Tag Archives: sacred feminine presence

Sophia in Egypt: Four

The next day our tour bus takes us to Saqqara on the West Bank of the Nile, about 18 miles south of Cairo. We walk over sand fields to see Old Kingdom Pyramids, some looking now like haphazard piles of stones. It is furnace-hot and we are reminded to drink lots of water.

We emerge from exploring a tomb, its walls alive with colourful scenes from the life of Mereruka, the man buried there. The sun is a cylinder of fire against a distant pyramid, then a copper coin in the darkening sky, as the earth rolls eastwards. By the time we reach the Step Pyramid, it is fully dark, and a pale moon is gathering her energy to light our way. I see a few faint stars, but do not recognize any constellations.

Our group gathers in silence before the entrance to the Step Pyramid, some five to six thousand years old, the first route of initiation in the ancient Egyptian Mystery Rites. In a rush of awareness, our reason for being in Egypt fills me. I am fully here.

With Jean Houston leading the way, we enter a long narrow passageway with tall pillars and a high roof. To our left and right, deep arches open out to the night, like the side altars in a cathedral. The wind is rising, stirring the air through which we walk, creating a pleasant coolness after the day’s heat. I reach into my backpack, pull out my shawl, glad of its warmth. I am aware of the burden of backpack, purse, water bottle, camera… items no ancient initiate would have carried. Ahead of us, Jean is emerging from the passageway, calling out to the ancient ones: Open yourselves to us as we open to you.

We are in an inner courtyard, already dusky in the failing light. Across an expanse of sand, the Step Pyramid huddles against the sky, a black shape, a mythic beast, a cave of unknowing, awaiting us. The doorway is narrow, and we enter single file.

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The Step Pyramid

Inside we walk along a corridor, stone walls and ceilings strengthened against calamitous collapse with steel bars, structures of wood. Here and there electric lights bless the darkness. We walk in silence, with great care, aware of danger.

Ahead, Jean is waiting for us at the edge of a sheer drop. One by one we are invited to look down. I stand at the edge, unprotected by any kind of barrier, leaning forward in order to see all the way down, some three or four stories, to the burial chamber. The cavernous darkness is unrelieved by any artificial light except that which seeps down from the high place where we stand.

I am looking into a walled chamber, the stone darkened by millennia of dampness, to the small stone floor where once Djoser’s body rested. I see only emptiness, an emptiness that is in its way more disturbing than seeing what belongs there. I see all of this in a glance, realize a glance is all I want.

 “Deep are the wells in our minds, our hearts, our being,” Jean says. “ Here we are in the land of depth, here in the oldest architectural structure known to humankind. There are many, many tunnels that bridge from here, three miles of tunnels in this the principal, first route of initiation.

“We think of so many things in which and to which we require initiation. For many of you the initiation is into new life, into new ways of being, into the emerging of what is possibly the end of times but it is also the opening time. Here in this ancient place which was the annunciation of the prophetic moment, is the annunciation that we have entered into a whole new order of civilization.

“Let us take it in our hearts that from this moment forth, from this primordial place, this great sacred mound, from which the genius of Imhotep emerged to create a structure that would be known from time out of mind, from this place of initiation, this place from which a great, great civilization grew … that this is the place from which we affirm, we say, we heartfully know that a great world civilization will begin again.We are in the ending times, we are in the closing times, we are in the opening times.

“Let us speak aloud the words of ancient Egypt: SA the creative breath of life, infusion of new life, energy, inspiration; SEKHEM the creative word of power, that can move in all of us so that we can take the fullness of our creative power into the world; SAHU the perfectly realized being within, the essence who holds the measuring, who holds the beginning and the end and the new beginning, that holds the love that moves the sun and all the stars, that creates the entrance to new life, the energy to be a vehicle of the patterning.”

We reach out to touch one another lightly, as might astronauts about to step out onto the moon.

“The new begins now,” Jean says. “The new that Teilhard de Chardin saw: The day will come when after harnessing space, the winds, tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”                                                                                                                                        

 

We are again in the large sand covered courtyard, now in full darkness. Each of us is offered a candle, already lighted, to guide our way back. We are walking slowly, looking up to where the night sky is alive with stars. I am stunned at the beauty, seeing patterns as ancient as the universe, as new as my own breath.

 

As we enter the corridor of pillars, tears well up in my eyes, fall freely. An inner wave of emotion surges though my body, as the encounter with the Sacred Feminine in my community’s prayer room two months earlier takes on deeper meaning. I know now I am experiencing a triptych of healing that is a rebirthing: with my mother, with my community, with the Holy Feminine, whoever she is, by whatever name I call her: Mary? Isis? At this sacred moment, names do not matter.

Isis/Sophia in Egypt

I waken to a world of sunlight so strong that I need dark glasses and sun hat for the short walk to breakfast in the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. I pass the sun-soaked turquoise pool that sits like a small lake surrounded by palm trees, flowers in brilliant reds and yellows. I climb the marble stairs to the dining room, find breakfast spread out in silver bowls: pomegranate seeds, grapefruit, yogurt, abundance of muffins, breads, sweet rolls, coffee in silver urns on a long linen-covered

 

Immediately afterwards, we gather in one of the hotel’s elegant meeting rooms.
An Egyptian man, perhaps in his early fifties, stands at the front of the room. With shy pride he welcomes us to his country. “I am Mohamed Nazmy”, he says “and my company, Quest Travel, is making the arrangements for your time in Egypt. I know what it is you seek. I have been in communication with your teacher Dr. Jean Houston for several months, preplanning as much as we could, waiting for the time to be right for this sacred journey. My company guides only people like you who seek the spiritual heart of Egypt. But this,” and suddenly his shyness dissipates as a smile like a rising sun irradiates his face, “this will be our greatest challenge, and our deepest joy. Samei, though young, is an experienced and learned travel guide. He will go with you everywhere your journey takes you. I will accompany you when possible, and shall be in constant communication with Samei.

“I do not need to tell you that some of the places you will enter are dangerous, some carefully guarded. As far as possible, I am making arrangements for your group to have private visits inside the tombs, temples and pyramids to allow for the teaching and rituals that are part of your journey.” He pauses, then adds, “the only solitary visit I cannot arrange is to the Valley of the Kings where each day this month, the number of tourists will exceed ten thousand.” With a gracious wish for a safe and blessed journey, he concludes his talk, turns to speak quietly with Jean.

 

We return to the chairs at the front of the room and Jean introduces the guest who has come to speak to us this morning. “You’ve seen him on the Discovery Channel and on National Geographic Programs. He’s Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, passionate about receiving, rescuing, restoring and retaining its ancient treasures. His ongoing archaeological work has earned him world-wide recognition and we can thank Mohamed, his close friend, for arranging this presentation by Dr. Zahi Hawass.”

 

“They call me the Indiana Jones of Egypt,” Dr. Hawass says, with a boyish grin. “They even say I wear an Indiana Jones hat, but the truth is that Indiana Jones wears a Zahi Hawass hat.”

With a power point he takes us with him as he is lowered by a rope into cavernous depths. “What did I find there?” he asks. “Not the wonderful things of Howard Carter’s experience in the tomb of King Tut, but the dung of centuries.”

These days, he’s working with a grant to study DNA from ancient mummies, seeking to trace relationships among King Tut, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti. He’s also excavating in the Valley of the Kings and seeking the burial site of Anthony and Cleopatra. He radiates joy and the passion of his commitment to work he loves. “With passion, any job can be the best in the world,” Dr. Hawass says.

 

“Egypt is a state of being that exists eternally in archetypal reality.” Dr. Hawass has gone, and Jean Houston is speaking to us now. “It is a quality of the psyche, of the intelligence, existing on the space/time continuum. Five thousand years ago, the essence of possibility entered into time”.

 

The magic has begun. I breathe in these words, not fully understanding, but knowing at a deep level their truth. This will be a journey of discovery even more enticing than those of Dr. Hawass.

 

“When in the thirteenth century St. Francis of Assisi visited Egypt, he sat with the Sultan in silence for hours before the Sphinx. At last Francis said, I know the answer. It is love.

“Now you are here as archaeologists of Egypt’s ancient spirit. We shall visit powerful sites, seeking matrix points for a world civilization, a world spirit. As the Ancient Egyptians dreamed a world, we shall, by use of imagination, bring forth a new reality that wants to emerge. We shall collect the broken pieces of our world and gather them into wholeness, as did Isis with the broken body of Osiris.

“And just as Hatshepsut restored the ruined temple of Hathor and created ceremonies of the Feasts of Light, we shall inaugurate ceremonies on behalf of our Temple of Earth.”

I listen intently, believing this to be possible, seeing it as absolutely achievable. It doesn’t occur to me then that a personal descent into cavernous inner places holding dung and wonderful things in equal measure, will be required of me.

“For today, you may be tourists”. Jean is saying now. “Samei will take you to a papyrus factory, then to some of the shops. After supper we’ll see the Egyptian Museum. Enjoy Cairo!”

In the papyrus factory store, we watch the process as papyrus stems are soaked, then soaped and placed under pressure to create paper. Young Muslim women wearing hijabs smilingly show us around the room’s collection of illustrated papyri.

 

Hampered by my lack of Arabic (I am able thus far only to say “Shokran”, “thank you,”) I manage to convey to one of the young women that I am seeking a painting of Isis. After some searching, some reading of identifying hieroglyphs, the young store clerk smiles brilliantly, places a richly-painted papyrus of Isis in my hands. I take in the rich midnight blue of her robe, the throne-shaped silver crown on her head, the breadth of wing span in silver and gold beneath her arms, the mystery of the many-hued hieroglyphs of bird, snake, woman, throne, carefully arranged above beside and below her. I hand it back to the young woman who carefully rolls it, inserts it into a cardboard tube, then returns it to me. I am in awe at this beautiful treasure I now carry.

image of goddess Isis

Isis, with whom I began my journey two months earlier in a darkened room at my community’s retreat centre. ( to be continued)

from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press 2013  (http://borealispress.com)

Sophia in Egypt

 

Part Three

That evening, as they share their meal, she looks carefully at her Sister companions, listens to the stories they tell of nieces and nephews, of work projects. She no longer expects them to understand her project, her summer journey, but she is comforted by the talk they share.

 

This is the pattern for the three months of her exile. The book opens at her touch, draws her inside where the story continues. She learns that for the Ancient Egyptians, life exists at once on several planes, and time is both clock time and lasting time. In the durative realm, she may visit events that occur in other times.

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One day, wandering like Isis, she comes in her Ka spirit to the place where shepherd children met the Virgin Mary in 1917, in Fatima, Portugal. She stands and watches as the story, familiar to her since her childhood, unfolds. She sees the light on the children’s faces, sees the solemn kindly being who greets them. She waits until the being looks finally at her. Then she asks what she must ask this Holy One: “Who are you?”

The radiant being smiles and says, “You know who I am.”

Isis brings Osiris to life
and conceives of him their child Horus.
But Seth captures Osiris
and hacks his body into fourteen pieces.
These he hurls into the Nile.
Isis and Nephthys together,
helped by the creatures of the river,
regather the scattered pieces of Osiris.
He goes to rest in the underworld, where he reigns as King.

 

The woman sees that the scattered pieces of her life are being sought out and rejoined in this mysterious adventure. She gives her trust to the journey, to its guide. For a long while now she has been aware that this guide is not the book’s author. She names her Isis, and strange though the name feels upon her lips, she is at home with this guiding presence who has known her, it seems, forever. Isis gives the woman new names for her body (companion), her mind (weaver), her emotions (seeker) and her spirit (Christa).

 

In a dream, Osiris instructs his son,
now grown to manhood, to defeat Seth.
A terrible battle rages for eighty years.
Horus wins, but Isis insists
that he not destroy Seth.
Horus is enraged and pulls
his mother’s crown from her head.
After a time, Horus gains wisdom.
He turns his heart to his mother
and recrowns her Queen of Earth and Heaven.

 

The room holds the darkness gently, and the darkness holds the woman. The days of her exile have almost ended, and she has come to the room where many years earlier she had sat as a young novice. The room is now a place of silent prayer and it watches her as she stands alone, holding in her outstretched hands a crown of mithril silver laced with emerald.

 

In her Ka, her spirit, she recrowns Isis.

 

She waits, knowing a gift will be offered in return. But at once she is overcome by shame. All her life she has been seeker, all her life she has been asking.

 

“Don’t give,” she says to the Holy presence. “Take something instead.” She doesn’t know where these words, this desire, have come from. “Take away this great emptiness that has made me a beggar of love for all my life.”

 

Even as she asks, she is afraid, for without this need, this longing, what would draw her to the Holy?

 

The fear dissolves in what is happening. She is being regifted in her birth. She is gushing forth, being presented to her mother, her mother who had been so afraid. But now another is there, pouring her love into child and mother both. And the woman thinks, “She is there in my birth blood. I am born into love and must ever now have more love than I can bear. I must give it as a mother with full aching breasts.”

 

The room yawns, believing nothing has happened.

 

A few days later, the woman, living once more in ordinary time, is visiting the city when a street woman approaches, begging. Grudgingly, she opens her purse, takes out a bill. Then for the first time she looks into the eyes of the other woman.

 

With no clear knowledge of what she will do or say, she embraces the street woman, holds her close and says, “Your life is so beautiful. Please, please take care of yourself.”
The street woman hugs her back. Both are startled. Then the woman who spent the summer lost in a book feels an astonished delight. Something wonderful has been born.

 

I have given you over recent weeks this three-part story,  first written under the title, “Portal to Egypt”. The very day I completed the final edit, I received a phone call. Beyond hope, beyond even my dreams, I learned that a place had opened on the waiting list, that I would now be travelling to Egypt. In fact, almost immediately.

Nine days later I emerged from the Cairo Airport with the companions who would, with me, and guided by Jean Houston, spend eighteen days in the heart of Egypt. On our visits to tombs, pyramids and sacred sites we were often the only group present, allowing Jean to teach us, guide us, lead us in a stunning experience of the myths, the spirituality, the rituals of ancient Egypt.

You may read of the whole journey in my book Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2014)   http://borealispress.com    Anne Kathleen McLaughlin   

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Sophia in Egypt

(Continued from last week…)

After the rapture of sunrise, she goes indoors, makes coffee, hurries to her room, climbs back into the book.

She is once again in the story circle. She arranges herself on the cushion, smiles at her guide already seated beside her, and turns again to the storyteller.
Ra, the firstborn, burns with jealousy.
He decrees that no child may come forth
from the womb of Nut on any day of his year.
The Sky writhes in torment,
her full belly unable to release life.
In her womb, Isis and Osiris become lovers,
Seth rages, Horus, the twice-born,
and their dark sister Nephthys wait.
Wise Thoth challenges Ra to a game of checkers.
Skillfully, the moon wins bits of light
until he has five days.
On each of these days, Mother Sky gives birth.

The guide gestures towards another room. “It is the place before time and beyond time. Go inside and look at your life as it was before your birth, and as it is now.”

The woman goes inside, allows herself to be taken into no time. The formless loneliness that fills her has been with her all her life. It has led her to seek love in many places, led her to become one of a community of women. In this timeless realm, she finds herself in the womb of Nut, waiting to be reborn. It is a comfort, though she cannot think why it should be.

 

From far away a bell startles her, breaks into her thoughts, and she finds herself again in the community residence. The light suggests early evening, time for supper with the others who live here. She has no idea what she will say should they ask her how she spent the afternoon.

 

That night the woman dreams she is held in an embrace of love more tender than any she has known. She wakens glad, eats a hurried breakfast and steps back into the book.

Isis and Osiris travel across Egypt giving gifts.
Osiris teaches the secrets of the Nile,
the taming of cattle, the planting of seed,
the guiding of the plough.
At night he plays his reed pipe,
enchanting the people with the songs of Mother Sky.
Isis teaches the women the moon’s cycles,
the shapes of the stars,
the rhythms of the seasons.
She dances with them under the moon’s soft light.
In Ra’s light, she teaches them to weave,
to transform flax to thread, thread to linen.
She gives them the song of the wheel.
She loves them into beauty.

 

When they are alone again, the guide tells her it is time to learn the secret lore of the ancient Egyptians. She teaches her the skill of placing her spirit, her Ka, in an imaginary way in a tree or a bird, then looking back at the self through wise eyes.

 

The woman places her thought in a mountain she has loved, and imagines the mountain gazing at her, seeing her power for movement and speech, for singing and dancing, for growth and change, gifts the mountain does not possess. Through that ancient gaze, the woman sees how wasteful she is of her immense possibilities, her capacity for fulness of life, how she is always seeking and discontent. It seems the mountain looks on her with compassion, and says, “Just rest for awhile and enjoy the beauty.”

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The woman learns to make simple hieroglyphs, pictures that carry levels of meaning. She shapes a message: I alone in nature sense the Holy. The Holy embraces me with love. Again alone beside a tree I weep for loss. The Holy returns. A bird sings. I know I am not alone in nature. The woman smiles at the childish drawings that have just told her the story of her life.

When they next return to the room of storytelling, the luminous days of the reign of Isis and Osiris are ending.

Seth rages at the lovers.
From gold and precious gems, he crafts a coffin
and tricks Osiris into lying in it.
He seals the coffin and hurls it into the Nile.
Isis cuts her hair, disguises herself as a beggar
and sets out to search for her husband.
In the far land of Byblos,
the coffin has been caught in a tamarisk tree.
Magically, the tree grows around it.
So great is this wonder that the King
takes it as a pillar for his great hall.
Weary and worn, no longer beautiful,
Isis comes at last to the King’s Hall.
She enters by the back door,
asks to be a servant,
to care for the children of the King.
Her love wins her the release of the coffin
from the pillar of tamarisk.

 

A touch on her arm from her guide and they leave the story room. “Today you must find the places in your story where you have been seeking a lost beloved,” she tells her. “I’m going to take you into a larger room where you may walk, dance if you like, and let the memories return. Don’t be afraid.”

The woman is neither afraid nor expectant. In her long search for understanding, she has often visited the place of memory. But the memory that comes is one buried in the dust of forgetfulness.

She is a high school student, perhaps thirteen. On her way home from school, she has come to pray in the large stone Church. It is cool and quiet here. She likes it. Sometimes she walks around the Church praying at each of the carved scenes that tell the story of the sufferings and death of Jesus. She likes to think of how much he must love her, to go through all that for her.

Mary

 

But today she happens to look at the marble statue of the Virgin Mary. That word virgin sounds as cold to her as the marble from which the image was carved. She shivers a bit and looks away. On the bench beside her, someone has left a prayer book. She glances at an open page, sees the words, “I am your mother, Mary”. If the marble statue had broken open to show her a beating human heart, the effect would not have been any more powerful.

Powers of the Universe: Synergy

As we continue our exploration of the Powers of the Universe, as described by Brian Swimme in his DVD series of that name, we come to the power of synergy. This power is magnificently illustrated in the behaviour of the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica for whom a learned behaviour has meant survival. They form a tight cluster with the outer circle exposed to the frigid cruelty of the weather while the inner circle is held in warmth. Then in a shifting soundless dance, they change places.

 

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The power of synergy has brought forward some of the most wondrous and crucial developments in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe. Plants that need nitrogen to survive, but are unable to draw it in, form a synergistic relationship with nodules whose bacteria can draw in nitrogen. Flowers, plants and trees that need to be pollinated thrive through their synergistic relationship with bees.

 

Swimme describes some great moments in synergy throughout the life of our planet:

(a) single cells learn to trade aspects of genetic information, enabling the spread of ideas across the earth;

(b) photosynthesis occurs when, in a synergistic relationship between life and the sun, cells learn to interact with sunlight to draw in energy;

(c) life learns to get hydrogen from water, releasing oxygen, but as oxygen is destructive to life, those forms of life that learn to draw in oxygen, creating through synergy new structures, survive, while the forms of life that do not learn how to do this, sink down into the swamp ;

(d) organisms learn how to mate: the discovery of sexuality 1.5 billion years ago enables an explosion of possibilities and new life forms as sexualized animals cover the planet.

Synergistic relationships enable survival and endurance. In order for life to endure two great challenges need to be met: find energy and create offspring. Life rewards creativity in these two crucial areas with survival. Synergy flowers as life finds creative response to this dual challenge. The quest, according to Swimme, is not to eliminate the challenge but to respond to it.

 

Seeking a synergistic response to life’s challenges has led to increasing complexity in the human. The challenge of finding energy relates to finding food. Swimme cites an aboriginal tribe who depended upon rabbit for survival. Regularly a group of fifty hunters came together to catch an abundance of rabbits for a steady food supply. Their social cohesion resulted from this need to work together to catch their food. In Inuit societies, the whole community comes together to capture a whale, something impossible for a lone hunter to achieve.

 

When humans learn to interact with seeds and plants, the nomadic way of life of the hunter/ gatherer societies is altered. A settled way of life emerges with the development of agriculture, pushing to the margins those who remain with the old ways, continuing to hunt and gather. The settled way of life intensifies through classical civilization and into industrial society where productivity increases, again with a crowding out of the earlier forms.

 

In our time, we see contemporary industrial society around the planet crowding out earlier forms of life, with the evaporation of indigenous groups everywhere. The factories and sweat shops of India and China lure workers into cities, where in order to earn small wages, they sometimes have to live separated from their families in barrack-like conditions. Understanding the process that has led to this moment in the earth’s history frees us to question whether this intensity of production is what we really want. Does the revelation of the appalling, life-threatening conditions in factories such as those in Bangladesh lead us to question our societal thirst for more and cheaper goods? Is this really an enhancement of life on our planet?

 

Do we see the phenomenal rise in community gardens and farmers’ markets as a sign of hope that we are shifting away from a production/transportation model that brings food to our table from across the planet? A recent CBC story told of an organic garden being created atop a high-rise building in downtown Montreal, a prototype for a whole new way of imagining how to grow the food we need.

 

The challenge for our time, as Swimme sees it, is for synergy to operate through conscious self-awareness. The movement now needs to be from an industrial to a planetary civilization, requiring the birth of the planetary human. Once we accept our true identity as earth community, sharing genes with oak trees and oysters, this becomes much easier. If we see our humanness from the perspective of biology rather than from religion or politics or culture, we can begin to imagine a planetary society. If we open ourselves to what other species can teach us, our learnings are greatly enhanced. What might fish be able to teach us about keeping the oceans healthy? Finally, war, once a form of social cohesion, has to be replaced. We take on instead the challenge of a synergistic relationship with others in order to deal with a wilting planet and a failing eco-system.

 

The death throes of Western civilization can be experienced as birth pangs as a new era of humanity is about to emerge. To move towards an abundance of life for all children, for all planetary life, demands greater synergy, deeper power, new technology and moral wisdom to guide us forward, Swimme believes. As with other new developments, the older nationalistic forms of life will not disappear but will hang around as they gradually make their way to the bottom of the swamp.

A message about the power of synergy comes in this email from Ricken Patel of Avaaz.org, a planet-wide movement, inviting individuals to study and respond to issues that affect all of life, such as Monsanto’s pesticide:

Dear Avaazers,
This has my head spinning. In months, Europe could actually ban the killer herbicide that Monsanto’s entire business model is based on!
Glyphosate kills *everything* except Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops, transforming our planet into ecological wastelands where nothing can live but one GM crop. It’s apocalyptic.
Even worse, its use is skyrocketing, has been found in 90% of our bodies, and a new study says it likely causes cancer!

Last week, we won a massive battle to block renewal of glyphosate’s license in Europe. Everyone told us this was impossible, but we changed the game! Leading EU politician Pavel Poc said: “Avaaz is indisputably the driving force on glyphosate”.

 

(As) with climate change and the Paris agreement, Avaaz has mobilised people on this issue at an unprecedented scale – we’ve taken the fight against Monsanto to a whole new level, and now it’s up to all of us, over the next 18 months, to win it.
First big oil, now Monsanto. We are taking on the dragons of our world. But if we stick together, and choose to believe and act, we can do anything.
With hope and determination, Ricken, Alice, Bert, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team

 

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This movement towards newness and rebirth is beginning. When we align our personal energies with it by creating mutually enhancing relationships, we align our human energies with this cosmological power called synergy.

 

Brigid and the Celtic Festival of Bealtaine

As one of the threefold goddesses, Brigid is honoured as Maiden, Mother and Crone. We began our reflections on Brigid with the Feast of Imbolc, February 1st, when Brigid in her Maiden form emerges to breathe life into the mouth of dead winter. We have reflected on Brigid in her Crone presence, the Cailleach who brings about transformation for our lives, for our planet, when we submit ourselves to the slow processes of her cauldron. With the Celtic Feast of Bealtaine, May 1st, we conclude this time with Brigid.

Bealtaine ushers in the full richness of summer, the active sun-drenched days of masculine energy. At Bealtaine, we welcome Brigid in the third aspect, in her embodiment of the Mother.

Bealtaine is a mingling of three themes:

(1) purification by fire
In ancient times, the cattle who had been kept indoors all winter were walked through the fires in preparation for their move to the summer pastures; in our time we need to be purified from any negativity that remains from winter that might interfere with the blossoming of our lives and our work;

(2) the flower maiden
The young mother represents the fertility of the land goddess. She was honoured with flowers strewn on altars, on doorsteps, on rooftops invoking fertility in all aspects of one’s life; altars were built and heaped with flowers; children walked and sang in joyous processing carrying flowers;

(3) sacred marriage of masculine and feminine energies
The Maypole rituals celebrate the young god of summer who woos the flower maiden away from the winter king and marries her; the masculine energy serves the seeds sown and nurtured by the feminine energies through the winter.

Rituals of Bealtaine celebrate the harmonious working together of masculine and feminine energies. As Dolores Whelan writes:
In the Celtic tradition, the masculine and feminine energies are represented by fire and water and are considered to be most effective when they act together in harmony with each other. On May morning, it was customary for people to go to the top of a hill before sunrise, light fires in honour of the sun, and bathe in the rays of the sun as it rose on the first day of summer. They washed their faces in the morning dew, which was considered a magical substance as it consisted of fire and water, capable of ensuring youth and vitality. Others went to holy wells and drank the water or poured water over themselves as the rays of the rising sun hit the water. All of these customs and rituals reflect this power of water and fire working together and the potency of masculine and feminine energy working in harmony within the land, a person, or a project.
(Dolores Whelan Ever Ancient, Ever New 2010 p. 114)
Until the mid-years of the twentieth century, Catholic school children walked in joyous processions honouring Mary as “Queen of the May”, unaware that this ceremony had origins that went back to the ancient Mayday rituals honouring the Goddess. Dressed in their best clothes, walking in the sunlight of late spring, they lifted their voices in melodious hymns to Mary: Bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest, from garden and woodland and hillside and dale; our full hearts are swelling, our glad voices telling, the praise of the loveliest rose of the vale. Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May… 

Mary

 

The powerful presence of Mary as Mother in the Catholic Christian tradition may have overshadowed this third aspect of Brigid.

Irish theologian Mary Condren makes reference to Brigid as Mother: Brigit’s symbolism is firmly maternal, nourishing, protecting, spinning and weaving the bonds of human community, but it is maternal in the broadest sense of that word in that Brigit’s traditions fostered … maternal thinking… (refusing) to do in the public world what would not be acceptable in the home. Brigit constantly bridged the worlds of nature and culture: her traditions aim to bridge the world of public and private and to keep the life force moving rather than allowing it to stagnate….Her traditions speak of an approach to sacrality intimately connected with relationships rather than splitting.
In keeping with her maternal aspects, the predominant fluid for Brigit is milk, the milk of human kindness. The milk of the Sacred Cow was one of the earliest sacred foods throughout the world, equivalent to our present day Holy Communion. In historical times it was said that the Abbesses of Kildare (Brigit’s successors) could drink only from the milk of the White Cow. The same milk was also believed to provide an antidote to the poison of weapons.

Milk represented the ideal form of all food for its purity and nourishment. Mother’s milk was especially valuable and was believed to have curative powers…Brigit was even said to have been baptized in milk. Baptisms in milk were practised by the Irish until the practice was banned by the Synod of Cashel in 1171.
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Whereas Brigit’s traditions had insisted on creating, maintaining, and healing relationships through the power of her artefacts, imagery, stories and rituals, the rising power of the father gods depended on their establishing or maintaining their positions by threatening to, or actually sacrificing their children. Not surprisingly, therefore, when Brigit’s traditions were overthrown, maternal milk was replaced by bloodshed, not in the course of the life cycle – childbirth or menstruation – but in the voluntary giving or taking of life, in various forms of sacrifice.
(Mary Condren in “Brigit, Matron of Poetry, Healing, Smithwork and Mercy”, Journal of the European Society of Women in Theological Research 18, 2010)

Brigid as Mother challenges us to restore to our rituals, our communities, our nations and our planet a sense of the sacred that is relational rather than divisive and to replace the flow of sacrificial blood in conflict with the milk of mutual respect and nurturing.

 

May we celebrate Bealtaine with joy, as we welcome the masculine energy of activity, the bright sun that will nourish and call forth the seeds of new life we planted in the dark and quiet days of the feminine energy time.

Perhaps we will be drawn on May 1st to rise before dawn, climb a hill, light a fire to welcome the sunrise, then wash our faces in the morning dew. Thus we symbolically embrace masculine (fire) energies and feminine (water) energies, inviting both to dwell in harmony within us and throughout our planet.

A Conversation With Brigid

After these weeks of reflecting upon Brigid, we decide to pay her a visit. We book spaces 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 and feels to be 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 from winter’s rain. The smell is a not unpleasant mix of wax, flowers, dusty hymnals, wispy remnants of incense.

Light comes from the red sanctuary lamp and, in a side aisle, a single candle bows in a soft breeze from a high, partially open, window. Drawn by the candle, we look upwards, gazing at an image in stained glass of Saint Brigid, eyes looking away, one hand grasping a book of prayer, the other a flaming candle.
Clearly she is not expecting us.

image of Brigid

 

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

Beneath her, the partially open window shows 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 to 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 here 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.

“But 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. Yet 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, were called the Paps of Anu; the nipples of high mountains sprouting water were like breasts giving milk; wells that spring from rocks on the sides of mountains and hills or gushing forth from under the earth, or deep inside caves, were her offering of 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.