Before there was the mighty feminist prototype Abbess of Kildare, aka St. Brigid, there was a goddess of the same name. She had nineteen priestesses who maintained an eternal flame. On Day 20,the Goddess Herself kept watch. The abbess kept up that tradition until Henry VIIIth broke up the monasteries. The embers of the extinguished went out and the ruins of the Fire Temple can be seen behind the Protestant Cathedral in Kildare Town.
But Brigid never left Ireland. In 1993, at the close of the AFRI conference, a Brigidine nun, Sister Rita Meehan, re-ignited the sacred flame and the Sisters have maintained it ever since. The return of the sacred flame has coincided with a great opening and new flourishing of Irish society since. I do not speak of the Celtic Tiger that ran out of fuel in 2008. It has been the liberalising of Irish society that has seen a leap from the 19th to the 21st centuries in mere decades. The country has passed two referendums where the majority population voted for the legalising of gay marriage and abortion. Former President Mary McAleese campaigned for the passage of gay marriage as the mother of a gay child. Such high profile testimony would have been unthinkable back in the 1990s.
This weekend Ireland is celebrating its first St. Brigid’s bank holiday weekend. The theme is Celebrating Women’s Creativity.. The Irish government is running an ad, which I saw on YouTube, celebrating the many names of Brigid (Brīd, Breda, Bridey, among many variations), as well as the many activities that are her concern and matronages. We see the faces of woman poets, healers, goldsmith’s, musicians, activists and athletes. Each concludes with the statement” I am Brigid.”
Most importantly we see the faces of black immigrant and Irish born black women. Ireland is no longer a monoculture. Since the eternal flame was re-ignited Ireland is no longer a nation exporting her nationals. She is giving refuge just as St Brigid was famous for her open hand and table. I routinely meet and speak with Ukrainian refugees at the bus stop these days. This is not to say that our politicians cannot be tight-fisted, but it helps that there is a paradigm and principle of hospitality embodied in one of Ireland’s great saints. It gives you a stick to poke them with. Which is exactly what Brigid would have done. She was a neat, acute operator with politicians in her own time.
Brigid is the coming of springtime and the symbol of renewal. Even though we woke up to frost, the snowdrops and primroses are appearing in our garden. The rushes from which I wove the traditional crosses this week are plump and a deep green.
Brigid is the poet’s mentor. I rarely fail to write at least one poem for this season we call Imbolc, the Irish name for the month of February. This is mine for 2023. Blessings of this season of lengthening light and renewal!
The blankness of fog banked sky
Tight buds of snowdrops
Light filtering through fog
A new day rolling in
On a tideline of dreams
Light creaks against the clock
Each morning more minutes
We do not know what shall be
But we do. Of course we do!
The old year and all its poor choices
Is behind us
The foggy dawn beckons with its chorus of new voicezs
What new song? What new story
To make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry
But always always always
Leave them with some small joys
Copyright Bee Smith 2023
Long time, no blog. 2022 has been a year, hasn’t it? My much beloved Windows 7 steam-powered laptop finally expired and I am test driving the new laptop with this blog. Which, in part, explains the long blog silence. As a touch typiest who learned on a manual typewriter (yes, i am THAT old!), I hate typing on a tablet. But sometimes if you don’t feel there is anything fresh to offer, then it is best to shut up and garden. And work on the house. My husband and I have done both. They have been grounding activities as we have wrestled with online banking and branch closures and other administrative frustrations all this year posst-pandemic.
Note to young readers out there: the older you get the less elastic your adaptability becomes, especially after two years of sequestration. And why are they closing bank branches just when we hunger to see faces and can safely deal with human interaction? Somedays it feels like the War of the Robots is the new business model for just about everything! Now, I REALLY sound old!
My husband is quite extraordinary. As a sort of throw away wish during lockdown, I said aloud that I wanted part of the garden to be dedicated to Brighid (aka St. Brigit of Ireland or the goddess Brigid). I researched plants associated with Her. We walked the acre and identified a spot that looked a likely place to put it. Come Imbolc this year, Tony began digging out rushes, orris root and comfrey that had run amuck. The site is slightly sloping so he needed to level it some and also put in drainage in parts. This is West Cavan after all and though we have a lot of ‘black gold’ peat , there is also a lot of clay, some of it that blue daub that you could make into dinner plates. We began with some rockery plants, including one rock rose called ‘The Bride.’ Because there were also a lot of large rocks he dug out.
Then he created small raised beds and made a bamboo pallisade to support a wall of sweet peas this past summer. We put in a number of perennials, like veronica, wild plants like Lady’s Mantle, teasel, and milk thistle. I planted red-orange coloured gladioli to give a ‘flame’ effect in the summer. When I visited Bloom in Dublin this past June I scored two hardy fuschia; fuschia is a flower that symbolises abundance and so does Brighid. We kept one patch of rushes at the heart so I can weave St. Brigid’s crosses this coming February. This past month or so we have cleared the sweet peas and planted spring flowering anemones and and narcisssi – Anemome St. Brighid and The Bride and Narcissi Bride’s Crown. A winter flowering jasmine has been added for some winter colour and a heather bed.
Friends have pitched in with making signs and a hand made bench will arrive so you can sit and meditate in the space. I got an online company to print my poem “Brigid’s Mantle” onto a non-PVC banner and it has gone up.
Next Spring will see an Orangery erected so I can write in a midge free zone during the milder months. I will also be able to invite friends to sit in and drink tea and look out at the flowers in all weathers.
This does not include the many vegetables that we harvested and that I cooked, froze and processed. We are still eating potatoes that Tony planted in tubs. So we are about three-quarters self-sufficient in spuds this year. There are still broad beans in the freezer and there were some home grown green beans left in the freezer for a Thanksgiving green bean casserole.
Now we are in the middle of a major kitchen tear down, rehab and re-wiring job. Which I hope will be done by St. Brigit’s Day, a new bank holiday in Ireland in 2023 for the first time. And not before time! She actually was born in Ireland, unlike St. Patrick! It feels like a good sign that women will be getting more rights and that misogyny will wane. St. Brigit was the most canny of women. And a survivor and adaptor par excellance! She evolved from pagan goddess to a Mother Abbess – and a bishop!
Once the Poetry Map project was launched for Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark in March, I was badly needing some time out. I continued with my Zoom group of women writers throughout the year, but my own output has been very small, scappy and first draft languishing. Nothing was getting my pulse racing. No ideas or projects felt diverting.
So it seemed sensible to remain silent. Editors and readers want something fresh. While I had plodded on throughout various Lockdowns, maybe I needed to admit to myself that I was as tired as the World itself.I repeatedly heard people report fatigue and exhaustion. Maybe it was partly because so many of us embraced activities that have been impossible for two years. (We returned to a community drum circle this autumn and singing/music practice with two other friends.) But interaction with more than a handful of souls was a skill that had gone a bit rusty. In our rural fastness I found I was much more sensitive to loud noises and crowds. A trip to IKEA in Dublin was way too over-stimulating for my nervous system.
Perhaps it will take a while for the World and Its Wife to re-boot after two years of virtual seclusion. You would have thought I had had about as much silence as I could take, but then again…The world was knocked off its axis and it has not yet regained its balance. Things are still very wonky and people are still getting sick.
I do still believe in the healing power of words. But I also know that stillness and silence are even more profound and very deep medicine indeed. Staying connected to the earth and nature have been grounding not just for me. Maybe I have also been doing some of it for you, who may not have nature just outside the front door. Maybe it has been more important to remain anchored when so many are uprooted by war, economic recession, and bereavements of so many sorts.
Stay grounded. Bear witness. Testify when it is time.
And in the estremely severe temperatures in Ireland this week – frost on hoar frost on hoar frost – -7C most nights
I have had quite the hiatus from the blog. Initially, I told my Zoom group I was going to take time out in March to write. But actually, life, the universe and everything had other objectives. No worries, I am well. And just a little miffed that some doctor is opining that those who have not had Covid-19 so far have no friends. I certainly have friends – I just know how to interact by socially distanced means and have kept face-to-face interactions rationed. Well, until March anyway. And I am still fine. Just very busy. Also keeping track of those who did get felled by the illness this past month. Moral and spiritual support is a vital ingredient to all truly meaningful friendships. And March has been an intense month on both the macro and micro levels.
So, not a lot of writing done except for some haiku and a speech on UNESCO World Poetry Day when we launched the digital Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark Poetry Map. It was fifteen months in the making and the pandemic offered many challenges but the project is done! You can read and listen to the poems here. Scroll down the Communities page and you will find the link to the Poetry Map. https://cuilcaghlakelands.org/discover-explore/communities/
You can hear how the project grew and developed over that fifteen months in the video of the launch at Cavan Burren Park (yes, we did it outdoors, sheltered but open at two sides to ventilation; nothing, but nothing was going to stop us getting this project launched!) You can also listen to some poets reading their work at the launch in the video..
On the foot of the March 21st UNESCO World Poetry I conducted some haiku walks in the UNESCP Global Geopark with adults and school children.
For some of those kids it was the first school outing in two years. The Fermanagh primary pupils did nature art with Geopark colleague Julie Armstrong, while the older children wrote haiku poems inspired by the sights seen and touched. They got to run fingers over multi-millenial aged rock art, mosses, lichens, liverwort and lung wort. (The proliferation of the latter near where we live is an indication of our clean air quality, which other doctors reckon might have accounted for our ducking the virus. Also, we have lots of trees. And we garden so our Vit D levels might be good from exposure to sunlight year round. We do SO have friends!) The children were out and about in the fresh air for two hours before heading back to school for the afternoon classroom sessions.
And as to that question – and from which side you look at this glacial erratic, you get many opinions. Some see a snake’s head. Others see a cat, but not necessarily the domestic variety. Still others see a frog. Here’s the haiku I wrote with the Tattygar Primary School P5 class.
Limestone tortoise crawls
Slowly – for eternity
Across old sea floor
Bee Smith, 29th March 2022
For the first time in five years I am not doing the write a poem a day challenge for NaPoWriMo. I highly recommend this exercise, but though it feels a bit weird not to participate, it also feels right. It is an intensely busy, as well as an intense time for our planet. There is plenty needs doing in the garden. Also, sometimes you need to let things fester a while before you face the page. The rapid response with a daily poem feels somehow…ill-conceived…for 2022. Certainly this time needs poetry, but it feels, to me at least, that a time of consideration is needed at the inception. A week of playing around with a phrase from the ginko on 19th March wound up as the refrain in a much longer poem written yesterday.
But don’t let that stop you from writing a poem a day this April! Work away!
I am very much enjoying the resumed Zoom creative writing group of about eight women who get together to free-write on themed topics each Saturday afternoon Irish time (though it is 10am for the participants Zooming in from Ottawa and Rhode Island.) The Irish group is also cross-border, with women tuning in from Fermanagh, Leitrim and Cavan. This group has really bonded and feels a very precious part of my life.
See! I do have friends! I just see them on Zoom a lot of the time still.
We have had a series of storms since I last posted. Storm Dudley started six consecutive days of power outages, landline disruption and no mobile signal, since that one was swiftly followed by Storms Eunice and Frederick. Living as we do in a rural outpost of Dowra we are prepared for storms and occasional blackouts, but this winter has been the most challenging power wise. Even the arctic winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 did not pose challenges beyond snow and ice rink roads. Storm Barra was our first blackout, with some water pressure problems ensuing. Though we didn’t have the problems of friends in their eighth decade living further uphill from us who were without power for four days solid. They missed their telly, but coped otherwise. We do. But by the sixth day of random power outages I was certainly feeling a bit frayed at the edges. The prospect of snow overnight had me in full preparation mode, cooking at midday because cooking in twilight even by the glow of a head torch if you do have a gas stove has some challenges.
Sidebar: I never heard thundersnow and saw lightning in winter until I moved to Ireland. Don’t know if it is a unique weather feature to this island. Certainly the high winds are not unique and are the culprit for the power outs.
At any rate, in between blessing the Electricity Board crews and Eir phone repair people shinning up telephone poles in winds in excess of 43kph, my friend from South Africa reminded me that random daily power outs are what Johannesburg experiences all the time. So…counting my blessings even if I do feel a bit frazzled.
I was ringing the Electricity Fault Line so often my husband said that we have a t-shirt made for me emblazoned with the slogan “I am part of a known fault!”
But these interruptions are mere irritations when compared with the storms that have loomed on the international stage. But the experiences of the past ten days or so did give rise to certain reflections.
How to Undermine
Harry people until the unpredictability-
the routine dropped, changed priorities
diverting and disrupting-
from the margins
guard-railing their life.
Steal the sense of control
over the small details that are
the adhesive tape holding the day together.
The day has got away from you,
hi-jacked, held hostage,
Make them feel robbed,
that the mortgage on life
has been foreclosed,
which is not fair.
It was supposed to be fair.
It was supposed to be fair!
Induce vertigo. Say that
the poles are switched, the globe’s axis
shifted, and everything is
especially the stomach.
is completely recognisable.
The labels’ meaning has
you question that you have
Surely not, but…
Deny access to the mother lode.
When there is a cave in
say it was their own fault,
they had it coming.
Leave them believing lies.
We have passed the midpoint between Yule, Winter Solstice, and the Vernal Equinox at Spring. In Ireland the month of February is Imbolc, meaning in the belly. Despite the fact that we have had hail stones hurled at us and sleet falling since St. Brigid’s Day on February 1st, the earth’s belly is quickening. I flicked the gardening calendar over and found that this month I can sow parsnip seeds. We are figuring out what surfaces can be cleared for seed incubating. Slowly, slowly, we notice that sunset is getting later and day break is less smudgy. Slowly, tentatively, we emerge from hibernation and isolation. The first snowdrop appeared just days before St. Brigid’s feast day in our garden for the first time in years. Normally, it would be another couple weeks before the snowdrops showed up.
I have written many poems inspired by St. Brigid and by the goddess who gave her name and many of her matronages to her over the years. Patricia Monaghan has written of the goddess Brighid as emblematic of survival. Along with Mary the mother of Jesus, St. Brigid is the relic of the cults of the divine feminine that simply would not disappear no matter how hard patriarchy tried to disappear Her. While Brighid is a fertility goddess of abundance She handed on her sacred association with poetry and song making, smith craft and healing to St. Brigid who moved with the times generation upon generation. The fertility preferment made Brigid the patron (matron?) saint not just of mothers, infants and midwives, but of dairy maids, butter and cheese making, and the protector of lactating animals – cows, ewes and nanny goats. She also gathered in poultry and egg sellers. The corn sheaves were symbolic of the abundant harvest at Lunasa in pre-Christian Ireland. With Christianity, the four legged St. Brigid’s cross made of humble rushes became more popular than corn dolly making. (though that craft is not completely extinct.) The corn dollies can become life-size has mummers don extraordinary straw woven hats, masks and outfits to stroll as Biddy’s Boys. That custom has died out in most of Ireland, but County Kerry has had a resurgence in the 21st century Imbolc celebrations.
Both the goddess and saint are beside blacksmith’s forge fire, hammer and anvil. Whether you are a blacksmith who works with iron, tinsmith, or a jewellery maker working in any other metal, the goddess and saint are with you and your craft. Likewise, poetry and song makers, harpers and writers can apply to both. The sacred, spring fed holy wells that are associated with cures of various ailments are also associated with both the deity and saint. But given that vision and prophecy are key elements to both, wells that have the cure for the eye are particularly under their care.
You can see where this is going. Basically, St. Brigid is for everyone whether you are seeking justice at the Bridewell court or are incarcerated in a Bridewell gaol. Several English cities still have law courts or police stations with the name Bridewell, notably Leeds Crown Court and London. The Irish Travelling community hold St. Brigid particularly dear. In the 1990s the Irish peace and reconciliation organisation AFRI held a conference where one Brigiding nun, reignited St. Brigid’s Eternal Flame in Kildare Town. And, yes, you can see the remains of the pagan fire temple of the goddess where 19 priestesses tended this eternal flame. Whereas after founding her abbey in Kildare, 19 nuns did the flame keeping.
Fisherfolk come under her care, too. When Ireland was about to have Russian war games start in our economic zone start on 1st February I almost felt sorry for them. The Cork fishing fleet was intent on going out and interfere with anyone who was interfering with their livelihoods. This was all supposed to kick off on St. Brigid’s Day and those who farm in the sea are dear to her. And she was allegedly a very cunning negotiator with those in power in her time. They never came off looking good or gaining anything. She heard our prayers and the Russian navy did not play war games in our waters.
As you can see, adaptation and moving with the changing times has been part of Brighid’s strategy for surviving, and becoming ever more relevant, in the 21st century. All those plants and flowers make her a Climate Change Saint I reckon – the oak, feverfew, the dandelion, the bee who pollinates.
If you would like to learn more about various traditions and associations with the goddess and saint, I invite you to scroll back to past January and February posts on this blog. Google Sojourning Smith St. Brigid and you will find lots of posts.
After my own hibernation this past month I can confirm that I have been writing, just not posting. This felt very restful. But I felt spurred to post today after last week’s modest Brigid’s Day festivities were over. I read two poems on John Wilmotts Nature Folkways yesterday if you would like to listen.
The various animals associated with St. Brigid or the goddess are many and various. This year’s Imbolc poem celebrates some of them.
Bear, Swan, Cow and Calf
Bear bones buried in pre-history’s caves.
Mama licked her cub, giving it its shape.
Devotion her art, giving her infant
the strength from her mighty beating heart.
Each winter the whoopers return to Lough Moneen,
swan’s down littering lough’s verge,
their harsh honking a joyful noise, their flight
a confident formation, each knowing their place
in the scheme of things.
The cow keens in the pasture,
her calf sold off. This one would never
find the kine to offer strangers a third milking
in a single day. Her mourning echoes
round the townland.
A child is given, lives by your side,
sucking, grazing, lying by your side.
A child is given. It grows. It goes away.
A cow keens for her calf lest we forget
The fox flicked its tail. It danced a few tricks.
It kept the King happy enough before
the fox flicked itself again. And disappeared
right under the hedge. Gone.
King out-foxed. Again.
Timing. Everything. All.
We wild things.
In the islands of Skye, Lewes and Uist
they say that it was a seal swimming out to sea
and the oystercatcher flying above the waves
that acted as pages for St. Brigid’s mortal remains
when the angels carried her beyond
the Ninth Wave, out of sight
until there was just a shimmering
of her at the turn of the tide.
a white bird singed its feathers when it flew
too close to the smithy’s forge.
It flew out black as the anvil,
its golden beak ember bright.
Only its song remained the same.
A blackbird visits my garden.
It has two white spots either side of its beak.
Those were the feathers spared the flame,
the badge of what it once was until
the forge made it what it became
what it is now.
I hope that this slow accretion of light bring you new opportunities, projects, or people who come to inspire you and blow the fresh winds of spring through your life.
It may seem counter intuitive to many people, but the Yuletide season is one where I deeply yearn retreat. I don’t want to be wildly social. I want to burrow in and read, write, dream, and eat lovely food. The hibernation instinct turns out to be a clever strategy while Omicron is rampaging around the island of Ireland. I promised myself a full Twelve Days of Christmas of down time, but I was itching to get back to the blog.
What I have been doing during my winter’s hibernation is observing the Omen Days with writing a haiku or poem each morning and some meditation time. I was really craving time to withdraw the way some people jones for mince pies. I have kept the profile low for most of these Omen Days. In the background, friends and family have had illness to contend with, or a bereavement, but also the jubiliation with the birth of a new grandbaby.
Uncertainty, sorrow, joy. All of these have played a part of the Twelve Days of Christmas that make up the Omen Days this Yule season. Each is a thread pulling through each and every year. Amidst so much change, these three are constant themes – uncertainty, sorrow, joy.
I have lit many candles and silently sent out many wishes, prayers and intentions during this time of quiet. This is how I fill the well and replenish myself.
The poem I will kick off 2022 on the blog was written on St. Stephen’s Day. I read it on John Wilmott’s Nature Folklore You Tube channel that very afternoon. Day One of the Omen Days there was my Hibernation celebration. No need for first footing, wassailing or any thing other than quiet and a feeling of deep, restful peace.
Some mornings in winter
the stillness covers you right up
to your chin,
a comforter, a weighted blanket
tucking up in, persuading
you to stay.
There is nothing to do or be
or review, Just moments ticking, nothing
Some mornings in winter
when dawn is dusky and long
a key turns
in memory and your warm bed
allows your head to entertain
not od demons or dangers, but
softer imaginings - legions of
friends who love
and know how to play - nicely -
as your mother would say,
and it's safe
in this stillness, that memory
of snow, piled blankets, the warmth of
The featured photo today is of our rescue dog who arrived this day eleven years ago to his forever home. He can teach me a lot about the value of hibernating.
Also, my parents were married this day seventy-five years ago, too.
The sun is shining and it is very cold for the first time this winter.
It felt like the time to break out a little from my self-imposed hibernation had come.
My word of the Year for 2022 is Joy. I wish you an yours much joy this New Year.
This is a very, very late post. But after our session I was filled with a flurry of joy making activities; Christmas crafting (masked indoors, and very well spaced), foraging for holly and ivy, weaving willow into a wreath, writing cards, wrapping parcels, mailing both, decking the house out with more and more strings of light. And then the husband and I spent a mild morning putting Christmas lights onto the new garden shed. The shed is a major delight of this pandemic year and was facilitated by our new neighbour, which makes it all the more sweet. Joy is, as I often think, found in the small details that then expand, growing larger and larger. At any rate, I have been wearing a foolish grin all week. The cherry on the sundae of the week was a brief visit from a young relative with her new beau. Even with windows open and masked pandemic hugs it almost felt like Christmas and was certain cause for joy.
Needless to say, blogging and other writing has been left to the weekend.
The Weekly Poem, and a source of joy and amusement, is inspired by the backwash from Storm Barra.
Here I am Sunday morning, bathrobed and slippered,
padding outdoors in a midwinter
charcoal drawn dawn
bearing breakfast for the boarders
who blew in on Storm Barra's
a young mum and her kitten
sheltering here, emerging after the storm
feather light, hungry
meow - ow- ow-ing so...
Squatting in our cat kennel
on old Guardians and straw
the obvious, the necessary answer.
With cats, as with humans
community is no easy task.
We need two more like the proverbial no less.
We chip away with milk and meat though,
lecturing on fellowship
that we serve up with treats -
for our own sakes
as much as theirs.
are good places
to start giving.
lead you home.
I know that this Sunday is for peace. But the joy was so overflowing I had to share even if belated.
We are having our last session of Writing the Light in the Season of Darkness today and this group – including Canadians, an American, a Yorkshire woman, and Cavan and Leitrim Irish residents – has been a wonderful opportunity to develop soul friendships. In Ireland we call that Anam Cara. I am blessed with so many soul friends. They are a great source of joy and buoyancy for which I am very grateful.
The weekly poem and blog is very late this week. Blame it on Storm Barra. Since Monday we have had intermittant power outages, some as long as ten hours or more. We have an electric power shower and I was feeling full of gratitude this morning for hot water without the fear of a sudden drench of cold water. At one point we were out of power (and wifi goes with it), landline and no service on the mobile. But we live in the country. We adapt. We have a log burner. We have a bottled gas cooker. A You Tube hack that says tea lights on a metal pie plate with a terracotta flower pot over them will generate heat – it works! So what I have been experiencing most of all this week is gratitude. Also, we had a lot of strings of battery powered Christmas lights on hand…
In our Sunday “Writing the Light in the Season of Darkness” we had a prompt using the Octogram of Love. From this I raised what the ancient Greeks defined as the eight varieties of love: eros (sexual passion), philia (deep friendship), ludos (playful love), agape (love for everyone), pragma ( longstanding love), philautia (love of self), storge (family love) and mania (obsessive love). We had a lively debate on the limits of this definition. Where is love of the natural world? Where is the line between self-love and nacisissm? And is romantic love a purely modern addition, because it is not just sexual passion or obsession argued one of the participants.
One of the revelations of the power outages was my intense gratitude for powering down. We kept indoors with our tribe of fur persons. We managed to keep warm and well fed. I read a novel by head torch. I cooked soup and stew on the gas hob. There was no background electric hum of appliances. There was no news except that brought by the wind howling and the rain lashing. We were a safe island in the chaos of Storm Barra.
But I am, of course, very grateful to be able to connect with the world again. I am grateful for clean hair and the blow drier. But what I realised was that ‘powering down’ for a couple of days is an exercise in love of self. I needed to unplug from ‘stuff’ a bit more, that nervy background humming of electronic devices and anxiety inducing world news. Actually, even as the wind howls and rain pours if we hunker down in the silence, we are okay. And, I feel recharged. Or, perhaps more accurately, more centred.
The Weekly Poem is one that came out of my recent Saturday Zoom session with wintering out Word Alchemists. In a way, I hope it redresses the lack of a catagory for nature love in the octogram of love.
Tis the season to deck halls and wreath
our homes and hearth with mirth, the keeps with peace.
Tis the season to circle with a wide smile,
to not let the holly prickle, not even a little.
Tis the season to let fir boughs wave and tickle
everybody's joy bone, to chuckle and even cackle.
Tis the season to crown with lit candles,
to St. Lucy's parade, for the empty manger cradle.
Tis the season to pause, to watch the dark beneath,
to circle together, as we each weave a wreath.
And yes, those strings of battery Christmas lights were wound around wreaths this past couple of days and illuminated the perpetual dusk of our midwinter gloom.
The first Zoom of the “Writing the Light in the Season of Darkness” sessions began this past Sunday. It coincided with the first day of the eight day Jewish holiday Hanukkah and the first Sunday of Christian Advent. I was looking at stars, (being bodies of light) and stumbled upon the Octogram, an eight pointed star that seems to have worked its way into just about every religious (and secular) tradition you could imagine. It figures into Goddess spirituality as the Star of Ishtar and Hinduism as the Star of Lakshmi. It appears in Judeo-Christiantradition as the Star of the Magi and kabbalah, and symbolises Islam in the character Rub el Hizb. Buddhists use it to represent the Eightfold Path of the Buddha. Michael Moorcock designated it the Chaos Star and I found an obscure reference to it as The Warrior Star. But to Native Americans an octogram signifies Hope. And hope was the theme for our writing prompts this past Sunday.
Coincidentally, there are eight women who signed on for this Zoom workshop, too! So athe group is also an octogram.
We started with some of the usual symbols of hope as prompts: anchors, rainbows, birch trees, butterflies, as well as that old Emily Dickinson chestnut “Hope…that thing with feathers…” (There was some rebellion in the Zoom Room as a few took exception with Emily, especially since one of our number had just been nipped by her parrot!)
I played around with a few things but what challenged me was that phrase “Warrior Star” and how it connects to Hope. Mostly because I resisted the idea of yoking hope and warrior…but poety is the path of surprise and this is where it led me.
Maybe hope is what keeps you fighting your corner...
Maybe hope is the courage that anchors...
Maybe hope is what never shall be moved...
Maybe hope is the motor of survival...
Maybe hope is the highest stake against high roller odds...
Maybe hope is the adreneline rush with the pay off...
Maybe hope is the warrior that wears wings...
What is hope to you? An anchor, a butterfly, a rainbow, a thing with feathers, a tree? Can you write eight things, people or events that fill you with hope? Light a candle to them.
It’s been forty years since I left the motherland and I have only partaken of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey celebration meal a couple handful of times over those decades. Sometimes I travelled back to family. At other times, I celebrated with other ex-patriots in England or Ireland. This does not, however, prevent me from contemplating gratitude on an annual basis. That is bone marrow deep. I don’t miss football games, parades, marathons or anxiety over gravy making. But my husband has often commented that having an annual day for gratitude is A Good Thing. So this morning, instead of making stuffing and pumpkin pie in preparation for the Great Feast tomorrow, I contemplated current events and gratitude…and the state of grace.
I write in Ireland when the L word has not been spoken, but rising infection rates are causing government to somberly talk of ‘extra measures’ and a plea for office workers to go back to working from home. With the riots against increased Covid restrictions across the continent this past weekend they are taking a softly-softly approach. Now Northern Ireland is also asking folk to work at home…but humans are social animals and after so much isolation they appear reluctant to give up on their face-to-face life. And, it has to be admitted, the seclusion and isolation has had a big impact on the collective mental and physical health. High Covid infection means elective and non-urgent procedures get delayed. For want of ICU beds a cancer patient’s delayed surgery may mean they get a terminal sentence.
Ireland has reportedly one of the highest take up rates of the vaccine available to eligible people. But the vaccine is no silver bullet to this viruses. Keeping our distance and wearing masks indoors is going to have to be a feature of our lives for some time to come.
Everything takes four times as long to get accomplished under Covid measures. Everyone is frustrated and sometimes that bubbles over into anger. No one is immune from this pandemic symptom. I suspect even saints are having a hard time of it these days to hang on to their haloes.
The great themes of 2021 have been Safety and Liberty. We have seen time and again great migrations of people fleeing war, civil unrest, the threat of gang rape, torture and death. Who can blame a family for taking to the road in the hope that they have a better chance of surviving. They seek a place of safety. Just as those of us in our various Lockdowns tell others in virtual messages to ‘Stay Safe.’ We do not just want to stay well., we want to stay alive from a virus stalking the globe.
On the other hand, there are the ones I think of as the Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry Brigade. Yes, civil liberties are under threat. But, for the time being, the virus is winning the Four Horseman of the Acopalyse Steeple Chase. Medical staff are quitting because the stress of dealing with this virus has stretched human and institution to snapping point. Even if the virus does not kill you, whether you choose to vaccinate or not, the more freely and widely we mingle we may asymptomatically spread it and unwittingly harm someone. That is a huge responsibility. We may hold the fate of a stranger in a breath we exhale.
Little wonder we are anxious…
Who is not vexed to the point of exhaustion with not seeing loved ones, or having a celebration with more than a handful of people, with the one with the cold masked in the corner. Love now comes with a health and safety risk assessment attached it seems. How much have we mingled before meeting indoors? Who does not want to hug? How many lateral flow tests can you do before your sinuses rebel? How many lockdowns before the economy, if not the health service, falls down?
My Thanksgiving meditations swung from the collective energy around to St. Brigid (random, I know!) and then it settled upon grace.
Gratitude and Grace
The grace for the bread we break.
The grace of the friendships we shape.
The grace of time to create.
The grace of the lucky escape.
The grace when we first awake.
The grace with fading heart ache.
The grace to hold and contain.
The grace, feather light, unexplained.
To partake. To not forsake. To sustain.
Just the same, grace and gratitude remain.
I wish you grace and its filling joy thi Thanksgiving.