Note: this blog post discusses hazing that happened some years ago. While it doesn’t go into specifics, please be aware if this is a trigger for you as it is for me.
This is the second shift cycle for the Clann Bhride Cill. I’ve never started a Flamekeeping Cill before, though I’ve belonged to the one at the Cauldron for a few years before the launch of Clann Bhride last year. I still belong to the Cauldron Cill; in fact, I even scheduled my shift on the Clann Bhride Cill to be the same as the Cauldron Cill, to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed with devotional work. But Brighid has a sense of humor (or maybe I just have a sense of duty) and I picked up an extra shift to cover when someone left. As you do. So as I end one shift tonight, I know that tomorrow night at sundown I will begin my second shift and continue the work started over the past 24-hours.
This shift cycle was especially important because of where it falls. Those of you following along at home know that February is an awful time for me because of hazing I faced at my first undergraduate school. Though I try not to know anymore exactly when the school does its Hell Week anymore, I found out anyway that it was this past week, culminating on Friday, and that my shift the next day would be tinted with that. I was a little distressed, I won’t lie; there’s always a knot of panic around this particular traumaversary. But it is amazing what changes in a year. I have done a lot over the past several months in purging this pain and guilt from my heart. I have distance; I have clarity; I have age, and with it some degree of wisdom. I’m not the same eighteen- and nineteen-year-old student surrounded by peer pressure. I wouldn’t make the same choices I made years ago.
Most importantly, I’ve spoken up about my experience and been able to get this poison out of my system. Allowing myself to heal, forgiving myself, and making sure that I have a phenomenally wonderful life despite what happened to me in my past, has been anything but easy. Yet when I think of this past weekend – perhaps the least pained and troubled I’ve been in since my own hazing in 2009 – I know that I’ve made progress. I can see it; I can feel it. I’m the person I am today because of my trauma, yes, but more so I’m who I am today because I got through it. Everything from my feminism to my religious preferences to how I think about community and consent comes from this experience.
Which brings us back to Brighid, and Flamekeeping, and this particular shift that ended some hours ago. The weather outside yesterday was horrendous, as it was for much of the eastern half of the United States; it snowed for fifteen straight hours and left over a foot and a half of snow, which is particularly dangerous in a mountainous region like ours. And yet today the temperatures soared into the low 50s, much of the snow melted, and I went outside in just a t-shirt to soak up the first sun in weeks.
Today was glorious and amazingly, almost ridiculously symbolic.
Keeping Brighid’s flame is the one regular devotional act I perform for my goddess. From sundown to sundown I literally (with a seven-day jar candle) or figuratively (with a special bracelet only worn on my shifts) watch over a flame that represents the same fire St. Brigit tended at Her abbey so many hundreds of years ago. I sing, I pray, I clean up Her altar and the rest of my room, and I do Her Work. As a goddess of healing and justice, I’d say that I’ve been in Her arms for a long, long time, possibly since before I realized Who She was. Every shift, even those I forget to keep, I can see the progress I’ve made and the subtle changes manifesting in my life. Just since the previous shift I’ve applied for a full-time job and given a talk at the local UU congregation about Brighid. And sometime in the next shift cycle, I look forward to seeing some beans sprout that I planted just today.
Following the symbolism of today – rebirth and coming through the darkness and just wanting it to be spring already – I planted seeds: two dozen marigolds, one dozen slicer tomatoes, and one dozen green beans. It was good to be outside in the sun and even better to have my hands in the dirt. This time last year, torn apart by the dissolution of my first serious relationship, I’d been too bereft to care about the garden I wanted to cultivate. Now I have two egg crates full of soil and seeds, resting by a south-facing window in my room.
I haven’t celebrated Imbolc in years, precisely because it coincides with the month of my traumaversary, but even the part of me that’s just logic and skepticism has to admit that Brighid coming into my life when She did, the way She did, and being Who She is, is a wonderful twist of fate. The goddess I love has Her most sacred festival in my month of sorrows. The goddess I love is a protector of women – and though I am trans and not always or exactly a woman, my hazing happened at a woman’s college at the hands of women in the name of sisterhood – and a dispenser of justice and judgment. While I’m not arrogant enough to think She personally fixed me wholesale, nor disparaging enough of myself to think I had nothing to do with my own changes, I acknowledge and am so grateful for the fact She has stayed with me through my transformations. I am not the person I was when I first prayed to the Lady of the Stars in late 2010. And for that, I am truly thankful.
From heart to hearth I pass this flame ’til next I tend it in Your name.