Today I’m exploring a general overview of Clann Bhride’s Nine Elements. These are stepping stones of belief and practice put forth by Clann Bhride on our website and in our Book of Hours that we feel best encapsulate our approach to a devotional Brigidine path. To participate in Clann Bhride means the opportunity to engage with these Nine Elements and determine how they best fit into one’s life. Personal interpretation of the Elements is encouraged as each individual’s relationship with Brighid is unique and dynamic. There will be no gatekeepers checking opinions at the door to determine whether someone “believes” enough in the Nine Elements or is orthodox enough to “count” as a member of Clann Bhride. If you find our materials useful, find some personal significance in the Nine Elements, and would like to participate… well then, welcome!
I’d like to emphasize that while I am one of the original members of Clann Bhride that this and other essays for my Nine Days for Brighid are my personal reflections and musings. Nothing is official and everything is subject to question and revision. Yes, perhaps even the Nine Elements themselves. And on that note, any discussion on the content and interpretation of these principles is thoroughly encouraged: you can find us on Facebook and at email@example.com.
The following is text from the Nine Elements page on our website (linked in the opening paragraph). This page includes some explanation I have not included in this blog post for brevity’s sake, and also because I find it helpful to first look at each Element in context with the others without additional commentary. There’s a lot to unpack in these nine statements and a single introductory blog post won’t be able to do them full justice. I’ll highlight the concepts that caught my attention first and, hopefully, leave room for further questions and pondering at the end.
The Nine Elements of Clann Bhride
1. Clann Bhride, or the Children of Brighid, is a religious order for devotees of the goddess Brighid who feel called to a lifestyle of daily prayer and spiritual practice. Children of Brighid strive to live lives of extraordinary devotion and focus, and to do Brighid’s work in this world by any means possible under Her guidance.
2. Children of Brighid live as priestesses and priests of the goddess Brighid in all Her forms and by all Her names, including the three sisters Brighid the Poet, Brighid the Smith and Brighid the Healer, the daughters of the Dagda in Gaelic lore.
3. Children of Brighid honor Her as a primal creator deity, who forged the universe (like a smith) or oversaw its birth (like a midwife) or sang it into being (like a poet).
4. Children of Brighid recognize St. Brigid of Kildare as an avatar of the earlier goddess, and consider the lore of the saint to refer equally to the goddess.
5. Inspired by the example of St. Brigid of Kildare as well as other manifestations of the goddess Brighid such as Brig Ambue and Brig Brethach, Children of Brighid are committed to working for social justice and advancing the cause of peace.
6. Children of Brighid honor and reverence Her as a goddess of Gaelic origins, but also consider Her to be a much older and vaster deity known by different names and by different peoples. Among the Celtic peoples, all of the goddesses of the “Celtic Minerva” type may be worshiped and honored as part of our practice. Some of us believe that some or all of them are the same goddess, but this is not a required doctrine.
7. Children of Brighid acknowledge and honor Her history within Gaelic culture, but do not consider Her to be solely a Gaelic goddess.
8. All goddesses associated with the sun, moon, and stars, fire, fresh water, fertility and abundance, healing, knowledge and the crafts necessary to society may be honored as part of this practice.
9. Children of Brighid worship our goddess as a real entity, rather than a metaphor or archetype. She hears our prayers, She appreciates our offerings and She communicates with human beings through inspiration, dreams and other means. As important as it is to study Her lore and history, it is even more important to establish a personal relationship with Her, because She is still in the process of revealing Herself.
Of the Nine Elements, five (3, 4, 6, 7, 8) discuss who Brighid is or could be to Her followers and might be labeled as “theology.” Three of the Nine Elements (1, 2, 5) discuss how an engagement with that theology would manifest in reality, which could be considered “praxis.” The last Element (9) involves both theology and praxis and is, in my opinion, a fair summation of what this group is about. If I only had time for an elevator speech about the whys and hows of Clann Bhride, I’d probably use the last of our Nine Elements as a starting point.
So, let’s first look at the theological bits of the Nine Elements. Who is this Brighid person anyway and how might we know Her? Members of Clann Bhride revere Brighid in different ways: as a primal source of creation (3), as a pre-Christian goddess manifesting within multiple Celtic cultures (6), as a goddess who may be understood both within and without a Gaelic worldview (7), and as one of the three Catholic saints of Ireland, St. Brigid of Kildare (4). While there is no requisite that those who wish to participate in Clann Bhride believe, for example, that the Irish Brighid is the self-same entity as St. Brigid, Brigantia, or Sulis Minerva, it would probably be advisable to keep in mind that such theology is supported within the context of our tradition. Think “optional doctrine” rather than “required doctrine.” We accept that Brighid manifests in many different ways to many different people and tend to give Her the benefit of the doubt rather than attempt to box Her into a particular historical and geographical context.
This segues into our Eighth Element – which, if I absolutely had to wager my money anywhere, may end up being the most controversial of Clann Bhride positions. This Element states “All goddesses associated with the sun, moon, and stars, fire, fresh water, fertility and abundance, healing, knowledge and the crafts necessary to society may be honored as part of this practice.” I feel like there could be an entire series on what this means with regards to belief and practice and why the founders of Clann Bhride chose to take this stance. We’ve had experiences that indicate to us that Brighid is far bigger, more primal, and more vast than we can properly articulate. (At least, not without books and books explaining our position. ;))
Whatever this means theologically and however individuals interpret this Element and their own interaction with our Lady, we would rather run the risk of casting the net too wide than inadvertently limiting the scope of either Herself or Her unique relationship with each and every devotee. Are all goddesses secretly Brighid at their core? We certainly don’t believe so. But divine identity in my experience tends to be far more fluid and, dare I say, relaxed with regards to boundaries than it is for humans. Given that Brighid is a very liminal Lady, I’m not all that surprised when I read into myths of other goddesses around the world and feel a very familiar tug at my heart strings. This does not mean, for example, that anyone else in Clann Bhride needs to validate my own recognition of “Brighidy things” in the Baltic Saule or the Proto-Indo-European goddesses Westya and Xausos. It simply means that as a tradition we’re prepared to accept that said “Brighidy things” may manifest in very unexpected ways.
Praxis here indicates both ritual or devotional actions and the practical application of Brigidine ethics in the world at large. Though I (somewhat clumsily) separated the Nine Elements into those dealing with praxis and those with theology, I believe the two complement each other and individuals may begin or continue their walk with Brighid wherever they find themselves at that particular moment in time. For myself praxis is a devotional act by which I come to a better grasp of my own Brigidine theology, and picking apart theology gives me a better sense of how I can best serve Brighid. So, what kinds of praxis are supported within the Nine Elements?
Clann Bhride encourages regular devotional practices toward and dedication to the goddess Brighid – Who, as we’ve seen in the previous statements about theology, manifests in a variety of ways. The manner in which individual members express this devotion and dedication is primarily between them and Brighid. The Nine Elements suggest a few different approaches: daily prayer and contemplation that place Brighid front and center as a source of guidance (1), living as priests and priestesses in service to Brighid in Her many guises (2), and embracing causes that support justice and peace in our communities (5).
Something incredibly important to keep in mind is that the Nine Elements don’t specify how one should cultivate an orientation toward priesthood or what priesthood exactly means, nor what one’s daily spiritual practice should look like. Each of these topics deserves its own careful consideration and respect for the unique relationship Brighid has with each of Her followers. Brighid’s Work in the world is multifaceted and requires a diverse approach to reach fruition. As Clann Bhride continues to grow and evolve I look forward to seeing contributions from each and every member, friend, and even vaguely interested third party.
Putting Them Together
As I stated before, I have a lot of fondness for the last of our Nine Elements because it neatly sums up the effect of both belief and praxis within our blossoming tradition. Brighid is a real living and breathing entity who wants to pursue a relationship with us just as we wish to pursue a relationship with Her. Who She is and can be is a complicated question – one that should still be asked no matter the difficulty of teasing out answers, of course, but complicated nonetheless. What we do in response to that questioning is part of our devotion to Her. I believe that Brighid prefers we grapple with these questions and engage with them somehow in our lives, even if that engagement is at times to throw our hands in the air in frustration, than to accept a list of pre-approved tenets and attitudes for approaching Her and Her Work. Brighid is continually revealing Herself to the world and the Nine Elements suggest that these revelations are all, in their own way, valid.
Of course, it’s important to remember that “valid” and “universally applicable” are not the same thing. Devotees of Brighid have and will continue to have differences of opinions and understandings of our Lady. Clann Bhride does not see this as inherently problematic; in fact, our Nine Elements support far more potential experiences than it does limit them. While our personal work as individuals is to chart our own course following Brighid, our work as a community is to respect each other’s journeys and share what fellowship and support we can. Which is not to say we want to avoid disagreements or stifle healthy debate; both are necessary for the growth of any tradition.
At this point it is probably obvious if it were not so before that Clann Bhride does not and never has attempted to claim a reconstructionist label. We are certainly not against reconstructionists finding our materials useful and wanting to participate in our community, nor even considering themselves fellow Children of Brighid. After all, these Elements are not required doctrine and we are not interested in policing others’ relationships with our Lady. That said, we do value UPG (unverified/unsubstantiated personal gnosis) and view personal, continual revelation as a cornerstone of understanding Brighid and aligning with Her Work, both singularly and collectively.
Some Questions to Ponder
These questions are specifically for those currently involved with Clann Bhride or curious about future participation. You can consider them here or, again, spark up discussion at Clann Bhride’s Facebook page or through the official email.
- What were your initial reactions upon reading over the Nine Elements? Were there any you immediately agreed or disagreed with? Why or why not?
- Do you feel that anything may be missing from the Nine Elements? Conversely, are there any Elements you might remove or shuffle around?
- How do you see Brighid? How does She manifest in your life? Do you see this supported within the Nine Elements?
- What does your devotional relationship with Brighid look like? Do you agree with the goals of praxis set forth in the Nine Elements?