The first stanza of Damh the Bard’s lovely song “Brighid” (below) places the goddess in the landscape of vision:
There’s a tree by the well in the wood,
That’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift,
In the cool morning air.
That’s where I met an old woman,
Who came from a far land.
Holding a flame o’er the well,
And chanting a prayer.
Though here it’s the goddess who’s “chanting a prayer”, the bard has invoked her with song — his own prayer. And he’s gone to the “well in the wood” full of intention. Maybe not specifically to see the goddess, but knowing the tree and the well and the moment offer possibility waiting for human consciousness to activate. A gift of the gods, already given freely to us.
Here in Vermont a light snow falls as I write this, and I step away from the keyboard to take a picture.
By February here, snow itself can signal spring to come. You can feel the longer light, and moments of snowy beauty remind you that wonder is never far away. The sap will be running soon in the maples, the sugar shacks smoking all day and night as the sugarmen boil down the sweet juice to syrup. Green will burst forth, improbable as that seems right now in a world of cold whiteness. So Brighid comes from a “far land” that is also always near to attention, intention and devotion.
Here across the Pond from the Celtic homeland, some North American Pagans can feel removed from the “gods of Europe”, bewailing their distance. This place, we can feel, isn’t “Their” land. Yet anyone who’s encountered a spiritual presence knows that place is a convenience of the gods, not a requirement — a set of clothes, not the being who wears them.
Yes, it would be splendid, we imagine, to visit that “tree by the well in the wood”, simply by stepping out the back door to a landscape steeped in stories and legends of the goddess. Yet we also know what familiarity breeds. Or as an African proverb has it, “Those who live nearest the church arrive late”. The old saying that the gods like the offering of the salt of human sweat means effort is not wasted, devotion is repaid. Always, we have something we can offer them. And the gods give, but “not as the world gives”.
For you soon find that the gods are not merely passive reservoirs, to be drawn down whenever we happen to think of them and plug in for a re-charge, our rituals cannily crafted to work like the swipe of a credit card at a gas (petrol) pump. “Fill me up, Brighid!”
But wait, you say. Isn’t that just what we’re doing with ritual and song?
It’s really not a matter for argument, unless you need the exercise. Damh the Bard knows Brighid — you can hear it in the song. And out of love he’s traveled many times to the tree by the well in the wood. Brighid knows his name.
This, then, is one intention to cherish: may we serve them so that the gods know our names. Not to hold it up before others like a badge of pride, but as a spiritual resource to treasure and spend at worthy need. Or as Gandhi said, “If no one will walk with you, walk alone” knowing in truth you aren’t alone.
Ten years ago I didn’t honor Brighid. I didn’t “believe” in her, though I’d heard her name, thanks to all those who kept it alive in our world. Now I honor her, but I still don’t trouble myself about “belief”.
Instead, I take the hint and look. “I saw her reflection in the mirrored well”, Damh sings.
And I looked deep in her face,
The old woman gone, a maiden now knelt in her place,
And from my pocket I pulled a ribbon,
And in honour of her maidenhood,
I tied it there to the tree by the well in the wood.
Spiritual fire kindles in us at such moments.
A blessed Imbolc to you.
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