Category Archives: Brigid as Face of Sacred feminine

Who is Brigid for us Today?

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

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

third image of Brigid

 

What I see in Brigid is that she matters to the time in which she lives, to the people whom she serves, as we each hope to do in some way. But she also matters to (maters as in mothers) the Church where her leadership was strong, recognised and luminous.

A woman living in the 21st century in the Catholic Church does not matter in that way. She may write, teach, offer retreats, and yet be largely ignored by the Institutional Church.

Until now, I have not minded. It allows a certain freedom. But something in Brigid’s story makes me wonder if perhaps it does matter very much indeed that the Church to which I have belonged since infancy does not appear to need or even notice women. How does the Celtic Feminine as expressed in Brigid’s life challenge me/us in this matter?

In last week’s Reflection on Brigid, we saw how old Bishop Mel, guided by the Holy Spirit, accidently consecrated Brigid as a bishop. We know that her monastery in Kildare was a double monastery, housing consecrated women and men, as was the way in the Celtic expression of Christianity. Brigid would have governed as Abbess/Bishop to both women and men. The development of Irish Monasticism appears to have been richly differentiated, a garden of wild profusion and endless variety. So there is no way of knowing how or when or why Brigid’s monastery of women began to welcome men. But here is a story I found that tells how it may have happened:

One day a group of men, for whom Brigid’s faithful spirit and generous heart were as a lodestone, came knocking at the door of the Kildare Monastery, requesting that they be allowed to join the community. Brigid consulted with her Sisters. They were aghast! What? Men! Noisy, unruly, bothersome. No way! Brigid’s first assistant sealed the matter with the words that have frequently put an end to something new: “It’s never been done before.”

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

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

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

What was the lodestar of Brigid’s life, the star by which she navigated the uncertainties and challenges that faced her each day? In an imaginal dialogue with her, I asked that question. Here is Brigid’s response:

 From the first moment I met the Holy, my thoughts have never strayed. Can you say the same? Or are you like Brendan, anxious about the weather and the tides and the location of the fish? focussed on your important tasks but forgetting the one thing necessary?  

I had to admit to her how easily I lose focus, forget the One who began this work in me, let the Holy One slip from my gaze, from my path, from my heart. The fire of a passionate love for the Holy that has been lit within me, a fire I must tend faithfully. A fire tender must first of all take care that the flame of her love burns bright.

The one thing necessary is the flame that must be tended and nourished from deep within. Then the fire may be turned to other uses: warming those who come near, creating art, poetry, song, melody and ritual, offering food to the hungry, and justice to those denied it.

Brigid spoke again: If you turn your heart towards the fire, the other tasks will seem less arduous. The fire will ignite your creativity. The love will give you the strength and joy you require. FOCUS! That’s the Brigid–gift I offer you. 

Brigid, you are our lodestone, drawing us to a life aflame. You are our lodestar, offering us guidance in something so utterly new, so untried, that it sparkles in the sun’s light even in the midst of surrounding darkness. The ripples make circles that widen, that embrace ever-new possibilities. Thank you.

 

 

 

Brigid: The Mary of the Gael

Edinburgh was coated in light snow on that February day in 1992, the air a raw biting cold, as I set out to explore the city. 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 and solemn men whose painted faces gazed back at me.

st-bride-john-duncan

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, miniature tapestries holding 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.
I had no idea what I was seeing.

That evening, in the home of the 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 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 life. The life of Brigid is in some ways more mysterious than the life of Mary. With Mary, we have the fragments of the Gospels. For Brigid, what we have are mostly legends.
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 her 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, 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.

In a wonderful tale, 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.

In the book, Miniature Lives of the Saints, I came upon this explanation for Brigid’s title, “The Mary of the Gael”:
At a synod held near Kildare, during the lifetime of the saint, says an old legend, one of the fathers declared that he had seen a vision, and that the Blessed Virgin would on the morrow appear among them. Next day Brigid arrived with her companions, and the father immediately exclaimed, “There is the holy Mary whom I saw in my dream.” Brigid accordingly came to be called “The Mary of the Gael,” that is, of the Irish; for so pure was she in spirit, so holy in every action, so modest, so gentle, so filled with mercy and compassion, that she was looked on as the living image in soul and body of Mary the Mother of God. (London, Burns and Oates, 1959)

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”. It is Brigid who, as we have already read in Dolores Whelan’s article, “Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife for a New World” holds the cailleach energy, the energy of the cauldron where our lives, individually and communally, need to be transformed through the power of her fire, her water.

I close with words spoken by a contemporary Irish woman who was seeking to grasp the goddess/saint mystery of Brigid: ”Ah, wasn’t she a goddess before ever she was a saint?” (in The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan)

Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife for a New World: Part Two

Dolores Whelan continues:

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.

crone

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.”(1)

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 individuals, within the land, in the relationships between the people and their land, fanning the fires of creative endeavour so that all 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 to courageously and safely 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.

Dolores Whelan  (doloreswhelan.ie)  reprinted with permission

Notes/references:
1 Amergin Jan de Fouw Amergin Wolfhound Press Dublin 2000 ( afterword )
2, 3 Richard Kearney quoted in Stephen J. Collins The Irish Soul in Dialogue the Liffey Press Dublin 2001 p 147

Brigid as midwife of a new world

During her workshop at Galilee in February 2014, Dolores Whelan taught that it is no small task to integrate the divine energy of the sacred feminine within oneself. We only do one piece of the work but each piece joined together with the others creates a quantum shift. Dolores said that the crime is to believe that we have no power. We need to ask, “What choices do I have here?” If we say, “there’s nothing I can do,” Dolores responds, “OH YES THERE IS!”

dolores-img

Dolores Whelan doloreswhelan.ie

In her article, “Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife to a New World”, Dolores Whelan shows how Brigid assists us in this great work which is our great work. Because of the richness, the timeliness, the importance of this refection, I am dividing it into two parts, with the second to follow next week.

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 create 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 creates 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.

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.

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).

maiden_mother_crone_jpg_320_320_0_9223372036854775000_0_1_0

 

What then is the energy associated with the hag, crone, or cailleach aspect of the divine feminine? The cailleach is the embodiment of the tough mother-love that challenges its children to stop acting in destructive ways. It is the energy that refuses to indulge in inappropriate personal or societal dreams. It is the energy that will bring death to those dreams and fantasies that are not aligned with our highest good. Yet, this cailleach energy also will support the emergence and manifestation in the world of the highest and deepest within us. It will hold us safely as we embrace the darkness within ourselves and our society. It is an energy that insists that we stand still, open our hearts, and feel our own pain and the pain of the earth. This is the energy that teaches us how to stay with the process when things are difficult. This energy will not allow us to run away! 

Her way of being is a slow, inwardly focused way, with minimum outward activity: a way that values times of active waiting that pays attention and allows life to unfold.

An essential part of the journey that all the great heroes and heroines in world mythologies undertake includes facing and embracing the energy of surrender, darkness, and death. The hero or heroine learns the next step required in their outer world journey only by submitting to and being initiated into the dark world of the cailleach.

Through this initiation the mature masculine power can emerge and lead each one to find their true path. When this happens the action that follows will be in the service of the true feminine and bring forth wisdom and compassion creating new life, vitality, and sustainability.

Because western society is currently dominated by the young masculine energy, present in both men and women, characterised by its “can do” attitude, there is an urgent need for each of us to make this heroic journey with the cailleach, so that we will become agents for the transformation of our society.

Brigid as Archetype

Above us, the young moon glowed, a silver white earring in the early evening sky. More than a hundred women entered the labyrinth, moving quickly, purposefully, along its pathways towards the centre. There, a smooth-barked tree lifted her leafy arms. There, each woman paused, removed a shawl or a scarf to fling over the branches where it would receive the dew of Brigid’s blessing at dawn.

This ritual, usually celebrated on the eve of February 1st, was part of a weekend Brigid Festival which I attended at Brescia College in London, Ontario in May of 2015.

As Sophia may serve an archetype for our lives, so may Brigid. As archetype of the Sacred Feminine, Brigid differs from Sophia in that she was honoured as goddess both among the ancient Irish peoples, and later by the Celts. Christianity honours a real historical woman named Brigid who was born in 5th Century CE Ireland. Though she left us no written records, this Brigid was founder and Abbess of a Community in Kildare which, in the tradition of early Celtic Christianity, welcomed both men and women into its monastic life. Brigid’s role was akin to that of Bishop. By the time the first biography of Brigid appeared in the sixth century, some one hundred years after her death, the stories, legends and facts were woven together into a vibrant whole where Brigid as goddess and Brigid as saint intermingle.

Brighid by Jo Jayson

Brigid Painting by Jo Jayson

At the Brigid Festival, I met many women seekers, hungry for a spirituality that would honour them as women, welcome them as they are, and offer guidance for living in these new, pathless times. Through the days of ritual, of listening and sharing with my companions, I discovered that for many contemporary women Brigid is an archetype, drawing them, bringing them home.

“Brigid is the acceptable face of women’s divinity”, Mary Condren told us. National Director of Woman Spirit Ireland, and Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, Mary was the keynote speaker and guide for the festival. Her research for a long-awaited book on Brigid is a seemingly endless process of pulling up a thread only to find a cluster of many more threads underneath, Mary said. Now exploring the Cailleach (Crone) aspect of the threefold presence of the sacred feminine, Mary is discovering how central the Cailleach tradition was in ancient times.

By uncovering old pilgrimage paths and excavating ancient ritual sites in Ireland, researchers are finding many earlier aspects of the sacred feminine that were then “folded into” the Brigid tradition which in turn was interwoven with the 5th century abbess, Saint Brigid. Mary Condren longs for Adrienne Rich’s “dream of a common language” that would bring the Cailleach/Brigid tradition into harmony with the Christian tradition.

The language of sacrifice that once meant an offering is used today as a weapon in the hands of patriarchy, celebrating the deaths in twentieth century wars, then engaging in a lucrative arms trade in the many wars across the planet: legitimizing weapons through honouring the war-dead. Yet mercy was the beatitude Brigid chose when she took her veil. Mary Condren believes that the difference between mercy and sacrifice encapsulates the difference between a thealogy (based on feminine values) and patriarchal traditions.

Brigid’s cloak is a symbol of protection and of the creative womb of the earth. Collecting dew on the Festival of Imbolc (as we did by leaving our shawls and scarves on the labyrinth tree overnight) is an ancient feminine ritual. Mary’s research into dew in the sacred writings of many religions (including Kwan Yin where the dew symbolizes compassion and in the Hebrew Bible) shows the longevity of this tradition.

The dew of mercy becomes in Christianity the blood of sacrifice, the redemptive liquid of patriarchy. Yet Brigid’s life and tradition offers an alternative to sacrifice in the practice of self-fragilization, a willingness to allow oneself to be vulnerable, to enter the darkness, to enter the well, and still to remain whole.

Brigid is honoured as a poet because the task of the poet in ancient Ireland is to call the king to act justly. Mary Condren asks, “Who calls our leaders to justice? to integrity? to compassion?”

At the sacred well, we align ourselves with the call to speak truth to power; we align ourselves with what we are called to do with our lives. Brigid’s fire is an inner flame that does not burn out. Mary Condren suggests that we cultivate that inner fire of purification and protection rather than the spectacular destructive fire of sacrifice.

Power rose within and among us over that May weekend as we danced, sang, performed sacred ritual, listened to the teachings of Mary Condren and Starhawk and learned from the women gathered together whose lives are inspired by the Fire of Activism and nourished by the Waters of Compassion.

On the evening before the Festival, Starhawk spoke to some five hundred people about the crisis facing our earth. For her sacred text, she chose Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. For hope, inspiration and direction, Starhawk, whose faith roots are Jewish, called upon Brigid, pausing in the midst of mind-numbing facts and photos of burning oil wells, flooding seas, nuclear disasters, polluted waters, land ravaged by drought to sing the chant: “Holy Well and Sacred Flame” then to ask, “What Would Brigid Do?”

Starhawk suggested Brigid’s responses: honour water so that to defile it would be morally unacceptable; transform polluted waters (there are ways to do this!), rehydrate the earth; promote an alternate world-view based on interdependence where good food and fresh water are available to everyone; leave the oil and gas in the ground; work towards a low carbon future, finding ways to sequester carbon in the soil; engage in activism that will create enough power to bring the powerful corporate polluters to our table; stand up to say NO to oil pipelines; organize locally using whatever gifts and skills we have: educating/ researching/ negotiating/ mobilizing/acting. Find our power, find our gift. Stand with the indigenous people and with them take our responsibility as guardians of the earth. Community is an antidote to Climate Change.

Starhawk called “austerity” programs a form of theft: a neo-feudalism. Brigid’s life teaches that generosity creates abundance. We need a new imagination to face down the fear that arises from “scarcity thinking”. Blessed and accompanied by Brigid, how might we drink more deeply of her Holy Well, how might we make a larger space in our lives for her Sacred Flame to burn brightly?

Brigid: Mary of the Irish

Brigid: “The Mary of the Gael”

Edinburgh was coated in light snow on that February day, more than twenty years ago now, the air a raw biting cold, as I set out to explore the ancient city. 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 portraits of 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.
I had no idea what I was seeing.

st-bride-john-duncan(3)

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, 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 life, aboyut the sacred feminine aspect of the Holy.

Brigid, who was born in Ireland in 457 AD and founded a double monastery in Kildare sometime before her death in 524 AD, left no writings of her own. But there is a cauldron of stories that were carried in the 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 her 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, 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. In a wonderful tale, during the Ceremony for Consecration of a woman 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, and that Brigid would be the only woman to hold the episcopal office in Ireland.

In “Miniature Lives of the Saints”, I came upon this explanation for Brigid’s title, “The Mary of the Gael”: At a synod held near Kildare, during the lifetime of the saint, says an old legend, one of the fathers declared that he had seen a vision, and that the Blessed Virgin would on the morrow appear among them. Next day Brigid arrived with her companions, and the father immediately exclaimed, “There is the holy Mary whom I saw in my dream.” Brigid accordingly came to be called “The Mary of the Gael,” that is, of the Irish; for so pure was she in spirit, so holy in every action, so modest, so gentle, so filled with mercy and compassion, that she was looked on as the living image in soul and body of Mary the Mother of God. (London, Burns and Oates, 1959)

Legend says that Brigid’s mother gave birth to her on the doorstep of their home, one foot within, one foot outside the home. 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. 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”.

Brigid holds the cailleach energy, the energy of the cauldron where our lives, individually and communally, need to be transformed through the power of her fire, her water. We are now halfway through the dark time of the year, the feminine days within the transformative cauldron. This is the time when, as Celtic teacher Dolores Whelan says, winter is pregnant with summer.

As we celebrate Brigid’s Day we turn our eyes, our hearts, towards the maiden aspect of the sacred feminine, awaiting the return of the young days of spring, the promise of new life within as well as outside of us.