Gelli Fach

Gelli Fach

I'm a cell, I'm fragmented, I change my form;
I'm a repository of song, I'm a dynamic state.
I love a wooded slope and a snug shelter,
and a creative poet who doesn't buy his advancement.

Wyf kell, wyf dellt, wyf datweirllet;
wyf llogell kerd, wyf lle ynnyet.
Karaf-y gorwyd a goreil clyt,
a bard a bryt ny pryn y ret.

From: Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, edited and translated by Marged Haycock

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Way of Brigit, Goddess and Saint: Towards a Post-Christian Paganism

Sulamith Wülfing: The Way 

Goddess as saint: my dilemma

Some time ago I wrote about how a visit to Brigit’s church by Llanon had unsettled me and made me wonder about my relationship to her as goddess and saint. I had first read about Brigit in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess where the connection between goddess and saint was stated and so from the first I didn’t question it but incorporated material from St Brigit’s story into her lore. But walking into a church, seeing the prayer books, the cross on the altar and the east window with its depiction of the risen Christ suddenly brought it home to me that Christianity also claimed Brigit and that she had her own relationship with the Christian god. The church was not my church and I was unsure how to relate to the figure of Jesus behind the altar. I felt I needed to make some sort of response and so gave a short nod and muttered something about ‘just having come in to have a word with Brigit’ as I went to the pew beside her own window…

When I first started researching Brigit and other Celtic material, I wanted to dismiss the references to Christianity, to God and Jesus and the other saints beside Brigit. I was trying to sift Christianity out of the narrative and reach further back to a pagan past which I believed was still discernable in such accounts as Giraldus Cambrensis’ description of the keeping of the flame at Kildare. Like many pagans I rewrote some of the charms and prayers in Scottish, Irish and Welsh sources for my own use, missing out the Christian references.

But then as time went on I found myself less sensitive to these and in a subtle and almost imperceptible way began tuning in to the manner in which the Irish, Scottish and Welsh folk and poets related to and interacted with their God and saints. So, for instance, I noted how there were folk traditions concerning Jesus, his mother and the saints, such as this one from the Western Isles where it was told that Christ asked Peter to row 707 strokes from the shore when he was going to fish for tribute money. According to Alexander Carmichael, because of this, the old men of Uist required the young men to row out 707 strokes before casting their nets on Christmas Day and whatever fish they caught were given to the poor as a tribute in the name of Christ, King of the sea, and of Peter, king of fishermen.(1)  Again, certain woods were seen as evil or poisonous, such as aspen, because they were said to have been the wood the cross was made out of.

I saw the way that Christian prayers were used as invocations or charms for healing and protection – for instance the Credo, the Pater Noster and the Prayer of Mary Mother had to be recited by a person needing protection when she had a caim, or circle of protection set around her – and how the actions of Christ and the saints were recounted in healing charms for toothache and other ailments. The attitude to God, Christ, Mary, Brigit and other saints was in general positive and trusting. They were petitioned for protection and healing, their powers seen very often as benevolent and magical – there is a sense that deities and saints are part of the family. A prayer in the Carmina Gadelica for the kindling of the fire says:

Who are they on the bare floor?
John and Peter and Paul,
Who are they by my bed?
The lovely Bride and her Fosterling.
Who are those watching over my sleep?
The fair loving Mary and her Lamb.
Who is that anear me?
The King of the sun, He himself it is.
Who is that the back of my head?
The Son of Life without beginning, without time.

Eventually I began to mentally translate ‘God’ as ‘Godness’ or ‘divinity’ and after a while I stopped having to translate but saw the word ‘God’ as signifying this.

The hagiography, the texts about the saints, were usually written with a specific purpose in mind. Often this was political such as Cogitosus’ life of Brigit which was probably aiming to promote the See of Kildare against the spread of Patrick’s centre at Armagh, or 12th and 13th century Welsh hagiography which was used to further the cause of an independent Welsh Church against Anglo-Norman culture and traditions. The authors of these stories used folklore narratives and motifs as part of their armoury and as a result they drew on concepts and beliefs from traditional patterns. This is especially true in Wales where the values of the native culture were emphasised over traditional church concepts and values.(2) In the Welsh lives of the saints, secular or pagan characters – even the tylwyth teg, the fair people or fairies – figure alongside the Christian saints.

So I began to blur the boundaries between pagan and Christian and exposure to this way of being Christian – essentially a folk tradition – led me to tune not so much into the name of the religion and its divine beings but the way in which the people of the three Celtic-speaking countries of Ireland, Scotland and Wales related to them and worshipped them. And the way they were worshipped seemed to me to emphasise intimacy and immanence (God’s presence in the material universe).

One of the ways folk Christianity differs from orthodox Christianity or the Christianity of the established Church is that it is often conveyed through story-telling which weaves a narrative around the particular culture and landscape of a people. It is more concerned with what Edward Conze has called the ‘initial tradition’ of Christianity – which I think of as that of Gospels and Acts – than the ‘continuing tradition’ that consists of the Fathers and doctors of the church, the decisions of councils and synods and the pronouncements of various hierarchies’.(3) So unlike much of theology which seeks to apply logic and reasoning to religion in an attempt to make it into an ordered system, story-telling is multivalent, fluid, adaptable, forgiving of inconsistency and paradox. It has its roots in the people and their landscape and is therefore less susceptible to the control of a central agency, unlike a top-down theology, the product of an élite which may have political considerations as well as spiritual ones.

I am personally much more influenced and inspired by story than by theology which is often an intellectual exercise designed to apply logic to things which are beyond reason. The word for ‘supernatural’ used by the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso means ‘that which knowledge cannot eat’. So story, art and symbol become valid means of approaching an interaction with the supernatural and the divine; Jesus understood this and often used parables to convey spiritual lessons, or esoteric speech, ‘secret sayings’. The truth of a story does not depend on its factuality or historical accuracy, the story is a container or vessel for truth. As a poem attributed to St Columba says:

If every poem is a lie,
then clothing and food are lies too,
as are the whole world and even clayey man..

Masa brec gach dan suad,
Is brec brat’s as brec biadh.
‘s as brec an domhan uli,
‘s as brec fos an duinecriadh. (4)

The story of Brigit and Jesus

Returning to my crisis about Brigit as saint, over the weeks following my visit to Llansantffraed, I began to think again about her story as it appears in folklore and poetry. The Carmina Gadelica recounts that Brigit was Mary’s aid-woman or midwife and that she was present in the stable in Bethlehem and helped to bring Jesus into the world. After he was born, she became his foster-mother. She was known as ban-chuideachaidh Moire (the aid-woman of Mary), Muime Chriosda (foster-mother of Christ); Bana-ghoistidh Mhic De (the god-mother of the son of God) and Bana-ghoistidh Iosda Criosda nam bann agus nam beannachd (godmother of Jesus Christ of the bindings and blessings). And Jesus is called Dalta Bride (the foster-son of Bride); Dalta Bride bith nam beannachd (the foster-son of Bride of the blessings) and Daltan Bride (little fosterling of Bride). Foster parenting was very important in Celtic society, sometimes more tender and close than blood ties and it commanded obligations and duties.

In Ireland two poems or hymns refer to her – rather surprisingly - as the actual mother of Jesus:

“she, the branch with blossoms,
the mother of Jesus!”

in chróieb co m-blathaib
in mathair Ísu  
(Ultan’s Hymn: Brigit Be Bithmaith)


Brigit, mother of my high King,
Of the kingdom of heaven best she was born

Brigit mathair mo rurech
nime flatha ferr cinis

(the 7th c St Broccan’s Hymn to Brigit)

(This may be referring to a concept based on a reference to Matthew xii, 50: 'Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother.')

There is a story that in order to divert Herod’s men away from Jesus so that he could make his escape to Egypt with his mother, Mary, Brigit put a crown of candles on her head and dancing away, led them in another direction. Another story from Ireland told that Brigit walked in front of Mary with a lighted candle in each hand when she went up to the temple for Purification. In spite of strong winds the candles did not flicker or go out.

So Brigit helped at the birth of Jesus and protected him and Mary afterwards. She was Jesus’ foster-mother, his god-mother (or perhaps his goddess-mother) and his protector.

Now there are multiple interpretations of how this story might have come about. If you believe in the reality of Brigit as goddess, she may have chosen to express herself through the new religion. Or perhaps you prefer to think that the people had known a goddess Brigit (perhaps particularly associated with Leinster where Ptolemy’s map shows a tribe called the Brigantes) and did not wish to abandon her when they took on Christianity. There again there could have been a nun called Brigit whom the folk simply equated with the goddess of the same name or perhaps the fathers of the new religion in Ireland wanted to make it more palatable to the people by making this link with the much-loved goddess of the older religion. But whatever interpretation you put on its genesis, the cult of Brigit chose to accept and nurture Christianity and the implicit meaning of this narrative, the truth that is being expressed through it, is that Brigit existed before the birth of Christianity and assisted in bringing it into the world.

Why would Brigit take Jesus as her foster-son?

Thinking of Jesus as the foster-son of Brigit made me consider him differently and I began to look at what is positive about the story of Jesus and why Brigit or her people would have wanted to embrace it. What did Christianity bring that was an improvement on what had gone before?

Meditating on what I like about the Christian story was an interesting exercise. As a child I liked the story of Jesus, responding to its underlying mythic patterns: the magical child whose birth is foretold and who shows wisdom at an early age; the dying and rising god, the sacrificed god: Jesus himself describes himself  as a grain of wheat which by dying bears fruit (John 12: 24):

'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit'.

I found very attractive the idea of the child born in the humblest of surroundings who went on to champion the poor and sick and offer the promise of healing and forgiveness to all and I also particularly liked the facility Jesus had with words, the clarity and acuity of his thought. So that when, for instance, he was put in a tight spot when he was asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans he said ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God’. This prevented him being arrested by the Romans for advocating that the people should not pay tribute while the Jews would have understood the deeper message, implicit rather than explicit, that everything belongs to God. He was saying something but not saying it - which is potent speech.

Again, with the woman taken in adultery, his challengers tell him that according to the Law of Moses she should be stoned. If he agrees with this, he would become responsible for the act of execution but if he does not he will be seen not to uphold Mosaic Law. The way he deals with this test is skilful. He says: 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. This takes the responsibility for any murderous act away from himself as well as commanding the crowd to look at themselves and their sins and take responsibility for them. When the people leave he tells the woman he does not condemn her and enjoins her to go away and ‘sin no more’. Presumably he thinks that she is guilty of adultery but he effectively forgives her and offers her a second chance; he is merciful. And he is clearly not anti-women in this encounter.

This story appears only in John, whose gospel is later than the other three and differs from them since it puts forward a theology of Christ which was based on Greek philosophy, especially Stoicism. John refers to Jesus as the ‘logos’, which is usually translated as ‘the Word’ but is a Stoic idea which has a wider meaning, denoting also ‘meaning’ or ‘pattern’ – the divine animating principle pervading the Universe. So Jesus is the incarnation of this principle – of the way of heaven on earth.

Rightly or wrongly I can’t help but associate this idea with the Vedic idea of the rita, which, similarly is a vital force which underlies the Universe and human and divine behaviour; the ‘cosmic order or law’ - and also with the Irish concept of fir flathemon, the principle of the truth of the ruler which, means that when the king rules in accord with the rightness of things, being just and righteous, he ensures peace and prosperity for the land and the people. When he forsakes this principle however chaos ensues –the weather is erratic, crops fail and so on.

John also records that Jesus brought grace and truth and that he said that he was ’the way, the truth and the life’ and that no-one could come to God except through him. Rather than meaning that Christianity is the only religion which promises reconciliation with the divine, to me this means that only by following the way of truth, embodied by Jesus, can one achieve the kingdom of heaven – not necessarily in the after-life but in this one – the kingdom of heaven is inside us, not outside us, and therefore accessible to everyone so that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as the Lord's prayer puts it. And what God wills, as Jesus sees it, is a kingdom in which compassion, truth, justice and non-violence reign and which give everlasting life to the spirit.
In their book The Last Week, Borg and Crossan point out that it was the passion of Jesus for this kind of kingdom that led to his death since it came into conflict with the domination system of the Roman Empire – a system which is, in fact, pretty much the norm even in the world today. So it was the injustice of the domination systems that killed him because he was upholding an antithetical system of peace and compassion. He was killed not so much for the sins of the world but by the sins of the world.(5)

This Jesus is then the embodiment of the way of truth, the divine order that upholds the universe; a speaker of truth to power; an advocate of non-violent opposition to domination systems by believing in and acting in accordance with a system which depends on compassion, mercy, justice, love. In many ways then, he is the ideal of the king in the Irish sense – he upholds fir flathemon, he may even be to some extent the ideal that the concept is built on since the Irish texts which refer to it were written down in the Christian period.

How easy was it for the Irish people to accept Christianity?

One particular problem was that the honour price (the system of payment for injuries suffered depending on one’s wealth and position in the clan) was antithetical to the Christian teaching of merit based on spiritual achievement not material possessions or status.(6) Another, significantly, seems to have been the Christian doctrine of Mercy.

In the Pseudohistorical Prologue to the Senchas Már, dating from the early eighth century, there is a story in which the men of Ireland, after the arrival of Patrick and Christianity, met up with their king, Lóegaire, who asked them what would be the most difficult thing about converting to the new religion. They replied that the Christian doctrine of Mercy would mean that they wouldn’t be able to put murderers to death as was their usual practice and so the social fabric would be destroyed. A compromise was reached and the men of Ireland converted to Christianity. Lóegaire then ordered that the whole of the oral native tradition of law and poetry was to be examined, reviewed and edited so that it conformed to Christian standards.(7) (It is implied that there is much to keep and that in some way the native, oral lore of Ireland prefigures the Christian law.)
The reason why this story seems significant to me is that in the Life of Brigit in the Lebar Brecc, when she is consecrated Brigit chooses, out of the eight beatitudes, the beatitude of Mercy. By doing so, if the Pseudohistorical Prologue is to be believed, she is putting herself at the heart of a fundamental early opposition between Christianity and Paganism and choosing to espouse a way of Mercy rather than one of retribution.

Certainly, by the end of the 7th century/ beginning of the 8th Mercy had become a desirable quality. The Audacht Morainn (Testament of Morann) is an Old Irish text which belongs to the medieval genre of Speculum Principis or Mirror for Princes. These texts were instructions to kings or princes on aspects of rule and behaviour. The text mentions fifteen virtues proper to a ruler appearing in this order: Mercy, Justice, Impartiality, Conscience, Firmness, Generosity, Hospitality, Honour, Stability, Beneficence, Capability, Honesty, Eloquence, Steadiness and Truth in Judging. ‘Let him exalt mercy/ it will exalt him’ (Ocbath trócairi, cotnocéba) announces the judge Morann Mac Moín and so it has exalted St Brigit, herself the exalted one.(8)

Portia’s speech on Mercy from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (late 16th century) is relevant here and a good description of the workings and blessings of mercy:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd,
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

Brigit's foster-son

So, to recap, my research and meditation on Jesus as the foster-son of Brigit led me to consider him in this way: as an example of the deep mythic patterns of the divine child, the dying and rising god, (wheat and fruit), the sacrificed god; as a prophet who spoke truth to power, who had a facility with language and sharpness of thought, who advocated non-violence but challenged the power structures of his day, who was seen as the way of truth, like the ideal of Irish kingship, the embodiment of the logos, the divine power pervading the Universe, and who preached that this logos, this way, is a way of compassion, love, justice and mercy. What is unique and radical about his story of course, is that he advocated loving one’s enemies as well as oneself and one’s neighbour and that he himself suffered the worst of torments and still retained his ability to love and forgive.

This figure seems to be a fitting foster-son of Brigit – both of the culture goddess, with his facility for thought, language and the Word, and of the saint with his advocacy of mercy and compassion. His actions as a conveyer of abundance e.g. (the loaves and fishes) and of celebration (turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, his first miracle) makes him a figure consistent with Brigit as goddess of fruitfulness and abundance as she appears in many of the stories of the saint and in folklore. In her Life in the Book of Lismore she refers to him as Mary’s son, her friend, and asks him to bless her kitchen with abundance:

May Mary’s son, my Friend, come
to bless my kitchen!
The Prince of the world to the border,
May we have abundance by Him!

Ti Mac Mare mo chara
do benna chad mo chule!
fiaith in domain co immel
ro[n] be immed la sude.

Perhaps during the missing years of Jesus’ life he was being taught by Brigit, as would be consistent with her role as his foster-mother! That might account for the more enlightened view he had of women. Not only did he effectively defend the woman taken in adultery, Mary of Magdala was one of his close circle and in Thomas’s Gospel (114) Simon Peter said to Jesus, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." I take this to mean that Jesus taught her as men were taught so that she became enlightened – an unusual perspective and action for his time.

Christianity and interpretation

This Jesus I have outlined feels like a person I can connect with Brigit and can relate to when I visit the church of Llansantffraed. Of course I have ‘cherry-picked’ the parts of the Christian story which appeal to me, make sense to me and are consistent with my values and aspirations. But there is a long and honoured tradition of such cherry-picking or spinning. Paul and the writers of the gospels had their own way of seeing and shaping the story and its meaning. Before 200 ce early Christian groups held different beliefs but in the 3rd century Christianity became an institution with a hierarchy and fixed set of beliefs, other forms becoming heresy but still existing.
Christianity also took on attributes of other religions apart from the Jewish from the outset: the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, the Roman (and maybe originally Persian) religion of Mithraism and Greek Stoicism. The story was further interpreted by the Church Fathers such as Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo and other leaders, theologians and bishops who formulated the dogma and doctrine and seemed to have added to it the obsession with sex and the vileness of the body and made sure it was a patriarchal religion. Of course the biggest distortion of the Christian message in the West occurred when the Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian and then made it the official religion of the Empire, effectively turning the religion from one whose followers were brutally persecuted to one which itself became an instrument of imperial oppression; a practice continued by some of the popes down the ages as they sought to use it for temporal power and wealth, turning on its head Jesus’ message.
To an extent as well Christianity took on some of the practices and beliefs of the people who inhabited the lands which became Christian (known as contextualisation or inculturation). Famously, Pope Gregory the Great decreed in a letter to Abbot Mellitus in 601 AD that pagan sites in England should be built upon so that they would still be used by the people who worshipped there:

"To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus; Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. We have been much concerned, since the departure of our people that are with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. Howbeit, when Almighty God has led, you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have long been considering in my own mind concerning the matter of the English people; to wit, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use, in His own worship, of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, commanding them in His sacrifice to kill animals, to the end that, with changed hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; and although the animals were the same as those which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to the true God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. This then, dearly beloved, it behoves you to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he, being placed where he is at present, may consider how he is to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.
"Given the 17th of June, in the nineteenth year of the reign of our most religious lord, Mauritius Tiberius Augustus, the eighteenth year after the consulship of our said lord, and the fourth indiction."
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, 731 CE, (book 1, chapter 30)

So I have no qualms then in spinning the story of Jesus and weaving my own interpretation of it; after all, it is a function of story-telling as opposed to dogma, that one finds oneself and one’s truth within it.

A post-Christian paganism

This process of reading and researching and meditating on these things has been a fruitful one for me. I moved to a Welsh-speaking area of Wales in 1977 when it was very strongly a Christian country, church and chapel, though it is less so now as secularisation creeps in. Anyone living in a Celtic country and wishing to engage in some way with the tradition, cannot do so without encountering Christianity. It is, on the whole, the medium through which the folk as well as many writers, poets and artists have expressed their understanding of a deeper spiritual reality for nearly 1500 years.

The Celtic lands are covered not only with dolmens and standing stones and stone circles but with churches which, as we have seen were often built on the sites of earlier pagan sites, and holy wells dedicated to the saints who took on some of the functions of earlier deities. So it is difficult to separate out the ingredients in the landscape as well as those in the early Welsh and Irish literature (which the scholar Kim McCone described as ‘a textual omelette’) in order to apportion with a hundred percent accuracy what is pagan and what is Christian.

It is also difficult to determine to what extent our world-view and ethics in the West have been determined by Christianity. It may be that the concept of a benign deity, rather than a capricious deity who has to be propitiated, which many modern pagans - though not all - ascribe to, is itself Christian in origin. And virtues, such as those in the Audacht Morainn which Alexei Kondratiev, a leading participant in the Celtic Reconstructionist movement, put forward for the basis of a Celtic moral philosophy for the movement, are very probably an amalgamation of pagan and Christian virtues devised after the oral native lore was synchronised with Christian law. While I agree enthusiastically with seeking to research and recover as much as possible about early pagan Celtic religion, I understand the limitations of doing so and, as I started by saying, I recognise that the spirituality of various communities in Celtic-speaking countries, has been expressed through Christianity as well as through paganism and to ignore that and marginalize it seems a grave oversight if one is at all interested in honouring the Celtic inheritance.

The Celtic Reconstructionist FAQ states that CR seeks to try ‘to envision what different Celtic Paganisms might look like today if they had been uninterrupted by Christianity, much as Hinduism has changed over the centuries, remaining the same religion but changing in form with the changing times’. I think my perspective is more pragmatic, taking Christianity in the Celtic lands as not so much a break in the Celtic religious or spiritual tradition but as a part of its development and evolution.Therefore a re-emergent pagan or polytheist approach may, to my mind, be inevitably coloured by Christianity just as Christianity was, to some extent, coloured by Celtic paganism.


In conclusion, my exploration of the story of Brigit as goddess and saint and the meaning of the relationship between the two has led me to a path which may possibly be described as syncretic. I have not become a Christian, nor like the pagan Romans have I hedged my bets by including an altar to the Christian god in my shrine, but I have developed a way of honouring Jesus as the foster-son of Brigit so that when I visit her church by Llanon, I shall walk into it and be able to  greet him more whole-heartedly as I make my way to my special place, the pew beside the window depicting Sant Ffraid.

Of course, while I have entitled this post The Way of Brigit, it is naturally, my particular path and each of us will find our own.

The east window at Llansantffraed, Llanon


1. Carmichael, Alexander, FlorisBooks, Edinburgh, 1992 p. 119, pp. 601-2, p. 154 
This is part of the Fishing Blessing:

Thou King of deeds and powers above,
Thy fishing blessing pour down on us.
I will sit me down with an oar in my grasp,
I will row me seven hundred and seven strokes.
I will cast down my hook,
The first fish which I bring up
In the name of Christ, King of the elements,
The poor shall have it at his wish.

2. See Henken, Elissa, The Welsh Saints: A Study in Patterned Lives, D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 1991 and also Henken, Elissa, Traditions of the Welsh Saints, D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 1987

3. Conze, Edward, Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1959, p. 11

4. Nagy, Joseph Falaky, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1997, p.165

5. Borg, Marcus and Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, SPK, London, 2008, pp.162-3

6. Patterson, Cattle Lords and Clansmen, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame and London, 1994

7. Nagy, Joseph Falaky, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1997, p.201-202

8. Mary Condren, author of The Serpent and The Goddess, has been inspired by Brigit and by the benefits of Mercy rather than Sacrifice as a basis for modern society.


  1. Thankyou for posting this. It's very timely reading for me in a few ways, and has given me much to think on. How I wish I could have a natter over a cuppa with you!

  2. Such a thoughtful and interesting post, Hilaire. I'm interested in the subject from the other end. In Europe - as in Africa - people adopted new faiths, but brought what was still working for them with them - and that means, as far as I am concerned, what they brought deserves a lot more attention and respect than it's had. Thank you for posting.

  3. A wonderful post. Thank you.

  4. Yes an admirably thoughtful post.

    I'm sure I commented at more length on this shortly after you posted. Perhaps it got lost when Google Blogs went down for a couple of days about the same time?

  5. This is the first comment I've read from you so I guess the first one must be lost in cyberspace. The previous 3 disappeared for a while but eventually came back.

    I wonder what you said?

    Hilaire (Google seems not to recognise my account for some reason.)

  6. I think I said something about respecting your syncretic insight but coming to a different accommodation with aspects of christianity based on what works in terms of my own spiritual experiences rather than a specific attempt to link e.g. Brigit and Jesus, or linking saints with goddesses, but finding rather a response to certain religious symbols in different doctrinal places that informed my own spirituality.

    (Or rather I don't think I specifically said any of that , but words to similar effect!)

  7. Very Interesting Post and in accord with King Arthur in my machinima film, who says 'let the cauldron and the cross unite'... Bright Blessings, elf ~

  8. This is marvellous, and very consonant with my own feelings.

  9. I really wonder about this so beautifull sincretism when the church was in pace to, or already had realeased the Malheus Maleficarum. IMHO the sincretism was merely a way to survive to the saying: Between the Crux and the sword. The only way to make the old gods survive was to hide them beneath the christianism mantle in a way this new bloodythisty order could accept, but with as much specific characteristics they could be worshiped on their own. This was also good for the the priest who knew it wouldn t be good to/weren t willing to burn everyone to the stake (not all were mindless zealots), and certainly knew they had already won and the sincretism would, in the end, make their god prevail and the old would be remembered as oddities.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post that clarifies and confirms my own feelings too.