Monday, February 27, 2012

Seeking Brigid: Sacred Well, Holy Flame -- Pilgrimage

The Sisterhood of Avalon has chosen Erynn Rowan Laurie as feature presenter at this year's pilgrimage to Ireland. Erynn is an original member of the Daughters of the Flame, and has been serving Brigit for many years. How I would love to accompany her and the Sisters on this journey!

From the blurb for the pilgrimage: she "is a poet and writer and one of the many founders of the Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan path. She has been keeping Brigid’s flame with the Daughters of the Flame since 1993 and is working on a book on Brigid and flamekeeping. Her particular interests are filidecht, the sacred poetic tradition of Gaelic Ireland, and the sacred madness of the geilta, figures like Myrddin, Muirgeilt, Mís, Lailoken, and Suibhne Geilt.

"Erynn’s books include A Circle of Stones: Journeys & Meditations for Modern Celts, Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom, and contributions to a number of other publications, including a paper on the geilta and PTSD in the academic anthology Disability and Religious Diversity: Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Perspectives. Her first poetry collection, Fireflies at Absolute Zero, is due out from Hiraeth Press in October, 2012. " (For more of Erynn's writing follow this link.)

Seeking Brigid: Sacred Well, Holy Flame
Pilgrimage to Ireland, 2012
July 11-18, 2012

Join author and poet Erynn Rowan Laurie and the Sisterhood of Avalon for a seven day pilgrimage to Ireland, exploring our connections with the Goddess Brigid, patron of poetry, smith craft, and healing. With the breathtaking landscape of Ireland as our backdrop, our time together will be spent engaged in conscious sight-seeing, scholastic inquiry, and spiritual exploration inspired by Gaelic tradition. All over 18 are welcome. Only 12 openings are available.

"I hope you'll join me as we explore Ireland and our relationships with Brigid this summer!"

http://www.seanet. com/~inisglas/ pilgrimage- 2012-FINAL.pdf

The link will download a PDF file of the information packet.

Please spread the info far and wide!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Imbolc Craft Idea from Homeschooling Mum

Have a look at Ten kids and a Dog : The days in the life of a large, Catholic, homeschooling family. Specifically the Imbolc posting which features this lovely craft:

Brigit Reviews (Series One): Picture Books

Picture books:
St. Brigid’s Cloak, Reg Keating. Illustrated by Heather McKay. (1997)
Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story, Bryce Milligan. (2002)
The Life of Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, Jane Meyer. (2009)

First off: we have here three good, saint-oriented Brigidine picture books. Now we need some goddess-oriented ones.

It isn’t surprising we have three saintly versions and none focussed on the goddess aspects of Brigit. Among other things, there is an abundance of saintly stories and the goddess lore for Brigit is thin on the ground. Nevertheless, without it we have only half the story. I would like to see a picture book that addresses the triple Brigit, maybe even one that tackles both sides, Pagan and Christian, in a positive and simple way. There’s your gauntlet, writerly and painterly folk. (And when you do it, please send me a copy to review!)

The present books are quite different from each other in terms of both artwork and writing, but they do have a number of things in common. Interestingly, from among the many, many stories related to Brigit, stories of her cloak, in one form or another, figure in all three books. When you consider the pithiness necessary in a picture book, the brevity of the text which allows only a few aspects to be explored, it is perhaps surprising that the cloak figures in all three, though admittedly the cloak stories are among the most well known in her vitae. The cloak is a main focus in the first two, and more or less a footnote in the latest, by Jane Meyer.

St. Brigid’s Cloak, Reg Keating. Illustrated by Heather McKay. Tarantula Books, Dublin, Ireland (1997)

The first, St. Brigid’s Cloak by Reg Keating, is the smallest, shortest, and least elaborate in every way. Heather McKay's illustrations have a humorous, energetic style with simple, bold lines and Adobe Illustrator-type colour-pattern infills. The style is well-suited to Keating’s direct, simple, playful text and the underlying humour of the story.

The focus is narrow—after quickly giving us an idea of Brigit’s early life and desire to serve God, Keating tells a medieval tale of Brigit’s miraculous cloak. In this story, Brigit tricks a stingy king into giving her ample valuable land to build her monastery on by asking for merely as much as her cloak would cover, only to have the cloak grow enormously once on the ground.

This book is not written to entice children to holiness. It simply tells a fine and funny traditional story about someone who happens to be a saint and rather holy herself. It certainly doesn’t try to persuade against living a holy or moral life, and she is indeed presented as someone who works hard to do good, but that’s not the point. If anything, Brigit’s independence and cleverness are the important thing here.

By contrast, the two later books are more self-consciously Christian, and much more developed.

Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story, Bryce Milligan. Illustrated by Helen Cann. Eerdmans Books For Young Readers, USA and UK (2002)

Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story, by Bryce Milligan, is a beautifully illustrated, textured book aimed at somewhat older children than Keating’s audience. In it we go beyond the bare facts of Brigit’s life to hear the wild winds of fifteen centuries ago, to huddle in a cold hut outside her father’s hill fort, to hear the stars singing and see a Druid in the forest, come to prophesy about Brigit’s life.

Brigit’s magically noted birth is followed in time by her vision (as in Norah Kelly's play based on the Scottish folk tale1) of being in Palestine. There she plays the role of the daughter of the innkeeper who shelters Joseph and Mary, and helps Mary with Jesus’s birth. The story of her cloak, in this case given by the Druid, is not the one where she tricks the King of Leinster into giving her lands, but the one where she lends her now shabby cloak to Mary, who is shivering as she lies in labour, and who returns it beautifully renewed. The story is centered on Christ’s birth, though inspired by Brigit’s devotion and generosity.

Milligan’s writing is subtle and often beautiful, and his tale touches on many evocative details that inspire a sense of wonder. There is an attempt at verisimilitude in the drawings of ancient Irish and Palestinian dwellings and dress, and the book closes with a page devoted to historical information about Brigit and her cloak. Helen Cann’s paintings are delicious, with subtle shades of colour that match the subtlety of the writing, and with energy, balance, and magic.

The Life of Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, Jane Meyer. Illustrated by Zachary Lynch. Conciliar Press, Ben Lomond, California, USA (2009)

The Life of Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, by Jane Meyer, is perhaps the most joyfully religious of the three books. Published by Conciliar Press Ministries and written and illustrated by members of the Orthodox Church, it is intended to share the story of Brigit’s generosity and devotion to others and to God, and to inspire similar love and compassion in the children who read it.

Meyer ranges farther in her treatment of Brigit than the previous two authors, telling more about her young life, including her penchant for miracles associated with milk and butter and including a prayer she uttered to God to bless her pantry, which led to such abundance. She then follows Brigit through her life, touching on a few brief, important moments, such as her father’s attempt to sell her to the King who would one day inadvertently supply the land for her first monastery, her refusal to marry (somewhat dodging, though alluding to, the self-mutilation that convinced her family to let her off the matrimonial hook), her peripatetic ways and the resulting monasteries she founded across Ireland. She ends the book with an “Irish Rune of Hospitality”, a brief prayer that we may follow Brigit’s example, and the “Kontakion of Saint Brigid”: a prayer about and to Saint Brigit.

Zachary Lynch’s rough and ready iconographic illustrations are perfectly suited to the text. A playfully reimagined cow from a medieval Irish manuscript, Celtic knotwork gone mad with colour, Brigit with a hint of Theotokas in her face—there is much to delight the mind and eye in these pages.

My only complaint about this last book is the Celtic typeface used for the main text. If, as an adult who has been reading for many years, I have occasional difficulty making out a letter and therefore a word, I can only suppose that a young reader might find such a typeface one more obstacle on the rocky road to reading. But since with picture books of this complexity you generally have an adult reading to a child, perhaps it isn’t that much of a problem.

Okay now, Pagani. Get out your pens and paints and come up with some equally impressive Pagan counterparts to these three books. Ready, set—go!

1 A version of this folk tale is found in the the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of stories, prayers, etc collected by Alexander Carmichael in the Scottish Highlands between 1855 and 1910.

The Reviews, At Last!

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.

Mael Brigde

1 See the Callanish Society of Vancouver, Canada for more information on these amazing retreats.

2 “St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess”, Lisa Bitel. Presented at Fordham University, February, 2001