greek light startles

My sister Patti’s cottage sits on a hillside thickly braided with pines and deciduous trees. It could be a fairy tale forest, but this is no time for tales. Sitting here on the deck we cannot see the sand shore, but gaze beyond the tops of trees to where Lake Huron shivers in silver light. It’s the Summer Solstice of 2014. If we look to our right up through the tallest branches, we see the sky blushing from soft blue to delicate pink, deepening to rose madder, mirroring our thoughts, fading with longest day into night.

But this is not where the story begins. Come back with me to early May, 2014, to Greece. Stand with me on stones that predate the Christian era in an open theatre-like space in Eleusis, twenty kilometres beyond Athens. The grey rocks around us sprout blood red poppies, fiercely alive, dancing in the cool breeze, nourished by no visible earth.

Our Greek guide, Calliope, tells us that this is where the initiates, who came here to take part in the annual religious rites known as the Eleusinian mysteries, would have gathered. Unlike us, they would have undergone a ritual cleansing in Athens before beginning the walk to Eleusis. Along the route, known as the Sacred Way, they would have paused to place offerings in tiny cavern-like openings in the rocky outcrops beside the road. Crowds would have gathered to watch their progress.

At Eleusis, there would have been a welcome, some explanation of the ritual that would follow, a telling, perhaps even a re-enactment, of the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter, corn goddess, giver of the earth’s abundance, weeps for her daughter, Persephone, who has been seized by Hades, god of the underworld. Her grief and rage at this loss are so terrible that she tells Zeus she will wither the earth’s food crops until he forces his brother god Hades to send Persephone back to her.

Only when the earth’s plants wither, threatening starvation, does Zeus give in. A truce is agreed upon: Hades will release Persephone for half of each year, but she must return again to the underworld. It is the myth of the seasons, of the maiden who returns after each barren winter bringing spring’s abundance.

Though the story has survived, the details of the ritual have never been discovered. The initiates who took part in what we know as the Eleusinian Mysteries were bound to secrecy under pain of death. The Mysteries began in Greece around the first millennium before Christ and continued, spreading into the Roman Empire, until the 4th Century of the Christian Era.

It is believed that the ritual, based on the Demeter /Persephone story, had a three-part theme: the descent (loss), the search and the ascent. 

Following their arrival in Eleusis, the initiates would have rested, spent a day of fasting to honour the grief of Demeter. The ritual would follow.

Calliope points to the earth beneath our feet, telling us that the initiates would descend underground for the ritual. Its focus was the overcoming of any fear of death, though how this was enacted is unknown. But as the ritual was drawing to a close, light would have begun to seep upwards from the underground. Soon after that, the initiates would emerge, radiant with their experience.

After Calliope’s introduction, we move further into the site to an ancient cave, its dark mouth appearing to us like an opening to the underworld.

Here members of our group have been invited to enact the story of Demeter and Persephone. Peg Rubin, an actor of immense power,  plays Demeter. 

The day before our journey to Eleusis, Jean Houston had prepared us for the experience by speaking of the Greek understanding of the need to “die before you die”. As we travelled by bus, Jean led us in a visualization/meditation. We were invited to imagine ourselves entering the underworld, being clothed in earth, masked by earth, resting in death….then asking, “What are the aspects of myself that no longer serve me, serve life?” These we name and allow to die….

We remove the mask of earth that covers face and body. We emerge, freed to live more fully, more joyously, set free from the burden of those behaviours, those needs, those fears, that have kept us captive. We rise: quiet, composed, centred, unafraid, ready to love.

Eleusis is the first of many journeys into the myths, the wisdom, the mysteries of ancient Greece. As the days unfold, I come to know the truth of words I found during a Canadian Authors’ poetry workshop in Ottawa before I travelled to Greece.

This poem was composed of lines chosen at random from several different books of poetry.

Greek light startles

the warm appreciation of one being for another

every life long or short is a pilgrimage

under the wide and starry sky

sea salt scouring my body

old skins shed

kindled by the tangelo sun 

ignite into life

On the long journeys across mainland Greece the poem unfolds for me like a prophecy, except for the “warm appreciation”…

As our bus moves with the surprising grace of a large elephant, skimming edges of cliffs that hover above olive groves and waters of an impossible turquoise, we pass the time creating poetry, reading it aloud to our companions over the microphone.

The young man with the young name, Josh, exudes the relaxed arrogance that only the young can carry off with charm. His poem is a mockery of the ancient archaeological sites, the stunning beauty, the fairy tale wonder that others have been praising.

I whisper to my companion: “That young man needs to be broken open!”

Ever-confident, Josh takes the mike the following day to chide us for our comments on his frequent cigarette breaks. Yes, he knows we care about him, but he’s serving notice that our advice will only deepen his determination to continue smoking.

When, on the third morning, Josh again takes the mike, I’m fuming without the help of cigarettes.

“I had a dream last night,” he begins. “A friend came into my dream, talking really fast. He was really excited, with something important he needed to tell me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying.

” When I woke up there was a text message. My friend had died overnight in an accident. Then I understood what he’d been trying to tell me: It’s so much easier on this side. All the pain, all the suffering is only while we are alive. But afterwards, everything is good.”

Greek. Light. Startles.

Later that morning, as we’re walking down the stony hillside path towards the ruins of the Temple of Athena, I encounter Josh. No words come to me as our eyes meet, so I reach out to hug him. He holds me with a gentle strength, as though I were the one needing comfort.

 “It’s OK,” he says. “Really. I’m OK with this. It’s a gift.”

It’s not a text message but a phone call that wakens me in my home in the Ottawa Valley, the day following my return from Greece. My sister, my beloved Patti, has had a return of cancer. There is no medical hope. She has perhaps three months to live.

So that’s why I’m here with her on the deck of her cottage, her holy sacred place, on the Summer Solstice. Why we are caught up in the beauty of the sunset. Why we have so few words.

Patti speaks quietly.” I’m afraid. What is death like?”

I say, “Let me tell you about Josh, the young man I met on our Greece Tour.”

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: four

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

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

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

Clearly she is not expecting us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brigid of kildare: 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: 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? 

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

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives