Archive for the ‘St. Brigid’ Category

Nineteen Days of Brighid   2 comments

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

brigid

Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

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Imbolc and “First Sight”   Leave a comment

On first sight (or much later, depending on the particular script we’re following), the world can be a forbidding place.  We all go through emotional and psychological winters at times.  Nothing seems to provide warmth or comfort, so we hunker down and endure. And we can get so good at this kind of half-life that we mistake merely surviving for full-hearted thriving. Well-meaning friends or family who try to console us with various messages of hope or endurance (“This too shall pass”) can’t budge us from our heaviness.

The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in Imbolc also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

First Sight

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before, so that we can’t even anticipate or recognize them ahead of time.  Nothing of the past prepares us.  The new comes on us “utterly unlike” the present.  Only long memory serves to recognize them sometimes, and hail and welcome them — memory often consciously denied to us in one human lifetime, but accessible through dream and intuition and the “far memory” that we may call “past lives” or the “collective unconscious” or  the “knower behind the thoughts” or “gut instinct.”  This is memory as trees know it, the rings of years that grow into the wood, the cell memory we humans also carry with us, the salts of ancient oceans that pulse in the same proportions in our blood.

This is the promise of light renewed, that miracle we often cynically dismiss but deeply long for, the story we are always telling ourselves:  maybe this time, maybe next week, one more year.  This marriage, that job, this new chance, here, now, finally, at last.

It’s important to note that this event is not “supernatural” or “religious” in the commonly understood sense of “coming from outside our world” or depending on a deity.  We don’t need to look that far, though we’re welcome to if we wish.  It is earth’s immeasurable surprise, after all, issuing from this world, this land, dirt under our feet, air that surrounds us, sun on our skin. Put another way, the whole world is telling us “Pay attention!”

Another Irish name for Imbolc is Oimelc — “ewe’s milk.”  In the agrarian societies all our ancestors came from, the pregnant ewes have been preparing for the lambs to come, their udders swelling with milk.  There are signs of change and renewal all around us, but in our rush towards “anywhere but here,” we’ve often lost sight of and contact with the markers that would center and align us with the natural order of balance and harmony we crave.

In North America, the equivalent “secular” holiday is Groundhog’s Day, which one way or another says winter will in fact eventually end.  Punxsutawney Phil emerges from the earth and his plump hibernation sleepiness to prophesy renewal, either seeing his shadow on a sunny day, or huddling under February clouds as secular augurs read the omens and declare them to the assembled faithful.  (We don’t so much abandon ritual and religion as slip it past the censor of the modern and supposedly irreligious mind, clothing it in other guises less objectionable.  If you doubt it, take a look at the grand mythologizing that surrounds Phil on sites like this one.)

Happy Groundcandleimbolcmasshogday!

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Images:  lamb; tree ring; Punxsutawney Phil.

Imbolc/Candlemas   2 comments

My wife and I returned late yesterday afternoon to a cold house — we heat only with wood — back from an overnight to Boston where we visited my wife’s cousin Sue in the hospital.  She’s due to go home soon after stem-cell replacement therapy and chemo for lymphoma.  So far the treatment’s working, and her toughness and optimism are heartening.

Our indoor thermometer read 49 degrees, and as we shivered in the last afternoon light and I rekindled a fire in our woodstove, I caught myself glancing a couple of times at a calendar, the way you do after a trip, to reorient yourself to times and days. Late January.  The last glimmer of sun over our front yard showed a typical Vermont winter scene — new snow, bare trees, and that deceptive bright calm that makes you believe you really don’t need to bundle yourself up and protect every extremity against single-digit New England winter days.  A single step outside offers a brisk corrective to that particular illusion.

Yes, frostbite lurks for the unwary, but there’s a subtle shift nonetheless.  Birds know it, plumped against the cold, heads cocked and alert for anyone else finding food, and so does the ivy drowsing beside my wife’s loom.  It’s perked up recently, as if waking from its own vegetative hibernation.

Sue’s bright spirits, beyond her own brand of courage, are in keeping with the changing season.  Imbolc approaches, the holiday also celebrated variously as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day on Feb. 1/2.  The northeastern U.S. lies in the grip of winter, and yet the holiday looks forward to spring.  The Irish word imbolc means “in the belly” — the fetal lambs growing and approaching the time of their birth into a larger world, full of darkness and light. Brigid draws devotees who keep shrines lit with light and fire.  The Wikipedia entry nicely sums up her importance:  “Saint Brigid is one of the few saints who stands on the boundary between pagan mythology, Druidism and Christian spirituality.”

Verses in her honor abound:

Fire in the forge that
shapes and tempers.

Fire of the hearth that
nourishes and heals.

Fire in the head that
incites and inspires.

You can feel the change with your eyes, on your skin, in your bones — a slightly different angle of light, longer days, a listening quality, if you go quiet enough to hear it.  A reason to celebrate with light and flame.

There’s an old Japanese saying I encountered while living and working in Tokyo two decades ago that often comes to my mind this time of year.  “What is the bravest of living things?  The plum tree, because it puts forth its blossoms in the snow.”  There’s a bravery in certitude, a trust that, as Genesis 8 declares, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

There’s deep comfort in homely things — things of home — the soapstone stove, the hearth stones that accumulate wood-ash and need sweeping a few times a day, the armfuls of oak logs I bring to feed our fire.

Late this morning as I finish the final draft of this post, the stove still ticking and pinging softly as it heats and cools with each charge of wood, the wall thermometer finally reads 67.  My wife reads in bed, the sky lowers gray, and a fine snow clouds the air as it descends.

Light and blessings of the season to you.

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