Category Archives: Dolores Whelan

Summer Solstice with Sophia

The journey of increasing light continues with the approach of mid-summer, around June 21 in the northern hemisphere, when the light triumphs and brightness occupies a large part of both day-time and night-time hours. High summer celebrates the complete blossoming and fruition of the seeds sown back in the depths of winter. However, this triumph of light is, like all things, transitory.

Dawn of Summer Solstice over Calabogie Lake June 2020

Just as the journey toward the summer solstice began at the time of the winter solstice,so too the journey to the winter solstice is initiated at this moment.

The sun begins to lose some of its strength; it shines for a shorter time each day, as the year moves past the summer solstice.

The water energy, in the form of rain—so much a part of summer in the northern regions – tempers the fire energy and ensures that the crops reach full ripeness without being burned.

 (Dolores Whelan Ever Ancient, Ever New Celtic Spirituality in the 21st Century,  published by Original Writing Ltd., Dublin, 2010 )

For this almost-Solstice Reflection, I chose a piece on Sophia inspired by Thomas Merton.

On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Merton wakened in his hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

He wrote of the “fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero.” He expresses deep joy at being in his hermitage,where his life is shared with Sophia. He quotes from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom: 8: 16:

When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company,when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy.

Thomas Merton

Reflecting on this text Merton writes: “But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this ‘living together with wisdom?’For me, there is nothing else….I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear….” (p. 14 in  Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton Christopher Pramuk  Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 2009)

When I first found this quote from Merton, I did a double-take. I had read it earlier in a book I’ve come to cherish: Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005).  Shapiro opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures. I was finding my own way to sharing my life with Sophia.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Because of Shapiro’s insight into another passage about Sophia from the Book of Proverbs, I glimpsed the meaning of Merton’s dream of a young girl whose name was “Proverbs”.

In Proverbs, Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) speaks:

The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.

I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…

When He established the heavens, I was already there.

When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When He made firm the skies above,

When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…

I was beside Him, the master builder.

I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.

Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race. 

(Proverbs 8: 22-31)

Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”:

She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well. (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)

“To know her,” Shapiro adds, “is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them.

“To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise.

“To become wise is to find happiness and peace:”

Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace. She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her;

those who hold Her close are happy. (Proverbs 3: 17-18) 

“Moreover,” writes Shapiro, “Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial.

“The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of. ” 

Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality.

“Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself.

“You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning.

“As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.”

I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)

“Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru,” Shapiro writes.  “She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.”

She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11)  and calls to you to follow Her.

“Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise.  Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.

….To know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.”

When we become her partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:

“Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….

“Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones.

You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts.

“She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal with them to your mutual benefit.”

Icon of Sophia from a Chapel on Paros Island, Greece

celebrating Bealtaine

The super moon that announces Bealtaine was just rising over Lake Calabogie near my home in the Ottawa Valley on April 26th when I took this photo. Seeking wisdom to share with you as we approach the great festival of Bealtaine on May 1st, I found an article from 2012 by Celtic teacher and writer Dolores Whelan, author of Ever Ancient, Ever New (Columba Press, Dublin, 2006)

Dear friends, Greetings.  Bealtaine has finally come to Ireland!

Bealtaine, the second most important festival of the Celtic calendar after Samhain, marks the passing from the dark inwardly focused to the bright outwardly focused half of the year.

There is something almost primal in my love of Bealtaine or May-time. Sometimes I wonder what is it that is so special about May time in Ireland? Is it the longer evenings? Is it the millions of wildflowers, primroses, wild garlic, bluebells and dandelions that grace the hedgerows? Or is it the burst of colour in the gardens or window-boxes? Is it that special almost translucent quality of greenness which is only present in May or the blanket of whiteness created by the ubiquitous Hawthorn?

Perhaps it is all of these together that allows the world around us to take on a larger dimension and allows us to see so clearly and so vividly the new life bursting forth after the restrictive darkness and coldness of winter. And perhaps the sense of the sap rising within ourselves adds to our capacity to see the world anew. It is as if both the soul of the earth and our own souls have awakened and are seeing the world as if for the first time.

Many of us who grew up in Ireland in the 50’s and 60’s have cherished memories of the Bealtaine / May time celebrations that took place in towns and villages all over Ireland. Joyful events like the May procession when we children dressed up in our Communion dresses or best Sunday outfits and walked through the streets where flowers decked the doors of the houses. We sang “Oh Mary, we crown thee with Blossoms today Queen of the angels and Queen of the May,” celebrating the union of heaven and earth and the fecundity of the mother and announcing the arrival of summertime.

Many people created a May altar in their homes with wild flowers and a picture of Mary the Mother of God to celebrate Bealtaine.

We sang “Thuagamar fhein an samhradh linn” ( We bring the summer with us or into us) reminding us that summer is not only a season happening in the land it is also a quality that we can embody in ourselves.

Perhaps what is most striking for me about the festival of Bealtaine is that it holds a great sense of anticipation and possibility. This new season has arrived, one that promises long days, perhaps even sunny ones. And who can know what will unfold during this time?

Some of the ancient customs associated with the festival of Bealtaine (at the time of the full moon in May) are still practised by some of us e.g. the ritual of going to a high and sacred place before sunrise to wait and greet the first rays of sun on the morning of La Bealtaine and bring water from a Holy well and allow those first rays of sun to strike the water; enacting the ancient ritual of the masculine and feminine energies uniting and empowering each other.

Bealtaine Sunrise Meets Water

Gratitude and abundance are qualities that I associate with May-time because abundance is reflected everywhere at this time. It is difficult not be grateful in the month of May!!

For me Bealtaine is also a state of mind. It is a space where I can risk bringing something new out into the world of form so that it can blossom into its fullness. It is a place in me where I step boldly into the world, like all of nature does in May-time, regardless of what lies ahead. To know your own May-time requires a deep and sensitive listening to yourself and a willingness to be true to your process. I have often tried to force May-times in my life, to force a piece of work out of its inner space before it was ready, or to force myself to be in May-timebecause some aspect of my ego thought I should be. What I have learned is that when I do that to myself nothing blossoms!

I am also learning to recognise the many Bealtaine moments that are available in my life every day. These opportunities that happen at unexpected times are moments when I say yes to my life as it is this moment, and allow the moment to blossom into its fullness.

So today let us give thanks for the beauty of Bealtaine in the world around us and for the blossoming energy of Bealtaine wherever it is within ourselves.

Let us also honour the journey which began at Samhain and moved through each of the seasons until it reached Bealtaine, because I have found that, in truth, there can be no Bealtaine without Samhain.

Le gra and beannachtai , Dolores Whelan

The golden light of the Bealtaine sunrise at Deerpark Court Cairn, Co Sligo, May 6 2012

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? 

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

 

 

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. 

 

The Womb of Darkness

The call to awaken to the presence of Sophia comes at a time when much of our planet struggles with darkness.

Live-streaming news gives us an immediate knowing of disasters, disease, wars, weather-related devastation that can be overwhelming.

Yet the greater the darkness, the greater is our awareness of the need for light, the deeper our appreciation for it,and the more compelling our own call to be co-creators of light.

As these shorter days in autumn prepare us for the yearly plunge into winter’s darkness, we are entering into the sacred time of Sophia.

Our ancient ancestors, who knew almost nothing of events beyond their immediate homes, knew about the rhythms of the earth,the apparent movements of sun, moon and stars, the cycle of the seasons, with an accuracy of observation that fills us with awe.

The early peoples of Ireland were so deeply attuned to the shifting balance of light and darkness that they could build a monument to catch the first rays of sunrise on the winter Solstice. The Newgrange mound in Ireland, predating the Egyptian Pyramids,receives the Solstice light through a tiny aperture above the threshold. 

Like the Egyptians and other ancient peoples, the Celts wove their spirituality from the threads of light and darkness that shaped their lives. Their spiritual festivals moved through a seasonal cycle in harmony with the earth’s yearly dance,associating the bright sunlit days with masculine energy, the darker time with contemplative feminine energy.

For the Celts, the days we are entering this week, days we name Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’,were one festival known as Samhain (Saw’ wane). These three days marked the year’s end with a celebration that served as a time-out before the new year. The bright masculine season with its intense activity of planting, growing, harvesting was over. The quieter days of winter were ahead, “the time of darkness, the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced and the season of non-doing is initiated.” (Dolores Whelan: Ever Ancient, Ever New, 98-9)

We in the twenty-first century may still draw on this ancient wisdom to live in harmony with the earth as the Northern Hemisphere of our planet tilts away from the sun. We can welcome this time of darkness as a season of renewal when earth and humans rest. Our energy can be gathered inwards to support what is happening deep within the earth and deep within our souls. The energy gathered in this season will be used when the winter has passed and spring has brought new life to the land and the people.

We too can accept the invitation of Samhain to release whatever is not completed at this time, letting go of the light and the activity of sun-time, surrendering ourselves to the restful moon-time, the darkness of holy waiting. Living within the wisdom of the earth’s seasons, we move towards the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, embracing a journey of deep surrender.

This is Sophia time. Within her sacred cauldron, our lives and our desires for our planet find a place of gestation, a safe darkness where, as with the caterpillar in a chrysalis, the great work of transformation of our souls and of all of life can happen. In this sacred season, this womb-time, we curl up near the fireside of our hearts.

From Sophia’s cauldron, we shall emerge in springtime in an interdependent co-arising with the earth,knowing ourselves renewed in soul, body and spirit.

Image of the Black Madonna, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Wisconsin

The Jungian Writer Sylvia Senensky describes our calling, our task: 

We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new. 

When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core,and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face,that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.

…. She is calling upon us, each in our way, to do our inner work, to become her allies,to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet…. 

Love attracts love.  If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy,our actions will begin to mirror our feelings.  We will come home to ourselves. (Sylvia Senensky Healing and Empowering the Feminine Chiron Publications, Wilmette Illinois 2003)

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 Part Two

  We continue this week with Dolores Whelan’s article on Brigid:

As we consider the qualities embodied by Brigid as reflected in the stories of her life as abbess of Kildare Ireland, it is obvious that these qualities are similar to those present in her incarnation as pre-Christian goddess.

Brigid is considered a threshold person, one who can straddle both sides and remain detached. This quality, which is central in her life, is highlighted in the stories of her birth, which attest that she was born on the threshold of the house, neither within nor without; that her father was a noble man, her mother a slave; and that he was a pagan, her mother a Christian. From her origins, she has this ability to stand in the void and remain centred within it, while holding the creative tension between two opposite perspectives. Many stories from her life portray her as a person capable of resolving conflicts in a healthy manner. Being centred and aligned within herself, she is detached and can grasp the energies of both sides clearly, thereby facilitating a resolution. She has the ability to stand still and remain focused, in spite of the uncertainty present in the outer world.

 the ability to stand still and remain focused

As a child and a young woman Brigid constantly challenged the accepted norms of her society, especially those expressed by her father when they opposed to her own values. This reflects Brigid as a person who lives her life from a place of deep inner knowing and inner authority. She also refused to marry any of the suitors that her father arranged for her, because she had chosen a different life path and destiny. She would not compromise her soul journey!

absolute faith in the abundance of the universe

Brigid’s generosity is legendary and is related in numerous stories of her giving away food and clothes to people who came to her monastery or whom she met along the way. This generosity was, it seems, based on her absolute faith in the abundance of the universe to provide all that was needed in each moment. Each time she gave away the butter or meat needed for the next meal it miraculously reappeared in time for that meal!

Brigid’s 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 is a reflection of the true abundance and with the prosperity of the society, living in relationship with the land , created by her. Her life and work thrived because of her deep trust and an absence of fear.

ability to be aligned heaven to earth

It is said that from the moment Brigid learned to know God her mind remained ever focused on God. She remained connected to God and the heavens while living on the earthly plane. Her 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 and ensure its manifestation.

The story how Brigid got the land for her monastery in Kildare is a wonderful example of her ability to manifest what is needed. She states clearly what she needs and asks the local lord for land. First he refused but she is not deterred by this. She pursues her request in a different way by asking, “Give me what land my mantle will cover.”

 a woman who can hold her intention clearly

He says yes! When she placed the mantle on the ground it grew until it covered enough land for the monastery .This reflects a woman who can hold her intention clearly, even when on the surface it seems that her request will not be met!! These inspiring stories of Brigid relate to her active life in the world, where she embodies and live true spiritual power! But what and where is the source of this power?

To fully understand the power and the qualities that Brigid embodied, as reflected in the many stories about her life, we need to begin with an exploration of the role of Brigid as Cailleach, the aspect of the Divine Feminine, that rules during the season of Samhain (winter) at the beginning of the Celtic year. This I believe is the wellspring from which Brigid’s power manifests in the world emerges.

the embodiment of tough mother love

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.

the cailleach energy….will hold us safely

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!

20180129 Bhrigid Well Kildare.jpg

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.

embracing the energy of surrender

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.

However 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: 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. 

dolores-img

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)