Monday, October 27, 2014

Making Brigit's Cross with Young Caítlín

Caítlín shows beautifully how to gather your rushes, make, and trim your cross. (All to the tune of a penny whistle.)

There are gadjillions of videos on YouTube demonstrating how to make Brigit's cross, including this silent one by a faceless expert, and this by Una Casey of Faughart. (See previous post.) But despite the odd technical difficulty, I rather like this one.

(Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Brigit's Birthplace: RTÉ Documentary on Faughart, Ireland

From Geolocation
At St. Brigit's Shrine in Faughart, Co. Louth, pilgrims have long come to pray the stations and tie up offerings of cloth in order to leave their troubles behind them. Blathnaid Ní Chofaigh of RTÉ explores the area to learn more about St. Brigit and her cult.

From Brigit of Faughart Festival
An impressive moment in the film is watching local woman, Una Casey, making a rush cross while chatting with Blathnaid--one strong enough to kick to Dundalk without it coming apart.

Cross Making with Una Casey in the County Library
Una has been making Brigit's crosses since childhood, and gives workshops in the craft, above at the County Library, and also at the Brigit of Faughart Festival.

(Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Brigidine College of St Ives, New South Wales - History & Today

"Fortiter et Suaviter - Strength and Gentleness"

From aMUSine  "The museums, galleries and collections zine by interesting people for interested people:

Kerri Genovese
Archivist, Brigidine College St Ives.
On April 16, 1883 six brave young Brigidine Nuns left their convent in Mountrath, Ireland to travel to Coonamble in New South Wales.  They were chosen from 17 volunteers at the convent to set up a catholic school at the request of Dr Murray the Bishop of the Maitland Diocese which included the Parish of Coonamble.  Their journey took just over 2 months, leaving London on April 20 on a small 5,000 tonnage ship ‘The Chimborazo’. They arrived in Melbourne for a short stay on June 3 after only two stops at Naples and Port Said. The Sisters continued on to Sydney then Newcastle by ship and finally reached their destination of Coonamble on June 21 after many days travelling overland by train and coach.
Coonamble was a small town of some 800 residents many of whom went out many miles to meet the nuns and lead them into town to the welcoming peals of the church bell.  A grand dinner was held and after grateful speeches the nuns could retire to their new home, the small four room presbytery.  The kitchen would serve as the refectory, community room and high school classroom while the primary school would be held in the humble slab church building.
After the warm welcome the nuns set to work opening their school on July 9 and by the end of the year a wooden building was commenced which would house day students and boarders.  The reality of their situation would soon hit home as the long hot summer rolled around, water could only be bought by cask and lighting was by candle or kerosene lamp.  One sister wrote home, ‘the heat ranges from 110 to 117. Violent dust storms rage from 2 to 36 hours at a time….at times the dust clouds look like moving walls’.  The difference between their beloved green Ireland and this harsh brown land would have been enormous.
Despite the tough conditions the sisters led by Mother John Synan would be joined by other young women wanting to be trained as a novice before becoming a Brigidine nun.  Sadly five of these young novices would die in the first few years.  However, after hearing about these courageous women other Catholic communities were asking the Brigidine sisters to establish schools for them.  In 1887 five sisters went to Cooma, seven were sent to Cowra in 1894 and another six to New Zealand in 1898.
As the community grew the Brigidine sisters realised that Sydney offered greater opportunities for the training of the novices.  Therefore, another convent, novitiate and secondary girl’s school were established in Randwick in 1901.  However, within forty years it was decided the novices should be moved to a more peaceful area and so the search began for land in the countryside of St Ives.  In 1949 seven acres of land was purchased on the corner of Mona Vale Road and Woodbury Road with another three acres acquired in 1951. 
The Brigidine sisters established a secondary girl’s school in St Ives and on February 9 1954 classes began with nine students.  Although the new two storey building was for the school, the nuns would also live here until the convent was also built.  Upstairs consisted of four classrooms, however, the last room was partitioned off into four sleeping quarters and a community area for the sisters.  The ground floor had a store room, cloak room, toilets, chemistry lab, kitchen and laundry.  The kitchen of course was used for the students learning home economics but also for the sisters own cooking.  Two sisters taught the secondary girls here and another two taught the primary students at the local Catholic Church, Corpus Christi.
The Convent and Novitiate were completed by the end of 1958 and the Brigidine community steadily grew over the years.  The college added more buildings and took over the novitiate building in 1978 when it closed.  The sisters enjoyed many happy years at St Ives until they too moved out in 1994 relinquishing the convent to the college.  Although the Brigidine order is diminishing their legacy continues through the ethos and teaching of the Brigidine schools throughout the world.
Brigidine College St Ives now has over 900 students but acknowledges and appreciates the heritage given to it by the original Brigidine nuns from Mountrath, then Randwick and the new arrival of students in 1954.  The original students formed strong friendships being a small group and still join together each year for a ‘Pioneer’ lunch and reminisce their fun times.


The Brigidine College of St Ives is still going strong*. From their website:

Brigidine College St Ives is dedicated to the education of girls in the Catholic tradition. Founded by the Congregation of Sisters of St Brigid in 1954, the school models the charism of St Brigid and Bishop Daniel Delany, strength and gentleness.
The College prides itself on providing a holistic education for girls, combining the spiritual, academic, physical and cultural dimensions of learning, creating women of spiritual, moral and ethical strength.
Girls at Brigidine are challenged to think and experience beyond their boundaries, to have the courage to question their world and model Christ’s teachings in their lives.
They are challenged in their learning to see possibilities, grow in understanding and value success.
Browse through our website to gain a deeper understanding of our community or join us onsite for a tour. There is a spirit in this school worth experiencing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brigit Book Review PDF Now Available as Download

click here!
The PDF of the Brigit book reviews is now available through the Daughters of the Flame website (in case you are wondering where you flashed through when you clicked the caption above), saving you having to leave your email address here and wait for me to send you one. Much simpler.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Druids -- On BBC 4

I have only the slenderest excuse for putting this discussion on a Brigit blog--she is mentioned, very briefly, with regards to her father, Dubhthach--but it is such an interesting look not only at the subject of Druids through the eyes of the scholars who make their livings contemplating them, but also at a few of the scholars who, for most of us, are names in a book, not voices, laughter, and interplay.

The discussion is from BBC Radio 4's excellent In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. BBC has a habit of chucking podcasts after a while so I downloaded the program and set it into a video format to present on Blogger. Once you have seen the first image you will have seen them all. I'll add the credits and so on here, to spare you searching them out on the screen.


First broadcast: Thursday 20 September 2012, BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented and romanticised their activities. Little is known for certain about their rituals and beliefs, but modern archaeological discoveries have shed new light on them.


Barry Cunliffe
Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford

Miranda Aldhouse-Green
Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University

Justin Champion
Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London

Producer: Thomas Morris

Further Reading:

Miranda Aldhouse-Green, ‘Caesar's Druids: Archaeology of an Ancient Priesthood’ (Yale University Press, 2010)

Justin Champion, ‘Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture’ (Manchester, 2009)

Barry Cunliffe, ‘Druids: A Very Short Introduction’ (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Miranda J. Green, ‘Exploring the World of the Druids’ (Thames and Hudson, 1997)

Michael Hunter, ‘John Aubrey and the Realm of Learning’ (Duckworth, 1975)

Ronald Hutton, ‘Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain’ (Yale University Press, 2009)

Stuart Piggott, ‘Ancient Britons and the Antiquarian Imagination’ (Thames & Hudson, 1989)

Sam Smiles, ‘The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination’ (Yale, 1994)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Icon by Lewis Williams


 Lewis Williams, SFO, website: eyekonz2u

About Lewis Williams:
Moved to learn to paint icons from Robert Lentz after viewing his Apache Christ, Williams has gone on to paint striking images of his own, including those of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument during a stint as artist-in-residence.

I like the simplicity of his Brigid, a serious young woman with work to do and the power and inspiration to do it. I like also his magnificent Our Mother of Sorrow, depicted below with one suggestion of where her sorrows' sources lie: with the falling of the Twin Towers. The image is available through Bridge Building Images.

Artist's Narrative on St Brigid Icon:
Most revered of all of Ireland’s early female saints, Brigid was born of pagan\Christian parentage, and raised in the fosterage (early Irish practice of youth education) of a druid. She converted to Christianity at age 17. Noted for her prayerfulness, compassion, humility, and generosity, she founded the earliest known Celtic double monastery, housing both men (renowned for a school of art in illuminated manuscripts) and women (expert in wool industry and weaving of cloth).

She professed a profound belief in “anam cara,” or soul friends, unique persons God offers us as companions on our pilgrim road. This extended to the idea that love and intimacy were essential to a sound marriage, also quite unique for her time.

Exceptional in another aspect, St Mel of Ardagh, inebriated by her virtues or by ‘spirits’, ordained her a bishop and she was respected as such. A perpetual fire was kept in her honor from her time till extinguished by King Henry VIII’s order in 1540 of the Dissolution of Monasteries. Recently it has been rekindled.

In this icon she is noted for her beauty, holding the crosier (based on the famous Lismore crosier), symbolic of a Bishops staff and shepherds of men. Her clothing is the fine wool work of her sisters. She also holds a ‘Brigid Cross,’ an ancient solar symbol traditionally made to welcome Spring (Feb.1, in Ireland). Dawn barely touches the sky over her right shoulder, a time when the veil between worlds is very thin, and her perpetual fire burns through the night.

Also known as ‘Brigid of Kildare’ (“Kildare”= church of the oak) and ‘Bride’ (“bright or exalted one”).

Her feast day is February 1.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Queering the Flame" by Erynn Rowan Laurie, A Review

        “Queering the Flame” is an as yet unpublished essay that will be released in 2015 in Laurie’s collection of essays, interviews, and reviews.

Herself a keeper of Brigit’s flame, Laurie is an amateur scholar whose work rests on diligent research and thorough citation, combined with a carefully thought out, ethical, and personal Polytheist sensibility. She carefully distinguishes between her own ideas and what can be discerned from the literature (hooray!), allowing the reader to reach informed conclusions of her own.

The impetus for writing this piece was a debate that arose within the Celtic Reconstructionist (NeoPagan) community when a mixed gender Brigidine flame-keeping group was proposed. Laurie asks, “What would make the act of tending a perpetual flame in the name of a particular Goddess problematic or contentious? What are the theological assumptions at work, and why is gender such a central issue within some of those assumptions? More importantly for this essay, what does queerness have to do with it? To address these issues, we need to look at the person and place of Brigit as Goddess and saint, the practice of flamekeeping generally, and the ritual traditions that surround this act. ”

Accordingly, in “Queering the Flame” Laurie examines the ethical and ideological issues as she sees them, and looks at perpetual sacred flames in historical Pagan religions and in medieval Christian Ireland.

“These sacred fires, both in [Pagan] Rome and in Ireland, were considered community hearthfires, regardless of the gender of the flamekeepers. Regional ritual fires were lit from the Irish flames, as were household flames on particular holy days, and if a household’s flame were accidentally extinguished, it also would be relit from the sacred flame. The hearthstone at Inishmurray is specifically cited as a source for the relighting of household flames, even after the church itself was long-deserted and the physical flame extinguished”.

Having shown that in Ireland both men and women tended perpetual sacred flames, and that Irish flame-tending practices may well not have had Pagan origins, she argues that in Celtic Reconstructionist practice the tending of Brigit’s flame ought to be open to both men and women, with women-only groups coexisting with those of mixed genders. “Queering” of gender roles is examined as well, including, for instance, cross-dressing among biddy boys and Bitel’s consideration of nuns as “masculinized” women in the context of their time.

 What separates Laurie’s examination of flame-tending from other works in the Academic category is her stated relationship to Brigit and her concern for the NeoPagan and Polytheist communities: welcome additions, in my opinion. She states, “Flametending has been a rhythmic, almost tidal support to my spiritual and creative life. The regular presence of the flame on the altar near my writing desk is a tangible reminder of Brigit and of her patronage of poets, of the accessibility of inspiration, and of the dedication necessary to nurture a life as a poet and writer. Each time I light the flame, I renew my devotion to creativity as a deep and necessary part of my spiritual path.”

“Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities”, by Erynn Rowan Laurie in The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism (Immanion Press, projected release 2015) 17 pp.