Friday, October 26, 2018

Sacred Smithing -- A Whole Nother Marriage Ritual

Sacred Smithing

from Goddess Temple Weddings

My friend Sister Oystercatcher sent me the Samhain newsletter from Glastonbury, and my attention was grabbed by one of the elements they offer in their wedding ceremonies: sacred smithing. They don't mention Brigit but those of you dedicated to Brigit, Smith might want to consider something like this when you tie the knot.

Pre-Wedding Ceremony


Sacred Smithing

As part of your Sacred marriage experience we are pleased to offer you a new and exciting workshop for couples! Sacred Smithing is held by our wonderful Smith Dave Goddard (also known as Hugs). It is a deep ritual journey of connection to the elements through the ancient craft of blacksmithing. Hugs will take you on a ceremonial journey to create your very own sacred object or a heart or circle. This will be done in ceremony, using the sacredness of the four elements. Your creation will be woven into your bespoken wedding ceremony on the day.
Joanne and Stefan were one of the couples that got married this year. They did the Sacred Smithing in July. Here is what they said about it...
"The Sacred Smithing was something else! it was such a gorgeous experience that it makes me well up thinking about it. Dave is an amazing, interesting person and a great tutor! We went into the smithy thinking that we would turn out something that would vaguely look like a heart, but we forged something so beautiful together, such a great thing to do as part of the wedding preparation - would totally recommend it!" 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Dreaming of You.

I had a dream last night that I was in Ireland. I had just arrived, and the first thing I did was go to Kildare. The sisters there (not the ones I met before--Srs. Mary and Phil, who actually live at Solas Bhríde) were busy organizing a massive rumble sale. I wish I could remember more detail, but what I do recall brought a chuckle today when I pondered it.

The sister I was talking with--very briefly as she buzzed around doing her work--was thin, elderly, and filled with energy. She was bossy as well as busy, used to giving orders and having them acted upon. She scowled a bit, annoyed with me asking where I should put my backpack and small suitcase so they wouldn't get mixed up with the merchandise. I put them where I thought she'd indicated and got lost in the rooms they had converted over to a marketplace for the fund-raiser.

It was good to be in Ireland. I enjoyed the nun and the people I bumped into, and everyone was keen on getting their bargains. Eventually I found my way back to the place where I thought I'd stored my things, and they were gone. I searched and couldn't find them. I asked the sister, and she shrugged it off, still busy and not really interested.

The only other thing I really remember is thinking to myself, "This happened last year when I came to Kildare, too. Every time I come I lose everything I've brought with me."

When I was reflecting on this dream today I asked myself who that nun was. Was she Sr. Mary? Clearly not. She was the superior, equally clearly. And then it struck me. She was Saint Brigit. And then this clicked in: everything I have ends up with her. Doing her work, supporting her community. And I don't mind. I really, really don't mind.

I left the place with a sense of amusement. Whether I had it in the dream I don't know--I don't think so. I think I was worried about what I was going to do without my stuff. But I didn't need to worry. I was in no real difficulty. 

Thinking further about it now I recall the abundance reflected in Saint Brigit's stories. No one ever need do without. If she takes your stuff, she has a good purpose, and you don't go hungry. No one does hospitality like her. Even if she does get a little distracted and abrupt sometimes.

Image: "Little boy putting money in nun's collection tray," Photographer: Elinor Wiltshire. Collection: Wiltshire Photographic Collection. Date: 1969. Permissions: National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

“The St Bride and St Bridget Churches in Scotland” by Heather Upfield

Detail of Centenary window (1908-2008)
St Bride's Roman Catholic Church, West Kilbride

This article has been written as a prayer and dedication to St Bride herself. Underpinning this research has been the deeply religious and mystical poem Little Gidding by TS Eliot, one of the Four Quartets (1942). Briefly, the poem was the result of a visit he made to the Church of St John at Little Gidding in England, and the insights he gained from that experience. It is my favourite poem of all time and lines kept coming back to me as I typed. Significantly, to paraphrase part of Stanza Three, when talking of the church building, he says that he isn’t there for mere reportage, but that:

   “…You are here to kneel
   Where prayer has been valid …”

Amen to that. In this piece on the St Bride and St Bridget Churches this is the fundamental truth which underscores my work.

1. Introduction

For over ten years, I have been faithfully recording sites dedicated to St Bridget in Scotland, where she is generally known as St Bride. In addition to features in the landscape, towns and sea, my list includes around ninety-plus ancient (and in the main disappeared) Pre-Reformation St Bride chapels, known as Kilbride (in the Gàidhlig) and Kirkbride (from the Norse). I will be coming back to my research over the next few months but thought I would start by giving some details about the thirty current St Bride/St Bridget churches in Scotland, which are ‘living’ and consecrated for use.

2. A Brief Explanation of the Denominations in Scotland

Firstly, it is important to understand the ecclesiastical system in Scotland, which profoundly differs from the rest of the UK. Instead of just two mainstream denominations—Protestant Reformed and Roman Catholic—in Scotland there are three. An Appendix at the end of this article, gives more detail about the history of and differences between the denominations, but briefly they are:

Church of Scotland. Protestant (Presbyterian). The Established Church in Scotland. Originated 1560 during the Scottish Reformation, which was led by John Knox. Completely did away with any ‘Popish or Roman’ worship and banned Roman Catholicism. Known as ‘The Kirk’.

Roman Catholic Church. After the Scottish Reformation, all their cathedrals, churches and chapels were taken over by the Presbyterians for their own use, and Roman Catholics were forbidden to have places of worship. They met in secret for services, but over time religious laws began to be relaxed and by the mid-nineteenth century the Catholic church was restored. Known as ‘The Chapel’.

Scottish Episcopal Church. Protestant, but considers itself principally Reformed Catholic. Originated in seventeenth century by Scottish Protestants who wanted to return to Pre-Reformation style of worship and traditions. Although having no connection to Rome, the Scottish Episcopal Church was also forced, at times, to meet in secret. Eventually, the Scottish Episcopal Church too was permitted to flourish.

It should be noted, that unlike in England, the Monarch is not, and never has been, Head of the Church anywhere in Scotland!

3. The St Bride/St Bridget Churches

The thirty Bridie Churches are listed below by denomination. It is immediately evident that all the historic Pre-Reformation church buildings dating back to the Celtic Church and Mediaeval period, are now in the hands of the Church of Scotland and have been since 1560. I have labelled these ‘Ancient’ in brackets to illustrate the connections. Also, it will be clear that there are no Roman Catholic or Scottish Episcopal Church buildings prior to 1858, as up till that point both denominations were holding services in houses and other sundry buildings, which continued for many years. It is interesting to note that a number of Churches and Chapels which are dedicated to St Bride have a connection to Clan Douglas (of Lanarkshire and beyond). St Bride is their Patron Saint.

When the Roman Catholic Church eventually constructed church buildings, they were very often financed by members of the congregation with some help from the Diocese. These small communities — in part made up of Irish immigrants fleeing to Scotland from the Potato Famine or coming to work as low-paid ‘navvies’ on Victorian engineering projects — were immensely poor. Their churches reflect that. They are simple buildings (some made of wood) for the Mass and Confession, with little in the way of decoration. In my discussions with Mael Brigde, we talked of “acknowledging the humility” of these buildings and she is absolutely right. Just because they are not grand does not diminish them as sacred spaces. The list of Catholic churches, therefore, is sparse in details because for some buildings, there is very little to write about. However, in some parts of the country, where there was more money, wealthy benefactors were able to invest in elaborate and glorious churches in the traditional style. What is crucial, though, is that these Irish communities brought with them across the sea a love of St Bridget, for they dedicated their churches to her, and it must have seemed like a small part of home.

For Scottish Episcopalians, St Bride’s importance has survived over the centuries, although only two churches are dedicated to her. I could find no links between these buildings and the Ancient churches of the Mediaeval period. St Bride is, however, considered one of the great Celtic Saints of Scotland. The Canon’s stalls in the Quire of St Mary’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow (each of which is dedicated to a Saint) has a St Bride Stall. When a friend of mine was the first woman priest to be made a Canon of the Cathedral a good few years ago, she chose the St Bride Stall as her permanent seat!

Finally, there are two other St Bride Churches, which do not fit into the three-fold denominations listed above. They are in a section of their own entitled ‘Other’.

3.1 Church of Scotland:

Abernethy Kirk of St Bride, Abernethy, (Ancient), first church founded 460AD, first stone church built 590AD, current built around 1802. St Bride is said to have been buried here before her remains were transported to Kildare. Monastic settlement founded nearby in sixth century (or possibly earlier) dedicated to St Bride. By fifteenth century there are records of Priory of Abernethy, whose counter-seal had a figure of St Bride holding a pastoral staff in her left hand, with a nimbus around her head, and a cow at her feet on the right.

Bothwell Collegiate Church (dedicated to St Bride), Bothwell, (Ancient), on the site of former sixth century church, building dates back to 1398, with subsequent restoration and additions. Partially funded by Clan Douglas. Windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Gordon Webster and Douglas Strachan. Houses the celebrated “Bothwell Embroideries” (twentieth century) one of which is The Life of St Bride.

Brydekirk Church of Scotland, Brydekirk, (Ancient), Current built in nineteenth century, close to remains of a Mediaeval chapel reported to have been in use about 1100AD (some evidence it was built on the site of a previous chapel), beside St Bryde’s Well.

St Bride’s, Douglas Valley Church, Douglas, meets for worship in St Bride’s Community Centre, following amalgamation of Parishes in Douglas Valley.

St Bride’s Ancient, Douglas, (Ancient) built fourteenth century, now partial ruin but consecrated for use. Steeple houses earliest known working clock in Scotland, said to have been a gift from Mary, Queen of Scots. Founded by Clan Douglas, and is the mausoleum for some of their antecedents.

Regarding the following Isle of Arran Churches, the Isle, (14 miles by sea from the mainland) is divided into two Parishes: Kilmory (Church of St Mary) in the west and Kilbride (Church of St Bride) in the east (a very happy pairing!). For such a small island (twenty miles long and ten miles wide) it is perhaps unusual that it has three current and living Churches dedicated to St Bride, with three Mediaeval Kilbride chapels. Given the fact that you can see the northern coast of Ireland from its southern shores and the proximity of the Isle with West Kilbride on the mainland, it is my own theory — which is completely unsubstantiated! — that St Bride landed on the Isle of Arran at some point.

St Bride’s Church, (Isle of Arran) Brodick, built 1910 in red sandstone, architects D & JR McMillan of Aberdeen. Square tower 53 ft high from whence a single cast bell is rung five minutes before the service. St Bride window (1958).

Kilbride Parish Church, Lamlash
Kilbride Parish Church, (Isle of Arran), Lamlash (Ancient), known as The Auld Paroch Kirk, ruins of Mediaeval chapel nearby, current built early 1880s.

Ruins of Mediaeval Kilbride Chapel, Lamlash

St Bride’s Church, (Isle of Arran) Lochranza (Ancient), ruins of Mediaeval chapel nearby, current built 1795, improved 1835 and 1895.

There are remains of a further Mediaeval chapel on the south of the Isle, at Bennan.

St Bride’s Church, Newtonmore, (Ancient), current church built 1955. Remains of sixth century chapel said to be in graveyard: “Ladh gu Cladh Brighde” (Churchyard of Bride).

Panbride Church, Panbride, (Ancient), original church dates from 1147, current built on the same site around 1851. The name of the town of Panbride means Bride’s Hollow (from Gàidhlig ‘Pann’ meaning ‘hollow’) or Bride’s Church (from corrupted Latin ‘fanum’ meaning church).

St Bride’s Church, Sanquhar, (Ancient) original church dates from Mediaeval period demolished 1827, current built 1828 on the site. Stained glass attributable to J T & C East Stewart 1930. Life of St Bride depicted in two-light window, 1949. St Bride’s Well close by.

St Bridget’s Hall-Church, Stonehaven, (Ancient), original church built 1394 near the present site by the Earl Marischal, Sir William Keith, and dedicated to St Brede (St Bride). Current built 1888 and converted to a multi-purpose community facility 1970. Used for worship on Sundays.

3.2. Roman Catholic:

Regarding the towns of East Kilbride and West Kilbride [below], each were originally just called Kilbride. It was not until the coming of the Railways in the nineteenth century that their names were changed, to avoid confusion for travellers as they are forty miles apart.

St Bride’s Church, Bothwell, original church of 1910 closed in 1940 due to damage from mine workings beneath the building. Congregation disbanded but worship eventually continued in Miners’ Welfare Halls in 1957. Current building completed 1973.

St Bride’s Church, Cambuslang, built 1900. Church now in use was originally meant to be church hall. Stained glass by Gordon Webster. Icons of St Joseph, St Bride and Christ in Glory by Petra Clare.

Our Lady and St Bride, Cowdenbeath, built 1921-1923, constructed by Reginald Fairlie.

St Bridget’s Church, Eaglesham, built 1858. Land provided by 13th Earl of Eglinton. Interior comprises a roof of Californian redwood beams, large canvas of the Deposition of Christ from the Cross by de Surne, and a Madonna and Child statue from Ireland. In 2010 fire destroyed part of the Sanctuary, and the Church of Scotland gave permission for their hall to be used for worship till the restoration was completed in 2011.

St Bride, East Kilbride, built 1963-1964. Built by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia in a very modernist style. The 150 ft Campanile was demolished 1966 due to deterioration of brickwork. St Bride window and St Bride statue on exterior.

St Bride’s, Geirinis, Isle of South Uist, built 1966. Adjacent to the road-side shrine of St Mary, Our Lady of the Isles.

St Bridget’s Church, (Glasgow) Baillieston, built 1893. Beautiful little Gothic style gem! Originally worship took place in an adapted barn. In 1880 church cum school built, followed 1893 by current building by Pugin & Pugin (famous London based architects). Has a two-light window depicting St Bride and St Columba, by Shona McInnes, St Bridget statue on exterior above West door.

St Brigid’s Church, (Glasgow) Toryglen, built 1965. Church founded by Fr Patrick J Sheary, Parish Priest 1955. A letter to his parishioners survives: “My dear people — 25 years have come and gone since I was asked by the then archbishop to go to Toryglen and establish the new Parish of St Brigid - Mary of the Gael”.

St Brigid’s Church, Kilbirnie, built 1862, some extensions and developments in the twentieth century.

St Bride Church, Monifieth, built 1983. Designed by Brocks Brothers of Leeds. Originally, worship was held in a converted cottage, which became the hall when the new church was built. Modernist St Bride window by Gail Donovan

St Brigid’s Church, New Mains, built 1933. St Brigid statue, St Brigid Tapestry (2008) and first stained—glass window in Britain dedicated to The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. Original Chapel and School established 1871, now a Parish centre serving the community.

St Bride’s Church, Pitlochry, built in the twentieth century. Original church built 1949 from timber and destroyed by fire 1969. Current designed by A B Kennedy & Sons of Pitlochry. St Bride’s Cross carved by Henry Bain from Aberfeldy in the garden.

Our Lady and St Bridget, West Calder, built 1877.

St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church,
West Kilbride
St Bride’s Church, West Kilbride, built 1908. St Bride is said to have landed on the shore here around 500AD and founded chapels along the coast. Beautiful little building with St Bride statue in vestibule, beneath a glass ceiling which pours in diffused light (see photograph at the end of this article). Modern Centenary window in Vestibule (2008) in four lights (see detail of two lights in the title of this article).

3.3. Scottish Episcopal Church (part of the wider Anglican Communion):

St Bride’s Church, (Glasgow) Hyndland, building completed 1915. Original wooden church of 1899 provided by Clan Douglas, was hauled by traction engine from its location in Douglas Castle grounds, to Hyndland (some thirty miles). Begun in 1903, building work stopped through lack of funds and dissatisfaction with original contractors. Eventually the Incumbent funded the building of the tower and north aisle, but the south aisle was never built, giving the church an interesting interior. St Bride statue on exterior West Wall, St Bride mural in crypt. The link with Clan Douglas could possibly account for this Church being dedicated to St Bride.

Church of St Bride,
Scottish Episcopal Church, Onich
Church of St Bride, Onich, built 1874. On North wall, Chinnery-Haldane memorial windows show St Bride, St Patrick and St Columba. East window shows Christ Coming Again in Glory, with St Bride and St Columba at his feet in welcome.
At certain times, the Eucharist is celebrated in the Gàidhlig:
“Thoiribh buidheachas don Tighearna oir tha e gràsmhor. Agus mairidh a thròcair gu sìorraidh.” Litirdi Albannach, 1982
“Give thanks to the Lord for he is gracious. And his mercy endures for ever”. Scottish Liturgy, 1982

3.4. Others:

St Bride’s Anglican Church (Greyfriars), Dumfries, (Ancient), originally Church of Scotland, built 1727 as Greyfriars Church (after the local dispersed Monastery), rebuilt 1860. Stands on site of former Maxwell’s Castle, which had a St Bride chapel. When surplus to Church of Scotland requirements in 2009, purchased by Revd Andrew Crosbie and functions as an independent Anglican congregation, using both Scottish and English Prayer Books. It was his decision to dedicate this Church to St Bride. Original Abbey Church of the Greyfriars contained the shrine of Our Lady, Queen of the South (which gives its name to Dumfries and the local football team), which has been restored by present Incumbent.

Kilbryde Chapel, in grounds of Kilbryde Castle, Doune, (Ancient), Castle now the seat of Sir James Campbell, chapel built 1750 on site of original Kilbride Parish Church. Sir James informed me there are no significant architectural features. Original Castle built around 1460 and rebuilt 1870s. Chapel would originally have been a private chapel for the Castle incumbents and local villagers. It is now available for hire for Christian weddings, blessings etc of all denominations. Cottages in the grounds are available for self-catering holidays.

Collect for St Brigid’s Day
1 February
Deus, qui nos hodiérna die beátae Brigídae vírginis tuae ánnua solemnitáte laetíficas: concéde propítious; ut ejus adjuvémur méritis, cujus castitátis irradiámur exémplis.

O God, who dost this day gladden us by the yearly festival of blessed Brigid Thy virgin: mercifully grant that we may be helped by the merits of her whose example of chastity shines upon us with such lustre.

Daily Missal, by Dom Gaspar Lefebure OSB, 
                     of the Abbey of St Andre, 1943


A Brief History

While the Reformation was being led by Martin Luther in Germany in the sixteenth century, in Scotland, around the same time, opposition to the Roman Catholic Church was being led by John Knox, who founded the Church of Scotland. His European influences were John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingler, who advocated a severe and austere method of reform. Principally, John Knox abolished the three-fold order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, which
(1) dated back to the very earliest biblical accounts we have of the early Christian church and
(2) dated back to the original Celtic Church in Scotland, where there is evidence that St Columba was a bishop.
In their place were Ministers who were overseen by a Presbytery (the governing body at local level). All “Romish practices” were proscribed. The Mass was replaced by Holy Communion four times a year and new churches were built without a central aisle to prevent genuflection. The liturgy, colours, icons, singing, festivals, robes, candles, incense —Christmas Day itself!— all disappeared. Their attitude to the saints was that lessons could be learned from their lives, but any sense of veneration was prohibited, particularly where it involved St Mary (“Mariolatry”).

There followed a hundred years of bloody and systematic cruelty as Protestants and Catholics waged war against each other. Eventually the Presbyterians held sway in Scotland and became what we now call The Established Church. Roman Catholic cathedrals, chapels and churches were taken over by Presbyteries for their own use and it was forbidden for Catholics to have any places of worship. They held services in secret. Any early and Mediaeval chapels of Kilbride and Kirkbride not used by the Presbyterians, eventually fell into disrepair and the stones were taken away and used for other buildings.

During the seventeenth century, a group of Scottish Protestants who agreed with the basic tenets of the Reformation but were unhappy at losing all the pre-existing religious practices, formed the Scottish Episcopal Church. They recovered their roots in the sacred Isle of Iona and the traditions of the Celtic Church and restored the three-fold order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. The Eucharist (The Mass) was resurrected with the Scottish Liturgy, colours, icons, singing, festivals, robes, candles, incense and Christmas Day. They honoured the saints, particularly St Mary. However, although they did not have any links with Rome, for a time they too were forced to hold services in secret. A key moment in their history was consecrating Samuel Seabury of Connecticut as the first bishop of the newly independent America, after the Church of England declined. The Scottish Episcopal Church is known as ‘a Broad Church’, meaning that some congregations prefer a more simple style of worship, where others go for something more splendid, and others in between.

Eventually, religious laws became more relaxed and there was greater freedom of worship. By the nineteenth century, church building began in earnest for all denominations, but particularly for Scottish Episcopalians and Roman Catholics who till then had no churches. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church responded to the needs of the many Irish families who came to Scotland during the Potato Famine or looking for work. Since the mid-twentieth century the spirit of ecumenism has allowed for far greater interaction and dialogue, with all denominations being respected and coming together from time to time to celebrate and worship. And yes, in 1958 Christmas Day became a statutory holiday in Scotland!

Near life-size statue of St Bride, vestibule of St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church,
West Kilbride

© Heather Upfield 18 June 2018
All Photography by Heather Upfield, except exterior of St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church, West Kilbride by Emily Churchill and Church of St Bride, Onich by Paul Williment.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"Imbolc: A New Interpretation" by Phillip Bernhardt-House

I am republishing my review of Bernhardt-House's article in celebration of the fact that he has uploaded the paper to, making this hard-to-find piece easy to obtain. Thank you, Phillip! (Click here to view or download.)

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

This intriguing article looks at the meaning of Imbolc from a new perspective—that of a connection with wolf and warrior cults originating with the Indo-Europeans and presenting in Roman and Celtic civilizations. Bernhardt-House has a broad knowledge of the literature and he brings together disparate pieces into a tantalizing whole. Where he himself concludes that his new etymology may be proved unsound, it nevertheless serves to “refocus our attentions on certain smaller aspects” of Imbolc, particularly the wolf aspect, which is “now beyond doubt as having been important to the holiday as it would have been observed in pre-Christian times” (pg 65-66).[1]

In approaching the subject, Bernhardt-House first looks at both Neo-Pagan and scholarly etymologies of the Irish word for the festival, Imbolc. While accepting the consensus meanings of milking and purification, he suggests an additional—and surprising—one.

If im has as its basis “butter”, olc is generally derived as “evil, bad, wrong” in Irish, both Old and Modern. But Kim McCone[2] traces this word back to the Indo-European root meaning “wolf”. Joining these two, Bernhardt-House offers “Imbolc as the 'butter-wolf'”, hoping to “shed some light on further images in Irish sources, as well as connecting this to a further complex within Indo-European ritual” (pg 60).

These images in Irish sources range from calendrical evidence linking February to wolves, the association of Candlemas in France and Belgium with the wolf (where a wolf sighting predicts the ending of winter), of Brigit herself with the bear and wolf, and so on, along with an examination of the period of time between Samhain and Imbolc and its association with warring, as well as hospitality.

Perhaps most interesting is the parallel drawn between the rites of the Lupercalia in Rome and Imbolc in Ireland, and their potential links to Gaulish deities and to earlier rituals. The link with purification in both festivals is already established; the writer points to a possible further link in purification with the use of milk or, in the Irish case, butter.

The young Roman priests, the Luperci, sacrificed a dog and a goat at the cave where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nursed by a wolf. The blood of these two animals was mixed and the youngest priest's forehead anointed with the mixture; this was then cleaned away using a piece of milk-soaked wool, which ritual was followed eventually by striking the general populace with goat-skin thongs for luck and fertility.

In a medieval story St Brigit removes the signs worn by men which signify their engagement in activities of war; Bernhardt-House suggests that if “some form of Brigid was one of the presiding deities of Imbolc, Brigit who was bear-mother in origin but could easily have been a wolf-mother in Ireland, might have been the deity who removed these warrior-signs and reincorporated the youthful fian-warriors into regular society, perhaps by the means of the purifying medium of milk, or, given the etymology I have suggested with imb-, perhaps even butter” (pg 64).

The details examined by the writer are greater in number and scope than suggested by this brief review, and it is worth tracking down the article through your local or university library.[3]

This is just the sort of thing that gets the creative mind churning along nicely. A very enjoyable article.

[1]     For a complete review of the wolf and werewolf in Celtic literature and an examination of that material, see Bernhardt-House, Phillip A., Werewolves, magical hounds, and dog-headed men in Celtic literature: a typological study of shape-shifting, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.
[2]     See my review above of his Brigit section, “Fire and the Arts” (etc) in Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature, Kim McCone (1990)
[3]     For a posting in the NeoPagan blogosphere see For a discussion  in a Celtic Reconstructionist forum of both the blog post and this peer-reviewed article, see In particular see the comment from  wire_mother: “I've read the original article from which PSVL derives this thesis (Bernhardt-House, Phillip A., "Imbolc: A New Interpretation", Cosmos 18 (2002), 57-76), and I buy the argument on the basis that OIr. olc very plausibly derives from PIE *wlkwo- "wolf" (which gives us English "wolf"!, and which through simple metathesis gives us *lukwo-, from which we derive e.g. English "lupine" from Latin) and also very plausibly shows semantic drift into its current meaning of "bad, evil" given the Christian experience of the youthful warrior/lycanthropic bands in Ireland; that it shows a definite relationship to Lupercalia, which seems to be a Latin reflex of the same ritual impulse; and the relationship of St. Brighid to the outlaw bands (all of which elements are discussed in that article by PSVL). For disclosure, I know both Prof. Bernhardt-House, the author of that article, and PSVL in person, and have discussed the issue with them many times, but even so, the three points I list here are more solid than even the assumption that we can derive pagan practices from e.g. folklore. That is, we have solid linguistic grounds (any linguist can easily derive that using tested rules of language change - one would have to dismiss nearly the entire field of linguistics to dismiss that point), solid comparative grounds (in the same region, even, and from a tradition which is linguistically closely related - one would have to dismiss the concept that religious ideas refer to the past in any way to dismiss that point, which would require one to dismiss the concept of any continuity of pagan religion at all), and solid hostile testimonial grounds (and the evidence for those youthful warrior-bands being also self-consciously, as well as community-consciously, considered to be "lycanthropic" is extensively documented across Europe, in the Celtic countries, and specifically in Ireland).”

Friday, May 25, 2018

Gail Arthur - Celebrancy and Storytelling

Gail Arthur has tended Brigit’s fire with the Daughters of the Flame for the past seventeen years. Her intelligence, compassion, and deep sensitivity make her a caring and supportive co-religionist. These, added to her brilliant creativity, make her a thoughtful and inspiring dramatist, poet, writer of fiction, storyteller, and dancer.

But there is another side to Gail. She is also a celebrant.

I have recently been contemplating the end of my own life, which I hope is not right around the corner, but which will come at some point, and that is not the moment at which I want to start thinking of what to do.

One of the first thoughts that came to me was that, if it was at all possible, I would like to have Gail involved in the guiding of my presence from this life. I know that she would handle it with ability and love. It then occurred to me that other followers of Brigit might want to have access to someone like Gail at key moments in their life, so I invited her to write a brief self-introduction that I could present to you.

Thanks and blessings on your work, Gail.

Mael Brigde

Celebrancy and Storytelling

I am both storyteller and celebrant. As a storyteller, I weave the elements of a tale, taking audiences on a journey that leads inwards to themselves. As a celebrant, I do much the same thing, taking people into the stories of their lives.

Our lives are a continuing story, and there are important turning points along the way – places where we are propelled – or choose – to move in a new direction, and enter a new stage.

These occasions are momentous, life-altering, and irrevocable: the birth of a child, the transition from childhood to adult, a marriage, the transition to elder, death, the loss of an animal companion or a friend, a divorce, or a decision to leave behind a toxic birth family or other situation. Each of these steps brings its own trials, emotions, joys, fears, sadness and new opportunities. To move in one direction is to leap into the unknown, it is to leave behind the familiar.

My job as a life-cycle celebrant, is to take the strands of an individual life, knitting together a ceremony that addresses the emotions and the reality of a new situation. This could mean acknowledging and helping the grieving process, and well as the celebration of a life lived; acknowledging the responsibility and joy that comes with the birth of a child, the change of situation for a new adult, the changes that come with a new partnership, and with the transition to elderhood.

Often, the transition to elderhood can be difficult in our western society. Taking a look at what this means, and going into this stage of life mindfully can take away the fears and denials involved, giving that stage in life a purpose. This is the strength of ceremony, helping us to look deeply and to reflect, moving consciously through life, and celebrating it as we go.

Bio: Gail Arthur leads ceremonies and tells stories in many places, but especially in Ohio, Ontario and the Vancouver area. She is a Druid with the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, a Fellowship of Isis Priestess, and a writer. She is a keeper of Brighid's flame through the Daughters of the Flame.

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Images: Gail Arthur.
Brigid at St Brigid's Centre for the Arts by Denisa Prochazka.