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who is the beloved disciple?

Easter Saturday is usually a quiet day, a time of waiting, doing some house cleaning, anticipating the dawn of Easter. Yet as nothing thus far in 2021 has been “usual,” I was not surprised when my appointment for the COVID vaccination in a nearby town was scheduled for that day. Returning home with neither energy nor desire for housework, I reached for a book:The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, a translation made in 2010 from a previously little known first century Gospel written in Greek. It is thought to have been brought to the Languedoc in France (at that time Roman Gaul) from Alexandria in the early to middle part of the first century (thus showing it to be decades earlier than any of the four Gospels we know best).

The translator and commentator is Jehanne de Quillan, a woman with ties to a 12th Century Community in France whose members have guarded this treasure. In her commentary, de Quillan invites the reader to consider the question: “Who is the beloved disciple?” the one who lay back on the breast of Jesus as the disciples were seated for the Last Supper, the one to whom Jesus entrusted His mother as he was dying on the Cross?

It was not until the end of the second century that this “beloved disciple” became synonymous with the apostle John. De Quillan questions this designation, noting that for the Jewish people of that time, homophobia was as prevalent as in our own cultures. For a man to sit so intimately near to Jesus at the Last Supper would have been shocking.  

And if it were John to whom Jesus entrusted his mother as he died, why is John not listed as present at the foot of the cross?

The Gospel of John 19: 25-27 tells us: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,“Dear Woman here is your son.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  

As de Quillan explains, the Greek word translated as “son” holds several layers of meaning to denote a relationship and may refer to either gender.

Yet the traditional interpretation has insisted  it must be John to whom Jesus speaks, even though he is not mentioned as being present.

In The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, it is the Mother of Jesus and Mary Migdalah who, in accordance with Jewish law, anoint the body of Jesus immediately after the crucifixion, with the spices brought to them by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus.

Mary the Migdalah: artwork Sue Ellen Parkinson 

In The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, the encounter of the Magdalene with Jesus on Easter Morning is very similar to the account in the  Gospel of John. What’s different is that Mary upon her discovery of the empty tomb remains there alone.

The whole confusing incident of Mary leaving to tell Peter, of Peter and John racing to the tomb, then leaving again, is simply not there.

Here is  howThe Gospel of the Beloved Companion tells of Easter Morning:

40:3 Now on the first day of the week, Miryam the Migdalah went early, while it was still dark, to the tomb and saw the stone taken away from the entrance

40:4 Stooping and looking in, she saw that the tomb was empty and the linen cloths scattered where the body had been laid.

Yet she did not enter in, but remained standing outside at the tomb, weeping. And hearing a noise, she turned around and saw a figure standing close by.

Because of her weeping, she did not know that it was Yeshua.

40:5 Then Yeshua said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” She supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, ”Sir, if you or another have carried him away, tell me where he is laid, and I will go and take him away.”

  (As de Quillan comments: “She is in no doubt that she has the right to take his body, wherever it may be laid….we must examine the conventions of the first century to determine who would have such authority, such a right. The answer is quite obvious.” p. 172 )

Yeshua said to her, “Miryam.” She turned and, overcome with joy, said to him, “Rabbouni!”

40:6 Yeshua said to her, “Miryam, do not hold to me, for I am not of the flesh, yet neither am I one with the spirit. But rather go to my disciplesand tell them you have seen me, so that all may know that my words are true and that any who should choose to believe themand keep to my commandments will follow me on their last day.”

 40:7 And the Migdalah therefore returned onto her own and there in that place were gathered Martha her sister, Eleazar her brother,whom Yeshua had restored to life, and Miryam, the Mother of Ya’akov, Yosef and Salome. With them also was Toma, who was called the twin;and Yosef of Arimathaea, who had asked Pilate for the body of Yeshua; and Nicodemus, who at first came to Yeshua by night, and who had brought spices for his burial.

40:8 Also there were the disciples Levi who some have called Mattithyahu; (Matthew) and Joanna; and the other Salome,to whom Yeshua had spoken at the Well of Ya-akov. The Migdalah told the disciples that she had seen Yeshua  and that he had said these things to her.

And they knew the truth of her and were all filled with great joy and believed.  (The Gospel of the Beloved Companion pp.169-70) 

Jesus had told his apostles, “You will all be scattered…” That is what this Gospel shows, for of the eleven remaining apostles, only Matthew and Thomas were gathered with the other disciples in Mary’s home at Bethany.

Jehanne de Quillan concludes: 

“So, one might ask, where does that leave us? Was the Gospel of the Beloved Companion the source document for what we have come to know as the Gospel of John?

….Was Miryam not only the Apostle to the apostles, but in fact, truly the first and the last apostle, the true  Beloved Disciple, loyal to Yeshua from the beginning to the end, and known here as the Companion, Beloved of Yeshua, the Migdalah?

“My answer is simple: it is you, the reader who must decide. In the final analysis, it is your own heart that must be the adjudicator of this, and so many other questions…. .” (p. 194)

I encourage you, to read The Gospel of the Beloved Companion (Jehanne de Quillan, Editions Athara, 09000 Foix, Ariege, France, 2010)

THE paSchAl MYSTERY

 It hovers, the knowing that soon, with the rising of the full Paschal Moon on March 28th, it will be time to re-enter the Sacred  Days of Holy Week and Passover.

For years, decades, I approached Holy Week with a kind of dread, knowing I must engage once more in the agony of Jesus, his sufferings, his death, followed by the long tomb-time of his absence , before I could even remember the truth of Resurrection….

I would get up during the night after the Holy Thursday Eucharist, to spend an hour in prayer, remembering Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his friends asleep around him, as he faced the certitude of his coming death.

 It was a Mystery Play, perhaps not unlike the ancient Greek and Roman Mystery Rituals, but the emotions were manufactured.The darkness I experienced through these intense feelings of grief and loss was real, as was the physical discomfort of fasting.

Yet some part of me knew it was play-acting: both the terrible loss of Good Friday and the exploding joy of Easter. Jesus IS risen and will never die again; the Christ is with us always.

Seven years ago, something shifted. I wakened in the deep heart of Holy Thursday night. Yet I was drawn in prayer, not to the Garden of Gethsemane, but to the earth herself, in agony, dying. I sat through that hour with her suffering.

Later, I came upon this lovely meditation by Susan Griffin which spoke to my heart:

As I go into the Earth, she pierces my heart. As I penetrate further, she unveils me. When I have reached her center, I am weeping openly.

I have known her all my life, yet she reveals stories to me, and these stories are revelations and I am transformed.

Each time I go to her, I am born like this. Her renewal washes over me endlessly, her wounds caress me.

I become aware of all that has come between us, the blindness, of something sleeping between us. Now my body reaches out to her.

They speak effortlessly, and I learn that at no instant does she fail me in her presence.  She is as delicate as I am, I know her sentience,

I feel her pain and my own pain comes into me, and my own pain grows large and I grasp this pain with my hands,

and I open my mouth to this pain, I taste, I know and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst,

in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. This earth is my sister, I love her daily grace,

her silent daring, and how loved I am, how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered,

all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget what she is to me, what I am to her. (Susan Griffin in The Body of Earth)

Since that time of awakening, I experience these Sacred Days of the Paschal Mystery, the Mystery of  life/death/life that is at the Holy Heart of the Universe, in a new and deeper way. The suffering is not a remembrance of events in the life of Jesus, but rather a reawakening to the raw suffering, the unaccountable losses, the seeking for light and hope in darkness that is the Mystery Play of our lives, especially now in this year of 2021 on Planet Earth.

I wakened two days ago, as you did also, to the news of another mass shooting, ten lives snuffed out in a grocery store. No motive known for the young man who shot them….

Our Canadian news is revisiting the death a few years ago of a young Indigenous man who was shot by a farmer on whose property he was trespassing. The farmer was acquitted. The young man remains dead, his mother’s humiliation by the RCMP who investigated her son’s death only now coming to light.

These agonies rose in me that same morning as in a Sacred Dance Class we were invited to meditate on the Black Madonna… for the first time I really understood why we need a Sacred Feminine Presence that is more than sweetness and light, One who is also fierce, strong, capable of holding us in the darkness in which our lives are shrouded. The Dark Mother, Who was present in the very chaos in which our Universe was birthed, is strong enough to remain through eons of destruction and rebirth.

Statue of the Black Madonna in Chartres Cathedral, France

In the poetry of John O’Donohue we find words powerful enough to hold the agony as well as the ecstasy of the Paschal Mystery. In this poem I grasp the gift we’ve been given by Jesus in his suffering and death: the courage to endure the suffering within and around us.

“The Agony in the Garden”:

Whatever veil of mercy shrouds the dark

Wound that stops weeping in no one, cannot

Stop the torrent of night when it buries thought

And heart beneath the black tears of the earth.

Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,

Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane.

Subsiding under the weight of silence

That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.

What light could endure the dark he entered?

The void that turns the mind into a ruin 

Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds

Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.

Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;

Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

(John O’Donohue in Conamara Blues)

May the Dark Mother hold each of us as we too stand in that nothingness, raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

Brigid Speaks of Spring Equinox

( continuing our imaginal journey to Ireland where we meet Brigid)

In mid-morning, we walk from our lodgings in Kildare to the garden where we sat with Brigid on our first visit. She’s here already,seated beside the pool of water, expecting us. Her smile warms the air of this mid-March day. Following her lead,we breathe in the fragrance of earth, of violets, daffodils, foxglove, and trees whose young leaves are ready to burst outwards.

With a gesture of welcome, Brigid invites us to sit near her where the early grass softens the earth beside the pool.

“Today we need to speak of the equinox,” Brigid begins. “Do you know its meaning?”

A few of us exchange glances. Every child knows what equinox means, and yet Brigid waits, expecting a response.

“It means that day and night are of equal length after the short days and long dark nights of winter,” Mary responds, politely.

Brigid smiles. I have the uncomfortable feeling that she knows exactly what we’re thinking. “That’s a good answer, as far it goes,” she says now.

“But did you not understand our last conversation? You and I and all that lives upon our beautiful planet are part of her.

“Our lives, our bodies, our souls, our spirits are one with her rhythms, her seasons. Since this is so, what meaning does equinox hold for us?”

“Is it about balance?” Noreen ventures. 

At this, Brigid smiles. Mischievously, I think. “Balance, yes. But balance of what?”

 “Light and darkness,” I say, growing increasingly uncomfortable as I wonder what Brigid is up to, if she’s playing with us, trying to trip us up in our knowledge of the earth. Spurred by this thought, I rush on, “it’s the balance of light and darkness that shows us spring is coming. Longer days mean that the earth will soon be bursting with new life.  Also,” I add this with some pride as I’ve only just learned it myself, “it’s the increase in daylight that draws the birds back from the south.”

Brigid appears unimpressed. “I don’t think you really understand about the equinox. You’re describing what you see around you.

“My question is about what’s happening within you.”

 Suddenly a fox emerges from the bushes beyond the garden. It walks with soft steps, unswervingly, towards Brigid.

Though her back is to the fox, though she could not possibly see the delicate animal, Brigid stretches her hand towards the fox, calling out,

“Come, my friend. Meet some people who have a great deal to learn.”

 Frozen in fear at the appearance of the fox, we watch in amazement as the small animal comes to sit, composed, peaceful, at Brigid’s feet.

 “Your Celtic ancestors,” Brigid continues, as she strokes the fox’s fur with her hand, “like indigenous peoples everywhere, experienced time as circular. They danced to its rhythm: night gave birth to dawn and day blossomed before it waned into evening, back into night.

 “These ancestors watched the cycles of the moon, the turning of the tides. The women noticed how the rhythms of their own bodies,their regular times of bleeding, followed the moon’s rhythms. No wonder they felt at home in the universe, embraced by the earth.

 “Because they saw their lives as part of the great cycle of life, the Celtic people created a calendar that marked the seasons of the year, dividing the year into two major parts related to the sun’s light: giamos and samos. They celebrated eight festivals that were about 45 days apart.

“Because they understood that it is darkness that gives birth to light, their year opened with the Festival of Samhain, November 1st, when the dark days begin. These are the days of inwardness, receptivity, the time that came to be known as feminine. Here the pace slows, linear time recedes, the intuitive is honoured over the rational. With the Festival of Bealtaine, on May 1st, the bright masculine sun days begin, the samos time of outer activity when the seeds nourished through the dark days blossom into new life. The linear, analytic, rational way dominates once again. 

 “In the Celtic Calendar, the Spring Equinox occurs halfway between the Winter and Summer Solstices. It’s the festival just before Bealtaine, when the feminine season ends, and the masculine begins.

 “Now can you see a deeper meaning for the equinox? It’s an invitation to find a new balance within our lives, within our cultures and throughout the planet, of these masculine and feminine energies that so often are in opposition. It’s a time to choose how we shall hold the values of the dark time of the goddess even as the bright active masculine takes over in our lives.

 “How will you choose to honour the feminine intuitive gifts of the moon time in the days when the sun calls forth your logical, rational gifts?Will you make a space in these busier days for quiet reflection, for remembering your winter dreams, for poetry, music, drawing, dance or whatever nourishes your inward life? Will you seek a finer balance of work and recreation, of times with family and friends as well as times of solitude? Will you consider how the dance of opposites in your own life might flow in rhythm, even as it does in the Celtic Calendar?

“These are important questions, dear friends. I hope you will consider them until we meet here again. 

 “If we could enter into the ancient ones’ understanding of time, the rhythms of our lives would take on sacred meaning. Our times of inner darkness would hold the promise of a dawn of new joy. Our losses would be seen as invitations to embrace other gifts, our death as birth into a new as yet unimagined life.”

 And with those words, Brigid is gone, her fox companion with her!

We are left here by the pool, thinking, wondering.

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 Hill, County Meath, Ireland

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, than heretofore. One that is linked to the sun and the moon and the stars, to all of the heavens above us.

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 

brigid as cosmic goddess

At the Brigid of Faughart Festival in Ireland in February 2018, I met Kate Fitzpatrick, who was 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 inspired. When I learned that Kate had given  a talk on “Cosmic Brigid” for an earlier festival, I asked and received her permission to share it here:

COSMIC BRIGID PART ONE

by Kate Fitzpatrick

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 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 craftspeople is the intuitive faculty associated with the element Air.

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.

Brigid …. Archetype of the Divine Feminine

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.

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.

(Part Two will follow next week)

brigid of kildare: three

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

Brigid’s Celtic Soul …continues to challenge each new generation

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? I will give my own answer, inviting each of you to give yours.

What I see in Brigid is that she matters to the time in which she lives, and to the people whom she serves, as we each hope to do in some way.

But she also matters (maters as in mothers) to the Church where her leadership was strong, recognised and luminous.

As a woman living in the 21st century, my spiritual work, my writing, is 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 us in this matter?

Bishop Mel…consecrated Brigid as a bishop

We know the story of how Bishop Mel, guided by the Holy Spirit, 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 ministered 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  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 Brigid, I asked her how we each might keep our inner fires alight. Here is her response:

From the first moment I met the Holy, my thoughts have never left her…. Can you say the same? Or are you like Brendan, anxious about the weather and the tides and the location of the fish? focused 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. I realized then that it is the fire of a passionate love for the Holy that has been lit within me. A fire tender must first of all take care that the flame of her love burns bright.

All else, for each one of us, flows from that. 

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.

Artwork by Jo Jayson

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 .The ripples make circles that widen,that embrace ever-new possibilities. Thank you.

Brigid of kildare : One

Brigid: “The Mary of the Gael”

Edinburgh was coated in light snow on that February day, almost twenty-five years ago now, 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, 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.

Painting by John Duncan National Gallery of Scotland

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 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, holds the Cailleach energy, the energy of the cauldron, where our lives, individually and communally, may be transformed through the power of her fire, her water.

Brigid : Wise Guide for Modern Soul Seekers

Brigid’s Day is celebrated on February 1st, ancient Celtic Festival of Imbolc . Brigid is known as the one who”breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”. 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.

Brigid of Irelanad

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, the Feast Day of Brigid.  Staying in the home of Dolores Whelan, I found in her garden small snowdrops blooming For a Canadian, such flowers in late January appeared miraculous.

snowdrops for Brigid’s Day

Dolores, who is my primary teacher in the ways of Brigid, showed me the hill of Faughart, clearly visible from the upper story window of her home. 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 Whelan 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 five 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.

land, trees, water near Brigid’s Shrine, 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.”

Shrine at Faughart on Brigid’s Feast

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.

Slowly, I began to understand that Brigid, the Pre-Christian Goddess and Celtic Christian saint who lived in the 5thCentury 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.

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.”

Deep thanks to Dolores Whelan for this compelling, insightful reflection on Brigid’s gifts for our time.

To read more from Dolores, go to her website: http://doloreswhelan.ie

Apostle to the Apostles

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This Magnificent statue created by artist Elizabeth Frink on the grounds of the Salisbury Cathedral in England shows the strong, purposeful Magdalene striding forth on her apostolic journey as “Apostle to the Apostles”.

“High on an escarpment crowning the medieval walled city of Vezalay France, stands the magnificent basilica of St. Mary Magdalene”. That is how Episcopal priest and writer Cynthia Bourgeault opens her book, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene (Shambala, Boston and London, 2010). Bourgeault spent Holy Week of 2005 with the young monastic order in residence at the Cathedral of Vezalay. Here she would have a stunning awareness of Mary Magdalene’s presence in the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Bourgeault tells us:

This mixed community of men and women monks is well known for the imagination and beauty of its liturgy, and toward the end of the Good Friday Liturgy I witnessed an unusual ceremony that changed forever how I understood my Christianity….

The late afternoon shadows were already dimming the cathedral when we finished with communion, followed by the traditional stripping of the altar. And then came the ceremony I am speaking of. Two of the sisters brought forward a small corpus – the crucified Christ figure that traditionally hangs on Roman Catholic crosses. It was carved in wood, about two feet long. Tenderly they wrapped it in the altar cloth, laid it on the altar, and placed beside it an icon of the Shroud of Turin (the portrait of Jesus allegedly imprinted on his original burial shroud and revealed through radiocarbon dating). They set a small candle and incense burner at the foot of the altar. And then, as sunset fell, one of the monks began to read in French the burial narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.

Enchanted by the mystical beauty of all this – the smell of the incense, the final shafts of daylight playing against the great stone walls of the cathedral – I allowed the sonorous French to float by my ears while I drifted in and out, catching what I could. I heard the description of Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body of Christ, wrapping it (just as the sisters had just done) in a linen cloth, laying it in a tomb. And then out of the haze of words came “et Mary Magdalene et l’autre Marie restaient debout en face du tombeau…”
That’s when I did my double take. Mary Magdalene was there? That was in the scripture? Why hadn’t I ever noticed it before?

Thinking that maybe my French had failed me, I went back to my room that evening, took out my Bible, and looked it up. But yes, right there in Matthew 27:61 it reads: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”

Suddenly the whole picture changed for me. I’d thought I knew the tradition well. …. How could this key point have escaped my attention? No wonder Mary Magdalene came so unerringly to the tomb on Easter morning; she’d stood by in silent, unflinching vigil the whole time Jesus was being laid to rest there. Maybe she never left…. Since that moment I have literally not heard the Passion story in the same way. It inspired me to go back to the gospel and actually read the story in a new way. (pp.5-6)

Bourgeault reflects further that much of what we know of Mary Magdalene has been absorbed “through the dual filters of tradition and the liturgy, which inevitably direct our attention toward certain aspects of the story at the expense of others.” (p. 6)

Turning to the Gospels directly, Bourgeault focuses mainly on John’s account of the resurrection. Here is the story:

Mary (Magdalene) arrives alone at the tomb in the early hours of the morning to discover that the stone blocking the tomb has been rolled away. She hurries off to find Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who race each other to the site, discover the tomb empty and the grave cloths rolled up, and return home in bewonderment. After the two of them have gone their way, Mary stays behind, weeping beside the tomb. Then, in a unique and immortally reverberating encounter:

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not recognize him. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

mary_magdalene by Sieger Koder

She thought it was the gardener and answered him, “… if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and remove him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him, “Rabboni” – which means Master. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me; you see I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and say to them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
So Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me. (John 20:14-18)

Bourgeault continues, pre-empting the June announcement from the Vatican:

It is on the basis of this announcement that Mary earned the traditional title of “Apostle to the Apostles.” The first to witness to the resurrection, she is also the one who “commissions” the others to go and announce the good news of the resurrection. (p. 8)

One small synchronicity I would like to point out: the verse in the Gospel of John cited above: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” is numbered John 20:16. The year of Mary Magdalene’s full recognition….

Apostle to the Apostles

On June 3rd in 2016, an announcement came from Pope Francis that you may not have heard. In its way it is more startling than most of what passes for daily news. Francis proclaimed that from now on Mary Magdalene is to be honoured as the “apostle to the apostles” and “first witness to the Resurrection of Jesus”. Her feast day, July 22nd, has been elevated to an Apostolic Feast of high honour commensurate with her male counterparts, to whom Jesus sent Mary saying, “Go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and Your God.” (John 20: 17)

images (3)

This Magnificent statue created by artist Elizabeth Frink on the grounds of the Salisbury Cathedral in England shows the strong, purposeful Magdalene striding forth on her apostolic journey as “Apostle to the Apostles”.

“High on an escarpment crowning the medieval walled city of Vezalay France, stands the magnificent basilica of St. Mary Magdalene”. That is how Episcopal priest and writer Cynthia Bourgeault opens her book, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene (Shambala, Boston and London, 2010). Bourgeault spent Holy Week of 2005 with the young monastic order in residence at the Cathedral of Vezalay. Here she would have a stunning awareness of Mary Magdalene’s presence in the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Bourgeault tells us:

This mixed community of men and women monks is well known for the imagination and beauty of its liturgy, and toward the end of the Good Friday Liturgy I witnessed an unusual ceremony that changed forever how I understood my Christianity….

The late afternoon shadows were already dimming the cathedral when we finished with communion, followed by the traditional stripping of the altar. And then came the ceremony I am speaking of. Two of the sisters brought forward a small corpus – the crucified Christ figure that traditionally hangs on Roman Catholic crosses. It was carved in wood, about two feet long. Tenderly they wrapped it in the altar cloth, laid it on the altar, and placed beside it an icon of the Shroud of Turin (the portrait of Jesus allegedly imprinted on his original burial shroud and revealed through radiocarbon dating). They set a small candle and incense burner at the foot of the altar. And then, as sunset fell, one of the monks began to read in French the burial narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.

Enchanted by the mystical beauty of all this – the smell of the incense, the final shafts of daylight playing against the great stone walls of the cathedral – I allowed the sonorous French to float by my ears while I drifted in and out, catching what I could. I heard the description of Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body of Christ, wrapping it (just as the sisters had just done) in a linen cloth, laying it in a tomb. And then out of the haze of words came “et Mary Magdalene et l’autre Marie restaient debout en face du tombeau…”
That’s when I did my double take. Mary Magdalene was there? That was in the scripture? Why hadn’t I ever noticed it before?

Thinking that maybe my French had failed me, I went back to my room that evening, took out my Bible, and looked it up. But yes, right there in Matthew 27:61 it reads: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”

Suddenly the whole picture changed for me. I’d thought I knew the tradition well. …. How could this key point have escaped my attention? No wonder Mary Magdalene came so unerringly to the tomb on Easter morning; she’d stood by in silent, unflinching vigil the whole time Jesus was being laid to rest there. Maybe she never left…. Since that moment I have literally not heard the Passion story in the same way. It inspired me to go back to the gospel and actually read the story in a new way. (pp.5-6)

Bourgeault reflects further that much of what we know of Mary Magdalene has been absorbed “through the dual filters of tradition and the liturgy, which inevitably direct our attention toward certain aspects of the story at the expense of others.” (p. 6)

Turning to the Gospels directly, Bourgeault focuses mainly on John’s account of the resurrection. Here is the story:

Mary (Magdalene) arrives alone at the tomb in the early hours of the morning to discover that the stone blocking the tomb has been rolled away. She hurries off to find Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who race each other to the site, discover the tomb empty and the grave cloths rolled up, and return home in bewonderment. After the two of them have gone their way, Mary stays behind, weeping beside the tomb. Then, in a unique and immortally reverberating encounter:

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not recognize him. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

mary_magdalene by Sieger Koder

She thought it was the gardener and answered him, “… if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and remove him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him, “Rabboni” – which means Master. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me; you see I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and say to them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
So Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me. (John 20:14-18)

Bourgeault continues, pre-empting the June announcement from the Vatican:

It is on the basis of this announcement that Mary earned the traditional title of “Apostle to the Apostles.” The first to witness to the resurrection, she is also the one who “commissions” the others to go and announce the good news of the resurrection. (p. 8)

One small synchronicity I would like to point out: the verse in the Gospel of John cited above: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” is numbered John 20:16. The year of Mary Magdalene’s full recognition….

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives