I’ve been Pagan a long time so I can’t remember when I first approached Brigid. It was probably in a ritual written by someone else, maybe around Imbolc, but I do remember that one of those early interactions was with Her as the Patroness of Poetry. In one of my early covens, for many years we were asked to write something new for Her each Imbolc, a poem, a song, a chant, and as a writer I loved this tradition. Writing for the Goddess of Inspiration made a lot of sense, and I didn’t feel as intimidated as I often could when writing for other deities. I guess even early on, I felt Her gentle hand helping the words to flow.
Brigid of Fire
It was later that I made the connection to her powerful magick of fire and water. These are the two elements that dominate my life, my astrological chart, and the personalities of my partner and children. (I have two sons, one a Cancer and one a Leo!) The Temperance card of the Major Arcana, which speaks to the alchemical reaction of fire and water, is a guidepost that appears at significant moments in my life. Brigid of the Forge is the master of the creative power of fire, She harnesses combustion, sparks, and the hot glow of burning coals for the process of creation. Like an early shamanic blacksmith, She takes nuggets of earth and turns them into gleaming swords. When I was fortunate enough to visit Kildare on my first visit to Ireland and burn some small candles in the remains of her fire temple, I was glittering and sparkly for days afterward, so much so that it made it hard to sleep or keep my temper in check! I wrote this in my journal at that time, in June of 2008:
Yesterday we took a train into Dublin, then a bus between train stations, and another train to the village of Kildare, where the 13th century church of St. Brigit is located, and an older, Pagan practice was dedicated to Her. Even though it was a lot of transit, back and forth, it was so totally worth it! As we walked up the hill from the train station into the center of town, I started spotting the Brigit’s Cross symbol on everything from trash cans to street signs – it’s the village logo! Then right in the center of town is the tall bronze sculpture of a flame topped by an acorn (!!) that is the new torch of Brigit. It was re-lit in 1993, and every year since, by prominent women including the President of Ireland in 2006. I was disappointed that the flame was not burning, but it is guarded by the Brigid Order of nuns in the village, and given how much it rains in Ireland (like all the time) I can understand why the outdoor sculpture was dark. We walked over to the churchyard, and in its cemetery the foundation of Her fire temple is still visible. Yeah, in the cemetery – I’m sure that was no accident. It’s not at all clear if this temple pre-dates the Christian Brigit or not, but that’s typical of early Ireland, where the Pagan and Christian blended for over 500 years, and no one today seems overly concerned with when one stopped and the other started. I made the offerings I brought along inside the fire temple, and felt Her presence very much alive in all its forms, pre-Christian, modern saint, tourist attraction, protector of modern Pagan pilgrims. In the church there were some exhibits, and I particularly liked the story of how the human Brigit was made a bishop, supposedly by accident as women weren’t allowed that level of elevation, and then the presiding official said it was god’s will and so she remained the only female bishop in Irish history. We left feeling blessed and I was surprised how easy it was for me to accept the St. Brigit parts of the day. Ireland truly has a more blended relationship between Pagan and Christian than most places.
After that trip I had a deeper appreciation of the magick of fire – how all flames are one flame, how fire is an embodiment of spirit to so many people, of so many faiths, how one group of nuns still cherishes the fire their Pagan sisters nurtured hundreds of years ago. And how different is one fire worshipper from another, when it really comes down to it?
Brigid of Water
It was when I went to Ireland the second time that I really connected to Her watery aspect, the way Brigid heals through Her sacred waters, the wells where the power of the underworld erupts to the surface. These connection points where the blood of Mother Earth is freely offered to heal the wounds of humanity, to transform our vision so we can see, and to cleanse us when we are worn down by the world of the living. On this second visit I made a point to see three of Her wells, and to let myself feel how those portals connected me to Her healing power, to all the people who seek out Her healing still today, and to my ancestors who also knew Brigid. I gave up using the word “coincidental” a number of years ago, because when you are walking a magickal path, and you are listening to your guides, things happen not due to pure chance but because you have set them in motion—these are your signposts that you are on the right path and listening correctly. So on this visit to touch the holy water of Brigid, I was not at all surprised that I soon after learned more about my ancestors that left Ireland for America, and that we ‘happened to be’ in the county where they had lived. I wrote this in my journal after visiting St. Brigit’s Well in Ballysteen in July 2014:
This wicked cool well is right by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, except there is a pub next door (of course) and an old national school also named for St. Brigit not far away, with separate rooms for boys and girls. Behind the well is a medium-sized cemetery still in use. You walk down a hillside and through a tunnel to reach the well. In front of it is a large statue of St. Brigit in a glass case, with a circular pathway around it, for processing and saying the rosary. Inside the tunnel are thousands of offerings, mementos of people who need healing, images of the saint, photos, flowers, Brigid’s crosses, coins, candles, baby bottles, prayer cards, etc. It’s pretty intense, and many of them are very recent, people are obviously still using this well all the time. The well itself is a rectangular pool with two shelves of stone, water falling over them, there are a few offerings like coins, and a bottle of nail polish on the shelves, the water is cool and clean. Above the well on the hill all the trees are decorated with clooties, little bits of string or ribbon or whatever that are offerings to the well. I saw a pair of baby girl panties, lots of hair ties, strips of handi-wipes, etc. The trees are actually beautiful flowering bushes, with little red flowers that hang down. The place has a very juicy vibe. Despite all the saint imagery, the well and the clooties dominate the scene and I was totally transfixed. We got lucky and no one else was there; another day when driving past we saw bus-loads of tourists. Anyway, as I held my Euro coin to charge it up with wishes for the good health of my family and all the folks I could remember who needed healing, and sending the well good vibes from the land of humans, I got a very strong message that I am surrounded by love. I should accept it and let it be.”
Brigid is a force that brings things from the past to the present. Her veneration has never ended or paused, She is not re-awakening, She has never slept or gone into hiding. I have found Her to be a very powerful ally in bringing awareness of the arbitrary way we define the past from the present. I am so grateful for the connection we share and the insights I have had from devotion to Her. This is how my ancestor magick happens. I step into an energetic current, sometimes on purpose and sometimes ‘by accident,’ and then things start coming to the surface. In closing, here are some thoughts that came to consciousness after I returned from the second trip to Ireland:
So my mother’s line is one I haven’t explored too much, in part because I had a great aunt who did a lot of research back in the day to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. We have always known that part of my mother’s mother’s line goes back to Northern Ireland, pre-Revolutionary War. That’s the one grandparent of mine with any substantial lineage in the US. Anyway, I always thought that ancestor must have lived in Northern Ireland since they were called Scots-Irish. I wasn’t thinking very deeply about it, but modern Northern Ireland is less than a 100 years old, and the Scots-Irish lived in all of the northern part of Ireland well before that, not just modern Northern Ireland. On our recent trip it occurred to me that our relative might be from any part of the north of Ireland, and just now I pulled up the family tree that my mom’s cousin put together. Guess where the one person we can trace back to a specific place in Ireland comes from? County Galway! A small town on the bay, south of the city. Right where we were staying. Clearly that line is speaking to me, and I should listen more carefully! The other ancestor that I know came from Ireland is a Maxwell, going back about 5 generations. We don’t know where in Ireland he was born, but he was Scots-Irish, and in looking up the last name Maxwell, it is described as a locational name, meaning someone who lives by Mac’s well.
By a well.
About Our Guest Writer
Rev. Rayna Templebee is a daughter of the Ocean Mother and High Priestess of Beachfyre Coven in Miami, Florida. She holds ministerial credentials through the Covenant of the Goddess and offers rites of passage to queer, polyamorous, and other free-thinking Pagans. Rayna was raised in a family that spoke with plants, and initiated as a Witch in 1983. She is a faery seer and member of Orion Foxwood’s House of Brigh, as well as a member of the Mt. Shasta Goddess Temple. Learn more about her spiritual practice and teaching at www.raynatemplebee.com.