation. It’s at this stage we see a massive decline – to the point of extinction – of the wild boar. From here on out, people kept domesticated pigs only. No more hunting parties. Well, not for boar, anyway!

And it’s about this time we start seeing a lot of by-laws covering pigs in urban area.

More modern angles

The pig, no more than Brigid herself, has lasted well into the modern day in Ireland. In 1841, just before the Great Famine (An Gorta MĂłr) there were apparently 1.4 million pigs in Ireland. For comparison, there are apparently around 1.7million pigs in the country today.

Pork and pigs have always been a major export in modern Ireland. That mention of the famine? In 1846, Ireland exported 480,827 pigs to Britain. (Ireland Before and After the Famine, Cormac O Grada) If you extrapolate that over 5 years, that’s 2.5million pigs exported over the time period of the Famine. Ok, that’s not the most accurate calculation, but gives an idea.

Now, if you look at even more recent history, as I said in today’s email to my mailing list (want to join?) both my parents remember pigs at home and the slaughtering of pigs as a regular, normal event. In the 1960’s however, pork became more of a business/ consumer business. Now, to be clear, modernisation started in the late 19th century, but in the 1960’s things really kicked off. Smaller breeders gradually disappeared and modern, larger scale breeders developed. Today, the five main counties for pigs in Ireland are Cavan, Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and Longford.

Obviously though, pork and pork products are still a major part of Irish life.. Any supermarkets running out of rashers, sausages and black/white pudding would probably shut down for the duration. It wouldn’t be worth the scandal!!

The Brigid connection

Now, no more than a lot of Brigid connections, while this piece of lore comes from pre-Christian Ireland, a lot of the extrapolation comes from the hagiographies. St. Brigid is often mentioned as looking after pigs in the stories. She gives them away to the needy and hungry, only to have the correct amount of pigs appear when needed. (This is such a regular storiy in the hagiographies, I’m not even going to link to it – just have a read!)

Equally, the preparation of food stuffs was traditionally women’s work in Ireland, including making the puddings from the pig and the sausages and the rashers. This ties in with the work in the dairy that Brigid is closely related with and food prep in general.

The pig, similar t0 Brigid herself, has been here throughout Irish history, supporting the people as best it can. A relatively cheap source of food, and every part of the pig can be used in some way. The animal is present pretty much throughout human occupation of this island and in many ways has supported more Irish people than the cow has (sacrilege, I know!!)

Want to know more? Check out the Brigid in LGE class on Saturday, 16th September at 7pm. (Or it’s available at the link above on demand if you want to check it out after that date!)

Brigid as Gateway

I often refer to Brigid as a “gateway deity” of sorts. Recently, though, I’ve been reading some disturbing trends online and in communities that almost put her in a “lesser bracket” because of this straddling of realms. Now, I’ve written previously on Brigid and Liminality. My views there are widely know, but today I want to explore this idea of Brigid as a gateway.

What do I mean by gateway?

The term “gateway deity” is a play on the messages from my youth of the dangers of “gateway drugs”. The thought was that drugs like hash/marijuana/cannabis , were technically low risk in and of themselves. (My names could date me immensely!) However, they , were dangerous in that they lead on to more dangerous substances.

I can’t find any studies to back this thought up. But even back in the 90’s, the notion that hash wasn’t over dangerous in itself. It is still a regular conversation in drug addiction prevention, as far as I can see, from conversations with more modern teenagers!

What has Brigid got to do with gateways?

Well, this ties into Brigid’s role as a liminal deity. Primarily, people are more comfortable move slightly outside the known rather than completely outside their known arenas. With that, Brigid’s role as both pagan deity and Catholic saint offers a means to learn more about a being that is both pagan and Catholic. (I’m not sure about other Christian denominations’ positions regarding saints, although I believe the Church of England reveres her as saint as well?)

She offers a route to explore, firstly, an alternative Christianity to the more fundamentalist sects, and then on to alternative religious structures altogether. She offers a more gentle change than the abrupt change that might occur with other deities.

Added to which, she is one who looks to include rather than exclude people. This isn’t a license to say/teach anything you like now, about Brigid. Lore exists, folklore exists, established practices from generations and centuries of ancestors exist. We can base our practices on these foundations. Separating personal gnosis from general gnosis is still really important.

A picture of St Brigid's Statue in Kildare with the indication of a church window behind her., on a sunny day with green trees to the foreground and blue skies in the background.
A picture of St Brigid’s Statue in Kildare on a sunny day
What bothered me about what I’ve read recently?

Well, honestly, what bothered me was mainly the discussions, themes, threads that talked about Brigid as a gateway deity to more powerful deities. Or even to somehow “better”, “more authentic” deities.

Just because Brigid crosses boundaries that are largely human-created, in order to serve her people better, doesn’t make her a lesser deity than others who are strictly pagan, with no Christian connections. It annoys me, because I recognise just how powerful Brigid is and can be. She has an ability to pull people together and get shit done that is awesome. And I mean awesome there in the original sense, as in causes awe in observers. Well, in me anyway!!

Brigid is widely known and widely revered. She crosses national boundaries, religious boundaries, ecclesiastical boundaries. Even just by the pure numbers of her followers, she is powerful.

Having her viewed as some sort of “lesser deity” because she can serve as that gateway is abhorrent to me. She is not a stepping stone to “greater things” or “greater deities”. She is a a deity of great power, who covers a fairly large breadth of the modern human experience.

OK, so what does Brigid cover then?

I’ve said before that if you look at the Healer, Poet and Smith, there really isn’t that much left in the human experience that isn’t covered. Seriously – I won’t go into full details here, since there is already a 5 week course on those aspects, from me, over at the Irish Pagan School.

But here’s a brief overview:

The Healer: health, healing, physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, health promotion, ill-health correction, fertility, conception, childbirth, health sciences, anything at all in the health and healing realm. Also, vetinary work. (The medical and vetinary areas of a modern university)

The Poet: law, justice, words, poetry, activism, campaigning, government, history, literature, stories, finance, social issues, business … (The Arts and Humanities area of a modern university)

The Smith: engineering, science, construction, IT, maths, architecture, housing, sustainability, computers (the science and engineering parts of a modern university)

And yes, I know using the construct of the modern university might be off-putting to some people. I am sorry about that – it’s the easiest way for my brain to compile the information.

Brigid is powerful. Brigid is available. Brigid crosses boundaries. She is not a second-class deity!!

Brigid, Power and clothes

I’m going to be completely honest here. This blog post was not inspired by Brigid at all. It was inspired by these – the HalaraMagic™ High Waisted Crossover Pocket Cool Touch Breathable Washed Stretchy Knit Denim Plus Size Casual Super Flare Pants. I know – cool, name huh? Ok, well, maybe long more than cool. Now I have written about power and Brigid before, but this is a slightly different take. It’s not really about Brigid goddess power at all.

The  HalaraMagic™ High Waisted Crossover Pocket Cool Touch Breathable Washed Stretchy Knit Denim Plus Size Casual Super Flare Pants - and they are indeed magic jeans, seriously!! Feel like leggings, look like jeans :D And a total power clothes type item! (It could work to feel some Brigid goddess power as well mind!)
The HalaraMagic™ High Waisted Crossover Pocket Cool Touch Breathable Washed Stretchy Knit Denim Plus Size Casual Super Flare Pants
Personal power

Before I dive into talking about these amazing new jeans , I will talk a bit about personal power. (no I swear I’m not being sponsored – if I’m ever sponsored, ye will hear the screams of joy across the Atlantic!!)

We often mistake this, especially when it comes to work with deities, even Brigid. Brigid, and indeed goddess power generally, is something we can borrow sometimes and use as personal power. But it’s not really ours.

Personal power can be described as the ability to influence people and events around us. If you google it, you will see millions of articles about personal power, but it’s from a mostly mundane rather than esoterical, spiritual or magical perspective. But at the fundamentals, I do agree with the basics. Personal power is te ability to influence people and events around us, but also maintain our own bodily integrity, mental integrity and spiritual integrity. Brigid, as I have said before, isn’t great with respecting boundaries she doesn’t see the need for. However, if you’re thinking in terms of personal power and the ability to say “no” to her, she will respect that. Always.

We underestimate our personal power. And by that I mean, we underestimate the resources we have at our disposal. We all have abilities we don’t fully utilise or maybe even, don’t fully appreciate we possess. And learning about those, utilising those resources, working to improve them? It’s all part of developing personal power.

but…

Feeling powerful

Our feelings don’t always reflect our reality. I know – feelings are important. I absolutely agree. And, so does Brigid. But allowing feelings to get in the way of facts isn’t the most sensible thing to do. And we can absolutely affect our feelings.

Which brings me back to those magic jeans.

I generally wear loose-fitting, wide-legged trousers. Or leggings. Comfort is the name of the game here! So, jeans don’t often appear in my wardrobe these days. It’s hard to find a comfy pair of jeans that look good. But I did…

I put this pair on and they felt so good. And yeah, ok, the husband’s reaction wasn’t too bad either! But seriously. I pulled these on and I felt young. I felt powerful. And, I felt sexy (which is also a form of personal power). Brigid herself would feel good and powerful in these jeans!

Now, ok these jeans won’t work for a business meeting. Although I am looking for them in black so I might manage it. But it really highlighted to me how a piece of clothing or an outfit can elevate our feelings of power and self-reliant.

Clothes and power

Now, I have other clothes that help me feel powerful. I have what I call my “goddess dress”. I have a large collection of underwear for different types of power. “Interview clothes” is a general heading in my wardrobe.

But mostly, these are constructed outfits, to fulfill a specific purpose. These jeans? I put them on and I felt powerful. Seriously powerful. I felt young, strong, sexy, capable… ready to set the world on fire! (Which Brigid might object to, but still… pretty fire!)

From the perfect length, to the comfy fit, to the pockets… it’s all there.

We talk about Brigid, goddess powers, deity powers a lot in spiritual community. But we rarely look at how we generate our own power. And there’s different clothes for different events, sure. What makes me feel powerful in the bedroom wouldn’t work in the day job for example. Or actually – it might, but the lads are scared enough as it is!

Short of buying these damn jeans, Orlagh, what can I do?

Well here’s the thing. I know, a black vest top and a pair of well fitting jeans really helps me feel on top of the world. I can take on anything dressed like that, I feel badass to be honest. (How I look is an entirely different question, but it’s a good, powerful outfit for me!) I also know there is a power in the way I dress for work – my style in work is chosen very carefully.

Black trousers, with pockets, jersey material usually, comfy, not tight. Colourful top. Boring? Sure. but it downplays my femininity, which is important at times when I’m working with a group of men. It also allows me to move however I need to, whether climbing over pipework or just marching around the site.

OK, it’s hard to imagine Brigid as goddess, wielding her immense power, from a pair of glorified pair of trackies (track suit bottoms), but I can total see her commanding armies in jeans! I mean the black vest and jeans is a classic outfit right? For informal occasions anyway.

Other types of power clothing

But when it comes to VIPs visiting or an interview or an important presentation? Well I dress up a bit more. Things get more structured. This is when the underwired bras tend to come out, as well as the matching knickers. I will move towards a more shirt-like top, rather than a more casual top. The trousers might be a bit more structured as well. If it’s off site, I may go for a skirt or a dress.

The thing is – this type of dressing depends on two things: how you feel and how you feel about how you look. I have worked with personal shoppers in the past to help me expand my clothing repertoire. (Debenhams used to be great for this before they shut up shop in Ireland!) I buy cheap clothes to try out styles or colours or cuts and then look for better options if they work. I experiment to see how I feel and how I look. You know I mentioned the “goddess dress” earlier? It’s because I feel like a damn goddess in it. I feel like all the power in Brigid’s arsenal could come to me and I could contain it in that dress (How realistic that is is another day’s work, ok?)

And I’m very privileged to do this. I know there are people who can’t do this, because of resources, or lack thereof.

Let’s tie in Brigid here shall we?

Now, Brigid was a royal personage in Caith Maigh Tuired. So, she would have understood the power of clothes. Because she was also not part of the privileged group. (Seriously, the Brehon laws were not egalitarian and the word of a woman was equal to half that of a man’s word) So she will have worked with herself, her clothing, her situation to make the best of it. I’m fully sure of that. (Although to be fair, it is based on my own reading an interpretations) Brigid-as-goddess and the power contained within? Think of the many different ways she appears to us and how that magnifies or dampens her power. She knows damn well how to affect us like that!

And, if you think about, while I harp on about the power of words in magic and spirituality, wearing the right clothes can amplify your power as well. It effects how you feel about the probability of a positive outcome. Now I do believe that you can do a serious magical ceremony or ritual in your jammies, if that’s what suits. But maybe on occasion you might think about the clothes you’re planning on wearing, and how they might affect the work you’re trying to do.

OK, finishing up now!

Just as there is no point in a barrister turning up to court with their wig and robes and expect to be taken seriously, there is no point in turning up for our deities for a formal occasion without making the effort, either. This doesn’t mean run out a buy couture fashion. But it does mean thinking about what’s appropriate for the occasion and giving your best.

If you feel powerful, you will act powerful and probably get more positive outcomes in your endeavours. And if that means looking at the clothes you wear, using symbolism to support your case or your efforts? Then go for it! If it means adjusting your personal style slightly to better fit in or stand out? Go for it!

Work with the clothes you have to think about outfits for particular occasions in advance. That way you don’t have to scrounge around when the time comes. And if you know something is coming up, but aren’t sure what to wear, try visualising yourself in different outfits to see how it feels. Try them on. Really look at yourself. You might surprise yourself on what you end up with.

And yes, I have another 3 pairs of those jeans winging their way to me through the post!

Brigid and sex.

Oh yes, people, I’m going there. We’re talking about Brigid and sex. (I don’t mention sex too often here really, a quick search just gave me this blog!! Which is not where I expected to find a sex mention tbh…)

We’ll see about that working. I may have to change it to a link. If there isn’t a Youtube video of the Salt n Pepa classic, Let’s talk about sex, baby, up there, someone comment for me? It looks grand in preview, but we all know about how I trust code…

Anyway. Back to sex.

For those on the email list, ye already know that last week I got the results from the college course I’ve been doing for the last year and I got a first class honours. (I know, I was shocked as well, given how few lectures I actually attended!) And for the most part, I found it really engaging. Plus, y’know, I enjoy sex. Not everyone does, and if you don’t, it’s ok if you want to skip this one. Because we don’t often think about our deities and sex. Unless you want to go down the “sexy goddess” route. I wouldn’t advise it with any of the Irish deities, but you do you.

Why I did a course on sex ed

Yeah, it’s a bit of a strange one I know. But I really do have an interest in learning more about sex and about how sex is taught. I even taught a course on menstruation spirituality myself a few years ago (you can check that out here)

Picture of the front cover of The Sacred Sex Bible by Cassandra Lorins. The guide to sex and spirit in the east and west.
I have this book and have read it several times. Has some good ideas in it!

I’ve got books like the one above (The Sacred Sex Bible by Cassandra Lorins) they have been essential to my journey of accepting that a) sex is not a sin; b) sex is fun and c) just cos my sex life doesn’t look like the traditional “acceptable” sex life doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

And yeah, Brigid has been a part of that.

But what tipped me over the edge with doing this course was the attitude to a 14-yr-old asking for ways to keep themselves safe during sex. Now, yeah, I know, the social and life outcomes for having sex later than 14 are significant. But closing ranks and just not telling kids about sex and how to keep themselves safe just doesn’t work. If it did, there would have been no reason for Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland.

I was genuinely shocked at some of the ways in which information was imparted to this teenager. And, if I’m honest, maybe the information I did manage to give her wasn’t brilliant, but it was accurate at least. Like, no condoms are not 100% certain to stop infections or pregnancy… but they’re up at what? 98% effective? That’s not nothing… So I did this course. I wanted to learn more about the latest teachings in how to impart sex ed to people.

Not just teenagers, because there’s a lot of grown adults out there that could do with some extra information.

But seriously, Orlagh – Brigid and sex?

I know, I get seriously annoyed if people talk about Brigid as a sex goddess. But, given we don’t have a tradition of virgin births in Irish lore, the fact that she had children means she had sex. It’s not like Brigid and sex are two words that never come together at all in my practice. I have found that incorporating some aspects of the sacred sex I’ve read about into my sex life can help heal some of the trauma I’ve experienced in the past. (This worked for me – it might not work for you and if you’re suffering from sex-related trauma, I’d seriously advice getting professional help rather than taking advice from a random person on the internet, ok?)

It’s important in Irish lore to remember that our deities are not usually the singular God(dess) of X. They just don’t work with that. The best we can do is to say, well you know, through this bit of lore, we can link this deity to this aspect of life. So, me linking Brigid with sex because she had kids – it’s a me thing. UPG even. It’s not generally accepted. Childbirth? Sure, lots of people associate her with childbirth, but sex? Oh no.

Mind you, there is a saying in Ireland that Gaybo only invented sex in the 80’s.(Although the internet is telling me “gaybo” is a derogatory term for a gay man? Seriously?? Wtf people!!) So it’s possible all births were thought to be virgin births unless definitely proved otherwise. I doubt it though. From the other fragments of lore we have, sex wasn’t that unknown in the ancient world. Just read up on Queen Medb (of the friendly thighs – although, if you’re thinking of working with Queen Medb, do some work on her before you think about her thighs)

For me, Brigid definitely had sex. That’s there in the lore with her sons. But she also has an interest in her followers health – and that includes sexual health. Which includes, just by the way, attitudes to sex as well we what we usually term sexual health. I’m not downgrading people who don’t have sex by the way. When I say attitudes to sex, I mean that whatever you’re doing, you’re happy to be doing this and you’re not feeling shame or guilt over it. Unless you’re breaking one of the “consenting adults in private” provisions of course. Then, you might need to reconsider a few things. Especially around the consenting part. That’s always necessary.

So how do you incorporate Brigid into your sex life?

Ew. No. Just no. My sex life is between me and humans. No deities invited. Just to be very clear. Not even Brigid.

On the other hand, I see no problem in asking Brigid for helping me with the following:

  • Strength to deal with past sex-related trauma
  • Help with considering the best course of action to take
  • Assistance in working out if I’m happy with taking a course of action
  • Direction on whether something is appropriate right now, or ever
  • Disection on whether this is something I need to work on or not

It’s a list that could be expanded to any other part of my life as well, these are the things I think about when I’m dealing with Brigid. And some of my work for her is sex related as well – that spiritual menstruation course is an example. I tried to make it more inclusive than previous courses I’ve taken, because while I’m cis, I found it hard to connect with the maiden, mother enchantress/queen, crone structure. So I created a less gendered one.

And as part of that course I did, I created a 12 week course for people who menstruate to learn more about their bodies, how they work and how to work with said bodies and make choices that work for them. I’m putting in a special sign up below this paragraph – throw your email in there if you wish to hear more on this. This is separate from the main list, so even if you’re already on there and you want to learn more about the 12 week course, drop the address in there.

Interested in the 12 week course for people who menstruate to learn about their bodies and make the choices that work for them? Sign up for more information below!

And of course, if you don’t want to know more about it, that’s no bother either.

So Brigid and sex isn’t really a topic?

Honestly, I think it’s a massive topic, and I might do something longer on this at some point. But it was in my mind right now, because of those results last week, so ye got these meanderings around Brigid and sex. And where my mind is at the minute with it.

I do think that as so many of us in the world today suffer from sex-related trauma, it’s a major topic. Unfortunately, I only have experience guiding me here, not training or qualifications. So I’m trying to be very careful here not to be telling people to do anything.

But don’t think you can’t talk to Brigid about sex. She’s not asexual in my experience (not that there’d be anything wrong if she were!) To me, as in her messages to me around sex, are that sex is part of a healthy life for those who enjoy it. It’s not like water, which is a requirement for everyone human on earth as far as I know. But it is important. And if you have an interest in sex, but struggle with incorporating it into your life in a way you enjoy, well you can ask Brigid for help. Don’t suffer in silence – there’s few enough pleasurable activities that can be 100% free if you choose in this life!

Brigid and the Anvil

I’ve written before about Brigid and her anvil, but since at that time I was focused mostly on what it isn’t, I thought it time to revisit the idea. Just to reconfirm, the anvil isn’t and never will be:

  • abuse
  • your fault
  • miscarriage
  • trauma
  • something that someone else has done, i.e. not a robbery or not an attack
  • pointless
  • without end

I don’t subscribe to the idea that these things are sent to us to have us learn a lesson and I doubt I ever will.

What is an anvil?
A diagram of an anvil in black and white with parts labelled
A diagram of an anvil in black and white with parts labelled

An anvil is a tool for making other tools. There is a chance that at times you might be serving as such for other people! Delivering the messages or guidance that others might need to hear. I wouldn’t go about saying that mind, or indeed offering to be one for someone else. If you do serve in such a role, it’s doubtful you’d be fully aware of it at the time, in my experience.

An anvil is a rock solid, dense piece of metal. It has to be, to stand up to the blows and tempering done on it. So, to be an anvil is tough to say the least. You withstand blows that shatter other pieces. You also, to a certain extent, protect other pieces. It might seem like a passive role, but only in that resistant can be passive.

How do I know I’m on the Anvil?

Well, try asking Brigid for a start. Let’s face it, she’s usually pretty good at letting us know what she wants us to know. But also, it’s not always good for us to know when we’re on the anvil. It can be easier to focus on getting through rather than worrying about the process. Think about the effort required to train in martial arts, or medicine, or engineering – none of it is painless. But a lot of the time, we have to trust that process and focus on getting the next box ticker.

Now, we all know stories of people asking Brigid for help and finding their lives turned upside-down. From my own stories of feeding two people on a tenner a month (yes, seriously!) to others describing break-ups, abrupt evictions, job losses… it’s not always easy when Brigid (or indeed any deity) gives you assistance. They have this insistence that they know better how to get you what you need…

So bear in mind, that even the act of asking Brigid for help can be perilous at times. On the other hand, sometimes she decides we need time on the anvil. So there is an aspect here of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” (even if I don’t fully agree with that). A better way of looking at it might be of tempering a metal to make it more useful.

And it fits better with the whole Anvil theme as well.

OK, but seriously, how do I know I’m on the bloody Anvil?

Well, how are you feeling? Are you going through a tough time that’s forcing you to develop new resilience, new skills, new habits? Is your life being turned upside down, but it appears it might work out better than it was?

Is it tough, with no end in sight, but you feel optimistic? Do you know this is a process you need to go through to attain a goal?

Have you asked her? Have you spoken to her? Remember your basics. For me, these are: sleep, food, fresh air, water, walking. These are the foundation blocks, the basics for my life working. Regardless of whether I’m on the anvil, being the anvil or just living normally, these are the things that help everything else work.

Surviving the Anvil

Really, for me, it is about those basics. The Anvil is a time of pressure, of tempering, whether the soul, the mind or the body. So, there needs to be a certain quality of metal involved to help survival in the first place. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, mind you. If Brigid decides you’re hitting the Anvil, chances are, you have been tested a bit before this already. Whether you realise it or not.

And this advice can help with all the tough times. Decide on your basics and make sure they’re in place. Sleep, food, fresh air, water and walking are mine, but yours may differ. To be honest, reading is a basic as well, but it’s like breathing for me, so I don’t bother putting it on the list. What are the foundation pillars for you life and how do you ensure they get done?

Then think about the next level – how do you ensure income, shelter, etc during tough periods. Money is a great buffer against problems, but unfortunately not available to everyone. What supports in the community can you access?

Is there someone close to you who can help you in a spiritual way? Is there a counsellor, priest/ess/ex, therapist, whatever you can talk to about this time? It’s not easy, I know it’s really not. But if you’re going through the Anvil, the outcome is nearly always worth it!

30 Days of Brigid

I had intended to run another “30 Days of Brigid” course in April, but March kinda ran away from me. I’m going with it though. Brigid can be a bit elusive at times and I think helping people with concrete examples of what they can do is useful. But there are always a few questions that come up for this course.

Why 30 days?

Well, first off, 30 days fits into a month (unless it’s February, and I won’t be running this in February, since it makes miles more sense to run it in January). 30 days is long enough to be a real commitment. It’s also short enough to not be a “forever” commitment.

It’s also long enough to experience a range of different activities, or indeed different versions of those activities. But again, not throwing so much at people that they become overwhelmed. This is important, because it’s the relationship that’s important. Only those activities that will help develop that daily practice, that spiritual muscle, are the ones that people will end up keeping.

Of course, with Brigid being the way she is, the specific activities that work for individuals will vary. Considerably.

PIcture of my Brigid stature, holding a flame, in front of a cauldron, with a lit tea light on the cauldron and a Brigid's cross in between Brigid and the cauldron
PIcture of my Brigid stature, holding a flame, in front of a cauldron, with a lit tea light on the cauldron and a Brigid’s cross in between B
Why so many ways to connect?

Well, I’ve found that different people want to engage with the material in different ways. With that in mind, there are 4 different ways to engage with the material:

  • The daily email sent approx 3pm Irish time
  • The lesson plans in the school
  • The Facebook group specifically for the students on this course
  • The Youtube videos

The idea is that however you want to consume the lesson on a given day, you have a suitable option. Also, if you want feedback or interaction on any given activity – or indeed all of them – there is the possibility for that as well. I can’t guarantee I will respond to Facebook comments immediately. I will be responding at least once per day during the 30 days!

How did I choose the activities included in the 30 days?

Well, Brigid herself had a hand in them. These are practices that I use myself in my own practice. Activities that have stood me in good stead over the years. And, ok, I’ve chosen some purely cos I enjoy them. There’s a whole lesson on how Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie plays a role in my practice. And yes, I use Shakira’s music regularly, even though it has nothing to do with Irish Brigid on the surface.

There are activities that Brigid almost forced me to include. It took me a long time to change my attitudes on prayer, for example. But I find including prayer as well as meditation in my practice is spiritually rewarding. So, I try to have a balance throughout the 30 days. And every time I run the course, there will be something for everyone to love and something for everyone to feel really reluctant to try. That’s ok. It’s really up to you how you engage with the activities, what you choose to do or not do.

What support is there during the course?

Well, as I said above, there is the Facebook group specifically set up for this course. You get the link to the group when you sign up. And I am active in the group over the 30 days. I can and will also answer emails or comments on the course files in the school. So, however you choose to reach out, I will respond within the day. Most of the time, it’s quicker, but sometimes it can take a day.

Any other questions?

They are the main questions I tend to get asked about the course. But, if you have a question that I’ve not answered, reply to the post on here, or email me. Or reach out on the Facebook group. You can try psychic communication but I’m not 100% at receiving… And remember – all information will be here regarding price and dates etc. So take a look and sign up if it appeals!

Brigid and hope

I’ve always loved the story about how God sent the rainbow as a message to humanity that He’d never again send a flood. Mind you, in Ireland, we have tested the “40 days and 40 nights” thing to it’s limit. Like to “40days and 39.5 nights” type thing. Be that as it may, I’ve always associated the rainbow with hope. But I don’t often see Brigid being related to hope.

A picture of an Irish roadway in the rain, with a green tree on the left hand side and bare trees on the other. A red bus is coming towards the front of the picture and in the background is a watery looking rainbow. Always a sign of hope to me!
An Irish roadway, with a red bus facing the viewer and a watery rainbow in the background.

I know, I keep going down rabbit holes with Brigid and associating her with different things, but really, truly, I mean this. Now, I’m not talking about the annual listing of Brigid as a “Spring Maiden Goddess” – there are associations with Brigid and spring, in both Ireland and Scotland, but the whole yellow, cheerful, sun associations I’m less keen on.

But, hope, now, I do link to herself. It became clear to me a few years ago, when I was taking part in a shadow work group. All around the group, women were saying “I can’t…” as if that put a stop to it. As if “I can’t” indicates a position that meant it could never be changed. And it’s not the case for me – mainly because of work. As an engineer, pretty much anything is possible, given enough resources. And by resources, I usually mean time and money! When I said this in that group, there was incredulity. Because what came out then was that people assumed things weren’t available for them to do whatever it was that they were claiming they couldn’t.

I took the notion that with the right resources, anything is possible, as a sign of hope. They took it as further proof the thing couldn’t be done, because obviously the resources weren’t available. For me, it’s hope. This came up again during my impromptu shadow work sessions a few weeks ago. Brigid asked me to do certain things and my response was “I can’t”. What I meant was “Are you fucking joking right now? Can you not see what I’m doing here?” And her response was “What resources do you need to do this?”

From previous experience, I knew not to say that I needed time. I did point out the conditions required for me to achieve what I was being asked to do. And I felt the hope rising. Because, at her heart, Brigid is an engineer – I firmly believe this! (Although I should note, is it UPG. As in there is no mentioned of engineers in any of the lore regarding Brigid. In saying that, the word engineer only came about in 1325. The lore is based on oral traditions going back well before then, so…)

But seeing a bad situation as a temporary thing, only continuing until certain conditions are met, is a hopeful way of looking at things, in my opinion. Now, we also have to work towards those conditions being met of course. The good old engineering approach of getting your hands dirty!

But in other ways, I find Brigid hopeful. I associate her with childbirth – an incredibly hopeful time. Her connection with grieving – ok, not hopeful in and of itself, but the notion that life goes on, even with grieving, is hopeful. Her work with healing and poetry and social justice – all give me hope. All ways in which there is light at the end of tunnel for us poor humans. Brigid works hard with us, to ensure we have the ways, the means and the resources to work out our issues.

Even when you look at the big things: the environment, poverty, homelessness, hunger. We have the means to solve these issues. It would mean certain people giving up wealth and status, maybe, but still possible. Have you ever heard of golden rice? This product solves a lot of food related issues in deprived parts of the world. It doesn’t suit many large corporations to have people growing it though. That led to a lot of publicity about the horrors of genetic engineering. Humans have been engineering food for millennia. Do you know what an original banana looked like?

A picture of a wild banana, cut in two, showing heavily seeded interior
A picture of a wild banana, cut in two, showing a heavily seeded interior

Genetic engineering didn’t start in the 20th century. As humans, we have been at it for pretty much all of our existence. If you don’t believe me – go check out a google on ancient cattle, horses. Hell, go look at the types of horses medieval knights were riding.

But back to Brigid. And hope. She’s not going to solve our problems for us. That’s not what any of the Irish deities are about really. They’re big on giving you the tools to do the job yourself, most of the time. But. Brigid will help. She will coach and assist. You can reach out to her and ask for help. Why would we work with her otherwise?

Liminality and Brigid

Brigid, or St. Brigid, is closely associated with liminality. But often, we don’t really think about what “liminality” actually means. So ,today, I’m going to explore the concept a bit and why we link Brigid so closely with it. I’ll be looking at liminal space as well and how it affects us. And I will be looking at both Christian and pagan resources here, because even Brigid’s ability to permeate that boundary is an example of liminality!

What is liminality?

Well, when in doubt, check out the dictionary…

Liminality is a state of transition between one stage and the next, especially between major stages in one’s life or during a rite of passage.

The concept of liminality was first developed and is used most often in the science of anthropology (the study of human origins, behavior, and culture). In a general sense, liminality is an in-between period, typically marked by uncertainty.

dictionary.com

So we’re looking at a state of transition, a non-stable state, a time of change. These are always difficult. I think this is why people look to rituals and actions at these times of change. Look at the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK. There was an outpouring of public grief and mourning, there was an eruption of cancellations of all sorts of events. But there were also people calling for life to go on – because for many people, it had to! There was widespread speculation at this time about countries (ahem – former colonies) removing the British monarch as head of state or leaving the Commonwealth. To date, only Ireland (1948) and Zimbabwe (2003) have done both.

Charles III was head of state and monarch since the moment of his mother’s death. But the space between the woman’s death and her burial were a liminal space, a period of transition. Particularly when you think that for a great percentage of her subjects, she was the only monarch they had known.

Personal liminality

That’s at a country level. But liminality comes at a personal level as well. Changing jobs, moving home, the death of a loved one – these are all transitional spaces, major incidents in life. It’s interesting to note that there are all among the highest stressors in modern life as well. I know from my own experiences of family members passing away, the three days between the death and the burial can seem like a time apart. Brigid gave us the ability to keen and mourn our dead, but the Irish have many customs surrounding death. From the newer notices on rip.ie to the bottle of whiskey traditionally given to the volunteer grave diggers… There are traditions and expectations surrounding each element of the event.

And it can feel surreal in those times. On the one hand, you’re extremely busy for a lot of the time, trying contact people and make arrangements. On the other, you can find yourself at a loss at times, or staring into space, struggling to come to terms with the loss. It is an uncertain time, where the traditions and expectations can help ground and focus us and help us through the transition.

Liminal space

Liminal space then is another consideration.

a state or place characterized by being transitional or intermediate in some way: Motels are such liminal spaces—everyone there is either coming or going.

Informal. any location that is unsettling, uncanny, or dreamlike: The classroom when school is out for the summer is a liminal space.

dictionary.com

Did you know this is why we sometimes forget why we came into a room? Liminal space, transitions between one allocated space and the next, is a place of transition. It changes the way our brains work and focus on things.

Many means of initiation use this to great effect. The idea of being withdrawn from the world in a different environment. The sense of no longer being in this world. The thoughts of a mental or spiritual transition aided by such a withdrawal. I’ve experienced it myself and it worked. It brought about new ways of thinking and means to change parts of the way I do things.

A liminal space won’t do this all on its own of course, but liminality is one of the elements of a successful initiation.

Liminality and St. Brigid

Most of our associations with Brigid and liminality come from St. Brigid. She was born on a threshold (a definitely liminal space), as sunrise (liminal time of day), to a pagan father and a Christian mother (liminal family lineage). She was fed from a cow from the Otherworld (white with red ears), which is in itself a liminal space in many way.

But we have links to the liminal in the deity as well. Brigid’s associations with death in Caith Maigh Tuireadh would link her to that liminal time. Her acknowledgement as a healer would have her dealing with births and deaths and serious illness. A all transitions of a fairly major sort. Liminality again. Her work as a poet, a file, would have links to the Otherworld and magi. Not to mention physically moving through the liminal spaces between dwelling places. Her work as a smith has elements of creation and destruction, as well as the forge itself being a liminal space of transmutation and transformation.

And of course, as I mentioned before, we have the movement between the deity and the saint, the pagan and the Christian. Brigid is a being that is comfortable with these transitions and liminality in general.

Managing liminality

So, Brigid being associated with liminality and change is well documented. But we, as humans, don’t always deal well with change. Even when it is something we look forward to… There are reasons a new marriage or a new job are on the list of high stressors. They are times of uncertainty and change.

How do we deal with this then?

Well, as with death, it can help to have long standing traditions to help use through these times. Half the reasons most people follow traditional paths in marriage is that it removes the stress of decision making. Families in Ireland will use the same undertakers for generations, because they know how things are done in the family. The same with solicitors, banks and even tea bags!

We can actively seek liminal times, liminal spaces. Places where land, sea and sky meet, I would consider liminal. As we change from one state to another – children changing schools for example, or graduating from college. Dedicating yourself to a new deity, committing to a new course of spirituality… All liminal times, liminal spaces. But even when we break new ground for ourselves, we like to see what those who have gone before us have done. We look for rituals in books, online, to feel like we have a tradition of some sort to back us up. (Nothing wrong with any of this, by the way!! Traditional ways of doing things can help keep us safe!)

So tell me, how do you deal with liminality? Is it something you’ve grown more accustomed to? Has Brigid “encouraged” you in this area? Or indeed, has she taken you and shoved you on the anvil so hard you’re still confused when you emerged? (Some of us can be a bit slower on the uptake than others and she gets impatient…) Let me know!!

The joys of menstruation

I don’t often contemplate the joys of menstruation, indeed, most of the time if those words come out of my mouth, it’s in a very sarcastic or cynical way. I don’t really find joy in bleeding once a month (ish). But, no more than some of my work for Brigid doesn’t cause me joy either, it’s a necessary part of life for (and a lot of other people who happen to have a uterus). And it does form part of my spiritual life. Now I’ve done a class on this over at the Irish Pagan School, but that a few years ago now and things have developed a bit since then. Whether you call it a bleed, your period or menstruation, all phraseology is welcome here!

Image of lower part of the body showing vulva with different elements labelled

Well things have, of course changed slightly. I’m still shocked no one ever mentioned Bartholin glands to me, very important in engaging the vagina’s lubrication systems (Look I’m a mechanical engineer, it’s part of my job to get excited about lubrication!!) By engaging with reading and learning (like this course at DCU I’m doing right now) I’m learning ever more about my own body and in general about how bodies with uteruses (uterii?) work!

General practices

But of course the spiritual element also changes. And since we’re in the Imbolc season, I’m reviewing my spiritual practices in general. I’m considering how my menstruation practices work currently and if I need to adapt or change anything. Change occurs naturally over time, of course, like changing from a menstrual cup to period knickers has changed how I deal with my menstrual blood. I can add the rinse water from the knickers to the ground now rather than pure blood so to speak. It also changes how I look at my period. Aside form putting a different pair of knickers on during my period, outwardly, things remain pretty much the same.

Well, I say the same, but I do take things easier during my period these days. I can usually manage to either work from home (during the week) or rest on the couch (at weekends) on the first day, or sometimes the second day. My energy levels will be lower at this time and I can’t be running around like a March hare while I’m bleeding. I accept my reading tastes and food tastes and clothes tastes will all change. And that this is not the time to have difficult conversations in work, unless I need to be very very quiet during them! All that will be staying the same unless there is a very high need to change – like for example an important meeting that I can’t move or avoid during that menstruation time.

Spiritual practices

My spiritual practices around my period these days mostly involve around reflection and meditation, inner work that suits the mood my body is in. This sometimes leads to revelations about next steps in various things I’m working on, or a path forward. Sometimes, I’m giving myself space to disengage from a problem that’s bothering me, to return to it later with a fresh mind. Sometimes I get the equivalent of a nice hug or a slap upside the head from herself about various things. It varies.

Other spiritual practices around my period involve a sacred wash, whether bath or shower.

I need to be very clear here. I do not think having my period means I am unclean in any way.

Picture of a bath with candles, at water level, look at a pillar candles on a stand, 3 tea light in small holders, 2 amber, middle one is blue, a larger candle (pink) and a final candle holder that is blue, light reflected on the surface of the water, white bath, white tile background. Sinking into hot water during your period can really help relax the muscles, never mind anything else!
Picture of a bath with candles – not my bath!!
Bathing and indulgence

Nor is anyone else, for that matter. But as I shed my uterine lining, I think it’s important to consider what else I might want to shed as well. And a sacred wash helps with this. Now, this can be as simple as lighting a candle before getting into the shower and consciously and intentionally cleaning my body, my mind and my spirit. Or it can be a lovely luxurious bath with lots of candles and bubbles and bath bombs and all sorts. I sometimes use music to help clear out the energy, I sometimes don’t. I sometimes use herbs, I sometimes don’t. It’s important to me that the relinquishing of things I need to let go of and clear out falls in line with my energy levels and capabilities. Some months, menstruation is just harder than others.

I will indulge my body during this week as well. Some may say this isn’t a spiritual practice, but frankly, screw them! If I want chocolate – I’ll have it. If I want to lie on the floor in a yoga pose I like to call “flopping” – I will. If I want to sleep all day and all night and just not move – I will. If I want soft clothes and jammies and that sort of thing, then that’s all I’ll wear. Ok, some of this is limited to the weekend, but not all of it. This indulgence is part of what makes the inner work easier. I feel more in tune with my body and mind at this time.

Connection to Imbolc

Well, there is the old thing about Brigid and Imbolc being related to fertility. And our menstrual cycles are definitely related to fertility. When we were trying for a baby (we = the husband and myself here), I did some extra fertility work around this time. Trying to tie in with the season that’s in it, you understand. These days, the fertility work I do is more along the lines of prosperity rather than fertility specifically. I like to light the candles to acknowledge the day. Leave out something that represents the household’s prosperity to encourage things to grow in the coming year. You know the sort of thing I mean!

I still use my menstrual blood when I walk the bounds and grounds. Or at least, I do when the timings right. I believe there is power in blood, more so in menstrual blood. Period blood is the blood that starts off life, it has all the nourishment a growing fetus needs. I don’t particularly want to go creating a wound just to add blood to that ritual though. So, I take advantage of the period blood when it’s convenient and manage without when it’s not.

What if you don’t bleed?

When I talk about menstruation spirituality, for me it is centred around my blood. That, to me, is the most obvious sign of the practice. But not everyone bleeds. (Whether you have a uterus or not, I believe you can engage with menstruation spirituality. Just to be clear. And not all people with uteruses bleed either.) But you can follow the rising and falling energy of your body. You can honour your body’s needs over the course of a cycle. Some people follow the lunar cycle to make sure they are not overdoing. The dark moon is a great time for inner work, reflection, retreat.

You may find, whether you bleed or not, that actually, there are other cycles that influence your energy. Maybe you work on shift and that affects you more than anything else. Maybe you have children and their energy cycles have more of an effect on you. Solar energy might the energy you’re most attuned to.

Honestly, there are so many energy cycles in this world. And to a certain extent, we are all exposed to them differently. So, ultimately, you do you. You don’t really need me to tell you how to manage your energy. I can advise, and share things that help me. I can share how I use certain things as signals for certain types of work. But how you manage yourself, your energy is entirely up to you!

Imbolc/ St. Brigid’s Day/ Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de

Here we are on the 1st February, Imbolc, if you’re using the calendar dates, Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de, or Lá FhĂ©ile BhrĂ­de in Irish, St. Brigid’s Day for Catholics (and possibly other Christians?) Every year on 31st January, I get questions from people panicking about the minute details of how to do things properly in preparation for Imbolc/ Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de so I’m going to answer them here. I’ve written before about my own practices on this day, so you can check them out here and here.

Why do we do a 4-armed cross, isn’t that Christian?

Well, yes, the 4-armed cross is Christian, so why would we be using it in a pagan Imbolc celebration? Fair questions. But the cross woven of rushes or straw comes from a story about the saint, where she converted a chieftain on his deathbed and wove a cross quickly from the rushes on the floor so he could die under the sign of the cross. And of course, in Ireland, any magic is a syncretic blend of Christian and pagan, we just don’t have the clear separation there is in other places. (I mean, Brigid herself is a great example of this!) There are other styles (see pic below from T. G. F. Paterson’s collection, shown in Harvet Home: The Last Sheaf, 1975), some of which use wood as well as more pliable materials.

PIcture from the book Harvest Home: The Last Sheaf (1975) showing a range of Brigid's crosses, lozenge shaped, the Connacht cross, 3 and 4 armed versions and more intricate versions.

Picture of crosses collected by T. G. F. Paterson, shown in Harvet Home: The Last Sheaf, 1975

So, across the country there are options to look at – I’ve also seen a five-armed cross, although aside from the weaving challenge, I’m not sure of the connection of 5 to Brigid. The 3 armed version I can see for the Smith, Healer and Poet… But this brings us to the next question:

What materials do I make my Brigid’s cross from?

There are many places in the world where either straw or rushes aren’t readily available. People worry that there is an inherent magical or spiritual property in using these materials. I don’t think so. I think my ancestors used straw or rushes because they were free, readily available and suitable for the purpose, especially at this time of year. Ireland around Imbolc/ Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de/ St. Brigid’s Day is wet. Very wet. So if you live somewhere where you’re buried under 6 feet of snow right now, then maybe don’t go rooting for materials under all that.

Ideally, in my opinion, use natural materials that you can fold in two. Grasses are usually good, some herbs can work, leaves… If you can’t find natural materials, maybe because of the aforementioned 6 feet of snow or because you’re in an urban environment, then use something as close to natural as you can. Wool, paper, card… If it can fold in 2, you can make a Brigid’s cross out of it.

What do I do with last year’s cross?

Traditionally, people would leave last year’s cross either in place in the rafters, so you’d have years worth of crosses up in the thatch, or else they would burn it. Not everyone can burn things though, so burial would also work. If you can’t burn it and the ground is too hard at Imbolc/ Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de/ St. Brigid’s Day for digging, composting is the next thing to try.

Prosperity magic – what does the “four corners” mean?

People are concerned that this might mean north, east, south, west or the literal four corners. I’ve always taken it as the four corners of the house, but I don’t see any problems with using NESW either. Whether it’s inside or outside I think will depend on your own circumstances. I mean, if you’re on the 5th floor of an apartment block, maybe don’t try outside. Just for safety reasons.

Also, take into account the smel. If you’re using something biodegradable that will end up smelly in the process, make sure they’re easily accessible! But for me, I’ve always imagined people taking them in on the morning of the 1st February (calendar date for Imbolc/ Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de/ St. Brigid’s Day). And mixed in with a larger group to help encourage the magic spread through the family’s goods. So, if you’re using coins – put them into your wallet, purse or wherever you store said money. Or lodge a coin into your account. But let the blessed/magic coins touch your other money.

What can I use for my brat BhrĂ­de?

Any bit of material really. Some people have beautiful embroidered clothes they use, others have bits of ribbon (ahem, me….) I’ve seen football scarves being used, teatowels, actual towels, blankets… If you have a piece of cloth that you can tie up outside. (I usually tie my ribbon to the inside handle of the door and leave it flapping in the breeze then. Ideally you’re leaving it tied to a bush or a growing thing, but not everyone has that option. I’ve known people to have it flapping from a car window because they were driving on the night in question.

How do I use my brat BhrĂ­de?

Well, in some parts of the country, the brat BhrĂ­de is used solely for headaches. In other parts of the country, it’s for anything. In certain parts of the country, it’s still considered an essential part of an athlete’s kit bag. People use them for any sprains or twists that might occur during training. Essentially, wrap the brat round the body part that’s hurting or injured and leave it there. Hence why we use a ribbon in this house, the brat is most often used for ankle problems!

So there you go: a few questions answered for those who celebrate the celestial Imbolc/ Lá ‘le BhrĂ­de/ St. Brigid’s Day. If you’d like to know more, there are a few classes over at the Irish Pagan School to look at for Imbolc and for Brigid. And of course there’s my classes at the Brigid’s Forge school as well.

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