Category Archives: Ancient Irish Myths

Introducing Singing the Dawn

by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Published by Borealis Press

Why Would you Read it?

You hold a book in your hands, one you’ve not yet opened. You feel a tingling anticipation as you prepare to enter a story, a setting with imaginary characters. What are you seeking? Will an action, an insight, a decision of one of these characters shed light on your own unanswered questions about life? Will there be something that responds to the longings in your heart?

As a young woman, wondering where my life was leading, I read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I still recall my astonishment at her habit of taking solitary walks where she pondered her life’s path. After a time of great suffering and loss, Jane was offered security in a loveless marriage to an idealistic clergyman who needed a wife for his missionary endeavours. After taking time to consider, Jane refused his offer. I still hear her words: “No, I cannot marry you. I have been loved.” I knew even then that Jane’s wisdom, her sure knowing, came from within her.

Through the next decades of my life, I explored inner wisdom, discovering through sources such as the writings of women mystics, feminist theologians, ancient stories, indigenous wisdom and Celtic Spirituality, the inner journey to wisdom.

Singing the Dawn is my way of sharing what I’ve come to know of this journey, guided by the Love that pervades the Universe and dwells within each of us.

I began with the questions: What if a seed survived from Brigid’s fifth-century monastery in Kildare, Ireland? What if that seed was planted in the ninth century by a follower of Brigid on an island off the west coast of Ireland? What if that seed grew into a Communion of Women that still exists today?

The story begins when a young woman from Canada, soul-starved for a spirituality that honours the wisdom of the natural world, embodied feminine wisdom, and her desire for self-fulfillment, is mysteriously drawn to this island beyond the ninth wave. Will she find what she longs for among these seven women each with her own tale of allurement to the Communion of Star of the Sea?

Singing the Dawn is a fictional tale offering soul nourishment for women as well as men who share these longings.  It is published by Borealis Press in Ottawa, Canada

http://www.borealispress.com/BookDetail/rid/1137/Singing%20the%20Dawn

Comments from Readers

This fascinating, intriguing and heart-warming tale of the return of the feminine Sophia…(puts) into words what I only intuited so many years ago, (bringing) home the drastic results that occur when the feminine is forgotten, ignored… Mother Earth is yearning to be recognized and revered as a sacred blessing in our time. Your story… is so timely and so needed today. Its publication will be a blessing and a healing for the future life of our planet and indeed, the entire universe. The Sacred Feminine has accompanied and led you in all the labyrinthine ways of your life story. Others now will be blessed and encouraged to be attentive to her Sacred Presence in their lives. Kathleen Lyons CSJ

I like how you handle the “overlap” of the magical islands…with glimpses of the “outer world” mentioned in quite realistic details: how supplies are brought in, the internet mentioned somewhere, Ohn’ya’s reflections on past memories.  It deepens the sense of wonder and mystery! I find Ohn’ya’s evolution believable and compelling in its unfolding through her varied experiences here on Rose’s island… you leave us/me desiring to know what the next step will be for Ohn’ya in her journey….though she’s reached a place of greater self-awareness.   Carol (Northeast New York State)

I am writing to you thru tears as I read again, and anew, your “Singing the Dawn.” It is beautiful. It flows like living waters.….(T)he narration of finding, being welcomed, by an image of divine in human form and being offered a drink of that living water spoke to the part of me that seeks to have such clarity of connection to the divine in all….the circle of women proclaiming their Source of living waters… there are many tributaries in my own life that I could write my story around — and it is a gift to recognize that, and be called to honor those flowing waters as I read your writing.  Gaynell (rural Connecticut)


I’ll pour myself a cup of mint tea, bake a little salmon with greens, saving the scone for later. I have enjoyed many meals, sunrise, sunsets, swims with Onya and the women. Your art as a writer WEAVES a tapestry calling forth all the senses. Along the way I am sensing a transformation…as your being becomes the loom, “A place where harmony dwells.” Singing the Dawn is a great myth, calling our aspects (in)…You have woven a wondrous tale. Suzanne (Chicago)

I am enjoying your book so much. It takes me to a calm place during a time that is filled with chaos, isolation and uncertainty.               Colleen (Ontario, Canada)

I felt I had stepped into another place and time as I entered the story. A place where I wanted to remain. I felt comforted by reading of not feeling the presence of the Lady for periods of time. I know how that feels. When I read your words I feel embraced. (Rosemary, Croton on Hudson, New York)

Through retreats, workshops, stories and plays, Anne Kathleen McLaughlin works with women who are seeking to discover the pattern of the Divine woven into the tapestry of their everyday lives. Her novels A Place Called Morning (2001), Planted in the Sky  (2006) and  Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) are published by Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada.  http://borealispress.com

A member of the Community of the Grey Sisters in Pembroke, Canada Anne Kathleen holds a Master’s degree in Religious Communication /Pastoral Studies from Loyola University in Chicago.

Women Rising Rooted

Brigid of Faughart Festival, Ireland, 2018

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, I see snowdrops….

Snowdrops Bloom for Brigid’s Day in Ireland

From a window on the upper floor; Dolores shows me the Hill of Faughart in the distance, aligned with her home. Birthplace of Saint Brigid, 5th c. Abbess of the Monastery in Kildare, Faughart is ancient in memory, a place where the goddess Brigid was honoured in pre-Christian Ireland.  Brigid’s Festival honours both saint and goddess. In the days that follow they 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 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 to the west of Scotland and 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. 

Dolores, Una, Kate, Ann and Sharon are women whose lives differ on the outside. Yet I saw in each a life that is 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)           

Seeking Sophia

The new is giving birth to the old… the task is to give birth to the old in a new time—to the primordial ancient in a world that is new.  (Peter Kingsley)

Seven years ago, in October 2014, I began this weekly blog dedicated to giving new birth to the ancient knowing of the feminine principle of the Sacred whom some cultures have known by the name Sophia.

Today, I invite you once again to enter this quest with me.

As we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, we prepare for a long journey, following tracks that are millennia old. We learn to be adept at time travel, at exploring deep dusty caverns of pre-history, at unravelling, then reweaving, threads of ancient stories.

Sophia is nowhere precisely, yet everywhere subtly. Mythologies of many cultures abound with tales of her presence, her power, her sufferings, her diminishments. Old fairy tales hold glimpses of her that are both tender and terrifying. We will need to look into sacred wells, old ritual sites, ruined temples and sanctuaries. We will carefully examine fragments of poetry, shards of pottery, pieces of drums, tiny perfect feminine figures carved of stone, buried in the depths of the earth.

We are living today in the time of the great recovery. What has been hidden is being revealed to us. Scholars of ancient civilizations are writing of their findings: the traces of a sacred feminine presence within the stories, myths and ritual practices of people long vanished.

In A Brief History of The Celts, Peter Berresford Ellis writes of the Great Mother Goddess of the Ancient Celts, revealing the connection between the Celtic Goddess and the great rivers of Ireland, a sacred connection also found in India’s mythology:

the Celts believed their origins lay with the mother goddess Danu, ‘divine waters from heaven’. She fell from heaven and her waters created the Danuvius (Danube), having watered the sacred oak tree Bile. From there sprang the pantheon of the gods who are known as the Tuatha de Danaan (Children of Danu) in Irish and the Children of Don in Welsh myths. (Beresford Ellis p. 162)

Celtic writer Jen Delyth writes of the goddess Anu, also known as Danu and Aine: An ancient figure, venerated under many names, she is known as the womb of life. She is the spark and vitality of life. She is the seed of the sun in our veins. The Great Earth Mother is … the Mother whose breasts are the hills known as the “Paps of Anu” in Ireland. Her hair is the wild waves, the golden corn. Her eyes are the shining stars, her belly the round tors or earth barrows from which we are born. Like the cat, the sow, the owl, she eats her young if they are sick or dying. She is the cycle of life, the turning of the seasons. 

In rivers, waves, and corn, in stars and earth barrows, in the very seasons of our land, this sacred presence is embodied, immersed, implanted in the universe, around above, beneath, within us.

In Women of the Celts Jean Markale offers an overview of the decline of the Sacred Feminine presence as the Jewish/Christian religions became dominant, but he also hints at how her presence survives:

the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines. But in spite of the veneration accorded her over the centuries and the public declaration of successive dogmas related to Mary, the authorities of the Christian Church have always made her a secondary character, overshadowed and retiring, a model of what women ought to be. Now the pure and virginal servant of man, the wonderful mother who suffers all heroically, she is no longer the Great Goddess before whom the common herd of men would tremble, but Our Lady of the Night.

Our Lady of the Night! What a lovely, appropriate name for the presence we seek, the One who has so many different names… yet is being rebirthed now in our time.

The ways we are to seek her may seem arduous, but the starting place is deep within our souls: the search begins with our longing for her.

I long for You so much

I follow barefoot Your frozen tracks

That are high in the mountains

That I know are years old.

I long for You so much

I have even begun to travel

Where I have never been before.

(Hafiz, The Subject Tonight Is Love trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

Seeking the Lost Mother

We in the West are haunted by the loss of our Mother.

(Caitlin Matthews Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Quest Books Wheaton IL 2001)

In the midst of this global pandemic, in the urgent need to provide her people with safety, with guidelines, with assistance in this time of unprecedented danger and challenge, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, was inspired to write a poem which she addressed to “Mother Earth”. Here are a few excerpts:

Rest now, e Papatūānuku (Mother Earth)
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
For awhile

We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.

Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
About others
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Gentle palms

Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain

….

Prime Minister Ardern‘s poem expresses the leap in understanding that countless others across the globe are making: our home planet, our earth, is a living sentient being, of whose essence we are made, from whose body we are nurtured, without whom we would all perish. This is not a new understanding: ancient peoples, and those indigenous cultures who still live in this awareness, intuitively understood “to whom we belong.” They would have spoken in the same way to mother earth. They understood that finally it is “just you and the wind and the forests and the oceans and the sky full of rain”…

And they knew even more: They knew that within this sacred home dwells the divine energy/light/spark/love—whatever name they had for it—the Holy Heart of the Universe.

This is the wisdom we need to find once more in and for our time. If the Corona Virus opens us to that quest, it will be a gift of light within the darkness it has brought.

Recently I heard Peter Kingsley, the English philosopher and writer, say something that astounded and delighted me: “The new is giving birth to the old… the task is to give birth to the old in a new time—to the primordial ancient in a world that is new.”

It is now almost six years since I began this weekly blog dedicated to giving new birth to the ancient knowing of the feminine principle of the Sacred whom some cultures have known by the name “Sophia.”

Today, I invite you to enter this quest with me.

As we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, we prepare for a long journey, following tracks that are millennia old. We learn to be adept at time travel, at exploring deep dusty caverns of pre-history, at unravelling, then reweaving, threads of ancient stories.

goddess-hathor

Egyptian Goddess Hathor

Sophia is nowhere precisely, yet everywhere subtly. Mythologies of many cultures abound with tales of her presence, her power, her sufferings, her diminishments. Old fairy tales hold glimpses of her that are both tender and terrifying. We will need to look into sacred wells, old ritual sites, ruined temples and sanctuaries. We will carefully examine fragments of poetry, shards of pottery, pieces of drums, tiny perfect feminine figures carved of stone, buried in the depths of the earth.

We are living today in the time of the great recovery. What has been hidden is being revealed to us. Scholars of ancient civilizations are writing of their findings: the traces of a sacred feminine presence within the stories, myths and ritual practices of people long vanished.

In A Brief History of The Celts, Peter Berresford Ellis writes of the Great Mother Goddess of the Ancient Celts, revealing the connection between the Celtic Goddess and the great rivers of Ireland, a sacred connection also found in India’s mythology:

“… the Celts believed their origins lay with the mother goddess Danu, ‘divine waters from heaven’. She fell from heaven and her waters created the Danuvius (Danube), having watered the sacred oak tree Bile. From there sprang the pantheon of the gods who are known as the Tuatha de Danaan (Children of Danu) in Irish and the Children of Don in Welsh myths.” (p. 162)

Celtic writer Jen Delyth writes further of the goddess Anu, also known as Danu and Aine: “An ancient figure, venerated under many names, she is known as the womb of life. She is the spark and vitality of life. She is the seed of the sun in our veins. The Great Earth Mother is … the Mother whose breasts are the hills known as the “Paps of Anu” in Ireland. Her hair is the wild waves, the golden corn. Her eyes are the shining stars, her belly the round tors or earth barrows from which we are born. Like the cat, the sow, the owl, she eats her young if they are sick or dying. She is the cycle of life, the turning of the seasons.”

In rivers, waves, and corn, in stars and earth barrows, in the very seasons of our land, this sacred presence is embodied, immersed, implanted in the universe, around, above, beneath, within us.

In Women of the Celts Jean Markale offers an overview of the decline of the Sacred Feminine presence as the Jewish/Christian religions became dominant, but he also hints at how her presence survives as

“…the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines. But in spite of the veneration accorded her over the centuries and the public declaration of successive dogmas related to Mary, the authorities of the Christian Church have always made her a secondary character, overshadowed and retiring, a model of what women ought to be. Now the pure and virginal servant of man, the wonderful mother who suffers all heroically, she is no longer the Great Goddess before whom the common herd of men would tremble, but Our Lady of the Night.”

Our Lady of the Night! What a lovely, appropriate name for the presence we seek, the One who has so many different names… yet is being rebirthed now in our time.

The ways we are to seek her may seem arduous, but the starting place is deep within our souls: the search begins with our longing for her. No one speaks more compellingly of this longing than the 14th c. Sufi poet Hafiz:

 

I long for You so much

I follow barefoot Your frozen tracks

That are high in the mountains

That I know are years old.

I long for You so much

I have even begun to travel

Where I have never been before.

(in Hafiz The Subject Tonight Is Love trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh

On August 1st, the Celtic god Lugh is celebrated in Ireland, a fiery sun god of masculine energy. At the ancient celebrations of his feast on the Hill of Tara, it was said that none “without an art” should come. For Lugh inspires creativity in our lives.

 

Lugh

Lugh the fiery creative Celtic god

I offer you a poem so that you might reflect on your own creative Lugh energy. What crops are coming to harvest in your life? How must you care for them?

 

CARE OF THE GROWING CROP : A POEM FOR LUGHNASADH by Miriam Dyak

Since corn needs all the light it can get
you are growing yourself remember
you will want to avoid planting other tall plants nearby
you deserve your day in the sun
and you will want to make sure each plant
you deserve your own ripeness
has every opportunity to make good use of the rich soil you have provided
so that at last these dreams you’ve been holding will fill out
in precious clusters of milky pearls and silky yellow moons

Sweet corn is at its sweet juicy tender best for only a few days
and you have labored a whole season for this perfection

Trouble shooting: we hope none of the following problems will be yours
Insect infestations like a swarm of worries
take measures in your own soul before there is a full-scale invasion
The corn earworm lays about 1,000 eggs in her twelve days of life
We know how these hatch into hesitation, fear, doubt, self-deprecation, inertia how they eat tunnels into the mind
Cut them out and give them back to the earth for compost
You have grown too far to give up now

‘Diseases – wilt and smut and blight out there in the world
Don’t let these attack your own small patch
Develop a resistant strain go against the grain of expectations
be an original a treasure

Give yourself a new name:
Golden woman
Moon Maiden
She Who Stands Tall And Proud

Thieves – raccoons, woodchucks and deer are probably the worst four-footed
sweet corn thieves
they are the distractions that come just when you’re getting somewhere
when you almost have success in the pot
and steal you away from your own life

They have an uncanny way of knowing just when the ears
have reached their prime
They are other people’s needs you always put before your own
They are love affairs that want you to be somebody you aren’t
They are larger bigger better purposes/harvests than yours

You can try to spook them with rock music
You can plant pumpkins in their path
You can even cover your ears with paper bags…

But I am here to tell you
this night on the festival of Lughnasadh the time of ensuring the harvest
your personal harvest the village harvest
and the safety of the good we are all growing in the world
I am here to tell you what the ancients know
that if you give up your crop along the way out of carelessness or nobility
it doesn’t matter
your spirit will be a hollow husk and no one not you not others
will be fed

But if you tend your own patch to completion
(no matter how insignificant it seems)
if you let yourself swell with joy with the rich nourishing milk of fulfillment
you will have raised a miracle
Your small garden of life, of art, of love, of work, of mothering and building and
being a wise woman
whatever you have planted and tended and grown
will feed yourself your village
there will be corn for feasting for flour for popping over winter fires
and enough to plant next year

There will be seeds that open spontaneously in the hearts of other women
and wild possibilities will appear in dreams on the other side of the world

 

lughlammas

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….

 

95950003

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)

 

95950007

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.
KILDARE
Books.ie
http://www.books.ie/macha-s-twins-a-spiritual-journey-with-the-celtic-horse-goddess

GALWAY
Kennys Bookshop
https://www.kennys.ie/catalogsearch/result/?q=machas+twins

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.”

 

Niall-N2

 

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.

20180126snow drops in Ireland

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.

 

20180201Faughart Oratory

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?