Nine Days for Brighid: The Who, What, and Why

This was going to be a post about my nine-day prayer cycle I’ve started for Brighid today and morphed into a general State of the Sage address coupled with musings on what Brighid’s meant to me in my life. A lot of this may sound redundant if you’ve read my blog before or see me post on Facebook or TC.

2014 so far has been a doozy for me. I’ve gotten halfway through my MLIS (Masters in Library and Information Science) which puts me one step closer toward my dream job. I ended a 2.5 year relationship at the end of January to much tears and grief; it was a painful and necessary lesson about how important trust and communication are in relationships, romantic and otherwise. (I’m now seeing someone casually and the difference in my stress and comfort levels are astronomical.) I recently came out on Facebook about being hazed at my first undergraduate school and contacted the dean of student affairs about my experience. That was five years of emotional baggage and trauma I’d been carrying with me and while I’m still processing much of it, I feel like I’m in a place where I can finally begin to heal.

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A Flamekeeper’s Prayer

I’ve toyed with the idea of having set prayers to say at the beginning of each Flamekeeping shift for Brighid. The Clann Bhride Book of Hours includes prayers of offering and flamelighting prayers in its Daily Devotionals section, and these prayers are lovely. However, there’s just something special about jotting down your own words (and, if you’re like me, doodling all sorts of things in the margins). Though it’s not my shift yet I wrote this prayer last night; feedback on either content or style is always welcome.

 

Image

 

(Image from CelticJackalope.com)

 

 

Lady of Mercy, of Judgment, of Right,

Priestess of Sunrise, Queen of the Dawn,

Exalted High One, Fiery Arrow,

Grand Illuminator, hear my prayer.

 

I pledge to you from sundown to sundown:

A share of my focus, my worship, my grace;

A sacrifice of my finite time and energies;

A voluntary warding of Your sacred flame.

 

In return I would seek to know You more.

I would sharpen my senses toward Your presence.

I would draw closer as Your heart’s beloved.

I would have the honor of serving You, my Lady.

 

Hail Brighid, three sisters in one!

Hail Brighid, guardian of the well!

Hail Brighid, keeper of the flame!

Hail Brighid! Hail Brighid! Hail Brighid!

The Devotional Lifestyle: Us Versus Them

Since becoming involved with Clann Bhride I’ve been giving more thought to what it means to live a devotional lifestyle. There can be a general misunderstanding that to live a life of devotion only means a life of intense and isolated contemplation, or of regular ritual and prayer that is somehow removed from the mundane part of our lives. And to be fair, these elements can make up someone’s devotional life. (There are as many ways to be devoted to a deity as there are deities to be devoted to, I’m sure.) It reminds me of my undergraduate religious studies classes and studying theorists like Mircea Eliade who understood religion as a dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. That which is sacred is removed from profane (“normal”) times and profane spaces; religion exists as the profane (humans) attempting to understand the sacred (the divine, the ancestors, the great unknowable Something). And this would tie back into the etymological roots of the word religion which in Latin – according to my professors anyway – came from the same root word for “to tie back.” Religion, so we were told, is that which is tied back and made, or acknowledged to be already, holy. Or, as theologian Rudolf Otto put it, the holy is what which is “Wholly Other.”

If you’ve ever read any of my posts on this blog, Facebook, or eCauldron, you know I don’t always hold truck with this idea. I don’t entirely discredit it either; part of what I enjoyed so much in classes like Methods and Theories in the Study of Religion was learning the multiple ways we attempt to understand religion, which is really this crazy amazing confusing thing human beings do. From an academic and personal perspective, I find religious studies a fascinating field. But as our professors were keen to remind us, sometimes, many times, the theories fall flat if we allow them precedence over the actual lived experiences of religious adherents. For example, I struggled with Otto’s description of the sacred as the “Wholly Other” because it supported the viewpoint that there is a spiritual Us and a spiritual Them. For a Lutheran like Otto, this makes sense; for an undergraduate religion major who also moonlighted as the president-founder of my college’s Pagan Fellowship, it really got under my skin.

Also if you’ve ever read any of my writings or talked to me for more than five minutes, you know I’ve been on a kick recently with abolishing this spiritual/not spiritual dichotomy in my own life. Ritual and contemplation don’t work for me. My relationship with Deity is a relationship with the world around me and with myself. Devotion is self-care, is my volunteer work, is dedicating myself to my studies. For so long I despaired that I couldn’t feel Deity – first Jesus and His father, later the Goddess, then the individual deities – and that something must be “wrong” with me. But what it boils right down to is this: I don’t believe in something other than this. There is no Us versus Them binary because there only is Us. Brighid is the candle and the flame and the flametender and the light. When I take care of my family and my home, I take care of Brighid as well.

Which isn’t to say I believe we’re all secretly the same person at our core. Just because I don’t hold truck with an Us versus Them, sacred versus profane worldview doesn’t mean I’m tossing out the idea of distinction between identities all together. I am not Brighid. Brighid is not Loki is not Jesus. (Though that would be a hilarious sitcom.) Christians do not talk to the same gods I do. Difference and diversity are, if anything, even more important when there is only Us. After all, if We’re all We have to rely on then We’re going to need to bring all Our skills and passions to the table.

Instead of thinking about my devotion to Brighid as being Me versus Her, I want to think of it as Brighid and Me. We’re both in this relationship together and We both have things to offer each other. This world is our world and the people in it are our people. Acting in the world – with purpose, with reverence, with love – is the greatest act of devotion to either of us I can imagine.

Tending Brighid’s Flame: Flamekeeping Shift Ideas

It’s my flamekeeping shift again for the Cauldron Cill and I wanted to share a brainstormy list of things to do when it’s time to keep Brighid’s flame. Flamekeeping is, by its nature, already an act separate from everyday life; once every twenty days I light a candle, sing songs, and wear jewelry that remain untouched and unused the other nineteen days of the shift cycle. However, I cannot and don’t wish to spend an entire 24-hour period in deep, spiritual contemplation and communion with Brighid, if for no other reason than life goes on and I don’t want to miss it by literally tending an open flame between sundown and sundown. Also because psychologically and spiritually speaking, my focus doesn’t work that way. I cannot be engaged all the time. I doubt many of us can. After all, I’m not a trained priest(ess) but instead a layperson looking to work more closely with Brighid on my own terms and on my own turf. As much as I am drawing closer to Brighid through the honor of tending Her flame once a cycle, I’m also inviting Brighid to draw closer to me. And my life, such as it is in this very moment, is as much a part of my flamekeeping practice as the literal candle flame to mark Brighid’s presence.

I’ve been inspired by the Puzzle of Life with Religion Worksheet over at Fluid Morality, which encourages practitioners (of any faith tradition) to seek religion in the mundane areas of our lives and to see those same mundane areas as something already sacred. In that spirit I’ve started a list of things to do during a flamekeeping shift. (Obviously not all during one shift. There’s a lot in there!) Some suggestions are more traditionally religiousy, like reciting prayer and reading myths. Others I’ve pulled from my own experience of incorporating Brighid’s Work into my own life. I expect this list to grow – and, perhaps with time, I hope to go into more detail with each item on the list.

 

Things to Do While Keeping Brighid’s Flame (a list)

  1. Pray
  2. Read myths
  3. Meditate
  4. Housework
  5. Homework (yes, it can be sacred too)
  6. Cook
  7. Bake
  8. Spend time with animals
  9. Engage in self-care
  10. Volunteer
  11. Donate time/money/goods to a food pantry
  12. Get crafty (especially things like knitting, weaving, or quilting)
  13. Reach out to friends and family
  14. Write. Write all the things.
  15. Visit a body of water
  16. Listen to music
  17. Memorize and recite poetry
  18. Create art or music
  19. Talk with other Brighid kids
  20. Research your family tree
  21. Study a social justice issue

 

Those are just what popped into my head after two minutes of brainstorming. Can you think of anything else? What do you do during a flamekeeping shift?

Some ramblings about depression and religion

What do I believe? I find this question more and more confusing, and its answers more and more nebulous, the longer I dwell on it.

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox in my neck of the woods, marking my seventh year as a Pagan of some stripe or another. My very first Pagan ritual was Ostara 2007 wherein I didn’t dedicate myself so much as light a bunch of candles and meditate a bit on my yoga map, generally letting the Powers That Be know I was interested and if They wanted to say hello, well then, I was here. My journey, which very nearly started out with me Ásatrú, has led me through Neo-Wicca (via Cunningham and an IRL!coven), two college Pagan groups, twoish years with ADF Druidry, an on-again-off-again fling with Kemetic Orthodoxy, and, more recently, helping shape the Brighid devotional group Clann Bhríde. Among many, many other things.

I find myself struggling (as I so often do) with issues of faith and trust and what the hell am I doing with my life, anyway? I wonder if I will ever find satisfactory answers or if I’m aiming too high, or aiming at the wrong thing altogether. I’m going through my own existential quarter-life crisis (again), this time exacerbated by the painful end of a two-and-a-half year relationship with the first person I really loved, and by my own crazy depression and anxiety issues. Last week, I believe I sank into a major depressive episode as I fought with “regular” depression and school-related anxiety and the guilt over initiating my breakup. The biggest thing I’ve been craving has been some sort of structure in my life, some sense of conviction. Even now, back in my more-or-less-normal mental state and not caught in the reality warp that is a depressive episode, I feel cast adrift and completely without a clue of what to do. Or rather, there are several avenues open to me and I feel… completely uninspired, lackluster, unsure. In several areas of my life (academic, spiritual, whatever) I just feel… stuck. And I’m not sure how to get unstuck, or even if I want to, which is the real kicker.

I miss my girlfriend (my ex, I suppose, even if that concept still feels so completely unreal and alien beyond all reason, even seven weeks later) like I’d miss a limb. I talk in therapy every week about making schedules and plans every day so I feel like I’m doing something and being productive, but then I don’t. I take on responsibilities and then don’t see them through. I sometimes wonder if I’m just so used to feeling useless and adrift that I’ve built my entire identity around these feelings, and the idea of not feeling like this is a threat to the weird comforting status quo I’ve built up over the years.

This was originally going to be a post about theology and trying to figure out what it is I believe and what I stand for, but I’m not even sure I’m at a point where I can do that sort of work right now.

Clann Bhride

 

Clann Bhride is proud to establish an internet presence with the launch of our website. Clann Bhride, also known as the Children of Brighid, is a spiritual path of devotion drawing from old traditions and new inspiration of our patron goddess Brighid.

Along with the website we’re also proud to offer our Book of Hours, an informational and devotional text for those interested in a life dedicated to Brighid in Her many guises. This text is available from Lulu, both as a free PDF download and as a paperback for a small fee to cover printing costs. The Book includes:

- An introduction to the basic elements of Clann Bhride

- Daily devotions including morning, midday, and evening prayers

- Prayers for special occasions including dedications, births, and deaths

- A basic liturgical calendar

- Articles on the academic and spiritual nature of Brighid

In the future we hope to offer a resource list and occasional blog posts on Brighid and the path of Clann Bhride. We offer this site to any fellow religionists as a greater offering to Brighid, our guide and friend. You can find us at http://clannbhride.wordpress.com/. We invite those interested to subscribe to our blog and read our Book of Hours.

Over the next year, we hope to develop an active community of people who are committed to incorporating the Nine Elements of Clann Bhride into their lives. If you are interested in such a community, please contact us at clannbhride@gmail.com or subscribe to our blog, where we will post updates as appropriate.

———————-

PS: I wrote most of the above press release and my name’s on some of the articles in the CB Book of Hours. So just saying… feel free to check it out. :) At some point I’ll write on how properly excited and terrified I am to be part of this, and part of something that’s now let loose into the wild blue yonder, but for now I will leave you, gentle readers, with warm thoughts for Imbolc. Take care, stay safe, and may our Lady keep you in Her mantle.

Brighid and Me

Light me as Your lantern,
Play me as Your harp,
Keep me in Your mantle,
Guide me to Your hearth.

Brighid has been part of my life in some way, large or small, since November 2010. I had just been diagnosed the month before with dysthymia and started medication for depression for the first time in my life. I’d started therapy at the beginning of the new school year at a new school, having transferred away from Bryn Mawr after serious depression and anxiety tanked my sophomore grades and led me into dark places. At that point I’d been a Pagan for three and a half years, give or take, and while I had some passing experience or at least familiarity with a variety of Pagan traditions I was still lost, confused, and hurting for the assurance and rightness I had felt as a Baptist growing up.

This is not a story of how I found Brighid and found my faith. This is not a story of finding surety and strength in the darkness. This is not a story of spiritual awakening and enlightenment. This is not a story of coming out of the woods and into the light. It is a story about the blessedness of being lost and meeting myself on my level, where I was — not where I thought Deity wanted me to be. It is a story about not having to be found before understanding that Deity could find me. And it is a story about how Depression Is Okay and like with any serious issue, mental health issues do not go away with the introduction of a new relationship.

Brighid did not “cure” my depression, nor will She, nor do I think She plans to, nor do I want Her to. I have depression and anxiety. They are part of my neurochemistry and genetic makeup as much as my PCOS, my family history of diabetes and cancer, my gender identity, my eye color. I am depressed. I have depression. These things can be managed and I want Brighid’s strength and comfort, but I do not want, nor do I need, to be fixed.

I think this is something to keep in mind when I think about perhaps the core symbolic imagery I associate with Brighid: the transforming fire that exists at the hearth, the forge, the fire of inspiration, the fire of cleansing and healing. Transformation, healing, and home can all exist with our cracks and pains and baggage. We can cultivate these attributes without waiting for being “fixed” or being “ready” or for “the right time.” I used to think of Brighid and depression in terms of Brighid healing my depression away, of Her taking me over Her forge, heating the impurities from my body, shaping me with swift, precise blows, plunging me into the water, and I would be reshaped into something new, something better, something in Her image and of Her making.

I don’t think that’s what is happening or will happen. Not that the forge metaphor is something I’ll throw away entirely — not that I don’t need Brighid’s transforming and loving hand to guide me. But this isn’t a matter of being made better. It’s being made whole. And it’s not a completely passive process. Brighid will not do the Work for me. She can assign me the Work, guide me, and walk with me, but it is my Work to be done.

Imbolc is always hard for me because February is not my month. Bryn Mawr, my first college, has a freshman initiation ritual called Hell Week in February which really fucked me up and felt more like hazing (and completely non-consensual) than anything celebratory or welcoming. It’s why I transferred away after sophomore year. So in many ways I look at Imbolc not as a happy festival, but as the festival before my unhealed traumas re-emerge for about a month. Ostara then becomes my renewal, my safe-again-for-a-year time when I can finally relax and put my hurts back into a box. I don’t think I’m ready to put Hell Week behind me — I’m not even sure if I want to heal — but I don’t think it’s coincidence that Brighid came into my life not long after my depression diagnosis, nor that Her holy day is in the month of my greatest trauma and depression.

All of these things are okay. I am okay. I do not need to be ‘fixed’ of my trauma before coming to Brighid. I do not need to be ready to face my demons before seeking or deserving comfort. I do not need to wait for the inner impulse of faith before acting on faith. And maybe this has nothing to do with faith at all. As much as I want to have trust in Brighid, I also know She needs to put Her trust in me. That’s how I want my relationships to function, involving deities or not.

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