Spirituality and Art 1: Art Muse Essay

Brighid: My Muse

By Grey Catsidhe

6/24/10

 

Ever since I felt myself welcomed at the hearth fires of the Tuatha Dé Danann, one Goddess has stood out as a kind of mother figure and muse to my heart – Brighid.  She was a popular Goddess in the past and remains so in the present.  This should hardly be surprising as she presides over a plethora of important activities including the arts.  For this reason, she is the perfect muse as I explore the path of the artist.

Many Celtic tribes honored Brighid (also known as Brigit, Brigid, Brig, Brigantia, and other names).  She was so beloved that she was Christianized in the form of St. Brigit who presided over the abbey in Kildare (Cill Dara) where her sacred fires burn in her memory (Duinn 16).  The Goddess and saint also share a feast day, Imbolc, which falls on February 1st and is a celebration of fertility as demonstrated by the agricultural rituals that take place then (19-30).  She was equated to the Roman Goddess Minerva by Caesar, and was worshiped by poets, metal smiths, and musicians (Markale 275).  Furthermore, she is considered a patroness of healing, arts and crafts in general, and even divination (Ellis 103).

I used to be a bit confused by her strong presence in my life.  There is such emphasis on her blacksmithing skills.  I am a seamstress and fiber artist by nature.  Was Brighid really a good muse for me, or was I trying too hard to make her a Goddess of all arts and crafts?  My research concludes that Brighid is indeed a patroness of many arts, including fiber arts.

In some parts of Ireland, people claimed that, traditionally, one was not supposed to perform any work involving a wheel on Imbolc.  The household spinning wheel was dismantled and put away on the eve of the celebration.  In fact, one man, Seán Segersiúin from Killarney, claims that people believed Brighid had first taught women the art of turning wool into clothing (Duinn 177).  This belief is backed up by the folk tradition of girls making miniature spinning wheels out of reeds to help men divine their future brides on Imbolc – Brighid’s holy day (194).  Furthermore, there is evidence that Imbolc, “was celebrated when the first sign of milk was observed in the ewes, and the newborn lambs, harbingers of spring, were ready to suckle” (Ellison 113).  This connection to sheep, in my opinion, solidifies Brighid’s place as a patroness of spinning, dying, weaving, knitting, crocheting, and, ultimately, sewing. Caesar’s comparison of Brighid to Minerva, a Roman Goddess known for weaving, provides further evidence for the argument.  Additionally, when considering the other “womanly” chores Brighid is associated with, including presiding over childbirth (Sjoestedt 25), it makes sense to include what are traditionally considered as “feminine arts” to be within her influence.

Fabric in general plays an important role in Brighid’s rites.  It was believed that Brighid would visit households on or around Imbolc.  Families often left fabric outside which they believed would be blessed by Brighid’s otherworldly powers.  The brat Bhríde (Bride’s mantle), as it was called, then acted as a charm of protection or as a treatment for illness (Duinn 26).  Instead of putting out a large piece of cloth, some people left ribbons or handkerchiefs outside for similar blessings (35).  Brighid played such an important role in the health and prosperity of the people.  It is understandable why fabric would take a large role in her rites as well.  Fabric warms people and helps keep them comforted during the coldest parts of the year.   As Brighid is already associated with health and warmth, fabric becomes an extension of those qualities.

There are other crafts associated with Brighid as well.  The weaving of Brighid crosses is a well-known tradition that is still observed in parts of Ireland.  It was believed that they helped to protect a home from storms and terrible winds (Duinn 108) and I have met many present day Pagans who insist they are charms against house fires.  Historically, the crosses were also helpful in crop and dairy fertility (128-129).   Crosses are not the only traditional Imbolc craft.   In many villages, “girls of the townland fashion[ed] a sheaf of corn into the likeness of a woman. They dress[ed] and deck[ed] the figure with shining shells, sparkling crystals, primroses, snowdrops, and any greenery they may [have] obtain[ed]” (Carmichael 166).  Clearly, one of the best ways to honor this Goddess is through creating art.

As stated, I am a fiber artist.  I have practiced such crafts as sewing, knitting, crocheting, and weaving since I was very little.  They are an important part of my life and my religious expression.  Discovering the influence Brighid has over fabric made a lot of sense to me.  I was no longer confused as to why she continually whispered inspirations into my ear or why she seemed to smile at me from beyond the veil as I toiled away at my sewing machine.  I now truly believe that Brighid’s talents are so varied that any artists can seek her aid and inspiration so long as they honor her in their work.

When Brighid’s influence in my life first became apparent, I was not sure how to thank her.  I said a word or two to her in my daily devotionals, but it somehow didn’t seem like enough.  As she is multi-talented, I felt her even when I wasn’t crafting.  I felt the need to honor her exclusively at certain times.  Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this calling.  Other Druids in ADF called out for a flame keeping SIG.  Through its formation, we devotees of Brighid follow in the steps of our predecessors from Kildare and light a flame in her name on certain nights each month.  This was a powerful way to grow closer to my muse and inspired me to go a step further.

I firmly believe that Brighid somehow influences every creative idea I have.  I feel that she is a spirit of inspiration and that she provides me with topics to explore.  I then add my own ideas to them and seek her guidance throughout the process.  When I am in the midst of art, I feel as if I am having a conversation with my Goddess.  I felt that, due to such collaboration, she deserved more than what I was giving her.  After all, crafting is one of my greatest sources of happiness!  Such a blessing should be celebrated tenfold!

Based on my flame keeping practices, I developed a short ritual that I perform when involved in my creativity.  I usually light a candle when keeping Brighid’s flame.  To thank her for the imbas, the divine inspiration in my head, I usually light her a stick of incense.  I say words of thanks and ask that I bring her honor “in all I say and do.”

Brighid is a Goddess with many talents.  Her influence is vast and my UPG tells me that she is willing to work with anyone as long as they honor her for her blessings.  Brighid is my muse and I will strive to learn more about her and admire her as I explore the ways of the Druid artisan.

 

 

Works Cited

Carmichael, Alexander.  Carmina Gadelica.  1900.  Sacred Texts. .   4 June 2010.

<http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cg1/index.htm&gt;

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids.  New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002.

Ellison, Rev. Robert Lee (Skip).  The Solitary Druid.  New York: Kensington

Publishing Corp., 2005.

Markale, Jean.  The Celts Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western

Culture.  Trans. C. Hauch.  Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1978

Ó Duinn, Seán.  The Rites of Brigid Goddess and Saint. Dublin: Columba Press, 2005.

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise.  Celtic Godsand Heroes.  Mineola: Dover Publications Inc.,

2000.

 

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