Tag Archives: Samhain

Brigid: Matron of Poetry and Smithcraft

Following our conversation with Brigid about the meaning of Equinox, we gather for dinner back at our hotel. The mood is somewhat subdued, the conversation sporadic, touching on the sudden chill of the evening, the earthy tang of the Guinness, our plans for the evening. Within walking distance, there is a poetry reading at eight o’clock, featuring the works of Irish writers of the 20th century. I do not say it to my companions, but I think poetry might be a welcome release from Brigid’s intense teaching and catechizing. I am still smarting from her comment to the fox that we have a great deal to learn…

Just before eight, we make our way to the pub for the readings. We crowd in, some of us clustering around small tables of dark well-polished wood, others perching on the high bar stools. Though I feel a little guilty about it, I am looking forward to an evening without thinking about Brigid. Minutes later, I hear Irish poet Anne Frances O’Reilly, the evening’s host, say that the poetry will be dedicated to Brigid, patron or rather matron, of poetry, healing and smithcraft…

Anne begins with her own poem to Brigid, as recorded on her CD “Breath Song”.

Brigid

These words will never carve
your image out of bog oak
but that is what they want to do
to dig down into the moist wetness
to touch the layers of centuries
that have made you
woman, goddess, saint
to see your shape emerge intact
from the dark earth.

My instruments are crude for such a work
the bog resistant to intruders
as an ancient tribal memory
in its dark and secret places.

But I must search out these roots
this memory as vital as breath.
I must drag this ancient oak
from the centre of the bog.

I will wait as I must
for the time of dryness where I can see
the shape of what you were and what you are.

The fine coat of resin will preserve your beautiful shape intact
and I will call on you great woman
to grace me with a golden branch and tinkling bells.

And I will polish you then with images of
sun and moon, cows, sheep, serpents, vultures,
bags, bells, baths and sacred fires
so that you become a fiery arrow
and breathe life into the mouth of dead winter
as it is these days in the lives of women
whose spirits have ceased to quicken.

O beautiful vessel still intact
where we have unearthed you,
remind us of your many manifestations
and let us smile again in memory
of when doddering Mel pronounced you bishop
or your cloak spread over the green fields of Kildare.
You who turned back the streams of war
whose name invoked stilled monsters in the seas
whose cross remains a resplendent, golden sparkling flame
come again from the dark bog and forge us anew.

 

The following morning, we arrive at the place we now think of as “Brigid’s Garden” under umbrellas that offer little shelter from a wetness that blows towards us from the side. Balancing umbrellas with one hand, spreading jackets or raincoats with the other, we sit on the wet grass.

Brigid is laughing, the raindrops caught in her long hair like sparkling jewels. The sunlight radiates in the drops creating prisms of light, and soon the rain has vanished as though lapped up by their thirst.

“Did you enjoy the poetry last evening?” Brigid asks.

There is a buzz of response, nods of agreement, a few of us quoting remembered lines and images from WB Yeats, from Patrick Kavanagh, from Seamus Heaney.

“Anne O’Reilly said you are the matron of poetry, Brigid,” Elizabeth says. Herself a poet, she then ventures to ask, “How did that come about?”

“How did I come to be matron of poetry?” Brigid echoes, then adds, with great seriousness, “you have seen and read, of course, my collected poems? No? Well, there’s a good reason for that.” She laughs suddenly. Lightly. It eases the tension. Each of us had been fearing we’d missed something important. “I’ve never written even one verse,” she admits.

“Let me tell something of the role of poets in ancient Ireland. They were honoured along with kings and priests as part of a triad of leaders. Poets played a role in the inauguration and the legitimizing of kings. Should a king not live up to what was required of him, the poets could overthrow him.

“The last time you were here, we spoke of the Celtic year that begins with Samhain, as the dark time of the year approaches. You may recall my saying that for ancient people life was understood to begin in darkness. For this reason, the training of poets for a culture that was mostly oral demanded that they spend many hours in complete darkness memorizing the ancient tales and the wisdom lore of Ireland. Because they had faced this darkness and at the same time, their own inner darkness, the poets were prepared to call the community to integrity, to challenge unjust rulers, and false decisions, to defend the weak.

“Now you already know that my name goes back millennia to a time when it meant High or Exalted One. In early Irish law there is mention of a Brigh Ambui who was a woman, an author of wisdom and prudence among the men of Erin. From her were named the incantations called Briathra Brighi by which the poet’s mind was made prophetic.

“The poets of Ancient Ireland had three significant duties: intuitive knowing, whereby they accessed wisdom from the collective unconscious and from within their own bodies; composing without thinking, or on the spot, out of this deep source of wisdom, their store of knowledge and the poetic gift that brings the knowing forth; and the illumination of song.”

We are silent, taking this in, expanding our understanding of the art of poetry, the task of poetry.

 

The Womb of This Present Darkness

The call to awaken to the presence of Sophia comes at a time when much of our planet struggles with darkness. Live-streaming news gives us an immediate knowing of disasters, disease, wars, weather-related devastation that can be overwhelming.

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

Our ancient ancestors, who knew almost nothing of events beyond their immediate homes, knew about the rhythms of the earth, the apparent movements of sun, moon and stars, the cycle of the seasons, with an accuracy of observation that fills us with awe. The early peoples of Ireland were so deeply attuned to the shifting balance of light and darkness that they could build a monument to catch the first rays of sunrise on the winter Solstice. The Newgrange mound in Ireland, predating the Egyptian Pyramids, receives the Solstice light through a tiny aperture above the threshold.

Like the Egyptians and other ancient peoples, the Celts wove their spirituality from the threads of light and darkness that shaped their lives. Their spiritual festivals moved through a seasonal cycle in harmony with the earth’s yearly dance, associating the bright sunlit days with masculine energy, the darker time with contemplative feminine energy. For the Celts, the days we are entering this week, days we name Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’, were one festival known as Samhain (Saw’ wane). These three days marked the year’s end with a celebration that served as a time-out before the new year began. The bright masculine season with its intense activity of planting, growing, harvesting was over. The quieter days of winter were ahead: “the time of darkness, the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced and the season of non-doing is initiated.” (Dolores Whelan: Ever Ancient, Ever New pp. 98-9) www.doloreswhelan.ie

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

We too can accept the invitation of Samhain to release whatever is not completed at this time, letting go of the light and the activity of sun-time, surrendering ourselves to the restful moon-time, the darkness of holy waiting. Living within the wisdom of the earth’s seasons, we move towards the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, embracing a journey of deep surrender.As these shorter days in autumn prepare us for the yearly plunge into winter’s darkness, we are entering into the sacred time of Sophia. Within her sacred cauldron, our lives and our desires for our planet find a place of gestation, a safe darkness where, as with the caterpillar in a chrysalis, the great work of transformation of our souls and of all of life can happen.

Sylvia Shaindel Senensky writes:

We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain.  Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life.  We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.  When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.

 …. She is calling upon us, each in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet….  Love attracts love.  If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings.  We will come home to ourselves. ( in “Healing and Empowering the Feminine” Chiron Publications, Wilmette Illinois 2003)

 Let us enjoy this sacred season, this womb-time, as we curl up near the fireside of our hearts. From Sophia’s cauldron, we shall emerge in springtime in an interdependent co-arising with the earth, knowing ourselves renewed in soul, body and spirit.