Daily devotion

One of the biggest responses I got from my support systems posts (check them out here and here) was a question about my own daily practice. As in what do I do. And I was answering everybody about it individually and then finally realised it might be easier to just write a blog post on it. (I’m a slow learner sometimes! Although to be fair, I wasn’t sure there’d be this much interest in the topic!)

So here we go. I had to think about this a bit because my daily devotional exercises are built into my life rather than specific things I do. But I did come across a few things I’m doing right now. (And it’s important to realise that these practices change over time as my needs and her needs change – staying the same for too long might lead to stagnation in both my spiritual life and elsewhere)

Usually in the morning I’ll acknowledge her in some way, shape, or form. This could mean a quick mental check in, lighting a candle or a more formal prayer or meditation. And by “quick mental check in”, I mean pausing for a min, thinking about her and seeing if I get any nudges or subtle hints. Or indeed not-so-subtle hints. There’s times I don’t listen very well!

Equally, there are things that are kinda like projects. I’m re-learning to walk right now, having some success, after a few years of a very bad ingrown toenail and multiple operations to sort it out. It’s amazing how much my walk had changed and put stress on my legs. So now, of course, I need to re-learn how to walk normally (for me) and am working with a physio on sorting out all the pains that are coming up because of that. Up to 5500 steps a day though, now so not doing to badly.

Then there are specifics she calls on me to do – like the other week, when I held a prayer session for Ukraine and all war-stricken places around the world in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group. Another, possibly more spiritual project, she has me working on is research into the Ulster Brigs as I call them – the three Brigs mentioned in the Senchas Mór as the mother, wife and daughter of Sencha, the brehon. That means time on academia.edu and chasing up obscure references in other papers. I hope to have a class on these Brigs shortly, although for anything more than a brief introduction, it will need to be a few weeks long I think. But that research is an act of devotion as well.

And then there’s the living my life stuff. I do my best to live my life according to the ethics and morals I’ve signed up to. And that’s more and more natural as time goes on. It doesn’t tend to be transactional, in the “If I do this things, you’ll do that thing” kinda way, but it does mean my life is easier and better when I consider those ethics and morals daily in what actions I do and don’t take. Mostly it’s about being in right relationship, treating people fairly, offering support to those who need it, that sort of thing. Sometimes it’s donating money to a given cause, other times it’s sending an email, sometimes it’s listening to someone. There’s an ad for butter in Ireland right now that has the tag line “Spread the Goodness” and it’s not a bad way to think of things. If you can do something nice or good for someone else, why not do it?

I do sometimes complete more formal rituals and honouring activities. I make sure to have several candles lighting for her if I’m teaching an online class, because she can keep the internet running for me! If I’m feeling low or unenergised, I might do a more formal meditation. Around Imbolc I have some practices I do – walking the bounds and grounds, making sure the house is clean for visitors, Brigid’s cross, the brat Bríde, that sort of thing.

But mostly, through the year, the main focus is teaching, living my life, being the best I can be. I can and am called on to enter some battles, usually online ones to be fair, but how I engage is up to me. She knows I’m no warrior, although I think part of the reason she’s pushing me so hard on the walking is so I can get fitted and be able to run when needed 🙂

Anyway, that’s a short insight into my daily practice, I hope ye found it interesting!

Support Systems part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Support Systems (you can check it out here) and honestly the response to that post surprised me. Not so much in likes and comments on the blog, but more in the emails I received afterwards. I was surprised so many people appeared taken by it.

And in my last post, I looked at the supports outside of ourselves, the organisations and people who offer support at different times and in different ways. Today, I’m going to look at the support systems we ourselves construct to help ourselves. I warn you now, you’ll be hearing a lot about my daily life in this one, so be prepared.

While obviously the people we spend time with are very important, it’s possible more important to look at the things we spend time on ourselves, whether by active choice or by habit. As people here know, I spent time off work last year because of mental health and coming back to work has had me reviewing the habits I had slipped into and what needed to change. So here we go.

The night before I go to work, I lay out my outfit for the morning and pack my bag with lunch. I also consciously decide on what breakfast I’m having. If I’m not travelling to work, i.e. working from home, I still lay out my outfit (it’s just more likely to be at the end of the bed rather than hung on the wardrobe door 😉 ) and plan my breakfast and lunch for the next day. I usually, but not always, have my shower at night as well.

When I wake up, I sometimes jump out of bed immediately, but other times I spend some time waking up before hopping out of bed. I go to the bathroom, take my meds and then sit on the couch for a bit to allow me to properly wake up. Here’s where I check my Noom lessons for the day, look at my sleep data from Fitbit, mess around on Facebook for a few mins, read a book for a bit, just generally and slowly wake up my brain. I dance at this point as well a few mornings a week, to ease myself into my body and feelings again. I’ll have breakfast, get dressed and head out the door. I usually drink a bottle of water before leaving the house as well.

I usually use my commute to listen to podcasts and I just line them up in the order they become available, but if I’m having a tough day mentally, I may change the podcast from a business/productivity orientated one to a more fun one. I usually drink a bottle of water while driving to work.

On arriving in work, I do a quick scan of emails, check my calendar for the day, check my t0-do list for the day, refill my water bottle and start work. At the end of the day, I check emails, note anything that needs dealing with in the morning, shut off laptop, refill water bottle, and hit the road.

When I arrive home, I check how long I have until dinner, see if I can do the clothes laying out etc in that time and chill a bit.

The routine helps me keep things going. I build in plenty of time for waking up and sleeping. I build in time for Facebook scrolling and playing games because I enjoy them and they relax me a bit. On the days I’m not in work, I usually do some exercise, some extra dancing or a walk on the treadmill or something like that.

At weekends, I tend to sleep more, catch up on housework a bit, do the shopping, etc. On Sundays, I prepare breakfast and lunch for a few days in advance to make the start of the week a bit easier for myself. even those breakfasts and lunches come out of a fairly small bunch of meals – breakfast is usually oat based, whether porridge or overnight oats or something like that. Lunch if I’m at home can be omelette or sandwiches or pasta, in work, anything that can be thrown in a box and doesn’t require reheating.

It sounds dull, but really, the idea is that what can I spend 5mins doing now that will make my life easier tomorrow or later on? You’ll also notice none of this is a detailed, min-by-min plan, but it’s a rough outline of what a typical morning/ evening might look at. Some days have different routines, e.g. Sunday nights are usually bath night, where I take the time to luxuriate in a long bath before bed to help me off to sleep and relax. Friday nights is our most likely night to have takeaway!

One of the things I do on a Monday morning is review the past week and look forward to the coming week to make sure I’ve not missed something and I’m aware of any upcoming appointments or deadlines. That way, I don’t end up planning a physio appt at the same time as a critical meeting at work or something. It also means I plan fun things ahead of time as well, and look at what friends I want to contact or msg during the week. Even just writing it down usually means it happens. I look at any birthdays coming up, events, disruptions to the routine, etc so things don’t take me by surprise and I can be prepared. I work better (both in work and in life!) when I can prepare.

Now, we can’t prepare for everything in life of course, but for the things I can prepare for, I want to be prepared. So if I know I’m going to be away for the weekend, I might look on Thursday/Friday to make sure I have the makings of breakfast and lunch for Monday in the house. Or if there’s a financial outlay coming up, I’ll make sure it’s noted so I don’t have the same money down to be spent twice or three times.

These routines are in place to support myself and lessen stress where possible in my life. They work for me – they might not work for you! But that basic question: what can I do now for 5mins that will make things easier later? What can I do the night before to make the morning easier? What can I do first thing that will make the day easier? What essential thing must I fit in to make the day easier for me? Looking at the days and weeks this way can help you place support systems for yourself to help you with life.

I’ve not included devotional activities here in detail, but usually if I’m dancing, I will light a candle. Before I sit down to work at home, I’ll light some incense or a candle or both. Part of my browsing/ idle time in the morning is time to check in with Brigid and see how things are with us. Part of my looking forward and back on a Monday is to make sure I’m covering devotional as well as mundane things in my life. It’s all incorporated rather than separated out and that works for me. You may have different mileage! But please, drop a comment or send me an email to let me know what you think! And if you’d like to join the email list, you can sign up here.

A look at women in Christianity

As those who are on my email list know, I read a really interesting book last week. (If you want to join the email list, click here to join and you’ll get a pdf of original lore Brigid resources as well 🙂 )

But back to the book. It’s called The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr (that’s not an affiliate link or anything, just straight to amazon!) I was interested in it, because I’ve always felt the message we receive from the Catholic Church about women’s roles in the Church has been more about control and submission than about Jesus’ message. And as Christians, surely, Jesus should matter more than a group of aul fellas? Beth Allison Barr might come from an evangelical background, but she’s had similar feelings as I have. The difference is, she actually got off her backside and wrote a book about it.

Barr is a historian by trade, so the book appears to be well researched to me. She covers women in the early church (Yes, Brigid is mentioned as being ordained a bishop :D), women in medieval times and women in (predominantly evangelical or what I would consider fundamentalist Protestant religions) in the modern church. She also traces the different ways the church – mostly the Roman Catholic Church, but post Reformation she includes the Protestant churches as well – has changed over time to keep women in control. For example, in the early church, it was quite clear that Jesus has removed all barriers, to quote Paul (yes, I know, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And there were a lot of female leaders in the church in the early days – the early Christian church was one that focused on the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, etc. Jesus was for the underdogs.

But, then Patriarchy got in the way. And Patriarchy is a clever little shit, adapting and changing as women get better at navigating it. For example, in the early church, women were encouraged to give up family and children, to hold God first and foremost in their hearts and minds, in effect to become as like men as possible. (Barr explains this comes from early understandings of women as imperfect men – honestly, how the human race has survived so long, I don’t know….) But post-Reformation, way more emphasis on the man being the head of the household as God is the head of the church came about. And the role of women became increasingly confined to the home, as wives and mothers, leading to the current situation in Protestant circles, or at least evangelical circles, of discussions being held about whether women should be allowed to work outside the home at all and women not being allowed to teach teenage boys in Sunday School. It seems very strange to me.

I will say, despite all this, Barr has an engaging and informative writing style. I detest most of the attitudes she’s writing about, and will fight to my last breath that men and women and non-binary people should be treated the same, but until we get there, things should be put in place to help the oppressed reach equity. But Barr goes in depth explaining about how the Scriptures have been translated with different agendas in mind; how the Bible has been used and abused to support different agendas; how even certain texts are cherry picked to force a particular message; how ever St Paul is misquoted or quoted out of context. I’ll give an example. Here’s a verse that’s frequently quoted to keep women from being ordained or speaking in church, etc, etc, etc

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:34–35

But here’s the thing. The next sentence could offer a redemption for Paul:

What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 1 Corinthians 14:36

As in, what the hell are ye thinking? Why should women be silent? But of course that bit isn’t ever quoted cos it changes the whole meaning of the section. It’s possible I’ve misjudged Paul, but honestly, he’s been used to hammer women for centuries at this point. I have more than a strong aversion to him, despite learning the above sections.

That’s just one example of how the Bible and Scriptures have been used to oppress women. There’s loads of them! And I think most of them are in this book. If at times, you feel that you want to know better how did we get from being “all one in Christ Jesus“, to a system of patriarchy and hierarchy and oppression – this book goes a long way towards explaining it – even for Catholics. Because while the church has been around for 2 millennia, if not in its current forms, the Reformation only happened in the 16th century, so really, for most of Christian history, there was pretty much only 1 show in town for Christianity, for the majority of people. And the Reformation brought a lot of good things with it, even for the Catholic church. The Counter Reformation is a fascinating time for the church and well worth reading up on.

But for this book – it’s worthwhile reading if you want to see how one particular text/ group of texts can be subtly and not-so-subtly altered to suit an agenda. As I said to my email list earlier this week, it’s something we all need to be aware of. Even the translations of Irish lore, as incomplete as they are, were translated with particular sensibilities in mind. We need to be careful of this whenever we read something – critical thinking basically. What’s the agenda behind the writer or translator of this piece? What context, historical, political, whatever, are they writing in? What are they trying to achieve here? What purpose are they working towards?

Even my blog here, it’s worthwhile thinking about what my aims are… (OK in my case, I’m usually rambling about whatever’s going through my head, but still, critical thinking is good practice!) Why do I write what I write? Why does this interest me? Why do I feel the need to share it?

In this case, it’s because this book is really interesting and helped me understand how women’s roles have changed and developed over time in the church, in Christianity and in the world generally. Understanding power structures and how they are applied is extremely valuable in the modern world and this book might help us understand the historical methods used for oppression, so we might recognise similar antics now and in the future.

Support Systems

In most of my bios, at least in relation to spirituality and my teaching, I say I’m a solitary pagan. Equally in work, I am often the only woman in the room, the meeting, the group etc. Solitary and alone are by defaults to be honest.

But I got a shove last night. I can’t even say it was a nudge or a hint, obviously Brigid has been dropping the subtle hints for a while and is now fed up with me not getting them! But I got a not-so-subtle reminder that actually, while my spiritual practice is predominantly solitary and while my engineering practice means I am usually the only woman around, that doesn’t really mean I’m alone.

I have support systems.

I would not be where I am today without those support systems and honestly, the internet has made this easier by far than it used to me.

I’ll talk about as an engineer first. When I was a baby engineer, fresh out of college, full of zim and zest and zap (I had to go consult dictionary.com to find a third word beginning with z and honest, I’m not even sure it fits, but it sounds good!) I was on my way, I was going to be successful, I was going to conquer the world.

It took about 3 years before I figured out that wasn’t going to happen. In that time, I dealt with an abusive personal relationship, chronic illness, bullys as bosses, assault in work, assault outside of work by work colleagues, lack of personal safety at work… I mean I often joked at the time it was lucky I’d had good bladder training because I couldn’t go to the toilet in work without something happening. Basically, life wasn’t good. And I felt really, really bad, thinking it was all my fault.

I started a new job with a manager that turned out to be closer to a second Dad than a manager (seriously, my Dad called him out at my wedding to acknowledge everything he had done for me!) He suggested trying to find other women in engineering. He knew damn well there weren’t many around the place where we were, so we spent a few hours on the internet. Well ok, I spent a few hours on the internet, while he sat encouragingly at the next desk. He is a great man, but not a tech wizard! And I found an organisation, Women’s Engineering Society. I remember my first event was one on how to dress for work.

Seriously.

Up to that time, my work wardrobe was either a white shirt and black trousers if I was in an office, or overalls (sometimes with PJs under them) if I was on plant. To say it was monochrome and consistent and bland and basic would be a serious understatement. But as an engineer, I didn’t think I should be focused on what I wore to work. I was there to be assessed on my skills, not my appearance right? And then someone pointed out to me on the course, that even though I wasn’t in work, I was wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans to this course. Which was not too far away from my “office” uniform. It was pointed out to me that I was allowed some other colours in my wardrobe. I was permitted to wear tops and trousers that had some shape to them. Not revealing, but things that made me feel good about myself.

It was a massive shock to me that I was permitted to wear something different. Then, this wonderful woman at the course introduced me to the Debenham’s personal shopping service. (This is no longer available due to Debenhams closing in 2020 unfortunately) I thought personal shopping was for rich people, honestly. The thought that it might be offered to someone like me was a revelation. And so, I went along to the personal shopper in Leicester – which was the closest place I was living at the time. It was so cool!! I talked to this fabulously dressed woman, like seriously stylish and cool and comfortable looking! We talked about my job and what I could and couldn’t wear and what I felt comfortable in and what parts of my body I liked/didn’t like (at the time, the “didn’t like” outweighed the “like” significantly!)

I came away with 2 full outfits and loads of ideas. And I went back to the next training course with WES. And the next. And the next. Over time, I covered things like being assertive, dealing with difficult conversations, more on how to dress… the list went on. But more importantly, I met other women in engineering at all stages of their career. I met women who had worked in similar environments to me. I met women who were just starting out like me. I met women who had created a career for themselves, essentially and opened my eyes to what was possible.

That was a support system. And it helped me immensely. These days, my engineering support system includes several good friends from my college days. In fact, with one particular friend, we have a system when we’re trying to write an email that needs to be diplomatic but we are feeling very undiplomatic. We send the drafts to each other – that way there’s no mistaken sending of an earlier draft to the intended recipient. And, if I’m honest, the first draft tends to be along the lines of “listen you fucking dribble of a fuckwit”. It sometimes gets as far as “Hi X, I feel you didn’t quite understand…” These friends are like gold dust. Keep them close!!

I could see the need for this support in my professional life. It had helped me immensely over the years, so it was proven, basically. And while I’m no longer in the UK and so WES events aren’t easy to attend, I’m still on their mailing list and I’m trying to help set up a similar organisation in Ireland.

But on to my spiritual support system next. I grew up in the Catholic faith, so there were support structures there. When I was growing up, kids prepared for First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation in primary schools all across the country. Not doing so was considered strange (which is problematic in itself, but that’s not the topic at hand here)

I went to a convent secondary school, where faith was assumed and the school year usually started and ended with a Mass. When I went to college, there was a church on campus and regular masses held – particularly around exam time. So I grew up with the security of knowing there was always somewhere I could go to practice my faith.

It changes when I went to England. For a start, English Catholics were in my experience, way more Catholic than Irish ones. As in, they appeared to take their religion extremely seriously and didn’t expect to have any fun at all with it. Instead of Halloween, their children went to a Festival of Light on 31st October – something that would be unheard of in Ireland. And then the scandals started becoming common knowledge. At home, the scandals in the church were described as specific priests rather than systemic in the system. But through the 90’s and for me, the noughties, things became clear that there were inherent, deeply held, systemic and systematic issues with the whole institution of the church. To explain the differences between my own practice and that of the English Catholics I met, I thought of myself as as Irish Catholic, but this was no longer true to what I was feeling.

I have described elsewhere an awakening I had after an initiatory weekend in England after I came back to Ireland. It involved sobbing in a Travelodge for hours on end, waiting for a ferry and the Dagda coming to help me. And support me. The notion of a deity as a support system had not occurred to me before that. Saints? Sure. The Virgin Mary? Absolutely. God Himself? Why would he care about someone like me?

When I came home from that weekend, things started changing in me. I spoke a lot to my husband and even though things were tight at the time, we came up with the money for me to attend a moot in a nearby town as a way of connecting in to the local pagan community. That decision was one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I met Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School at that moot (they were setting up the moot at the time) and a few months after my first moot, they held a moot pretty much just for me so I could avoid a trip I didn’t want to take. That was the start of a friendship I value dearly and the start of a support system for my spiritual growth in the last few years.

Brigid has always been in my life, although it is only in recent years that I have recognised her as the support she is. There are other deities hovering about (side-eye towards her Da here) but she’s my main deity and looks like staying that way. Through my work with Brigid and with the Irish Pagan School, I have been supported and helped through a journey that has led to me teaching, starting this blog, starting the Patreon account, starting my own school and so much more! I have been led to pray more, to conduct my own prayer sessions, as well as those for others. I have been led to a place where I’m applying to become a clergy member and representing those who perhaps are like myself in a liminal space with spirituality and carving our own path. I’ve been led to support and help others as well as receiving the support myself.

The problem with describing all this is that it’s hard to describe it without going into masses of detail, but this spiritual work has led to an overhaul of my life with much more of my time going on things that I hold important rather than things other people consider important. My spiritual support system has helped me through crises in my marriage, in my mental health, in my life in general. I have found people I know I can trust and who I know will be honest with me if they see me going astray from my values and core beliefs. People underestimate how valuable that is. I’m even including my (Church of England if you push him hard, but really not into religion or spirituality in general) husband in my rituals and my practices. He’s gotten used to candles burning pretty much constantly in the house and appreciates that incense isn’t just about hiding suspicious odours as well.

I suppose this blog post is about helping people realise that we all need support in our lives. No one can do it alone. We all need help and support in our lives and really, it is best to ensure we get that support through looking at it like a system. (I know, I’m an engineer, I like systems!) A single person can’t be a system, despite what modern views of marriage can tell us. And we may need different support systems for different aspects of our lives – that’s something I’ve certainly found. While dear friends might be willing to listen and help in diverse areas of our lives, it’s good to have people who fully understand what you’re going through as well. If you’re suffering from bullying at work, you probably have someone in your life who has gone through the same. If you’re suffering from lack of development or a feeling of ennui with life, you probably know someone who has gone through something similar. If you want to send an email pretty much filled with expletives – changes are you know someone who can help you with the editing. Or not. Y’know – whatever road you want to go down 🙂

At the end of the day though, we’re none of us islands. Even I, as an introvert who happily goes weeks without human contact aside from my husband (and him only cos we live together!), realise that I need to reach out to people and connect with people for support at times. So have a look about you. Who can you rely on for support in what situations? (Include deities, saints, ancestors, whatever you like in this!) Even when we feel we are completely alone, it can sometimes shock us when we take a look around to see how many supports we actually have in our lives.

The Anvil, what it is, what it isn’t and how to survive it!

The anatomy of an anvil (https://www.farmcollector.com/equipment/implements/history-of-anvils/)

Since I’ve posted the new graphics and logos, a few questions have come up, so I’ll spend a few weeks posting about them. One of the most commonly asked questions is why the anvil? Aside from the obvious forge connection anyway. So that’s what we’ll be exploring in this post.

I was looking up anvils before the logos got finalised and I came across the above link. Call me daft, but I do love learning about the history of these things. Now, you can see from the above drawing that an anvil is a fairly complicated bit of kit for a lump of iron. But it’s also hugely useful. There is an anvil rusting away in the shed at my grandparents place – I discovered it with my bare toe when I was younger, which is not something I recommend, just FYI. It was an extremely common farm tool. And as for how it was made, well…

Wrought-iron anvils were made of blocks that started out as piles of scrap iron. The scrap iron was forge-welded, and the resulting block was shaped into an anvil under a trip hammer. Next, the hardened steel faceplate was hammer-welded into place and final finishing was done by hand, using sledge hammers, flatters and other shaping tools as well as grinders. As many as seven men were needed to position and hammer a single anvil during this process. Present-day anvils are made mostly of cast steel with a hardened face.” (from Farm Collector again)

So, we’re talking about a tough bit of kit and one that used to hard treatment and work. What then do we mean about being put through Brigid’s Anvil?

Here’s where we need to deal with some misconceptions about Brigid. Very often, I see people new to working with Brigid, who see her as a kind, motherly, gentle deity. And in some ways she is. But no more than a parent has to instill discipline in their children, and usually shape their children to some extent at least, so too with Brigid. She doesn’t just see us as tools, but she does need to shape her tools to suit the work that is coming towards us.

It can be really hard. I’ve heard stories of people’s lives falling apart in many ways, relationships falling apart, jobs being lost, financial insecurity, loss, pain, strife. We need to be very clear though that this isn’t abuse. And it’s not the old “everything happens for a reason bullshit” (more on that later). What these changes and upheavals have in common is that generally we either learn skills she needs us to have or we are in a better position with work, relationships, life to be the tool she needs.

It’s even hard to describe what it’s like going through the anvil, because frankly, most people I know who talk about this, only really recognise it afterwards. But there are a few things it’s not:

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

If you have a chronic illness – this is not what I’m talking about. If you have lost someone close to you – this is not what I’m talking about. Rape, abuse, assault – none of these things. If it’s a decision that someone else has taken to do something to you, then no, this isn’t it.

But the end of what you realise now is an abusive relationship and the recovery after it, that could be it. Not the abuse, but the recovery and the painful steps to rebuild yourself afterwards. Brigid isn’t going to cause a miscarriage to better prepare you for something, miscarriage isn’t not something I believe happens for a reason. She may use the recovery from such an event to help you come back stronger, but she will not cause such things.

But she does want her tools shaped, so if there’s a great project at work that will help you develop skills she knows you’re going to need, but it will put pressure on you, eh… she might give you a push in the right direction. If there’s a short term emergency that means you risk burnout or extreme fatigue, but the payback will be massive – you might get a nudge for that as well. But she doesn’t want or need broken tools. Tempering – sure. Shaping – absolutely. Broken? Sure what use would you be to her?

Now, I’m going to return to the “everything happens for a reason” thing. It is my firm belief it doesn’t. I don’t see any benefit in thinking that an abused child “chose” their parents or abuser to learn a lesson. That to me is someone (not the child) choosing to abuse and torment someone weaker than themselves. All anyone learns from that is how to deal with trauma. Equally, I don’t see how a miscarriage happens for a reason, unless it is that the body recognises something in the foetus that isn’t compatibly with life. It’s a biological process, not a learning moment. A partner that turns violent? This is on them, not you – you’re not responsible for other people’s actions.

I hope this helps a little bit. If you think you are going through the anvil and would like some support, check out the school for the available options. I will be talking through some more about the new logos and images in the coming weeks, so if you have questions, shout up now!

Women, engineering, a new study, and Brigid

As many of you know, I have a keen interest in encouraging more women to join the engineering profession and continue their career paths in the profession. Recently I’ve been rethinking my own involvement in my chosen career, and as readers of the blog will know, I am looking at alternative income streams to relieve the pressure on the engineering thing at the minute.

With all that in mind, I was really interested when a friend of mine sent me a copy of How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis by Julia Yates and Sarah Skinner (Psychology, City, University of London, London, UK) (citation at the end of the post) It’s an interesting read and I recognise quite a few of my own behaviours in this article from over the years. It’s concerning really that as female engineers, we can both recognise the forces at work to make careers harder for us, but also hold a firm belief that we will be the ones to achieve and rise in spite of it all, no matter the cost.

Of course, some people do count the cost and work with that in mind, but perhaps I’m feeling more sensitive to these things given my recent mental health issues. The research asks two questions:

RQ1. How do female engineers conceptualise career development in engineering?

RQ2. What do women feel prevent them from fully developing their career competencies: knowing-why, knowing-how and knowing-whom?

Now it’s fair to say that the study is based in one UK company, with 32 female engineers interviewed for the study. There’s loads on the methodology in the paper – if you’re interested in that sort of thing, search out a copy of it. But I suppose, we need to be careful with extrapolating too far with the cohort studied being so limited. And I would be, except the findings tally very well with my own anecdotal evidence and experience. (Confirmation bias? Maybe!) The authors identified 3 overarching themes to the findings:

(1) promotions come to those who are widely known (seen in the narratives of 30 of the 32 participants),

(2) across the organisation, men are given a higher value than women (28 of the narratives)

(3) mothers have to contend with the conflicting ideologies of a good worker and a good mother (27 of the narratives)

Alongside these themes, there were also some findings about how these women explain away the obvious issues they see with career development as a female engineer:

  • Some feel that claims of sexism are overstated
  • Some acknowledged that women are under-represented in the higher ranks but saw this as the result of their own choice, not any discrimination
  • A number of the participants see that women do not get to the top, but they think it’s not about gender
  • Some noticed that they were excluded at times, but felt that it was for reasons other than gender including age, personality or level of seniority
  • A group of the participants acknowledged that there was some sexist behaviour within their teams but found explanations that would soften the intentions behind the behaviour
  • Some laid the blame outside the organisation, saying that it is simply because enough women are not coming through from the education system, and that is a much more widespread problem
  • A group of the women found ways to make the best of the situation, either because they are so used it, it has become the norm or through minimising the impact the incidents have had on them
  • Finally, some managed to see the positives, feeling grateful for what they have

Only 3 participants highlighted the conflict between the narratives (i.e. difficulty in career progression and mitigating explanations). Only 3. I know why, of course, it’s so you can survive in the atmosphere and think you can still manage, you can still progress, you can still work.  

At this point, you’re probably asking what on earth I’m going on about this so much for. Well, first off, as I said above, my keen interest in getting more women into engineering is widely known – although recently I’ve been feeling more concerned about that. How can I encourage women into a profession I know  will be difficult and awkward for them? But if I don’t encourage more women (and non-binary people and other non-cishet white men to be fair), how will things change? Is there a way to address the issues that this paper, and others, raise for women in the industry and continue to make engineering an attractive career?

There’s also a wider concept here that’s worth looking at. Where else do we hold cognitive dissonance in our lives? (The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes). As a female engineer, I’m really accustomed to the sort of cognitive dissonance the women in this study showed. As I said earlier, I have experienced all of these feelings, all of these thoughts in the last 20yrs. Most women I know working in industry do. It’s a part of our lives.

But with that tension in our lives, it can lead to stretch out elsewhere. It could have something to do with greater numbers of women leaving the profession than men. It could have to do with female engineers not encouraging their daughters or other female relations from pursuing a career in engineering. It can lead to greater stress and burnout for these women – it’s an extra mental load to carry.

I have no doubt that plenty of people can learn lessons from this sort of paper, and yet it will doubtless not be read widely beyond those interested in the pretty narrow field of women in engineering. I feel the issues brought forward can be addressed to any area of life however. And here’s where the Brigid talk comes in!

Because we make some choices in life almost by default, or we come into a situation that is already established, it can be hard to look at where we’re dealing with cognitive dissonance in our own lives. And it’s worth taking a look at. Where are you doing things on autopilot without even thinking about it? Where have you to compromise with your values and ethics and what cost or toll is that taking on your mental, physical, spiritual health and wellbeing?

I spent 2 yrs working for a defence company in the UK. Possibly two of the hardest years in my working career, because every day I was reminded I was working and collaborating in the creation of weapons to destroy life. It’s only now, looking back at it, that I can see where this was taking a toll on me. And I’ve dealt with assault, bullying, oppression in work in all sorts of ways, but that was external. The choice to work in the defence industry was mine. Now, it was the right choice in some ways, but I never factored in the personal toll it would take on me. It’s more than 10 yrs ago now, so the aftereffects are mostly dealt with, but nevertheless…

If something in this article resonates with you, use the opportunity to have a look at the values that Brigid espouses for you and how that conflicts or aligns with the way you live your life. For me, Brigid supports women in male-dominated spheres (the Smith), she supports those without other representation or little representation (Brig Ambue), she takes care of those in need of healing (the Healer, surprisingly enough), she cares about ethics and right relationship and right judgement (the Poet and Brig Ambue again, as well as Brig Brethach), she cares about hospitality, feeding people, ensuring people have their due (Brig Briciu). She cares about a lot in my experience. But fundamentally, it all comes down to allowing people to follow their path in life, removing obstacles, not putting obstacles in the way of others, maintaining right relationship and ethical living, however we define that for ourselves, and dealing with the consequences of our actions.

If you read the above discussion of the article, and the excerpts from it, and nothing resonates -that’s grand. Good on you! But if you can recognise the cognitive dissonance these women display and there’s a niggle at the back of your mind? Maybe take a walk through that niggle, sit with it, and see where it’s coming up for you in your life.

Yates, J. and Skinner, S., 2021. How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis. Career Development International, 26(5), pp.697-719.

A new adventure!

I knew around Imbolc I’d be starting something new this year for herself and for the community. I had some ideas, but nothing concrete.

Well, it got solidified! Welcome to the new Brigid’s Forge Patreon Page!! A few months ago, when I asked people for content for the school, prayers came up quite a bit. Well the school isn’t the best path for delivering that sort of content, but Patreon is. Every month, I’ll be adding a new devotional, based on some of Brigid’s lore, and a short Irish prayer. You can check out the different membership options here as well. Are you a Hammer, Anvil or Forge?

I’m looking to have fun with this – I usually enjoy writing devotionals and I’ve shared a few of them on this blog as well at times. Plus, it’s also a means of both using my Irish and getting more people to use their Irish as well – or even start learning it. In example Anvil post I’ve put up there, you can see it took me quite a while to go through a 2 line prayer, so when I say short… Well, it’s won’t be Paradise Lost, that’s for sure!

Anyway, please go take a look and I hope to see you there!

Imbolc is coming…

… and my blood pressure is going up! OK that was a joke. Kinda. But this is the time of year when I see the most dubious information posted about Brigid and it hurts.

I get it, there are people out there that visit with the deity of the season through the years and that’s great. I love to see more people getting to know Brigid and this is one way for people to do so. What drives me cracked is people taking lore from all over the place and mashing it together into some sort of Franken-deity.

For me it’s simple – yes I can see links between Irish Brigid and Scottish Bride and even English Brigantia. And possibly, way back when, they were all the same deity. It’s possible. But we’re not way back when and we don’t know how our ancestors worshipped or dealt with that pre-Brigid deity. It’s like saying all modern Irish are the Milesians. Or actually it would need to be further back than the Milesians, it would need to be the first hunter-gatherers that came to this island. it doesn’t work.

Deity, no more than people, develop over time and that means lumping together a mishmash can prove detrimental if you’re looking to do deeper work with Brigid. (Or any other deity for that matter!)

As for the things I’m seeing going around the internet that have Brigid as both a solar and a lunar deity – I can’t bring myself to comment other than to say that Irish deities don’t tend to work that way. We can sometimes say that such-and-such a deity has a link with the sun or the moon because of this particular story and that’s about it. (Unless it’s the Dagda who’s good at it, whatever “it” is 🙂 ) And I think everyone knows my opinion of the maiden-mother-crone things. *Shudders*

Depending on your needs, there are a few places you can learn more about why I keep going on about this and what’s to learn from our lore. I focus on the Irish lore because there’s plenty there to keep me happy and I am Irish, it makes sense to me. I have some awareness of Scottish lore (at an extremely basic level) but if I’m speaking or teaching, it’s about Irish Brigid.

Here’s a link to my post on UPG and why it’s important to differentiate UPG and generally accepted gnosis

Here’s my post on native vs non-native Brigid

Here’s my free class on Brigid in the Irish lore in the Brigid’s Forge school

Here’s my introductory class to Irish Brigid in the Irish Pagan School

I will also be teaching my 5 week deeper dive into Brigid with the Irish Pagan School in early February. It’s best to sign up to their email list to keep up to date on that one as well!

But please, if you’re reading something on the internet and it seems a bit easy, or a bit strange or a bit too nice… it probably is. Check the lore. Question the writers, including me! Question and discern for yourself and then make sure you’re very clear about what’s your UPG/ headcanon and what’s generally accepted. We owe it to ourselves to keep these things straight!

A matter of consent

I wrote last week about the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore. The murder has gripped the country in a way that no other one has in recent years, indeed my Dad thinks no murder in his lifetime has gripped the country in such a way (and he’s 80+, so…)

It has also sparked a conversation about the responsibilities of men, and how the vast majority of violence instigators, whether it ends up being against women or not, whether it ends up being murder or not, are men. And there is a lot of backlash against this. There are men out there who can’t believe their  friends would do such a thing. There’s no one in their circles who talk like that. There’s no one that they  would associate with that would do or think such things. And yet… there are also men who think that coming along to a vigil for a dead woman and drowning out the speakers with a “Men’s Rosary” is appropriate. There are men in the country that think coming to an online vigil for the same dead woman and masturbating on camera is appropriate. There are men who think now is the time to start shouting over women to make sure everyone is aware that #notallmen.

All men benefit from the men who do these things, and who eventually move on to murder. Yes, all men. It trains women. It trains us to be quiet. It trains us to be careful. It trains us to not raise our voices, not speak out, not be noticed. It keeps us nicely in our places. And all while the majority of men in this world, not just in this country, can sit back and pat themselves on the back for clearing the lowest of possible bars for decency. By not inflicting violence on women. Yippee. Well done.

Now on to the serious work.

It starts with the absolute basics of life. Treat women as fully emancipated, fully competent, fully deserving human beings, worthy of respect, courtesy and all the other basics attributed to human beings. I’m not even going to go into how much worse women of colour, transwomen trans women*, poor women, chronically ill women, women with different abilities, neurodivergent women all have to contend with. Frankly, as a white woman, who has a reasonable salary, good education, is native to the land she lives on, is in the majority religion of said country, who speaks the language of said country (both of them!), cishet, and mostly reasonably healthy, I’m doing pretty damn well. If only I’d had the sense to go into a profession that was woman dominated, I’d be grand really.

But I’d still be at more risk that any man out there. And that’s the catch.

We train women from birth to be nice, to not make a fuss, to work in the background, to keep the peace. We speak to our daughters, our nieces, our younger colleagues about the strategies to use, to always have some running away money, to always have an escape route, to always plan ahead for late nights and journeys home, even if it’s only a few hundred yards, to “text when you get home safe”. We think about the shoes we wear, the clothes we wear, the places we go in ways that men simply don’t.

We train women to expect their consent not to be asked for. And that has to change.

It needs to change from the absolute smallest things – ask before hugging someone, ask before sending someone a private message on social media, ask before robbing a chip off the plate. Respect women’s autonomy, bodily, emotionally, spiritually. Ask before engaging in their space.

In the Brigid’s Forge facebook group, we have a rule that often confuses some people – no unsolicited private messages. That means asking permission before sending someone a PM. People question this rule a lot. They can’t see the point of it, they can’t see the problem with simply sending someone a PM. A PM can be just ignored, right? Well so can wolf whistling and catcalling. So can gestures made in the street. So can harassment at work. But it all takes energy to ignore. It all takes effort to ignore and deal with. And it’s the same with a PM.

So many of us get so many unsolicited PMs in all social media, it’s an intrusion. People, and in my experience, it’s mostly men, seem to think they are allowed to intrude into anyone they like. And honestly, most of the messages are along the lines of “Hello beautiful”, “Hi your photo looks so interesting”. It’s pure bullshit. Plus – my photo on Facebook is at least 10yrs old if not more. And even blocking and deleting these people takes time and energy to do. And sometimes, just sometimes, it would be great to go into my PMs and not see a pile of requests from people wanting something from me. Because a PM is a demand for attention. It’s an assumption that the person you’re writing to will respond. Not responding is “rude”. After all, the sender was being polite and pleasant, that’s what women want right?

Lowest. Bar. Possible.

It’s #notallmen of course, sometimes I get PMs from people interested in Brigid and my other work, and those are sometimes unsolicited as well. I get the ones telling me I have no clue about Brigid and should get back in my box. I get more insidiously horrible ones as well. I get patronising ones. I get downright abusive ones.

It doesn’t really matter what sort of content is in it, anytime I see a new message request, my heart sinks. And it’s an effort to deal with it. And sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, but really, the % of times that happens is low.

And really, how is asking for permission to send a PM that much of an intrusion into the sender’s life? They want to make contact and are asking the most appropriate way to do it – why can that not be done through a quick question in a group or a contact form? Why must the initial “Hey I have a question, I’d like to PM you about, is that ok?” be PM itself? (There are exceptions for every rule – I mean, I say in the Brigid’s Forge group that if someone has a question about whether to post something or if someone is in a situation they don’t want made public, but need to get out of, then PMing is fine, but that exception is not there for everyone in the group, just for me and is limited to the group)

It’s a really small thing and people might be questioning how I can be linking unsolicited PMs to the murder of a woman, but it’s all a spectrum of lack of awareness and lack of respect. If we teach our boys and young men to heed boundaries like not intruding on people’s private messages without permission, they might start to get the idea that they are not entitled to put forward their opinions on women’s lives, bodies, dress, etc at any point. They are not entitled to lay hands on women. They are not entitled to attention from women. They are not entitled to any benefit from just treating women as human. They are not entitled to vent their frustrations on women. They are not entitled to treat women as objects at any point. They are not entitled to murder women.

Can you see it? Can you see how changing these small, seemingly inconsequential things can lead to bigger changes? Can you see how respecting boundaries is important?

* It was pointed out to me that “trans” is an adjective to be put in front of the noun not a part of the noun itself. So I corrected it.

Women, death and rights

For those outside Ireland, the following may come as a shock, but this event has swept across Ireland over the last few days. A young woman was murdered while out for a run. (the vast majority of Irish news sites are running stories on this event, so please check them out. Also, there are vigils being held in every county in Ireland over the coming days, so if you are in a position to check those out, please do so).

Some of the things that have shocked the nation:

  • She was a young woman
  • She was a teacher for a 1 st class in a local village school (1st class =6-7 yr olds)
  • She was out for a run
  • She was considered an excellent fiddle player and involved in her local Comhaltas group
  • She was running in a public place, well populated
  • She was running in daylight
  • She was dressed appropriately for running
  • She was beautiful

If you were looking for a list of attributes for a woman who did not deserve, under anyone’s consideration, to be murdered, this woman would have fit the bill. I think even the most conservative of religious conservatives would admit, this woman has done nothing wrong.

And she was murdered, in broad daylight, in a populated place, well known for walkers and runners. Now, to be clear, I don’t care if she was a naked, plastered, a sex worker, a drug addict, ugly, at midnight, etc, etc she did not deserve to be murdered. No one does. But she was doing everything “right”.

So, we, as a society here in Ireland, are now looking around and thinking – just what sort of society do we have here, that a young woman, doing everything “right” can be murdered in broad daylight.

To some people reading this, the murder of a young woman might not even make the news where you are – and I’m sorry for you if that’s the case. That’s not a society I want to live in. I’m also aware that there are many women in Ireland killed on a regular basis that don’t have the newsworthy considerations this young woman did, and again, that is on us as a society. All people are equal, and we should be equally outraged at any murder.

But since this story has hit the news headlines, let’s use this as an opportunity to examine what sort of society we want and need to develop.

Women in Ireland are not, as yet, fully equal in society in my opinion. Our movements are restricted in ways men just aren’t. The notion of “call me when you get home” is an almost entirely female one – among friends anyway. Mammies always want to know their offspring are home safe! The practice of holding your keys in your hand, making sure you have the correct key ready so there’s no fumbling at the door, making sure if you have the temerity to listen to music or podcasts or the radio as you walk or run, that the volume is at the right level so you can hear someone approaching from behind or the side. Never walk home alone. Definitely, never walk home alone in the dark. Always stay in groups. Mind your drinks. Abandon your drink rather than risk it. Be careful what you wear.

The list of “appropriate safety measures” women take, just without even thinking about it, is long. And that’s before we get into dating, or red flags in relationships, etc. This is just purely, walking around in our daily lives.

The first time I said to my now-husband, “give me a text when you get home”, he laughed. He lived 1 street over at the time. He fundamentally didn’t understand the impulse that drove me to say it. It took years before he fully understood…

Ashling Murphy didn’t deserve to die. She’s missed out on the majority of her life because someone decided she should die for reasons as yet unknown. She’s never going to get married or form a long term partnership lasting decades. Whether or not she wanted a family, that choice has now been taken from her. Her family are left with a massive hole where their daughter, sibling, cousin used to be.

It’s a life wasted, because it’s a life not lived.