The Devotional Lifestyle: The Tension Between Ancient and Modern

I am a devotional polytheist; I believe in many gods but currently am devoted only to Brighid. While I most often refer to Her with Her Irish name, I believe that the core of Her may be found throughout the ancient Celtic world. For me, most if not all “Brig” goddesses and goddesses of the “Celtic Minerva” type, as well as the Catholic St. Brigit, refer to the same entity. I also believe that similar “Brig currents” can be found in other pantheons as well, though I’m currently unable to articulate Who “counts” as Brighid and Who does not. (I expect reality is far trickier than my experience of it. I further expect the gods as a whole enjoy watching humans struggle with identities that are dynamic, fluid, and sometimes just plain confusing.)

However, I also firmly believe that Brighid is manifesting right now in my own backyard. While I do care about the historical background of Her worship, I also care that I am worshipping Her right now, in 2014 as a life-long US and Virginia citizen brought up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am white; I am queer; I am trans*; I am middle class; I am well educated; I am Pagan. I am all of these things as a person surrounded by a society which privileges some of these experiences and disadvantages others. I have Scottish ancestry as evidenced by my last name, but I believe that means little in the grand scheme of things. I grew up speaking English and don’t have a lick of practice with any Celtic language. I can’t tell you the political or religious history of the British Isles – or heck, even basic knowledge of and correct terminology for the struggles experienced by modern Celtic folks.

I don’t say this to excuse my ignorance of these topics but rather to explain the context of my own life. I’m an American and pretending that I’m anything else, or that I can possibly gain more than a glimmer of understanding of either an ancient or modern Celtic worldview, is going to do everyone involved a disservice. Which is not to say I’m dispassionate about understanding said worldview. I’m in the process of learning to respect the fine line between culturally appropriating Stuff That Doesn’t Belong To Me (No Matter Who My Ancestors Were) and appreciating the modern descendants of those cultures who first named the goddess Who’s become so important in my life. This is a conversation I recently started having with my friend Naomi who blogs at Treasure in Barren Places; I certainly intend to continue talking about this with her and others in the future.

I don’t believe that Brighid is interested in me pretending to be something I’m not. A recurring theme of Our Work together has been me trusting that I myself – where I am, as I am, no matter how I am – is more than good enough. When I encounter Brighid I do so with all my cultural baggage and expectations firmly intact. When She reveals Herself to me, She does so through the lenses of my past religious experience. It took me a long, long while to move past the shackles of being raised in a particular Baptist church when it came to my own self worth and how a divine relationship could or should look like. In many ways I’m still integrating those formative experiences into my current spiritual life. It’s difficult and something that I’m sure I could write several posts about.

This tension between ancient and modern – both ancient and modern modes of Brigidine worship and my past and present personal religious understanding – is not something that I expect will be resolved or even needs to be resolved. Brighid is in so many ways a liminal goddess, illuminated in the beautiful metaphor of fire-within-water or as shown as Her dual identities as Pagan goddess and Christian saint. She is rooted in history, both in the ancient cultures and languages of Celtic peoples and of history being made right this very second by Her devotees all over the world. She is a goddess of the land (wherever that land is) and the sea (whatever bodies of water that may be) and the sky (which is the same for every person on planet Earth). Ignoring or favoring one truth for the other will not help me to understand Her better, nor will it help Our relationship to flourish to its fullest potential.

Tension is necessary for growth and learning. Without it we become stagnant, complacent, unchallenged and unchanged. I cannot forget who I am and where I have come from anymore than I can forget Who Brighid is – or at the very least, Who I think She is – and Where she came from. Neither can I forget where We may go, together, and Who We may become, together. Every moment of Our relationship is an unfolding not only of the indelible past but also the dynamic co-creation of the future.

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