Impressions from Imbolc Advent

My friend and fellow Brigidine flamekeeper Erin Lund Johnson has put together a lovely series of devotional articles creating an Advent season for Imbolc. I’ve been following them for the past few Sundays, with tonight being Imbolc itself, and tomorrow morning being the last of Erin’s celebrations of the return of Bride to the world, and the welcome of spring. At the end of each week’s prayers and ritual activities we are instructed to journal our experiences and impressions, and that’s what this blog post is – a collection of the images I’ve received and the feelings I’ve attempted to cultivate over the past month in preparation for Imbolc.

Each week I closed my eyes and listened to Gabhaim Molta Bríghde as I meditated. I did my best to let go and not strive for any particular experience; in the past I’ve disappointed myself for not getting “enough” feedback from my gods and have gotten upset over some perceived defects of my own. In my self-imposed vacation from solitary ritual I’ve done some growing and thinking. I try to take experiences as they are, with no judgments or comparisons. What I see and experience is not a reflection of my own self worth or Brighid’s love for me. It’s simply how I am in that moment, how my brain responds to ritual, and a million details that are outside my control.

The first week gave me a location for the weeks to come. I have “been” to this place before in meditation; I often have stock locations for exploring my inner world, like a particular meadow in a forest, or in this case, a homestead by the sea. There was an ancient Irish cottage set overlooking the plains leading up to seaside cliffs. A thunderstorm was in the distance and I could see a herd of horses racing across the plains. The cliffs themselves were black, and from my vantage point I could see a trail down from the cottage to the beach, toward a cave half-hidden by a large stone the same color as the cliffs. The cottage itself was homely and warm, with herbs growing on the windowsills and smoke coming up from the chimney.

My first thought upon seeing it, and knowing this was Brighid’s home, was, “Wow, this is way witchier than I thought it was going to be!” I distinctly remember in meditation trying to imagine Brighid as a stereotypical cottage witch, but the image morphed into my head of a scientist in a lab coat with protective goggles and hair pulled back out of her way. Throughout this meditation my perception of Brighid also shifted rapidly to show women of different ages, races, and time periods.

My second week’s meditation was stilted, thanks in part to the pain in my lower back. I’d moved my altar around a bit and unfortunately have no comfortable place to sit in my room. However, I did connect very strongly and swiftly to this pillar of energy and light, set in the same cliffside cottage scene. I remember there being wheeling seabirds and corvids around this pillar and feeling very close to Brighid.

The third week was interesting: instead of meditating while sitting and listening to music, I did a moving meditation where I went through my physical therapy exercises and yoga poses at the base of my altar. The theme was hospitality and I felt not chastised so much as patiently redirected. I realized that I could not focus on hospitality for others if I did not have it for myself. I am part of the greater community and I deserve safety, comfort, and love. Instead of focusing on hospitality as something focused to the outside of myself, I believe Brighid wanted me to redirect it first inward. Self-care is hospitality toward oneself, and I needed to take that duty as seriously as I did all the other work I undertake for my Lady.

The fourth week, tonight, gave me beautiful images of Brighid and myself. The first was a stained glass scene with Brighid above me, reaching down, and myself reaching back up toward Her. This flowed into an ancient, hand-illuminated manuscript in green and gold, inked on vellum and surrounded by flickering candlelight. I felt myself plunge into a racing river and then sink into an ocean, surrounded by seals. Brighid was there in the water with me: pale, young, hair and mantle haloed out around Her in the water. I was transported back to the cottage-by-the-sea where it had been snowing. A gull cried and wheeled above the ocean.

How can I best serve You? I’d asked Her.

Fill your cup, was the response.


Clann Bhride on Kiva

Exciting stuff going on at Clann Bhride. 🙂

Clann Bhride

We at Clann Bhride believe that our Lady has called us to works of charity, justice, and compassion. Our Touchstones urge us to “offer generosity and hospitality to those in need, without judgment or expectation of reward” and  to “work for peace, freedom, and justice for all.” Our Nine Elements reference Brighid in Her manifestations as Brig Ambue, who advocated for the disenfranchised, and as Brig Briugu, who offered food and shelter to all in need. Because our goddess is generous and calls us to be generous in turn, we are taking the first steps to actively encourage generosity among our members by announcing the Clann Bhride team on Kiva.

What is Kiva?

Kiva is a non-profit organization whose primary mission is alleviating poverty through microfinance. Entrepreneurs around the world connect with local financial institutions, who vet their clients and establish a loan process. Members of Kiva then lend as little as $25…

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Imbolc Advent ~Second Sunday

Her Eternal Flame

Opening for Second Sunday ~

Begin this second Sunday by lighting your first candle which you lit last Sunday, and your second candle, going around sunwise.

Recite this Flame Lighting Prayer ~

“Brìde, Excellent, Exalted One,
Bright, golden, quickening flame ~
Shine Your blessings on us from the Otherworld,
You, Radiant Fire of the Sun.”

Inspirational Reading & Song ~

St. Briget of the Shores
From Where the Forest Murmurs by Fiona MacLeod

I have heard many names of St. Briget, most beloved of Gaelic saints, with whom the month of February is identified—the month of “Bride min, gentle St. Bride”—Brighid boitiheach Muime Chriosd, Bride the Beautiful, Christ’s Foster Mother . . . but there are three so less common that many even of my readers familiar with the Highland West may not know them. These are “the Fair Woman of February,” “St. Bride of the Kindly…

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On the Ineffable Blessings of Mouse Poop

This post is about mouse poop, but first I’d like to start with a confession: the last time I’ve “done ritual” was September 2015, with a local ADF grove for the autumn equinox. Before that it was sometime in the summer of 2014 with my then-partner, and then again that November with an attempt to corral nearby Pagan communities into some semblance of unity. At some point, “doing ritual” was a regular part of my practice, but moving away from the Pagan group I founded at college, to a very conservative part of the state where the nearest groups are at least an hour’s driving distance away… you can imagine how ritual has slipped from my life.

I’m not sure I can give a good explanation of what I think ritual is. When I think of “doing ritual” it includes something that is pre-planned, rather than spontaneous prayer or devotional offerings (though prayer and devotion can certainly be part of ritual!). For myself, ritual has included observances of the Wheel of the Year, practicing Senut when I was with Kemetic Orthodoxy, and participating in last year’s Reunion with the Otherfaith. It has been a long, long while since I’ve done ritual as a solitary; perhaps last Reunion over a year ago counts, but because the Otherfaith started as a far-flung internet thing, online socialization happened before, during, and after the holy week, so I never felt alone in that sense.

I regularly flametend for the Clann Bhride Cill, but for some reason keeping Brighid’s flame, even with recurring prayers, songs, and symbolic actions, doesn’t feel like “doing ritual.” This probably has more to do more with my own set of standards and definitions than it does with the importance of tending my Lady’s flame. Obviously each flametender would have their own feeling toward what they do for their shift!

There are many reasons for why ritual has slipped from my life: three years in graduate school is a good place to start, as is moving back home, experiencing two breakups (and two new relationships!), depression, and physical disability. Some of these have changed, like my finishing my degree last month and settling into a new relationship with a partner who gives me a great deal of comfort and joy. Some of these, like mental illness and chronic back pain, are still with me to this day. As I’ve grappled with the general sense of imposture syndrome that seems to leech onto everyone in their 20s, I realize that I will never feel ready for all the things I want to get to in life. I also realize that a lot of being an adult isn’t necessarily knowing what to do, but going out and doing something and getting experience that way. It’s been a difficult lesson to learn for someone who struggles with self-esteem and being a high achiever when I was younger. It’s tempting to quit when I run up against a wall of things I don’t yet know or understand.

Which brings us back to mouse poop.

My house has been host to a few new friends as the days have gotten colder, and despite the successful deployment of mouse traps we are, apparently, still experiencing a rodent problem. I myself love mice because I once rescued two baby mice from a high school biology experiment (and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the kind of person I was as a teenager, I don’t know what will). Their names were Ferdinand and Alonzo (again, I was that kind of kid) and they lived to the ripe old mousey age of two and a half before going to the great cheese wheel in the sky. So even though I know wild mice pose a health risk and I was seeing droppings all over my house, and even though once a mouse was so bold it ran out in front of my lazy dog, who did nothing, thanks sweetie, I was still kind of excited to be sharing my home with rodents again.

When I cleaned off my Brighid altar for my cill shift Saturday night, I found that mice had been doing more than sharing kitchen and living room space. Part of cleaning involves taking off each piece on the altar – the art work, the brats from past Imbolcs, the water urn – and shaking off the altar cloth. As I moved the candle used specifically for flamekeeping, I looked down and saw the unmistakable sight of two mouse droppings alongside the burnt candle wick. Not only that, but there was a decent amount of fur and scored wax in the shape of rodent teeth.

This is a seven-day candle, the kind that’s several inches high with smooth, glass sides, and one that was furthermore sitting inside a large vase. So at some point – probably while I was out of the room, but I also enjoy the idea of this happening while I was sleeping and unawares – a mousey friend jumped several times its height, plopped itself into my unlit candle, and decided to see if wax was edible.

I don’t know if I can explain why this scenario made me so delighted, why I laughed and smiled as I cleaned out my candle, why I felt the tiniest bit of regret at having to melt away the bite marks for my flametending shift. It was unexpected. It was silly. It was probably gross to anyone who wasn’t me. And while I don’t think Brighid sent that mouse as any sort of sign, I’m finding meaning anyway from the evidence left behind by my fellow devotee.

Life is complicated, weird, serious, and oftentimes sad. Ritual helps us mark this reality, but it also gives us the opportunity to put a pause on the normal way of doing the work and experiencing the world. It means we clean out things that haven’t been cleaned in a while and discover that even when we were wrapped up in our own perceptions, life was continuing merrily along without our prompting. And while a live mouse is probably not the most sanitary thing to include on an altar, I do think in its own way the little fella gave some extra blessings to my cill shift this cycle.

(Featured image credit to Hy’Shqa.)

An Imbolc Advent

Her Eternal Flame

Brighidine flametenders all look forward to Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, celebrated 1 February in Ireland and Scotland as the first of spring.  In the Gaelic tradition, ewes are bred to birth and lactate at this time, snowdrops bloom, daylight begins to noticeably lengthen, ice begins to thaw; the land begins to awaken from its winter slumber.  Brìde the saint is said to visit the people on the eve of her feast day to bless homes and special objects laid out for her, such as strips of cloth saved for healing charms, and woven crosses to be hung inside to protect the home from lightening and fire.

In Scotland, this phenomenon is commemorated in a traditional tale recorded by Donald Mckenzie is his Scottish Wonder Tales of Myth and Legend called ‘The Coming of Angus and Brìde’ which can be read online here:

In this tale, the Cailleach Beira, Queen…

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