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        “Queering the Flame” is an as yet unpublished essay that will be released in 2015 in Laurie’s collection of essays, interviews, and reviews.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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Priestess / Priest of Brighde Training

I just stumbled across Marion van Eupen's site:

Priestess / Priest of Brighde Training, Glastonbury UK

Van Eupen is coming from a Wiccan, Four-Elements, Maiden-Mother-Crone perspective rather than a strictly Celtic based one, and her posting "My Journey With Her" describes her evolving sense of Brighde, arising through personal gnosis. Through that evolution she has come to see Her most clearly as Britannia, "Sovereign Goddess of these lands".

Van Eupen, who offers workshops in Dutch and English, moved to Glastonbury and committed herself deeply to her spiritual path. She is offering a two year Priestess/Priest of Brighde Training 2015/2016, in association with the Glastonbury Goddess Temple. Year one begins on the 14th and 15th of February 2015.

In Glastonbury we recognise Brighde in the landscape as Her Sacred Swan stretching Her long neck along Weary All Hill and spreading Her wings over the Glastonbury town hills. She flows in the waters of the sacred wells and the river Brue, which is called after Her. But foremost She is revered on Bride's Mound (part of The Beckery) where St. Bridget stayed at a little monastery which was then dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Later on a chapel dedicated to St. Bridget was built on Bride's Mound.

Becoming a Priestess or Priest of Brighde is a journey of healing, connecting and walking with Her animals, the Swan, the Snake, the Cow, the Wolf and the magical Unicorn and Phoenix. It is expressing Her energy through poetry, songs and creativity, weaving your soul’s desire into being. It is experiencing Her fire and shining Her light out into the world.

Venue: all training weekends take place in The Camino Centre Glastonbury. The training is non-residential.

When: Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm
with breaks for lunch and refreshments.

Fee: The training is set up as a two year training to 
become a Priest/ess of Brighde. It is however possible 
to pay separately for the two training years or to pay 
in installments:

The options are:
£ 950 when paid in full
£ 1000 when paid each year separately
£ 1080 when paid in installments

Britannia by Marion Brigantia Van Eupen

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Saint Brigid’s Night Procession (Poem) by Mark Granier

Night Walk by Elizabeth McClung
Saint Brigid’s Night Procession

No sign of Faughart on the roadmap. Our dark
island kept itself to itself, each high-hedged bóthar
headlit, the same as another. Then, out of nowhere,
it came to us as a long-acre of parked cars
we added to. Nothing for it now but to go
with the cattle-press of the procession, its shuffle
a low-voiced, slow, inevitable river uphill.

Nobody minded us, disbelievers suspended in the flow
of candles and wobbly torch-beams. Our wariness lapsed,
shrinking as the night-eye opened. Through an unhedged
a softly trumpeted, familiar tune doodled
across clouded moonfields. Forgotten, remembered:
Faith of Our Fathers. As if it wasn't “if” but “when”.
And your whisper in my ear: “Were going to Heaven.”

                                       Mark Granier

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Brigit Reviews (Series Six): Nonfiction, Academic/Popular Academic

Finally! The last installment of my promised book reviews. A pleasure it was to acquaint myself with the breadth of writing available on Brigit. I'll pin links to the reviews on the Pages tab (below the title banner of this blog) in order to make them more accessible to later readers, and will also make the whole lot available by request as a pdf. In the meantime you can find the previous reviews and introductory material at these links:

Brigit Reviews (Series Six):
Nonfiction, Academic/Popular Academic

By “academic/popular” I mean books written in a scholarly style but accessible (sometimes with a real effort) to a general audience. They are footnoted, backed up citations, and so on, and so the thinking in them can be more or less traced and verified. These I can only observe as a reader, not criticize as an expert.

The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland, Mary Condren (1989)

“Fire and the Arts” (etc) in Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish

            Literature, Kim McCone (1990)

The Festival of Brigit, Séamas Ó Catháin (1995)
Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers, Miranda Green (1996)

“Imbolc: A New Interpretation”, Phillip A. Bernhardt-House (pp 57-76) in Cosmos 18 (2002)

The Rites of Brigid, Goddess and Saint, Seán Ó Duinn (2005)

Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe, Lisa M. Bitel (2009)

“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.


There are some delicious writings in here, with lots of obscure references and nimble interpretations; a cornucopia of ideas to mull over in building an understanding of Brigit. Two recommended sources which give abundant info on the world in which St Brigit lived are Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200 by Dáibhí Ó Crónín (1995) (not reviewed here) and Bitel’s Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Placing her in the context of her world allows for a much deeper look into her Lives and mythos, helping us to notice where our assumptions are modern and inappropriate, and allowing us to develop a more balanced perspective.

Though the earliest of these investigations, Condren’s The Serpent and the Goddess is less about Brigit as it is the Christian church in Ireland and its treatment of women. I don’t recommend it for developing an understanding of Brigit.
In The Festival of Brigit, Ó Catháin explores the festival of Imbolc and searches far afield for evidence linking Brigit to, for example, the bear cult and horned deities. Fascinating reading, carefully explored and documented.

McCone’s Pagan Past and Christian Present contains important insights into sacred kingship, the sovereignty goddess, and the three major divisions of Celtic society and convincingly suggests their reflection in Brigit’s various personae.

Green examines the place of women and female deities in Celtic society, and focusses on a number of female-related themes and specific goddesses in Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers. Brigit is looked at in the chapter on the transition from paganism to Christianity.

Bernhardt-House offers a detailed and unique examination of the meaning of the word Imbolc and its possible links to the wolf in ancient times in “Imbolc: A New Interpretation”.

In The Rites of Brigid, Ó Duinn examines a variety of Brigit-related folk customs. He compares in detail the perpetual fires of the Vestal Virgins and Brigit, and describes other sacred and perpetual flames in medieval Ireland.Very useful.

Bitel looks at some important Lives of St Brigit in Landscape with Two Saints, comparing that by Cogitosus of Kildare with those of later writers of Armagh, and putting them into the political context of their times. She examines the legacy of Brigit, and the changing role of women in Ireland.

A rather different perspective is offered in Laurie’s “Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities”. This piece, which could have fit well into the Nonfiction, Popular (NeoPagan) section, I place here because of Laurie’s exacting standards of research and presentation. (Footnotes and citations and quotes, oh my!)

You may notice trouble linking to footnotes through their symbols. No worries. Just scroll to the end of the post and they are there.

Read More!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has to say about Brigit

St Brigit in Melbourne, Australia
Brigit [St Brigit, Brigid] (439/452–524/526), patron saint of Kildare, is the only native Irish saint to enjoy a widespread cult in all the Celtic countries. About the events of her life little can be said, since the earliest sources come from more than a century after her supposed death, on 1 February in either 524 or 526, and were in any case interested in miracle stories rather than biographical detail. Her early cult is, however, among the most influential and the most interesting of any saint in Ireland or Britain.
The cult and lives
The early texts in Brigit's hagiographical ‘dossier’—ranging from the seventh to the early ninth century—contain different perceptions of her natural clientele. At one end of the spectrum, she was a pan-Irish saint, enjoying local support in all the provinces of the island; at the other end, she was the saint of her own people, the Fothairt, settled mainly in Leinster but with outposts elsewhere. The Fothairt were never, in the historical period, a leading power even in Leinster, let alone anywhere else; indeed, their particular pride was that Brigit belonged to them. Even within Leinster different texts emphasized different themes: the life by Cogitosus (c.675) was written by a champion of her principal church, Kildare; there, so the life claimed, she lay enshrined, alongside her episcopal helper, Bishop Conlaíd [Conláed, Condlaed] (d. 518/520). On the other hand, the Vita prima, which powerful arguments would date earlier than Cogitosus, is more interested in Brigit's relationship with the people of her father, Dubthach, the branches of the Fothairt settled on the north-western frontier of Leinster. The same is true of the ninth-century vernacular life, Bethu Brigte, which is related to, but not dependent on, the Vita prima; both probably drew on a lost life of the mid-seventh century. These local affiliations were to be enduring: Brigit has remained to this day the patron saint of Kildare, but her cult has continued to be vigorous around Croghan Hill in Offaly, which is mentioned in Bethu Brigte and was close to the home of her father.

One of the most interesting aspects of the hagiography of Brigit is, therefore, its variety, rooted in particular places and enjoying different audiences. Cogitosus's life was addressed initially to the bishop and other educated clerics within the double monastery of Kildare and then to their equivalents in the other major churches; to meet the expectations of such a readership it had to be, and is, a polished piece of writing; Read More...

Monday, July 21, 2014

St Brigit from the 'Lilywhites' Perspective

Following is a short article on St Brigit from the point of view of a native of Kildare.

Lilywhites, in this case, is the nickname of the Kildare GAA, (Gaelic Athletic Association). In this article the name seems to imply any Kildare local. Its insignia is a modernized Brigit's cross with a flying football:

  Co. Kildare Online

 Electronic History Journal


St. Brigid – Kildare’s very own Saint
shared with a national audience
St. Brigid, whose feast day is 1st February,  is regarded as Kildare’s very own saint but one that Lilywhites share with a much wider range of devotees, Indeed Brigid ranks with Patrick as national patron of Ireland and in virtually every corner of the land there are churches, shrines and holy wells dedicated in her honour.
 Brigid has a remarkable span not just in terms of geography but also in terms of time spanned. The story that has come down through the generations is personified in the form of a woman who, in early Christian times, was the founder of a monastic foundation in Cill Dara, the church of the oak tree. Her powers and spirituality are the stuff of legend – the brát Bride, for example, her expanding cloak which covered the distinctive plain now known as the Curragh is but one example. But even the story of the Christian Brid is a mesmerising blend of folk-tales which may have their roots in the depths of pre-Christian, Celtic and pagan Ireland.
The one constant in all the stories relates to the geography of the story which certainly puts both pre Christian and early Christian elements of the Brigid story in the area we now know as modern mid County Kildare. For example a chronicler of Ireland in the 12th century, Gerard of Wales wrote ‘ At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigid, many miracles have been wrought … the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigid which is reported never to go out but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it.’ On the face of it this recalls the tradition of the eternal fire being carried out in Kildare to perpetuate the life and work of a Christian era Brigid. However to show that nothing in ancient Irish folk life is that simple there are deeper and older explanations for this ritual of perpetual fire. One of the recent works on the rituals of St. Brigid suggests that even the Gerald of Wales account could be influenced by practices from the ancient Latin classics which describe rituals where virgins took care of a perpetual fire in Rome. A recent discussion by Seán Ó’Duinn OSB quotes another scholar of the era, Professor Kim McCone as writing ‘the twelfth century visiting cleric, Gerald of Wales, describes a fire cult at her main church of Kildare that can hardly be other than a pre-Christian survival’.
On the question of Brigidine geography many places in Ireland claim a share in the Brigid story not least her reputed birthplace of Faughart in north Co. Louth. However Seán Ó’Duinn makes a strong case for the position of Kildare in the Brigid tradition. He points out that a line could be drawn between Cill Dara itself across to Dun Ailinne (near Kilcullen), the great Iron age fort, then north to Nás na Ríogh (home of the Leinster chieftains), and then west to Dun Almhaine (the Hill of Allen). Within this terrain the ancient fair of Carman may have taken place on Cuirreach Life or the Curragh as it is now known. Thus Cill Dara lent itself to a myriad of influences with connections to places which have archaeological and annalistic pedigrees going far back into time.
Whatever about the necessarily conjectural blending of folklore and history in the story of Brigid there can be no doubting the persistence of the folklore and craft associated with devotion to Brigid. The best known tradition is of course the St. Brigid’s Cross, the four-armed design which is most familiar to us being one of just numerous styles woven from straw and twigs in country areas ranging from Kerry to Donegal. The St. Brigid’s Cross has made its way on to prominent graphic representations in the modern era. It forms one of the designs emblazoned on the Kildare County Council coat-of-arms. It featured too until recent years as the logo of the broadcaster RTE, showing that even the symbolism of an early Christian saint, who in turn inherited ancient pagan devotion, could be adapted to the technology of modern times.
  • The beginning of Spring is now marked in Kildare town with a week long recollection of Brigidine traditions and theems under the banner of Féile Bríd. Missing from the programme this year will be the late priest and philosopher John O’Donoghue who died suddenly in early January. This writer recalls a dawn mass which he celebrated at St. Brigid’s well at Tully. It was a morning of hard frost, the thoroughbreds on the adjacent paddock silhouetted against a luminous February sunrise, their breath crystallising in the frozen air, as Fr O’Donoghue evoked in words of poetry and philosophy the spirit of the ancient Brigid devotion bringing light and discovery to a world waking from its winter darkness. May he rest in peace.
Series no: no 52
An article by Liam Kenny from his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' in the Leinster Leader of 31 January 2008 on the Patroness of the Gaels - St. Brigid. Our thanks as always to Liam.