10 things about Brigid

I asked in the Brigid’s Forge group on Facebook for people to list out their top peeves about Brigid and I’d do a “top 10” type post. Well here it is! (in no particular order now, to be fair!) I will, as usual, try to point out specifically the UPG aspects here as I go, but if there’s anything you’re unsure of, ask!

  1. All Brigids and Brigid related beings are one (this could also be part of the hard vs soft polytheism thing as well to be fair!) I mention on this blog often that it’s Irish Brigid I deal with, while acknowledging that there are other Brigids out there: Scottish, Welsh, Manx for a start, a potential (potential I said!) link with Brigantia as well. And in Irish Brigid, I include both deity and saint. To some people the division between deity and saint is important and I respect that, for me, moving between the two is reasonably straightforward and easy, and she tends not to be overly bothered who I’m talking to, it’s whoever is best suited to deal with me at the time will answer. I believe that the lore and practice in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man are different and therefor the Brigids in each area is different as well. There is overlap, of course, areas of common interest, that sort of thing, but in my experience, they’re not the same. (And this is before we get into the Irish druid, nun, lawyer etc….) So if you’re a soft polytheist and believe that all deity is one (gross over simplification here) I fundamentally disagree with you.
  2. Ignoring the saint completely. Yeah this. So, in Ireland, it must be recognised that our ancestors were not converted to Christianity at the point of a sword and many of our pagan practices made it into Catholicism anyway. Just look at our history of well visiting, candle lighting, fairy rings, fairy forts, fairy trees… The pagan practices didn’t go away precisely, just got buried under a thin (extremely thin in some cases!) layer of Christianity. You don’t believe me? Look at this news article in our paper of record from 1999: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/fairy-bush-survives-the-motorway-planners-1.190053 Plus, a lot of our knowledge about the saint feeds into what we understand about the deity as well. The actual lore about Brigid in our myths and legends is not voluminous. It’s scanty in fact. And at least the hagiographies, especially the two later ones (Bethu Brigte is my favourite for many reasons!) give us a few more stories to be going on it. Further complicating the fact is there were up to 15 St Brigids in Ireland at one time of another, so stories and legends may related to one or more of them. Either way, the saint is a powerful force in her own right, with relations to the deity at the very least, so I wouldn’t be ruling her out. Now there are people with trauma from Christianity who can and do find it difficult to deal with anything related to that religion. That’s grand. But remember Christianity in Ireland was not forced on our ancestors, didn’t steal from paganism, but was syncretised and absorbed into the basic belief system.
  3. Over sexualisation of deity. Yeah this comes up a lot. There are many depictions of the deity out there, and this is true for many female presenting deities, not just Brigid, where they’re depicted as a teenage boys wet dream. Now there’s nothing wrong with sex, I’m a fan of it myself, great fun altogether. But reducing a powerful woman/ goddess to just a sex object is demeaning to them and a way to reducing them to a “manageable” level. Brigid is a smith, remember, and anyone who has ever seen a smith working will know formidable muscles are part of the job. Also, scanty clothing doesn’t really work in a forge. To be fair, it doesn’t work in healing either, you want to be not touching people too much if they’re infectious or infected… Safety, people, safety! But surely our deities deserve more respect than being represented as a sex object anyway? I know I often speak about Brigid in ways people are surprised by, since they don’t think I respect her enough, but I do. And one of the ways I respect her is to accord her the right to be whatever she chooses, not just a sex object. (I mean, my own UPG is she is fairly sex positive anyway, so she won’t mind a bit of dressing up or down as the case may be, but it’s at her choice, not ours)
  4. The triple goddess. Oh this one…. ok look, yes Brigid is a triple goddess in the Irish tradition but that does not mean she fits the maiden, mother, crone structure. That structure just isn’t there in the Irish stories. The triple goddess here is the healer, the smith and the poet. Not, not ever, no, no, no, not the maiden, mother, crone (I mean that structure is problematic in its own right, and yeah I know, it’s not purely on the function of the womb but it’s a fairly big part of it, but let’s not try and trap a powerful goddess into what her womb is doing alright? In fact, let’s not do that to anyone. Not every woman has a womb, not everyone with a womb is a woman, etc) So yeah. Triple goddess for Brigid means healer, smith, poet. It’s something different for the Morrigan. Ireland is different in many ways and this is one of them.
  5. Brigid’s mother. Anyone who works with Brigid, or indeed the Irish pantheon, has their own theories about who Brigid’s mother was/is. So far, we’ve reduced the list to any woman the Dagda had sex with or might have had sex with. There is nothing in the lore to indicate one way or the other who her mother was and frankly, (UPG alert!) she’s told me it’s none of my business and not to worry about it. If Brigid wanted her mother known or if her mother wanted to be known, I have no doubt she would be. But anyone who says for definite it’s X goddess or Y goddess is wrong. There’s nothing that absolute about it.
  6. That she’s a fluffy goddess who only wants to help. Maybe you’ve come across healers that are that fluffy and nice all the time and continuously helpful etc. Most of the true healers I’ve come across are fairly strident – they have to be, to get their patients to do as their told. Not to mention, a true healer, whether modern doctor or bean feasa or energy healer, can and will stand up for the good of their patient in the face of adversity. Fluffy won’t cut it. Equally, she’s a smith. Go back up to point 3 and reread the bit about the forge. She makes tools and uses them. If you are, we’ll say lucky, enough to be one of her tools, she will use you hard. People who work with Brigid mention being put on the anvil cos we don’t sort shit out quickly enough or effectively enough to suit her. That’s not a pleasant experience. She can and will use brute force if it’s needed. I mean for this point, also see the idea that she is meek and mild cos she’s a Christian saint – go read the hagiographies on that one. She pulled out her own eye to avoid marriage and in some stories, she pulls out her brother’s eye to replace it cos he was pressuring her into the marriage. She’s a fighter when needed.
  7. The name Brigid means “Fiery Arrow”. OK this comes from Cormac’s Glossary, from the Book of Leinster. It wasn’t written by an etymologist, but a bishop looking to get some fame for his diocese (seriously, looking into the aggro between diocese and monastries and churches in the medieval church in Ireland is better than any modern action thriller – modern politicians could learn a lot from the propoganda). The best I can do here is point to http://dil.ie/search?q=brig&search_in=headword The eDIL is the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language and is the best resource I’ve got for Old Irish. (Yeah the language changed over the millennia, bloody inconsiderate really!) The meanings given for Brig are: power, strength, force, authority; vigour, virtue OR value, worth; advantage; validity, virtue, efficacy. It appears to be linked to respect as well, as in the respect accorded someone, but it’s definitely not “fiery arrow” from the information we have available to us now. But yeah, Cormac’s Glossary is not a dictionary to say the least. Wonderful source of information, but not a dictionary, nor an encyclopedia, as we would understand it today.
  8. “Correspondences”. I’m grouping all this in one go – too tedious otherwise. So, around Imbolc in particular, you see a lot a articles with “crystals for Brigid”, “colours for Brigid” that sort of thing. And I get it, these lists are fierce handy when you’re starting out and wanting to do things right. The thing is – they’re not based in lore. Crystals and colours not really mentioned in relation to Brigid at all (In the Irish lore this is, I won’t speak for other lore) Now food – well for food, anything food wise is good, but dairy, poultry, beef, pork/ham, those sorts of things. Domesticated animals and the dairy is where she’s strong. Spuds – not so much. Spuds were brought to Ireland 1589 by Sir Walter Raleigh apparently, so a bit after the Tuatha De Danann were walking the land. They’re so synonymous with Ireland now, it’s hard to remember, but they’re not a native plant. But to get back to the original point – there are no real correspondences such as crystals, colours, etc with the Irish Brigid, or indeed the Irish deities in general. Our lore doesn’t work that way. Now, there is a correspondence between red and the Otherworld – as in a red and white animal is almost certainly from the Otherworld, including the cow that fed the saint as a baby. But that’s separate from Brigid.
  9. Celtic goddess. This is a hard one, but really, “Celtic” is like saying “European”. And let’s face it, if the EU has taught us anything it’s that getting even 3 countries in Europre to agree on something is well nigh impossible, never mind having a homogenous culture across the whole continent. Celtic is used to describe a group of languages, Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton) and non-Brythonic or Gaelic (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx) Irish culture, even 2 millenia ago, was different from the continent. The lore is different. The stories are different. It’s not the same. And lumping such disparate cultures together like this is disrespectful when dealing with deity at least. (I mean, it’s disrespectful when dealing with people as well, but let’s not get into that right now). So, when talking about ancient Irish culture, say ancient Irish culture. When talking about an Irish deity or Irish goddess – say Irish. As I said above, there are overlaps and connections with other Brigids, but they aren’t the same, so don’t lump them all together. Now of course, this is further complicated by the fact that up until about 100yrs ago, Gaelic was used for the Irish language as well. You won’t find that in modern Ireland. We use Irish for our language when speaking English, Gaeilge when speaking Irish. If we’re talking about Gaelic, we’re either talking about the Gaelic chieftains/ culture of the pre- and post- Norman period (up until the Flight of the Earls in 1609 anyway) or we’re talking about football. Yeah, we have a type of football that isn’t anything to do with soccer other than the ball is roughly the same shape. Google Gaelic football. Actually, while you’re educating yourself, google “hurling” as well. National sports, great craic, etc, etc. But don’t be lump separate cultures, separate deities, separate lore into one lump as Celtic.
  10. Red hair, green dress. It’s most likely the saint was blonde from descriptions and art we have around the place. And yeah, I know, red hair is almost synonymous with Irish people as well, we have the highest % of red haired people in the world at about 10% (according to Wikipedia, who I wouldn’t usually recommend as a resource, but this isn’t overly worrying). But there was a 90% chance Brigid wasn’t a red head. I know, it’s hard to take, but really, think about why it’s so important to you that she was a red head? As for the green dress – green is only a very recent addition to being Irish, y’know. It was St. Patrick’s blue for centuries. (although that was based on Henry II having a blue flag, so not exactly Irish either). Green came about as a way to unite disparate groups across the country and showing a different colour to the British. And if you look at the Union Jack, Ireland is represented on there (yes, even now) with St. Patrick’s saltire, which is a red X on a white field. Our currently green, white and orange flag is meant to represent nationalists (green), unionists (orange) with peace between them (white). Also, some of the green comes from the green colour of our land. This again is problematic, since the reason we have such green fields is that the forests of the past were stripped from us by colonisation. To bring it back to Brigid – fundamentally, I think she can appear however she wishes, wearing what she wants, looking how she wants. But trying to contain her in a red haired, green dress is tying into problematic stereotypes of the “Irish colleen” rather than based in reality.

So there you have it. Ten pet peeves addressed, as best I can in a single blog post. Have you any others? Are there things you want to point out?

Impact vs Intent

This has popped up a few times in various groups over the last few weeks so I think it’s time to explain my thoughts here.

Fundamentally, I believe that impact is more important than intent. Let me state that clearly here and now so if you don’t agree and think I’m not a person you want to follow, listen to, hang around with etc anymore, you can exit here and now.

The reasons I feel impact matters more than intent is because I feel that we very often inflict an unintentional impact on other people without even realising it. We can make a joke, not realising it hits someone at their core and they realise we don’t actually think of them as the same human as everyone else. We try to do the right thing and end up hurting someone unintentionally. (Check out this link for some more on the governmental issues with the law of unintended consequences: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/540/handouts/french/unintconseq.html )

And we’re all done this, we all know this. But if, as the general thrust of Irish paganism aims towards, we are looking towards maintaining a healthy community and we are all working towards that goal, surely looking at the impact of our actions and statements is far more important than worrying and proclaiming our intentions. Look, I know, I hate admitting I was wrong or misguided or misinformed as well. I really bloody hate it. But that’s no reason not to admit it – it’s not worth harming those around me just so I can avoid a bit of discomfort.

Now I’m not talking about whether Angel or Spike was a better boyfriend for Buffy (it was Spike, obviously!) or whether Batman or Superman was really the better superhero (yeah, couldn’t give a damn about that one!), this is about upholding people’s right to exist and live their lives as they choose. While I don’t follow the Wiccan Rede (Do what you will an’ it harm none), and while I think there’s deeper layers to it anyway beyond the immediately obvious, there is a measure of this thinking here.

Why would you want to hurt someone else? To maintain boundaries? To return pain inflicted on you? To protect others? There’s all sorts of reasons we might intentionally aim to hurt someone. And to a certain point, I don’t have an issue with that. Where I do have an issue is retaliating for someone being who they are rather than what they did/do. For me this line is drawn in looking at people’s existence versus their behaviour. So, I would find it hard to tease someone or harass someone for their religion, gender, sexuality, romantic persuasions, etc, but teasing them over a shared experience, some historical fashion we both indulged in etc. Equally, if someone has inflicted real harm on me, I’d be looking more at appropriate reactions to the behaviour, not attacking their religion, colour, sexuality etc.

However, we all cross that line somewhere. It may be that what is a reasonable action to take or comment to make against someone who is of a majority religion may not be for someone who is not of that religion. For example in Ireland, the vast majority of people (70+%) are Catholic, although practicing Catholics would probably bring that figure a lot lower. So joking about Catholicism or having heated debates about the problems with the Catholic Church in this country or in the world, probably grand. No one here is getting discriminated against cos they’re Catholic. But if someone is pagan and they’re uncomfortable in their work or home life about disclosing that, then making leading remarks or calling them out on pagan leaders and their issues in places where people in their workplace or home might hear them, probably isn’t a good idea.

If you’re not sure about the potential impact of something, try asking. I can’t guarantee a polite answer or even an answer at all, but that as well will tell you something. If you make a joke and you think about it later and aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask. If you can’t ask the person themselves, ask someone who might know around you. Say something like, “Hey I did this thing or said this thing earlier and thinking back, I’m not sure if it was ok. Can you help me? Do I need to apologise?”

Now, of course, slip ups between friends are easier to deal with that public issues. A government cutting social welfare in an attempt to get more people back to work, but failing to follow through on offering either training or more job opportunities, thus leading to an exponential rise in the existence and use of foodbanks… Well, I’m not sure that can be considered an unintentional impact, but it’s certainly an impact. Reparations should be made – and bloody quickly! And those governments should be held to account or voted out. But that’s just my opinion. Not looking at anyone in particular there at all now…

So where does it leave us in every day life. Consider your audience. It’s easier for most of us to accept at a high level that all human beings are entitled to live their lives, exist, as they choose in relation to religion, colour, sexuality, gender, etc. But when it comes to imagining the unintended impacts of our actions and statements, it can be easier to consider a particular person, especially if we have limited experiences or dealings with people who aren’t exactly like us. (I appreciate for the more global nations this may seem ridiculous, but seriously, I grew up in rural Ireland in the 80’s, I was 10 before I met my first black man and in college before I met my first black woman. And my experience is not that unusual for the time. )

You may think you’re addressing someone’s behaviour (well, if they’d only dress correctly…) when in fact, that could be felt as an impact or attack on someone’s culture (that’s what’s fashionable/ acceptable in the culture they come from). The dangers and long term impacts of forcing people to conform to some uniform ideal are well documented. Don’t be that person.

And if you do find yourself acting in that way, step up and apologise. I’ve done this in the past and there are people gone from my life that I can never apologise to now. Learn from it. Do better next time. Assess, as best you can, the potential impact of your actions and statements. Consider why your need to get this off your chest is more important than the potential impact on the person you’re speaking to.

Learn to do better. We all need to do this, there is no perfect person in this world and we’ve all done shitty, horrible things. The trick is to do better in the future. And remember that your intention is rarely more important than the impact your actions and words cause.

Building a daily practice

A frequent question that comes up in relation to Brigid, but indeed with many other deities, is how to build a daily practice or what does a daily practice look like. It can be confusing at first, particularly for those of us coming from either a secular background or a very formulaic spiritual background. I mean as a Catholic, the Catechism tell us (or used to anyway!) that we should pray “every morning, and every night, and in all dangers, temptations and afflictions”.  Interestingly, I found this story, from www.duchas.ie outlining how often this phrase is used: One day a priest went in to a school and asked a little girl when should she pray? The little girl did not know. Then he said, “When does your mother milk the cow?” She said, “every morning, and every night, and in all dangers, temptations, and afflictions.” (From School: Tuaim Gréine, Lúbán Díge Location: Tomgraney, Co. Clare Teacher: Pádraig Ó Cadhla)

In fact that phrase is a catch all answer in Ireland for when something should be done in general – although dying out now as the Catechism is no longer rote learned. Although there are signs it might be returning, I hope not!

But back to a daily practice. First things first – start small. While it’s grand to imagine a wonderful daily ritual with all sorts of bells and whistles, chances are, you won’t keep that up for long. I don’t care if you feel you have 5 free hours in the day, trust me, as soon as you put something long and arduous into place, it’s easy to find things to fill that space. So, start small. In a recent chat I had with Lora O’Brien over at the Irish Pagan School (the chat’s on youtube, so have a look for it) she mentions a time in her life when her daily practice was 3 deep breaths. Because that was the time she had to deal with with three kids needing attention. So, when I say “start small” I really mean small. Three deep breaths is as good a way as any to start really. But make them intentional. Three random breaths probably won’t have the effect you want. But a conscious thought of “right, I’m going to take my three deep breaths now, here we go” will make all the difference.

Now with Brigid, she’s never adverse to a candle being lit or a fire being lit. This might be a wax candle or an LED candle, it’s up to you. The point is to light it with intention. (I know, here we go with intention again!) These days, I work from home about half the week. When I’m working at home, I light a candle to start off the working day, as a way to both demarcate between “home” and “work” and also to get some help with the broadband. But it’s an intention that I’m about to start work and since I’m an engineer, that’s part of my daily practice. But more generally, lighting a candle is an act, a physical act, to take the time to breath, maybe do a bit of meditation or prayer, acknowledge the existence of herself.

A daily practice of meditation is a good habit to get into (she says, as someone who needs to get back into regular meditation after a few weeks hiatus!) It’s good for mind and spirituality, in my opinion. Now the physical and mental benefits of meditation are well documented at this point. Go have a look at Google Scholar or something similar if you want to read up on it. But it’s also allowing time and space to let Brigid in, creating room for her to get in touch or at least make her aware you’re paying attention. In most of my courses, I have a meditation element involved because of this. They are useful. And because I, myself, prefer a visualisation element to my meditation, I use those meditations regularly. And building up that habit is like building a muscle – it becomes easier over time.

For me as well, I use my daily movement practice as part of my devotion – cos frankly, otherwise I’d never feckin move! I’m generally not a fan. But by making it a devotional act to help my body working as best it can for as long as it can, I’m taking care of her tools. It’s important to me to do this. You may find cooking, baking for your family is a devotional practice. You may find knitting or sewing something for yourself or a loved one or a complete stranger is a devotional practice. You may find lots of things you can do that might be part of a daily practice. And look, some days my movement might be 5 mins so I can technically say I moved. That’s ok too. Sometimes even just going through the motions is enough. Not every practice will involve deep inspiration or divine contact. But going through the motions is just as important.

Alongside this I will mention offerings. This is not something I usually feel called to do, because she has a lot of other things for me to do. However, I do know people like the idea of leaving offerings out for Brigid. And this can be part of your daily practice. Make her a nice cuppa in the morning when you’re making your own. Give her the first or the best bits of meals. If you bake a loaf of bread, trust me, she’d love a bit of it, warm from the oven, covered in butter. Or, y’know, whatever you want. As to how long to leave things out, that’s up to your own personal circumstances. Liquids can usually be left out for a few hours or overnight, unless you have animals or kids that might get their hands on them. I mean, Brigid is a mother too, she knows what kids are like, but make an effort to make sure they don’t get hold of it. Won’t do them any harm, but it’s my belief that some essence of the food is gone once we offer it to deity. And dispose of the food carefully as well. We’re lucky to have a compost heap on which most waste things food related get chucked. But putting them in the bin is just as alright, if you can’t throw them out for animals etc. Also, if you are throwing things out for animals, just be careful you won’t poison said animals with the food you’re throwing out. I’ll not give any advice here, since you’ll know your local area better than I will.

My work, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions before, is part of my devotion to her. Part of that is to be a visible female engineer, to allow myself be used as a role model and sometimes, an example of what not to do… But it is part of my work with Brigid. Not everyone can say their career is an act of devotion and frankly, you might not want to! But you might do things on a regular if not daily basis that might be acts of devotion. You might create poetry or prayers for her. You might help out in a soup kitchen. You might be active in community groups, be a mentor, be there for a friend in need. There are all sorts of things that can add up as part of a regular, if not daily, practice. To me, ultimately, the best daily practice we can have, is to live lives as ethically and morally as we can. Note I didn’t outline what either “ethical” or “moral” mean. That’s up for each person to figure out. But once you do, living up to your own standards is the way to go. Live a congruous life – in harmony with your beliefs and values. It’s easier that working in a role that directly opposes what your core beliefs are (Trust me – personal experience!) Be a force for good in this world. Support the community in which you live. Support the communities of which you’re a part. Ultimately that’s the best place to end up

Brigid, menstruation and inclusivity

I’ll have to be more careful than usual in this post about highlighting the bits that are based in lore and the bits that are based in my own gnosis. Fundamentally, we don’t have much relating to menstruating in the Irish lore. I lie – there’s shag all, if you don’t count the numerous weird and wonderful ways people managed to get pregnant and give birth in the lore. Even duchas.ie, usually a wonderful trove of treasure to look at the practices and spells and folklore of our ancestors, is bereft of such things. Now there’s a good reason for that, particularly in the duchas case – it was primary school children sent out to gather these stories and while people wouldn’t mind telling kids the stories that might scare the bejasus from them, there were some topics not suitable for children at all.

Manchán Magan, in his recent book “Thirty-Two Words for Field” (2020, Gill Books), explains why some of this is so: “Some of the most renowned female seanchaithe (storytellers) were known for their bawdy humour and they shared this openly with the folklorists who sought their knowledge in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. However, when speaking into the wax cylinder recorder they tended to be more circumspect, censoring certain things“. In the following passage, he recalls how these same seanchaithe, when settled into the chair by the fire and relaxed in themselves, would revert to the earthier version. The transcribed tales would be sanitised though. As well, the author recounts a story from Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, celebrated Irish poet, where although she grew up in a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area from the age of six, it was only after her marriage that she was inducted into the realm of the back kitchen and learned a whole new vocabulary.

Given these words couldn’t be shared with an unmarried woman, it’s no wonder strangers in the 19th century wouldn’t be told of them, particularly if, as was sometimes the case, the local priest had come along to smooth the stranger way into the community. So, a history of sending strange and sometimes foreign men, of different class and history, as well as children, to collect these words and stories, means many of them have been lost.

Even though we have lost much of our language and folklore, particularly in the area of women’s lives, including menstruation, these memories may not tell us the exact words use, they do tell us there were rich vocabulary surrounding these elements and menstruation, sex, intercourse, were spoken about! Mangan’s book has improved my vocabulary around my menstrual cycle immeasurably, even if I’m still struggling to remember some of the words off the top of my head!

So, sex, menstruation, the workings of the body were definitely spoken of in Ireland. Sex wasn’t invented in the 80s and 90s, with the advent of Gay Byrne and the Late Late Show on a Friday night (yes, Gaybo was once an avant garde presenter on both radio and television, speaking of issues that had hitherto been hidden – not saying he did a brilliant job at all times, but he was willing to speak and discuss issues like women’s rights, domestic abuse, sex outside marriage…)

On then to Brigid and her links to menstruation. She is listed in Cormac’s Glossary as goddess of healing and we know from Fergus Kelly’s A Guide to Early Irish Law (1988, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) that a woman-physician as one of the women that could be not dependent on a husband according to the law. He does add however, that in his sources, there is an indication that the term used, banliaih tuaithe, might refer to a midwife or a women who attends a woman at childbirth. So we have at least a loose link between Brigid and one end of the menstruation cycle!

Added to which, I can’t imagine that she would have an interest in healing and not have an interest in her own body…

Now all along here, I’ve been mentioning women, women’s bodies, Brigid as female, etc. It’s important to note that despite what modern menstruation spirituality tends to outline, not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women. That leads towards a very binary, static and outmoded vision of what gender is. While I have nothing in the lore that outright states Brigid would be accepting of someone who is a different gender to that which they were assigned at birth, I can’t help looking at her relationship with me, her work in healing and in the forge, her work with people who were maybe not valued as much in society as they should have been, the work with Brig Ambue and the cowless, and think she would not support those who are, due to the previously described outmoded understandings of gender, struggling to be accepted as they are in this world.

I’m not an expert in gender issues, it must be said, and I won’t conflate my experiences as a white, straight cis woman with those who are not any or some of those things. But I will say, I know something of what’s it’s like (a small part of what’s it’s like) to not be accepted as you are – I’m a woman in engineering and even to this day, I tend to have to prove myself over and over and over as an engineer purely because I don’t fit the stereotypical image of either woman or engineer. I can only imagine how much worse it might be when it’s not only your profession, but your sense of self that’s being challenged/ignored/scorned. And that’s before the abuse, the harassment, the oppression, etc, etc, etc.

If you’re struggling with menstruating or looking to gain a better understanding of your body and how it works, it’s easy to drop into menstruation spirituality or menstruation teachings in the modern world. But there are some serious issues there. There is an assumption that every woman moves through, or wants to move through, the great triple cycles of maiden, mother, crone (there’s been a fourth phase added in recent years of queen or enchantress, but let’s not go there for now, that’s a whole other blog post. And I do like the extra stage, I just don’t want to have to write three blog posts in one!)

Now there are huge issues in forcing all women into these boxes of maiden, mother, crone. And yes, I know, modern paganism has said it’s not about biological changes or stages, but more about appreciation, learning and development of self. The fact remains that these words are very gendered, very restricting and plain don’t work for all women, never mind the gender spectrum (I’m not even sure if gender spectrum is the correct way of putting it, but I’m damned sure we don’t have a gender binary so it’s the best I can do right now. Open to learning better though)

I’m a woman who can’t have children, for no apparent reason according to science – now, I’m not looking for advice, trust me that I’ve tried everything out there from acupuncture, meditation, visualisation, foods, movement… if you’ve heard of it, I’ve tried it. Not interested in hearing what worked for your friend or your cousin or this woman you know 🙂

It’s not a sore topic at all, right?

Anyway, back to the point. I’m a woman who can’t have children. While many people tell me the mother phase is one of creativity, of nurturing, of growing and doesn’t necessarily mean parenting a child, still when I hear “mother”, I think of the family I don’t have. And that’s just women with fertility issues. That doesn’t help women who don’t want children, or can’t have them for other reasons – financial, physical, emotional reasons, for a start.

Using maiden/mother/crone is limiting and exclusionary, in my opinion.

But where do we go from here? Well I’m working on a structure and outline that might help people deal with, come to terms with, work with their menstrual cycles or lack thereof without using gendered language or traditional gendered roles to work through it. It’s not easy cos it means examining everything I’ve learned and known about menstruation and body cycles and assessing it from an inclusionary point of view. Testosterone driven bodies have cycles just like oestrogen driven bodies do.

Plus, pretty much every body is different anyway. So, how do we inclusively group certain phases of different cycles to work for everyone? I’m not entirely sure this is possible. I think what is possible, though, is for everyone to have a better understanding and knowledge of their body and have a loose framework to hang that knowledge off. I know that understanding myself the times of my cycles when I’m more prone to tiredness, more prone to certain activities, more prone to anger, more prone to sleeping, more prone to reading certain things, eating certain things, etc, etc, etc, helps me live life a bit better and not get taken aback by my reactions or needs during any given phase. And I’d like more people to gain that awareness of their body, without having to trawl through information that’s abhorrently presented to them in the first place.

Saints in the Catholic Church

Image description: Picture of my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Second Edition revised in accordance with the official Latin test promulgated by Pope John Paul II

Following some questions in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I decided to write a post on saints in the Catholic Church. So I dug out my copy of the Catechism and started looking at what the official teachings of the church are and then I’ll follow on with the general Irish habits around saints and then some more specific stuff from me or my family. Fair warning, the Catechism is almost a thousand pages long and deals with many different aspects of Church teaching, so I’m not going to cover all of it in this post. In fact, if I wanted to cover the whole Catechism, I’d need to start an entire new blog and well, I’m busy enough with Brigid.

In the Catechism, a saint is defined as: the “holy one” who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life. The Church is called the communion of saints, of the holy ones. The process of being officially designated a saint by the Church is called canonisation: the solemn declaration by the Pope that a deceased member of the faithful may be proposed as a model and intercessor to the Christian faithful and venerated as a saint on the basis of the fact that the person lived a life of heroic virtue or remained faithful to God through martyrdom.

The Church has an official stance on the intercession of saints between human and God: “being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in Holiness. They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (paragraph 956 on the Communion of the Church of Heaven and Earth)

There is loads more on how we can interact officially with saints according to the Catechism, but this holds the nuts and bolts of the matter. The closer eyed among ye may have noticed, that actually, canonisation is only the formal recognition of sainthood. Anyone who reaches heaven is a saint, it’s just that the official saints are the ones the Church is reasonably certain are there in Heaven. (There’s a bit of the HUGE sense of superiority here, which is strange, or maybe not so much, coming from a religion that started with the most downtrodden members of society in Rome – obviously speaking to the Roman Church here and not anywhere else!)

In the early Church, many martyrs, those who died for their faith, were canonised, on the basis of their heroic witness to Christ, not denying him and choosing to die and join him rather than renounce him. (This was red martyrdom, due to the blood spilled). But of course, that violence and campaign against the early Christians didn’t last long, so the Church started looking for other evidence of holiness. Enter white martyrdom: the daily living of a Christian live that was so close to the perfection of Christ’s example that it was noted by the community. (note that no human can ever reach perfection, that’s solely the province of God). The white martyrs were famous for their holy living – there’s plenty examples of these in the Irish chronicles, seeing as our land converted to Christianity peacefully and about five centuries after the birth of Christ, there were no red martyrs in Ireland that I can remember now. (There may have been a few, but they were small in number!) Our own Brigid would be an example of this. It was almost canonisation by popular acclaim – people knew this person was holy and living the Christian life, so it was deemed appropriate to consider them heading straight to heaven instead of pausing in Purgatory for a while first. It was only in 1170 that it was officially determined no one could be declared a saint without the official approval/ permission of the pope. (This was Pope Alexander III and was brought about by the public acclaimation for a Swedish saint by public acclaim who was killed while drunk and so could not be said to have been a truly, 100% willing witness for Christ…)

A final type of martyrdom, extensively practiced in Ireland in about 5-7th centuries (ish) was the green martyrdom. Now the earliest mention I can find of this is from the Cambrai Homily (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrai_Homily – yes I know, it’s a wikipedia source, but it’s a decent enough starter for ten and it’s written in reasonably accessible language. Also there is some doubt as to whether the Cambrai Homily was actually a homily or actually an extract from a longer text/ gathering of texts). I should also not at this point that I’m not a scholar, so there could be many, many other sources out there for the green martyrdom. But essentially, the green martyrdom was through the physical deprivation in an attempt to get closer to God or possibly an extension of the older practice of fasting to gain justice. Here is where we get the Irish hermits. The ones that ended up on Skellig Michael of Star Wars fame, or out in the wilds, subsisting rather than existing, fasting and doing penance in order to become closer to God.

It is interesting to note though, that in any reference to martyrs I can find on Vatican websites, the shedding of blood is closely related to the idea of martyrdom.

Anyway, to sum up – while all Catholics are considered potentially saints, and once you get to Heaven, you are by definition a saint, the Church limits those who are officially designated saints to those they are sure, as close as can be, are in Heaven. So while, for example, on the occasion of my Grandad’s death, many called him a pious man and a saint, and while I might privately pray to him (and all my dead relatives at time to be honest), since I’m fairly certain if anyone is in heaven, he is, I can’t publicly venerate him or create a cult around him, since the Church doesn’t recognise him as a saint.

Every official saint in the Catholic Church has an official feast day. The practices around such feast days in folk tradition vary from nation to nation, tradition to tradition, region to region (and in some instances, parish to parish!) The Church practices though don’t as such vary. There is a special liturgy (this would be the celebration of Mass with particular readings relating to the saint usually, or a bit of the Bible that ties in with them, with a sermon or homily being delivered that is linked to the saint), sometimes novenas (series of prayers/activities over days), but that’s usually it.

In the folk tradition though, there can be other celebrations. The making of Brigid’s crosses throughout Ireland is a very common thing around the 1st February. The wearing of shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day would be common. The pattern day for many saints in rural Ireland mostly (in my life time anyway, presumably it was more widespread previously) were celebrations of the patron saint of the parish or area. The pattern day usually started at the local church with Mass, then moved on to a local shrine or holy well. (Seriously you can hardly walk 2 miles in Ireland without falling over some holy well or other!)Even today, pattern days are very popular among a subset of society, although the reforms enacted by the Church in the years following the famine removed much of the drinking, fighting and other non-religious activities. To be fair, the Church hierarchy also has an issue with the magical nature attributed to the shrines and wells, seeing as how they were seen as healing places for various ailments. None of this coincides with proper church teaching. However, even today, if you hit down near Liscannor in Co. Clare, around the time of the Feast of the Assumption in August, you’ll find a grand crowd in the area, visiting the well as they have done for generations. Not joking here – I forgot what day it was last summer and we got caught in the traffic jam… Liscannor is still reasonably famous, but there are other wells in this country that have similar traditions.

So, as an overview, saints can be used as intercessors for the faithful. It’s not exactly that we pray to the saint, technically speaking, it’s more that we ask for their support and help in making our prayers to God. Most of us though, will speak of praying to the saint for help or intercession. Some of the more common saints to be asking for help: St. Jude – lost causes, hospital workers; St. Anthony – lost items, native Americans, amputees, asses, barren women, elderly people, harvests, hogs/pigs/swine, mail, monks, oppressed people, poor, Portugal, shipwrecks, starvation/ starving people swineherds, travelling people, hostesses; St. Christopher – travel; Patrick – snakes, Ireland, engineers(who knew???) Nigeria and a few USA dioceses; St. Brigid – blacksmiths, cattle, dairy workers, fugitives, healers, Ireland, nuns, poultry and chicken farmers, printing presses, scholars; St Colmcille (3rd of our patron saints for Ireland) – Ireland, poets, exiles (although it should be noted that St Colmcille is known as St Columba in many records); St Therese of Lisieux – AIDS patients, aviators/ aviation, florists, foreign missions, France, missionaries, tuberculosis/consumption.

There are loads of lists on line for saints and what they’re patrons of, but do some research on it as well and make sure it’s the right saint you’re asking to intercede for you 🙂

On to my personal practice with saints now.

Picture of the book by John Beevers: Saint Therese, the Little Flower The Making of Saint. Book’s cover has a photo of St. Therese on the front with a bunch of red roses in the bottom. Also shown the statue of the Little Flower standing on the book.
Photo of a small tin statue of St Therese of Lisieux, holding her cross and a bunch of roses, standing on the book in the previous photo

Above are two photos that sum up my devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. I took St Therese as my confirmation name (Google it, it’s a sacrament of the Church), mostly due to the influence of my Dad, who gave me both the statue and the book in the pictures above. The statue is a small tin statue that was gilded long ago, but has faded. It was given to my Dad by his grandmother in the early 50’s when he went away to school so he’d have someone to look after him. He then gave it to me in the early 90’s for the same purpose. For the years I was in school, St. Therese sat on my bedside table and I would often kiss her goodnight as I went to bed. These days, she usually sits on our kitchen table at home, and I often pick her up to kiss her as I pass by – something I only realised when my husband pointed it out the other day! St. Therese is famous for her Little Way – this idea that living Christian life is not in the big acts, but in the small everyday things we do. How we act with others, how we treat others, how we interact with the world around us. St Therese is a modern saint as well, having been born in 1873 and dying young at age 24 in 1897. She was canonised in 1925.

She was born in France to two parents who both themselves wanted to enter religious life, but refused. She lived a life of small devotions, but her impact on the world, and most particularly on me, was huge. Seeing her relics as they toured Ireland a while ago was a very big deal to me. When I look at my statue, I see not only my Dad, but my great-grandmother as well (although she passed away long before I arrived on the scene!) I see the tradition of devotion in my family to this saint, that goes back generations. I see the practice of living life well, in right relationship, of doing the right thing as best we can, although it would be unusual for any of us to use those terms.

Through St Therese a lot of my feelings about daily life come to the fore: do the right thing, live as best you can, be ethical, examine what ethics mean to me, set up my life so it is easier to be in compliance with this goal. I will likely never have the influence of St Therese on this world, but I do have influence on those around me on a daily basis and so I try to follow her example as I live my life. I might go days, weeks, months, without consciously thinking of St. Therese in my daily life, but the little statue is always there on the kitchen table and I do, unthinkingly, regularly pick her up and kiss her.

On some occasions, I have asked for her intercession – now, there are specific prayers to St. Therese, but I can never remember them, so it’s more a case of ordering my thoughts as best I can and laying out my request to her. They’re not usually connected to the items listed in the paragraph above either, seeing as how I’ve never been called to serve France or go on a mission. I hate flying! I do take to heart though, that it is by living our lives in the right way, the good way, that we are an example to others and that is what I try to do. While my belief system is not the same as hers, there are massive overlaps.

It could be said I have a devotion to St Therese – in Ireland, this means a person is known for contacting a particular saint above all others, no matter what the circumstances. This is part of building that relationship that we often speak of in paganism. Why would I bother St Anthony to find something when I never speak to him otherwise? St Therese might know me at this point…

Relationship with the saints is a complicated thing in Catholicism and we accept and absorb much of it as we grow up. Most of us think nothing of mentioning St Jude when times appear dark or St Anthony for when something is lost. I’ve seen St Anthony being invoked at 3am on Harcourt Street in Dublin. To describe Harcourt Street – well… there’s more than a few nightclubs there and the image of a reasonable well oiled college student down on his knees in the middle of the street calling out to St. Anthony for his wallet is one that won’t leave you. He found the damn thing a few mins later as well! I’ve heard people mutter to themselves to various saints on different occasions. Official Church teaching doesn’t always match what’s actually happening on the ground.

But I hope this gives an insight into how this Catholic (however pagan) related to saints and how they work in the system of worship. Any questions that come out of this, post them in the comments 🙂

Lá Fhéile Bríd

All-focus

There are of course different days and ways to celebrate Imbolc, even going by hard calendar dates, it ranges from 31st Jan – 2nd Feb, but out of habit for some pagans and definitely for followers of the saint, 1st February is St. Brigid’s Day or Lá Fhéile Bríd (pronounced Lá ‘le Bríd because the “h” makes the “F” silent). So let me tell you a story…

This morning, in the dark, a woman got up and out of bed. She made her way around the house, not needing a light, completing her ablutions, gathering her candles, the matches, lighting the matches – after a brief struggle to find the damn things, putting them out in the window.

She gather the brait, for she had two, from the door, they made it through the night, thank the gods, and folded them and put them away.

She went out, barefoot and wrapped in a robe, into the dark and wet, to greet the coming sun (although to be fair, she doesn’t stay out long, cos it’s bloody freezing and her feet hurt!).

Then she came back inside, stuck on the kettle and sat down at the computer.

Yeah, this is what I did this morning. Lighting a candle is so much a part of most celebrations, I tend to light them regardless of the holiday. I’ve haven’t come across a deity yet who takes offense at a lit candle. And of course, with herself and her links to fire, she really never says no to a candle! And it’s a signal to people passing by, because there’s few adults in Ireland who won’t be aware today is St. Brigid’s Day, whether they celebrate or not. The cross won’t be seen, but the candles will and maybe noted for the future.

And maybe they won’t. It’s not important either way, more that there is a light, shining in the darkness. She gave us the wherewithal to signal at night, by her whistle, she does, at times, light the way for us when we are lost, although to be fair most of the time she’ll give us the tools we need or tell us where to find them and let us get on with it.

Today, there is evidence that there are solar installations around the country that mark Imbolc, in a similar way to the chamber at Newgrange marking the winter solstice. The Tomb of the Nine Hostages at Tara is one example of this, although I’ve not seen it, and won’t this year either. But they’re not as well known as the solstice ones. And as well, there’d be few enough people venturing out on a cold February morning like this, with the country water logged after the 3 months of winter (winter in Ireland running from November to January, and today marking the first day of Spring. No, really.)

Last night, we were going to celebrate with a full roast chicken dinner, with mashed spuds and green, followed by apple tart, but it was so late when Al got back from shopping that we decided to skip the chicken (otherwise, dinner would’ve been 9pm and that was far too late!) so we have the mashed spuds, with plenty butter and the broccoli and green beans in a sauce from Joanne Faulkner’s latest book, Good Food, Better Sex. (We’ve not had the chance to try anything else from it yet, neither have we tried sex, but the sauce tasted damn good!)

Plans change, from year to year, from day to day, from cycle to cycle. There’s no harm in that, the same way there’s no harm in me jumping into a good hot shower now, after my foray outside in the cold and wet.

Lá ‘le Bríd, a chairde!

Brigid, Imbolc, Imbolg, etc

It’s that time of year again, when I’m picking up my brait Bhríde (the extra i in “brat” is cos it’s plural there, yup, I do multiples!), making sure the house is visitor-tidy and maybe even Mammy-tidy, seeing about walking the bounds and grounds and generally doing an energetical tidy up as well.

I’ll be celebrating Imbolc on Sunday this year, mainly cos Monday is a very busy work day. These things have to be adaptable as well. I’m seeing a lot of people asking about food to eat, rituals in a COVID world, offerings to leave, etc, etc. So here is a bit of what I’ll be doing, although there isn’t really a set piece I do.

I’m a solitary practitioner, although my husband does get dragged into things at times. I mean, he’ll definitely partake of whatever meal I cook on Sunday anyway 🙂 But for me, a group ritual is not something I’ve ever engaged in really. However, I know for many in the COVID world, this might be their first time celebrating Imbolc alone. And it’s a bit scary for some, concerning, different, that sort of thing. It’s fairly impossible to recreate a multi-person ritual with one person, especially one that was designed and written for public spectacle. But, you know what? This is an opportunity for you to make the most of your own ritual – or even not have one at all.

As an idea, here’s a format I sometimes use:

  • Plan what you want to do.
  • Do any cooking and baking beforehand – trust me on this one! Ditto with shopping for special items. Have everything handy when you start. Including any favourite prayers or songs.
  • Make a sacred space. this might be a clear space on the floor. It might ordinarily be called your kitchen table. It might be the couch. Really, what makes a space sacred, is that we make it so. Clean this area as best you can – physically as well as energetically, now mind. (If you can – herself can and will take into account physical limitations or realities)
  • Mark out, even if only mentally, what space you are counting sacred.
  • Lay out some candles or some lamps or some wool or thread or something to mark the boundaries of the sacred space.
  • Dress in the clothes you want to wear for the ritual – this can be as dressed up or dressed down as you like.
  • Take a minute to gather yourself, some deep breaths, quick meditation or prayer, bit of music, whatever takes your fancy.
  • Formally step into the ritual space with intention.
  • Start with lighting the candles or turn on the lights.
  • Say a prayer or sing a song.
  • Spend some time in meditation.
  • Share food with herself. Share a drink as well – doesn’t have to be alcoholic, milk is good, tea, coffee, minerals – give the best you can, she will appreciate it. Dairy is always associated with Brigid, cattle were so important in Ireland that beef is grand, lamb is a delicacy in Ireland, home baking is always appreciated, but shop bought is grand if that’s what you have. The important bit here is sharing with her the best you have.
  • After eating, or even before it, maybe throw on some music and have a bit of a dance. Have some time for joy and happiness in the ritual. It doesn’t have to all formal and serious and portentous. I’ve been known to throw on anything from Shakira to Metallica to Clannad to Enya.
  • Spend some time in silence as well. Allow time for her to talk to you, as well as the other way around.
  • Close out with another prayer or song or dance.
  • Formally leave the sacred space with intention.
  • Tidy up 🙂

Now, the above is a rough outline, it might or might not suit you. I’ve spoken above of also walking the bounds and grounds – this is an act of formally claiming our home and garden as ours and declaring our intention of it being our sanctuary. The important thing is the walking with intention (it takes ten mins going slowly!) but I also mix up a jug of water, salt and blood if I’m bleeding, as well as some incense or a candle and pour out the water as I go to physically encircle the bounds and grounds as well. That’s a me thing, not a general thing though.

There’s a whole lot on the web about food for Brigid. I’ve gone into a bit up above there and there are elements of Scottish and Welsh lore that I know of that call out specific plants that would be associated with Brigid. I don’t buy into the whole “sun goddess” thing, so yellow isn’t a big deal with me. Dairy, home baking, good meat and a special meal are generally the way I go. In saying that, I’m not the ultimate guide here. You are. What feels right to you, what you are capable of, what you want to do is important.

There’s whole essays and youtube videos on how to make Brigid’s crosses of varying designs so I won’t bother here, as well as brideógs and brait Bhríde and leaba Bhríde and all the rest. These are fun, as well as being ways to include younger members of the family in all the drama.

Fertility rituals abound in this time of year as well – Seán Ó Dúinn’s book on Brigid outlines a lot of them. From fisherfolk leaving shells in the corner of the house to farmers leaving sheaves of oats outside the door, to ask Brigid’s blessing on the prosperity of the family for the year, there’s plenty of scope to make this suitable for your own livelihood. A pen for writers, a bit of cloth for tailors, something to indicate your way(s) of making a living for her to bless.

Another option is to have a younger member of the family (or indeed, you yourself if you don’t have people around) to go outside on Brigid’s Eve (31st January for me) and be welcomed inside in the guise of the saint or deity, thus welcoming Brigid in for the year. Just be warned, when you welcome her in, her leaving isn’t always easy!

This is obviously a short enough post to cover what is an important day for me. Candles lighting, cakes baking, food prep… It’s a pretty domestic day for me really, which is in total contrast to my usual days. That works for me – you may need to look at something different. But maybe there’s some ideas you can take and use from here. Either way, celebrate the day somehow and enjoy it. It is a celebration remember!

Praying

I find praying difficult. I’m grand with the whole having a casual chat with herself, communicating through meditation and journeying, that sort of thing, but prayer itself? Actually sitting down and composing a prayer and uttering it aloud? Not my thing.

But a few weeks ago, someone asked for prayer in exchange for something else. And I was told I couldn’t refuse. Well now, of course I could have refused, we all have free will, but it was a strong intimation I shouldn’t on this occasion decline. So I didn’t. And I’m two into a 3 session commitment, where I’m leading about 45mins of prayer.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. I find myself almost trying to put it off, but I’ve committed to a time of the week to do it. And now, with 2 out of 3 sessions done, I’m finding myself really looking forward to going back to not formally praying again on a schedule. But then I started thinking – as one does.

Prayer is a part of the relationship with deity. And I speak quite casually of chats with Brigid and some others, but that isn’t to say the relationship is casual. It’s like any other relationship – it needs work. A lot of the time, that work is actual work for me – engineering, healing, writing. But sometimes, the work is prayer and meditation, personal work, finding the limits of who and what I am.

And while prayer isn’t a major part of my devotional activities, it’s still there, when I look. I joke about lighting a candle – but that’s a prayer. Even my “casual chats” are sometimes a prayer more than a chat. Every time I asked for help, for clarity, for assistance – that’s a prayer. So it’s not praying as such I have a problem with, it’s formal, designated time for prayer. Prayer where I actively open myself up, prepare, mentally and physically, take my time formulating and composing. That’s the kind of prayer I struggle with.

And there’s nothing wrong with this. Either the struggling or the formal prayer. Prayer is an important part of spirituality really. I’ve said it before – prayer is when we speak to the gods, meditation is when we listen. And I’ve been reminded this last week, that while being self sufficient is a bonus and a positive thing most of the time, there are times when we all need help and this is where prayer comes in.

Prayer can be a means of deepening our relationship to deity. Prayer can be a means to ask for help or understanding. Prayer can be a means to keep one channel of communication open when it seems all else is falling apart. Prayer can be many things.

I still believe the gods help those who help themselves as well – as in, we actively need to work towards our aims as well as asking them for help – but there is a role for them to play when we reach out and ask them for help. They rarely step in unasked. And as well, sometimes they do something so big that a formal thank you is important as well. Taking the time to compose thoughts and images so that it forms something cohesive is time spent honouring them. And so, it’s more about the balance for me then. Would you spend weeks preparing to thank someone for a small favour? Or cobble together a 2 word thanks for something that gave you life changing benefit? Sometimes we don’t always realise the scale of the help at the time of thanking, but with deity in particular, there’s always time later on to come back and make the big thank you.

I’m not saying I’ll be continuing the prayer sessions once I have the 3 completed, but I will say I’ll be looking at ways of making more space for formal prayer in my life I think. Although it might be a more private activity…

Brigid and grief

But after the spear had been given to him, Rúadán turned and wounded Goibniu. He pulled out the spear and hurled it at Rúadán so that it went through him; and he died in his father’s presence in the Fomorian assembly. Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)

The above is an excerpt from Caith Maige Tuired, gthe Second Battle of Moytura. And I’ve written about this excerpt before. I’ve even written a devotional on the lines. But it’s hitting me hard this week. I lost my godfather last week and because of COVID couldn’t attend the funeral. All the usual rituals of grief are lost to me. I watched his funeral on YouTube, which, while better than nothing is still not the same as the usual rites.

There was no final visit to him. There was no rosaries over the coffin. There were few stories exchanged, and those only with my parents, rather than the wider group of his family and friends. (These things happened, of course, with his wife and children and grandchildren, those family and friends who lived close enough to be able to visit and mourn together, but not for those of us further away).

Usually at a time of grief, those who can’t attend are few in number and so attention can be spared to help them, talk them through all the bits and bobs that happen in an Irish funeral. The jokes about how he’d be very happy with the way he looked in the coffin and how, yes, he still has the earrings in. The accidental references to him as if he were still alive. The plans for who stays with the body so he’s not left alone. The small ways we reach out to include people in a time of grief.

But with so many not able to attend, all that becomes impossible. And here we are, a year on, with a vaccine in sight, but still with months at best left before any sort of normal life can continue. And we grieve in private, as we always did, but also alone, which we did not always do.

Brigid knows grief. Her loss of a son is keener than my loss this week. She knows. Her Da knows as well. As does the Virgin Mary. All three have been around me this week to help, to support, to be here with me. I’ve sheltered under both the blue cloak and the green for peace and sanctuary, for heart’s ease. I’m almost certain the Dagda carried me to bed one night cos I know I didn’t get there by myself. They’ve reminded me to eat, to wash, to drink water, to move, to allow myself tears. To accept that ok, my eyes are not going to work properly for a while after that much crying.

And now, they are all reminding me that life does indeed go on. This doesn’t mean an end to grief, of course, but an end to the first, immediate, gut wrenching pain of separation. For me, right now, it’s an end to that stage of grief. It’s time to re-don the mantle of semi normal every day living. It’s time to light the candles and say the prayers. It’s time to drink water to ease the headache, get dressed and face the world. It’s time to get going again basically.

They’re right of course. I am sure his immediate family will be in that first stage for a while longer, they have the immediate reminders of him not being there all around them, on a minute by minute, hour by hour basis, in ways I don’t. It doesn’t make my grief less, or theirs more worthy, but it is different and will be dealt with in different ways.

So, today, I’m back on my usual schedule. I’m writing a blog post. I’m taking care of myself. I’m preparing for the week in work. I’m sorting out clothes and food and schedules. I will, no doubt, cry again because he’s moved on to the next life. But I will also start living again, rather than remain in a sort of limbo as I have been doing for almost a week now.

Brigid (and the Dagda and Mary and others) will be here with me for support and help, and the odd clip up the back of the head, as I need it. And I have tools and ability to mark this loss for myself, to make it less bad for me. They’ve helped with that too. And I have a community of friends who will and have been helping as well.

There are many things this pandemic has changed forever and possibly for the better – my attitude to working from home for a start – but I don’t think our grieving rituals are included there. Our grieving rituals are so intrinsic to the rhythm of life, to how we say goodbye to people, I can’t imagine them changing overnight like this. As soon as we can, we’ll be back to the rounds of handshakes and “sorry for your troubles”, the crowds of people lining up outside the funeral home or the home place, the endless cups of tea and the sandwiches and the cakes and the buns, the stories after a few drinks and the reminders at about 11pm or midnight that “we have something important to do in the morning”. We’ll be back to the communal support, the escorting of the coffin, the silence and the black. Because it’s written into our ancestral memories now, that this is what grief looks like and this is how we cope with grief. We have all this to do in that horrible, horrible first 3 day period so we can get through it all. We just keep going and if we keep going that long, we can still keep going past it.

Brigid’s relationships with other deities

Hello everyone! For me, I’m back at work tomorrow after 4 full days off, so as far as I’m concerned, normal service is resuming. As part of this, I checked back with the list of topics on Brigid that people wanted me to visit and came up with this one. Ok it’s a kind of cheat, since I’ve written in far more detail than this about Brigid’s relationships with other deities in the book on her I’m writing, but still. Here’s a taste. Now for this, I’m limiting myself to the deity rather than the saint or the other appearances of Brigid in the lore. Here we go…

First off, Brigid’s Da is fairly well recognised as the Dagda. No one else is claiming that role (and I can almost hear the mutter from him of “who’d want to” – he’s being very Irish Dad and proud here, not putting her down!)

Her Ma on the other hand… well it’s just never clearly stated. It’s limited to anyone woman in Ireland the Dagda is known to have had relations with. Which, really, limits it to any woman in Ireland in some ways… There are a few front runners though. First off is the Morrigan, since that’s who the Dagda is most clearly linked with. However, the Morrigan, in my experience, is not backwards about claiming her own, and nowhere in the lore is it stated she’s Brigid’s Ma. Boann is another option.

Now I have a bit of an attraction towards Bóann myself. I have been told that this is probably cos I grew up in close proximity to the Boyne, and it’s certainly no more substantiated than the links to the Morrigan. It’s possibly also because I see Bóann as a bit more motherly than the Morrigan. (yeah, I can feel the “Hey, I can be motherly” glare as well here) but it’s entirely UPG, with very little other than Boann having other kids with the Dagda as well.

Danú is a bit more complicated. I believe the thought that Danú is the mother of Brigid stems from the notion that Danú is the “mother-goddess” of the Tuatha Dé Danann – with Danann being assumed to be a grammatical form of Danú. Just to keep things interesting, there is a recension of Leabhar Gabhala Eireann conflating Brigid with Danú as the mother of the TDD… Anyone ever trying to make out a proper family tree of the Irish deities has their work cut out for them!

They’re the three front runners for her Ma anyway. Her siblings are bit more straightforward. There is a suggestion of the daughter of Indech, the Formorian king as Brigid’s mother, but I don’t rate this one even as much as the others above, since the timelines are all off. Of course, the Dagda was able to stop the sun in its course to allow Boann to conceive and bear Aonghus in one day so maybe time isn’t an issue here…

Back to the siblings so… First off, we have Oengus or Aonghus, or Mac Óg, the son of Bóann that the Dagda stopped the passage of the sun so that Bóann could get through the nine months of pregnancy without her husband Elcmar noticing anything wrong. (He’s not the Good God because of any moral leanings, mainly because the notion of Christian morality, good and evil etc didn’t really exist during his time).

Cermait is the son that plays a major role in the story of how the Dagda got his famous club. Apparently, Cermait slept with Lugh’s wife Briach and Lugh killed him for it. The Dagda, understandably, wasn’t too happy about this so took himself off on a round the world tour to engage in all sorts of adventures and ended up with the life and death club.

A third son of the Dagda, was Aed or Aodh in modern Irish (Anglicised as Hugh). Not as detailed a story about this son, although he does appear and sleeps with the wife of Corrgrend of Cruarch, who then kills him (anyone seeing a theme here?) This time the Dagda doesn’t manage to revive his son, but there’s a curse involved and it’s still a riveting tale.

Bodhb Dearg is named as a son of the Dagda, although it’s possible this was a later device to try and put some order on the pantheon (I don’t know why they bothered, any such ordering appears to have made things more complicated!) However, in Aonghus’ story about finding the beautiful woman of his dreams, the Dagda consults with the King of the Sí in Munster, also a son of his, Bodhb Dearg, who manages to find the woman in question, to ease Aonghus’ way. Here we enter into a bit of a conundrum since an later spelling of “Bodhbh” is “Badhbh” who is generally considered to be one of the Morrigna or an aspect of the Morrigan. So, was Bodhbh Dearg a daughter of the Dagda he slept with (as aspect of the Morrigan) or a son who ended up being King of the Sí in Munster?

There is a brief mention in the Banshechas of another sister, Echtgi, who is described as the “loathsome daughter of the Dagda” and her story described as a spiteful one. Not much detail other than this…

On to children so… And yeah, there’s about as much linearity here as well.

Ruadhán was Brig and Bres’ son in Caith Maighe Tuired 2. That bit is well outlined, given it’s pretty much all of the 3 lines poor Brig gets in the story by name. Fairly solid ground here.

Then we move on to… sons of Tuireann. I know – where did they come from? Well… There is a suggestion in some places (ok more than a suggestion) that Brigid is the mother of Brian, Iucharba, Iuchair, the sons of Tuireann, that Lugh sends off to to collect these items as a fine for murder: three apples, and the skin of a pig, and a spear,and two horses, and a chariot, and seven pigs, and a dog’s whelp, and a cooking-spit, and three shouts on a hill. (It’s all more complicated than that of course, but I’ll leave ye to read the story for yourselves for now, or wait for the book to come out if ye want – don’t be holding yere breath though!) of course the other suggestion is that Danand is the mother of the three sons in question – as ever, things are clear and straightforward in the family tree.

Isn’t that all fun? And we haven’t even gotten into the suggestions of incest and other skullduggery either.