Category Archives: Brigid as Face of Sacred feminine

brigid of kildare: four

After these weeks of reflecting upon Brigid, we decide to pay her a visit. We book seats on an Aer Lingus Flight to Shannon Airport. Outside the airport, we find a bus, its destination clearly written above the front window: Church of St. Brigid.

The bus stops before a stone church that appears centuries old.  Inside, as our eyes adjust to darkness, we pull shawls/sweaters/light coats more closely around us to protect against the chill, the seeping dampness left over from winter’s rain. The scent is a not unpleasant mix of wax, flowers, dusty hymnals, wispy remnants of incense.

Light comes from the red sanctuary lamp. In a side aisle, a single candle bows in a soft breeze from a high, partially open, window. Drawn by the candle, we find ourselves before a statue of Saint Brigid, eyes looking away, hands joined around a book, as though in prayer.

Clearly she is not expecting us.

But then, slowly, she lowers her gaze, looks steadily at us and…. WINKS!

Behind her, a door opens onto a sunlit landscape of such verdancy that we are drawn towards it even as we see her gesturing that we follow her. We are outside now, breathing in the fragrance of wet, newly-turned earth, pungent with spring life. Brigid draws us onward towards a pool of water that holds a drowned, cloud-drifted sky, invites us to sit on the springy young grass that surrounds the pool.

When we are settled, she speaks: “There’s something I need to tell you….” 

We look at her, surprised by this turn of events, eager to listen, to learn.

“First of all, you took the wrong bus.  When I drew you here to Ireland, I thought you’d know where to look for me, but when you climbed into that bus, I had to get there ahead of you. Believe me, it was no easy task to stand so still, trying my best to look holy, otherworldly, until you arrived. But now you’re here, I have much to say to you.

“You’ve heard stories about me, of my life in the Christian Monastery of Kildare where I served as abbess to both men and women. I embodied in that role the qualities of compassion and generosity, of kindness, of fierceness in my focus, as I kept the sacred fire alight, the healing water of the holy well flowing. These stories you understand for they are part of your heritage.

“Yet there is so much more for you to know, wisdom that goes back to the countless millennia before Christianity, before the Hebrew Scriptures, before men decided that God was a powerhouse running the universe, yet wholly separate from what “he” had created.

“I will speak of Ireland, but you must understand that this wisdom was found in many different parts of the planet, in the myths and stories of numberless, now mostly forgotten, aboriginal peoples, in the days when the Holy was understood to be a woman whose body was the earth that births and holds us, nourishes and comforts us, receiving us back into her body when we die. Fragments of this wisdom have endured, to come to us in stories, in myths, in rituals.

“In those ancient days, wave after wave of people came to Ireland, each bringing their own understanding of that sacred being, our mother. Over the millennia, she was called by many different names: Anu, which relates to Danu, the goddess for whom the great river Danube is named; or Aine, the wheel of the seasons, the circle of life; and later Brigit, a name that derives from an Indo-European word brig, meaning the High, the Exalted One.

“In ancient Ireland, Brigid was honoured as embodying all three aspects of the goddess: maiden, mother and crone.

The poets, who themselves held positions of honour almost equal to that of the king, worshipped the goddess Brigid, taking her as patron. She was said to have two sisters, each named Brigid, one the patron of healers, the other patron of smith-craft.

“In this, you can see that Brigid was a goddess of many aspects, perhaps herself the many-faceted One, the Sacred Holy Mother of far more ancient times.

  “I can see by your expressions that some of you are wondering why I feel it so important to tell you all of this, you who live in a time so different, so removed from the ancient days of Ireland.

“I have seen in your hearts some of the darkness and suffering you carry, your grief for the ravaging of the planet, the earth that you know as your mother. I have felt your pain over the desertification of the rain forest, the lungs of your planet, the pollution of its waters, its rivers, lakes, oceans, its very life blood, the poisoning of the air…

 “I want you to know, to rediscover the wisdom of the ancient ones who saw Brigid/Aine/Anu as the life within the Earth herself. The hills, her breasts, called the Paps of Anu; the nipples of high mountains sprouting water like breast milk; wells that spring from rocks on the sides of mountains and hills or gushing forth from under the earth, or deep inside caves, offering healing.

“Open your eyes, dear ones, so that you may see the Earth as co–creating with you in love. See yourself as a partner in this great work, and know yourself held in love by the Earth whom you honour as mother.

 “As you watch spring returning to your land, remember these things, remember me, and know you are not alone.

“I hear your bus returning. You need not tell the driver what we’ve been speaking about. But do come back again, for I have so much more to tell you!”

 We board the bus, bemused, intrigued, making for our hotel. We know this is only the first of many conversations with Brigid.

brigid of kildare: two

“Co-birthers” with God

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 as we welcome Brigid in her Maiden form. Brigid, who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”, comes among us, announcing spring.

 Brigid is a woman of great power, an archetype, an embodiment of the energies of the sacred feminine, another facet of Sophia. 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.

We recall 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….

artwork by John Duncan 1913

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? 

Powers of the Universe: Emergence

Emergence and the Spirituality of the Sacred Feminine

Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge….the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.

Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination.

Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.

In her teaching on the Powers of the Universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us.

We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly, to signal our intent to be open.

We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us.

We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.

Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred.

More than thirty years ago the eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:

the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us.

We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognize that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)

Thomas Berry

What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?

As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a fragment, a fractal, of the newness in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.

Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy.

For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.

What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.

As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought them here, that have awakened their awareness of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies.

For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.

Statue of the Black Madonna in Holy Wisdom Benedictine Monastery in Wisconsin 

But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men.

You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked.

Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”

Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?”

No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother…”

“At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”…

“A partner, inviting me to co-create with her.”

“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.

What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her?

Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?

Statue of Brigid of Kildare  

Brigid of Ireland has been called “the acceptable face of the Feminine Divine”. Ancient Goddess and Christian Saint, Brigid is the threshold woman for our time.

Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess.

There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a  film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…

As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about.

They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.

Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.

How will we assist in this Emergence?

Cosmic Brigid: Part Two

by Kate Fitzpatrick

In November 2000 four women and myself spent 5 days in Co Meath to do the workshop to awaken Serpent power and call her back to Ireland. At a birthing ceremony at Loughcrew, we experienced an awakening of the Serpent energy from the deep earth beneath us. In our myth, she poured out of the Stone Cairn and onto the rich green lands of Meath that surrounded us. On the final day we went to Tara – with the intention of grounding the energy of Serpent in the land as an act of sovereignity to the Feminine spirit  and we sent the power of Serpent out to the four corners of Ireland.

Tara_3_Hill[1]

Hill of Tara

I hear the horses of the Tuatha Dé Danann thunder into Tara to witness the power of Serpent joining herself with the ancestors of this land. To Brigid in particular, she who was once known as Serpent Mother. I am knowing an ancient union has taken place that the Old ones have longed for. That Serpent would return from the depths of the Earth into the heart of this land and unite with the people of the Sidhe from whom she has been long separated.

 

A Higher Light of Brigid

In the 2 years of 2011- 2013, I returned again to work with Brigid and Serpent and I was linking with the significant universal energy shift predicted to happen in 2012. Out of this reflection and journeying came an understanding of Brigid as ‘Cosmic Brigid’ in a far-reaching way. In the myth that was then weaving, it was Brigid’s light that could connect us with the Divine Feminine coming to birth in the cosmos as part of the 2012 alignment. The ancient energies of the Tuatha Dé Danann were always linked to the stars and to cosmic light. This ‘cosmic’ link with Brigid has never been lost and Brigid as spiritual midwife can support the birth of new light into the world and help to ground it safely where it can be used for spiritual development of the human race. I also knew that the higher evolved ‘Serpent’ energy we had been working with in 2000 is ‘Serpent in the Heart’.

 

In 2013, at Imbolc, I gave  a talk at the Navan Centre in County Armagh that was pulling together these new ideas and I called the presentation: ‘A Higher Light of Brigid’. This extract below summarises the evening where a new energy of Brigid was tangibly felt:

On Friday, 8 February 2013, an audience of some forty people have gathered at Emain Macha in County Armagh to listen to a presentation of the stories of Brigid, together with music, songs and poems. Brigid’s presence is tangible in our midst. Carrying her spirit on the wind, Brigid, Celtic Mother Goddess and Saint, brings to all who might receive her light the qualities of truth, clarity, creativity and healing. Tonight, we dare to call her ‘Cosmic Brigid’ and ask her to bring in an even higher light than heretofore. One that is linked to the sun and the moon and the stars, to all of the heavens above us.

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That evening was the naming of Brigid as Cosmic Brigid. And it was a year later that I went to the Brigid of Faughart festival in Dundalk and presented the talk on ‘Cosmic Brigid’. This idea continues in my awareness today as we move onwards in our awakening of the Feminine spirit and witnessing its influence as it filters in to society and is changing our perspectives about women and roles and power.

 

New paradigms are being born and old, outdated patterns of spirituality are being shed. The idea of ritual and ceremony is still a potent way to link the cosmic energies with the land – thus blessing it and clearing it. The powers of Serpent energy, Feminine light and Cosmic Brigid to assist with this are, I believe, real.

 

We are linking across universal truths. In Ireland we hold and awaken our indigenous spirituality and we are no longer a separate island but part of a newly emerging world culture of indigenous spiritual potential that is currently giving birth to a healed Feminine Light.

I am knowing Serpent to have risen. From the centre of the Earth she came in Fire. Across the land she came in Water. I know her to have moved up through my body from the below to the above and be transformed in the love of the Heart.

 

Kate Fitzpatrick is the author of Macha’s Twins, A Spiritual Journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess. She is currently writing a book about her experiences of shamanic work with the evolving roles of Brigid saint and Goddess.  Her email is katefitzpatrick2@gmail.com 

 

Cosmic Brigid… Part One

At the Brigid of Faughart Festival in Ireland in February 2018, I met Kate Fitzpatrick, one of the performers in an evening of music and storytelling. Hearing of her work in Ireland to bring about a rebirth of its ancient spiritual heritage, I was moved. When I learned that Kate had given a talk on “Cosmic Brigid” for an earlier festival, I asked her to allow me to repost it here on Sophiawakens. Anne Kathleen

Brigid has always held the role of being a cosmic Goddess. There are many areas of life that she governs. Her symbolism is vast and covers all elements – the power of transformation of the Fire, the healing qualities of Water and holy wells, and in the blessings of the Earth in the ritual prayers for crops for the year to come. The inspiration of her creativity given to poets and crafts people is the intuitive faculty associated with the element Air.

 

20180129 Bhrigid Well Kildare

Statue Of Brigid near her well in Kildare, Ireland

 

I have worked with the Celtic Goddesses for almost thirty years now – in designing and facilitating spiritual journeys for healing and transformation. My work with the myths is to help bring them to life in a modern context. Let the myths live on. Let the myths change, transform and become a new thing as we work with them at profound depths. Become the myth. Listen with your heart and allow it to weave magic within you. Allow Brigid to be with you and to assist you in your own life. It is not theoretical knowledge but wisdom we are speaking of. It is the teaching of ages that we want to call in from the cosmic dimensions to help give meaning to our lives today. Let the women sing out the stories that the Goddesses will hear and they too will be changed in the process.

 

Can we allow the myths to change? Give permission for the music to evolve? And help Brigid to become an even bigger version of who she is? Archetype of the Divine Feminine in her full power, equality and wisdom. She is a guide to us such that we too can reach for the stars and have a model to find the map forward in this new age of Feminine wisdom returning. There is a higher light coming in to support us in these changing times. A living myth of cosmic dimensions is living through and beyond us. Will we lean into it to assist us in these challenging times?

Brigid as Serpent Goddess.

Since 2000 there have been great changes happening in spiritual light and the Feminine. The patterns of cosmic energy began to shift in 1987 in what became known as ‘Harmonic Convergence’ (1). What this entailed was an increase in the vibration of the earth’s energy system. Along with this shifting of frequency, portals were opening and greater spiritual light was coming into the earth’s field.

Many people were tracking these changes and it was said that the new millenium of 2000 would be a portal also. Each four years after that – 2004, 2008 and right up to 2012 – would see another major shift in the measurable hertz (that is – in the earth’s vibration rate) and corresponding portal of energy opening.

In 1999 I did a vision quest in Co Antrim, N. Ireland, and and as a result of this was shown to work with the power of ‘Serpent’ in the energy fields of Ireland. As I opened my heart and mind to find out what this meant I began in earnest doing shamanic journeys to follow this vision and carry out the work asked of me.

 

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In March 2000 I decided to lead a workshop in November in Co Meath called ‘The Power of Serpent Rising’ . I felt the first resistance to the work on St Patrick’s day as the old saint’s spirit lashed out against the possibility of snakes being awakened again in Ireland. This work with Serpent was very powerful. In preparation for the workshop I found I had to sit in silence for long periods of time and hold absolute stillness and breathe very consciously. In this practice I felt the power of Serpent energy in my body as a vital force. She brought her gifts of healing, transformation and a sense of balance of all opposites. I entered the void and just sat in it. Often there were no images – just an awareness of body energy. The stillness was profound however – it was like the silence of Stone. I trusted the ancient priestess spirits who came to guide the work with Serpent. Their connection to Brigid as an archetypal feminine energy started to show itself. In my whole being I glimpsed the cosmic dimensions of the ancient stone alignments of Ireland and their eternal mythic links to the Tuathe Dé Danann.

Reference: (1) The Harmonic Convergence is the name given to one of the world’s first globally synchronized meditation events, which occurred on August 16–17, 1987. This event also closely coincided with an exceptional alignment of planets in the Solar System.

Kate Fitzpatrick                                                         (to be continued next week)

 

 

Women Rising Rooted

Brigid of Faughart 2018 Festival, Ireland

Part Two

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 in 2018, 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.

From a window on the upper floor, Dolores shows me where the Hill of Faughart can be seen, 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.  Snow drop and crocus, saint and goddess, growing from this earth.

The Oratory Dedicated to Brigid in Faughart

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

It is especially Dolores who embodies for me the spirit-energy of Brigid, who has taught me the rhythm of the seasons, their spiritual meaning, and shown me in her life what it means to live the qualities of Brigid: her focus, her alignment with earth and heaven.

In my days here I listen to the stories of women’s lives, told 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 endeavour.
Una the artist (centre), Barbara the Beguine from Germany (right)  with me

Kate Fitzpatrick picks up her violin to express more profoundly than words her journey with women who sought in the land and soul of Ireland the Healed Feminine. Kate’s quest was to bring peace and forgiveness to her people in Northern Ireland. 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, receiving those 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, and to 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.

Tara_3_Hill[1]

trees on the crest of the Hill of Tara, Ireland

 

 

Who is Brigid?

In Ireland for the festivities surrounding Brigid’s Feast in 2018. I was staying with Dolores Whelan, organizer of the Festival, who had invited me to take part as a storyteller. My first event was at a Theatre Arts venue with a group of school children. As fifty little boys in school uniforms filed in to take their seats, I smiled to myself thinking “Fifty little Harry Potters…”  I had brought them a Scots Celtic tale of courage, “The Young Tamlin”.

However, the man who welcomed the boys and their teachers told them I would be speaking of Brigid! To gain time, I asked them, “What is your favourite story of Brigid?”  Eager hands shot into the air, one boy looking ready to burst if I did not let him speak. With glee he proclaimed “She popped her eye out!”

Ouch. Well.  Yes. Not wishing to disillusion him, I said carefully, “Well she didn’t wish to marry, so she made herself ugly, but I do believe the eye was later healed….”

So there it is. Brigid’s story has been magnified into legends wondrous and terrible, the seeds of truth growing into a gigantic beanstalk much as Jack’s few beans did in the fairy tale.

third image of Brigid

Legend says that Brigid’s mother gave birth to her on the doorstep of their home, one foot within, one foot outside the door. This would seem to be a prophecy for a life that would become a threshold, bridging pagan and Christian, woman and man, rich and poor….Goddess and Saint. For the story of Brigid, founder of the Christian Monastery of Kildare, is interwoven with the ancient Irish goddess who shares her name. As goddess, Brigid is known as maiden, mother and crone. And the Feast of Saint Brigid, February 1st, coincides with the ancient Celtic Festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring. It is Brigid who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”.

Now I recall my first encounter with Brigid’s story.

It was still dead winter on that February day, more than twenty-five years ago, the air a raw biting cold, as I set out to explore Edinburgh. The National Gallery of Scotland lured me within, down a narrow staircase to an explosion of beauty, wildly out of proportion to the size of its modest rooms, its small wall space. I hold vague memories of standing in awe before landscapes, clusters of children in a garden, beautiful women, solemn men whose painted faces gazed back at me.

But one image remains etched in rich detail in my mind. I stopped, breathless, before John Duncan’s 1913 painting called, “St. Bride”. Two angels in gloriously patterned robes, whose miniature tapestries held scenes from Celtic mythology, were carrying a white-robed maiden, her hands joined in prayer. One angel supported her back with his hands, as her golden hair fell in great waves towards the sea. The other angel held her ankles while her knees rested on his shoulders. The angels’ wings were a symphony of colour from scarlet to rose to pale pink, shaded with greens, golds, midnight blues. The angels’ toes just brushed the surface of the sea where a seal swam ahead of them.

st-bride-john-duncan

St. Bride by John Duncan

I had no idea what I was seeing.

That evening, in the home of the priest friend with whom I was staying, I learned the story of Brigid. Legend tells that she was carried by angels across the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem in Judea, to be present at the birth of Jesus, and that she became his foster mother. Other tales add that Brigid served Mary as mid-wife, and that when Herod was seeking the Child to destroy him, Brigid distracted the soldiers by running through the streets, allowing Mary and Joseph to escape with Jesus.

As I am sure you recognize we are back in the realm of story. But as I hope you realize, it is the story that matters, that lures us, inspires us, teaches us what we need to understand about the life of Brigid. Brigid was born in Ireland in 457 AD and founded a double monastery in Kildare sometime before her death in 524 AD. A wealth of stories about her were carried in oral tradition until Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare, wrote his “Life of Brigid” around 650 AD. At the time of his writing, Cogitosus noted that in the Kildare monastery, the nuns still guarded Brigid’s sacred fire.

According to Cogitosus, Brigid was the daughter of Dubhthach, a pagan noble of Leinster, while her mother, Brocseach, was a Christian. Baptized at an early age, Brigid was fostered by a Druid.

The stories of Brigid reveal her spirit of compassion for the poor: one day when she was a child, after she had milked the cows, she gave away the milk to some poor persons who were passing. She feared her mother’s reproof, but when she arrived home, her milk pail was found to be even fuller that that of the other maidens.

The adult Brigid approached a rich landowner (some stories say it was the King of Leinster) asking for land where she might grow food for the poor. The landowner agreed to give her as much land as she could cover with her cloak. Brigid lay down her cloak and it expanded until it covered many, many acres.

Another story tells of Brigid’s father preparing for her marriage to a nobleman while Brigid herself wanted to become a nun. Through the intervention of the Christian King of Leinster, Brigid’s desire was granted. With seven other young women Brigid was consecrated to Christ.

Here is the story I love best: during the Ceremony for Consecration of a Virgin to Christ, the very old Bishop Mel of Ardagh mistakenly read for Brigid the words for Consecration of a Bishop. When his mistake was pointed out to him by co-presider Bishop MacCaille of Longford, Mel insisted that the Consecration would stand, as it must have been the work of the Holy Spirit. Brigid would be the only woman to hold the episcopal office in Ireland.

During my time in Ireland in 2018, I travelled to Kildare, to the new Retreat Centre Solas Bhride. Outside the Centre in an open field stands a towering statue of Brigid, robed as a Bishop holding a crozier in her left hand. I stood still before the image, my heart seeking her guidance for my journey.

20180129 Bhrigid statue at Solas Bhride

Did I really expect a response? Yet, I was suddenly aware of her right hand raised, two fingers joined in what I recognized as a Bishop’s blessing, gesturing towards her right. Deep within, I heard her words clearly: “Keep on your journey. Go on with your work. Don’t look back.”

 

Brigid of Kildare Spring Maiden

Brigid has left us no written word. Her earliest biography was written a hundred years after her death by Cogitos, one of the monks of Kildare, the double monastery where Brigid was Abbess of both men and women in fifth century Ireland.

Ireland is a land of story. The stories woven through and around Brigid’s life are interlaced with the stories of the Ancient Goddess Brigid so that the two have come to be one sacred archetypal presence. This is best illustrated in words overheard a few years ago at a ceremony at Brigid’s Well in Kildare: “Sure and wasn’t she a goddess before ever she was a saint.”

In the winter of 2018, I was in Ireland for Imbolc, February 1st, the Feast Day of Brigid, who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”.  Staying in the home of Dolores Whelan, I found in her garden small snowdrops blooming and one purple crocus. For a Canadian, such flowers in late January appeared miraculous.

20180126snow drops in Ireland

snowdrops in Dolores Whelan’s Garden late January 2018

Dolores, who is my primary teacher in the ways of Brigid, showed me the hill of Faughart, clearly visible from her upper story window…Faughart is known in legend as the birthplace of Brigid. I had the joy of being present at the Oratory in Faughart on February 1st, Brigid’s Day, for a Ritual of Music and Readings.

In her article, “Brigid of Faughart – Wise Guide for Modern Soul Seekers”, Dolores writes of coming to know Brigid:

Faughart near Dundalk ,Co Louth, Ireland is an ancient place filled with a history that is both gentle and fierce. It is a place associated with battles, boundaries and travel. The Sli Midhluachra, one of the 5 ancient roads of Ireland, runs through the hill of Faughart on its way from the Hill of Tara to Armagh and then to the north coast of Ireland, making it a strategically important place.

 

However, Faughart is also a place of deep peace, tranquility, beauty and healing, being associated from ancient times with Brigid, Pre-Christian Goddess and Christian Saint. Brigid holds the energy of the Divine Feminine within the Celtic Spiritual tradition. Faughart is the place associated with Brigid, the compassionate woman who heals, advises and nurtures all who come to her in times of need.

 

People are drawn to her shrine at Faughart because of the deep peace they experience there. Brigid’s peaceful presence can be experienced in this landscape where the ancient beech trees radiate old knowledge and hold a compassionate space for us all.

 

20180201 faughart well and stream

Grounds near the Oratory of Brigid at Faughart Ireland

 

On La feile Bhride (Feb 1st) people come in their multitudes! On this special day the shrine at Faughart is thronged with pilgrims who come to invoke Brigid’s blessing on their emerging lives. Brigid is associated with springtime and new life emerging. She is the one who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter.”

I first went to Faughart in 1992 and was amazed by the beautiful energy present there. At that time, I had begun to study the Celtic spiritual tradition, something from which I and so many other people had been disconnected over many centuries. My quest at that time and since then has been to recover some of the riches and wisdom of that ancient tradition. And to ask the question:  “How could this wisdom be integrated into the lives of us modern humans in ways which would create a more balanced and peaceful life for all of the beings on planet Earth”?

 While at Faughart in 1992 something deep and ancient stirred in my heart and I have been on a journey with Brigid ever since. In 1993 I went to The Brigid Festival in Kildare, organised by Mary Minehan, Phil O’Shea, and Rita Minehan (Solas Bhride). At this festival these women, in a daring Brigid-like action, re-kindled the flame of Brigid in Kildare. The flame of Brigid had been quenched at the time of the suppressions of the monasteries around the 12th century.

As this took place an ancient part of my soul understood the significance of this prophetic act. My journey into the Celtic spiritual tradition changed and evolved over time, becoming a deeply significant part of my life’s purpose.

 It is said that from the moment Brigid learned to know God that her mind remained ever focused on God/Divine. This allowed her to remain connected to God and the heavens while living on the earthly plane. Her great power of manifestation was a result of this ability to be aligned heaven to earth. The strong connection between her inner and outer worlds allowed her to focus her energy onto a particular intention so clearly as to ensure its manifestation in the physical world.

 Brigid had the capacity to bring forth new life, to nourish, to create plenty in the crops or an abundance of the milk from cows, and to manifest or create ex nihilo. This gift reflected the true abundance and prosperity that was present in the society she created, a society living in right relationship with the land. Her life and work thrived due to her deep trust in life and because there was a total absence of fear within her.

 third image of Brigid

Slowly, I began to understand that Brigid, the Pre-Christian Goddess and Celtic Christian saint who lived in the 5th Century in Faughart and Kildare, who embodied wonderful qualities of compassion, courage, independence and spiritual strength was not only a historical figure! I realised that those energies and qualities exemplified by her in her lifetime are still alive in the world and available to me and to all humanity. What a gift it was to realise this! And so the task became how could I access those qualities in myself, embrace them and use them to challenge the dominant thinking of our culture and become like Brigid, a catalyst for change in society.

 trusting our own inner truth…our unique soul journey

Brigid challenges each of us to have that same courage; to live our lives with the passion and commitment that comes from trusting our own inner truth and living the integrity of our unique soul journey. She invites us, like her, to breathe life into the mouth of dead winter everywhere we find it in ourselves and in our society. She represents for me the spiritual warrior energy reflected in this ancient triad “The eye to see what is, the heart to feel what is, and the courage that dares to follow.” Dolores T Whelan

Deep thanks to Dolores for this article, for her fidelity to her call to embody for our time the qualities of Brigid. 

 

Cosmic Brigid Encore

February 6, 2019

Yesterday, I wakened from a dream:  My niece Kate is teaching a literature class where I am one of her high school students. We have just completed a reading of some story or novel. Kate announces that we will now move on to something new, no time to lose, curriculum to cover… But I feel a sense of loss so keen I have to speak up. “Why don’t we spend more time with what we’ve already read? Take it deeper? Go down, down, down. That’s where the treasures are.”

The dream ended there. I awoke, already planning to dismiss it as readily as Scrooge dismissed Marley’s visit as “a bit of underdone beef…”

Then I “got it”… Kate? My beloved niece, whose name reminded me of Kate Fitzpatrick and her astonishingly layered and profound “Cosmic Brigid”.

No, we won’t move on to something new. We need more time with “Cosmic Brigid.” So here it is as an encore. Like Scrooge’s three spirits in their three visits, we shall, over the next weeks, “take it deeper”… “go down, down, down…where the treasures are.”

Let’s begin with Kate’s introduction where she tells us of the twin interests that led her to explore Brigid’s deeper meaning:

“I am interested in tracking the changing role of Brigid over many centuries,” Kate writes,”and coupled with my interest in the cosmic shifts that are happening in our world today I asked: How is Brigid relevant today? and Can we call her a Cosmic Goddess?

third image of Brigid

An old Celtic blessing for a woman in childbirth called “The Moon of Four Quarters”repeats the number four in some of its lines.

Four corners of the bed

Four angels at her head

Mathew Mark Luke and John

God bless the bed that she lies on

New moon, New moon God bless me

God bless this house and family.

                                    (Michael Dames, Mythic Ireland, London: Thames and Hudson, 1992)

Kate cites this as an early example of how people of past centuries saw Brigid in her cosmic aspect. She writes:

Brigid has always held the role of being a cosmic Goddess. There are many areas of life that she governs. Her symbolism is vast and covers all elements – the power of transformation of the Fire, the healing qualities of Water and holy wells, and in the blessings of the Earth in the ritual prayers for crops for the year to come. The inspiration of her creativity given to poets and crafts people is the intuitive faculty associated with the element Air.

Fire, Water, Earth, Air: the elements of life honoured by indigenous peoples from ancient times. These cosmic elements associated with Brigid, both as goddess and saint, we have explored in past years in our reflections. But Kate invites us to go further. In her decades of facilitating spiritual journeys for healing and transformation using the myths of the Celtic Goddesses, Kate has worked to bring these ancient ones to life in the context of the present day. Here Kate’s writing becomes lyrical, passionate:

Let the myths live on. Let the myths change, transform and become a new thing as we work with them at profound depths. Become the myth. Listen with your heart and allow it to weave magic within you. Allow Brigid to be with you and to assist you in your own life. It is not theoretical knowledge but wisdom we are speaking of. It is the teaching of ages that we want to call in from the cosmic dimensions to help give meaning to our lives today. Let the women sing out the stories that the Goddesses will hear and they too will be changed in the process.

There is fire in her words. They lure us to respond: “Yes. Yes, that is what I also desire.” In my heart they resonate deeply and become woven with the truth I am coming to know: The Sacred Feminine Presence, by whatever name we call her, is an embodied presence, not some ideal or intellectual concept. Brigid, like Isis, like Sophia, like Mary, wants to be invited to enter our lives. She will not become us, nor will we ever become her. Yet we can offer her a place to live and grow, to reach out from within us in wisdom and love to other people, other living beings, to our planet in this time of its wounding, perhaps even its dying.

Kate asks: Can we allow the myths to change? Give permission for the music to evolve? And help Brigid to become an even bigger version of who she is? Archetype of the Divine Feminine in her full power, equality and wisdom. She is a guide to us such that we too can reach for the stars and have a model to find the map forward in this new age of Feminine wisdom returning. There is a higher light coming in to support us in these changing times. A living myth of cosmic dimensions is living through and beyond us. Will we lean into it to assist us in these challenging times?  

How do we respond?

Kate Fitzpatrick is the author of Macha’s Twins, A Spiritual Journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess. She is currently writing a book about her experiences of shamanic work with the evolving roles of Brigid saint and Goddess.

Her email is katefitzpatrick2@gmail.com

 

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