Archive for the ‘Brighid’ Category

But What’s It All For?   Leave a comment

[edited/updated 10 Feb 2020]

(I’ve posted rants before, and alerted readers up front. What follows is another, lit with caffeine, a dose of the cabin fever of a typical long New England winter, and maybe even some insight.)

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What’s a spiritual path for?

We can say, using a mixed bag of traditional language, that its goal is to reconnect us with cosmic law, attune us to deity, re-balance us, align us with the flow of the Ten Thousand Things, show us God’s will, conform us to the ways of Spirit, and so on. (Sometimes it’s to save us. Other times it spends us like the prodigal sons and daughters we are. Either way, value gets exchanged.)

Or we can use the language of modern commerce and say we want to optimize our results, so we can increase efficiency, profits, and customer satisfaction. (Pay particular attention here: do you respond, like I sometimes do, more to this formulation of the goal than to the first? Ask yourself why, and then ask what follows from your response.)

If you’ve read the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (maybe pausing to ask “Why seven?”), you know there’s little new under the sun. The magic of the book isn’t the habits themselves so much as it is its streamlining and re-ordering of principles we’ve always known, which is a magical act: to optimize flow, to organize what we need to understand and feel and do, all in ways our minds and emotions and bodies can recognize and put into motion.

We need and seek out such new re-formulations of old wisdom in every age.

Or if a book’s not your thing, you can find an even more compact form of the Seven Habits at the author’s website. They’re an excellent primer for whatever we intend to achieve.

Memes are another form of magic. If something “goes viral”, that means it’s found the optimal way to spread, to replicate, to make its mark. Using image and word, it shapes itself as a key to locks everywhere. It activates upon arrival. Like an object within range of the motion sensors on the sliding doors of our psyches, it opens us and enters.

Advertisers deploy music, light, voice, color, rhythm, beauty, movement and image — magical techniques, every one of them — and opening us, they implant desires in us for things we never knew we wanted.

Mages look with vast amusement at our materialistic culture that often mocks magic or “doesn’t believe in it”, even as we encounter and often yield to magical influences every single day of our lives. In the process, magical techniques earn billions of dollars for their users, bending our thoughts, emotions, and credit cards to the wills of corporate and political magicians who’ve mastered some of the cruder techniques of glamouring other people. This isn’t paranoia but simple fact: what else is advertising for? What are political campaigns ultimately intended to accomplish? A catchy slogan, a memorable logo, an appealing face and even a dollop of charisma, and you’re halfway there.

You could say that beginning spirituality is nothing other than beginning to (re)build our “defenses against the dark arts” a la Harry Potter. Anyone half-awake (and I don’t mean “woke”) knows the need for such D.A.D.A. is at an all-time high today. Exhibit A: today’s headlines and media feeds any time we choose to look at them.

While carnival- and circus-owners and confidence-men long ago discovered “There’s a sucker born every minute”, we can (to mix a metaphor or two) learn not to suck. The old Hippocratic oath “Do no harm” may not resound in many ears like it used to, but everyone still needs to swear some version of it. We can update it to the jargon of a 21st-century version: Don’t be a jerk. This can be our Silver Rule, since clearly so many of us no longer want to know or practice the Golden version. The Medieval world and its Latin speakers had their own con-men, and their own cynical, world-weary warning: Mundus vult decipi. “The world wants to be deceived”.

Looking for a guide for electing government officials, choosing life partners, spiritual guides, car dealers? If you can’t find anyone who works with the habits of effective people, then “simplify, simplify”. Find one who’s at least trying to practice the new Silver Rule and shows some persistence at it. And with any discernment, and the blessings of even one small god or goddess, we can begin to practice it ourselves. (So I begin again, which is I suspect 9/10 of any spiritual path worth walking.)

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Thecu and Brighid, storm goddess and triple goddess, both in their own ways forging, healing and inspiring us:

When storms pound the walls of the world, empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
When human contrivances fail and fall in tempests, illuminate my path forward.
When the bridge breaks, guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
When the shores vanish, show me your compass.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, show me light within.

Now this is a prayer of petitions and visualization. (Adjust the pronouns at need.) But sometimes such forms can feel too demanding. I often like a more meditative version as well, one that encourages me to see these things already in manifestation, not merely waiting to appear. Just a few tweaks — acknowledging the presence of the goddesses already, of spirit at work before I even begin to think the words …

When storms pound the walls of the world, you empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, you forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
You illuminate my forward path, when human contrivances fail and fall in tempests.
When the bridge breaks, you guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, you fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
You show me your compass before the shore has vanished.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, you show me light within.

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Image: Pexels.com.

Welcome, Brighid   2 comments

Often, simple is best.

Mantle of Brighid about me,
Memory of Brighid within me,
Protection of Brighid around me
keeping me from harm,
from ignorance, from heartlessness,
this day and night,
from dawn till dark,
from dark till dawn.

— John O’Donohue (adapted), The Four Elements, Transworld Ireland, 2010, pg. 109. (Also available in Random House editions.)

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Crafting Brighid’s crosses. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Outdoor Imbolc, Mystic River Grove:

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Outdoor rite. Photo courtesy F. Hanks.

May you be forged anew, inspired and healed.

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Posted 1 February 2020 by adruidway in Brighid, Brigid's cross, Druidry, Imbolc

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Flame, Holy and Mundane   Leave a comment

Much of Paganism is defining spaces, places and the awareness we bring to them. At its heart it’s a kind of continual prayer: O let me wake into the holy in every moment.

This is sacred time, go the words of standard OBOD ritual. This is sacred space. We name it to remind ourselves, to evoke it through intention and attention, but also to recognize what’s already there. We can create sacred space because sacred space shapes us from birth. It’s our heritage, our birthright, unless we give it away.

So we call it back.

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With Imbolc a little over a week away, those who honor Brighid find themselves turning even more closely to her presence and influence. Year-round already and always, yes, for those who revere her, but also more keenly when her festival nears.

“We are entering the dark half of the year”, writes Teo Bishop in a post for the Autumn Equinox, “and now more than ever is the moment to engage with your daily practice”.

(When isn’t it the moment to engage? I don’t know about you, but my “dark half of the year” doesn’t politely wait for September. You’re no doubt tired of my repeating this theme of the need for a practice. Please understand: with a blog I have built-in reminders and prompts for my own practice. If I’m not practicing, the words don’t come easily. Blogging is one of my spiritual barometers. It’s also a prod in the behind. By posting fairly regularly, I also get to check in on my worlds, I’m reminded to listen to where I need to open up to the holy energies we all bathe in each day.)

“One of the most common responses I see to the idea of developing a daily practice”, Bishop continues, “is that there is no time. This assumes that a practice must be a long, complicated ritual, full of gestures and ritual phrases. It paints a practice as yet another way that the struggle of our day to day life is a weight on our shoulders.

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

Let it begin with something small. Light a candle, take one, deep breath, then extinguish the flame.

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

In that second the Holy Flame expands to fill our consciousness — or it can, if we permit it. A simple practice that goes far to making a seemingly-mundane moment a sacred one.

ADF ritual puts out the sacred fire at one point, describing it this way:

Extinguished without
but burning within.
The living fire flames within us.

In Working the Tool-kit, I wrote:

Fire work, or apprenticing yourself to the element … can begin with a fire pit, or candle-lighting, if an outdoor fire isn’t practical for you. From such simple work with each of the Elements, a profound and beautiful practice can grow over time. This is also one of the freedoms in which a Druid can wholeheartedly participate in a Christian or Jewish service, in part through some of its seemingly “smallest” ritual gestures and events.

Or as mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (J. McCarthy. Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

As a focus for meditation, for out-of-body work, for reverence, for kindling the spirit in times of heaviness and despair, fire has no equal.

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Brighid so beautifully merges sacred and profane, because her triad of aspects, as goddess of smithcraft and the forge, of bardic inspiration and the awen, and of healing and the vital flame, all circle around holy fire. Lighting a candle can be purest prayer.

It’s very old, this focus on fire. (Focus itself is an old word for “hearth” or “altar”. We make an altar of what we focus on). We read in the Rig-Veda 1.26.8, “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire”.

One way to understand this passage, of course, says simply that “if we build it, they will come”. On occasion that’s exactly right. Dedication is its own reward. Often, though, the arrival of gods lies in our building — the impulse to light the fire, the desire for kindling light and flame, is itself divine presence.

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Damh the Bard’s beautiful prayer-song to Brighid begins:

There’s a tree by the well in the woods 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.

Devotion has put the clooties and ribbons there. Devotion allows the encounter with the old woman. Who is it that’s “holding a flame o’er the well”? The singer, yes. The old woman, too. And both at once. I increase my chances of holy encounter when I sing a prayer with a flame. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, says the Divine Son and Sun. First, we need to gather. When I’m aware of that Other, the flame kindles.

Damh continues:

She told me she’d been a prisoner trapped in a mountain,
Taken by the Queen of Winter at Summer’s End,
But in her prison she heard a spell the people were chanting,
Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again.
She spoke of the Cell of the Oak where a fire is still burning,
Nineteen Priestesses tend the eternal flame,
Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning,
Brighid, Brigantia, the Goddess of Many Names.

Part of our human magic is to participate with the divine in making holy — sanctifying, hallowing the time and space. We can never reduce it to rote: “Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”. The gods “switch us on” when we devote ourselves to their holy fire. But we do the same for them. Rarely will they force open a door we keep resolutely shut.

Where is the fire still burning?

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Seven Flames for Meditation

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and now flames inwardly for you?

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Image: Pexels.com

Autumn Purposes   Leave a comment

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the winter’s kindling, and 8-years-dry oak firewood, for lighting the woodstove

We’re drawn to where the action is. And in the Dark Half of the year, that’s often inward. Things may go to sleep, but they’re dreaming, and so it is with us. “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose” — not only “under heaven”, as the saying continues, but over and around and within heaven as well.

Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your Turn to the Bright Half of the year, as all the composting, nurturing, imagining, dreaming, and magical preparation burst forth in the physical world as gardens, fruition, construction, birth, renewal — that messy, joyous recreation of the world. Beltane is not somehow “past”, like a carton of milk beyond its “best by __” date, but engaged, active, igniting bird talk and tree bud and a host of things half seen, but nonetheless busy for all that we may not (mostly) be aware of them. Then again, in the half-light of increasingly longer days, you can sometimes catch a glimpse …

And for us “dark-half-ers”, care of the body can become a practice we may explore more fully. What does this bone-house (Old English bánhús “skeleton, body”) ask of me, in order to keep on serving me a while longer? What can I touch — and what touches me — that needs my attention and reverence? Where am I right now? The house is cooling as the temperature drops outside, as rain makes way for snow later today, a polar front dipping down from Canada. Time to step away from blogging and light a fire.

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Sometimes, too much light: woodstove with flashbulb

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“it takes dark to see fire best”: same burn, without flash

Likewise, Brighid isn’t only a goddess for Imbolc, or for the Bright Half. She’s at least as busy minding and reminding us to keep the flame lit the rest of the year, too. Or, if you’re not for the gods (though the gods may be for you), what else asks for your tending? And what is tending you, perhaps outside your knowledge? Particularly in America, loneliness is a common affliction. How deeply are we tended by things we have forgotten! But how do we reconnect, rediscover?

Fire-dreaming can help, says the woodstove. Rain on the roof, too, says November. Light, sound. The savors of root- and bulb-vegetable umami — onions, beets, garlic, turnips, potatoes. Don’t forget tastes, says the kitchen.

A beloved neighbor three miles down the road died suddenly over the weekend, out raking leaves, and we drop off a homemade raspberry cake for his widow. His Siamese is grieving, too — she was his cat, and where is he now? Touch, knows my wife, fitting action to word, making friends gently — respect for the Siamese temperament. Comfort, animal comfort of contact, beyond words.

I am the hallow-tide of all souls passing, writes Caitlin Matthews in “Song of Samhain”, from her Celtic Devotional (pg. 22):

I am the bright release of pain
I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case
I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain.
I am the hollow of the winter twilight,
I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread,
I am the curtained awning of the pillow,
I am unending wisdom’s golden thread.

 

I pick up that thread again, and I pick it up, always dropping it, always — always — finding it again.

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Flavors of Druidry   2 comments

This is a brief post to celebrate flavors of Druidry elsewhere. Below, a shape of awen formed of human shadows — photo by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes.

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Australian Druids just celebrated Lughnasadh, and Serpentstar, the free OBOD newsletter for Australia, has just published its most recent issue — you can read it online or download it as a PDF here. Lovely images and articles offer a glimpse of the Land and Druids Down Under.

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Cornwall actively promotes its language and culture, and that includes Cornish Druidry. Here’s a prayer to Brighid in Cornish, with an English version, from Trelawney Grenfell-Muir:

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Brigid a’n Kugoll, gwra agan kyrghynna.
Arlodhes an Eyn, gwra agan kovia.
Gwithyades an Oeles, gwra agan enowi.
Yn-dann dha gugoll, gwra agan kuntelles,
Gwra agan daswul dhe gov.

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.

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Imbolc in the Snow   Leave a comment

After the recent frigid temperatures in New England and across many of the northern states, 34 F/1 C earlier today felt positively balmy. Here are some friends and I (to the right) sitting in a cleared circle in the snow round an Imbolc fire. (The smartphone camera makes it look like we’re wearing acorns on our heads.)

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photo courtesy Spring K.

Little wonder, given how appealing the orange flames are, that words for fire, hearth and focus/focal point are connected in many of the Romance languages: Spanish fuego, French feu, Portuguese fogo, Italian fuoco, all from Latin focus “domestic hearth” which includes among its senses “house, family”. With a fire we’re halfway home — a house at its most basic is a roof and walls around a fire, where a family may flourish, conserving its vital heat.

Meeting Merlin at a remote inn on a winter day, King Arthur in Mary Stewart’s The Last Enchantment strides in and exclaims to the inn-keeper, “Wine we will not wait for, nor fire”. Warmed by these two essentials, a mortal can begin to consider other matters. And perhaps sense the spring-tide slumbering beneath the snows, sure as the sky, still waiting.

Praised be Brighid: “Goddess of fire, Goddess of healing, Goddess of Spring, welcome again!”*

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*Damh the Bard — “Brighid”.

Posted 3 February 2019 by adruidway in Brighid, Damh the Bard, Druidry, Imbolc

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Imbolc Blessings to You   Leave a comment

Keeping the cold at bay with our trusty woodstove has taken most of my energies over the past several days, so I’m simply reposting six previous meditations on Brighid for this Imbolc 2019. [Note: These appear in reverse chronological order.]

The Enchantments of Brighid

Brighid: Druid and Christian

Moon of Brighid

Nineteen Days of Brighid

Brighid of the Snows

Mantle of Brighid about Me

And of course the exquisite song by Damh the Bard in honour of the goddess:

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Posted 1 February 2019 by adruidway in Brighid, Damh the Bard, Druidry, Imbolc

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