Exit the Cailleach

I am well aware that parts of the earth are gripped in a polar vortex, but here in Ireland the old signs of season’s changes still seem to be holding. I woke before full daylight this morning to let the old dog out to find that all the Cailleach’s beautiful snow and ice had melted. It is Imbolc New Moon and this feels especially auspicious that the frost will now be over and the growing can begin to happen in earnest. Mary Pat Lynch in her WordPress blog I read this morning says this is a particularly good new moon for wishes ( http://www.risingmoonastrology.com/new-moon-in-aquarius-brave-new-world.)

But to poetry practice…oh, and Happy Chinese New Year of the Earth Pig! May all your wishes for new projects, beginnings, and prospects come true!

Imbolc New Moon

Overnight
the Cailleach gave up
Her fight.
The rain melted away
all her will for frost and ice.

Overnight
The maiden insinuated in
Her light.
She shakes her green skirts out
to dry on bare tree branches.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured Photo by Nikolai Voelcker on Unsplash

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A Storytold is a Story Kept

Storytold! I know. I Know! It’s is a completely made up word. I just invented it! But I like it. It is defined as a story kept. But its very old. It seems to want to be a noun as well as an adjective and adverb. A night could possibly be storytold. As a word, it seems to want to declare itself a republic! And it has a life independent of the storyteller. Humour my whimsy this Imbolc morning, please!

With the St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc celebrations upon us, we are awash with folklore and stories this time of year. In Ireland, the storykeeper is the seanachaí (approximately pronounced shan-a-key). I have awakened this cross quarter day of Imbolc, when we are exactly halfway between winter solstice and vernal equinox to dreary sky, rain and a thaw. I hope the old wisdom that foretells a shortened winter is true. The Cailleach would certainly want to stay in on a morning like this and leave off collecting her firewood.

Incidentally, the Cailleach is completely storytold. As is myth and all tales that inspire wonder and awe. I doubt it will catch on and may appal grammarians, but it has a ring about it that tickles me.

So Poetry Daily celebrates story today. Which was, as likely as not, told by the hearth, with people warming themselves twice – with words and firelight.

Storytold

Never let the hearth
grow cold.
If you let the fire
go out
ye'll not make old bones.

Tend the flame inside.
Be bold.
Let it animate.
Go out.
Treasure its old soul.

Fire purifies.
It holds
power and insight.
Go out.
It's magic foretold.

Tend the flame inside.
It's cold.
Watch! Scry its stories.
Go out!
Leave no tales untold.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured Photo by Fabian Grohs on Unsplash

Doll

As a child I loved my dolls. I had an extensive foreign dolls collection (which was a likely foreshadowing of my eventual ex-patriot status), all on show on a large peg board.

doll
With my doll Honey Lou, a much loved gift from Santa

So perhaps it is no small surprise that in my late middle age that I would take to fashioning dolls. I am currently creating a brídeog, a St. Brigid’s doll, or possibly throwback to the goddess Brighid doll. There was an old custom of lying a doll in a basket, or Brigid’s bed, at Imbolc (31st January -2nd February). I have made a less traditional effigy of Brighid in the past that I call ‘Activist Brigid’ which is today’s featured image. The one I am working on now is more in keeping with the homespun ones made in rural households in times past. At any rate, I am keen on reviving older traditions, but giving them a more contemporary treatment and context.

But all this crafting got me thinking about the etymology of both the word effigy and doll. This making a form based on the human form is as old as the Willendorf Venus.

Effigy is rooted in the words that become the phrase ‘artistically fashioned.’ Now we think of those carved stone sarcophagae that house the remains of bishops and Norman knights and their ladies. Or it recalls ‘the guy’ that gets ritually burned on Guy Fawkes Day each November 5th in England.

Doll has a more interesting, less ancient, history. Back in the 17th century it was a short form for the name Dorothy, and was a pet name for ‘mistress.’ It gradually became used to mean a small model of a human and was in more common usage than the older term poppet.

Doll

Long, long ago we fell
in love with this form.
We loved its shape and heft.
We cradled it, kept it warm.
We cherished what remains were left.

Then we gave it a name
in faith and love until
we began to call it names.
consigning it to a bonfire of flames.
Name. Shame. Blame.
Cast into the flames.

First though, was the love
in the fashioning,
the care, the craft
that an artist will bring
along with all the hard graft
working with stone or fabric
mimicking the anatomic.

How do you treat this doll?
How do you cast its name?
What games shall it play?
What magic might it claim?
Shall it be home bird or runaway?
Just what of its fate can you recall?


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

If you are interested in learning a bit more about some of the folklore of St. Brigid and the Celtic Goddess Brighid, you might like to read my ebook of poems that celebrate the face of the Celtic divine feminine.

Available on Amazon


On the Threshold Hovering

You heard of the Lost Weekend? Well, how about a mislaid month? We supposedly cross the threshold of the New Year on 1st January, but it feels like 2018 has been stalled from the start. Being post-flu, post-viral has sapped most of January of any juice; my concentration was blown and needing ten hours sleep a day can put a crimp in one’s productivity. Anything done this month feels an achievement. But it also contributes to the feeling that the threshold of 2018 has not been crossed. Anecdotal evidence collected from friends suggests I am not alone  in this observation. One friend said it felt like the old business 2017 hung over this January making it seem like a thirteen month year.

Fortunately, in Ireland we have the festival of incoming Springtime on 1st February, le Féile Bríd – Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day, the old feast of the fertility goddess Brighid vanquishing her crone/Cailleach aspect and arising reborn as the youthful Maiden. Imbolc then is a liminal time, another threshold to cross and begin 2018 in earnest.

Also most fortunate, Brigid/Brighid, whether as saint or goddess, is matron to poets and other ‘makers’. So her feast is special to bards and poets, songwriters and artisans, craftspeople of every ilk or silk, and to healers. For in making and creating, we manifest cures, too.

But, back to thresholds. The cover boy for this blog is a wild cat that I have been taming this since autumn 2016 when he began to attach himself to our property. First, we gave him a kennel. Now he has a basket beside a radiator.  Building trust has been slow and painstaking – and I have the scabs from claw marks to prove it! Being formerly feral, he may never completely let go of fear. He may accept our food, love, comfort and care enough to come in from the cold. But will he be able to cast out fear enough to love us in return? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, he and The Old Dog have formed an alliance of aloofness. All they require of one another is that they share oxygen proximally. Another brick in Felix’ House of Belonging, as poet David Whyte styles it.

We all have fears, large and small, that hold us hand on door lintel, immobile. Fear separates us for love, connection and a sense of belonging. The message of St. Brigid and the Celtic goddess before her is in the English cognate within her name – a bridge. And bridges are very special liminal, threshold places. They can be windy places, vertigo inducing spaces. But they take us across to a shore, a beginning or new phase. Liminal places are ‘edgy’ in every sense of the word.

How might 1st February be a threshold place where you overcome some fear in favour of love?  Which,  it has to said, is a large part of the recipe for what Brené Brown calls ‘wholehearted living.’  How might wholehearted living feel or look in 2018? How might an early Christian abbess and proto-femininist and an ancient goddess lead you to have the courage to cross a threshold?

If you would like to learn more about some of the legends surrounding miraculous Brigid, Goddess and Saint, you can read my poems inspired by Her in my ebook  Brigid’s Way: Reflections on the Celtic Divine Feminine.

No matter how you spell her name, Brigid is the well of inspiration and the flame of purification. May it be so!

Brigit of Kildare

Here is one of my poems included in the collection, which also appears in the anthology edited by Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott., Brigit: Sun of Womanhood

Brigit’s Mantle

Lay me down upon your cloak –

Swaddle me. Sing to me

your secrets of always enough.

 

Lay me down upon your cloak –

Wrap me snug.  Tell me a story.

The miracle of always enough

 

Lay me down upon your cloak-

Rock me. Gently now lay me

down in the source of always enough

 

© Bee Smith, 2009. All rights reserved.