The primary reason for embarking on a pilgrimage or a spiritual journey is this. At some point in life we just have to cross a threshold, go through the doorway, open the window and let the light in for our soul to stretch and open up and out.
Walking connects our bodies to our spirits. If you walk long enough all the endless internal chatter quiets down; your breath deepens and becomes regular. Your eye will roam; you will notice but not judge what you observe. With the body being in contact with a quieter mind the spirit begins to relax and expand. We encounter inspiration on our pilgrim way – not just as we exercise our bodies and tone our lungs – but also in the mind and spirit.
Early Christian monks were called peregrini; this is where we get the word peregrinations. These solitary spiritual seekers wandered abroad to places that were foreign as a way of opening their hearts and minds to the divine. Australian aboriginals walk their ancestral song lines to connect with their soul. Europeans have also taken spiritual walks. We just call them pilgrimage or a spiritual journey.
Irish Blessings Tours is pleased to announce the 2014 Brigit Tour. This eight day tour will meet in Dublin on 30th January to participate in a tour that will burn with Brigit’s proverbial flame of inspiration. An evening reception at our Dublin hotel will give everyone an opportunity to meet and be greeted by the tour leader and escort, Bee Smith. Bee is a Brigit expert who led a tour for the Celtic Women International in 2011.
Central to the tour is spending three days – from 31st January – 2nd February- where we will be delegates at an international gathering at Brigit’s Garden in Rosscahill, Co. Galway. This Celtic themed garden dedicated to the spirit of Brigit is the ideal place for this Gathering .
The Gathering takes as its theme “Spreading Brigit’s Mantle: Brigit’s Vision for the 21st Century.” Mary Condren, author of The Goddess and the Serpent will give a keynote address as well as launching her latest book. The gathering will offer facilitated workshops, community and an evening ceilidh over the course of the weekend.
The final four days of the tour will take us to sacred spaces – holy wells, cursing/blessing stones, fairy woodland, and dolmens as we head towards northwest Ireland where the Tuatha de Danaan, the fairy race from which the goddess Brigit sprang, first landed in Ireland.
We will end the tour by visiting Solas Bhríde in Kildare where the eternal flame that had burned for centuries was rekindled in 1992. We will visit both holy wells and the cathedral where you will need keen eyes to spot the Sheela-na-gig.
This tour will be of special interest to women and men who have an interest in the spiritual heritage, traditions and devotions that surround Ireland’s matron goddess and saint. Whether your interest is in pagan or Celtic Christian spirituality, we will visit places that have remained sacred to all spiritual traditions in this island.
Your guide, Bee Smith, is a a regular contributor and former Sagewoman columnist and long-time Brigit devotee. She is a published poet and is included in Goddess Ink’s anthology”Brigit: Sun of Womanhood”, editted by the late Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott.
Tour costs will include entrance fees, shared room, breakfast and evening meals.
For full tour itinerary and costs email email@example.com
Watch the blog for regular updates and follow this event on our Facebook page.
The days are lengthening. The rushes in the boggy, sodden fields are greening. Snowdrops are popping their heads out from under snow. Yesterday, 2nd February was Imbolc and a group of us gathered at Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim in the Cultural Quarters.
Brigid, whether in her manifestation as the saintly abbess of Kildare or ancient Celtic goddess Brigid, gives us healing, craft and art. So it makes sense to celebrate this return of spring with arts and crafts activities, song and poems. So the group that gathered wove the traditional St. Brigit’s Cross. The stories and legends of both the goddess and saint were shared as we concentrated on making the crosses.
Brigid also a patroness of innovation so we took the Brat Bhríde, the cloth that is hung out on 31st January to capture Brigid’s Blessing as she walks abroad on the reawakening earth. Her blessings cling with the morning dew on the cloth which is used for healing -fevers, headaches, any ailment that family livestock might suffer.
My idea was to create prayer flags with the Brat Bhríde to send prayers and blessings that are more collective – families, communities, wildlife, world peace. St. Brigit in the 21st century is invoked by people working for social justice and environmental issues.
St. Brigit was famous for her hospitality and no authentic Irish gathering is complete without cups of tea and a bit of cake or brown bread. Over that past few years it has become a personal tradition and way of honouring the reawakening of Spring to bake Seed Cake. So if you want to celebrate the arrival of Spring here’s my recipe. The recipe is in Imperial and American cup measurements. Sorry, I’m still struggling to get my head around metric!
Bee’s Seed Cake
Heat the oven to Moderate/Gas Mark 4/350F/180C
1. In a bowl cream together 4 oz/1 cup butter with 4 oz/1cup of golden caster sugar
2. Add a generous dessertspoon of vanilla extract.
3, Then beat in two large eggs.
4. Sift in 6oz/1.5 cups of self-raising flour. Get it well combined and then add 2 TBSPs poppy seed.
5. Lastly, stir in 2oz/0.5 cup of thick plain or vanilla flavoured yoghurt
6. Get the batter smooth and pour it into a 1 pound loaf tin that has been greased and lined with either baking parchment or flour.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes (it will be less for fan assisted ovens.) Check with a skewer that the cake is completely baked. Dust the top with sifted confectioners/icing sugar.
Beannacht Bhríde! Brigid’s Blessings!
First of February might be mud season or even the depths of winter elsewhere but here in Ireland we are celebrating the beginning of spring. The Irish word for this month is Imbolc and it is thought to refer to the first flow of ewe’s milk with the birth of the first spring lambs.
Now the snowdrops begin to appear all over Ireland even though there may be some flurries, some frost and snowfall on the mountains. But spring is in the air for sure and this celebration of Ireland’s matron saint, and the Celtic Goddess who pre-dates her, reminds us of the earth’s ‘quickening’ as the daylight increases. We celebrate Brigit in various ways. Although the saint is associated with Kildare and Faughart in Co. Louth there are Brigit Holy Wells everywhere in Ireland. She is celebrated in every corner with localities having their own ways of expressing honour and devotion.
It’s also quite a domestic event. On the evening of 31st January you can open your door and say good bye to winter. Then you hang a cloth – anything from a hankie to a sheet – out to collect the first dew on the morning of St. Brigit’s Feast Day, 1st February. The dew is said to offer her blessing for healing and in particular useful for fevers, headaches, eye problems and whatever ails your cattle or fowl.
St. Brigit is one of a triumvirate of saints that are honoured in Ireland. St. Brigit’s Feast Day is the first on the calendar that will interest spiritual travellers. St. Patrick’s Day, although a spiritual feast and a Roman Catholic Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, is also a national holiday and a day where many a Lenten intention is relaxed on the day. In June there is the less well known St. Columcille of Derry, this year’s European City of Culture, who founded a monastery on Iona in Scotland.
The St. Brigit’s Cross is one of the best known symbols of Ireland. The harp is another famous symbol so I will share with you harpist Aíne Minnogue’s harp piece entitled “Brigit’s Feast.”
In 2014 Irish Blessings Tours will be leading a Tour Celebrating Brigit, both as saint and Celtic goddess. If you are interested in a guided and escorted, week-long tour email firstname.lastname@example.org
It was with shock that I woke yesterday to learn that Patricia Monaghan, poet, goddess scholar and one whom I considered a role model and personal mentor, died on 11th November, Remembrance or Veteran’s Day. The Irish Blessings Tours business and blog would not exist but for Patricia and it is with profound gratitude for her life and spirit that prompts me to write this.
My acquaintance with Patricia, as I imagine with many others, began online through warm and witty emails when she agreed to give me a testimonial for a volume of Brigit poems I’d written. The acquaintance deepened when she and her husband Michael McDermott visited Dowra in September 2009. Pat wanted to revisit the Shannon Pot with Michael. I introduced them to the Cavan Burren, and given their keen allegiance to organic horticulture, Leitrim’s Organic Centre. Yesterday, my partner and I drove up to the Shannon Pot, the source of Ireland’s River Shannon, which at midday we had to ourselves except for a pheasant, a white cow and a red cow. The wind played a tune on the metal bridge that crosses the tiny stream that runs from the source, a cauldron shaped pool that rises from deep within Cuilcagh Mountain. I walked to the hazel tree where Pat, Michael and I had left offerings three years ago. Then I opened the her poetry book “ Dancing with Chaos” and read the first and final poems in that volume as an offering to the source itself.
Patricia and I,early in our acquaintance, found a number of synchronous paths in our lives. Both of us had been born in New York City boroughs but reared elsewhere. We were cradle Catholics but had found our way in adulthood the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) as well as the Goddess Path. We shared a devotion to Brigid and a passionate love of the Irish landscape. And in the time honoured Irish way of there may very few degrees of separation in this country, it turned out we were driving the used car from the Oliver who gave originally gave her directions to the Shannon Pot back in 2000!
On those common points a friendship developed. Having been a Women’s Studies scholar as an undergraduate I gradually shed my awe of her although I frequently and still refer to her books of assiduously researched Celtic and goddess lore. In time I was honoured to receive emails on both her poetry and research in progress. We had a lively email correspondence earlier this year when she was preparing a paper on the Cannibal Hag of Slieve Aughty; my own rather outrageous historical speculations will have to recede into the mountain mists now but what fun we had emailing to and fro across the time zones.
The Celtic Women International have had strong links to Pat since they formed in Chicago in 2004. They wanted to make a pilgrimage to Ireland for the Festival of Brigit and asked Patricia if she would organise it. She was already overcommitted workwise but said “I know a woman who could!” Thus Patricia gave me my new career as a tour leader, creator and guide. Such acts of generosity were not unique to me. Patricia was more a force of nature and it is nature’s way to spend its fertility extravagantly. Her warmth naturally reached out to others and made her a gifted networker who shared her contacts, knowledge, wit and wisdom. In that way I am sure there is a Monaghan legion of varied folk who benefited from her mentoring.
I last saw Patricia with her husband and his daughter Emily in Kildare for the Vigil of Brigid held on 31st January this year. It was the 20th anniversary since Brigid’s eternal flame had been rekindled at the AFRI conference for peace and reconciliation. We joined with other Irish based friends to have dinner in Silken Thomas before the vigil and the next morning Pat and I breakfasted, sharing our individual plans for life, many which she accomplished over the next few months. She was writing and editing with Michael an anthology for Goddess Ink on the goddess Brigid, hoping to wangle alternations to her academic life and to move full time to the their beloved farm in Black Earth, Wisconsin. Her accomplishments and energy take my breath away and I’m ten years younger than her.
Life is the operative word here. Illness did not define her or her life, lived vividly with a wise and often amused eye. She was busy liking one of my friend’s organic farm business here in Ireland on Facebook on Halloween, adopting a cat, reporting on renovations at their farm Brigid’s Rest, heaping praise and thanks to the friend who came to organise their new library room. She was always introducing people via the internet whom she thought would like one another or help one another.
Quakers in England have a tradition of written testimonies to the grace of God/dess as lived in the life of a departed soul. This is my testimony although I am sure that there will be many more written over the next week from the many people who encountered Patricia through her writing, teaching and life.
In Irish the word for plenty is galore. The same word applies to enough. Patricia was a woman galore, who gloried in sharing her plenitude. It may well have been time for her to say ‘enough’. For those of us who were privileged to have known her I dare say we could never have got enough of her inquiring mind, diligent scholarship, mischievous wit and warm generosity.
She gave me a jar of her homemade gooseberry jam in 2009. I still have the jar. I’ll light a candle in it to celebrate the grace of Goddess as lived in her life. Ar dheis Bhríd go raibh a hanam dílis. May her noble soul be at Brigid’s right hand.
Many of this blog’s readers are interested in the holy wells of Ireland. There are many in varying states of repair and disarray. Only this past weekend some friends on a Bards in the Woods walk near Knockvicar in County Roscommon cleaned out a holy well that had silted up. Anyone preparing a trip to Ireland needs to make sure that these indigenous relics of Celtic spirituality are on their itinerary.
If a holy well runs dry for reasons that can vary between changes of water course or engineering works, the healing spirit that holds the well’s cure moves to the nearest tree.
The folk belief that the cure of a dry well is transferred to the nearest tree harkens back to the seven sacred chieftain trees of Ireland. These are oak, pine, yew, hazel, ash, holly and apple. However, the tree most often seen near holy wells and used as the clootie tree is the hawthorn. Along with oak, hawthorn is considered the preferred tree of the fairies. Since holy wells spring from deep inside the earth, the homeland of the faerie, they are also places where you may be lucky enough to contact these earth spirits.
It’s also usual to see offerings at holy wells. The bits of fabric, ribbons, rosary beads are known as clooties and it is a familiar site to see these at some holy wells. However, in some localities the local priest has banned this practice even though the ‘pattern’ of prayers for a cure is still alive and well and usually done either the last Sunday in July or near the feast of Mary, Jesus’ mother’s ascension.
If you see the word ‘Tobar’ on a map then you will know that there is a holy well there. This is the Irish word for well. This sign translates as ‘Mary’s Well.’ My 100 year old neighbour tells me that there was a very old story that Our Lady appeared here many, many years ago.
St. Brigit is associated with holy wells and many are dedicated to her. However, any spring with a ‘cure for the eye’ or inspiring visions is under her matronage.
If you are preparing for a trip to Ireland then you need to include a visit to a holy well – or indeed many holy wells for they are so varied and individual in each locality – that you may want to do a bit of research in advance. I’ve chosen a few of the best as well as some favourites on the Celtic beliefs surrounding trees.
Celtic spirituality evolved from pagan roots to a distinct form of Christianity influenced by Coptic monastics from Egypt. Ireland was notable in that there were no real ‘red martyrs’ in the conversion to Christianity. In the Ireland that venerated the triple goddess the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit could be accommodated without any stretch of the religious imagination. St. Patrick was the best known evangelist of Ireland although it is now thought that were other missionaries before him. However, he energetically advanced the spread of the new faith. The other two patron saints beloved by the Irish are St. Columcille and St. Brigit. St. Brigit is an interesting case for she took on all the associations of the pagan goddess of her own name.