Keeping Brighid’s Flame

Glorious Lady, sing to the mountains.
Light of the lantern, rejoice in the sky.
Seat of compassion, dance among flames.
Dweller in-between, ascend from the well.

Seeker of wisdom, what truths do I seek?
Mother of righteousness, whom shall I aid?
Queen of the just, which hex shall I break?
Great Illuminator, what stories must I tell?

Brighid has been in my life little over half a year, but Her impact on my spirituality has been enormous. I’ve spoken elsewhere about my struggles regarding belief, faith, and trust in both myself and the gods. For many years I considered myself an atheist or agnostic Pagan, and this story is not meant to look down upon those who are; I have the greatest respect for secular philosophies and wholeheartedly support their role in the continuing discussion of religious freedoms and the separation of church and state in America. For myself, however, my disbelief was never a choice, nor was it empowering or natural for me. Ultimately I’m a romantic at heart, truly wanting to believe in everything, envying those for whom belief comes so naturally. Even as a Christian, convinced I was on the Right, True, and Only Path©, my relationship with Jesus was constantly strained and undermined by constant doubt and guilt-ridden questioning. I was taught to ignore what I truly felt in my heart because if it wasn’t like that of others’ in my church – an intense, unwavering, occasionally ecstatic communion with the Son of God – then I just didn’t know my own heart that well.

After my messy breakup with JC (we’re on friendlier terms now, but I still think his dad’s a jerk), I swore off all religion. That part came naturally because without the enforced framework of my Baptist upbringing, and with my family’s conversion to Presbyterianism coming too late to impact my spiritual life, I was left with, quite literally, nothing. I knew other religions existed in the same way I knew that Australia existed, but I never really thought I’d be going there. Furthermore, if we extend the travel metaphor, despite being brave enough to leave my tour group, I still believed everything my guide had told me about snakes in the grass and was too scared to venture out of my hotel room to explore on my own. Even when I worked up the nerve to experiment with various spiritual practices, it felt more like watching the Travel Channel or NatGeo instead of lacing up my boots and heading out there for my own walkabout.

There’s something about visiting an area and really delving into its geographic beauty that all the study and research in the world can’t duplicate. I remember my visit to Ireland in March 2004 while I still considered myself Christian, but was touched by a thrumming current of energy in the land, as though magic laced every cobblestone and blade of grass. There was something about the British Isles that felt old, deep, and ancient in a way I haven’t experienced so far in America, something holy that predated humanity and would remain far after our eventual departure. The Book of Kells, sitting under protective glass at Trinity College in Dublin – the gorgeous mountains we toured around the Ring of Kerry, so familiar to the Appalachians of my home – even the accents of the natives, beautiful and poetic to ears used to the voices of rural mountain folk. While I feel that some of this was, in part, lost on me because I had not yet been introduced to Paganism, I see now that my trip to Ireland planted seeds that have just now started to bloom.

It’s funny, really. For a few years I was adamant against working within a Celtic framework because it seemed the “popular” thing to do. Furthermore, I was sick and tired of people saying, “MacInnis? Isn’t that Scottish? What the heck are you talking to Athena/Freya/Isis for?” For a short while I accepted the introduction of Manannan in my life, but he felt the exception proving the rule. I didn’t know Celtic mythology the way I knew Greek and Norse, and I was hindered by the confusing array of translations and seemingly unpronounceable names. Because the patron goddess at Bryn Mawr (yes, we had one!) was Athena and because I’d fallen in love with my Classical archaeology classes, I never had much reason to turn away from the sunny shores of the Ancient Mediterranean. So I pushed away the stirrings of longing and homesickness I couldn’t explain for green, misty moors and sun-dappled paths through twilit woods, filled with flute and harpsong, and continued my search.

All this backstory is important so you understand just how shocking, relieving, amazing it was when I felt that first connection with Brighid. That story about the Lady of the Stars (one of the titles I and some others use for Brighid) and how it sparked a spiritual awakening is for another, much longer post. Suffice to say, I found myself looking up into the night sky with someone finally looking back. I felt a reason to believe, to hope, to trust again, a reason to call myself a true polytheist without the nagging doubt of “well, maybe” in the back of my mind. I found an incredible group of friends who shared a journey with me, and now, six months later, I still stand with Brighid, ready to work on the transformation I need body and soul.

Part of my work with Brighid is keeping Her flame as part of the Cauldron Cill. Yanked from the ‘About’ thread: “The Cauldron Cill is a Brighidine Flamekeeping group, where members tend Brighid’s flame in rotating shifts. Our purpose in Keeping Her flame is to bring Brighid’s energies and blessings into our lives, as well as honor Her in our own ways.” On a 20-day rotating calendar, I spend a 24-hour period keeping Brighid’s flame lit – figuratively or literally – and keep my mind focused on Her and Her work. I’ve only had a few shifts and really only been able to dedicate myself fully at one, but the rhythm and structure of the Cill is something I’ve found quite comforting. Knowing that I have dozens of other individuals also keeping Brighid’s flame helps instill a sense of kinship and camaraderie that’s eluded me for so long. Furthermore, being able to set aside one full day for spiritual reflection is a good exercise in learning to see the sacredness in even the most mundane of activities.

Earlier today, I spoke at the Rockbridge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship about my experiences of being an American Pagan, and tomorrow I’ll detail that discussion in a post meant as a sequel to this one. I feel that a strong purview of Brighid’s is that of social justice, community outreach, and education, and I find it no coincidence that the day I kept Her flame was the same day I facilitated discussion about religious freedom and discrimination.

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2 Comments

  1. I love the opening prayer! It’s so very beautiful. I personally would use “chains” rather than “hex,” but that is my own personal taste. Do you mind if I tuck this prayer away for later and my own personal use?

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