Notes from WATERtea:
“Preparing to Celebrate the Festival of Brigid”
with Mary Condren
Tuesday, January 26, 2021, 2pm EST, 7pm Irish Time
Mary E. Hunt, introduction
Welcome one and all to WATER’s January 2021 tea. We had a special, impromptu tea earlier this month after the attack on the US Capitol. Since then the dignified and historic inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris has buoyed our spirits and led us to hope against hope for better day. We move forward with that hope and with trepidation, knowing our work is ahead of us.
So today we welcome you and in a special way our friend and colleague Dr. Mary Condren from Dublin, Ireland. I will introduce Mary; she will share ideas on “Preparing to Celebrate the Festival of Brigid,” and we will have a chance to ask questions and make remarks in the plenary.
Mary Condren is a feminist scholar who studied theology, sociology and social anthropology at the University of Hull. She came to the US to study religion and society at Boston College and did a doctorate in religion, gender and culture at Harvard University where she was also a Research Associate in Women’s Studies at Harvard Divinity School.
She lives in Dublin where she is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, Trinity College Dublin and the founder and national director of Woman Spirit Ireland. As it is described:
“Woman Spirit Ireland – The Institute for Feminism and Religion aims to explore a prophetic approach to feminism and religion, inclusive of many traditions and the emerging consciousness in Ireland. The Institute provides opportunities for women to reclaim religion by engaging theoretically and experientially with the issues of feminist theology, ethics, spirituality, and ritual.”
You can see the natural connection with WATER.
Mary lectures and writes on a range of topics both in Celtic mythology and contemporary problems, especially on gender, religion, violence, and the social imaginary. Mary’s book The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland is a classic in the field. Her forthcoming work on Brigit, foreshadowed by articles on mercy not sacrifice, for example, promises to shape the field of Brigit studies for generations to come. She has published several other articles and chapters that showcase her encyclopedic knowledge of Brigit.
Many people, we at WATER and some of our Canadian participants today, have been part of Mary’s unforgettable and inspiring Brigid rituals. I recall one in this office now some years ago when we embodied the various aspects of the woman for whom my grandmother was named.
Welcome, Mary Condren, and I only wish we were together in your cozy kitchen or ours for some bracing Irish tea and some nice scones. We look forward to your wisdom and to a chance to join in dialogue with you.
Mary Condren, outline
Major themes of the festival of Brigid:
- Welcoming the Light
- Preparing for new creativity
Welcoming the Sun – A` Ghrian
From The Pilgrim, composed by Shaun Davey (http://www.shaundaveymusic.com/) and sung by Rita Connolly
Failte ort féin, a shrian nan tráth,
‘S tu siubhal ard nan speur,
Do cheumaibh treun air sgéith nan ard,
‘S tu máthair áigh nan reul.
Thu laighe síos an cuan na díth
Gun díobhail is gun sgáth
Thu’g éirigh suas air stuagh na síth
Mar ríoghainn óg for bláith.
Tha mise an dóchas ‘na thráth
Nach cuir Dia mór nan ágh
As domhsa solas nan grás
Mar tha thusa dha m’fghágail a nochd.
English Translation: To The Sun
Hail to thee, thou sun of the seasons
As thou traversest the skies aloft;
Thy steps are strong on the wing of the
heavens, Thou art the glorious mother
of the stars.
Thou liest down in the destructive ocean
Without impairment and without fear;
Thou risest up on the peaceful wave-crest
Like a queenly maiden in bloom.
I am in hope, in its proper time,
That the great and gracious God
Will not put out for me the light of grace
Even as thou dost leave me this night.
Many interpretations exist regarding Brigit’s cross. The Ancient Laws of Ireland mention the Crime of the Eye. This is where someone who sees wrong being committed with their eyes, and does not report it, is considered to be as guilty as the perpetrator.
The cross is similar to Eye Goddess symbols found throughout the world. It is also interpreted as a Christian cross.
Original figure attached to the Festival of Imbolc may have been Lassair, Lightwoman, or Midwife.
Brigit: Lassair: Patrick (Lassair Cedes to Brigit) (Note: Irish spellings are not consistent)
In one Life of Saint Brigit, Brigit had come as a guest at the monastery of St. Laisre. However, Patrick and a large retinue arrived expecting hospitality, whereupon Laisre was embarrassed since the community did not have enough food to feed such a large crowd. All she had was twelve loaves, a little milk and one sheep which they had cooked for Brigit’s people. Brigit told her not to worry, but to start reading the scriptures, and forget about bodily food. Once they began the meal (Brigit and Patrick’s people being in perfect harmony), they discovered that not only had they had enough to eat, but the leftovers were more than Laisre had had initially.
–As a result of this miracle, St Laisre offered herself and her place to saint Brigit in perpetuity.
[See Vita Prima v. 42:1-3]
Another figure has to be reckoned with in the Festival of Imbolc. This is the Cailleach (Kal yak), the figure who shaped the landscapes in Ireland (and many other places under many other names). She has been hibernating since Samhain (November 1st)
In the Living Traditions the Cailleach not only created the world; she also regenerates the world at the turning of the seasons by shaking or washing her enormous cloak, or dipping into a whirlpool, such as Corryvreckan (the place where Colmcille besought Brigit).
At Imbolc, the Cailleach transforms into Brigit when she makes her way to a well or bathes in the early morning dew of Imbolc.
In some European traditions, midwives were ceremonially washed at Imbolc, and their work in the community was recognized by all.
Negative Commentary: It is said of Brigit that “she never washed her hand or her feet or her head among men.”
In our festivals, we wash our hands and faces before touching the foods.
“What Brigit did not do”
Victorious Brigit loved not the world
She sat the seat of a bird on a cliff
The saint slept a captive’s sleep for the sake of her Son
Not much to blame was found (in her) with the noble faith of the Trinity
Brigit, mother of my Lord, of heaven’s Kingdom best was she born.
She was not (absent?), she was not evil, not dear (to her) was*(?) vehement women’s war
She was not a stinging speckled snake; she sold not God’s Son for wealth.
She was not greedy for treasures; she gave without gall, without abatement.
She was not hard, penurious: she loved not to enjoy the world.
She was not harsh to guests; gentle was she to the wretched sick. On a plain she built a convent; may it protect hosts into the Kingdom!
She was not a milkmaid of a mountain side; she wrought in the midst of a plain;
Wondrous was the ladder to people to attain the kingdom of Mary’s Son
Wondrous was St. Brigit’s congregation; wondrous was Plea to which it went.
[Stokes, Lismore Lives no. 1689, pp. 197-198.]
The preparations for Imbolc included making bread. In ancient societies, the bread oven was considered the be the hearth/heart of the house. Many ovens contained images of breasts.
[Mary Kelly, Balkan, 1999, p. 120; Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses, ed. and supplemented by Miriam Robbins Dexter, (University of California Press, 1999), p. 16]
Bread was a potent symbol of fertility. The ancient Hindu Scriptures say that “Everything is food, but bread is the Great Mother,” (Ancient Hindu Scripture). In many cultures, the rising dough is compared to a woman’s pregnancy, “a physical manifestation of a primal transformational force.”
[“The dough was then transmuted into bread by the hot breath of the sacred fire. The symbolic festival breads, often relegated to the tradition of folk art, with appropriate breads for every occasion, remain an important element in European holy day and seasonal country festival baking traditions. These breads have become overlaid with a mosaic of elaborate ideologies, folklore and religious traditions that continue in contemporary society.”
-Beth Hensperger, “Legend of the Loaf: The Origins and Evolution of Bread in the West,” from The Realm of the Ancestors, ed. Joan Marler, (Manchester, CT: Knowledge, Ideas and Trends, Inc., 1997), pp. 524-538.]
Some people made bread and offered it to the animals of prey imploring them to spare their flocks. Others placed bread in the pigsties and stables to comfort the animals.
[Louis Gougaud, Les Saints Irlandais hors d’Irlande (Louvain: Bureau de la Revue, 1936) pp.16-45.
Brigit’s Miracles with Bread:
Brigit performed several miracles where she provided bread where none had been found.
In the Triads of Old Ireland it is said that the three things that renew the world are ‘the womb of a woman, the udder of a cow, and the moulding-block of the smith’ (The Triads of Ireland §148).
“Milk” by Moya Cannon
Could he have known
that any stranger’s baby
crying out loud in a street
can start the flow
a stain that spreads
This is kindness
which in all our human time
has refused to learn propriety
which still knows nothing
but the depth of kinship
the depth of thirst.
[COPYRIGHT 1997 Fairleigh Dickinson University; 2004 Gale Group: Literary Review, Summer, 1997]
Infant Brigit Baptised was in Milk.
Abbesses of Kildare could only drink from the Milk of the Red-eared White Cow.
The heads of the college at Kildare were under a geiss which restricted their food. This was a common Druidical practice, and signified great wisdom.
According to Irish Living Traditions, the work of bees, the mind of women and the coming and going of the tide surpassed every Aristotle’s understanding.
[Séamas Ó Catháin, Festival of Brigit, p.59.]
At our festivals, we dip the bread in honey and then in milk. Honey is associated with Gobnait who has special relationships with bees.
Feast of St. Gobnait (Associated with Bees), February 11th Old Calendar
Sean Ó Duinn: “In other words there is a feast at the beginning of the four seasons and not necessarily on the first day as there was a change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar with the loss of 11 days. For instance, the Feast of St. Gobnait of Baile Bhúirne is on February 11th. Now, this corresponds to 1st. February so that St. Gobnait and St. Brigid have their feasts on the same day and this corresponds to the Celtic pre-Christian feast of Imbolc at the beginning of Spring. Also a few days before or after does not matter – there was considerable flexibility in the details of the four season Celtic calendar.”
[Sean Ó Duinn, “The Theory of a Pre-Christian Sanctuary in the Barony of Duhallow”]
Brigit’s miracles with Honey:
- She finds honey under the floor for a woman in great need: Vita Prima 48. v. 127.
- A poor man asks for honey but she has not got any. However, Brigit hears the humming of bees, digs into the ground and finds honey to give to him: Vita Secunda, Cogitosus 23 v. 29
Irish legal Tradition regarding Bees:
A seventh century Irish text Bechbretha ‘Bee-Judgements – details a variety of legal points concerning bees and beekeeping contained in ‘glosses and commentary ranging in date from about the ninth to the sixteen century. T. Charles Edwards and Fergus Kelly, Bechbretha: an Old Irish Lawtract on Bee-Keeping. Early Irish Law Series, vol. 1 (Dublin: 1983).
Traditional Ritual: Right foot in, then left foot, then the Crios is placed over one’s whole body.
Woman Spirit Ireland Ritual:
Go through it once on the left hand side, letting go of any disappointments, regrets, bitterness
Go through it again on the right hand side, giving thanks for all the blessings we have received in the past year.
Go through it fully making commitments for how we are going to honour the life force, the great bounty of the earth, and live in the spirit of Brigit as Keepers of the Flame.
In midwifery practices the Crios has many uses.
—Crios: Artifact of Renewal, Regeneration–
- Crios eases the pain of labour
- Crios helps to speed delivery
- Crios helps to abort a dead foetus
- Crios also eases croning
For further information, see Dillings article below.
Dillings, 412: “It is customary to beg some matron, who has herself had an easy confinement, for the girdle which she wore during her pregnancy, and this lady is called the girdle-mother. The borrowed girdle is tied on with that given by the husband, and the girdle-mother at this time gives and receives a present.”
Dillings, Ireland 1906: Doctor called to a difficult delivery. Neighbour arrived with a large leather belt and fastened it around the woman. Much to the surprise of the doctor and the students who had accompanied him and gone off for a break, when they came back the woman had safely delivered. Doctors, concede that the girdle had an effect, if only a psychological one. Subsequently learned that such girdles were regularly worn by member of a society called St. Augustine.”
Article by Walter Dillings on the use of the girdle in midwifery:
–Meaning of Symbolism of Crios—
“Waking the Neart: Serpent”
Scottish story of Imbolc: The Neart and Serpent
Today is the Day of Bride
The serpent shall come from the hole
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.*
This is the day of Bride
The queen will come from the mound,
I will not touch the queen
Nor will the queen touch me.
[*On pounding the earth with a sock with a seed of the fire within; Alexander Carmichael Carmina Gadelica, p.169-170]
Who was the Noble Queen?
Marija Gimbutas and Scottish sources say it was the serpent.
Ó Catháin says it was the bees.
Further research needed.
Should Brigit be worshipped or adored?
This question is often asked in our festivals:
The difficulty here is that when women first began to celebrate rituals (in the face of our exclusion from officiating in the major religions) we sometimes applied what might be called a patriarchal overlay to our events. Now, however, influenced by our experience and also by reflecting on what we were actually doing, we began to think differently.
A distinguished theologian, Rudolph Bultmann, made a distinction between the Proclaimer and the Proclaimed. He argues that Jesus came to bring a message, but that he, himself, became the message. The Proclaimer became the Proclaimed.
In our rituals, we attempt to walk in the spirit of Brigit, rather than worship her. We also seek alignment, not worship, at several levels:
- Bodily alignment: Dancing, meditation and other practices, enables de-focalisation, sometimes getting down to the cellular level, letting the body speak
- Community alignment : Using the Crios commits us to community alignment in justice and mercy
- Cosmic alignment: Using the Crios commits us to do everything in our power to be aligned with the rhythms and needs of the cosmos, and especially the earth on which we stand.
Welcoming Brigit into our Hearts (Hearths)
Making a Brídóg (little Brigit), and placing her in a bed beside the hearth where the ancestors are said to live.
Brigit entering one’s home or Assembly: Brighid’s Kiss/Lá Lugh
We usually use this music when Brigit is entering into the assembly with her cloak. She moves around the circle slowly (as an Old Woman/Cailleach) and then when the music begins to quicken she throws off her cloak and dances as the young girl, Brigit, transformed from the Hag of Winter.
We use this music:
Gabhaim Molta Bride…
Ionmhain í le hÉireann,
Ionmhain le gach tír í
Molaimis go léir í
Lóchrann geal na Laighneach
‘Soilsiú feadh na tire
Ceann ar óghaibh Éireann
Ceann na mban ar míne.
Tig an gheimhreadh dian dubh
Gearradh lena ghéire,
Ach ar Lá ‘le Bríde
Gar dúinn Earrach Éireann
I praise Brighid
Beloved of Ireland
Beloved of all lands
We all praise her
Bright torch of Leinster
Shining throughout the land
Irish women cherish her
As do all fine women.
The harsh dark Winter comes
Cutting with its sharpness
But on Brighid’s Day
Ireland’s Spring is near.
Brighid of the sunrise,
Rising in the morning,
Rising with the Springtime,
Greening all the land,
See you in the soft cloud,
See you in the raindrop,
See you in the winds of change,
Blowing through the land.
You the red-eared white cow,
Nourishing the people,
Nourish now the hunger,
Souls’ longing in our land.
Bird that is unfolding,
Now the time’s upon us,
Only have we eyes to see,
by Gerry O’Connor, Sung by Eithne Ní Uallacháin, English words Féinne O’Connor
Discussion/Q and A
Brigid is the mother goddess of the British Isles and connected to the images of the source of life/creator around the world – whether it’s Tara in Tibet or Kwan Yin or whoever. Can you say a bit more about these cross-cultural connections with other figures of the Great Mother?
Celtic studies have often tried to trace where the stories, rituals and traditions might have come from: was it India or China or did the Irish affect the Vikings, etc.?
I’ve come to a different understanding from the Body Soul Rhythms movement set up by Marian Woodman, Anne Skinner and Mary Hamilton. Part of what we try to do is get in touch with the cellular memories of the body. Rather than trying to find out who influenced who, I think we all have commonalities in our bodies, and when we allow our bodies to speak, there are certain images that become prominent and that is why they’d be taken up in different ways.
Dew of mercy: The cloak is one such image and female divinities around the world create the landscape with their cloak or apron.
One thing I love is how their cloak absorbs the dew of mercy. Even in the Hebrew bible, the dew was a sacred fluid, and it was only with the religions of empire that blood sacrifice, rather than mercy, became the ideology. We need to go back to the body and that is where our commonalities lie, as that is where the images come from.
Something that struck me about the Crios and the birthing belt: “To ease the pain of labor and speed delivery and even abort a dead fetus.” I’m attending Valerie Cors’ “10 Day Revolutionary Love” course, and she’s well-known for her TED Talk about “Are we in the tomb or are we in the womb?” and is this not a time when we are in the womb and we are being called to breathe and push. I was thinking of that whole image about this symbol of bringing about that delivery and even aborting that dead fetus.
This is new to me, and I’m hearing all this information and wanting to know the felt sense of Brigid? How do you experience her in your body? I want to feel her essence with you. If you could speak about the quality she embodies for you.
Brigit has several qualities, but the one I like best is mercy and the mercy belongs to the prophetic strand in all the major religion and is set against the priesthoods. One of the dangers in the work we have done over the past 40 years in feminist theology is, to take the phrase Mary Hunt has often used, “Add women and stir” school of feminism that we use to get in and be accepted. But mercy is very different. Brigid’s matronage of poetry, healing, and smith-work are the essence of mercy.
A thealogy of mercy asks these questions: Does theology evoke poetry, does it affect healing, and does it integrate nature and culture (the essence of smith-work)? That’s what I find important about Brigid.
I’m writing a novel with some about the Christian baptism, and I’m wondering if there is any kind of relation between Brigid and baptism and those kind of water-rebirth rituals?
Diann L. Neu
The answer is yes – once again, go back into our bodies. It’s in our mother’s womb that the water is broken and we’re born. In terms of Christianity, the patriarchy grabbed that and made a sacrament of baptism out of that. We feminists that are reclaiming our roots put that out.
[Stirring WATERS by Diann L. Neu expands on this topic through ritual]
Loxna Lisa Sarasohn
I’m a devotee of women’s bellies not only as our power of procreation and creating new life but as the source of life. In my travels, I’ve come across Notre Dame La Noire, the Black Madonna. Part of the tradition there is that a white ribbon is available to women who are or want to be pregnant to ask Mary’s beneficence.
I do want to ask you more about the landscape – the connection between the circlet/belt and the cairns in the landscape and the pregnant belly shape.
I hadn’t made that connection, but I was reading an article recently about the difference between the shape of the pre-Indo-European wombs or mounds in the landscape that are usually circular. However, when we come into patriarchy, we have rectangle/square shapes and spires going way up.
If that was not a product of female or male morphology, I don’t know what is.
Walter Dilling, in the article I mentioned before, has lots of information about the girdle in lots of different cultures. Of course, he dismisses it as sympathetic or imitative magics before genuine medics (sic) arrived on the scene to teach us “the best way of doing these things,” but there’s still a huge amount of information there.
Also, I want to mention The Circle, Canada. We have worked together for seven years and will be offering another online event on Feb. 28th. Registration information is not yet to hand, but will be coming soon: https://thecircle.ca/. They’ll be able to speak more about their experience working with these symbols.
Mary E. Hunt
How do those of us who may not be Irish celebrate this ritual without appropriating it in our contexts in ways that might be disrespectful? What does it mean to use them? I think here of the ways some white Christian women, for example, rip off Indigenous or Native women by using their symbols/rituals in ways that are inappropriate.
Brigit said, “Let them all come.” That’s the mantle of Mary: she has every color and size and shape under her mantle. I think we need to focus on the fact that we are all inhabiting human bodies.
I know that Native Americans have had a very rough time just as the Irish have; we were colonized for 800 years and have lost many of our traditions. When we started the Brigit tradition, first in 1994, we didn’t have a clue about some of the indigenous traditions. I had written about Brigit before in the Serpent and the Goddess, but I had no understanding of the Living Traditions, but we learned over the years from women bringing in their stories from their grandmothers, and then we began to realise also the importance of cellular memory.
One test of authenticity comes from Robert Graves: “When a shiver goes up your spine, you know you’re in touch with authenticity.”
“The test of a poet’s vision, one might say, is the accuracy of his portrayal of the White Goddess and of the island over which she rules. The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess, or Muse, the Mother of All Living, the ancient power of fright and lust–the female spider of the queen bee whose embrace is death.”
–Robert Graves, White Goddess, p.24.
I often felt that, when I was in the U.S., I was trying to create these rituals out of nothing, and I feel privileged to have been able to go back to Ireland and encounter these living traditions. I regret that I didn’t get more in touch with them, as I’ve learned so much from going into the countryside and learning people’s attitudes and stories.
So, I don’t think it’s a question of either/or. We have the Crios, the cloak, the cross, etc. and so much more that are common symbols. We need to recuperate the symbols, but not the dogma. Brigit is not about the dogma but about cultivating creativity in everyone.
We have a great deal to learn from other traditions, such as the Native American ones. However, the important thing is that we also attempt to try to tap into what some people call Cellular Memories to access images and rituals that are deep in what is sometimes called our Old Brain. The peoples of North America have come from many different cultures, and it would be a huge contribution if they were able to access their indigenous roots through contacting their relatives and ongoing study of their ethnic origins.
More Discussion/Q and A (from after the Closing Song)
I had a dream of Mama Legba without knowing who that was, and I called a shop in New Orleans that said she’s pretty much Brigid, so I thought of that when we talk about the universality of the mother and the symbols.
About goddesses: The baptism, I think, was the renewal of virginity of every season. So goddesses would bathe in their various rivers, and I think that was definitely appropriated by patriarchy.
I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of the Institute of Archaeomythology and to meet some of the Bulgarian experts in the living traditions, and what’s amazing about the Bulgarians is that the Communist military never got up the mountains as their weaponry was too heavy, so the older women were able to stay up in the mountains and hold on to the memory and traditions.
Something I also need to explore more (that the Bulgarians mention) is the association with the granny and the midwife of Imbolc. It’s very complicated because it’s sometimes said it’s the Brídóg that’s washed, but in the old European traditions it’s the midwife that’s washed and thanked for all the creativity and fertility that she’s brought into the culture and given gifts.
But you then find in later traditions (even Bulgarian calendars) that the midwife was thrown into the water – but she wasn’t, she was bathed by those who loved her. So, we’re all on a learning curve, and there’s so much information out there to bring together in some way.
Meinrad Craighead Documentary Project from the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South – “Meinrad Craighead was a classically trained artist who pushed the boundaries of the mediums in which she worked and the confines of her Catholic heritage” (meinradcraighead.com) who inspired a woman, Eugenia Perry, to take up art again and make Granny dolls. So, thank you for the connection between Imbolc, the granny, and midwifery.
Also, what is a Crios?
Originally, the Crios would have been made of old straw, but now they’re mostly made out of sheep’s wool. It doesn’t have to be huge – I’m wearing a Crios that we made one year. We use the big ones for festivals, but there are smaller ones to wear, and you put it on as a way of saying “Okay, I’m putting this on now and I have this role.” This one was made by Ardath Finnbogason-Hill a member of The Circle in Canada, who also painted “Fire in the Soul” that we have used as an image for this presentation.
Like a stole. Is it connected to the girdle or the umbilical cord?
The umbilical cord is another way to think about it because in some cases, they made the girdle out of human skin – not a nice story. In the tradition of Gobnait, people also ask for the ribbon to keep them safe in pregnancy, and in the tradition of St. Margaret, women also went and asked the monks in charge of her statue for the ribbon. But once the woman had delivered safely, she would bring her umbilical cord to St. Margaret – though what St. Margaret then did with it, I don’t know.
Can you expand on the quality of Mercy and how we can stay present to it in severe situations where forgiveness is difficult? Is the softness and kindness of Mercy something which can only arise naturally at the end of a patient wait?
The quality of mercy comes from consciousness. Brigid has a great saying: “Somebody without a soul friend is like a body without a head.” In other words, we need to be constantly in touch with those who will call us into integrity, soul, or into consciousness. Mercy only comes when you realize how ambivalent we all are. That’s the great thing about the serpent – it’s ambivalent as it brings both life and death. Once we embrace our own ambivalence, we can then begin to extend mercy to everyone else, recognizing that.
It’s a long journey. The tradition in the Catholic Church I was brought up in was to repress any difficult energies and emotions, and it always came out anyways in devious and perverse ways. The tradition of mercy is to bring to consciousness.
It’s not easy, but one of the big things about mercy is the cloak. We should keep images to hand of the cloak and its ability to hold diverse peoples together.
In contrast, the altar of sacrifice divides – you can come as long as you’re not gay or divorced or …
Even Jesus said, “Don’t separate the wheat from the chaff; wait until the end of the world when all of that will be sorted out.” That splitting is at the heart of patriarchal culture.
About the baptism question: the one visit I took to Ireland, I visited a Brigid spring, and I read a story about two men with severe skin conditions who prayed to Brigid for a cure, and she sent them to one of her springs and told one of them to wash the other. He did, and the skin problem went away, so she told the cured one to wash the other, but he said, “I don’t want to touch that guy, I might catch it.” So, she gave the skin problem back to him and cured the other guy. So, that story certainly has a quality of cleansing and baptism, as well as a lesson to take care of each other.
It’s in the Vita Prima, one of the Lives of Brigit. The two brothers were lepers. She has similar stories: a woman came and brought her a big bag of apples, and Brigit immediately passed them on, and the woman said, “I didn’t give them to you to pass them on to those horrid people down the road,” and Brigit cursed her orchard.
Those stories tell of the heart of the kind of mercy she had.
Ellen Evert Hopman
In connection with the tradition of putting the baby Brídóg before the hearth, laid on a bed of straw: in ancient times and in the middle ages, too, when a woman was ready to give birth, they would put clean straw on the floor, and then the woman would give birth on the straw, and then afterwards they’d take it outside and burn it – just a connection to midwifery and straw.
Who is Lassair?
If you look at dictionaries of the Irish saints, there are many mentions of Lassair, which means light or flame. I became interested in Lassair after encountering the Benedictine monk Seán Ó Dúinn who wrote a great book on Brigit. He was in touch with traditions of Duhallow in West Cork, which had somehow escaped from colonising efforts to erase memories and rituals, and had kept their traditions over many centuries.
The tradition goes that three nuns/women had come into the area to set up their spiritual practices and angels had made pathways between them so they could visit each other during the four Quarterly Festival.
If you can imagine a square:
- In the right-hand corner, you have Lassair, who presides over Imbolc, February 1st.
- In the bottom right-hand corner, you have the figure of the Inion Buí (the daughter of the Hag), a figure also known through Ireland, and representing Bealtaine, May 1st.
- In the bottom left-hand corner, you have the figure of Laitiaran.
- In the top left-hand corner, you have the Cailleach, who presides over Samhain, November 1st.
It is said that on November 1st, the three women go to the Cailleach to hibernate for the winter, before the festival cycle resumes.
The Cailleach may be the central figure, and even a symbol for the famous Irish triple spiral, that is to say, the image of Three in One?
The traditions of Duhallow raise several questions. In the Scottish traditions, on May 21st, the Cailleach, her husband, the Bodach, and their daughter the Iníon Buí are taken out of their shieling where they have been hibernating over the winter, to look after the crops and ensure a good harvest.
We need to ask the question: Who was the Iníon Buí, and why are there still places in Ireland called after her (and the Bodach)?
Could it be that the Iníon Bui is really Brigit, (The Daughter of the Hag), who has inherited a lot of the features of the Cailleach, and is Lassair really the figure who is most related to the first of February? We don’t really know because the church took many of the old festivals and appropriated them into Christians feasts, so that May 1st was traditionally related to the Virgin Mary, and Samhain to All Soul’s Day.
The church ignored Lughnasa, the first of August, traditionally the festival of first fruits, because, it is said, things got out of hand!
But I don’t have answers; I can only ask questions.
Will you please say more about the serpent and alignment (and resources about the serpent and the goddess)?
See Jeremy Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge for more information on the serpent and alignment; his other books are also worth looking into, such as Intelligence in Nature.
He talks about defocalization, which is getting consciousness down to the cellular level – there are different methods and techniques like dancing, meditation, drumming, but once you get down to that level, the serpent represents the cellular memory that comes up from that.
The serpent/cosmic alignment for me is getting into your own skin and being comfortable, while also being in alignment with your community and the cosmos.
Diann L. Neu
And another good source:
Mary Condren’s The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland (San Francsico: Harper & Row, 1989: Dublin New Island Books, 2002). Currently out of print.
And Mary, you really do embody Brigid.
I do my best – I aim to do it. We can all aim to do it, but I wish I could embody her more often than I do.
Mary E. Hunt
We wish all of you a wonderful Festival of Brigid coming up on the first of February. Mary Condren, your cloak gets bigger and bigger and gathers more dew each year.
Closing: An Beannú
Written and sung by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin (http://www.irishsong.com/)
English translation, from https://www.facebook.com/padraiginmusic/
“Time to name and call them in again”
May the bright moon and sun bless us,
May east bless us and west bless us,
May north and south bless us,
May Great Brigid at the heart centre of life bless us;
May Eriú bless us,
May Fódhla bless us,
May Banba bless us,
May Bóann bless us,
May Méadhbh bless us,
May Morrigú bless,
May Great Brigid at the heart centre of life bless us;
May Tailtiú bless us,
May Téa bless us,
May Carman bless us,
May Áine bless us,
May Aoibheall bless us,
May Clíodhna bless us,
May Great Brigid at the heart centre of life bless us;
May Mór bless us,
May Macha bless us,
May Bodhbh bless us,
May Anú bless us,
May Eibhliú bless us,
May Eithne bless us,
May Great Brigid at the heart centre of life bless us;
May the bright moon and sun bless us,
May east bless us and west bless us,
May north and south bless us,
May great Brigid at the heart centre of life bless us.
Related Resources and Articles:
Mary Condren’s articles on Brigit: https://tcd.academia.edu/MaryCondren
Thanks to Max Dashu of Suppressed Histories Archives for her generous sharing of images, stories, references, and wisdom. See her website for upcoming online events, courses, posters and other resources: https://www.suppressedhistories.net/. Her presentation, “Protective Mantles and Sacred Belts,” can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtfm_s2gfJI&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=MaxDashu
Callan, Barbara. “In Search of the Críos Bríghde,” in Celebrating the Circle of Life: Brigit/Imbolc Study Pack, (Dublin, Womanspiritireland, 2011).
Condren, Mary. The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland (San Francsico: Harper & Row, 1989: Dublin New Island Books, 2002). Currently out of print, but there are used copies available through online bookstores.
Dilling, Walter, J. “Girdles: their origin and development, particularly with regard to their use as charms in medicine, marriage, and midwifery.” Caledonian Medical Journal, vol. 9, no. 8. Several versions online: https://archive.org/details/b2487386x/page/354/mode/2up
Ilieva, Anna and Anna Shtarbanova “Zoomorphic Images in Bulgarian Women’s Ritual Dances in the Context of Old European Symbolism,” The Journal of Archaeomythology (Summer 2005, vol. 1, no. 1): https://www.archaeomythology.org/publications/the-journal-of-archaeomythology/2005-volume-1/2005-volume-1-article-1/
Ó Catháin, Séamas, “The Festival of Brigit The Holy Woman,” Celtica, 23 (1999).
O’Dowd, Anne, Straw, Hay and Rushes: In Irish Folk Tradition. (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2015, reprint 2016).
Ó Duinn OSB, Seán, The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint, (Dublin: Columba Press, 2005).
Ó Súilleabháin, Seán C. “An Crios Bríde,” in Gold Under the Furze, eds. Kevin Danaher, Alan Gailey, Daithií Ó hÓgain, (Glendale Press, 1982) pp. 242-253. (Article in Irish)
“Brigit Soulsmith for the New Millenium” Concilium, 2000, 5.
“Brigit Matroness of Poetry, Healing, Smithwork, and Mercy.” Journal of the European Society of Women in theological Research, vol. 18 (2010), pp. 5-30.
“The Dew of Mercy of the Blood of Sacrifice: The Choice Facing Human Civilisation.” (This is not the title in the journal, but it is the main theme of the article.) In Feminist Theology vol. 27, no. 3, 2019. (Only available if you have access to online journals).
Brigit’s Eve by Zoom:
Sunday 31st January 7-9pm, (Irish Time) offered by Brigit’s Garden, Co. Galway
With Jenny Beale, Ann Marie Horan, Carol Barrett and Caroline McFadden
You are warmly invited to join us on Zoom for a celebration of Brigit’s Eve and the festival of Imbolc, the traditional start of spring. This is a time for renewal, growth and connection to the land, themes that feel particularly relevant this year. During the evening we will share the stories and traditions of Brigit’s Cloak and Brigit’s Cross, taking inspiration from nature and from sacred fire. We aim to make the evening as participatory as possible through meditation, personal writing, small group sharing and song, and hope to finish with a live ceremonial Brigit’s fire from Brigit’s Garden itself.
All are welcome, and there is a €10 contribution towards maintaining Brigit’s Garden as a resource for the community. Click here to book your place now.
February 1st Brigid of Faughart Group
The Brigid of Faughart group will also host an online event Cruinniu La Feile Bhride in association with An Tain Arts centre Dundalk Ireland. This event will explore Brigid and her qualities in music movement art poetry short talks and meditation and will feature the music Beannu Padraigin Ni Uallachhain, Elaine Nic Chiardha, Soprano Evelyn Burton, Poet Siobhan Mc Mahon Art In movement with Tara Carroll and Niamh Hanoford Meditation Geraldine Whelan Talks May Coyle and Dolores Whelan. This event will take place On La Fheile Bhride Feb 1st at 8pm GMT. The event will be available to view until 8pm Wed 3rd. Tickets can be purchased at www.antain.ie or by phoning 042 9332332.
Three short films to celebrate St. Brigid’s Day – An Irish-Scottish celebration of Brigid’s Day 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ0Z8fEHuzo
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/WomanSpiritIreland/
To celebrate St. Brigid’s Day 2021, the Department of Foreign Affairs and MoLI, Museum of Literature Ireland, have collaborated on ‘Three Poems for Brigid’, a series of three short online films. Each film showcases a poet and a spoken word performer, and is based around one of the three aspects of Brigid as the triple goddess of Poetry, Healing, and Craftwork. The poems were commissioned from three of Ireland’s finest female poets, spanning the creative generations: Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Paula Meehan and Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe. Artists performing the works include Osaro Azams, Ruth McCabe and Caitríona Ennis, with music by Syn, Dowry, and Dreamcycles.
Through the poem and accompanying imagery, each film explores the theme as it relates to Irish women from past to present. The films aim to reach the widest audience possible, both local and international, and to engage Irish people around the world with living female Irish writers, performers and the feminine continuum that stretches through our history, is alive in our society, and is exemplified through both the Pagan and Christian symbolism of Brigid.
The short films will be released on January 28th, 29th and 30th, and will be available to view on the DFA YouTube channel from 12pm on each of these days. Here is poem number two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kL1YHXwGThs
Acknowledgements from Mary Condren
Special thanks to WATER for enabling this presentation, Mary Hunt, Diann Neu, and Anali Martin.
Special thanks to Woman Spirit Ireland with whom I have organised events for many years and learned so much in the process. https://womanspiritireland.wordpress.com/.
If you wish to join our Woman Spirit Ireland email list, or the Cailleach list (which focusses on Old Europe), send an email to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Cheryl Ebel who first introduced me to The Circle, Canada. We have now worked together for seven years and will be offering another online event on February 28th. Information not yet to hand, but will be coming soon: https://thecircle.ca/