Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kildare

I cried when we visited the Sisters of Solas Bhríde at Kildare. I didn't think I was going to. It hadn't even crossed my mind as a possibility, but when they did their ceremony and passed the flame to us and we talked about why we had come, I couldn't help myself.

Keeping Brigid's flame is a practice I have been engaged in for almost twenty years now. I started performing this ritual – lighting a flame in company with others, all of us scattered around the globe – back in 1993 when Casey Wolf lit the flame for the Daughters of the Flame in her apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. That same day, the sisters at Kildare were doing so as well. Its time had obviously come for the rekindling. I think Brigid was reaching out to us all that day with a strength that was perceived in a profound fashion. The flame sparked bright in places on opposite sides of the planet from one another and spread from them both in a web of fire that continues to burn in hearts and in hearths, on altars and in sanctuaries around the world. I believe it is a flame for everyone who is called to light it and to tend it, whether for a few hours or a lifetime.

Sisters Mary and Phil very kindly welcomed us into their home and into the shrine they maintain there, sharing with us the stories of Saint Brigid, her iconography, and the light of her flame. We removed our shoes to enter into the shrine and sat in a circle as we all shared our reasons for coming on the pilgrimage, and coming to Kildare to receive Brigid's flame. The Sisters were very kind and welcoming, without any concern for what spiritual path, if any, we walked. They are there to share Brigid's light with all who come to them, whatever the reason. I was much more profoundly moved by the experience than I had expected to be.

Their shrine is a dedicated room in their home, with an altar set up in one corner, and images of Brigid and her symbols all around the room, from Brigid's crosses to beautiful colored banners. Her flame is kept in a novena candle, burning on the altar, and passed by way of a candle they light in the center of the room, with prayers and ceremony and storytelling. They speak of the goddess Brigid as well as their saint, with a love and devotion that is genuinely felt and shared. I think all the pilgrims were moved by the ceremony, and were joyful in our receipt of Brigid's flame from her hearth in Kildare.

In their back yard, they have a young oak tree that they intend to plant on the grounds of the retreat and conference center they are collecting funds to build. They had copies of the book Rekindling the Flame: A Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Brigid of Kildare available, along with Brigid icons and other items, with the profits going toward the building of the center. This book was difficult for me to get online, as there aren't that many copies floating around, but it was with the little hand-drawn map in the back that I managed to locate the Wayside Well, the older of the two Brigid's Wells in Kildare town.

Finding the Wayside Well was a research project that took me a couple of weeks. A few websites mention the well, and some even show photos of it, but none of them gives an adequate description of how to find it. With the help of the book's map, I was able to locate the site on GoogleMaps street view, closely enough that we could visit the well for our opening ritual. In a supplemental post, I'll share photos of the site and how to find it so that others won't have the same difficulties I did.


When we visited the Sisters, the weather was sunny and reasonably warm, and we walked to Saint Brigid's Cathedral and the grounds of what is alleged to be the original fire temple. We paused and made personal offerings and prayers here, as individuals rather than in a group. I didn't enter into the walls as it didn't really feel right for me at that point in my journey. I think on another day I might have, but these things are so subject to individual calling that can't really be explained.

As we got on our bus and drove out to the site of the Wayside Well, clouds were rolling in. We hoped they might hold off long enough for our opening ritual, but it was not to be. I felt a stronger connection to the Wayside Well than I did to the newer one. Despite its roadside location, it seemed more peaceful to me, and more connected to the energies I was seeking in my own pilgrimage. I can't speak for any of the other pilgrims or their experiences. I know we each had our own expectations and experiences.

Our visit to both of the wells was held in a deluge. I think every well we visited while we were in Ireland, with the exception of Brigid's Well in Mullingar, was rained on. We certainly connected with the watery side of Brigid's powers during our pilgrimage! Prayers were offered for Brigid's blessing on our work, offerings were made, and intentions set in the pouring rain. I remembered all my friends and the folks who had donated to my travel funds for the pilgrimage at her well, offering prayers for them, as well.

At the modern well, many of the pilgrims tied clooties on the hawthorn tree at the end of the grounds. Jhenah and Vyviane led a short ritual for the Sisterhood of Avalon women who were on pilgrimage; I explored the small fenced-in grounds and walked the circuit of the five stones that represented five aspects of Brigid's path as expressed by the Sisters at Kildare. There is a liturgy for the circuit in Rekindling the Flame. We were not the only ones at the site, nor the only ones who were doing ritual there in the rain.

On the way back from the wells was Saint Brigid's Parish Church, where the original icon the Sisters are selling replicas of is kept. It was closed for the day, so we were not able to enter and see the icon or the stained glass, though we did see the doors of the church, whose doors are opened with handles in the shape of Brigid's open hands. The panels are laid out in the shape of Brigid's cross and there is etched glass in the door of oak leaves and acorns.


I would have loved a pilgrimage that went off with perfect weather, no forgotten ritual scripts, and no mishaps, but things rarely go as planned. I started out my pilgrimage with a fall the first morning in Dublin, and had a pretty horrific black eye for my entire visit to Ireland. The weather was mostly rainy and blustery. Some of the sites we tried to find (the Well of Segais) were pretty much impossible and had to be abandoned for the moment. Yet through it all, I think we managed with reasonably good humor and good spirits.

My own hopes for the pilgrimage were simply to be available for the pilgrims, to offer some information on the sites we were visiting, and to help shine some of Brigid's light and creativity into our time in Ireland with the hopes of opening us all to receive Brigid's inspiration. To that end, I prepared meditations and writing prompts for each day, focused on the themes we would be exploring and the sites we would be visiting. While not everyone did the daily meditations and exercises, I think those that did participate on any given day got something useful from them, and I was able to share the files of all of the work with the participants on our pilgrimage email list when I returned home in mid-August.

I was fortunate enough to be accompanied on the pilgrimage by my friends Llyne, from Seattle, and Ogam, who lives in El Paso. It was good to have folks that I know well along for the journey. Llyne's participation was very last-minute due to unusual circumstances at her job, and I was delighted that she could come. I tend to be a very introverted person and sometimes it's difficult for me to be comfortable around people I don't know, so this was an added layer of comfort and support that really helped when I was feeling tired and uncertain. I'm blessed with very good friends and am so lucky to have them. Vyviane and Jhenah are wonderful and I very much enjoyed working with them, but it was still good to have folks that I've known for years along for the ride.

In the coming weeks, I hope to be able to talk a little about all the different places we visited as a group for the pilgrimage, and about my experiences in the other places to which I traveled on my journey. Thank you for making it possible, and I'm glad I can share it with you here.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your memories and insights. I would have loved to gone, and hope to visit Kildare one day. It sounds like an amazing place. I'm going to share this post with the other flame keepers in ADF. I'm sure it will inspire them as much as it does me.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. There will be more on the pilgrimage as I get things written up.

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  2. What a beautiful experience, Erynn. Brighid's been in my life since November 2010 and I've been Flamekeeping for Her for probably about a year now. I just got my first Brighid's cross pendant and it makes me so incredibly happy.

    When I visited Ireland in 2004, I was still very young and narrow-minded, and I missed out on a lot of what that land had to offer. My dream has always been to return and visit the sites of the gods and goddesses I honor now.

    Danny

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    1. Sometimes we're just not ready for stuff. We're all learning new things all the time. I was constantly awash in the feeling that I wished I was better prepared for this, that I knew more, that I could face it with more confidence. It was an incredible experience, but each time I do anything even vaguely like this, I learn something new and something more.

      I hope you'll have a chance to go back.

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