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To those in the Northern hemisphere, I hope you had a wonderful Lá Fhéile Bríde, Imbolc or St Bride’s Day, however you chose to celebrate. I too decided to celebrate on this day, although I am in the Southern hemisphere in a part of the world where the seasons are out of alignment with all of the Gaelic festivals. It is an issue I’ve been struggling with for many years, for celebrating Lá Lúnasa at the moment seems just as out of place, given that Summer is only just beginning. So, I asked Bride to give me some sign if she wished me to honour her feast on the eve of February 1st, and she obliged by unexpectedly getting everyone out of the house so I was free to honour her in privacy.

It was too hot to bake, so I gave offerings of milk and some very nice shortbread, as well as a new beeswax candle. I sained the house, each corner of each room with silvered water, inviting the blessings of Bride on our house, and made a simple bed for the small wooden doll of Bride that resides on my hearth-shrine year round. Next year I would like to weave a proper bed for her and perhaps a cros too, if I can get a hold of some decent material.

I have an open fireplace, but do not burn wood in it so in place of ashes I sieved some flour on the black hearth for divination in the morning. Last thing before bed I went to the front door and invited Bride in, whispering in to the night with my hands on the door jambs.

When I woke in the morning I took the offerings outside, bathed my hands and feet in the tiny amount of dew that had collected on the lawn, and returned to the hearth to look for signs of Bride’s visit. Sadly, there were no marks from her staff or feet, by I did find a single, golden hair curled in a perfect ringlet on top of the flour. Perhaps she did visit after all?

How did you celebrate Bride’s feast?

** When I wrote this I forgot to mention that I celebrated not on February 1st/2nd but a week before on the Gaelic New Moon (first crescent) which is tied, in my tradition, with the beginning of a new month.

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Bride (Brigit, Brighid, Brigid,) is one of the most popular and well loved dieties of Celtic polytheism, she is also one of the three patron saints of Ireland, and is beloved still in the Gaelic speaking countries. I have known of her, and her flame keepers at Kildare for some time, and yet only recently felt drawn to study and follow her, but why? How does the call of Bride come, she who’s voice awakens the world from slumber, bell-bright and harp-clear? What draws myself, and others, like moths to her ashless flame?

It is possible that there has always been more than one Bride, both as a Saint and Goddess, there is evidence to show she was honoured differently by tribes and peoples of various regions. It is common in any religion, for a diety to have diverse aspects and sometimes contradictory traits. With this in mind, it is easy to see one aspect of a diety represented in a certain way, and feel no connection to them, whilst another aspect can be both inspiring and delightful to the seeker.

The Brigid that I was aware of, however vaguely, was a firey Irish woman. Flame haired and powerful, a little intimidating and weilding the Blacksmith’s tools or acting as Midwife. A Mother Goddess, or a Warrior Goddess in the guise of Brigantia. No doubt this is still the image that many find attached to her name. It is one I can respect, but do not feel drawn to.

Instead I found myself searching, in that gentle way which we only realise after we have found what we are looking for. I was searching for a diety who I could only think of as being a little like the Virgin Mary, but somehow different, whole in herself without Father or Child. I have never been a Catholic and so was hardly looking to replace this figure of the feminine devine, and yet it was the closest I could come for a while to what I was seeking, until I discovered the Scottish aspect of Bride.

Admittedly, the image that first called to me was not in any historical source or myth (there are few that mention her, and none recorded in Scotland from pre-christian times) it was instead in the inspired story by Donald Alexander MacKenzie, part of a collection called Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, “The Coming of Angus and Bride.” How much of this tale was invented by MacKenzie and how much he borrowed from oral lore, I do not know, but it was his description of Bride as the goddess of spring, and the details which reflect the Brideog (Little Bride doll) reported by Carmichael, which formed the first glimpse I had at a different aspect of Bride.

“As swiftly as the bright sun springs out from behind a dark cloud, shedding beauty all round, so swiftly did Bride appear in new splendour. Instead of ragged clothing, she then wore a white robe adorned with spangles of shining silver. Over her heart gleamed a star-like crystal, pure as her thoughts and bright as the joy that Angus brought her. This gem is called “the guiding star of Bride “. Her golden-brown hair, which hung down to her waist in gleaming curls, was decked with fair spring flowers–snowdrops and daisies and primroses and violets. Blue were her eyes, and her face had the redness and whiteness of the wild rose of peerless beauty and tender grace. In her right hand she carried a white wand entwined with golden corn-stalks, and in her left a golden horn which is called the “Horn of Plenty”.” 1

This adoring portrait may seem flowery at first, but there is some evidence in folklore to back it up. The white robe, the star and the wand are all attributes given to the Brideog in the Carmina Gadelica. The blossoms she wears in her hair are early spring flowers and the corn stalks and cornucopia link her to the abundance of nature, in providing the very bread we eat, something which is reflected in the legends of St. Bride who had, it seemed, an everlasting larder.

This story opened my eyes to a different Bride, the Maid of Spring, the Morning Star, the bright and gentle flame of the hearth. Perhaps more in line with the Saintly legends than the Neo-pagan idea of a pan-celtic mother goddess which I found so unappealing. Further research and contemplation drew me to new conclusions, Bride as protectoress of home and livestock, Bride as healer and spinstress, muse to poets and priests. None of these ideas are new, but they show the diversity of her aspects. There is a simplicity, a purity and a warmth to this image of Bride, which I find hard to put in to words, knowing only with my heart that this is the face she wants me to see, and is perhaps the one my Scottish Ancestors turned to from time to time.

“Bride is said to preside over the different seasons of the year and to bestow their functions upon them according to their respective needs. … Bride with her white wand is said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead Winter and to bring him to open his eyes to the tears and the smiles, the sighs and the laughter of Spring.” 2

Of course, it may be that there were many Brides and that attributing all of Her many aspects to the one Saint or Goddess is a modern affection. We know so little about the Gods of the Celts and the early lives of the Saints that scholarship falls short of a complete picture and we are left to pick through the pieces with Inspiration as our guide, hoping to uncover something of the true brightness of Her flame.

For me, this is the Call of Bride.

References: 1. Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 2. Carmina Gadelica

Kilmeny

Bonnie Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu' the cress-flower round the spring;
The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hung frae the hazel tree;

Kilmeny, James Hogg