contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Brighde

IMBOLC ADVENT

Erin nighean Brighde* has recently written about ‘Imbolc Advent’. I like this term. Where I live, mid-January could feel cold and dull and flat. It could be a time of post-festive blues, and a very long way from spring. My cure, from the early 1990’s, has been the eight-fold wheel of the year, now lived by many groups within and beyond the modern Pagan community. It has enriched me enormously.

For the last week or so I have been leaning in to Imbolc, the festival that, at the beginning of February (Northern hemisphere), celebrates the return of the light, the appearance of early flowers and traditionally also the birth of lambs. In Druidry, it is strongly linked to the Goddess Brigid. My leaning in to Imbolc this year has been interwoven with the transformation of three initially parched hyacinth bulbs (a late seasonal gift) in a pot of dry earth. The change began when I saw them draw water from a saucer. Its rapid disappearance was like watching a speeded-up film. Within a couple of days, stalks had burst almost alarmingly out of the bulbs, and it was not long before the scented bell-like lavender blue flowers emerged from the spikes. I realize that this was a contrived indoor event, but I have experienced it over the last week as a stunning display of life and growth, and hence an image of Imbolc Advent.

During the life-time of the Druid contemplative group, we tended to meet outside the festival times, partly to avoid clashes with other commitments, and partly to practice tuning into the year at other times. We could do this by taking the previous or following festival as a reference point and notice the mid-term difference, or we could more simply pay attention to the world we were in at the time of meeting. Over time, we developed a greater sensitivity to the rhythms and tides in the year as nature’s unfolding processes, since we were not focusing on the festivals themselves as events. Nonetheless, they remained important markers for our experience. They helped to provide us with a common language and orientation. That being said, I remember something special around Imbolc, out of all the eight festivals. The fire in the hearth, the arrangement and decoration of the space (snowdrops in particular) gave us a powerful experience of Brigid as a presiding energy, making Imbolc one of our most resonant times.

*Erin nighean Brighde https://hereternalflame.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/imbolc-advent-2018/

BOOK REVIEW: BRIGID

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Timely and highly recommended. Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well is shortly due for release in Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series. Author Morgan Daimler describes it as “a resource for seekers of the pagan goddess specifically”, offering “both solid academic material and anecdotes of connecting with Brigid in a format that is accessible and designed to be easy to read”. On my reading, this is an accurate description, and in my estimation Brigid takes its place as a valuable addition to modern pagan literature.

As Daimler points out, the Celtic Goddess Brigid is well known and popular. In the Gaelic-influenced world, she has an alter ego as a powerful Christian saint. Yet what we know, or think we know, is selective and potentially confusing for today’s pagan seeker. “The lore of the Catholic saint is attributed to the pagan Goddess, and some people see shadows of the Goddess in the saint. For many people new to Brigid, or to studying Celtic or Irish mythology, it can be extremely confusing to try to sort out the old beliefs from the modern, to tell the Irish from the Scottish. The end result is that some people who are drawn to honor the Goddess Brigid find themselves lost in a seemingly endless assortment of possibilities”. Yet, in an intentionally short and simple book, Daimler does a great deal to sort out potential points of confusion and help her readers to find their way. She also includes an important chapter on Brigid by Other Names – which include the Brythonic Brigantia, the Gaulish Brigandu and the name Ffraid in Welsh.

Brigid devotes considerable attention to mythology, and to traditional lore and festivals (including a reference to the American groundhog day). But, as a modern Polytheist Pagan, she also has a lot to say about Brigid as she is today, including modern versions of practices like the making of offerings, flame-tending, the creation of altars, divination, meditation and prayer. There is a complete chapter on Prayers, Chants and Charms. Above all, Daimler shares something of her own journey, and the numinous experiences she has had through her Brigid connection from the beginning of adolescence to a present in which she is devising Imbolc rituals with her children. Standing as she does in Irish Reconstructionist Polytheism, she says that “I do not think that the religious framework we use to connect to the Gods matters as much as the effort to honor the old Gods itself. I think that we can all do this respectfully and with an appreciation of history without the need for any particular religion”. Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well amply fulfills its author’s aim of helping its readers to benefit from time spent “getting to know Brigid”.

 

CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY, THE ORAN MOR, AND FARE-WELLING DEITY

I want to say three in things in this post. The first is to clarify what I mean by contemplative inquiry, the name of this blog, and outline the implications of calling it contemplative inquiry rather than contemplative Druidry. The second is to describe my recent contemplations on the Oran Mor, or Great Song, the metaphor which has become central in how I experience my world. The third is to explain my decisive shift to a non-theistic spirituality.

Contemplative inquiry, for me, is a living process and the heart of my spiritual identity. My Druidry itself is subject to the inquiry, and in consequence my contemplative life doesn’t work through marinating me in a received tradition and leading me into experiences that are declared to be the appropriate fruits of the practice. That’s why I’m glad to be in a young tradition, where the jelly still hasn’t set. I work with feelings, thoughts, insights and intuitions arising from my practice and reflection. I’ve abandoned the high language of ‘gnosis’ because it suggests pre-mapped attainments, privileged cosmic knowledge already somehow present and waiting to be discovered in the experience of the practitioner. That’s not what happens for me: everything is tentative and provisional and the aim, if it is an aim, is to sit within an expanded story of being, one that has integrity and can frame abundant life.

How does this apply to the Oran Mor, an auditory metaphor which takes in all my senses and synaesthetically extends them? I can enjoy the sound of a sunrise, the felt resonance of trees, and the lingering note of a caress.  All are encompassed in the Oran Mor. My experience of the Oran Mor confirms for me the felt sense of not being separate or alone. Behind the Oran Mor, and interweaving it, is a silence – not a cold silence, but a warm silence of fecund latency. The Oran Mor points beyond itself as a sensory experience to that underlying substrate of energy, that pulse and vibration of the cosmos, whose fruits include the privilege of our time-bound 3D being. I am the Oran Mor, currently a distinct though passing note within the greater pattern of the Song. So are you. Many forms of communion are available within the Oran Mor.

The invitation to us is to sing our own note within the Song. For all that we are interconnected and interdependent, the way in which we sing the note involves something distinct and individual, a personal existential choice: this at least is the human experience. It works best if we are awake to the rest the Song, as manifested in other notes, in the greater patterns, and the silence. This is why I’ve started to use the word ‘attunement’, despite its hackneyed New Age ring: it’s an accurate description of something I want to do.

As I’ve deepened into this sense of the Oran Mor and how it shapes me, there are certain words that are becoming more pertinent and powerful. In my morning practice I have for some years used the words known either as St. Patrick’s prayer or the cry of the deer:

‘I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendour of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth and firmness of rock.’

I experience this as a summarising the Oran Mor – that which is – in a way that has a contemplative and prayerful aspect, makes good liturgy, and is not a petitionary prayer. I do not pray to the Oran Mor. I do not think of the Oran Mor as our Celtic ancestors did, as a name for God. I do not use it a translation of what is often meant by ‘Spirit’. The ‘I’ who arises is as much included in the Oran Mor as the sun, moon, fire, lightning, wind, sea, earth and rock. In the experience of the Oran Mor, there is no distinction between ‘Spirit’ and ‘Nature’. There’s a sense in which, despite their pragmatic value in everyday use, both terms become redundant.

I’m also continuing to work with the Ceile De fonn A Hu Thi (ah – hoo – hee), using simple breath and silent sounding, first described in an earlier post at https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/3/6/. For me this continues to describe and enact the eternally-co-creative aspect of the Oran Mor. I find in my world that the A sets up a sense of latency, a subtle pulse and vibration on the brink of becoming. I feel it in the quality of my inbreath, as a kinaesthetic song. Hu the outbreath feels more vigorous and intentional; there’s a real sense of movement, expressed as exhalation – the breath moves out from my body, through my nostrils. Thi breathed in feels like the delighted expression of a new reality, the world born again in every moment.

The last effect of my continuing engagement with the Oran Mor concerns Brighde as Goddess and it is very recent. Essentially, the Goddess dissolves into the Oran Mor and I find myself fare-welling deity in my poetry of practice. The sense of the Goddess (under different names) as both cosmic birther and mentoring intermediary, which I have had throughout the whole period of my association with Druidry and Paganism, has died. This is not a matter of ultimate belief, where I have always had a form of non-dual view, but rather in a sense of a shift in archetypal poetics and psychology, of imaginal perception. It gives me a sense both of mourning and of release, of loss and of spaciousness.

I am aware of talking about language and imagery, about subjective experience. I do not presume to make statements about the cosmos or recommend ‘beliefs’ to others on the strength of my work or its evolution, or to use it either to question or to validate anyone else’s path. I’m in the throes of letting go a profoundly significant image and concept, one that has had a defining role in my spirituality, and I find it a very considerable attachment to let go of. I did not expect this. It will take a bit of getting used to, actually a lot of getting used to. It is a very significant change. Yet it is the fruit of honest inquiry – of meditative and contemplative practice, and reflection thereon. My trackless path, it seems, is wholly non-theistic.

FUINN II: THE POETRY OF PRACTICE

I’m a Pagan Druid, happily placed in a tradition that values poetry and seership over dogma and system building. I experience my practice as a sort of poetry. In this poetry of practice, I am held in a compelling myth of origin, an ever-now origin, and I have found a new way of working with it.

My new collection of Fuinn (Ceile De chants in Scottish Gaelic) includes a very simple one which goes A Hu Thi (ah – hoo – hee) repeated over and over again. The Ceile De interpretation, a Celtic Christian one, is that this chant “represents the three stages of the unfolding of creation … A– the Great Mystery draws in its breath … Hu – that breath is breathed out, and creation is born from out of the Mystery … God becomes matter … Thi – the Divine nature, beingness and intention acts within the field of intention … Some Ceile De would say that this final stage represents Christ Consciousness.”

It’s a bit different for me. I’ve been working with this Fonn daily for a couple of weeks now.  I don’t chant. I use slow deep breathing with a silent awareness of the sounds. I find that for me, the A sets up a sense of latency, a subtle pulse and vibration on the brink of becoming. I feel it in the quality of my inbreath, as a kinaesthetic song. Hu the outbreath feels more vigorous and intentional; there’s a real sense of movement, expressed as exhalation – the breath moves out from my body, through my nostrils. Thi breathed in feels like the delighted expression of a new reality, one that I share in, distinct yet inseparable as a sentient being. This generally brings up feelings exhileration, gratitude and joy. It leads me on to the use of another Fonn as a contemplative and devotional prayer, which I wrote myself using my collection of Fuinn as a model.

A Brighde, A Brighde, solus an domhain; A Brighde, A Brigdhe, Brighde mo chridhe

A Vree-jah, A Vree-jah, solus an dowan; A Vree-jah, A Vree-jah, Bree-jah mo cree

Brighde, Brighde, light of the world; Brighde, Brighde, Brighde my heart

Brighde is the breath, the practice and the Fuinn. When writing my Fonn I wanted to build a felt sense of Brighde as cosmic birther, initiator into being, with a seat in my heart.  Her name evokes power and the prayer invokes relationship – identified as She is with primal generativity and the deep powers of life and land, and also One who inspires skill and accomplishment in those She supports and fosters. Through my experience of relationship and connection, deep levels of feeling and intuition are satisfied, in some way met. I feel empowered, with a sense of having more resources available to me. Why would this be? I don’t really know. What I do know is the value of practice as poetry, and the magic it holds.

The Ceile De can be found on http://www.ceilede.co.uk

NOTE AND SONG

I have continued to experiment with the forms of contemplative prayer and mantra work I use in connection to my Ceile De paidirean.  Having worked some time now with the heart prayer, I have started to engage with other expressions of this tradition. These are drawn from the wider range of Ceile De fuinn (chants).

My overall morning practice is customarily held within a circle cast in “the Sacred Grove of Sophia, the luminous spirit of wisdom”. I have found a fonn (chant) for my walking meditation that links back, for me, to her.  The words are:

Gun tigeadh solas nan solas air mo chridhe; gun tigeadh ais an spiorad air mo chridhe

Goon tee-guch solus nan solus air mo chree; goon tee-guch aysh an speer-utch air mo chridhe

Come light of lights to my heart; come wisdom of spirit to my heart

When I use this fonn (chant) in walking meditation, I use Sireadh Thall (Sheer-ich Hall) as a mantra, for periods of time, when sitting. It means “seek beyond” and according to the Ceile De, Sireadh Thall is “one of the many poetic names for the Great Goddess of the Gael, Brighide or Bridget”. She has sometimes been called the northern Sophia (as in Caitlin Matthews’ book, ‘Sophia’).  Sireadh Thall, as a divine name, gives me a sense of the Goddess pointing beyond herself to a place where names, forms and images of the divine dissolve.

Gun tigeadh solas nan solas air mo chridhe; gun tigeadh ais an spiorad air mo chridhe is the fifth fonn on the first Ceile De fonn CD.  Sireadh Thall is the tenth.  I find this latter especially moving.  For me it is presented here in a perfect weaving of voices.  There is no soloist, yet the loss of any one voice – each with its unique integrity – would diminish the piece.  So collectively this fonn gives voice to the Oran Mor, the great song of what is.

In working with different fuinn in this way, I can listen in to them, feel them, taste them – their resonance, their energy, and their inspiration. I get closer to finding my note within that song.

(Sireadh Thall can be accessed and downloaded on http://www.ceilede.co.uk/company/the-fonn.)

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