Category Archives: Ancient Irish Myths

Seeking the Woman-God

Where do you go looking when your soul longs for a Mothering God? Do you find her in poetry? ancient stories? In songs or rituals or art work or sacred dance? Do you look for wise and loving women who embody her? Do you seek her in your own wise and yearning heart? Or would you go out to explore the earth around you, seeking her in the beauty of spring flowers, in the grace of a flowing stream, in the tender presence of young birds in a nest? Would you look in wild places where the sea explodes into the rock face, pummels the cliffs, shapes stone into forms that resemble an ancient wise woman, a cailleach….

 

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Atlantic Ocean greets cliffs of Dun Aengus on Inis M’or

Six weeks after my return from the Brigid of Faughart Festival in Ireland, I am still processing the insights, inspiration and experiences of those days. It is not surprising that what I found was sourced in the lives, the words, the stories, songs and poetry of the women I met there. The Sacred Feminine is an embodied presence. Yet of all that I learned, the thing that stirs me most was the way that women spoke of seeking, finding and being found by the Sacred Feminine in the land: in her sea and shore, her grass and trees, her wells and rivers, her mountains and ancient stones, her golden light and eerie darkness, her wild winds and gentle rains. I am captivated by this new understanding.

To honour the feminine presence, Wisdom Sophia, is to honour the planet which embodies her. From earliest days, from the time even before the arrival of the Celts, the people of Ireland honoured the goddess, whose ancient names include Aine or Anu. She was the one whose eyes held the light of the stars, whose hair rippled like the corn, flowed like the waves of the sea, whose body was the great earth barrows, her breasts the hills, called “the Paps of Anu”.

Before this recent visit to Ireland, I had thought these descriptors were lovely metaphors, a poetic honouring of the sacred presence. Yet on this journey I met women for whom the land, the sea, the rocks and rivers somehow embodied the goddess herself. This is not pantheism, making gods of nature, but rather panentheism, recognizing that the holy is present within all that lives, as Teilhard de Chardin taught.

Snowbound for days in this never-ending winter, I sat by the fire reading Kate Fitzpatrick’s book. Kate spoke during the Brigid Festival of her years of work through workshops, story-telling and powerful shamanic healing rituals, to help bring about peace in Northern Ireland. Her guide, counsellor and co-creative partner in this was Macha, the mythical Ulster Goddess.

In her book (Macha’s Twins: A Spiritual Journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess, Immram Publishing, Inishowen, Donegal, Ireland 2017) Kate describes encounters with Macha, mediated by the land and sea. While living on the island of Inis M’or off the west coast of Ireland near Galway, Kate writes:

I am exhilarated with the vital power of this island. The shifting clouds, the showers of rain. What I love about it is the changing light in each hour of the day. The land is bleak and barren. Yet the play of light makes it so beautiful.

I begin to see that Macha is the Wild Mother here. Every day in the raw vitality of wind and rain and sea I find her. Like her wild spirit, all here is dynamic and powerful. Restless and free. Seeping right in to my bones. I move through autumn and winter beckoned by this force. Every day I see more of the power of the feminine in the sea, the waves, and the rock. (p. 67)

 

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Dun Aengus Inis M’or

In the years that follow, Kate experiences a call to return home to Northern Ireland, to assist the Sacred Feminine presence in the work of bringing healing and peace to the soul of Ulster.

By early June, it is becoming clear to me that the rocks, trees, stones and rivers, along with the elements and the sheer beauty of this glen, have, together, become an alchemical vessel to hold a wider healing of the soul of Ulster.
The sea, as I look out at it this morning, is playing its part in the offering of light, the blue of its holding, the high vibration of its silver water, the wildness of its dance. There is a fierce power of transformation in the rolling waves.(p. 169)

Knowing Macha’s presence with her, Kate writes:

I breathe deeply as she shows me pictures of the town in County Antrim where I grew up in the 1960’s. ‘There are many towns in the North that need healing,’ Macha tells me. ‘This is a journey to bring the heart home, to bring back the kindness lost to everyone in the shadows of war. For you, Daughter, concern yourself only with this.’ (p.169)

Kate’s work with the support of other women led to a tangible presence of light and peace in the land. Two decades after her time on Inis Mo’r, Kate knew that “the old patterns are going now and light is coming in, bringing forgiveness, beauty and joy”.

Then she describes this experience:
I sense a presence in the middle of the strand and when I look over, I see Macha walking in the shallow waters of puddles left on the sand. I see her bend down to pick up shells. As I walk towards her, she looks up, sees me and smiles….I sigh a deep breath and run towards her, power seeping into me from the very sand itself. As I approach her, she straightens up and, still holding the shells, opens her arms to welcome me. Her holding is of the ages. In the warmth and strength of her embrace, I weep.(pp. 237-8)

Macha’s Twins is available for online sales in Ireland, Europe, USA and and internationally.
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Brigid: Cailleach, Midwife to a New World

Part Three  by Dolores Whelan

A story from the Celtic tradition that illustrates the importance of the cailleach and her energy is the story of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Niall and his four brothers come to a well to get a drink of water. The well is being guarded by an old woman who represents the cailleach or hag. When the first brother goes to the well, she tells him that if he wants to drink the water, he must give her a kiss. He is horrified and refuses; she sends him away. The other three brothers go in turn on the same errand, and each refuses to kiss the hag. As the story goes:

Then it was Niall’s turn. Faced with the same challenge, he kissed the old hag and embraced her. When he looked again, she had changed into the most beautiful woman in the world. “What art thou?” said the boy. “King of Tara, I am Sovereignty . . . your seed shall be over every clan.”

 

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This story suggests that in order to have access to the life-enhancing energy represented by the water in the well, it is necessary for the young masculine to embrace this particular and perhaps unattractive aspect of the feminine energy. Why is this so? The cailleach represents the wisdom gathered by living in right relationship with the earth, something that requires reflection, stillness, and attentiveness. It knows more clearly what is needed and what is possible in each situation, and it is aware of the consequences of particular actions. It knows how to proceed slowly; it understands the value of times of waiting and times of allowing. It knows how to be and how to act.

So how can we, you and I, begin the journey back towards wholeness and balance?
Brigid in her cailleach form can help us to embrace these difficult and fearful aspects of our lives. The cauldron, a central image in both the Celtic and other traditions, is a vessel for transformation and transmutation. In many stories, the cauldron is first filled with unpalatable raw things, which then are used to create a nourishing soup using the transforming energy of the universe through the action of fire and water. The transformation of the contents of the cauldron is supervised by the cailleach energy, which works inwardly, quietly, and slowly to bring about an unforced and timely rebirth.

The transformation of the cauldron’s contents concentrates their essence and offers them back in a new and more suitable form. From this process, we learn that the possibility of transformation and re-birth always exists, no matter how devitalised something appears to be. A new rebirth can be achieved when we submit ourselves and our concerns to the inward and slow transformational energy of the cauldron and the cailleach.

Philosopher Richard Kearney in his poem Bridget’s Well speaks of the importance of this inward and downward journey and suggests that it is the only way to access the life- giving and inspiring fire of Brigid that lies underneath the water.

I will rest now at the bottom of Bridget’s well
I will follow the crow’s way
Footprint by footprint
In the mud down here
I won’t come up
Until I am calmed down
And the earth dries beneath me
And I have paced the caked ground
Until smooth all over
It can echo a deeper voice
Mirror a longer shadow (2)

This poem suggests the importance of that deep journey to the well where the source of new life and the fire of passion is found. At Imbolc (Feb 1st) the tiny spark of new light discovered in the deep womb darkness of the winter solstice has grown sufficiently to safely emerge from that inner world and begin to transform winter into spring !At this time Brigid appears as the fresh maiden of springtime emerging from the womb of the cailleach, queen of winter. Here Brigid embodies the energy that breathes life into the mouth of dead winter. The energy of Brigid at Imbolc is the energy of Yes, and it can only emerge from the place of stillness!

Brigid is also closely associated with the life giving aspect of fire, a fire that doesn’t burn but which can never be fully quenched. When this fire comes from a clear and deep space, as happens following the inward journey, it will be significant and filled with truth and potency. This life-giving fire will act within in individuals, within the land, in the relationships between the people and their land, fanning the fires of creative endeavour so that all of life forms can partake in the symphony of new life emerging each springtime! The fire discovered through this deep journey is an inner light which guides each of us to find our next step!

Richard Kearney in his poem “Brigit’s Well” also speaks of the re-emergence of a new fire born of a deeper place within

Then the fire may come again
Beneath me, this time
Rising beyond me
No narcissus- flinted spark
Behind closed eyes
But a burning bush
A fire that always burns away
But never is burnt out (3)

I believe that the archetypal energy of Brigid, the embodiment of the divine feminine, present within the essence of the Celtic tradition has the capacity to lead and support us in transforming the present wasteland into a new life sustaining society. For this to happen, it is necessary for us to understand that the archetypal energy that Brigid represents is a real aspect of the human psyche, one that has been largely dormant over the past few hundred years, but is now re-emerging. Each of us can become keeper of the Brigid flame by developing and living those qualities and values that distinguished her.

As we align ourselves with her archetypal energies, she supports us courageously and safely to face the demons of this time. She teaches us how to stand still in a wobbling world, to act as a unifying force, to hold the space of possibility and so become agents of transformation. So we ask for

The mantle of Brigid about us
The memory of Brigid within us
The protection of Brigid keeping us from harm from ignorance,
from heartlessness this day from dawn till dark (4)

When we embrace her energy Brigid will hold us and guide us through this transition. I believe she is the one who has the power to awaken in each of us An eye to see what is, the heart that feels what is, and the courage that dares to follow. (5)

1 Amergin Jan de Fouw Amergin Wolfhound Press Dublin 2000 ( afterword ) no page number
2 Richard Kearney quoted in Stephen J. Collins The Irish Soul in Dialogue the Liffey Press Dublin 2001 p 147
3 Richard Kearney quoted in Stephen J. Collins The Irish Soul in Dialogue the Liffey Press Dublin 2001 p 147
4 Poem source unknown
5 Celtic triad found extensively in the literature

 

 

 

Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife to a New World

This is the first of a three part article on Brigid and her importance to us at this crucial time, written by Dolores Whelan and used with her permission. 

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Dolores Whelan

Reflecting on the turmoil present in the world today it is clear to all, but those steeped in denial, that all is not well. It seems that something ails us humans; something that causes us to live in ways that disrespect our mother, the living earth, and all our relatives. We ask what is it in us humans that creates such a restless world where there is little sense of belonging, nurture or home and which causes so many of the species with which we share this planet to suffer?

The exclusion of the Feminine energy in our naming and understanding of the Divine is reflected in a corresponding absence and valuing of feminine energy in all aspects of life in western society. The devaluing and exclusion of the feminine energy over the past centuries has created a distorted story about life which has resulted in a world whose shape and vibration create disharmony.

So how do we find our way back to a more harmonious way of life? If we know what is missing and what ails us, it may be possible for us to make the journey back towards wholeness and health.

In times of great danger and challenges, cultures often seek the wisdom for the journey ahead in the stories and myths that sustained them in an earlier time. However as Poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnail suggests this requires an understanding that “actual myths and stories themselves soar way above any uses to which they may have been put to already and can and must be retranslated by each generation in terms of their own need and thus liberated into a new consciousness.” (1)

 

Midhir1

 

At the present time there is a wonderful re-emergence of aspects of ancient spiritual traditions by people all over the world. The reconnection and embodiment of these ancient spiritual traditions, myths and stories has the potential to release the spiritual power needed for us to become agents of transformation within our society.

At this time many people are becoming aware of the wisdom of the feminine. As this happens, the absence of genuine feminine energy present in most institutions, both religious and secular, throughout western culture, becomes obvious. To include the presence of the divine feminine energy in creating a world whose shape is more wholesome requires a fundamental reclaiming of the essential role of the feminine in all aspects of life. In order to create change within the physical world and in our society it is necessary to change the dreams and stories held within the imagination of a society.

My own journey over the past 25 years has been primarily within the Celtic spiritual tradition. This tradition has emerged over many millennia and continues to evolve. It includes the wisdom of the megalithic, the pre-Christian Celtic and the Christian Celtic traditions as they met and engaged with each other through the ages. I believe the rekindling of the flames of this tradition, which have lain dormant for many centuries, “like coals under the smooring awaiting a new kindling” holds a key to the recovery of the wisdom needed to create a more sane society.

“God is good and he has a great mother!” a statement sometimes heard in Ireland, reflects an important truth at the heart of the Celtic spiritual tradition, one that honours the presence of the divine feminine and understands that even God emerges out of the feminine energy of being-ness. The Divine Feminine is present at the heart of this spiritual tradition and plays a central role in both Celtic spirituality and Celtic culture. There are many goddesses within Celtic mythology; however Brigid, as both goddess and saint, occupies a central place as representative of the Divine Feminine within Celtic tradition. 20180129 Bhrigid statue at Solas Bhride

statue of Brigid at Solas Bhride, Kildare

Reconnecting with and re-membering the spirit and archetypal energy of Brigid, in both her Goddess and saint manifestations, is an essential task of this renaissance. Brigid, although normally associated with the maiden and mother aspects of feminine energy, is also expressed in the cailleach form, as indicated in the prayer “Molamid Brid an mhaighean; Molamid Brid an mhathair; Molamid Brid an cailleach” (Praise to Brigid, the maiden, the mother, and the crone).

 

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the maiden, the mother, the crone

 

These three different, but related manifestations, the maiden, the mother, and the cailleach, or crone, together create a divine feminine trinity. Each aspect of this trinity occupies a different role within the life, death, and rebirth continuum. The Feminine energy is both the harbinger and the birther of new life and is the destroyer of life that has been spent. It is experienced at the thresholds of life and death and rebirth.
In the past 20 years there has been a new awakening of the importance of Brigid and her place within our lives and our world. Her Feastday at Imbolc in now celebrated in many places in Ireland and all over the world. There is an understanding perhaps it is time for us individually and collectively to recover the qualities that Brigid embodied in her lifetime, marking her as a woman of true spiritual power.

 

1   Amergin  Jan  de Fouw   Amergin   Wolfhound Press  Dublin 2000  ( afterword )  no page number

Women Rising Rooted: Brigid’s Festival

If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted,
like trees.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

At the end of a frigid Canadian January, I have come to Ireland for Brigid’s Festival of Imbolc, the day that welcomes Spring. Brigid is the one who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”. In the front garden of my friend, Dolores Whelan, the first thing I see are snowdrops….then one purple crocus, two golden ones.

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snowdrops in Dolores Whelan’s garden

From a window on the upper floor, Dolores shows me that the Hill of Faughart can be seen, aligned with her home. Birthplace of Saint Brigid, 5th c. Abbess of Kildare, Faughart is ancient in memory, a place where the goddess Brigid was honoured in pre-Christian Ireland. Snow drop and crocus, saint and goddess, growing from this earth.

Brigid’s Festival honours both, and in the days that follow the two merge in my awareness, become intertwined, embodied in the fiery women whom I meet: Dolores and the volunteers who planned the events of the festival as well as the presenters, attendees, poets, artists, dancers, singers, writers… each woman aflame.

I listen as they tell their stories, either as a formal part of the festival’s program or casually in conversation over coffee or a meal, or in a pause between sessions.

I listen as Sharon Blackie tells the story recounted in her book If Women Rose Rooted (September Publishing 2016). With a PhD in Neuro-science Sharon found herself in a corporate job where her inner self was dying. Through a labyrinthine journey, one she describes as the feminine form of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, Sharon followed the lure of her heart to the northwest of Scotland and on to Ireland, living on land near the sea where her soul finds a home.

I walk through Una Curley’s art installation of her own “Camino Walk”, her story of walking away from a life of successfully functioning in a corporate position that left her empty inside. Una chose instead the uncertainty and bliss of life as an artist. Una says the way to begin is to tie a piece of thread to a rusty nail and let the life you have designed, the life that no longer serves your soul, unravel… Part of her work traces the early flax industry of Ireland, rooted in the land, uniting the communities around the flax fields in a common endeavor.

Kate Fitzpatrick picks up her violin to express more profoundly than words her journey with women as they sought in the land and soul of Ireland the Healed Feminine. Kate’s quest was to bring peace and forgiveness to her people. The story of her spiritual journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess Macha is told in her book Macha’s Twins (Immram Publishing, Donegal, Ireland 2017)

Ann McDonald leads us in sacred movement, in breathing exercises, finding the power in our solar plexus. Deeply grounded, we release a voice that is resonant. Ann creates songs, receives songs that come to her while walking in pilgrimage or while holding sacred space. Her songs at the Ritual for Brigid’s Feast at Faughart come from deep within, inviting grace to embrace those present in the Oratory.

 

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The Oratory on Faughart Hill on Brigid’s Day, February 1, 2018

 

Dolores, Una, Kate, Ann and Sharon are women whose lives differ on the outside. Yet I saw in each a life rooted in an inner passion, a deeply feminine connection with the land and a quiet walking away from cultural values that are out of harmony with and therefore destructive of the feminine soul.

I understand now that life can be found by returning to the ancient stories, the ancient spirituality that grew out of the land itself, a spirituality that honours women, that cares for the things of earth, that recognizes, as Rilke says, that we are of the same substance …here is his full poem:

How surely gravity’s law
strong as an ocean current
takes hold of even
the smallest thing
and pulls it toward
the heart of the world.

Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place

Only we in our arrogance
push out beyond what
we each belong to –
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted,
like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely
and confused.

So, like children
we begin again
to learn from the things
because they are in
God’s heart,
they have never left him.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

A Welcome for Brigid

The knocking on the wooden door is so loud it startles us, even though we are waiting for the sound. A woman’s voice, strong, certain, calls out from the other side: “I am Brigid. Do you have a welcome for me?”

We have our answer ready, “Yes, we do.” The door opens. The woman playing Brigid’s role enters. On this final morning of our weekend with Dolores Whelan at the Galilee Retreat Centre in 2014, we are enacting an ancient Celtic Ritual of Imbolc, February 1st, as we welcome Brigid in her Maiden form. Brigid, who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”, comes among us announcing spring.

Brighid by Jo Jayson

painting by Jo Jayson

Do we “have a welcome” for Brigid in our lives? What does it mean to answer her question with a resounding, “yes”?

This is a woman of great power, an archetype, an embodiment of energies of the sacred. Our welcome of her will open up our lives in ways we cannot foresee, cannot even imagine. But the hints are already given in the stories we have been recalling.

Two weeks ago we recalled the legend that angels carried Brigid over the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem so that she might be present for the birth of Jesus, assisting Mary as midwife. Brigid, who was born in the fifth century after the event….

Immediately we find ourselves in sacred time, in what today’s physicists, following Einstein, would call the simultaneity of time. Mystery. We suspend disbelief, allow our linear, logical brains to take a break, invite the story to offer us its teachings. Ask how this applies to our own lives. Listen.

Each one of us is asked, like Mary, to give birth to the Holy One. In Godseed, Jean Houston writes about the heart of our call, inviting us into a meditation, a visualization, of how this might be:

Lying down now and closing your eyes, imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams, you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News, a Resident from the Depths. This angel says to you, “Oh Child of God, fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership, for that which is conceived in you is of the spiritual Reality. And this Reality, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to…bring the Godseed into the world.”
And now see what the angel sees—the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you….
….see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future, of this Child in you, this Godseed that you are growing in the womb of your entire being, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world. (Jean Houston in Godseed Quest Books 1992 p.39)

This call to birth the Christ within us is as ancient as first century Paul, who wrote of being in labour until Christ is born in us. It is as modern as twentieth century eco-feminist theologian Yvonne Gebara who entreats us to give birth to the Christic Presence in the Universe.

Contemporary writer Diarmuid O’Murchu cites the words of the thirteenth century Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart: What does God do all day long? God lies on a maternity bed, giving birth all day long.

Reflecting on Meister Eckhart’s image, O’Murchu continues:

This is a metaphor we have known as a spiritual species for thousands of years, long before formal religions ever came into being….The Great Goddess of our Paleolithic ancestors was perceived as a woman of prodigious fecundity, birthing forth the stars and galaxies, the mountains and oceans and every life form populating planet earth today. God, the great life-giver in the pregnant power of creative Spirit, is probably the oldest and most enduring understanding of the Holy One known to our species.

O’Murchu concludes that: we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. (Diarmuid O’Murchu Jesus in the Power of Poetry 2009 pp. 45-46)

When we say yes to our call to give birth, we are embracing a lifelong partnership with the Holy One of “prodigious birthing”, a responsibility that has the power to take over our lives, to demand of us everything, to offer us a life that is at once profoundly meaningful, and intimately engaged with the ongoing renewal of the universe. There will be suffering, there will be hard work, but there will also be times of ecstatic joy, tasting our oneness with the Love at the heart of life.

Dolores reminds us that: It is only in us, you and me, that the energy of Brigid will rise again, take form and become a force for transformation in our world. Dolores Whelan in Ever Ancient, Ever New Dublin 2010 p. 81

Brigid, midwife of this birthing, stands at the door. We hear her voice, “Do you have a welcome for me?”

What is our response?

 

Brigid of Kildare

Who is Brigid for us today? We take inspiration from her, and yet we are separated from her life by a millennium and a half. We don’t live in a monastery, or in a way of life intimately tied to the land and its cycling seasons.

In her book Praying with Celtic Holy Women Bridget Mary Meehan writes that “the force of (Brigid’s) Celtic soul is a rich lodestone of the Celtic feminine which continues to challenge each new generation.” (p.29) Consider the word Meehan chooses: a lodestone, a magnet, a thing that attracts….

 

Brigid

 

What is it in Brigid’s story that so attracts us after so many centuries? I will give my own answer, inviting each of you to give yours. What I see in Brigid is that she matters to the time in which she lives, and to the people whom she serves, as I hope I do in some way.

But she also matters to (maters as in mothers) the Church where her leadership was strong, recognized and luminous. As a woman living in the 21st century in the Roman Catholic Church, I do not matter. I write, I teach, I offer retreats, and am largely ignored by the Institutional Church. Until now, I have not minded. It allows a certain freedom.

Something in Brigid’s story makes me wonder if perhaps it does matter very much indeed that the Church to which I have belonged since infancy does not appear to need or even notice women. How does the Celtic Feminine as expressed in Brigid’s life challenge me/us in this matter?

In last week’s Reflection on Brigid, we saw how old Bishop Mel, guided by the Holy Spirit, accidently consecrated Brigid as a bishop. We know that her monastery in Kildare was a double monastery, housing consecrated women and men, as was the way in the Celtic expression of Christianity. Brigid would have governed as Abbess/Bishop to both women and men. The development of Irish Monasticism appears to have been richly differentiated, a garden of wild profusion and endless variety. So there is no way of knowing how or when or why Brigid’s monastery of women began to welcome men. But here is a story I found that tells how it may have happened: One day a group of men, for whom Brigid’s faithful spirit and generous heart were as a lodestone, came knocking at the door of the Kildare Monastery, requesting that they be allowed to join the community. Brigid consulted with her Sisters. They were aghast! What? Men! Noisy, unruly, bothersome. No way! Brigid’s first assistant sealed the matter with the words that have frequently put an end to something new: “It’s never been done before.”

Still not at ease with the decision, Brigid went outside and sat near the holy well. Something urged her to look deeply into its dark waters, recalling as she did so that imagination dwells in the dark places. Brigid picked up a tiny stone and dropped it into the well. Down, down it fell, until a small splash in the deep told her it had reached the water. But there was still nothing to be seen in the well’s depths. She picked up another stone and dropped it into the well. Just at that moment the noonday sun at its highest place in the sky illumined the water where the stone had struck. Brigid saw tiny circles rippling out from where the stone had pierced the water.

In the depths of her own imagination, Brigid saw a circle widening. She thought about this: “Because it’s never been done before does not mean it can never be done.” And it was so. Kildare become a monastery for both men and women, drawn by the depth of Brigid’s holiness.

Seeking a meaning for the word lodestone I notice another word: lodestar. This refers to the star by which a ship navigates, usually the pole star. Symbolically it refers to a guiding principle. This illumines something for me, shining into the wells of legend and story that flow around Brigid’s life. Under the tales there is a guiding principle that will illumine our lives if we look deeper.

What was the lodestar of Brigid’s life, the star by which she navigated the uncertainties and challenges that faced her each day

In another legend , a sea creature in great danger had cried out to Brigid for help and she came to its aid. Brendan the Navigator was much offended and asked Brigid why the creature did not cry out to him instead. Brigid asked, “What do you think of when you are out in your boat Brendan?”

He answered that he thought about the waves, the tides, the movement of the fish, the weather… all the things a fisherman must be aware of….

Brigid said to him, “From the first moment I met the Holy my thoughts have never left her. That is why the sea creature called to me instead of to you.”

Such focus is important in our lives. I had to admit to her how easily I lose focus, forget the One who began this work in me, let the Holy One slip from my gaze, from my path, from my heart. I realized then that it is the fire of a passionate love for the Holy that has been lit within me, a fire I must tend faithfully. A fire tender must first of all take care that the flame of her love burns bright. All else, for each one of us, flows from that.

 

 

Sophia in Ireland: Thirteen

It is dawn of the following morning. The companions have regathered as they promised on the Hill of Tara beside the Well from which they had made a hasty exit the night before. Last to arrive is the Narrator, who hurries towards them.

The Narrator speaks to them:

Thank you for coming back. I need to apologize, to explain…
Last evening was the first time I ever left the Storyteller like that. The first time I ever left before she did. Before saying goodbye. But I was tired of her evasions, her way of playing with us. I thought I no longer cared anymore to know who she was… if you could know how I have yearned to ask her that question over the many months I have been visiting her in the Well, how I had counted on her finally revealing who she was with all of you there.

I slept badly. I felt the rough edges of a frayed illusion. I thought the Storyteller was merely a projection, conjured up out of my own need for a sacred feminine presence. I thought I had woven her to my own design, out of threads of words and images and old stories, out of poetry and the writings of the Mystics and the Feminist Theologians. I had invented something that neither mystic nor poet nor theologian could possibly recognize. I had done the very thing that all my life others have warned me not to do: I had let my imagination run away with me.

But I wakened in the deep heart of the night from a dream. No, it was more than dream. It was a memory, a clear recollection of a morning during the journey I made to Egypt in 2008 with a group led by Jean Houston.

In memory, I saw the tiny sanctuary sacred to the goddess Isis on the Island of Philae in the Nile River. Jean is reading something about Isis, a series of sacred names. The writing is from a first or second century Roman, not a Christian. It is the way the Sacred One identifies herself to the man named Lucius that makes the connection for me…

I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity…. I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names…. Her words reminded me of the way that the Hafiz poem began, the one the Storyteller recited… I am every particle of dust and wheat… I am singing from the mouth of animals and birds…

The goddess of many names says to Lucius: Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid. Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.

In my half-dreaming or remembering, I heard one of the women in our group ask us to call out all the names by which we have known the Sacred Feminine. I remember hearing voice after voice calling out wonderful names. I listened as memory sharpened. Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory. Gate of Heaven. Many of those names were familiar to me, titles I’d learned as a child, and they had then referred to Mary. I heard in memory my own voice call out: Star of the Sea. Then I heard Jean’s voice, strong, certain: Mary in all her forms.

Mary…Star of the Sea… Mystical Rose.

I was deeply asleep as the old litany danced through my memory.

Stretch your imagination way, way back to the dawn of humankind, to the time when God was imaged as woman, for woman was the one who bled without dying, who gave birth to new life. Long before I heard the Story of Etain, I was beginning to understand that the feminine aspect of the Holy had been buffeted by the winds of patriarchy, left abandoned to the mercies of the sea, only now and then finding a bower of rest in the wisdom of a Mac Og. I may even have begun to guess that the Holy feminine is now, in the fullness of time, coming to new birth through those who are willing to nurture her, to embody her. She is coming through our need for Her, our hunger for Her and for all that She represents.

Through millennia of buffeting, relentless harrying, the holy feminine presence was blown away by the winds of time, until, exhausted, she fell into a cup, was swallowed by the earth, buried in deep darkness where she has waited. Until the time is right. The day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.
This is her time.

I know now the one whom the Storyteller embodies, who she is.

But the knowing is not a resolution of mystery. For Mary herself is only another form, another name among so many. The Storyteller may call herself Brigid, the Celtic name for the Sacred Feminine. Brigid, both goddess and saint, was so strong in the hearts and minds of people at the time of the coming of Christianity, that she endured in the spiritual life of the people and the country. Brigid is today the acceptable face of the Feminine Divine in the Celtic Christian tradition, closely associated with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

When I set out to return here to find you, I was smiling. My heart was flooded with gladness. Like Etain, I lifted my wings. I flew. I know now and can tell you the truth: Any name will do! We may choose to call this loving presence — which now, in the clear light of morning, I know to be more real than my own breath — we may choose to name her as we wish. She will not be bound by a name.

Everything I’ve told you is true. You may trust it. You may trust me. And above all, you may trust her. With your life. It is our desires that will draw her to us.

We need not return to the Well. She will be where we are.

Note: This concludes the tale of “The Wooing of Etain”. The story itself is translated from ancient Irish manuscripts by Ann Moray and is found in her collection, A Fair Stream of Silver (William Morrow and Company New York 1965). The narration that surrounds Etain’s tale  is from a play written by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin : Silver Stream, Sacred Earth copyright 2017.