Join Steph and Jacqueline while they give you a ton of history on the beginning of Celtic Christianity and the history and contemporary relevance of St Brigid! And for an added surprise (like when St Brigid turns water into Ale, or when Jesus turns water into wine, or when Jacqueline turns water into Hot Chocolate) Rachel retells the greatest hits from the life of this beloved feminist and environmentalist Irish icon, who also happens to be a great Celtic Christian Saint and shares some traits (and maybe more?!) with the Celtic Pagan goddess of the same name.
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Blog post: February 1st, Imbolc, and the Feast Day of Saint Brigid by Jacqueline Giesbrecht
Thesis: Celtic Christianity in Ireland: The Quest for the Spirit of Celtic Christianity by Jacqueline Giesbrecht
Cogitosus’s “Life of St Brigit”, translated by Seán Connolly
Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae, translated by Seán Connolly
Bethu Brigte, translated by Donnchadh Ó hAodha
Brigid’s Mantle: A Celtic Dialogue Between Pagan and Christian by Kenneth McIntosh and Lilly Weichberger
Body of a Saint, Story of a Goddess: Origins of the Brigidine Tradition by Lisa M. Bitel
The Transformative Nature of Gender: The Coding of St. Brigit of Kildare through Hagiography by Liliane Catherine Marcil-Johnston
Brigid of Kildare: A Novel by Heather Terrell (historical fiction)
Brigid’s Cloak by Bryce Milligan
The Story Of Saint Brigid by Caitriona Clarke
The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare by Jane G. Meyer
Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community
Living In Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake
The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality by John Philip Newell
Restoring the Woven Cord: Principles of Celtic Christianity for the Church Today by Michael Mitton
Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? by Anton Wessels
You’re listening to Nearly Numinous, a podcast all about the religious side of life. Every week we chat about different religions, spiritualities, and other beliefs. We do roundtable discussions, deep dives into histories and religious studies theories and interview different religious leaders or practitioners. For full transcripts and more information on each episode, you can find us at nearlynuminous.ca
Hello and welcome to the Nearly Numinous podcast. Today, we’ll be discussing Celtic Christianity in Ireland. So I wrote my undergrad thesis on the historical development of this relatively small strand of Christianity by looking at the stories of two Irish saints, Saint Brigid and Saint Patrick. As you know, Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up in March and to celebrate, we’ll be recording an episode all about him. But Saint Brigid’s Feast Day is on February 1st, which is the day when this episode will be premiering, so today we’ll be looking into her story in detail.
So ladies first, am I right? Come on, that was funny. So folks, I hope you’re prepared for a whole hour worth of storytelling, mispronunciation of Gaelic words, and everything that goes along with that. Probably our giggles as we try fifteen times to get the word right.
Yup. We did try to figure out how to say some of these words, but I myself will probably make a lot of mistakes. So sorry, to anybody who’s listening who knows how these words are actually said and we’re just butchering them. Yeah.
So as l mentioned, this episode will premiere on February 1st. For those familiar with the lunar calendar, you may know that February 1st is halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, meaning that it’s the beginning of spring. Which is kind of hard to believe. It still feels like it’s 2020, so it’s weird that it’s spring 2021. It’s also the beginning of the Celtic pagan festival Imbolc as well as the date of Saint Brigid’s feast day. As we’ll see, the co-occurance of these events is not an accident at all. Saint Brigid, lived in the 5th century CE and was the abbess of a monastery in Ireland. So an abbess is the word for a female leader of an abbey or community of Christian nuns or monks. Saint Brigid’s abbey is located in Kildare, which is 50 km west of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. She is one of the patron saints of Ireland, as well as the patron saint of milkmaids, midwives, and fire.
What a strange trio.
Yeah, it’s very, very random. It’s just like, since she’s the only really I think the only important Celtic saint that’s a female. It’s like they just combined everything that’s domestic under her name.
Yeah. And then fire
And then fire. Yeah. Well, because of the hearth, right, in the house. So it’s all related.
Oh, yeah. It makes sense.
It’s not like a bonfire outside. It’s like the fire inside. Nice, domestic. But she is also…
The fire that drives my feminist soul.
Exactly. It’s a pretty, pretty. scorching fire. I don’t know.
Her monastery contained the legendary eternal fire of the goddess Brigid which remained lit until the Reformation, with just a short pause in the thirteenth century. I don’t quite remember why there was a pause, but there was. The listeners may remember from an earlier episode that the Protestant Reformation began in 1517. So the sacred was extinguished somewhere around that time and then was relit again in 1992. Throughout this episode, we’ll be hearing stories of Saint Brigid from Seán Connolly’s translation of the 7th-century text, The Life of St Brigid, which was written by Cogitosus, as well as the 8th-century text, the Vita Prima Sanctae, and some modern retellings by theSaintBrigid School in Dublin.
So it’s basically going to be storytime for the next hour. So we highly recommend you grab a cup of tea. Put on your cozy reading socks that you got for Christmas that you haven’t worn yet, Jacqueline, and snuggle in for a great hour.
You compel me, brethren, to undertake to record in writing, after the fashion of learned men, the miracles and deeds of the virgin Brigit of holy and blessed memory. The task which had been imposed upon me and which is a difficult one on account of its delicate subject matter is quite beyond my limited powers, my ignorance and my command of language. But God has power to make great things out of the smallest, just as he filled the house of the poor little widow with a small amount of oil and a handful of flour.
Now, Saint Brigit, whom God foreknew and predestined according to his own image, was born in Ireland of Christian and noble parents belonging to the good and most wise sept of Echtech. Born of her father Dubhtach and her mother Broicsech, she grew from childhood in the pursuit of good. For, chosen by God, the girl was by character totally self-restrained and chaste and was continually progressing to better things. And who can adequately recount her deeds and the miracles she wrought even at that age? However, we shall offer the following few selected from countless others by way of illustration.
So, when she was old enough, she was sent by her mother to do the work of churning so that she could make up the butter from the cow’s milk which had been dashed; she too was meant to carry out this work, in the same way as other women were accustomed to do, and to deliver for use the complete yield of the cows and the customary weight and measure of butter at the appointed time with the others. However, this maiden with her most beautiful and generous disposition, preferring to obey God rather than men, distributed the milk and butter liberally to the poor and the guests.
So, when as usual the appointed time came for all to hand in what the cows had yielded, her turn came. And when her workmates presented the finished result of their work, the aforementioned blessed maiden was also requested to hand in her work in like manner. In dread of her mother since she had nothing to show because she had given the lot away to the poor without a thought for the morrow, strengthened and inflamed with an ardour of faith so intense and unquenchable, she turned to the Lord and prayed. Without delay, the Lord heard the maiden’s voice and prayers. And, being a helper in the hour of need, he came to her assistance with the generous bestowal of a divine gift, and lavishly restored the butter for the maiden who had confidence in him. Astonishingly, the very moment after her prayer, the most holy maiden proved that she had fulfilled her task by showing that nothing was missing from the fruit of her work, but that it was even more abundant than her workmates’. And when the miracle of this great gift was fully discovered and came to the public notice, everyone praised God who had wrought it and they marvelled that there was such power of faith in a maiden’s heart.
So Saint Brigid has remarkable similarities with a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. The goddess Brigid, also known as Brig or Bride, is associated with spring, fire, fertility, healing, and poetry – all of these very similar to Saint Brigid. The goddess Brigid would eventually become the main representative for these Celtic gods, but there’s actually very little mention of her in Irish Celtic myth. Some scholars think that without these similarities, both the goddess Brigid and Saint Brigid would have been forgotten entirely. The combination of these two women, referred to with the nonpartisan name “The Holy Woman Brigid” is a prime example what’s called “syncretism,” which is typically a term for the blending of cultures together; in this case, the blending of Christianity with pre-Christian Irish culture. We saw this sort of syncretism in our Christmas episode, with the example of the Christmas tree and evergreen boughs. But syncretism can be problematic for some people, especially for conservative Christians who see Christianity as being linked to White European culture. So Celtic Christianity is oftentimes seen as being too ‘pagan’ and so the incorporation of these Celtic myths are troubling a lot of these Christians who do feel this way.
You may know Celtic Christianity, or the closely linked Celtic paganism, from some of its portrayals in pop culture. Examples of this could be the show Outlander, which is on Netflix, in which the main character, Claire, travels back in time when she visits a circle of standing stones in the Scotland highlands. Fairy magic is portrayed as white magic and as well as being compatible with Christianity, whereas devil magic is seen as black magic and punishable by death. There’s this very strange scene where Claire is forced to ‘use her powers’ to judge those who have been arrested for using the ‘dark arts.’ And I say “use her powers” in quotation marks because before she time-travelled, she was a nurse, and so when she travelled back in time, people see her healing powers as being magical. There’s a rumour that is spread in which she is said to be “Une Dame Blanche,” which is a White lady of Celtic folklore that has powers of white magic.
In a more recent show, that is also on Netflix and is a Netflix original called “Cursed,” the main character, Nimue, who is played by Katherine Langford, seeks to protect the Arthurian sword Excalibur from falling into the wrong hands. Nimue is fey as well as a witch, and draws her power from nature. While not human, the fae are portrayed as being Celtic in comparison to the invading Red Palladin army that has the authority of Rome. So Celtic swirls and other Celtic symbols are used throughout the show to highlight this connection between the fae and the Celtic people. However, while the Red Palladins see the fae as being sinful and anti-Christian, we see that some fae characters are in fact Christian. And I won’t… there’s spoilers there, so I won’t spoil that for you. This negative view of the fae by the Roman Church in the show is similar to how the Roman Church has viewed the way in which Christianity has been practiced by Celtic peoples in the past — as not being a ‘pure’ enough form of Christianity. This show implies though that this fae or Celtic way of being – or being closer to nature – is in fact more pure than this violent and patriarchal version of Roman Christianity of the Red Palladins in the show. This conversation of purity comes up quite often in conversations around Celtic Christianity, as we’ll hear.
Other than learning more about Celtic Christianity so you can act smart when you watch Outlander – which is a very valid reason – there are some other really fascinating and important things to know about it. Especially when it comes to St Brigid. Celtic Christianity is often a difficult thing to define because it means different things to different people. Often times it brings up debate on it’s authenticity as “true Christianity” as Jacqueline mentioned, but we’re not really here to tell you if it is or not. Practitioners of it see it as being the traditional form of Christianity of the British Isles. In this view, Celtic Christianity had a Golden Age during which the prominent Saints of Celtic Christianity lived, which was from about the mid-fifth to mid-seventh century. Many practitioners also see it as having started separate from the Holy Roman Empire, which allows Celtic Christianity to be a break from the institutionalization of the Catholic Church as well as being quite separate from the Protestant Reformation, which makes Celtic Christianity neither Protestant nor Catholic. This is something that became really important during the Troubles in Ireland. The Troubles is the name of an ethno-national conflict in Ireland (mostly in Northern Ireland) where the groups were split between Protestant and Catholic. So Celtic Christian is seen more as poetic, peaceful, nostalgic, earthy, and that’s what draws a lot of people to it.
Celtic Christianity and Celtic Paganism are, obviously, linked to the Celtic cultural group, which featured a class system of Druids and Bards. This group prized storytelling and oral histories which means many of the tales around Celtic Christianity are extremely poetic and actually quite lovely to read and listen to. Because of this, many people in the modern age are drawn to Celtic Christianity because of its beautiful liturgy, prayers and poetry. However, some people are drawn to Celtic Christianity because they’re looking to connect with their Celtic heritage. What I personally find the most interesting aspect of St Brigid and Celtic Christianity is first – the gender dynamics, and second – the environmental and ecospirituality dynamics. Especially when it comes to how we interpret this in the modern age. Saint Brigid, as a woman, often brings up a lot of insights into the role of women in Celtic Christianity – and it is often times seen as being friendly to feminism because of her prominence within the religious system. Both St Brigid, and Celtic Christianity as a whole, are deeply intertwined with nature as well. Especially when it comes to its liturgy. So it’s seen as being friendly to environmentalism and ecospirituality movements throughout history as well as in the contemporary age.
So the syncretism, or blending between ancient Celtic folklore and Celtic Christianity is the reason why I chose Brigid as one of my case studies for my research into Celtic Christianity in Ireland with SaintPatrick being the other person I was interested in. I viewed the history of Celtic Christianity as being like a tree and the development of the hagiography, so that’s a fancy word of saying like stories developed around the saints after they have passed away. So the development of the hagiographies and the tradition of Saint Brigid, I saw them as tree rings that are marked, that are markers of the growth and evolution of the tree of Celtic Christianity. I began first with Brigid’s pre-Christian beginnings and then moved into the different variations of how her story was told as a saint within the Celtic Christian Church in Ireland. These stories changed over time, so what I did was look at their differences and questioned: Why did I think the author would have changed them to be different in this way at this time in this political context? We will hear an example of this in the next story that we’ll hear. We heard before the opening of the 7-century text which focused on Brigid’s godly holiness. This next story is from a later text in the eighth century. As you listen pay attention to the pagan themes in the story, such as the introduction of several Druids.
There was a nobleman of Leinster stock named Dubthach. He bought a bondmaid named Broicsech (Brucksick) and she was of comely appearance, good-living and a good slave. Her master Dubthach desired her and slept with her and she became pregnant by him. When Dubthach’s wife came to know of this she was sorely aggrieved and said to her husband, ‘Cast out this bondmaid and sell her lest her offspring surpass my offspring.’ But her husband refused to sell the maid since he loved her very dearly, for she was a person of quite irreproachable conduct.
Now one day both of them, man and maid, sat in a chariot and drove past the house of a certain druid. Hearing the sound of the chariot the druid said to his servants, ‘See who is sitting in the chariot for the chariot sounds as if it is carrying a king.’ Then the servants said, ‘We can see no one but Dubthach in the chariot.’ The druid said, ‘Summon him to me.’ And when he had been summoned the druid said to him, ‘This woman who is sitting behind you in the chariot, is she with child?’ Dubthach replied, ‘Yes.’ The druid said, ‘Woman, by what man have you conceived?’ She replied, ‘By my master, Dubthach.’
The druid said to him, ‘Take good care of this woman, for the child she has conceived will be extraordinary.’ Dubthach replied, ‘My wife is trying to force me to sell this bondmaid because she is afraid of her progeny.’ The druid said, ‘Your wife’s progeny will serve your bondmaid’s progeny until the end of the world.’ To the bondmaid, however, the druid said, ‘Keep your spirits up; no one can harm you; the grace of your little infant will set you free. You will give birth to an illustrious daughter who will shine in the world like the sun in the vault of heaven.’ Dubthach said, I am grateful to God because until now I have not had a daughter but only sons.’ Dubthach and his bondmaid returned to his house but Dubthach loved his bondmaid all the more after the druid’s words. 6 Then in a rage his wife together with her brothers urgently pressed Dubthach to sell the maid in a distant region. ?
In those days two holy bishops from Britain came at God’s prompting and entered Dubthach’s house. One was called Mel, the other Melchu. And Mel said to Dubthach’s wife, ‘Why are you so sad? The offspring of your bondmaid will excel you and your progeny. Nevertheless love the bondmaid as you do your sons because her offspring will greatly benefit your children’.
Another way that I came to understand Celtic Christianity is through the metaphor of a fog. So just imagine yourself walking into a fog and how you know you can kind of make out certain images in the distance like maybe a tree or the outline of a fence next to the road. But it’s never totally clear. And you have to use your imagination to sometimes figure out exactly what you’re looking at. So to make sense of these images, you have to use your imagination, you know, especially like so you don’t walk into something. I saw this as I saw this, this imagination part as describing the influence of druidic oral storytelling, and how the writing of myths and stories are so fluid in their understanding of the Christian and the pagan. I think that this is left a lot of freedom of expression and interpretation of what is now contemporary Celtic Christianity.
In pre-Christian Celtic mythology, Brigid was a goddess in the Celtic pantheon called Tuatha Dé. I think that was right. Listeners, someone tell us if I pronounced that wrong. …which in English translates to “tribe of the gods”. In the saga The Taking of Ireland, the story says that when the Irish arrived in Ireland, the Tuatha Dé moved to or were made to go to the Otherworld. The portals to this world were concealed doors in mounds, islands, hills, on the floor of lakes or in the sea. Once there, they began to be known as the sidh, which translates to the Little People or the Fae. Some scholars wonder if the Tuatha De were in fact the name of the group of people that was in Ireland before this group of Celtic people came.
So fun fact, while the Celts in Britain came from Northwestern Europe like areas like France, the linguistic differences between the two groups as well as the details in this particular mythic story of the Taking of Ireland, suggests that the Irish Celts actually came from Spain. And then these Celts then eventually moved to Scotland.
Oh cool! So Brigid would eventually become the main representative for these pagan gods, but there is very little mention of her in the saga, and even in later written Irish Celtic myths. Broadly, she is established as being the daughter of Dagda, the father of the gods. Her name is linked to the Gaelic word that means “a fiery arrow.” She is described as a poet and the owner of several supernatural animals. In some cases, she is a member of a triple-deity sisterhood, made up of Brigid the poet, Brigid the physician, and Brigid the smith. She is also a mother, which explains her link to fertility and the spring season Imbolc. If not for a saint by the same name, it’s possible the goddess Brigid would have slipped into obscurity due to a lack of written evidence. This is because the Learned Class made up of Druids, bards, and the filid or poets who chose to keep oral histories unwritten. And Jacqueline, do you know why that was? Was this because they weren’t really literate? Or was it more an intentional choice?
So there’s evidence that the Learned class was actually literate, because they sometimes used a script called ogham. Some of our listeners might have seen that script. It’s a lot of lines kind of that intersect but yeah, like you might have seen them in different symbols for for like Celtic imagery that is used often. So this was used to write into stone, as land markers maybe. And so this was used already, when, when the Celts were still in Europe. But since there wasn’t any written accounts, no one knows exactly why they preferred oral history. Some people think that this is maybe an elitist choice so that the Learned class could keep their power over their people. This is certainly supported by Greek and Roman written history, who saw the druids as just essentially terrible. And there’s lots of what, there’s very little actually written about the druids in the Greek and Roman history, but what is there portrays them as being just really manipulative and awful people.
Yeah, I’ve read a little bit that I, with my studies of Greek and Roman literature, and especially the tales of like all the other different pagan groups. I know, I’ve read a lot about Druids having like a ton of human sacrifice. But they’ve actually found no archaeological evidence or otherwise, that Druids did human sacrifice whatsoever, which I find quite interesting.
Yeah, exactly. And like lots of the portrayals will be, especially of like, the druids, I don’t know, like taking out the intestines and like displaying them in a certain way. Like, that’s a very common image. But like Steph said, there’s, there’s very little like, there is no evidence of that. But there’s very little archaeological evidence even of the Celts in general, it’s mostly just graves. So it’s really difficult to figure out exactly what was going on with the Celts to learn more about their religion, maybe, because there were, there was like pottery and stuff. So you can kind of learn a little bit from, from looking at the images that were put into that, but there’s very little, so. So it’s, yeah, we know very little about the European Celts. But with regards to the written description, because they were written by either the Greeks or Romans and not the Celts themselves, most of the reflection on their character sees them in a very negative light, very barbaric. The Romans actually called them they were part of the group that the Romans called barbarians, which is the name for the groups that didn’t speak Latin. That’s what the Romans called people who didn’t speak Latin. So once again, it’s really difficult to imagine the motivations of these leaders because all we really have about the Celts were these negative accounts and physical artifacts that have been dug up over the years. But yeah, nothing from them themselves.
So though there’s no written evidence from Europe, quite a bit of written history emerged in Ireland after Christianity arrived in Ireland. So all the hagiographies, once again, that’s the stories of saints and Celtic mythologies were written within the context of an Irish monastery during the 7th to 12th centuries. So the story that we heard a little bit before or heard about before ‘The Taking of Ireland,’ though there’s no Christian elements in that story, that story also would have been great in a monastery, so that’s something to keep in mind. Just about like, who was writing the story, why they were writing the story. And so there’s been much debate about the identities of these writers of the hagiographies and the mythologies from this time. Like how pagan were the writing of the hagiographies? And how Christian were those writing the mythologies, and what were their motives? Could a scribe be both a pagan and a Christian? This debate is especially pertinent for the debate around Brigid’s identity, as this was the time when her pagan and Christian stories were being written, and were starting to be intertwined. So those scholars have developed many different theories. There’s no way of really knowing this. Her two identities have become so interwoven that they’re inseparable, and the syncretism is problematic for many people, particularly, particularly more conservative Christians. And we’ll discuss this a little bit more on our episode on Saint Patrick, because this has to do with how Ireland was evangelized. So how Christianity was originally brought into Ireland. There’s lots of different opinions on the ‘correct’ way to evangelize and some people think that Christianity was done incorrectly. So Celtic Christianity is sometimes seen as being too ‘pagan.’ And so the incorporation of these myths can be really troubling, but for those wanting to reconnect to pre Christian Celtic traditions, so those that are wanting to learn more about Celtic paganism, there is no source material that wasn’t written in a Christian monastery. So it’s for this reason that Celtic paganism is considered by many scholars to be a new religious movement, because there’s no way to tell exactly how Celtic traditions were practiced prior to the christianization of Ireland, which is something that’s just really sad to me, actually.
One day the infant’s voice was heard. She was praying to God and stretching out her hands to heaven. A man greeted her and she replied, ‘This will be mine; this will be mine.’ The druid on hearing this said, ‘The answer which the infant has given is a true prophecy, because this place will be hers forever.’ Which later proved true, for today saint Brigit has a large paruchia in those regions. When the inhabitants of that area heard this they flocked to the druid and said to him, ‘You stay with us but let the girl who is prophesying that our territories will be hers depart from us.’ The druid replied, ‘The bondmaid and her daughter I’m not going to leave. Rather what I am going to do is turn my back on your country.’
Then the druid with all his people went to his native place which is in the territory of the Muma where he had inheritance of his father. The holy maiden felt a loathing for the druid’s food and used to vomit daily. Observing this the druid carefully investigated the cause of the nausea, and, when he discovered it, said, I am unclean, but this girl is filled with the Holy Spirit. She can’t endure my food.’ Thereupon he chose a white cow and set it aside for the girl, and a certain Christian woman, a very God-fearing virgin, used to milk the cow and the girl used to drink the cow’s milk and not vomit it up as her stomach had been healed. Moreover this Christian woman fostered the girl. When the holy maiden grew up she served in the house and any food her hand touched or her eye saw would multiply.
Later on, the thought entered her heart of returning to her father. When the druid found this out, he sent messengers to him to tell him to take his daughter back as a free person. Whereupon he was overjoyed and came to the druid’s house and took his daughter away and her Christian foster-mother accompanied her. As her foster-mother was ill she sent Brigit and another girl with her to the house of a certain man to ask for a drink of beer for the sick woman, but receiving nothing from him they returned to their own home. Then saint Brigit went to a well and filled her vessel with water and it became excellent beer, and after her foster-mother tasted it she got up cured.
Not long afterwards a certain respected guest came to her father’s house. Her father arranged for meat to be cooked for him and gave his daughter five portions to cook. Now he went out but the guest was asleep inside. Then a hungry dog came into the house and Brigit gave it one portion; the dog came a second time and she gave it another portion. The guest saw this but said nothing. She for her part thought he was asleep. Later the father came into the house and found the five portions intact and the guest told him what he had seen and they said to one another, ‘We are unworthy to eat this food. It is better that it be given to the poor instead’.
A certain God-fearing widow who lived in the next village asked her father if saint Brigit could go with her to the synod which was assembled in Mag Life. The father gave permission and off they went. Then a holy man at the synod saw a vision in his sleep and when he got up said, T have seen Mary and a certain man standing beside her who said to me, “This is holy Mary who has been dwelling among you.'” No sooner had the holy man related this at the synod than the widow accompanied by saint Brigit arrived on the scene. Whereat the holy man said, ‘This is Mary whom I saw, for I clearly recognize her features.’ Thereupon they all glorified her as a type of Mary.
So who was Saint Brigid? Cogitosus, who was around 650 CE, a member of the Brigidine community of Kildare, wrote the first Vita of Brigid. In this hagiography, Brigid does not have pagan origins – the only thing known about her background is that she grew up with her father, Dubhtach, and her mother, Broicsech, on their farm. Brigid is a stereotypical holy woman: virtuous, humble, and compliant with male authority, unless their instructions disobey the will of God. She performs many miracles, many of them biblical, for example, healing a blind man or turning water into ale. It’s kind of like the Irish version of Jesus turning water into wine. But then again, beer was pretty prominent around Jesus’s location and time as well. I hate to admit that I spent way too much time in that rabbit hole when I was working on my master’s thesis, and it wasn’t even relevant to it.
I wonder if it’s just that the Irish just don’t like wine as much.
I think in their defense, though, wine grapes don’t really grow well in Ireland. So they probably just didn’t ever really have access to it. Whereas like wheat and barley for beer and ale grows pretty well in that climate. So unless they had people bringing wine from mainland Europe, they probably didn’t know anything about it. I also think I know way too much about wine. But anyway, that’s not a problem. Jacqueline, if you could turn water into any beverage, what would you, what would you pick?
Ah, that’s a really good question. Um, probably like hot chocolate is my first instinct. I’m not quite sure why. I just really like chocolate. So yeah, like could you imagine just like me as a saint? What? Going around just turning everybody’s water bottles into like piping hot chocolate.
Hmm. Jacqueline, a patron saint of hot chocolate.
Yeah, I think that’d be great.
I have some, I have some really good news for you. You can do that. There’s this powder that they make that you just put into water and it turns it into hot chocolate.
Yeah, I think for me it would probably be wine. I’m really on board with this whole Jesus thing you know, when it comes to water and wine?
Yeah. I was just thinking to it would be nice to like, you know, when you’re out camping. If you could just like take water out of the lake and like without using a filtration system, like you would just like use your powers to like make it purified water. I think that would be very useful. Like in a, yeah, like in a more useful way maybe than hot chocolate.
Yeah, that would be very useful. But boring. That sounds boring.
That’s true. That’s true.
You know what also would purify the water?
Turning it into alcohol. Alright, so anyway, back to Cogitosus. So could Cogitosus emphasizes that Brigid can perform these miracles due to her strong faith. Cogitosus believed that despite her gender, Brigid was the greatest saint, even greater than her rival Saint Patrick due to her faith and humility. She was not royal, male or married, the only source of her status or authority was from God.
So throughout Irish Christian history, the stories of Saint Brigid, were in constant competition with those of Saint Patrick due to the competition between their churches. This competition focused on ownership of land as well as authority based on gender. In the two hagiographies written about Saint Brigid in the 8th century, a lot of this was done with the integration of pre Christian mythologies into both their stories. In the 7th century writings, Saint Patrick is portrayed as being the ultimate Druid. He has many dramatic confrontations with Druids and he exorcises so he banishes the demons from the land of pagan influences. So here there’s this relationship between demons and pagan, pagan beliefs again.
Yeah, and exorcises, not exercises. Because when you first said that I was like “exercises!” Yeah, exercising is good.
There’s actually this story about Saint Brigid meeting this, this man and she asked him, like, “Where are you going?” And he was just like, “I’m running to the kingdom of God.” I just thought it was really funny. Just because there’s this man just like running just across Ireland. I don’t know…
Yeah that’s exercising, not exorcising. Although maybe he was trying to exorcise while exercising.
Yeah, the exercising exorciser!
We should do an episode titled that. Alright, anyway.
So in response to this exorcising, St Brigid’s hagiographies increased her relationship to the druids. So this is where we start to see, like her mother being the servant of a druid or she’s the daughter of a druid; it changes depending on the retelling as well. Her birth becomes associated with many miracles, including a column of fire appearing to come from her head, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and a similar radiant halo that shot from the heads of Irish saga heroes. She has many miracles in which she has control over the natural world too. In the next two stories that we’ll hear, the first one being written in the 7th century and the second one being written in the 8th century, we see this special relationship that Brigid has to the land that eventually becomes really important to her identity.
One day, when Brigit saw ducks swimming in the water according to their natural instinct, and occasionally flying through the air, she bade them come to her. In winged flight and with remarkable zeal for obedience, they began to fly to her in flocks without any fear, familiar with her calls as though domesticated. She touched them with her hand and took them in her arms and, after doing this for some time, she let them go back flying into the air on their own wings. And, through creatures visible, she praised the invisible creator of all things to whom all animate things are subject and for whom all things live, as one says in the recitation of the office (of the dead?). And from all this, it can be clearly understood that the whole of nature, beasts, cattle and birds, was subjected to her power.
One rainy day Brigit came home and when the rain was over, a sunbeam came into the house through the wall, and Brigit put her mantle on the beam thinking it was a rope. Then another person preached the word of God in the house and Brigit listened intently to God’s word and until evening and far into the night her mind was intoxicated with God’s word and she became oblivious of the present world; but the beam on which Brigit had placed her wet mantle lasted after sunset until midnight. Then one of those who was in the house said to Brigit, ‘Take your mantle off the sunbeam. The beam will not disappear until morning unless you take your mantle off it.” Thereupon Brigit got up quickly and removed the mantle from the beam saying, I thought it was a rope, not a beam.’ Others too came to Mag Life the same night and said they had seen this beam lighting up the plain until they reached saint Brigit in the middle of the night. Then they all gave thanks to God and praised Saint Brigit.
So back to Brigid’s gender and the gender dynamics. Brigid’s gender allowed her authority also in terms of the association with the goddess with the land. As scholar Lisa Bitel says, “her very femaleness gave her territorial and numinous powers both Christian and Other and, further, that she had governed the landscapes of Ireland long before Patrick and Christianity ever came to Ireland.” Bitel sees Brigid as being more significant than Patrick – whereas Patrick brings the message of Christianity to Ireland, Brigid translates it and converts the very land. In Patrick’s hagiographies, his churches are never mentioned, whereas Saint Brigid’s church is described in detail. Bitel asserts that Saint Patrick’s link to the Druids was done to show that the land first needed to be purified before it could be built upon, thus justifying why Patrick does not focus on founding churches. Brigid, however, was a friend of the Druids and had already converted the land with the sanctity of her presence. So Brigid didn’t need to focus on tearing down the pagan and could focus on building up the Church in Ireland. Patrick spends much of his mission wandering and never specifying his location, implying that to him geography does not matter. In contrast, to Brigid, geography always matters. While the burial location of Saint Patrick is unknown, hers is known. Additionally, she receives a mantle or cloak that represents all of the land in Ireland. In a way, she becomes Ireland. By the time the later stories were written, Brigid’s body was no longer at Kildare as it had been at the time of Cogitosus, which was problematic since a saint’s presence manifested itself at their tomb. The hagiographers solved this issue by giving Saint Brigid the powerful bodiless presence that continued to exist in the landscapes and the territories in which Saint Brigid had lived or visited. These hagiographies focus on her time on the road, with her visiting all five provinces. She is present even in places over which Armagh has authority. She also has more control over land and animals, whereas Patrick’s control is just “Christian counter-magic.” These hagiographers ingeniously turned this problem — no longer having her body at Kildare – into an advantage. The most well-known story of Saint Brigid is about St Brigid and her mantle or cloak, which tells the story of how Brigid gained ownership of the land for her monastery through a miraculous means. The story goes like this.
Saint Brigid went to the King of Leinster to ask for land to build a convent. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect place for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king’s heart. Then she smiled at the king and said “will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?” The king thought that she was joking and because Brigid’s cloak was so small he knew that it would only cover a very small piece of land. The king agreed and Brigid spread her cloak on the ground. She asked her four friends to hold a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions. The four friends walked north, south, east and west. The cloak grew immediately and began to cover many acres of land. The king was astonished and he realized that she had been blessed by God. The king fell to the ground and knelt before Brigid and promised her and her friend’s money, food and supplies. Soon afterwards, the king became a Christian and also started to help the poor. Brigid’s miracle of the cloak was the first of many miracles that she worked for the people of Ireland.
This is the story that is most often told in children’s books about Saint Brigid. Icons of Brigid often show her wearing a cloak that merges into the landscape of Ireland. For this reason, Brigid is linked with nature and modern environmental movements. This is also a common portrayal of the goddess Brigid. For example, the area of Glastonbury, England, which has a large pagan population, has hills that are said to represent the body of Brigid laying down. So this is this sounds a little bit like Moana, I think you said earlier.
No, yeah. When when you were first telling me about this, I I definitely was picturing the image of the goddess in Moana. That like is the big hill. I don’t remember her name. But when she lays down she becomes the islands.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s the sort of thing and in Glastonbury there are hills because everywhere else is quite flat in the area. So the hills, they’re just quite they seem out of place. And so that’s why I think, well, the hill there just has always been quite important even before I think probably the mythology of Brigid became popular in England as well. It that story came with the story of Saint Patrick actually, through a missionary that that came to Wales and England. So with Brigid’s link to the land, Druidry, as well as her own strong Christian faith, Brigid is portrayed as a capable colleague of Saint Patrick. Humourously, in the 8th-century hagiographies, she falls asleep during one of Saint Patrick’s sermons and instead has a vision from God. So this shows that she does not need Patrick as an in-between for her and God. She can do it on her own. Patrick interprets the dream as showing that the two are working together, so Patrick and Brigid are working together, as equals to spread the gospel. As well, Brigid is accidentally made Bishop during her ceremony to become a nun since the bishop who was performing the ceremony became “intoxicated by the grace of God.” So just got carried away.
Yeah, that’s definitely what I’m going to be saying from now on.
So between the time of Cogitosus and that of these two new hagiographies, Armagh, which is the name of the place where Saint Patrick’s Church is, and Kildare had negotiated a relationship in which Brigid had authority over Leinster. I hope I’m saying that right. While Patrick had control over the rest of Ireland. However, these two Vitae, these two stories, show that Brigid was not any lesser than he.
After this Dubthach began to contemplate selling his daughter because she was committing many thefts, for everything she saw she secretly gave to the poor. Now one day he took her with him in the chariot to visit the king. And when they reached the king’s palace, Dubthach left the chariot in her charge and went to the king. And a poor man came to Saint Brigit and she gave him her father’s royal sword which the king had given him. Then Dubthach said to the king, ‘Buy my daughter to be your slave.’ The king replied, ‘Why are you selling her?’ Dubthach said, ‘Whatever she lays her hand on she steals.’ And the king said, ‘Let her come to us.’ Dubthach went out to her and said, ‘Where is my sword?’ She replied, I gave it to Christ. Her father became furious and felt like killing the maiden. But the king said to her, ‘Why did you give my sword and your father’s to the poor?’ She replied, If God were to ask me for yourself and him, I would give you and all you have to him if I could.’ Then the king said, ‘This daughter of yours, Dubthach, it seems to me, is a great responsibility for me to buy and a greater one for you to sell.’ Then the king gave the maiden another sword to give to her father. And Dubthach returned home with his daughter rejoicing.
A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland.
Saint Patrick was preaching the word of God one day to the crowds and Saint Brigit. Then everyone saw a very bright cloud coming down from the sky to the dark earth on a rainy day. Gleaming from an enormous flash of lightning, it paused for a little while at a spot nearby beside the crowd. Afterwards it went to Dun Lethglaisse where Patrick is buried. Lingering there a while longer the cloud then disappeared and the crowds did not dare ask what this extraordinary apparition meant but asked saint Brigit. 4 And Brigit said, ‘Ask Patrick.’ When Patrick heard this he said, ‘You and I know equally well. Reveal this mystery to them.’ And Brigit said, ‘This cloud, in my opinion, is the spirit of our father St Patrick who has come to visit the places where his body will be buried and rest after his death. For his body will rest for a short while in a place nearby, and afterwards will be taken to be buried in Dun Lethglaisse and there his body will remain till the day of judgement.’ Then Patrick told Brigit to make with her own hands a linen shroud to cover his body with after his death, as he desired to rise to eternal life with that shroud. Brigit accordingly made the shroud and it was in it that St Patrick’s body was later wrapped and it is still in that place.
These two 8th century hagiographies claimed authority for Brigid. And this was because of her gender and because of that she was also called the ‘Mary of the Gaels.’ Diane Peters Auslander says, Brigid “not only nurtures the church, but also gives birth to Christ’s word in Ireland, [being] to Ireland what Mary was to the whole Christian world.” This association with Mary is especially interesting given that Mary’s feast day is on February 2, a day after the Feast day of St Brigid. And we all know history has for a long time been a boys club. Her-story, am I right? I actually hate when people say that.
But if this club decided to let in a female it was usually for a purpose and it was because of a transformation of gender. So what does that really mean in terms of this form of history? So while female saints always remained of the female sex, they tended to move around on the gender spectrum. By becoming a member of the “third” gender and denying their femaleness, a woman could become holy. In the early medieval period, women were either seen as an inferior manifestation of the male or as simply being other. In Ireland, this meant coming from the ‘Otherworld,’ this place of fairies and changelings. In this way, women “stood on the threshold between two worlds.” Saint Brigid, of course, was born on the threshold of the farmhouse, in some cases the farmhouse of the Druid. In many ways Brigid herself is a threshold: between women and men, rich and poor, human and divine, Druid and priest, Celtic hero and saint, myth and history, and most importantly, pagan and Christian. Therefore, Brigid is both a symbol of syncretism and continuity; she represents the paradox that is Celtic Christianity, which is neither one thing nor the other.
So where is Brigid now? Since the writings of her hagiographies, the function of her identity has changed. Following the Norman Conquest of the 11th century, Brigid became a symbol of Irish identity. When conflicts arose within Ireland, Brigid became a symbol used to try to promote unity. To modern Celtic pagans and Christians alike, she is a symbol of the Celtic spiritual heritage and the link to the land, more specifically a link to an uninvaded and unpolluted land. Brigid is significant because of her history, not her meagre recorded history but her perceived history. Was she a goddess or a saint first? There is absolutely no way to know. So Jacqueline what really first got you interested in Celtic Christianity and Saint Brigid?
So we talked earlier about syncretism, and how syncretism often drives people away, but syncretism is actually what drew me to Celtic Christianity. So I didn’t learn about Saint Brigid for quite a while, actually, from when I first learned about Celtic Christianity. I mentioned earlier this place called Glastonbury in England, and I heard this myth of Glastonbury in which there’s this tale that Jesus actually, in the story, Joseph of Arimathea, if you know who that is, he plays a role in the biblical story. Joseph is Jesus’s uncle. And Joseph is a tin trader, I believe. And so, Jesus came with Joseph of Arimathea to England when he was a boy, and he stayed there for a time in Glastonbury. And so the tale goes that there’s a Druidic University there, and that maybe Jesus would have learned some magical abilities there. And there’s also ley lines around Glastonbury. So those who may not know what ley lines are, that’s where, like, specific areas are thought to have strong power just in that area. And so there’s, there’s the idea that maybe Jesus got some of his, like, miraculous powers from being there. So anyway, Jesus goes back, this was all when he was a boy. So Jesus goes back to the Middle East, and then he ended up dying on the cross. And then Joseph of Arimathea, he actually has the holy grail. And so the holy grail is the cup in which, is it… I always get this mixed up. It’s the last cup that Jesus drinks out of, I think, as well as I think there’s some I think, Jesus’ blood is said to land in this cup. And so it has like healing powers. And so the belief is that Joseph of Arimathea went to Glastonbury and that’s how the holy grail actually got to England. So the holy grail is associated with like King Arthur and all those things. And so just that that layering of like, there’s King Arthur, there’s the druids, there’s Christianity, was super interesting to me. And so that’s how I got into Celtic Christianity, originally, but when I got interested in Ireland, specifically, I got interested in Saint Brigid just because she’s so important in Ireland and so it made a lot of sense to study her. There’s also this blending of the Celtic and Christian themes that are similar to what I had seen in Glastonbury and so that was just very interesting to me. And she’s also just like, so cool and so badass. She, she’s such, she has such a strength of character that is inspiring to me as a feminist. And even in a male-dominated church, she had the courage just to speak her mind, which I find just really empowering.
Yeah, I think that we should title this episode “St. Brigid, the fire in our feminist souls.”
Yeah! I’m game!
Cool. So I know you’ve mentioned kind of in the past when we’ve talked about this, that you ou sometimes find it uncomfortable or awkward talking about Celtic Christianity, especially when it came to like your undergrad research. Why? Why was that?
Yeah. So I, I went to a Christian university during my undergrad. And so many of those in my social circles were Christian. So while by then I knew that I wanted to go into Religious Studies instead of theology, not everyone I talked to you understood that difference. And so listeners may remember the difference between that is, theology is confessional. And there’s more of a sense of right or wrong and religious studies is, is definitely more observational. And so on one side, there were the more conservative Christians that I would interact with, that would just be quite alarmed that I was studying such a pagan form of Christianity. And we’ll talk a little bit more like more about that in an episode on Saint Patrick. That was awkward when I had to discuss that.
But on the other hand, there’s some people who loved it. So they loved like the contemporary Celtic Christian theology, which made them the ones most likely to read my research. But I felt awkward because I knew what sorts of books that they were reading. So the contemporary Celtic Christian theologies that are out there often have sweeping statements about Celtic history that aren’t historically accurate, etc. There’s lots of sweeping statements about how the Celts did this, or the druids did that that aren’t based upon written history, or even the oral history that was later written down. And they’re just, they’re told by these theologians as if they are a fact, and the readers see them as fact. So this idea of fact and fiction is a point of contention as people begin to learn more about Celtic Christianity from an academic standpoint. This isn’t necessarily because studying Celtic Christianity reduces it somehow, though, some people do feel that way. But it’s actually because while these contemporary Celtic Christians often strive to move away from rigid, Western understandings of things, they’re steeped in western understanding of history. So a typical Western understanding of history is that it’s written, and it’s factual. Of course, we now know that history is often constructed by the victors and so it isn’t actually all that accurate. And there’s also this assumption that oral tradition is less reliable than written history.
So looking specifically at Ireland, early histories of Ireland are more focused on narrative, and include these stories of these, these gods that were there previously. And so what’s interesting is that many who consider themselves Celtic Christians often don’t know this history, and are only aware of it in its modern iteration. So they’ll, they’ll understand, you know, like the Celts, all being this monolith. So all the Celts were the same. There’s no difference between the Celts in Scotland, in Ireland and Wales, in France, no difference. These theologians, these modern theologians actually glorify this history without actually going much into detail about it. So sometimes realization that the history that they’ve been told in these books that they’ve taken as factual, aren’t as factual as they had previously believed, becomes deeply problematic for people and it scares them off.
So did this more fluid understanding of history ever give you problems when you were doing your research?
Definitely. But more so with the contemporary texts, as I just mentioned, instead of the old Irish ones. So for example, I remember reading a number of different intro to Celtic Christianity books, as I was just learning about it, originally, and I was just so confused about what exactly Celtic Christianity was. Because as you remember, I learned about Celtic Christianity through Glastonbury, and I didn’t interact with these, these theological texts first, and so I was trying to figure out where does this theology fit into the story of Glastonbury and it just didn’t make sense. Each author had their own opinions that they asserted as fact. And it made it really difficult to sift through or to just figure out like, “What on earth, what is this form of Christianity that I’m trying to learn about?” So for example, there’s one Celtic theologian, he’s Canadian, actually, his name’s John Philip Newell. And he really likes the gospel of John. And he asserts that it is the most important gospel for Celtic Christians in the past and should continue into the present. And he focuses his theology on this gospel. And I’m not quite sure, like where he gets his evidence for this, or if there there is any, like, it’s fine to me if he just likes the gospel of John best, and he wants to focus on it. It’s certainly the most poetic out of the four gospels in the Bible, but I don’t really understand why he has to assert that the Celtic Christians liked it the best in order for him to be able to do this.
I also tended to get just a bit annoyed as I became more familiar with the Celtic history. When I saw that these modern theologians could have done research and looked into certain texts, and they just chose not to. So for example, like treating the Celts as being a monolithic ethnic group that all practice Christianity in the exact same way, as I’ve mentioned before, is historically inaccurate because they were more of a cultural and linguistic group rather than ethnic. So just a little bit of background on that the Celts was, they were actually a civilization in Europe before any Celts came to the British Isles. At the height of their power in the second century BCE, the Celts stretched all across Europe. So technically, Christianity practiced in any of these regions could be considered Celtic Christianity. So like, in Spain, in Turkey, like any of those could technically be considered Celtic Christianity. But even within the British Isles, these people were geographically separated at the time. And at that time, that would have been quite a significant separation. Like you didn’t go back and forth between Scotland and Cornwall super often. And so like the difference, like did make quite a difference culturally. So though there are similarities in these cultures, for sure, there’s not enough for them to be viewed as a generalized like ethnicity as they so often are. So in fact, the term Celtic Christianities the plural is what should be used to describe the historical expressions of Christianity in these areas. So that’s why Celtic Christianity in the singular is seen as being a new religious movement in its, Celtic Christianity’s current form, because there is no singular Celtic Christianity. So that’s just one of my one of my many pet peeves, but that’s, that’s the main one.
Okay, so other than what you’ve kind of mentioned here, are there other ways in which modern Celtic Christianity isn’t completely historically accurate? Like, for example, I can’t help but think all the times, I’ve visited Scotland a few times, and part of the rich history of Scotland is the clan system and the wars and the violence, especially. And I, what, what about that, that doesn’t seem to come up and what we’ve talked about?
Yeah, so the modern movement suspiciously doesn’t talk about war, like ever, which would, yeah, which is just quite strange, considering the often violent history within the clan system, especially in Scotland and Ireland, as you just mentioned, and the lack of discussion by modern practitioners, especially because Celtic Christianity has such this emphasis on history, it seems quite odd and problematic to me that this isn’t even brought up as a historical issue that they might have. Yeah, like to maybe provide an alternative to the violence that just happened in the past. And modern Celtic Christianity seems to be quite a peaceful movement. And yeah, so that makes me wonder why there’s such a silence about this historical violence. And I wonder if it’s because by doing so, that could potentially shatter the nostalgia that is, in many ways essential to this contemporary movement. And just some other ways that Celtic Christianity in its contemporary form aren’t super historically accurate, would be in this… like though Saint Brigid very much like did have more authority as a woman than many women did at the time, she, Celtic Christianity historically in Ireland, as well as throughout the rest of the British Isles wasn’t exactly feminist in the way that we would consider feminism right now. And there’s also this, this link to environmentalism, which we’ve discussed, and this idea that the Celts were closer to nature. I wonder sometimes you know, is it just because they were a farming people and so in their daily lives, they interacted with nature more often than we do now. And that they’re more closer to nature because, like, they were physically closer to nature and not because they had some, like spiritual connection to nature. I don’t know, there’s just lots of questions there. But I do want to say, Well, I find these inaccuracies a bit annoying, particularly in the areas that these two theologians could have maybe done a little bit more research, I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong, though. And I know that’s, that’s kind of what we were talking about before, like this right and wrong; too pagan, not historical enough, you know, I don’t see those things as being problems, I just get a little bit annoyed, because I know contemporary practitioners are going to see these things as historical fact. And so then I just, it just makes my work a little bit more awkward. So that’s why I get annoyed. But like in terms of like, is this change of story, like the change that happens through storytelling, is that okay? I would say genuine like, these, these modern theologies, they just encourage people to work towards equality and to care for the environment, which I would say are positive things. So yeah.
But all that said, there are certain things that contemporary culture, Christianity, I would say, like has, has historically accurate, and one of those things is this idea of sacred space. As we know, from the story of Brigid and like her mantle, and everything, like, like space and place was very important in those hagiographies. And so in the modern movement, there’s, there’s this idea of thin spaces. So the idea that, you know, everywhere, all of creation, so land and animals, is sacred, but there are certain places that are extra sacred, and they’re called thin spaces. So kind of like this veil, that is between earth and heaven is just particularly thin. And so that when you go there, you’re more likely to experience the divine. And so this is often this, this language of thin spaces is often used when modern practitioners visit a Celtic place. So maybe an American or Canadian visits Wales for the first time and they feel this, this kind of awe that just from visiting the landscape and being in this place where there’s all this Celtic history. But then there’s also a language that’s used quite commonly to describe when people visit the island of Iona, which is an old monastery that is located off, on an island on the western coast of Scotland. So this is a location of an old monastery that was then rebuilt recently into a retreat center, and is commonly visited by lots of contemporary practitioners. And so there’s lots of contemporary literature written about Iona using this language of thin space. There’s lots of this, this literature, it could fill an entire library, probably. And it definitely serves as a promotion for these retreats, which aren’t cheap.
Alright, so before we finish, we mentioned at the beginning of this podcast that this episode is going to premiere on St Brigid’s day. So what are some of the things that people do to celebrate this?
So before you heard the story of Saint Brigid making a cross out of rushes or straw when explaining the story of Jesus to a pagan chieftain, so it’s a tradition to make one of these crosses on February 1 every year and then hang them by the door or in the rafters of your house to protect the house from fire or evil. These are sometimes given us housewarming gifts as well. So each year, people will make a new cross and then burn the old one in the fire. So this I think, is especially fitting because of Saint Brigid’s association with fire. Also, apparently, Kildare was known for its blueberry jam. So some people eat a lot of this on February 1 to celebrate.
I can get on board with that.
Yeah, it just seems like really random, like, okay, blueberries. So parts of Ireland also celebrate it more formally with what they callSaintBiddy’s Day, which is a festival and they have a torchlight parade. So there’s this symbolism of light there. And there are also traditions that are not necessarily Christian too to celebrate Imbolc. So there is some evidence that maybe the st Brigid’s cross might have had Celtic origins originally, so there’s that but Brigid, both the saint and the Goddess, is said to visit homes on Imbolc, so people may make a bed for Brigid or leave her food or clothing. Girls may go house to house carrying a doll-like straw figure of Brigid, she may also be invoked to protect livestock or households in other ways, such as prayers or incantations or divination. And I assume because it’s a feast day that there’s probably going to be feasting.
So I guess if you’re looking for an excuse to have a feast, then today is your day! Make sure you eat a lot of blueberry jam, maybe build a fire in your fireplace or try making, try your hand at making a new craft. So Happy St Brigid’s day, and happy Imbolc everyone! Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Nearly Numinous. For full transcripts of every episode, check out nearlynuminous.ca. There you can also find links to subscribe to us on any of your favourite podcast platforms. Have a topic you’d like us to talk about or would you like to be a guest on a future episode? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org