Trying To Fit A Triangular Goddess Into A Circular Hole?

This past year, knowing that many of the folks who attend our rituals don’t work with our Grove’s deities in their own household practice, I committed to writing a guided meditation for each of our High Days, for folks to use at home to help get them in touch with the rite’s deities before the actual rites.  I didn’t get a huge number of comments about them, overall, but I’m getting used to the fact that many of the people who like something I write (or feel indifferent to it) will never feel the need to tell me so.  Most of the comments I did get, especially for the meditations involving Ana, were very positive.

Most.

And then there were the responses I got to the Bríd meditation for Imbolc.

I don’t want to get into details, since I do think that discussing the particulars of trance journey visions falls under the purview of clergy confidentiality.  But the two people who did share their experiences with me both got a strongly negative sense from their encounter with the Bright Queen, and a refusal to interact with them.  And of course, I heard the usual reports of “I didn’t do the meditation because I don’t like Bríd any more” from the same folks I’ve been getting them from for several years now.

So there I sat, duly elected by the membership of the Grove to deal with our rituals and liturgy, being told by our tradition (both ancient Irish tradition and the tradition our Grove has developed over nineteen years) and a few of our members that we absolutely have to keep working with Bríd, being told by more of our members that they feel no connection to her any more and that she doesn’t seem to feel a connection to them either, and me in the middle, forced to resolve this, and getting no message from the deity in question beyond “you’d better figure something out”.

What to do?  Bring more people in and make them figure it out!  Well no, not exactly that, but this is exactly the sort of quandary that An Bruane was designed to handle.  If no one of us can figure out a solution, then maybe more than one of us working together can figure it out.  (Besides, I’ve never been the charismatic leader type.)  So I dedicated our December An Bruane session to figuring out where to go from here, with all options – including not working with Bríd any longer – being on the table.  Rod and Gen made the trip to my home for the meeting.

I began by noting that, thanks to Imbolc being bumped forward into January because (now that we’re doing rituals on Sundays) people didn’t want to do it on Super Bowl Sunday, meant that the Ann Arbor Observer had already listed the Imbolc in its print version and online calendar as a ritual to Bríd.  And I didn’t want to risk the bad PR of having any local Bríd fans read the listing, show up for the rite, and find out that we’d fired their favorite goddess.  So not honoring Bríd this year was probably out, although we could still consider either adding another deity or two to the rite.  (Even after sixteen years, there are aspects of running a public group that can catch me by surprise.  Having to deal with how other org’s list our events on their calendars is one of those.)

We all agreed that one of the difficult parts of coming up with a meaningful Imbolc ritual based in Irish traditions is that those traditions are difficult to apply to a modern Pagan group made up of people from all around southeastern Michigan who travel to Ann Arbor for the rite.  The traditions we know of are either centered around a single household (the cleaning, the presentation of the corn dolly, the hanging of a Bríd cross), centered around a village (the Brídeog procession), or centered around sacred sites like wells.  We don’t have a sacred well specific to Bríd to work with, and even if we did, you tell me how much attendance we’d get for an outdoor rite in the middle of winter.  And our Grove isn’t a household, or a village, and pretending that it is has never quite seemed to work.  If we owned a building, such rituals might fit in well with our relationship to Bríd.

So if we don’t have a common hearth that we share, does it even make sense to have a hearth goddess act as our goddess of community?  While there are plenty of Indo-European cultures who defined their community by the sacred flames of a goddess (Hestia and Vesta leap to mind), it’s hardly a requirement of ADF’s or SLG’s rules that we must have a Grove hearth goddess.  And it was Gen who pointed out during our An Bruane discussion that we do have a goddess who inspires most of our members to do both home rituals and community workings to honor her, who has a sacred site that we visit at least once a year, and in all other respects functions as our goddess of community.  Hek, her name even appears on our official Grove logo and banner and T-shirts and the name of the blog you’re reading right now.  And her name isn’t Bríd, it’s Ana.

So is this the reason we’ve had such trouble working with Bríd, and vice versa?  That we’ve been acting as though she’s our goddess of community, but she really isn’t?  Is restoring a mutually beneficial relationship as simple as changing our expectations of her?  It’s not as though there aren’t plenty of other things associated with her that we could work with instead.  Between fire, the bardic arts, healing, blacksmithing, midwifery, and livestock, she’s one of the most aspect-heavy deities out there.

So going into the Liturgists’ Roundtable next Tuesday, that’s what I’m going to recommend.  Just use Bríd as the only deity of the occasion, and de-emphasize her hearth and community aspects.  Pick something else, or maybe three something elses if we’re feeling ambitious.  Let’s all hold candles and pass a flame from person to person, let’s have an improv poetry contest, let’s pretend to be cows, let’s go find a pregnant woman and make her give birth, okay maybe not that last one, but let’s not worry about making people kneel before the dolly as we bring it in, and let’s not even say the word “hearth”, and we’ll see how it goes.

If things still don’t go well and people still don’t want to work with Bríd, then I won’t rule out finding another deity to try working with next year.  Gen did some research and even if we don’t want to go to a different hearth culture (which I don’t, for a variety of reasons), it looks like honoring the Cailleach would be entirely appropriate at this time of year.  My preference is to keep working with the deities we’ve contacted over the years instead of just pulling them out of a book, but I’m sure that a year’s lead time would give us plenty of opportunity to contact the Cailleach, or any other deity out there who wants to work with us for this High Day.

As always, I invite people to share their opinions here, and at our ritual planning meeting on Tuesday.  I suspect that more than a few of you will have some opinions about this.  >8)

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

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7 thoughts on “Trying To Fit A Triangular Goddess Into A Circular Hole?

  1. Interesting article. I think you’re right about Ana, I feel plenty of connection there. I glanced at some info about the Cailleach. Very interesting. I’m diffidently going to research her more.

  2. I’m going to post some of the points I made to Rob prior to the An Bruane session this was discussed at. Note that this is my perspective only. I do not intend to speak for anyone else. Note that I use the spelling Brigit, rather than Bríd for two reasons. First, it’s easier to type. Second, while Brighid and Bríd are relatively modern (the latter spelling is the result of the Gaelic spelling reform of 1948), the original spelling is Brigit. So, put on your flame retardant jammies and read on if you can handle a fiercely pro-Brigit viewpoint.

    SLG is a Celtic Grove. I was a Celtic pagan long before I joined SLG and its identity as a Celtic religious group was the majority of the reason I became a member. If it was not Celtic, I would not have joined, regardless of how much I liked the people in it.

    Imbolc is Brigit’s Day, period. It specifically honors her. If we honor any other diety and call it Imbolc, it would be an offense to me. If we don’t celebrate Imbolc, we are no longer a Celtic Grove.

    I would say that Brigit is distinctly Celtic and, unless you have a personal or emotional connection to Ireland, Wales, etc. you’re going to have a tough time connecting with her, almost by definition. A lack of a connection to the Celtic pantheon is a personal issue and not one that should impose change on others, especially on something so personal to those of whose hearth culture is Celtic.

    If our core pantheon is Celtic, then we should celebrate Imbolc and that is Brigit’s Day. Period. If we wish to change the core pantheon to something else, understand that the process will be contentious and would likely tear the Grove apart.

    Honoring other aspects of Brigit is perfectly acceptable and I fully support those attempts. I understand that honoring the hearth aspects for her would be challenging for those who have a different hearth culture and, as pointed out, that type of honoring is best done at home.

  3. No need to get your jammies in a bunch, Noal. :) Nobody is trying to cancel Imbolc or to kick Brid out of the Grove. Not even me, and the goddess and I parted ways many years ago. My understanding is that Rob has been getting multiple reports of “issues,” and we all know how much Rob hates change (that is not an insult), so it must be rather serious if he’s even considering other options.

    Incidentally, I’m not going to address the How Celtic Art Thou question, because I have not-so-fond memories of a certain uber-Celtic grove that would have branded us all as heretics, anyway. :)

    The question seems to be, what does the goddess want? Or, more specifically, what *doesn’t* she want? There’s more to both Imbolc and Brid than the set of “traditions” we follow (that only seem to date back to the medieval period, anyway). Perhaps Brid wants some divine friends to celebrate with her. Perhaps she really does want that infamous cow puzzle (egad). And, as Rob pointed out, perhaps we’ve tried too hard to fit her into our preconceived notion of a hearth goddess, and she wishes to work with us in a different role.

    The only reason I mentioned the Cailleach, by the way, is because she seems to be associated with both Brid and Imbolc. I was thinking in inclusive terms, not exclusive. And it seemed a better idea than the other that was suggested, the groundhog! (yes, that was a joke–dear gods, at least I *hope* that was a joke!)

    I don’t envy Rob and Rod the task of navigating this tricky course, especially since neither is a Celtic practitioner. Please, please, everyone, come to An Bruane so we can discuss this as a group–especially the Celtic practitioners! It would be so much better, and more fun!

  4. Honestly, I don’t consider our Grove to be “Celtic Celtic” as some folks do. Officially we’re Irish, sure, but we don’t behave the way most Irish Groves do in terms of which deities we work with. Since we started An Bruane back in 1995 (before I joined the Grove), Fox’s approach was always to work with the deities we contacted in ritual who indicated that they wanted to work with us. Most ended up being Celtic, a few weren’t. As easy as it is to explain Ana as ” a non-Celtic goddess we work with in a Celtic fashion”, not everyone accepts that we’re being truly Celtic if we don’t work with a goddess identified with a river in the British Isles or Bretony. Never mind trying to explain Aren. The best I can do is “he’s a local version of Angus Mac Oc”, and that hardly satisfies them either.

    Given that we’ve been working with Aren at every Beltaine since 1997 instead of Bel (the Irish god usually associated with the holiday, what with it being named after him and all), I don’t know how strong an argument of “we have to honor Brid at Imbolc because it’s her holiday” really is. As Gen said, I don’t hate Brid, but I have priestly responsibilities to a Grove that has never required Celtocentrism from its members before, and I have to try to find a way to make everyone happy, human and deity alike, without demanding that all of the non-Celtophiles (myself included) stop showing up. (As a character from one of my all-time favorite British TV shows said when asked who he would support when the chips were down, “my job is to make sure the chips stay up.”) Hopefully this plan will give me the chance to do that.

    The Celtic issue, yeah, probably better addressed in a separate article later.

  5. Most of my responses to Gen that come to mind are of the “Is not! Is so!” variety. Given that they’re not particularly constructive, I’ll leave them unspoken and move on to a couple of other points.

    Ana is a river goddess of the Huron River. The goddesses identified with rivers in the British Isles and Bretony belong to those rivers over there. They’re all local deities associated with their locality. It makes no flippin’ sense whatsoever to use a river goddess associated with a British river unless we somehow magically transported the entire river system over here. I’d also point out that that particularly goddess would have cause to be really pissed off at us. I can’t imagine the offerings it would take to placate her.

    Regarding participation at An Bruane, that’s mostly a no-go. I have to work until 7:30 pm in Dearborn. I do skip out early for the Business Meeting, but that’s once a month. My boss hasn’t really minded that much, but I really can’t make a habit of it.

    As for Bel at Beltaine, I would be happier if we did make that a thing. However, I try not to make waves to change how we do things because of my personal viewpoints.

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