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

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Tending Brigit's Flame

I've recently rejoined Ord Brighideach, becoming a flame-keeper in Cill na Craoibhe Olóige, the Olive Branch, a group within the Order that I inititated about 12 years ago. I lapsed from it when my life went a bit haywire but  last month I finally decided the time was right to make the commitment to tend the flame again.

It's coincided with wanting to suspend writing any more articles - including the one about the Cauldron of Poesy - because I think I've had enough of such left brain activity (researching, ordering, codifying, making a coherent argument) and want to concentrate more on poetry, inner work and practice for a while. I'm sure I'll come back to the Cauldron at some point (maybe in the winter when I'm not in the garden so much) but it feels right to put it aside for now and move into something more free-flowing. 

My first shift was a wonderful experience. I have two shrines in my house now; one by the fire in the living-room and one in the hall. The latter came together in a totally unplanned way; the hall is very large and when I moved in 3 years ago it felt bare. The bottom part of a pine dresser needed somewhere to go so I put it there and it seemed to belong. Then I wanted a place to put a mirror that had belonged to my parents; the one thing I wanted most out of their house. It's antique, of dark wood with curly edges and a golden phoenix (or probably an eagle) on the top and it became for me a symbol of renewal. (I was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while I was staying in my parents' house, clearing and sorting out their things with my siblings. Harry's grief at the death of Sirius seemed to mirror my own.) The Phoenix mirror hangs comfortably above the dresser cupboard - in spite of being in a totally different style - and since it had been above the hall table in my parents' house that seemed fitting.

Next came a Buddha... My son and daughter-in-law had given it to me for a house-warming present (they bought it in Sainsbury's!) It was for the garden but after being there the first winter the paint started to crack so I brought it indoors, repaired it and put it on the dresser cupboard. It's rather beautiful. I'm not a Buddhist but I think of him as the Spirit of Contemplation and seeing him calm and at peace as day changes into night, summer into winter and sun into rain helps to remind me to keep a philosophical outlook as I go through the changes life brings.

Finally, the little head of Brigit I made in pottery class needed somewhere to go and I put her to the right of the Buddha and she was happy there. I spent 8 weeks making that statue. I used as a model the statue of a goddess or priestess wearing a torque found at a healing spring in Chamalieres, France and dated to the first century AD.

I thought of it constantly in between the weekly classes and couldn't wait to work on it. Sadly it came to pieces in the kiln but all was not lost: the head was intact and the body was in quite large pieces so it was possible to glue it together and in way, as it was a copy of an old statue, I thought it would add something to it. The pottery teacher said he would glue it and I decided he might make a better job of it than me so I left it to him. But horror of horrors - he didn't do it right away and someone from another class saw it lying on one of the shelves and threw it out! Thankfully, they left the head. I was devastated, as you can probably imagine! I do have a photograph of it though:

A patient of mine, a carpenter, made me a plinth out of reclaimed cedar, for the head to rest on and all was not lost. I was left with a gap on the left side of the Buddha and so it was natural to put the little statue I had made of Cernunnos based on the Gundestrup Cauldron there.


After this I realised that the hall was the perfect place for the shrine. It's in the centre of the house and I pass it several times a day.
A week or so before I started tending the flame again I bought a candle holder I'd had my eye on last year. It came from a sea-side shop selling useful items for caravanners and campers and what my mother would have called 'tat' - which I actually quite like! Shells and little ornaments and mobiles and windmills... But I had resisted buying this particular 'thing' because clearing out my parents' house and moving a couple of years later has made me very wary of 'things' - I've got too many of them and I'm not good at dusting... But one day, in  a weak moment, when I was in the shop buying some windmills (to put beside the baby leeks to keep the cats off) I bought it. And I'm so pleased I did - it's perfect. Not only is there space for two tea lights but there is a hidden pump (not too loud) which makes water cascade down the wall of the holder. The flame of the tea lights is reflected in the water giving the effect of fire in water, which I associate with the mystery of Brigit, and  the sound is gentle, evocative, musical.

It's called a Cordless Tealight Tranquility Fountain and cost £6.99. I thought it would also be a very nice thing to have if you had to go into hospital or somewhere rather sterile. (You could use some LED tealights.) They have them at Redsave if you're in the UK, or at

I don't know how it will be in the winter sitting in the hall by the shrine when I'm tending the flame, (not for the whole 24 hours of course!) but for now it is fine. How lovely it was to go into deep meditation, to say poems and prayers, to talk to Brigit, to connect. Willow, one of my cats, came out of the kitchen into the dark hall, lit only by the candles, and sat, unmoving, beside me for 20 minutes - both of us honouring the space.

One thing I noticed is that there are gaps in the 19 day cycle of tending the flame in Cill Olive (Brigit herself tends it on the 20th day) - shifts 8, 12, 15 and 17 need to be filled. This saddens me because it means the flame is not being kept alight on a permanent basis. If you would like to join me and the other flame-keepers at Cill na Craoibhe Olóige, the Olive Branch to tend Brigit's perpetual flame, that would be wonderful!

Here is some information from the site: "Each Flamekeeper is assigned a shift to tend Brighid's flame on a 20 day cycle - 19 shifts, plus one day upon which Brighid tends the flame herself. Since the Celtic day runs from sundown to sundown, we tend from sundown to sundown. The expectation is that you will tend the flame for as much of the day as possible, taking safety into consideration. If you can only manage a few minutes, that is acceptable, although tending the flame the entire day is optimal. The longer you are able to tend, the more energy we will be able to generate: an offering to this world and the otherworld, as well as to Brighid."

As I envisaged it originally, the Cill had the particular purpose of praying for peace - as it appears the Abbesses of Kildare once did. When I lapsed, the Order took over the Cill and its origins seem to have been lost and it is not now a requirement. However, if you're interested and you'd like to, you could say a prayer or a poem or think about peace - in the world or in your own life.

Here's a peace prayer I wrote:

We ask for the light of your flame
To enable us to see clearly,
To illuminate the darkness,
To show us the shadows
Cast by our own light.

May the flame of your inspiration
Help us to express and comfort,
To understand and explain -
Encourage us and guide our actions.

We ask for the gift of your healing
To soften our pain,
And mend the wounds
We have inflicted on one another -
Bless us and make us whole.

May the fire of your forge
Enable us to shape our future
With courage and determination,
Using the flame of justice,
Tempered by compassion.

We ask for your protection
Against all that would harm us.
May the beacon of your flame
Show us a path to peace
That all may follow.

Rob fír/May it be true.


  1. Hilaire, I'm one of the original Flamekeepers of Cill na Craoibhe Olóige, and your beautiful peace prayer has been in my prayer book since you wrote it! And recited many, many times, I might add. It is indeed a small world! I've been following your blog for a while was quite surprised by this blog post!
    Brighid's Blessings,
    Lynn K.
    Cill na Craoibhe Olige, Shift 6

  2. How lovely to hear this - thank you for leaving a message. I am Shift 3, which ended at sunset yesterday. Tending the flame always fills the day with such beauty.

    Brighid's Blessings to you!