Preparing to Bargain with the Sidh

We left the young woman among the gypsies, waiting for the time when she might return to the old one.
Now, the Storyteller continues her tale:

On the seventh evening of the encampment, she makes her way back to the cailleach’s fire. Once more the old one gestures her to sit, takes her hand into both of her own.
“Here is what I have thought about. The Sidh have a great love of beautiful things. Yet, for all their cleverness, they are utterly without any skill to create beauty. So they must either barter or steal lovely things. If you could find or make something of incomparable beauty, you could perhaps barter it in exchange for your bairn.”
“But how will I gain entrance to the Sidhean?”

“Ah,” says the cailleach, “for that too you’ll need to barter something. That is all I can tell you, but I shall give you a blessing of protection before we part.”

The old one places her ancient knobby hands on the young woman’s head, saying, “I bless you with protection from any harm that might come to you from fire and water, earth and air. May the Holy One go with you.”

So they part, and that night the young woman falls into a deep and dreamless sleep. When she wakens, the gypsy encampment and all her merry friends are gone. She is alone. Entirely.

For a long, long while, she sits on the bare ground, unable to move, not knowing what to do or how she shall ever find her child. The morning swells to midday, exhales into evening and still she sits. Empty of purpose. Empty of guidance.

Then, like a slow return of the tide, knowing rises within her. Clarity. Focus.
“I must either find or create two things of incomparable beauty.” Her mind opens up paths of memory and she recalls the most beautiful things she’s ever heard of. She remembers two that outshine all others: the golden harp of Wrad and the white cloak of Nechtan.

She smiles. She knows now what she must do. She sleeps.

As soon as dawn touches the sky, she is awake. She drinks pure water from the brook beside the encampment, and sets off walking towards the sea. 

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By midday, she is scrabbling over the rocks by the shore, collecting in her apron the tufts of eider down left behind by the ducks. Because of the old gypsy’s blessing, the fire of the sun does not burn her fair flesh, the rocks on which she walks do not cut her feet, the roiling waves do not come too close to her and the winds do her no harm. When her apron is full of the soft white down, she chooses a large flat rock on the shore, sits down and begins to weave.

With careful fingers she rolls the soft down into thread, weaves the thread to form a cloak. When it is finished, it is as if a white cloud has fallen from the sky. She chooses a sharp rock, cuts off a strand of her red-gold hair. Some of the hair she carefully hides beneath a stone. The rest she uses to weave a pattern into the hem of the cloak. Fruit and flowers and leaves appear, all burnished gold. When the weaving is complete, she gently folds the cloak, hides it under a gorse bush, begins walking slowly along the rocky shoreline, seeking what she needs.

It is several hours later, the sun already a purple pink memory, when she finds at last the backbone of a great fish. It is strong, supple and perfectly shaped to form the frame of her harp. Joyfully, she hurries back to the rock where she wove the cloak, recovers the remaining lengths of her hair, securing each, one by one, to both sides of the frame. With delicate strength she tightens the red gold strands, testing for resonance.

At last she takes the harp into both hands. She plays a few chords of such aching sweetness that the birds themselves pause in their flight across the sky to listen.
Exhausted, she lies down in the shelter of a large rock and sleeps.

At dawn she wakens, carefully places the white cloak over her left arm, picks up the harp in her right hand, sets out for the Sidhean. With the gypsy woman’s directions clear in her memory, she leaves the shore, and begins to walk towards the deep oak woods on the far horizon. (to be continued…)

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On Tara Hill in the Well of the Storyteller

The Storyteller continues her tale. We wonder whether Elspeth’s heart which speaks of dread, of grief, tells true.

As soon as the morning light awakens them both, the younger woman cries out in longing and despair. “My bairn! My bairn! Are the men returned yet? Have they found him?”

Before Elspeth can answer, Michael comes in the door. His expression of defeat, of sorrow, is all the answer she needs. “We looked everywhere. Along the cliff path and in the fields to either side all the way to where the high hills rise. We questioned every passer-by and stopped at each croft to ask. But none has seen a bairn or heard of one being found.” Slowly he raises his head, looks directly into the eyes of the young woman as he gathers courage. His voice is as gentle now as if he were speaking to a tiny child. “You’ve had a bad fall and a shock. Are you certain you didn’t just dream of a bairn?”

Her look at him holds strength like steel. “My bairn lives. I shall go now to find him.”
She has gained strength with her night’s sleep, and once she has eaten the bowl of porridge Elspeth prepares for her, nothing can prevent her leaving.

Still, Elspeth begs, “Please. Stay here with us. You have no one. We will be your family.”

But the young woman looks at her and at Michael. “Thank you both for your kindness. I must find my child. When I have him once more in my arms, I shall return to you.”

What shall I tell you of the days and nights that followed? She walks the dusty roads until darkness and exhaustion draw her to a hayrick or beneath a tree to sleep a few hours. Asking. Asking. Everyone she meets. Knocking on the door of every croft. “Have you seen a bairn? A baby boy? Close on a year old? Eyes the blue of night skies, hair like the flame of the setting sun?”

On the evening of the seventh day, weary beyond telling, she comes upon a small band of gypsies cooking their evening meal of rabbit stew over an open fire.

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The sadness in the eyes of the young woman touches their hearts. She is soon seated among them, offered a bowl of stew while one of the young gypsy girls bathes her swollen bleeding feet in a basin of cool spring water.

When the woman has recovered herself, she tells them her story, asks her question, “Have you seen a bairn…?”

The gypsies assure her they have only their own dark-eyed babies.
“But do not despair,” says the oldest man. “In seven days’ time, we leave for a great encampment of our people high in the hills. At that gathering will be an ancient crone, blessed with the sight. If anyone can know where your bairn is to be found, it will be she herself. Stay here for the week to rest; travel with us to speak with her.”

This morsel of hope brings back the colour to her cheeks. As the gypsy men take out their violins to play the sweet sad songs of their race, her heart begins to warm, to beat in rhythm to their music.

At the end of the seven days, made strong with music and rest, with fire and friendship and plentiful food, she sets off with the gypsies. On the third day, they reach the great encampment. As soon as her new friends have set up their camp, one of the young lads is instructed to lead her to where the ancient one always makes her fire.

An old old woman is sitting very still on a bench beside an open fire. The young woman sees her milky eyes and realizes with a shock that the crone is blind. But, sensing her presence, the ancient one, in a voice of surprising youth and sweetness, invites the younger woman to sit by her side on the bench. She lifts the young woman’s nearest hand into her own gnarled ones and holds it in silence. Then she asks, “What great sorrow brings you here?”

The young woman’s story pours forth like a rain-fed spring as the old one listens. The crone rises, feels for a clay pot that stands near the bench, withdraws from it a handful of herbs. These she tosses on the fire and the young woman sees that the cailleach is not completely blind, for she is peering intently now at shapes in the rising smoke. After a time, she returns to the younger one’s side, takes her hand once more in her own, breathes deeply and says, “Prepare yourself for great sorrow. Your bairn has been taken by the Sidh folk. They have taken him into their gathering, the Sidhean, where they are electing the new king to rule them for the next hundred years. What goes into the Sidhean does not come out.”

The young woman feels the blood leave her heart. “But the gypsies who brought me here promised me that you had great powers. Surely you can recover my child.”

“Yes. I have great powers. But my powers go back only as far as the dawn of humankind. The power of the Sidh folk is far more ancient than mine. I cannot undo what they have done.”

“Then give me some of your herbs that I may die, for I have nothing left to live for.”

At these words, the old one grasps her hand more firmly. “There may yet be a way. Allow me to think on this while the encampment lasts. Come to me in seven days’ time and I may have thought of something.”

All week, the young woman waits. Hope plays upon the strings of her heart as the gypsies’ bows play upon their violins. But between the notes and beneath the strings, grief and terror clutch at her.

On Tara Hill in the Well of the Storyteller

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The Hill of Tara at  Dusk

In our earlier session we arrived together in the Well of the Storyteller on Tara Hill. She is about to tell us an ancient tale of desire and longing, but first she invites us to settle in:

Lean back against the rock wall. Let it embrace you, body and spirit. Close your eyes. Relax all tension in your body. Breathe deeply. Now, I shall begin.

It is twilight on the moors as the eastern sky inhales, drawing away the day’s light, leaving a trail of rose madder and lavender on the sides of the far hills. Two of the Irish faery folk, the Sidh, now long vanished from our Isle, are walking along the path that skirts the cliff at the sea’s edge. One of them spies something ahead of her on the path and her greedy eyes glisten with the hope of gain. A bundle of clothes—perhaps finery—dropped by a traveller? She reaches down, her grasping fingers surprised by the weight. She opens the bundle, and cries out, “a bairn, a human bairn!”

The Sidh women look at one another, instantly united in one wicked resolve. “What no one is claimin’ is ours for the takin’.”

They hurry off, heedless of the cries of the baby now clutched to the finder’s thin breasts.

Almost all light has vanished as a coracle passes directly beneath the spot where the theft has just occurred. Michael and Niall are tired from their day’s fishing in the next cove, eager to be home to their families, their firesides, with the day’s catch. Niall plies the oars in the small boat, but it is Michael in the bow who spots the dark shape halfway up the side of the cliff. “Look up there, Niall. Is that someone trapped on the shelf – there, part way up the cliff?”

But Niall is weary, would rather not know, “Sure, ‘tis only a shadow, Michael. Or perhaps an animal resting.”

“Niall, how could we be sure ‘tis not some poor soul, fallen from the cliff above and injured? And how could we be going home to our own firesides, leaving someone there. Row to shore!”

Reluctantly, Niall turns the coracle towards the rocky cove and the bit of dry land that passes for shore. They secure the boat, scrabble their careful way up the cliff face, reaching for secure hand-holds, testing their weight on each jutting ledge with a tentative foot. When they reach the wide ledge where they’d spotted the shapes, they find a woman.

“Is she dead, Michael?” Niall’s whisper is filled with dread.

“No, but fainted or perhaps knocked unconscious by her fall. Here, take my cloak. Help me wrap her for the trip down to the boat.”

With tenderness, the two men make their careful way downwards, lay the still-unconscious woman in the bottom of their coracle. By the time they reach the cove near their own village, full darkness has risen to extinguish all outer light. The woman has not stirred.

Guided by the firelight that shines through the open window of Michael’s croft, they make their way to the door where Michael’s wife Elspeth, in one swift movement, lifts the woman into her arms and places her gently on the hearth rug beside the fire. “Quick, Michael, ladle some soup from the cauldron above the fire. Try to get her to swallow a little of it.”

The heat of the fire and the few drops of hot soup bring the woman to full wakefulness. She looks at Michael and his wife, and then around the small room as her eyes widen in terror. “My bairn! Where is my wee bairn?”

Elspeth looks at her husband. He shakes his head. “Prepare yourself for great sorrow,” she says to the younger woman. “There was no bairn with you when my husband and his friend found you.”

“You’d fallen from the cliff above,” Michael adds. “You might have died.”

But the young woman takes no comfort in her own survival. “My baby! He is all I have, for his father is dead. I placed him beside a gorse bush on the path, and went to find water for us both.” And already she has begun to stand as she says, “I must go to find him.”

Michael places a firm hand on her shoulder, preventing her from rising. “You’ll find nothing in this black night. Rest now, and at first light, Niall and I will call the men of village together to organize a proper search. We’ll walk back along the road that meets the cliff path. We’ll find your bairn. Never fear.”

But when he sees the anguish on the woman’s face, Michael reads her thought. How could a bairn survive alone at night? There are animals…

“I’ll get Niall and two lanterns. We’ll go now.”

Elspeth gives the woman more soup, laced with something to make her sleep, murmuring assurances that soon she’ll be holding her baby in her arms. But Elspeth hears another song deep in her own heart, a song of dread, of grief.

to be continued……

On the Hill of Tara…part two

Last week, I began sharing my own journey with the Sophia presence. I took you to Tara Hill, County Meath, Ireland, promising you would meet someone within a Holy Well on Tara. Now we are ready to enter that well.  

There is a ritual to follow. First, we remove our shoes. This is both a sign of respect for the sacred presence we are approaching, and a practical consideration. Shoes are heavy and can make our return to the surface more difficult. We’ll also need the agility of our toes for the downward climb and the ascent afterwards.

The mouth of the well is encircled by stones, each laid in its place with such care that they seem always to have been together, like a community of friends, melded into a solid surround.
Now, get a good grasp on the stones at the top of the well. Feel for finger-holds until your hands are securely rooted, then let your body drop into the well so that, still hanging by your hands, you are immersed waist deep in the clear dark water. Next, scrabble with your toes along the stones nearest your feet until their grip feels as secure as your fingers feel above them.

Don’t be afraid. I’m right here beside you, both of us clinging frog-like to the inner wall of the well.

Now breathe deeply. Fill your lungs.
The plunge will be sudden and deep.
Let go.
Fingers. Toes. Anxiety. Fear. Even, and especially, expectation.
Drop down.

Darkness enfolds us. Silence, deeper that any we have ever known. Water holds us as it did before our birth. We are safe.
The descent is slower now, our body’s weight balanced by the weight of the water. No longer plunging, we are now drifting downwards. Down. Down. Still further down.

Our hands brush against the stone walls of the well. Suddenly, the stones on one side vanish and we flow with the water into an open channel, a birth canal. With a rush, we are carried forward, dropped into a pool. Just beyond the pool, we see a dusty red rock cavern, lit by the faintest sliver of light from somewhere high on the walls.

Swim across the pool. Pull yourself up and out onto the rocky ledge. Notice that we are both immediately dry, neither skin, nor clothing nor hair show signs of our watery descent. We feel refreshed, as though we have just wakened from a sweet afternoon nap.

And we are not alone.

She is already here, sitting just a short distance from us, resting against a large, smooth rock. She gestures towards a place where we too may sit, a smooth area of stone with secure back rest. We settle in.

She is wrapped in a wool cloak of midnight blue, faintly patterned with stars. The cloak’s hood partially hides her face, giving a sense of a shadowy, not-quite-real presence. She appears to be tall, slender, neither young nor old. Strength, compassion, wisdom emanate from her, glow from her eyes.

I have brought you here to meet her. She will have questions to ask you. She will want to know what you are seeking. Be clear. She does not like vagueness, as I have learned to my cost. Nor will she spare you any of her time if you lack passion. Only a deep desire will win you her attention and her assistance. If you are blessed (as I was) she will offer you her companionship, her love, her support and her guidance for all the days of your life. If that is your deep desire.
But do not bother to ask her name, who she is. She will not tell you.

For now, just sit here beside me. Listen to my conversation with her. When you feel ready, speak to her. Don’t worry about how you’ll know when the time is right. She’ll know. She’ll ask you why you have come.

Relax. Listen. She is speaking to me.
Welcome to the well of presence. I’ve been expecting you. I see that you have not come alone.

You told me that I would recognize when the time came for me to share with others what you have been teaching me. The time is now. I am sure of it.”

Good. How do you wish to begin?

“I’ve thought about this for a while. As I remember it, each of your deep teachings came to me through an ancient tale. I want to retrace with you the journey you and I have made together along the road of ancient story. I’ve created an opening so that those who are ready may travel the way with us. I hope you will be the Storyteller.”

Would you like to choose the first story?

“It must be a story of desire and longing. Every journey, as you have taught me, begins with longing. Will you tell us the story of The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh?”

( to be continued)

Photo shows Tara Hill at Dusk

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On the Hill of Tara

For four months now, I have been dancing with you around the theme of the rise of Sophia, the sacred feminine presence. I have shared poetry and reflections, ancient stories and contemporary writing about her awakening.

Today, I share with you something of my own experience of Sophia, tracing the story backwards, seeking to know how and where I began to awaken to her presence. I must do this by way of story, though in its heart it is profoundly true.

This is where it begins. On the Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland, August 9, 2003, anniversary of my commitment as a vowed woman religious, a Grey Sister.

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The mist is heavy as evening drains all colour from what I can see. Sheep, light grey against a deeper grey, startle me as they come suddenly into view. The fog, both disorienting and exciting, holds energy, a power that has long been asleep. I sense its presence, feel my courage waver.

Yet, there is a readiness within me. I have come seeking an encounter, knowing the danger, knowing the risk. But I also know the time has come, and I must follow my desire. Now. On this night. Here. In this place.

I want to experience the Old Ones. I open myself to their coming. I am wearied, beyond words, with the Religion that swept like a Pentecostal wind over Ireland two millennia ago, turning shamrocks into theological treatises on the Trinity, blowing away all but the memory of the Old Ones, the Magic Ones, the Holy Ones… I want them back in my life, in my blood and my bones, my cells and my atoms, my heart, my soul, my spirit.

I stand here in the mist of Tara. I open my being and call out to them.

There is no response. I remain still, scarcely breathing. The darkness deepens.

Still I wait. No one comes. I feel only a vast inner emptiness. I am bereft.

My companion, an Irish priest who’d brought me here to Tara Hill, gestures that it’s time to leave. If we stay longer, the full darkness could make our return along the winding road hazardous.

Today, I hold the thread of the story that began for me that night. I follow the thread back to its beginning and, in my imagination, once more climb the sacred hill. I feel the same needle pricks of mist against my face, see again the grey shroud of fog that conceals everything except what lies immediately before me: this stone, this sheep, this tussock, this tree. Each arises, disappears, as on that night. I feel once more the quiet power of presence.

That night, when I called out to the Old Ones, no one answered.

Now I know the One I seek. I have found the hidden well where she awaits me, and this knowing has transformed my desert into an oasis.

This time, I shall call out and be heard. I shall be answered.

Come with me. It is time for us to begin.

I invite you to experience with me something that is more powerful than memory, more passionate than imagining. The presence we seek allures us with a flow of energy, but to meet her we must first come to stillness. Focus is important. A strong desire for the encounter is our best assurance of being met by the One we seek. She responds to our longing.

Come now along the dirt path winding upwards towards Tara’s height. Push open the wooden gate, built to keep the sheep inside. Like the ancient circular ditch, gouged four metres deep into solid rock, surrounded by great wooden palisades, the protective fencing of Tara is meant to hold the good spirits within as much as to prevent the bad spirits from entering.

Inside the gate, we choose a direction that is south and east, turning to the left. Just beyond that hedge, on the eastern slope, is one of Tara’s wells, so old that when it was documented in the Tenth Century AD, it was already ancient in oral tradition. Over the millennia, it has borne many names. At one time, it was called the Healer, later the Dark Eye. One of its names, Well of the White Cow, associated it with the Fertility Goddess. More recently, it has been known as Cormac’s Well and Saint Patrick’s Well.

This is the well we enter now.
( to be continued….)

Brigid Emerging in Poetry

In the last posting, we looked at stories of Brigid that reflect her central place in the Celtic spiritual tradition. For the Irish, Brigid is the face of the Sacred Feminine.

On February 1st, Brigid’s Day, a frigid morning (-31 degrees celsius with wind chill)  some ninety women gathered in Sudbury Ontario to spend a day celebrating Brigid with story, song, dance and poetry. A gigantic Brigid created of coloured cloth and papier mache oversaw the event from the stage.

Was it our hunger as women for a powerful and radiant, compassionate and focused role model that drew us there? Or was it Brigid herself, and through her the Sacred Feminine presence, longing to enfold and embrace us? Surely it was a sacred presence that stirred the embers of joy and hope among us. Surely something sacred fanned the embers into a  fiery passion to transform our planet and all that lives in and upon her sacred body.

Jean Houston, one of the great women/ spiritual teachers alive today,speaks of the Rise of Women to full partnership with men as one of the most compelling historical happenings of our time, even of the last 5000 years. See the website: Rising Women, Rising World  (www.risingwomenrisingworld.org)

Within this rising there is a powerful spiritual energy which we may name Sophia.

This is her time, and we are her partners.

Out of the mists of history, out of the fragments of ancient stories, out of the almost- but- never- quite- lost memories of a sacred feminine, a new-old presence is coming into our awareness.

The Irish poet Anne Frances O’Reilly writes of that emergence in the form of Brigid.

Brigid

These words will never carve

your image out of bog oak

but that is what they want to do

to dig down into the moist wetness

to touch the layers of centuries

that have made you

woman, goddess, saint

to see your shape emerge intact

from the dark earth.

My instruments are crude for such a work

the bog resistant to intruders

as an ancient tribal memory

in its dark and secret places.

But I must search out these roots

this memory as vital as breath.

I must drag this ancient oak

from the centre of the bog.

I will wait as I must

until I can see

the shape of what you were

and what you are.

The fine coat of resin will preserve your beautiful shape intact

and I will call on you great woman

to grace me with a golden branch and tinkling bells.

And I will polish you then with images of

sun and moon, cows, sheep, serpents, vultures,

bags, bells, baths and sacred fires

so that you become a fiery arrow

and breathe life into the mouth of dead winter

O beautiful vessel still intact

where we have unearthed you,

remind us of your many manifestations

and let us smile again in memory

of when doddering Mel pronounced you bishop

or your cloak spread over the green fields of Kildare.

You who turned back the streams of war

whose name invoked stilled monsters in the seas

whose cross remains a resplendent, sparkling flame

come again from the dark bog and forge us anew.

Anne F. O’Reilly

For the added joy of hearing this poem read by the author, visit her website: http://www.bluehorsemusings.com

There you may listen to other tracks and find out how to order the CD of her spoken poetry: Breathsong

Brigid: Mary of the Irish

Brigid: “The Mary of the Gael”

Edinburgh was coated in light snow on that February day, more than twenty years ago now, the air a raw biting cold, as I set out to explore the ancient city. The National Gallery of Scotland lured me within, down a narrow staircase to an explosion of beauty, wildly out of proportion to the size of its modest rooms, its small wall space. I hold vague memories of standing in awe before landscapes, clusters of children in a garden, beautiful women, solemn portraits of men whose painted faces gazed back at me.

But one image remains etched in rich detail in my mind. I stopped, breathless, before John Duncan’s 1913 painting called, “St. Bride”. Two angels in gloriously patterned robes, whose miniature tapestries held scenes from Celtic mythology, were carrying a white-robed maiden, her hands joined in prayer. One angel supported her back with his hands, as her golden hair fell in great waves towards the sea. The other angel held her ankles while her knees rested on his shoulders. The angels’ wings were a symphony of colour from scarlet to rose to pale pink, shaded with greens, golds, midnight blues. The angels’ toes just brushed the surface of the sea where a seal swam ahead of them.
I had no idea what I was seeing.

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That evening, in the home of the priest friend with whom I was staying, I learned the story of Brigid. Legend tells that she was carried by angels across the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem in Judea, to be present at the birth of Jesus, that she became his foster mother. Other tales add that Brigid served Mary as mid-wife, and that when Herod was seeking the Child to destroy him, Brigid distracted the soldiers by running through the streets, allowing Mary and Joseph to escape with Jesus.

As I am sure you recognize, we are back in the realm of story. But as I hope you realize, it is the story that matters, that lures us, inspires us, teaches us what we need to understand about life, aboyut the sacred feminine aspect of the Holy.

Brigid, who was born in Ireland in 457 AD and founded a double monastery in Kildare sometime before her death in 524 AD, left no writings of her own. But there is a cauldron of stories that were carried in the oral tradition until Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare, wrote his “Life of Brigid” around 650 AD. At the time of his writing, Cogitosus noted that in the Kildare monastery, the nuns still guarded her sacred fire.

According to Cogitosus, Brigid was the daughter of Dubhthach, a pagan noble of Leinster, while her mother Brocseach was a Christian. Baptized at an early age, Brigid was fostered by a Druid. The stories of Brigid reveal her spirit of compassion for the poor: one day when she was a child, after she had milked the cows, she gave away the milk to some poor persons who were passing. She feared her mother’s reproof, but when she arrived home, her milk pail was found to be even fuller that that of the other maidens. The adult Brigid approached a rich landowner, asking for land where she might grow food for the poor. The landowner agreed to give her as much land as she could cover with her cloak. Brigid lay down her cloak and it expanded until it covered many, many acres.

Another story tells of Brigid’s father preparing for her marriage to a nobleman while Brigid herself wanted to become a nun. Through the intervention of the Christian King of Leinster, Brigid’s desire was granted. With seven other young women Brigid was consecrated to Christ. In a wonderful tale, during the Ceremony for Consecration of a woman to Christ, the very old Bishop Mel of Ardagh mistakenly read for Brigid the words for Consecration of a Bishop. When his mistake was pointed out to him by co-presider Bishop MacCaille of Longford, Mel insisted that the Consecration would stand, as it must have been the work of the Holy Spirit, and that Brigid would be the only woman to hold the episcopal office in Ireland.

In “Miniature Lives of the Saints”, I came upon this explanation for Brigid’s title, “The Mary of the Gael”: At a synod held near Kildare, during the lifetime of the saint, says an old legend, one of the fathers declared that he had seen a vision, and that the Blessed Virgin would on the morrow appear among them. Next day Brigid arrived with her companions, and the father immediately exclaimed, “There is the holy Mary whom I saw in my dream.” Brigid accordingly came to be called “The Mary of the Gael,” that is, of the Irish; for so pure was she in spirit, so holy in every action, so modest, so gentle, so filled with mercy and compassion, that she was looked on as the living image in soul and body of Mary the Mother of God. (London, Burns and Oates, 1959)

Legend says that Brigid’s mother gave birth to her on the doorstep of their home, one foot within, one foot outside the home. This would seem to be a prophecy for a life that would become a threshold, bridging pagan and Christian, woman and man, rich and poor….Goddess and Saint.

For the story of Brigid, founder of the Christian Monastery of Kildare is interwoven with the ancient Irish goddess who shares her name. As goddess, Brigid is known as maiden, mother and crone. The Feast of Saint Brigid, February 1st, coincides with the ancient Celtic Festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring. It is Brigid who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”.

Brigid holds the cailleach energy, the energy of the cauldron where our lives, individually and communally, need to be transformed through the power of her fire, her water. We are now halfway through the dark time of the year, the feminine days within the transformative cauldron. This is the time when, as Celtic teacher Dolores Whelan says, winter is pregnant with summer.

As we celebrate Brigid’s Day we turn our eyes, our hearts, towards the maiden aspect of the sacred feminine, awaiting the return of the young days of spring, the promise of new life within as well as outside of us.

awakening the sacred feminine presence in our lives