Saint Brigid Rides Across The Ages

photo_159_20090326St. Brigid © Jan L. Richardson.
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My original intention was to write something to honour the start of the Year of The Wood Horse, which promises to be an auspicious gallop into an exciting 2014. I wanted to include some of my experiences at Gateway Ranch near Kamloops, a healing facility based around a herd of remarkable equines. Alas, my journals were nowhere to be found….at least not at the moment. So those tales will have to wait. Luckily I have a year for this.

Instead, Ireland began to call. Memories of a lovely trip some years back starting bubbling up. I started bumping into all kinds of people with lilting melt-my-heart Irish accents, and FaceBook began to offer me special prices on jewelry based on St. Brigid’s cross. Which reminded me of how the Brigidine sisters in Kildare took me under their wing for a couple of days and taught me how to make such a cross from rushes gathered at their sacred well.

Looks like this story has its own flow. If you’ve ever seen “horse highways” in the wild, their travels are curved and winding, never linear. And there is a horsey subtext to all of this anyways, so away we go!

I no longer have the original cross, but my desire to replace it impelled me. I groom horses weekly at the Riding Academy, and decided it was likely I would find some appropriate straw there.

I was assigned Billy for grooming this week, and here’s a picture of this sweet and handsome chestnut gelding.

After massaging aIMG_4784nd brushing Billy, and picking out his hooves, I inspected his stall for straw that would be too tough for him to enjoy, but supple enough for my use. Billy was very interested in observing my handful of straw grow and took some time out from his grazing to act as supervisor! Thank you Billy.

 

At home, I soaked the straw in water to make it more pliable. I couldn’t quite remember how I made the original cross, but Goddess bless the internet . You can find instructions for everything there!

 

Here is the finished result:

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And now some notes about the saint herself!

St. Brigid of Kildare (451-525) is an Irish saint renowned for her healing abilities, her faith and her feistiness. Her feast day is celebrated every Feb. 1, and she bridges Christianity and paganism. When I was in Ireland, I took the opportunity to visit many special sites associated with various local saints, big and small. Ireland is rich with these, but after a while it became all too clear to me that all of them were associated only with male saints. I love you gentlemen, but still I longed for a saint I could personally relate to. A little research uncovered the name of St. Brigid, the patroness of Ireland. Halleluia! And her home town was Kildare, my next stop.

At the town’s info center, I checked every book on saints for some juicy info on where to find St. B. The result: nothing, nary a word! I expressed my dismay to the store clerk, and asked if there was a convent in town dedicated to their namesake saint. “No” was the answer, but I was told that there was a Brigidine house a few blocks away where several of her nuns shared accommodations and spiritual practices. Away I went, and found the house. It was unmarked as such, but a small stained glass window of St. Brigid made me trust that I had found the right place. With no one home, I left a note and my contact info.

Bingo! The next day I was invited to join the sisters at St. Brigid’s sacred well and fire pit. I jumped at the chance, and was treated to a wonderful visit with three extraordinary women. The well and its stream were marked with seven stone crosses. The water that gurgled and bubbled through the stream had been used by St. Brigid for baptisms, and is still considered to be very healing, especially for ailments of the eyes. While there, a mother and father were gathering a bottle of this medicinal water to take home for their tiny daughter. The nuns showed me the fire pit they used for their ceremonies. It will be ablaze on Feb. 1, to mark both Brigid’s feast day, and the pagan festival of Imbolc, the springtime celebration of the Celtic year marking the passage from the dark half of the year to the bright half. Imbolc also commemorates “lambing”. (Isn’t that a lovely word? I just had to use it in a sentence.)

Here is a slightly random sampler of some of the tales and talents of St. Brigid of Kildare. I hope they will inspire you, as they do me. It is a treat to remember my visit, and to share stories about this extraordinary saint and woman.

Leadership: St. Brigid and two of her novices were invited to the home of a very, very poor family. The women of this family lovingly prepared a small dish of rich meat stew to honour their special guests. It happened to be Friday, a day of fasting from meat according to the Christian calendar, and the two novices were deeply offended by this sacrilege and begin to complain bitterly. Brigid pushed the nuns out of the house, to show them that love trumps the letter of the law. She continued to teach, and established monasteries and a school for the arts.

Keeper of the Flame: Brigid was raised by Druids and named after the goddess of fire. Fire is powerful, transformative and passionate. She learned the wisdom ways of Nature and paganism early in life, and was later inspired by the teaching of St. Patrick to become a Christian too. Brigid constantly braided and wove these two traditions together throughout her life, and she earned the title of the Keeper of the Sacred Flame of Kildare. She is patroness of the hearth and blesses the home fires to keep them burning, protects women in childbirth and brings the men-folk home from sea fishing. St. Brigid also established an eternal flame in Kildare to represent the Holy Spirit’s constant presence with people. In Chinese element theory, fire is the element related to the heart, the seat of love, compassion and connectivity.

Forward Movement: Picture this: Brigid, with her chariot and horse galloping together across the plains. Two manes, one tail and a cloak streaming behind them…. Leaving the past behind and flying forward fearlessly into the future, how exhilirating! And lovely synchronicity: the Chinese calendar celebrates the New Year of the Wood Horse on January 31, and one day later is the feast of St. Brigid. Out with the old and in with the new, with power and grace! (I told you there was a horsey subtext).

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Healing: There are countless tales of Brigid’s healing miracles, extending even past her death. She was able to cure lepers, the blind and the deaf. People still offer prayers today for healing at the Sacred Well in Kildare, and tie ribbons around the twigs of a wishing tree to help the cures come true. She was well known for comforting the dying and soothing their hearts: one tale tells of a pagan chieftain (possibly her father) who was raving and writhing on his deathbed. Brigid sat down beside him and reached down to gather some rushes from the earthen floor. As she began to weave them together into a cross, she softly recounted stories of Christ and the saints. His delirium quieted, his heart opened and he asked to be baptized at the hour of his death. He passed from this life in a state of grace and peace, and this is the birth of St. Brigid’s cross.

Generosity: Even as a child, St. Brigid was renowned for her compassion to the poor. She gave away a priceless jeweled sword that belonged to her father in order to buy food for the hungry. St. Brigid performed miracles of turning water into milk, manifesting butter, and of multiplying food. Her kindness extended to dogs, sheep and cattle. She was the consummate shepherdess, aiding cattle and sheep in matters of lactation and fertility. When Brigid needed some land on which to build a school, she asked one of the chieftains to help her. He laughingly said he would gift her as much land as her cloak could cover. Brigid asked four of her novices to each take one corner of her cloak and walk to the north, south, east and west respectively. The cloak expanded magically as the women traveled a great distance, covering a very large parcel of land. The king was astounded and realized immediately that he was in the presence of a saint! He kept his word, and continued to shower her with support.

St. Brigid is known for wisdom, high intelligence, poetic eloquence and song. I think it fitting to end with this version of St. Brigid’s Prayer. It is flavoured by her generosity, humour, and reverence for the power of Love, above all else.

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the Heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I”d give them,
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer
To every man.

I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot,
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make the men contented for their own sake
I’d like Jesus to love me too.

I’d like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around,
I’d give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.

I’d sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

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A blessed Feast of Saint Brigid to you.

May you possess Brigid’s habit of the wildest bounty.

May you be a flame to illuminate the darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goddess Guidance Oracle Card © Doreen Virtue PhD

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