BOOK REVIEW: THE TORCH OF BRIGHID
Highly recommended for anyone interested in Brighid, Celtic spirituality and the evolving culture of modern Paganism. In The Torch of Brighid, Erin Aurelia eloquently describes her flame tending path as a devotee of the Goddess Brighid. For her, this is a path of celebration, contemplation, creativity and deep personal change. Her book shares the fruits of a remarkable journey.
The author makes clear that she is not reconstructing a past Pagan practice. No such practice is known. She references a Christian history dating from 480 CE, where nuns maintained a sacred flame at Kildare in Ireland. This was documented as still in place in the later 12th century CE by Gerald of Wales in his History and Topography of Ireland but was repressed by the English King Henry VIII – who also ruled Ireland – as part of his violent religious revolution of the 1530s and 40s. On 1 February 1993, flame tending was revived both by Catholic Brigantine sisters in Kildare by the neo-Pagan Daughters of the Flame in Vancouver, BC. Both groups were influenced by Gerald of Wales’ description.
Erin Aurelia has been a flame tender for 20 years. She began in the Daughters of the Flame and then founded her own Order, the Nigheanan Brigde Flametending Order, going on to lead it for eight years. The original model involved moving through cycles of twenty days, in which nineteen flame tenders take a day each to tend the flame, leaving the Goddess to take care of the twentieth. Erin found that she wanted an intensified practice and a closer fellowship with other Brighid devotees. During those years, she writes: “Brighid inspired me to develop guided meditations to use during vigils, seasonal feasts, and lunar phases”. Later came “the template for a whole new way to practice flame tending: the way that the flame tending cycle matches with the twenty letters of the traditional Irish tree ogham alphabet, in which each alphabet letter is denoted by a tree and infused with esoteric meaning”. She describes herself as “enthralled and excited” by this discovery, which lead on to daily communing with Brighid and a fuller development of her work.
She found the process transformative, and learned that “growth is not only made through obtaining wisdom, but by implementing it. And Brighid showed me that I can effectively implement it by embodying her own skills as Shaper, Healer, Seer, and Transformer. Through embodying her skills, I became empowered”. In the narrative of her own journey, Erin shows her willingness to innovate, take initiatives, lead when called to do so, and also step back from leadership. Her relationship with ancient culture is to be inspired by it without being bound by it. I see her as modelling the best of modern Pagan practice in these respects.
Erin provides extensive information on her flame tending vigils, and how to set them up. She shares prayers, meditations and path workings. She includes her unique approach to ogham work, and also her own way of working energetically with the traditional three cauldrons’ (of warming, vocation and knowledge). She shares her ways of working through the four Irish fire festivals from Imbolc (1 Feb.) to Bealtaine (1 May} to Lughnasadh (1 Aug.) to Samhain (1 Nov.). She has an Imbolc advent practice centred around the four Sundays prior to Imbolc – because it starts the year in this tradition and is specifically dedicated to Brighid. Her book is a powerful addition to the growing literature about Brighid as a much loved Goddess.