Friday, January 30, 2015

Mea Culpa: A Wee Mistake I Need to 'Fess Up To

In my review of novels involving Brigit, I gave a number of reasons for not recommending Heather Terrell's Brigit of Kildare. One small part of this was her representing Brigit as a legitimate daughter of well-to-do Christian parents, when the accepted version is that she was the daughter of a slave and her owner. I had entirely forgotten that in Cogitosus's Life of Saint Brigit, probably the oldest if not the most magical of her Lives, he says, "The holy Brigid...was born in Ireland of noble Christian parents".

Oops. A good reminder to me that the tales are not unified and indeed are often in direct conflict with each other, particularly when their authors are serving different aims. See Lisa Bitel's Landscape with Two Saints for a detailed explanation of the divergent aims of her hagiographers. E. A. D'Alton in The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4 (1913) points out that he "gives the names of her parents, but is careful to conceal the fact that she was illegitimate, and that her mother was a slave." So even he was not buying what Cogitosus was selling--at least not that bit.

D'Alton also examines the evidence and concludes that Cogitosus must have lived in the ninth and not the seventh century, as is commonly assumed. I would be interested to know if anyone has followed up his thoughts on the matter and where they led.

You can read his comments about Cogitosus and Brigit here, as well as download the De Paor translation of Cogitosus's Vita Sanctae Brigitae, which seems awfully hard to find online.

Vita Sanctae Brigitae: Cogitosus's Life of Brigit

Wearying of the fact that we who are not card-carrying academics cannot easily access this invaluable document, I'm transforming the pdf I have into a multi-page JPEG and hoping I can upload it here. (For some reason I still don't apprehend Blogger doesn't let us upload PDFs.)

This version comes from St Patrick's World, Liam de Paor, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1993 - chapter 33, Cogitosus's Life of St Brigid the Virgin.

Cogitosus's is generally considered the earliest extant Life of Saint Brigit. He was a monastic at Kildare, often cited as having lived circa 650 CE. (Saint Brigit having lived in the fifth century, a good two hundred years earlier.) The author below gives reasons for thinking Cogitosus lived rather later, thus putting into question whose Life preceded whose.

The Book of Dimma, an 8th-century Irish pocket Gospel Book

by Edward Alfred D'Alton

An Irishman, an author, and a monk of Kildare; the date and place of his birth and of his death are unknown; it is uncertain even in what century he lived.

In the one work which he wrote, his life of St. Brigid, he asks a prayer pro me nepote culpabili, from which both Ware and Ussher conclude that he was a nephew of St. Brigid, and, accordingly, he is put down by them among the writers of the sixth century. But the word nepos may also be applied to one who, like the prodigal, had lived riotously, and it may be, that Cogitosus, recalling some former lapses from virtue, so uses the word of himself. At all events, his editor, Vossius, is quite satisfied that Cogitosus was no nephew of St. Brigid, because in two genealogical menologies which Vossius had, in which were enumerated the names of fourteen holy men of that saint's family the name of Cogitosus is not to be found.

Nor did the latter live in the sixth century because he speaks of a long succession of bishops and abbesses at Kildare, showing that he writes of a period long after the time of St. Brigid, who died in 525, and of St. Conleth, who died a few years earlier. Besides this, the description of the church of Kildare belongs to a much later time; and the author calls St. Conleth an archbishop, a term not usual in the Western church until the opening of the ninth century. On the other hand, he describes Kildare before it was plundered by the Danes, in 835, and before St. Brigid's remains were removed to Down.

The probability therefore is that he lived and wrote the life of St. Brigid about the beginning of the ninth century.

His work is a panegyric rather than a biography. He gives so few details of the saint's life that he omits the date and place of her birth and the date of her death; nor does he make mention of any of her contemporaries if we except St. Conleth, the first Bishop of Kildare, an Macaille from whom she received the veil. He gives the names of her parents, but is careful to conceal the fact that she was illegitimate, and that her mother was a slave.

On the other hand, he dwells with evident satisfaction on her piety, her humility, her charity, her zeal for religion, the esteem in which she was held by all. And he narrates at length the many miracles she wrought, and tells of the numbers who came as pilgrims to Kildare, attracted by her fame. In his anxiety to exalt her he says she had as abbess authority over all the abbesses of Ireland, although as a matter of fact she could govern only those who followed her rule; and his statement that she appointed the Bishop of Kildare could not, of course, mean that she conferred any jurisdiction.

Cogitosus writes in fairly good Latin, much better indeed than might be expected in that age, and his description of the church of Kildare with its interior decorations is specially interesting for the history of early Irish art and architecture.

Here goes. There are ten pages. Feel free to turn them back into pdfs for easier use.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Create a Brigid Prayer Painting in Mixed Media Collage

Lady of the Radiant Flame: Create a Brigid Prayer Painting in Mixed Media Collage

AAAb-icon-full_Fotor800Join me for “Lady of the Radiant Flame,” an online sacred art workshop for lovers of the Divine Feminine, especially those who are drawn to Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Healing, and Transformation.
We’ll go into the virtual studio and I will lead you, step by step, into creating a prayer painting — a unique collage portrait of Brigid and her sacred symbols (especially her sacred fire of creativity).  The sample collage shown here is just one example of what you can create in this workshop.
Artistic experience isn’t required for this project. I’ll be taking you through the process, so even if you think you have no artistic talent (don’t believe it!), you can still create a beautiful icon. You’ll learn mixed media techniques and play with paint, paper, ink, glue, and more. I’ll provide imagery that you can download and incorporate into your piece (including the face of Brigid from my painting “Brigid’s Fire”).
Best of all, the collage prayer painting will become a focus for your heart’s yearnings, hopes, and dreams, all the secret places inside you that need healing or expression. The finished piece itself will be an offering and a talisman, a focus for prayer and transformation.

For every act of creation is an act of magic.

I’d love to have you join me! Together we will create our devotional offerings to Brigid, the Radiant Flame of Gold, the Summoner of Spring.
“Lady of the Radiant Flame” is open for registration now. The workshop materials (videos and PDFs) will be delivered on February 5th.
Register Now   $97.00  ~ EARLY BIRD PRICE through January 28th! ~  $75.00

How it works:

On February 5th, you’ll receive an email with links to the videos and instructional PDFs. The workshop is designed to take place over a couple of weekend afternoons, although you may work more quickly (or more slowly!) than I do.
You’ll also receive an invitation to join a private Facebook group, where you can ask me questions about the process and share your work with others in the class. The Facebook group will be open for three weeks, until February 26th.
Between now and February 5th, you can gather your supplies and get ready to make some magic!

In processWe will cover:

  • Beginning with intention and ceremony.
  • Learning about Brigid, and how you resonate with Her.
  • Gathering imagery and text. (Some of each will be provided.)
  • Working out a composition.
  • Choosing a color scheme.
  • Creating a background with papers, paint, and stencils.
  • Adhering collage elements.
  • Adding visual and symbolic interest with stamps, pastels, paint, ink, fabric, ephemera, and natural elements.
  • Telling the story of your prayer painting.
  • Practicing visio divino with your prayer painting.

You will need these materials (click here for list).

This is the first in a series of Sacred Art Online Workshops I’ll be offering this year. It makes a nice companion to “30 Days of Brigid.”
Register Now   $97.00  ~ EARLY BIRD PRICE through February 28th! ~  $75.00
- See more at:

Thirty Days of Brigit with Joanna Powell Colbert

“30 Days of Brigid” is an ecourse for those who want a daily inspirational touchstone during Brigid’s season of the Prelude-to-Spring (known as Imbolc or Candlemas).
On the surface, it’s about beautiful photos, art, quotes, and journal/photo prompts landing in your inbox every day for 30 days.
But really? It’s about connecting more deeply with the creative fire of the Celtic Goddess Brigid as she begins to awaken the land from its winter sleep.

The course is designed for people who don’t have much time, but still want to take a sacred pause each day to find a fresh breeze of nature, art, and poetry wafting into their inboxes.

It’s for those who want to connect more deeply with Brigid and contemplate the themes of her season — emergence, dedication, cleansing, creative fire, and the first faint hints of Spring.
snowdrops in snowBy the end of the 30 days, you’ll be reconnected to your own creative core, with a daily practice in place for taking in beauty and responding to it in your journal or with your camera or paintbrush.
Best of all, you will have taken a divine pause each day to experience the presence of Brigid and to align yourself with her season.
Sound good? I’d love to have you join us.
30 Days of Brigid is open for registration now. Your daily emails begin on Monday January 26th, one week before the holy-day of Imbolc / Candlemas / Brigid’s Day on February 1st.
Register Now   $19.00

How it works:

Brigid's fire~ You’ll receive an email every day for 30 days, beginning Monday January 26th.
~ You respond, in the privacy of your own journal, or share online. I encourage you to set your timer for 5-10 minutes, and free-write in response to the journal prompt. Some days you won’t have time, and that’s OK. Other days you’ll write more.
You can also pick up your camera or smart phone, and take a photo each day in response to the photo/art prompt. Or you may want to sketch or make art in an art journal.
You’re most welcome to share your writing, art, or photos on social media using the hashtag #30daysofbrigid.
~ At the end of the 30 Days, you’ll receive a PDF with all 30 of the quotes and prompts.
This is one of my new “30 Day” courses that have grown out of the “Gaian Soul Seasonal Practices” courses I offered for several years. Watch for other courses throughout the year.
Register Now   $19.00

If you have found this page after January 26th,
 you can still sign up for this course. But your emails start the day after you sign up, and you won’t receive the ones you’ve missed. At the end of the 30 Days, you will receive a PDF with all 30 of the quotes and prompts.
- See more at:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Brigit on the Burren: A Snippet from Lady Gregory

A Book of Saints and Wonders – Lady Gregory, 1906.  p8

She Remembers the Poor
But if Brigit belonged to the east, it is not in the west she is forgotten, and the people of Burren and of Corcomruadh and Kinvara go every year to her blessed well that is near the sea, praying and remembering her. And in that well there is a little fish that is seen every seven years, and whoever sees that fish is cured of every disease. And there is a woman living yet that is poor and old and that saw that blessed fish, and this is the way she tells the story:

"I had a pearl in my eye one time, and I went to Saint Brigit's well on the cliffs. Scores of people there were in it, looking for cures, and some got them and some did not get them. And I went down the four steps to the well and I was looking into it, and I saw a little fish no longer than your finger coming from a stone under the water. Three spots it had on the one side and three on the other side, red spots and a little green with the red, and it was very civil coming hither to me and very pleasant wagging its tail. And it stopped and looked up at me and gave three wags of its back, and walked off again and went in under the stone.

"And I said to a woman that was near me that I saw the little fish, and she began to call out and to say there were many coming with cars and with horses for a month past and none of them saw it at all. And she proved me, asking had it spots, and I said it had, three on the one side and three on the other side. "That is it" she said. And within three days I had the sight of my eye again. It was surely Saint Brigit I saw that time; who else would it be? And you would know by the look of it that it was no common fish. Very civil it was, and nice and loughy, and no one else saw it at all. Did I say more prayers than the rest? Not a prayer. I was young in those days. I suppose she took a liking to me, maybe because of my name being Brigit the same as her own."

The Boy that dreamed he would get his Health
There was a beggar boy used to be in Burren, that was very simple like and had no health, and if he would walk as much as a few perches it is likely he would fall on the road. And he dreamed twice that he went to Saint Brigit's blessed well upon the cliffs and that he found his health there. So he set out to go to the well, and when he came to it he fell in and he was drowned. Very simple he was and innocent and without sin. It is likely it is in heaven he is at this time.

The Water of the Well

And there is a woman in Burren now is grateful to Saint Brigit, for "I brought my little girl that was not four years old" she says "to Saint Brigit's well on the cliffs, where she was ailing and pining away. I brought her as far as the doctors in Gort and they could do nothing for her and then I promised to go to Saint Brigit's well, and from the time I made that promise she got better. And I saw the little fish when I brought her there; and she grew to be as strong a girl as ever went to America. I made a promise to go to the well every year after that, and so I do, of a Garlic Sunday, that is the last Sunday in July. And I brought a bottle of water from it last year and it is as cold as amber yet."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Boundaries Between Goddess and Saint: A Review of Miranda Green's "Celtic Goddesses"

This is a book I reviewed in A Long Sip at the Well, but this is a review I wrote the year the book came out, which I just stumbled across. Slightly longer than the other, it has a more "hands-on" perspective, too. So I offer it here.

Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers
Miranda Green (1996)
Reviewed 24 sept. 1996

Miranda Green, a senior lecturer in archaeology and early Celtic studies at the University of Wales and recipient of the National Library of Wales' John Legonna Celtic Research Prize in 1986, has a new book out called Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers (1996).  The last chapter ends with a few pages on Brigit.  She discusses primarily the distinctions between and blending of the goddess and saint, and offers some interesting in sights.

I'm pleased with some of the revelations because of their connections to my life.  As a goddess, Brigit acted as a mediator between the Tuatha De Danaan—the deities of Celtic Ireland—and the Fomorians—some of their greatest foes.  Her interest, despite being a tribal deity, was not only the winning of wars for one side or the other, but was "the future well-being or Ireland" (pg.198).  This makes her an especially good deity to turn to when mediating between warring aspects of the self or between individuals or groups that do not understand each other well.

A feature both goddess and saint shared was "liminality": being associated with boundaries, particularly between this world and the next.

“Brigit's liminal imagery is intense and manifests itself in various ways.  She belonged to both the pagan and Christian worlds; she was born at sunrise, her mother straddling a threshold at the precise time of her birth; one parent,her father  Dubthach, was of noble lineage, while her mother, Briocseth, was a slave. Brigit was nourished on the milk of an  Otherworld  cow... and this increases her  symbolism  as  a being linked to two worlds (pg. 199).”

This aspect is particularly enticing when thinking about making inner journeys such as meditation or trance-work, which involve moving from the mundane world to a world of symbolism and magic.  It suggests that performing such rituals on the day one is tending the flame could strengthen the crossing.  (See Circle of Stones, by Erynn Rowan Laurie.)

A thought-provoking passage refers to the paradox of Brigit's sacrifice of her own sexuality (in order, as a saint, to maintain autonomy and be able to do her life's work) and her deep connection to fertility and birth, her ability even to "cure frigidity in women" (pg. 200).  Although the text here seems to be referring both to goddess and saint, Green states elsewhere that the goddess was married to the Fomorian Bres, and I recall reading somewhere that the keen originated with Brigit, who used it in mourning her dead son (see Cath Maige Tuired, The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, translatedby Elizabeth A. Gray, paragraph 125) so it is possible that her fertility function carried over from her less virginal pagan state, although in another sense of the word "virgin"—an autonomous woman—she was always such.

Green offers another explanation. “The strength of Brigit's fertility-imagery is suggested by the medieval carvings of Sheela-na-gigs in Ireland, interpreted by some scholars as grotesque depictions of Brigit with the entrance to her womb wide-open, even though the saint was a virgin.  As we saw with some of the Welsh goddesses... it may be that it was because Brigit was sexually-intact that her fertile power was so concentrated (pg. 200).”

Sheelagh-na-Gig, Dunaman, Co. Limerick
Sexually intact.  Interesting choice of words.  Because of course intactness denotes wholeness, completeness: an essential part of healthy sexuality.  The image that suddenly arises for me is of a very sexual, completely whole and autonomous woman, who may or may not have children, a spouse, a lover, but who certainly has her own sexuality, thank you very much.  The sheela-na-gig would suffice as a symbol for her, indeed.

A little disconcerting, as the organizer of the Daughters of the Flame, is Green's assertion that our belief that Brigid was a fire goddess is based on her saintly association with fire—a common association among Christian saints which symbolized their close connection to god.  She doesn't rule out that Brigit may have been a solar deity; a healthy dose of caution is advised.  She discusses the perpetual fire at Kildare—“a symbol of hearth and home but also of purity” (pg. 199), but does not assert that it originated with pre-Christian worshippers, although she does cite the argument of others that Brigit may be connected with Minerva, who did have a perpetual flame burned in her honour.  In citing it this way I get the impression she doesn't lean strongly in that direction herself, when weighing the evidence.  Yet earlier in the book she lists as one of "a few unequivocal references to priestesses attached to specific temples in early Celtic literature" the legend that the monastery at Kildare was built on the site of a pagan temple.  It was “apparently tended by women who kept vigil over a sacred fire which...was never allowed to go out” (pg. 143).

Be that as it may.  The intact picture of the goddess Brigid is long lost to us, and it's true that our vision of her is shaped not only by “Lives of the saints” written by Christian scholars over hundreds of years, but by our modern life and personal interpretation and experience of her.  As Green herself concedes, many of the elements of the saint's description and mythology seem lifted straight from Pagan symbolism and tradition, and it is possible that the picture we can glean of her from the “Lives” is an illumination more than a distortion, if we eliminate the purely Christian elements.  I'm not married to this idea, nor am I worried.  In the many centuries before Christianity she must have altered many times as cultures rubbed against each other and new meanings were absorbed into her cult.  If we are paganising a Christian ritual, or repaganizing a christianized Pagan ritual... It is a fair exchange, at the very least.