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Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ireland, Part 2: Brighid and St. Brigid


"A river of tears is one of the strongest evidences of a 'crash and burn' initiation into the Scar Clan."-- Clarissa Pinkola Estes


Priestess Glenys of the glacial river valleys of the Pacific Northwest greets you. Glenys is my new name, by the way. It's Welsh and means from the glen. A glen is a narrow valley, sometimes a river valley. Baby name websites insist that Glenys also means fair, clean, and holy, but I just discovered that this morning when I woke up at 2:00 AM, still on Ireland time, and can't be held responsible for it. Keep all this under your hat for now, until I get used to it.

I am also one of the Daughters of Danu, the name my fellow initiates and I gave our circle, but if tears shed are proof of membership, I might also claim a place in Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Scar Clan.

Daughters of Danu. The words of each of these women are written on my heart.
I've been through something in the last year or two that recently culminated in a dismantling or even a disintegration. I've been sharing my efforts to renew myself in this blog. This time they've led me pretty far from what I know, into things I can't "be sure" of.

Some believe that before Ireland was settled by Celtic tribes, its women were in charge. At the very least it was matrilineal, meaning that kinship was traced through the mother's line. Even in Celtic times, women held a much higher place in society than in the Europe and European colonies of more recent history.

I haven't done enough reading about these topics to claim anything citable, and the evidence I do follow keeps realigning, but I sense in my depths that better ways of living existed in pre-agricultural and early agricultural communities, and that those better ways grew out of respect for the creative powers of the earth in her female likeness. Some of my reasons for saying this are new, from these months of bottoming out and climbing back up again. Some have been with me all my life.

1. History is written by the winners (including historians with tenured university jobs). So much of the history of women (including, for example, the witch burnings of the Middle Ages and early modern period) has been minimized, trivialized, or altogether buried that it's difficult to believe that "official" accounts are the gospel truth.

2. Human beings, according to high priestess Anyaa McAndrew, my teacher, are "meaning makers." We gaze into the past, we interpret the present, and we attempt to interrogate the future for stories, symbols, and practices that help us go on, or (if you're more optimistic than I am) thrive.

3. The gentle slopes and rounded hillocks of Ireland's West Coast (at least) demand female deities. The Celtic Christians saw this themselves, and instead of trying to exorcise the goddesses from Ireland, they"syncretized" these figures (attempted to combine or unite opposing principles) with Christian ones. 

The goddess Brighid, for example, was said to be one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, or children of the mother goddess Danu, identified with the land. Brighid is described by later figures such as William Butler Yeats's fellow folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory as "a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night."

Christians syncretized the goddess Brighid with St. Brigid, a nun of the fifth century who founded monastic communities, primarily of women, the most famous of which was in Kildare. Her feast day is February 1, chosen to coincide with the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, a "pagan" festival associated with the goddess Brighid.

I have said before that I don't know if I'm a Christian anymore. Sometimes I may have said that I'm definitely not. At least a few times, I've said that I probably still am. The religion you're raised in is a hard thing to abandon. And Christianity in particular has a beauty and depth that people who associate it with Westboro Baptist Church and Bob Jones University have no access to.

But Christianity alone is too wobbly a structure to rely on in these turning times. (I don't confuse it with Jesus himself.) The tree of my faith needs deeper roots. I was moved beyond words to have the scars on my face and hand anointed by Anyaa with water from St. Brigid's well in Liscanor, near our retreat house. Brighid, I believe, was present in that water as well. (Thanks to Dragonfire for bringing it into our ceremony.)

"To live is to be marked," says Adah in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. My scars will fade with time, but they won't disappear. I wouldn't want them to. They are reminders that once I fell apart and was pulled from the underworld into the light by a group of wildly generous women and the goddesses standing behind them.

Altar at St. Brigid's Well in Liscanor