contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Brigid

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/

REFLECTION: THE IMAGE OF SOPHIA

bcf2c26ec7720ed734fccc2b13534310Pay attention, those that meditate

Upon me, and listen well!

All of you who are patiently waiting,

Take me to yourself!

Don’t dismiss me from your mind

And don’t let your inner voices

Despise me; don’t forget me at any

Time or place; be watchful!

 

 

I am both the first and the last,

I am both respected and ignored,

I am both harlot and holy.

I am wife and virgin, mother and daughter.

I am the unfathomable silence,

And the thought that comes often,

The voice of many sounds,

And the word that appears frequently.

I have been hated everywhere

But also adored.

I am that which people call

Life and you call death.

I am called the Law

And lawlessness.

I am the hunted and the captured.

The dispersed and the collected.

I don’t keep festivals

But have many feasts.

I am ignorant, yet I teach.

I am despised, yet admired.

I am substance

And insubstantial.

I am the union

And the dissolution.

For I am the one

Who alone exists

And I have no-one

Who will judge me.

The lines above have been extracted from an old Gnostic text usually known as Thunder: Perfect Mind. It is part of a collection of fourth century texts known as the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in Egypt in 1945 though not published until 1978. They were buried towards the end of the fourth century, a time of intensified Christian Orthodoxy in the Roman Empire when it had become dangerous to own them. As well as Thunder, the collection includes the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Philip. After over 1500 years of burial, these texts are now once again widely known and appreciated. They might not have appeared at all but for the staunch championship of C. J. Jung towards the end of his life.

Generally, Thunder is thought to be about Sophia, who despite her Greek name is a figure from Jewish tradition – a disregarded voice of wisdom, culturally descended from the dethroned Goddess of Israel. In Christian Gnostic tradition, she is partly reinstated both in the myth of Sophia as a cosmic figure and alternative understanding of Mary Magdalene as a human one. This is one of the main reasons why these texts were suppressed. Thunder goes furthest, in identifying her as supreme being and beyond judgement –  unusual even in the paganism of the day. She also says, “I am the bride and the bridegroom”, calling to mind the Gnostic valorisation of the androgyne as symbol of aware wholeness.

Thunder has many themes: the Goddess and what she stands for; contested understandings of gender, social relations  and religious expression; recognition and non-recognition; the vulnerability of wisdom and spiritual insight in human communities; dualities and the non-duality they are seen to be hiding. In the historical life of Thunder, one toxic duality was to be the co-arising of widespread literacy and systematic censorship. For the Gnostics, there was no redemption to be had in history – only in the transcendent light of a realised Divine identity.

I don’t fully know why Sophia became a numinous image for me. Culturally her Gnostic story is compelling. I notice that I am not interested in the Sophia of Orthodoxy, where wisdom is the wisdom of submission (to God, church and Christian monarchy). Nor am I drawn by Sophia as a Romantic, or Jungian, symbol of the ‘divine feminine’ – with archetype as stereotype writ large. The image of the Gnostic Sophia came to me when I was working within a Pagan context and feeling uninspired by gendered north European deities, with the partial exception of Brigid. In any case, I didn’t want to lose touch with the near eastern traditions, especially in this dissident form from Alexandria, which I felt to be part of my spiritual culture. Whatever the reason, Sophia entered my heart and imagination in a way that no other named and anthropomorphised deity has ever done. She became the perfect patron for a contemplative inquiry, taking on especial significance in the final year, when I talked about a ‘Way of Sophia’.

I still keep the icon close to me, and intend to continue doing so. But two recent dreams suggest some withdrawal of presence and energy. Not in a bad way – it’s more like fare-welling a companion or guide at the end of a journey. I am left with gratitude, inspiration, memory – and some continued sense of connection. This post is a way of honouring her.

Mostly I have selected the text above from the Alan Jacobs translation in The Gnostic Gospels published in London by the Watkins Press in 2005 as part of a series entitled Sacred Texts. However this translation is both free and  incomplete, and for my last four lines I went back to the third revised edition of The Nag Hammadi Library in English published by Harper San Francisco in 1990, with James M. Robinson as general editor.

Artist Hrana Janto at http://hranajanto.com/ (The image at the top of this post is used with her permission.)

 

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”.

 

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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