A Grace On This Work
clear eye and thankful heart
calm pen and loving speech
bless this work Brigit
make of it a gift
self to self
neighbour to neighbour
friend to friend
across each boundary
of your fresh and speckled earth
I come at last to publish the first of my Brigit book reviews with a sense of gratitude and peace. There have been many obstacles along the path, yet I think that the work has benefited from, rather than been harmed by, these sometimes transformational delays. Today I am just returned from a week-long retreat for people living with cancer1, and I am deeply and joyfully aware of the blessings of this life. One of the greatest blessings for me has been the opportunity to know and draw close to Brigit and her stories and traditions, to find guidance in the wealth of meaning that arises from her, and to share my love of her with the many people who celebrate her in their many different ways. I have gained something from every one, even those I strongly disagreed with, even ones who are long drifted from my life.
I have certain standards I apply to works about Brigit which not everyone shares. I prefer works that rely on verifiable stories and traditions, and, where they branch off from these into new understandings and associations, are clear and up front about it. I’m not opposed to the evolution of her cult—this is a far different world from that which gave birth to her—but I am opposed to muddying the milk. As authors, teachers, or spiritual leaders I believe we owe it to others to be frank about what we simply believe about Brigit as opposed to what we know and can verify. If we offer no clue as to which is which, we rob others of the opportunity to find for themselves who Brigit is to them, the unique understanding that emerges out of her profound mix of old traditions and tales.
NeoPagans can be particularly guilty in this, but so can Christians. We want so much for her to be for everyone what she is for us, we do a little bending here and there—“surely if the facts were known they would prove that the saint was originally a priestess of the goddess Brigit, so I will just say that she was.” But there is no evidence at all for this, and personally I don’t believe it. Or “surely she is a historical figure completely separate from Pagan goddesses and their goings on, and would never have, say, caused a foetus to disappear from a woman’s womb. That would be abortion! That story can’t be true.” Well, whether it is true or not, it is a legitimate part of Brigidine lore, and we have to take an honest look at what that means.
Like the authors of the works being reviewed, I have my cherished beliefs, and my feathers get ruffled now and then. My endeavour has been to present each work as fairly as I can, whether I “approve” of it or not, to allow you to know whether this would be the right work for you or whether you might prefer to start with another one. I am not always entirely successful in smoothing my feathers. It is a delicate balance, though, between respecting and valuing—as I very much do—every author and her or his efforts to bring Brigit to the world, and blunting my perceptions of how this work fails its audience through, for instance, misleading or inadequate scholarship. And if my grumpiness shows through from time to time I do apologize and ask your forgiveness.
It struck me, as I read through these books, that they are all written by members of my Brigidine community. The authors are academics, NeoPagans, Christians; they are thinkers, artists, enthusiasts. They would not all get along, or approve of the interpretation or treatment of Brigit employed by another, but some common thing draws each of us to this ancient figure and touches us deeply. Whether our primary intention is to understand her role in the recent or distant past, to shape her modern visage (which is what we are doing, whether it is our intention or not), to draw meaning or comfort, or simply to remain agape in her presence, we are joined to each other through her and through our regard, even love, for her.
This, I think, would please the Brigit I have come to know. In honour of her I encourage us to recall always that essential elements of this complex goddess and saint are healing, reconciliation, creation, and hospitality. May we find ways to induce those elements in our perceptions of and communications with each other.
Besides filling many of the holes in my understanding of Brigit and Brigidines, there have been surprises. I’ve liked books I’d expected not to, and been disappointed by some I thought I’d enjoy. This latter has been difficult to come to terms with, which is one reason I moved slowly on the project.
I’ve delayed posting anything until all the works were read and reviews written. They can be read individually, but if you have the time and muscle for it, I suggest reading them collectively. Themes touched on lightly in one may be developed in another, and the group presents a vast picture of Brigit, past and present, all valuable in its own way.
The astute observer will notice that the review list has changed as new material has come to my attention and certain other works have been removed for various reasons. I have kept the names of a couple of items on the list that I have yet to review; I hope to get and review them later.
To quote Lisa Bitel, “To journey through the scholarly literature on the saint-goddess is as wild a pilgrimage as surfing the web for Brigit-sites.2” The stories of Brigit, goddess and saint, are there to be discovered, and able students like Lisa Bitel, Kim McCone, and Erynn Laurie, among others, have vast offerings of background material and interpretation that are of benefit to us as we attempt to gain a sense of who she has been over time, and in shaping who she can be to us today. Poets like Ann Egan, Christian and NeoPagan writers such as Rita Minehan, Alexei Kondratiev, and Amber Kay can begin to evoke a vision of her and nurture our relationship to her as the seeds of our understanding grow.
The Brigidine movement is growing, and it is diverse. May we honour the spirit and the essence of Brigit, goddess and saint, with diligence and in good faith, in our writings, our prayer, and our ritual.
Now, to the first set of reviews. For more background on why I am reviewing these books, please see the earlier post Brigit Book Reviews (1): Introduction and see also Brigit Book Reviews (2): List of Books to be Reviewed. For those who would rather read the entire document as one, feel free to contact me by commenting on this blog and I will email you a pdf when all of the sections have been posted. (Depending on surgery dates this may take more or less time.) Or if some soul knows how I can post a pdf to the blog, tell me, and I will do that.
Happy reading, and Brigit’s blessings on you.
2 “St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess”, Lisa Bitel. Presented at Fordham University, February, 2001