Brigid’s Day Poetry Inspiration

The Sunday Weekly poem falls on the Christian feast of Candlemas. It is the day after St. Brigid’s Day, and, according to one bit of folklore, Brigid, aka the Mary of the Gaels, was midwife at Jesus’ birth in the manger.  The Gaels get metaphor and myth, so please do not try and figure out how a woman allegedly born around 450 AD was in attendance at a birth in 0 AD. Time travel of the literal, or sci-fi kind, does not enter into it. Or our Weekly Poem this week. Though St. Brigid, and her predecessor, the goddess Brighid, is the inspiration for the Weekly Poem.

Yesterday I had the honour and pleasure of co-facilitating a Day Retreat on the theme all things Brigid with my creative colleague, Morag Donald. Morag  is probably the only certified teacher of Touch Drawing™ practicing in the island of Ireland.  It’s a brilliant way of cutting through all your objections that you are not artistic, or can’t draw, are not visual or particularly creative.(Yes, dear Reader, I have been one of those people.) But each session always leads to a sense of surprise and discovery. Also, it’s fun. Like an adult version of finger painting, but I mean it in the sense that you are approaching it with the innocence of your child self.

Celtic Heart by Morag Donald http://moragdonald.com/

My session was a creative writing session that used Brigit themes and symbols associated with both saint and goddess . These are, I found in further research, myriad.  My own ‘sparks’ were not exhaustive.  Just take it as granted that both the goddess of myth and the feisty Abbess of Kildare are much beloved for being ‘nasty women’ who generally managed to spread the wealth around and have their way. (Plenty, or galor in Irish, is the same word for enough in Irish.) The eternal flame re-ignited by nuns in Kildare Town Square in 1993 has coincided with the slow, but inexorable rise in the esteem and self-esteem of women globally.  The Abbess of Kildare, St. Brigit, (also going as Bridget, Brede, Breege, Bríd, Ffraid, Bride) is invoked in labour wards, by the children of abusive fathers, and at LGTQ gatherings. She is matron saint of sailors, farmers, dairymaids, prisoners and judges, poets and scholars. She was fond of cows, sheep, poultry, and in a story I only just discovered this week, one who had a way with feral foxes. She is particularly classless in gathering all in her capacious mantle of compassion. The greedy generally bend to who will and behave better. But, most markedly, she was a canny woman to have navigated an increasingly patriarchal medieval world.   While the Abbess of Kildare obviously had the political skills of a ‘cunning hoor’ (as they say in Ireland), she also respected the wildness of the natural world. A mighty woman altogether, she managed to be ordained a bishop by chance (or the work of the Holy Spirit depending on how you want to read that story.)

While I did not have the scope of going into the technicalities of poetry making in the workshop I did stress that Jane Hirshfield says that good poems have the element of surprise in them.  By grabbing four symbol cards, I encouraged participants to try and make connections with all of them, even the really random ones and that these might be the building blocks of poem once they had more leisure at home.

This is what I made of these four symbols associated with St. Brigit:  poultry, cows, forges, printing presses.

Iron Eggs

A poker, red hot, plunged
into the enamel cup,
its iron mingling with milk
as a cure to settle the stomach,
or buck you up when you feel fairy frail
on days you walk around with one layer
less skin on your hide, contemplating
the embryo of alchemy.
 
Iron cast. Like a spell.
Or an egg of an idea pressed onto a page
by forge and fire before the digital age,
that tells a story one thousand fold and
more. The magic in the lore.
The miracle that begins with
just a spark from an ordinary hearth.
 
Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020

We had an afternoon of making non-traditional Biddy Dolls. It was an old custom in rural areas to make a kind of infant Baby doll Brigid, representing the new life of the earth, in doll form to bring into the house. But St. Brigid is all about adapting. It’s how she has remained a living presence, never quite culturally forgotten, in Ireland.

It is funny how things that we think are non-traditional actually turn up to have some sort of folkloric truth. The creative DNA never forgets. This watercolour shared with me by artist Amy Bogard (www.amybogard.com) is of St. Brigid holding two of her more traditional symbols, snowdrops and a flame. The little fox in her lap insisted on being in the picture. Amy went with her creative  instincts anyway although she was a bit bewildered. She asked me at the time if I knew anything about a fox and St. Brigid. I didn’t. And then! And then! Years later I discovered just this week this bit of Brigid folklore on this website. http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/primary-students/looking-at-places/kildare/saint-brigid/legends-of-st.-brigid/. Who knows what archive of folklore yielded that nugget which is now preserved on the internet.

Amy also created the cover art for my ebook of praise poems to Brigid, both goddess and saint. Please check out her blog Micromovements. Support artists. We are collaborating, no matter the form our art takes. It is Brigid as the weaver of all creation made manifest.

Available as a Kindle on Amazon

Featured image of snowdrops, another Brigid symbol, Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Knitting

High summer may seem like an odd time to be thinking of St.Brigit, whose feast is after all on frosty 1st February. But since she took over the mantle of the Celtic goddess Brighid, she is a saint for all seasons and many eventualities. The main folklore about her involves her cloak, or mantle, which miraculously expanded to the point where she had enough good land from the King of Leinster to build her monastery in Kildare. The Poetry Daily poem references that piece of folklore.

Knitting

On days the world is just too full
of holes in the universe threatening
to open like the polar ice caps
I plain knit woolen squares.

I'm knitting a blanket as large
as St. Brigit's mantle that got her
enough to build her sanctuary.
She did it large. She could share.

I'll knit the largest sofa throw,
large enough to cover the whole globe,
invite everyone to find their square,
secret names encoded in yarn.

Some are menders. Some are weavers.
Some have a talent for making holes.
But we all need Brigit's blanket.
She won't leave a soul out in the cold.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Rex Pickar on Unsplash

Corleck Head

Everything before written records is mystery and speculation. That makes it a writer’s imagination’s playground. Even archaeologists speculate and best guess on the assembled evidence. But it is palimpsest, the layers of our own conditioning and experience inform the guess. Back at the Cavan County Museum another artefact grabbed me. The Corleck Head was found near Kilbride, Brigid’s Church. From that I infer that the cult of the goddess Brighid was important here before the Christian St. Brigid took over all Her associations and pre-occupations (fertility, poetry, healing, smithcraft). It is supposed that the Celts thought the human soul resided in the head, although I am unclear of the provenance of that belief. Brighid was a triple goddess – the triune maiden, mother, crone – and the Corleck Head with it’s three-way visage does echo that, although the faces look quite masculine to me. 

At any rate this Sunday you can have fun making up your own story!

Corleck Head

Back to back

Facing out three ways

Who know what might

Be met at the crossroads?

One to watch. One to fight.

One to sound alarm and live

To tell the tale.

St. Brigid’s Cross

For those who live outside of Ireland, or upland parts of other parts of the British Isles, the rushes used to weave a new St. Brigid’s Cross each year must seem an oddity. They are greening up even in January, in the snow, which is why they are perfectly symbolic for a season heralding renewal of the land, the new growing season. I know some women who are devotees of the saint and the goddess use old corn to weave them. A friend in Canada caught in the polar vortex made hers from pipe cleaners! And somehow I figure that adaptability and evolution would please the saint. After all, She took on the mantle of the goddess of the same name and has survived as a potent feminine symbol of divinity right into the 21st century. Brighid, whether as goddess or saint, is global.

Yesterday, I read poems and wove St. Brigid’s Crosses with my artist/healer friend Morag Donald at the local open prison, Loughan House. (You can learn more on her blog https://moragdonald.wordpress.com/)

St. Brigid's Cross
Making a St. Brigid’s Cross
St. Brigid's Cross
Forground, a complete woven St. Brigid’s Cross

A Crios Bríd in the basket at the background

St. Brigid is patron (matron?) saint of poets, healers, craftspersons and more…prisoners being one group who received her kind attention in the annals that have come down to us. The St. Brigid’s Cross is a symbol that has survived, been adapted and repeatedly adopted. It is made as four, equal-armed cross with fresh, green rushes that flourish in typically ‘bad’ land. (See, even ‘bad’, i.e. less fertile, land comes good with St. Brigid.)

St. Brigid's Cross

For Siobhán

Its God's eye
never blinks
sees from every angle
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
has wings flying
in every direction
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
spirals round as it angles
arms all reaching
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
aerial views land, sea
brushfire and tree
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
is a woman's vision
is a man's seeing
east, west, north, south

Its God's eye
sees equally
woman, man
air, sea, fire, tree
east, west, north, south.
This is its prophecy.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.


This isn’t a new poem written today, but it takes its starting point from St. Brigid as a matron of justice. Several courts and prisons around the British Isles have been called The Bridewell. This goes straight back to Brigid as justice bringer, emancipator of slaves and prisoners. Brigid is associated with sacred springs and holy wells.

 Bridewell
 
If you cannot forge something new
            from forgiveness
you stand there hovering
            on the rim of
what if and what is and
            what is yet to be.
 
Reconciliation is a sacrament,
a woman talking to Jesus at a well.
 
The wise woman Bride holds court
            at the well
where the deep, dark, down below is
            the source, bubbling up
breaking the surface
            rippling out, catching light and shining.
           
Stare down deep. Drink that holy water.
Be healed, not judged, she says.


Copyright © 2017 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Night Walk

Happy St. Brigid’s Day! For those of you who live outside the British Isles, more particularly Ireland and Scotland, you may never know the exquisite excitement of this celebration. It is ancient and modern. Originally, there was a goddess Brighid who had a fire temple in what is now Kildare, tended by nineteen priestesses. Then, in 453 CE, along came a child named Brigit, daughter of a dairy maid slave woman and a noble, or maybe Druidic, father. She was born on the cusp of a new day and slid into this world on the threshold of the dairy where her mother laboured. Later she spurned marriage as an inevitable option for a female, founded an order of nuns, wangled land from the King of Leinster, founded and abbey and was a bishop. She also had nineteen nuns who tended that eternal flame, just as the priestesses had for the goddess Brighid. When Henry VIII smote the abbeys that flame was extinguished. But it was re-kindled in 1992 by some Brigindine nuns in Kildare at the end of an AFRI conference considering Peace and Reconciliation.

So whether you like the ancient version or the modern version, this is her holiday season. Last night I pegged out some cloth as Brat Bríds. One is made of Irish Prison Service sheet. St. Brigit is the patron saint of prisoners. Some will be sent to friends who are ailing. St. Brigit and the goddess have a mission for healing, for bringing peace and reconciliation into a fevered world. I shall keep some for making clouties to leave at her holy wells, for St. Brigit (and the goddess) not only are associated with the eternal flame of hope and faith, but all the holy wells where you can plunge to the source of unconditional love and inspiration.

Basically, the feisty abbess of Kildare is an all round good model for the 21st century. She was kindness itself to the lame, sick, distressed and marginal. She had no truck with accumulated wealth in the face of suffering and famously sold her father’s sword to pay for a cloak to cloth a beggar. (She really was an Aggravating Woman to both her father and the King of Leinster. In this way, she worried patriarchy. So she is a bit of a feminist icon, too.)

But I digress from the poetry practice. Because she is also the patron saint of poets. Last night I hung out the bits of cloth to capture her blessings as she walked across the land on the eve of her feast day. There was frost on that sheet when I brought it in this morning. It is gently steaming dry for me to take to my re-scheduled workshop.

Night Walk

St. Brigid takes a night walk
even though the moon's glow is low.
She passes through every parish,
past badgers' dens and hare hollows.
Brigid walks along coastal strands,
hailing oyster catchers and sea gulls.
At dawn she walks into the sky
having spread her blessings
trailing from her miraculous cloak
upon the land,
having left her blessings
to invoke renewal
within the land,
having brought Her blessing
spreading her mantle of love
over everyone
across the land.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Have a blessed Imbolc and St. Brigid’s Day.

Brigid's Way
Available as a Kindle on Amazon

Cover image by Amy Bogard at amybogard.com


January Micro(scopic) Poems

It is one of those bright winter mornings where there is real fire in the sun’s rays. You can understand why Brigid’s feast day is this time of year. You can also understand why some translate her name as ‘bright arrow.’ She is also described as a ‘sun gold’ or ‘red gold’ woman. On this Irish morning I get it. It is very real and imminent.

For my poetry practice this morning I felt drawn to writing haiku, senryu and micropoems. Micropoems are little things. Haiku celebrate a (hopefully) epiphanous moment in nature; senryu look (often wryly, frequently fondly and humourously) at human nature. They do it in seventeen syllables or less. Micropoems cover the rest of the tiny poems that fulfill neither technical description. They have a wider thematic brief and also tend to have titles, whereas haiku and senyru go out into the world nameless.

This was actually how I started the day.

 A thump as beak meets glass
Hey! Open up the Birdy's Café!

This time of year in Celtic lore is considered a wrestling match between Mother Winter, the Cailleach, and the Maiden, Brighid.

The Last of the Cailleach

Safe in her cave
Sucking marrow from bone
Bright rays piece her fastness

Actually, it is often the coldest weather right at this time of year in Ireland. Often this is the the last push for snow and ice at Imbolc, so we acknowledge this by making hearty stews and mashed potato or ham and colcannon. Neeps are not just for Burn’s night either. Turnip and bacon is pure January comfort food. Making a stew from shin of beef probably inspired this.J

To fire our bellies
We want to sup marrow from bone
Hungry days

But then the Maiden Brigid is right on the threshold of the season and year. Spring is coming. We see it in the bulbs popping up. The gorse has bloomed again in this upland country. (And it’s scent is almost tropical! True!) This little poem is a riff on the old custom of welcoming St. Brigid into you house, opening your front door and saying the welcome aloud.

These fiery rays
Melting morning's frost
Brigid is welcome! She is!
A welcome to Brigid, acknowledging both her saintly and goddess status

This is a week where I will be giving public readings of some of my Brigid inspired poems, weaving St. Brigid’s crosses, telling Her folklore to groups and generally having a lot of fun. It is time to bake my special seed cake because we are on the threshold of new growth. It’s time! We can feel it in our belly.

St. Brigid’s Angels

St. Brigid’s Day is coming in a week’s time. Last night my Scotland born friend Morag sent me a message with John Duncan’s St. Bride Carried by Angels attached. Brigid is not just an Irish saint. She has a strong following in Scotland and the Welsh version of her name is Ffraid. As it happens, for the past twenty years (maybe more!) a framed print of that painting has hung in my bedroom. Poets have a long tradition of using artwork as a touchstone and starting point for poems. So today, it is this art work that inspires the Poetry Daily.

St. Brigid is borne to heaven

On angelic shoulders,
in angel's pale hands,
the maiden saint,
the strands of her bright hair,
cascading waves above the sea,
borne up into heaven,
escorted by those soulful dwellers of earth,
keened by cawing cries from the sky.

Even in death her stiff fingers
point heavenwards with prayerful hands.
The first miracle maybe.
Showing no need perhaps for any other
sort of transport to carry her
across that final, ninth, wave.

To where the old people call
the Summerlands
that perpetually golden place
where one will be maiden
once again
forever,
all gates and boundary walls
dissolving behind the wave.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

When the Well Runs Dry

I finished making my brídeog (Biddy Doll or St. Brigid’s doll) yesterday. The festival of Brigid (or Brigit or Brighid or Bride) runs from 31st January to 2nd February and coincides with Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival that heralds spring time. And the return of the goddess Brigid in her maiden form. And the Feast Day of St. Brigit, Abbess of Kildare, one of Ireland’s three national saints. What you need to know about me is that I celebrate the coming a springtime (even though the upcoming Wolf Moon is also known as the Snow or Ice Moon) with as much fervour as most people reserve for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. I prepare, decorate and bake. And if there is snow that is no bother. The point is that the days are getting much lighter. When you live in Ireland that is is something to celebrate. Winter is on the wane. Wey-hey! The light is returning!

So I have been considering the many associations of both the goddess Brigid and St. Brigit. They are both fire and water women. This year I am feeling all ‘watery’. So today’s Poetry Daily celebrates sacred springs and holy wells. Of which Ireland has many. The poem is an octet -eight lines of eight syllables each. Eight being the number of infinity, it seems to be suited to water.

I was seeking inspiration when I started the day feeling a bit blank as my page. But the patron saint of inspiration never runs dry of ideas. She is also the patron saint (matron saint?) of poets.

When a Well Runs Dry

What to do when the well runs dry?
You dig a new one, so you do.
Where's the cure gone when the well's dry?
It flees into nearby tree. See
the clouties tied, where all wishes vie?
Wells may crumble, silt up, dry.
Water stays holy, cannot die.
Water will ever sanctify.

For those living outside of Ireland I will treat you to photos of crumbling wells, clouties and the shrines that surround many of them. All those pictured are within a ten mile radius of where I live. It’s limestone country. Springs are everywhere. And everywhere are sacred.

St. Brigids Holy Well
Killargue, Leitrim St. Brigit’s Well
Holy well
My local holy well at Tubber before restoration
Holy Well
Holy Well, Belcoo, Fermanagh
Cloutie Tree Holy Well Leitrim
Cloutie Tree at Holy Well, Leitrim
Badgers Well
The Badger’s Well, Glenfarne, Leitrim
Brigids Way Bee Smith poems
Poems celebrating Brigid in all Her glory
Available as a Kindle on Amazon.com

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