January 31, 2010

Celtic Prayer: Brigid, Comrade-Woman (Feast Day: February 1)

Elizabeth Cunningham is the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of novels featuring the feisty Celtic Magdalen. Her other works include three previous novels, two collections of poetry, and a recently released album, MaevenSong. She shares the Elizabeth and Maeve blog with her character, Maeve Rhuad. Elizabeth also blesses the Twitterverse with #twhaiku @EliznMaeve.

The Daily Office prayers weaving through Twitter ground and restore me in an elemental way, like listening to wind and waves. Sound is important to me.

As the daughter of an Episcopal priest, I listened to the language of liturgy before learning to read. I particularly enjoy the Ebba Compline for its Celtic rhythms:

Sleep, O sleep in the calm of each calm.
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of all guidance.
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves.

Next door to the churchyard of my childhood was an enchanted wood, my other place of worship. In Celtic Christianity, I find a meeting place for church and wood. Consider this splendid invocation of the elements from the Anglican hymnal adaption of St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

Later, I discovered Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland during the 19th century. Here, I found blessings for smooring the fire, milking the cow, as well as hymns to the new moon and the sun. And, there are many hymns to Brigid.

Brigid has enjoyed a long and seamless life as a goddess and a saint. It's not quite accurate to say the historical saint succeeded the goddess; their legends and qualities so overlap. And calendar time is so irrelevant.

According to one legend, Brigid the saint, (born circa 451 CE) was midwife to The Virgin Mary and is hailed as the foster mother of Christ. Brigid’s pagan holiday Imbolc, which means “the ewes are in milk,” also honors her nurturing, nourishing qualities. Both saint and goddess preside over smithcraft, healing and poetry, sacred wells and flames.

In my lifelong quest to integrate my Christian roots with my pagan leanings, I became an interfaith minister. At the Center at High Valley, we celebrate Celtic cross-quarter days with people of all religious backgrounds. Brigid is our resident deity and on her feast day, we recite poems, tell stories, sing songs, create healing ceremonies. Our celebrations, always full of spontaneity, are grounded in our own liturgical traditions. On Brigid’s day, we culminate with this song adapted from “The Blessing of Brigid” in
Carmina Gadelica:

One group sings over and over:

I am under the shielding of Brigid each day,
I am under the shielding of Brigid each night.

While others sing in counterpart:

Brigid is my comrade-woman,
Brigid is my maker of song,
Brigid is my helping-woman,
my choicest of women,
my guide.

Icon: © Jan L. Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook


faerian said...

thankyou Elizabeth for that knowledge - i shall celebrate Bridgid over here today - one of our ewes is about to have twins so it seems appropriate to celebrate Imbolc in this way... i wish i could hear your songs to Bridgid - i will just have to rely on my heart hearing them...

Raima said...

Fascinating post, Elizabeth! Your comments about the connection between Brigid's day and Imbolc made me wonder if there is also a connection to Ground Hogs Day. According to some web sources, there is. Interesting stuff...

Happy Brigid's Day!