I have had two occasions recently to reflect on things I have said — or not said — and how I’ve said them — that may be of use to other followers of Brigit as well. So I am setting them down here for your perusal.
Part The First
I seem to have gotten a couple of peoples' knickers in a twist the other day, quite inadvertently, although I knew it could happen.
It was a matter of not guarding my words. I read someone’s innocent post in a Facebook group, wherein she referred to Brigit as a goddess of spring. Now, I have had my editing cap on in matters Brigidine for several years now, partly for working on my book, partly for teaching, partly just for my own understanding, and it’s become second nature to me. So when I read this post I immediately thought, but she isn’t a goddess of the spring. Saint Brigit has connections to the spring, but the goddess doesn’t. So I commented to that effect. I don’t think I put in a whole lot more explanation than that.
A couple of guys came back at me with different explanations of how I was wrong (heaven knows how the original poster took my helpful contribution) and I replied to each of them, trying to explain a little better what I meant, but not engaging too much otherwise. I don’t like squabbles and I also don’t think everyone has to see things the way I do. But I know these anonymous dialogues can get a little rowdy, so I try to keep them short.
I realise that I had left out things that might have helped people hear what I was saying a little better. That doesn’t mean anyone would agree with me, of course. But it might’ve put us on a more stable footing to begin with. If I had said the written materials from the middle ages that refer to Brigit the goddess don’t mention the spring in any way, whereas the mediaeval writings about Saint Brigit and the folk traditions surrounding her have much to do with the spring, that might have helped.
Now we still could’ve gotten into trouble. Because of certain Victorian writers, we have all gotten the impression that the saint is modelled on the goddess, so we don’t think we need any proof of these sorts of details. If it’s connected to the Saint, it’s connected to the goddess. Equally, we often think that, as one of these gentlemen said, all of the Irish saints are built from pagan precedents, so we can directly extrapolate Pagan rites and stories from Christian — again, without need of evidence. This thinking is not our fault. Nor is it a bad thing. It’s just that I, and many like me, like to know what is old material and what is modern material so that we can make our own decisions about what we believe and how we understand the goddess, the saint, and the culture that gave rise to them.
I think most of us are looking for authentic traditions and a relationship with our deities that reflects our ancestors in some ways. Otherwise, we wouldn’t bother to say this is an old tradition, or this is how things really were, that the goddess was like this or did that. I won’t try to dive into the psychology of this desire, except to say that, for me at least, it’s partly because I have grown up feeling so cut off from the past, my relatives, my ancestors and their cultures, even cut off from the culture I found myself living in. I want, therefore, to foster a connection with those people and their cultures and holy presences that is based on information that is as accurate as possible.
All cultures change. All peoples change. We are influenced by the world around us, and this was as true of our ancestors as it is of us today. So I’m not looking for a pure, exclusive, perfect handhold on the past. Not only do I accept that change happens, I value it. I don’t want to hold people enslaved, as my ancestors did. I don’t want to be enslaved, as some of my ancestors may have been. (I know well that we are not descended from queens.) I don’t want to ban men from Brigit’s hearth-fire, or participate in feuds, or steal cattle, for that matter – there is so much I want to be different from times before, and I can build that into my own relationship with Brigit by using ideas that were not prevalent then. I can, if I want, blend elements of other religions into what I piece together of Brigit’s past: Wicca, Buddhism, whatever makes sense in my life. But I know that that’s what I’m doing, I'm not inadvertently arriving there, and that piece is important to me.
When I say, "Brigit wasn’t a goddess of the spring," and leave it like that, without explaining why I’m saying it, I am just adding to the noise, sounding as if I think I have an exclusive understanding of Brigit and relationship to her that is superior to yours. I need to be careful about that. I may disagree with someone’s perspective, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for their path, or think mine is better than theirs. And I want to add to their experience, their own search for understanding, which is the point of me speaking up. I am not trying to shut them down. So, I need to be more generous in my comments, I think. If I don’t have the energy to do it right, I should just stand down till another time. Because it will always come up again.
Part The Second
There is another little thing to do with my mouth that I want to share. It is about pronunciation. Long ago I read an article about the pronunciation of the name Brigit in Ireland – in particular to do with Saint Brigit. That article said that the common pronunciation "bridge-it" came from Sweden, and that previously in Ireland it had been as it is still said in Irish, "Bree-ud." Earlier still, it went on, it had been said "brig-it" with a hard G. At the time, I was pretty much only talking to myself (aloud, that is) when it came to Brigit — to myself and to her, of course. I wasn’t able to speak to her in Irish, which I thought would be preferable to English if I could, so I thought I would adopt the oldest pronunciation of her name. My intention was to build as authentic a connection to her as I could.
If you’ve ever listened to me in a conference or to any of my songs on SoundCloud or YouTube, you’ll know that I continued to use that hard G when I began speaking aloud to others as well. I admit that I never felt completely comfortable with using it in public, but it was how I knew her and so I didn’t think too much about it.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak about Brigit on Irish Canadian radio and again on Irish American radio. At that point I suddenly felt very uncomfortable using the hard G pronunciation. No one around me was using it. They were all Irish and they were all saying Brigit in the "Swedish way." I suddenly realised that part of the discomfort I had been feeling previously was that using this unusual pronunciation set me apart from other people unnecessarily, people who were just as close to Brigit as I was. On these radio programs I wasn’t even speaking with Pagans; Pagans, I know, are used to all manner of fancy talk that would just seem strange in most other situations. The fact that I knew Pagans would accept my pronunciation even if they didn’t use it themselves disguised the separation that it was creating for me from other lovers of Brigit.
All of this I was able to think through later. All I knew when I was about to be interviewed was that I didn’t want to create an illusion of holier than thou, more Brigity than thou, with these ordinary Irish people. I didn’t want to focus on differences. I wanted to focus on our shared interest in and love of Brigit. So I simply dropped the hard G and went with the "Swedish way." In other words, the way I had spoken the name Brigit all of my life until that article.
This might sound like a cop-out to some. Why should everyone speak like everyone else? It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? I surely don’t think everyone needs to say her name the same, but I now recognise that my initial attempt to make a connection created a disconnection in another important way.
I think, also, that I need, as a non-indigenous follower of Brigit, to be sensitive to Irish folk's lead. And what I was hearing, even from the Brigidine sister I was interviewed with, was that Anglicised/Swedishised pronunciation.
For me to insist on something that no Irish person I’ve encountered uses just felt wrong. So I decided that I would drop the pronunciation entirely, when I had a moment to think it through. I was surprised to read a remark urging just such a move from non-indigenous Pagans by an Irish Pagan a day or so later. She put it better than I could, but I don’t have her remark here to quote to you. Just imagine a sardonic and irritated judgement on the failure of non-Irish Pagan folk to pay Irish people the respect of using their pronunciations of the name. If I had begged Brigit for a sign of what she wanted me to do, it couldn’t have been any clearer. Your kilometreage, of course, will vary from mine. But I know I am much more relaxed about the whole pronunciation issue now, even if still feels a little weird to have this reclaimed sound rolling around in my mouth.
Brigit is not about building barriers between people. In all my dealings with her and with others, I need to remember that. Of course, I know I don’t want to build barriers, but my small choices, my seemingly private choices, can do just that. I am grateful for these two insights into my own thinking, and I hope there will be many more. (Please don’t make me think about the way I spell it, too! I don’t think that’s so much of a problem — do you???)
Ahem. As I was saying, I hope there will be many more.
Sweet blessings of Brigit on us all.