Jun 09 2013

Guest Post: Brigit: Mother of Smiths by Tira Brandon-Evans

Pagan Goddess Brigid

Pagan Goddess Brigid

Pic: alter-eye

Brigit, a poetess, daughter of the Dagda, This is Brigit the female sage, or woman of wisdom, Brigit the goddess whom poets adored because very great and very famous was her protecting care. It is therefore they call her goddess of poets by this name. Whose sisters were Brigit the female physician [woman of leechcraft,] Brigit the female smith [woman of smithwork]; from whose names with all Irishmen, a goddess was called Brigit.”

(Sanas Chormaic – Cormac’s Glossary, trans. & ann. by John O’Donovan, ed w/notes & indices by Whitley Stokes, Calcutta, Cutter, 1868)

MOTHER OF THE THREE FIRES

Brigit is not only the goddess of inspiration, the Gael also call upon her for protection. Poets, doctors and smiths all practice arts requiring intelligence, skill and inspiration. Brigit is also called Mother of the Three Fires. She is the patroness and guardian of the forge fire, the hearth fire, and the ‘fire in the head’. Brigit bestows the gift of courage on those who invoke her name.

As Mother of Poets, Brigit grants wisdom and inspiration to bards, storytellers, and people who create with words.

As Lady of the Hearth Fire she protects the home and family. The first doctors are and were mothers. We have only to recall childhood experiences to remember to whom we went for healing when we were hurt or ill.

In many cultures grandmothers are the repositories of traditional healing practices. It is the grandmothers who teach their daughters and granddaughters which herbs are used to treat illnesses and injuries. This wisdom includes how and when to gather the plant, where to find it in each season, which part of the plant – leaf, root, stem, or all – is used, and how the remedy is prepared and administered.

This traditional knowledge is also available to sons and grandsons but in hunter/forager societies men and boys spend less time with their mothers and grandmothers than women and girls do. Therefore, since all folk were originally hunter/foragers, the healing arts were first known to and developed by women. 1

As Lady of the Forge Fire, Brigit bestows the gifts of invention, dexterity, strength, endurance, protection in adversity, and courage on the smith. The smith’s art requires all of these elements. It may seem odd to think of courage as one of the attributes of a good smith but upon reflection we see courage is an essential part of the smith’s craft.

In her aspect of Mother of Smiths Brigit gives us the gift of courage.

WHAT IS FEAR?

Brigit, a poetess, daughter of the Dagda, This is Brigit the female sage, or woman of wisdom, Brigit the goddess whom poets adored because very great and very famous was her protecting care. It is therefore they call her goddess of poets by this name. Whose sisters were Brigit the female physician [woman of leechcraft,] Brigit the female smith [woman of smithwork]; from whose names with all Irishmen, a goddess was called Brigit.”

(Sanas Chormaic – Cormac’s Glossary, trans. & ann. by John O’Donovan, ed w/notes & indices by Whitley Stokes, Calcutta, Cutter, 1868)
Bridget's Forge

Bridget’s Forge

Pic: Flaxton Forge

I will not indulge in fear and paranoia.
I will not encourage others to indulge in fear and paranoia.
 2

To understand courage we must first understand fear.

A life lived in fear is, quite literally, hopeless. How can we hope to realize our dreams if fear blocks the way? And yet, we all fear. The question is: How do we keep fear from ruining our lives?

We begin by learning all we can about fear. Fear is the natural physical, mental, and emotional response to any real or perceived threat to our well-being. When we are threatened our bodies go on alert. Adrenalin production increases. All of our muscles tense as we prepare to either fight or run for our lives. Our heart rate increases, we breathe more rapidly. Oxygen rich blood flows through our veins, giving us the extra energy we need to fight or run.

When we are in immediate danger we sometimes feel time has been altered. Our lives flash before our eyes or everything seems to be happening in slow motion. This is the mental response to fear. We become preternaturally aware of every detail in our environment. Things we would not usually notice are brought into instant focus. This mental response helps us instantly decide which action to take to escape from danger.

There appear to be two main emotional reactions – detachment and denial. Of these, detachment is by far the better. Detachment allows us to remove ourselves emotionally from the crisis so our bodies can react instantly to danger. The denial response has the opposite effect. We freeze and are unable to avoid the danger. The body is on alert, ready to act. The rational mind is processing information at lightening speed, ready to direct the body to action. The feeling mind denies the danger, overthrows the rational mind, and the body is left with no orders – we are petrified, literally ‘turned to stone’, frozen in place by fear.

THE THREE FEARS

Fear is our reaction to danger. There is, however, more than one type of fear. There are three kinds of fear: instant fear, rational fear, and irrational fear.

Instant Fear

Instant fear – fear of immediate danger – is one we seldom experience. This essential survival response is the fear we feel when we realize we are in immediate physical danger. This is the fear under fire on the battlefield, the fear we feel the instant before the car crash. When we encounter any situation in which we are immediately threatened with physical injury we react instantly with fear. Many people enjoy the natural high obtained during moments of danger and seek out ostensibly dangerous situations such as riding monster roller coasters and participating in extreme sports in order to induce the fear reaction. Some thrill-seekers are addicted to fear.

Rational Fear

Rational fear – fear based on reason – is an important survival response. Rational fear consists of conscious or unconscious threat assessment. That assessment depends on information we receive immediately from our senses and also from past experience or report.

Rational fear is the internal voice warning me not to walk alone and unarmed into the dark alley. The actual threat may or may not be real. According to the odds, no mugger is waiting in the dark alley. Nevertheless, my senses tell me if there is a mugger I am at a disadvantage in that my eyes are not dark adapted because I am leaving a lighted environment and going into an unlighted one.

Past experience warns me I am physically weaker than most men. If there is a mugger in the alley he is almost certainly stronger than me, and he may have a weapon. Past reports of muggings in dark alleys remind me to exercise caution in this situation. Therefore, I decide to walk round the block in the lighted street, rather than risk a mugging in an alley.

Of course, responding to rational fear by staying on the main street does not ensure I will not be mugged. It does ensure I will not be mugged in that particular alley on that particular night.

There is a second kind of rational fear. This is the fear we feel when we know we are required to do some hard thing we do not want to do. People who live with chronic pain understand this fear very well. There are days when just getting out of bed is painful. Steeling oneself to experience pain and suffering on a daily basis takes a special kind of courage.

Irrational Fear

Irrational fear – fear for no reason – is the fear we feel when we are not in immediate danger and there is no reason to avoid any threat. In other words, irrational fear is fear without cause. This is the fear children demonstrate when they refuse to sleep without a nightlight. Fear of the dark, of the boogey-man, of the monster under the bed, or the specter in the closet are all terrors many of us experienced as children.

Adults also experience irrational fear. Sometimes these fears are programmed into us when we are children. Sometimes there is no discernable reason for the fear at all. Why is one person afraid of snakes and another of horses when neither of them has ever encountered a snake or a horse? Psychologists have one explanation, people who believe in reincarnation another. Neither are much good if they do not help us deal with our irrational fears. Irrational fear is crippling. Irrational fear limits us as much as a physical disability may. A man or woman who is deaf, blind or confined to a wheelchair may still, against all odds discover ways to accomplish their goals and lead full, rich, enriching lives. A man or woman chained to an irrational fear is truly a prisoner, a slave to their self-imposed limitations.

Courage is the necessary virtue if one intends to lead a full, rich, and enriching life. Like all virtues, courage is an act of will.

COURAGE

Strike while the iron is hot.

Many imagine courage means being brave when one is endangered or afraid. Reference to the Oxford English Dictionary reveals some surprising definitions of the word courage. Indeed, the definition of courage as bravery, boldness or valour is the fourth listed. According to the OED, courage is from the Old French word corage. Courage is originally the heart or seat of feeling, thought, one’s spirit, mind, disposition and nature. Courage is also is what we are thinking or intending, according to the second definition it is our intention, purpose, desire, or inclination.

The third definition states courage is spirit, livliness, lustiness, vigour, and the vital force of nature. Bravery, boldness, and valour – the quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking is our fourth definition. Finally, there is another meaning – encourage, to take courage, take heart, or fill oneself or another with courage.

All of these meanings add to our understanding of courage. Courage is a virtue we may culitvate. None of us can escape fear. Fear is, as we have discovered, a natural reaction of our bodies and minds to external and internal stimuli. Courage is how we live with fear.

Battlefield courage, bravery, is often an instinctive reaction to danger. A man or woman reacting to preserve his/her own life and the lives of comrades. This is the courage it takes to throw oneself into the water to rescue someone drowning. Afterwards, during the media interviews we hear these heroines/heroes say: “It was nothing. I just did what I had to do. Anyone would have done the same.”

But there is another kind of courage. The courage of intention. The courage of doing that which needs doing no matter how painful, how boring, how seemingly unrewarding. The courage to love the unlovable. The courage to see myself as others see me. The courage to live well in the face of fear. The courage to strike while the iron is hot.

This is the courage – the spirit, mind, intention, purpose, disposition, nature, and heart – of the smith.

THE GREAT WORK

In many cultures the smith was also a shaman. All worlds meet in the forge. The smith is master of all the elements. The smith hammers and shapes earth, in the form of ore, transmuted through the element of fire superheated by bellowed air, and finally plunges his/her creation into water to complete the process of transformation.

Brigit is not merely the Mother of Smiths. She is a smith. Her forge is within Croghan Hill near Kildare, the centre of her cult from time out of mind. Within the hill she eternally forges the great cauldron, the Undry – the cauldron containing all of creation, the vessel containing the great pouring seas. Brigit the Smith is creatrix nonpareil. She creates not only with her womb but also with her hands, head, and heart. One wonders if the first smiths were women. It was they who tended the hearth fires. They were the ones most likely to notice copper-veined hearthstones transformed by heat. There is no way to know now, we have fogotten more than we will ever be able to remember.

Nevertheless, smiths were often healers in pre-Christian cultures. Anvil cures were still being performed in the Highlands of Scotland well into the 20th century. Smiths also performed rituals usually associated with priests. Lovers may still be married by the smiths of Gretna Green. The smith is shaman, healer, inventor, scientist and engineer. Inspiration flows from Brigit in three streams – healing, poetry, and invention.

Without courage no one can be a healer or a poet or a smith. This is why Brigit adds the gift of courage when she blesses us with her other gifts.

This is the great work of the shaman: To make and mend, to help and heal. To dwell in perfect shining moment, in the heart of the mystic rose, and be love in action.

The healer helps and heals. The smith makes and mends. The poet celebrates their accomplishments and inspires all of us to continue the great work.

ENDNOTES:

  1. In agricultural, semi-sedentary, and sedentary pastoral societies men and boys spend more time in the company of women, especially during winter months when herds and flocks are brought in from distant pastures and the annual agricultural cycle of sowing, tending, reaping and storing crops is complete. It is at this phase of cultural development one expects to see transference of information between mothers and sons increase. 
  2. Faery Shaman’s Code of Ethics, Copyright © 2001 by Tira Brandon-Evans is excerpted from The Green and Burning Tree: A Faery Shamans Handbook, Copyright © 2001 by Tira Brandon-Evans. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be used, copied or reproduced in any way whatsoever, including Internet usage or through other electronic means, without permission in writing from Tira Brandon-Evans and Elder Grove Press. (Society of Celtic Shamans – www.faeryshaman.org. Elder Grove Press – www.faeryshaman.org/egpdex.htm.

 

 

Tira Brandon-Evans is the Founder and Moderator of the Society of Celtic Shamans, an editor of Earthsongs: Journal of the Society of Celtic Shamans, and is, herself, a Faery Shaman. Her books, The Green and Burning Tree: A Faery Shaman’s Handbook, Portals of the Seasons: A Celtic Wheel of the Year, The Labyrinthine Way: Walking Ancient Paths in a Modern World, and Healing Waters, are all published by Elder Grove Press. She is presently writing a book about the Ogham. You may contact Tira by email.

 

Brigit: Mother of Smiths copyright © 2004 by Tira Brandon-Evans, all rights reserved. Used with permission

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  1. […] The Goddess Brighid (my Patroness) […]

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