It all starts with lighting a match. A simple thing, really. When the match is touched to the candle wick, I offer quiet prayers with upraised hands before the altar. Quiet seems to be the focus of those days. To keep the flame has been a calming and centering process, a ritual of no-ritual, a meditation on quiet and the flickering quality of candlelight.
I have not had major revelations on the days and nights of my shift since I began, back at the founding of Ingheau Anndagha. Instead, the flame has been a steady, connective presence. I take the spark from the woman who precedes me and pass it with care to the next woman on the list. I imagine that the earliest priestesses of this light were bound together with similar silence, their only sounds the crackling fire in the sacred hearth, the murmurred prayers, the rain falling softly outside.
What did they do together in their devotion, I wonder? Did they lie at night in darkened chambers, composing poems? Did they tend a garden of healing herbs? Were the sparks of the sacred flame carried to a forge where bright blades were beaten out in her honor? Were their days spent carrying wood, or later, when the wood was gone, bringing dried peat into the enclosure to keep the flame burning? I think they knew the wisdom of chop wood, carry water as a path of spirit. I think, in some ways at least, they were like me. There are wild hazel nuts on my altar. They come from Lincoln Park, down the hill from my house. A red silk cloth, woven with gold, from the sari of a Hindu saint covers the small shelf that is my altar. There is a black and white photocopy of the triple Brighid from a Celtic League calendar taped to the wall above. Seashells, which are used in Ireland and Scotland to decorate the Brighid dolls of imbolc, are scattered on the cloth, piled at the foot of the red glass candle. Rowan and juniper berries are mingled in a small wooden bowl, for protection and for purification. There is a sprig of cedar here as well, with its tiny brown seed pods. This reminds me of the land on which I live, the spirits of Puget Sound. Ogham fiodh, burned into hazel twigs, lie in a pile here awaiting her pleasure, and a tiny cup of hazel honey mead. These are the tools of my poet's art.
I do no magic at this altar, I raise no power here. Instead, there is poetry in my house. Notebooks open, scribbled lines that try to capture the flash of a dream's image or the subtle light of an autumn afternoon. I meditate on the continuity of the flame, one hand to another, one match lit in prayerful attitude.
Sometimes I miss my shift for one reason or another. I look at the calendar a day late and feel a pang of regret, a little embarassment at the fact that I am human and fallible. Despite my flaws, I continue to tend the flame. There will be another shift in a few days, and I can redress the accidental neglect at that time. I've never felt that Brighid was unforgiving of my occasional lapses. Somewhere in the world, some sister remembers and carries on. She starts with lighting a match.
Queen of Fire
by Faerin na Fior
Chorus: To our Lady's triple flame (all) We will light the sacred pyre; Working magic in her name, We invoke the Queen of Fire!
1st solo: Maiden, breathe through us in verse To enchant, to inspire; Fill our eyes, fill our songs With the wondrous light of fire!
Respond: In the beauty of the mind, To the strings of harp and lyre, Words that move, words that bind We will speak with tongues of fire.
2nd solo: Mother hold us in the peace Of a love that will not tire; Touch our flesh, touch our hearts With the healing warmth of fire.
Respond: To the injured and ill, To despair's gloomy mire, We will bring the gift of fire.
3rd solo: Ancient Lady wielding power That the years of skill acquir Grant our hands, grant our works The transforming heat of fire!
Respond: With the hammer of will, At the forge of desire, On the anvil of skill, We will work the craft of fire.
I feel shy talking about this.
In the last week of January I began a period of cleansing that culminated in my first lighting of the Flame, and an initiation ritual which took the entire day of February first. The whole week was one of insight and transformation, the effects of which I am still feeling and sorting out. It really was the result of not a week but many years of searching and preparation. My initiation took place outside, and involved a rather challeng-ing trek through a wooded mountain, reaching a snow-fed stream, being challenged by the Hag, submerging myself in the fast-moving, wide and powerful (AND C O L D!) stream, and then emerging on the other side to the welcome of the Mother.
All the while I focussed on the meaning of the path I was making through the woods, the way it reflected and made sense of my life. At home I knew my first candle was burning, bringing the experience and all it meant more clearly into focus in my mind. Forging a connection between my worldly self and the divine.
The day did not go without a hitch. Much of the power of an initiation I suppose is in the way it pushes our limits, and this was not a storybook experience. It brought up disappointment, loss, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger.
But it was wonderful, and the commitments I made that day have sustained me since. I'll excerpt a couple of pieces of the script. Here I meet the Hag at the streamside -
CASEY: Great Goddess, I am Your Daughter, contemplating Your mystery. Grant me entrance into the River of Death, that it may cleanse me and be the Womb of my rebirth.
HAG: In Whose Name do you ask?
CASEY: I ask in the name of the Goddess of Green and Blue and Gold.
I ask in Your Name, Dark Mother, fire of the sun, water of the moon,
warrior, gravedigger, mourner. Tender mother, strong daughter, loving
sister. Mediator of disputes. I ask in the name of You, the Unbroken
Vessel from Whom all life comes and through Whom all is unified.
I ask in the Name of Brighid the Smith, the Morrigan, Whose feet are in the River of Death, Who cleaves flesh from bone, soul from body, in the Name of Brighid the Nourisher and Guide, Danu, Anu, Whose fine Hands placed the stepping stones across the stream, in the Name of Brighid the Healer and Consoler, Liberator and Inspirer:
Brighid of the Poets, initiate me. As You loosen the grip of winter, so loosen and liberate me.
Breathe life into me this Imbolc
as You breathe life into the mouth
of the dead winter.
Later, when I have been allowed to pass, have been through the stream and emerged, amazingly warm, on the other side, and been welcomed by the Goddess, I am asked to commit myself - -
MOTHER: What do you pledge, Daughter?
CASEY: I pledge myself to the fire of life
to the poetry of the soul
to the forging of our strongest,
supplest, most radiant selves
to the healing of my life, ever forward, gently
to the mending of all hurts and conflicts
to the healing of those around me
to the protection and healing of Your living planet
through word and deed and joy.
If I should break faith with you
May the skies fall upon
May the seas drown me
May the earth rise up
and swallow me
The Exalted Lady
by Raven Owl
Bright Fiery Arrow And Sacred Waters and Wells! The Bright and Shining Lady The Holy Woman Hail to You! Hail to You! Ayea Brighid! Ayea, Ayea, Brighid! Ayea, Ayea, Ayea Brighid! Inspirer of my Heart Protectress of my children and family And Hearth Your Blessings of three on my family and me! Your Blessings of three on Eire Let there be lasting peace there! Lady of the mighty forge May my family and I know strength in times of need! Lady of Medicine and healing Let us be healed on all levels of being! Lady of Prophecy Aid my psychic development so I see clearly and understand With your great wisdom And may I use this skill wisely! Lady of Creation, of Music and Beauty Guide my Skills to express Let me find beauty in the worlds And in myself! Hail Brighid of Water and Fire! Hail Brighid of Creation! Hail Brighid Holy Lady! That I may learn all your Faces!
When I asked my nephew Harper to draw me a picture of Brigit, this is what he gave me. Blessed be!
I call upon Bridey! Bridey of the keening winds! See here Bridey in her mourning veil- weeping, high-pitched wailing, snot smeared, tearing her hair, screaming, storming, cursing all the greater and lesser gods, goddesses, demon hordes, despairing, lying face down, not moving any more
for there is too much blood on the snow all her blood sons, her babes nearly grown, not even bearded warrior men battle fodder on a Formorian field for some opaque tribal squabble three sons, all her sons, every single son born to Bridey. She lies down with them, going as icy and blue as Hag Mother Beara.
Get up, Bridey! Wake up, Bridey! Bridey who is all Memory, Bridey of the Never Forgetfulness, the world is slipping, slipping. The world is forgetting in the cold grip of your grief. Dreams are as stones. Larders are empty. There is only the high wail keening of the North Wind. There is only Bridey suspended in her sad catatonia.
Roll over, Bridey! Turn your face from the wall and remember! Roll just a little. There! Face twelve o'clock and bask once more. Let the noontime unfurl your face like a sunflower. Still very little moves. Bridey burrows back into her forgetfulness, but her big toe sticks out from the earth. Little by little her toe thaws. It wiggles, tentatively sending forth a snowdrop.
Bridey of All Memory! Bridey,the All Renewer. Bridey kindles Her Hearth. Bridey casts her bucket down into the Well of Inspiration once more. Bridey resumes her Housekeeping, puts a pot on to boil, brews tea. Bridey is the newly wakened serpent in springtime sliding over sun-warmed stone. The Stone Dreams awaken. Appetites sharpen. Muscle and bones limber.
Yet Bridey is the mother of Three Sons. From her hearth she sends forth a flaming arrow. The first one landed in her cauldron and so the Smith was born to ply his craft- best blessed by all the elements the earth gives to us: metal mined from the earth, wood to fuel the fire, fed by the air from hide bellows blown, finishing his product in the still water drawn from Bridey's own well.
Yet Bridey is the mother of Three Sons. From her hearth she sends forth a flaming arrow. The second arrow woke the slumbering serpent dozing under the well. He startled from his sleep and fled to a bed of Healing Herbs where he imbibed them all. A year and a day later he slithered forth full of knowledge and care. Thus Bridey's lamenting created a Healer to cure the Earth's ails.
Yet Bridey is the mother of Three Sons. From her Hearth she sent forth a flaming arrow. The third arrow plumbed the very depths of the well dredging up all Inspiration. It channeled to the very source of Memory. Truly a child of Bride, he breathed the rhythm as well as if he had been born with gills. Breaking the surface, Poetry knew all the words, preserved all Memory, honouring his Mother well.
by Faerin na Fior
Peace of my awareness, I open my mind to your Light. Light of my being, I open all I am to your Joy. Joy of my devotion, I open my heart to your Grace. Grace of my existence, I open my life to your Strength. Strength of my Spirit, I open my soul to your Peace.