Monday, May 18, 2015

Toxicity and Male Agression at the Gaia Gathering, and in the Edmonton pagan community


And with Sable Aradia

So when I was invited to speak at the Gaia Gathering, the only Canadian pagan conference, by another local pagan leader, I was very hesitant. I'm always willing to donate my time and energy to creating community of course, but the Edmonton scene has always been problematic, with no signs of correcting itself. There is a deep reluctance to address any of its serious issues and improve the local pagan community, especially in regards to victimization. With one of the panels this year on feminism and another on guarding the guardians, one would hope that the boys were open to making spaces safer and more comfortable for women, but alas. That is simply not on the menu. Indeed, to even attempt to complain is met with mystified stares at best, and jeers at worst. The sheer incompetence of the conference itself was another concern. I am totally supportive of the idea of a national pagan conference, even held in different cities every year. So much so in fact, I even volunteered the first year myself as the local experienced event planner and community liaison, since the inaugural event was held in Edmonton. However, as the other planners were all from Toronto at the time, I had so many problems with their entitlement and other issues that I had to bow out entirely. They have not seemed to have learnt much in the decade they have been in operation. A few easily noted examples...

I was thrilled to meet the female keynote speaker, Sable Aradia. I would have loved to hear more from her on the topic of her seminar, but her toss out session right at the beginning seemed to cue the local power males into believing it wasn't a keynote address but a workshop. Although, only they seemed to think that. Women remained respectfully silent nearly the entire time. Yes, there is always a problem to buttonholing women, but it has been proven in so many studies that men taking over space means women retreat and are unheard. The argument to change that is usually, again, the onus on the women to "Speak up! Lean in!" But somehow, the reverse is almost never applied. Like "Shut up, and let the woman speak. It's her we came to see, not you." Which is what most of the women felt like, but are trained not to challenge or make a fuss. Even if more women spoke up, it might have seemed more even, but with that constant interruption from the entitled men, most of us felt like too much time was already taken up with comments from the (men in the) audience, and we didn't feel like sharing. I'm pretty darn aggressive, but even I felt like my one tiny comment, heckled immediately by the men, was a mistake. Normally, I couldn't care less. I'm kinda used to it. However, I am one of the few local women who is a peer to the high profile males. If they are not used to respecting the opinions of others, they should at least accept that I am closer to them than most. So in this community, I do expect some degree of consideration for my expertise and experience. But nope. One male even asked for my thoughts *specifically* to announce that I was wrong. Not to hear what I had to say. Not to edify or contemplate my viewpoint, which he actually *requested* of me. Not that my interpretation was wrong in his training. But that I was just wrong. Is there a name for men who do that, or that particular action? Mansplaining I think is the closest...

As a guest, Sable's needs were also not met. Particularly egregious in consideration of the pagan Hospitality laws, which most paths follow in some variation. A vegan, she was wolfing down some much needed nourishment just before her address. It made the entire session late, but we were informed that she hadn't eaten in two days. I trust that was an exaggeration, because the alternative is too offensive to contemplate. When she made a slight comment on the fact after arriving, instead of humble and shame-filled apologies from those of the organizers who were there, she was actually heckled. Heckled. "You should learn to eat what's in front of you!" She choose to ignore that aggressive shouting down and continue on with her lecture, but I know I felt the violence in that statement. Your needs are nothing. You are here to serve only. You are expendable. Being invited to a city that you don't know, and need others to assist you in, and not providing basic needs like FOOD, is an injury. Throwing it back in their face is most certainly an insult. Adding insult to injury. It's like asking an orthodox rabbi to speak at a dinner, not providing him with anything, and then force him to carve the pork for it. There were other vegans there, too, which is not uncommon among pagans, who also couldn't locate food. Like me, who had no car with which to fetch some. Why on earth would anyone plan a conference where they knew that even a keynote would be unable to have her needs met?  It still astounds and appalls me.

I have also never, EVER been invited to speak at an event and then been required to pay for the privilege. I've been doing these for 30 years now, and I have never asked for cash compensation, as is keeping with tradition. My expertise and knowledge are clearly valued enough to be asked to impart them, and so I have made time out of my schedule to spend hours sharing, which I am honoured to do. However, it is apparently the policy of this conference to insist that invited presenters PAY to get in. To the event they are contributing to. When the conference is making money off of audience members coming to see them. When I insisted that I wouldn't participate under those conditions to the male who invited me, I was angrily told I wasn't 'building community". Since I'm not a money grubber by any stretch, the attempt to shame me into paying for my own lecture was a total flop. I am able to deal with male violence in that circumstance, but it's most distasteful. However, this isn't just about the invited guests. The volunteers, the actual staff putting in their time and sweat equity to make the thing run, are *also* supposed to pay. Even when they are spending all their time at their posts, and none in the workshops that they are so keen to see. All the volunteers I saw were women, and some from several hours out of town. (To be fair, I never asked if they got a reduced rate, but since I wasn't told I could have one, I assume they couldn't as well.) I cannot begin to express my shock and repugnance at such exploitation. When challenged, I was told that this is the standard model for this event. Well, I've organized and participated in lots of national conventions and events, and I can tell you: you're doing it wrong. Volunteers donate their valuable time so *you don't have to pay staff.* That's the carrot for them. Lower income for example, can donate time instead of money, and still get a chance to participate! I know you might have cash flow problems,but siphoning off money from them for the privilege is total exploitation, and tells everyone that their time dedicated to this is just not valuable enough. (Eventually I was comped, but only because I made such an argument for it. I doubt anyone else made such a fuss over the principle, and I wouldn't have been able to attend anyway otherwise. I certainly don't have that kind of cash...)

A male of my acquaintance also offered me a shoulder to cry on, since my last year has been one of the worst in my life. He promised he was a good listener, and as my troubles do have something to do with the local community, I overcame my usual reluctance and shared some choice bits. Here's a tip: suggesting that the person violated should have known better is both not good listening AND victim blaming. Again. More violence is not what one expects or needs in spiritual circles. All that talk of healing energy is just crap, right?

Being high profile in anything is always a risk. Targeting for women is even more of a problem now than before the 'net. I remember a few years ago when I brought up how local Wiccans had gone out of their way to stalk and harm me and my family. I had all my documentation and proof, and presented it to the local coven for their consideration. Of course, the boys involved were local heroes! Who did great work! I know you don't want to deal with such pillars of the community being such criminals, but one would still hope that truth and justice was an ideal for pagans to aspire to. But no. I was shut down faster than a choir boy accusing a Catholic priest, bizarrely told that their 'mediation' was an option, and despite all the emails and proofs right in front of them, unceremoniously removed from lists and uninvited to events I was already scheduled to appear at. Because boat rocking. Mediation of course meaning that more than one party is at fault, or that some 'misunderstanding' is the source of the violence against them. Because two sides! Even though the proof is right there... Victim blaming at it's finest. There's a reason this is the first time you've seen me a local event in ages, dudes...

The panel I was invited to speak at, as an actual expert, was no better. My male co-presenter often interpreted me, told me *I* had to let others finish (though that never applied to him), and actually dismissed completely my experience with the Greens and Elizabeth May, saying to my face that I had an "idealized" version. It was an utterly classic form of silencing women. Even though I've been involved for years at the highest levels and know everyone personally; his opinion, based on pulling it out of his ass, was to be the deciding one. I could have pushed it, but I already had to shove my way into the conversation, because this man was swaying the group with his obviously deep knowledge of the subject. My insistence on actually being heard as a woman who knew what was going on was somehow disruptive to the group, doncha know. Look. Just because you have an opinion doesn't mean it's right or based in reality. That's why you might want to listen to someone who is actually in the know before you form or maintain that opinion. And no. Its not of the same value, then, and we don't have to insist that it is. That's why you asked me there: because I know what I'm talking about. And shutting me down, in public, in a group I was supposed to be co-hosting, was deliberately disrespectful, antagonizing, disempowering, and downright rude. (It's on video. Keep in mind the man was constantly interrupting female speakers all weekend, because he owns this town. And I was doing my best to control my Fist of Death as it was... He was remarkably silent during Kerr's keynote address. Hhmmm...)

Kerr and me!
I had to leave both nights early, because it was just too overwhelming to deal with. And again, it most certainly isn't all men, or everyone at the conference. Kerr Cuhulain, whom I have known about for decades and really wanted to connect with, is a high profile pagan who has done so much work in the Canadian and international community, and is one of the most delightful, humble, hard working, grounded and knowledgeable spiritual leaders I have ever had the fortune to meet. I was thrilled to have the opportunity for some serious face time, and very much look forward to a vivacious and fruitful long term relationship between our two organizations. I may even hang at his Mother House for a while and study under his group. So that at least was worth it...


I find the dismissal, exploitation and social violence of this event and community actually shocking, since I'm not really expecting it. It hurts way more than in my other circles. We're all supposed to be love and trust, right? How does that work if the men in particular dominate all the conversations, dismiss women and their opinions or their needs or their contributions, and then natter on about the Goddess? Even in metaphoric terms, she's still female, and is represented in the women physically around you. That you are exploiting, dismissing, and dominating.

The local community in Edmonton finds ANY criticism to be 'negative energy", and punishes those who bring it up by censure and virtual excommunication. Thus ensuring that these toxic practices are doomed to continue, rather than be exposed, examined, and corrected. So many local witches and pagans have become 'solitary'; not because they wished it, but because they have felt harmed, endangered, unwelcome, exploited, or downright victimized, in both informal and formal manifestations of the community. I've heard many whispered stories that I'm not the only one. Since it's so incestuous, there is no recourse when such problems occur, and victims are then forced to explore their faith entirely on their own. Yes, there are always bad apples. Yes, no community is ever totally safe or warm and fuzzy. However, to deliberately not patrol oneself, ignore and punish those who point out problems or complain, and pretend instead there is a bubble of "light and love" around you and all you do is monumentally naive at best, and abusive at worst. The "Community" pillar of paganism demands improvement, as does the "Self" one. Neither of these are currently under serious scrutiny in Edmonton. Do we have to wait until all the local enablers of these kinds of behaviors die or move away? It does seem to be perpetuating itself, since this has been going on for decades now - and from what I saw this weekend, no end is in sight.




70's chic? Or just a terrible place to have this. Sable and I agree on the latter. Number 12 bus, the only one to get there, is a bitch, too...  And of course, no bike racks. Another blow to accessibility! Yay!

As for the conference, there was much talk of this being the last Gaia Gathering. It has been misinterpreted as being no longer necessary for the Canadian community, but the real problem is not having local buy-in, one of the first issues I warned them about, and they clearly still haven't solved. To say it was sparsely attended would be generous. When I organize things like this, I get hundreds of folks showing up. And I expect as much from a "national conference." From accessibility issues: one awkward bus route and no bike racks, to *still* not having a viable local billeting option for most conventioneers, to the utterly awful decor and lack of refreshments for everyone, Sable and I had a long discussion about it on the Sunday, and we were largely on the same page about the problems of the conference. We agreed that it has always been a necessity, and need it to continue in some proper form. I personally can't decide if I want this version to pass away, and revive the idea in a few years, or make yet another attempt to help them solve these problems so that we have continuity. We really do need this to help create and maintain communities, scholarship, and legitimacy all over the country. I rather hope they can finally start making this a more robust event, but since I have yet to see those results after ten years, my expectations for change in this, too, are also dim...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Provincial Campaign 2015 - Alberta Greens



Sat., April 11


Another whirlwind tour! Although provincial elections are rarely as lively as federal, this one started off with a bang. I was asked by long time activist and vital member of the community, David Laing, to lead off the #ActOnClimate Edmonton action. About two days before. Heh. I actually really like working like this. Gives me less time to get nervous...

I go into far more detail on my blog post on the subject "Why I became a Green", and I left out so much, of course. Such as why the current cries, and some blame, for scientists to activate now, and not in the past. As if to illustrate my points, a sudden wind burst up, knocking everything around. You should see the giant bruises on the back of my legs from where one of the signs hit me...  Ah. All for the cause. Made some great new contacts, too!


My entire speech is here. Taping makes it sound better... Did I really talk for 11 minutes? I usually make these so short. But this one - this subject really screams at me.

This year I'm standing for Edmonton Decore. I have stood for it once before, since it's adjacent to the provincial riding I live in, and still in my federal riding. However, the Alberta Greens have decided not to challenge the progressives who have already worked hard to make it to the Legislature and we are not running candidates in their ridings. Instead, we are focusing our message in places that do not yet have such a voice. So Brian Mason, the former leader of the ND's, who currently represents the riding I live in, can thank me for not throwing down the gauntlet. You're welcome. (Because he's soooo worried. Heh.)


Mon. April 13

Taking my campaign manager along to teach him the process. Getting signatures all afternoon and evening to get on the ballot. His very first encounter was greeted by a sit down invite with loads of sweets by a traditional hospitality senior Greek couple. It was certainly one of the most welcoming I've ever encountered doing this part of the work. Another unexpected surprise was Ann the Poetess, who we met in the food court of Northgate. She gave us a spoken word recitation of two of her works, but not her signature, since she doesn't live in the riding. Part of this job is the folks you meet.

And a quick word to Northgate Mall: it's actually illegal, as well as dickish, to prevent folks from getting signatures for Elections Alberta to get on the ballot. It's not partisan: it's providing electoral choice. It's not advertising; it's democracy. The returning office is actually IN your mall! I know you relented and let us do it for one night, but you still can't do that. You do not get to decide who gets on the ballot, by making it harder to get someone on. Here's a tip: you also aren't allowed to prevent campaign literature from getting to renters in buildings that you own, either. Just because you hold the space does not permit you to interfere with the election process.  That's a Real Thing. And I will make a formal complaint next time.


And my face is burnt. Even with my rare, and now apparently collectible, hunter green Tilley.



Sat. April 18

Anti Bill C-51 Rally



More Pics here:

Opening up the Week to Stop Bill C-51, this was a cross country wide co-ordination, with nearly all major cities in Canada organizing a protest. Ours had many of the usual suspects, with some new faces. And many came in satirical outfits to highlight the grim and farcical attempt at painting all activists: environmentalists, aboriginal, social... with one brush - that of terrorists. Much like our neighbours to the south, this is our Patriot Act, except that a few mentally ill murderers are not the same as fighters with a political agenda constantly maiming and killing civilian populations to control the dialog. It kinda ain't. Not even a little bit. Dissent is not terror, and the only people who call it that are those who won't tolerate dissent. Especially if our government is supposed to be listening to us, and doing what *we* tell it? If they shut down all ability to hear us, then who, exactly, are they listening to?




Come for the impassioned and knowledgeable presentations and costumes; stay for the march! From speakers on Aboriginal rights to Palestinian justice to workers rights, all of which would be targeted by this Bill, we were gloriously inspired by spokespeople from many varied, yet always intersectional, causes. Included were Native Elder Taz Bouchier who opened with ceremony, the always popular Raging Grannies, my favourite Communist candidate Peggy MortonDale Ladouceur, Glynis Lieb from CUPE,  Malcolm Azania (aka Minster Faust), Danika Billie Littlechild, the beautiful and talented Bill BourneGhada Ageel, and many others brought their colours out in solidarity, like Ecawar.org.

I was pleasantly surprised by the organizers inclusion of women and PoC. Many times, lip service is given to hearing voices that are usually silenced, but this rally had some of the most diverse speakers I've ever had the pleasure to hear. Most were women, and nearly all were PoC. Not a white man haranguing us in the bunch. Except the host, and he kept the focus on the guests. I for one was impressed, and would like to extend kudos to the organizers. It's more than past time that we made a place for those who to often have to squeeze their way in.

One of the most awe inspiring presentations was by Jenna Joyce Broomfield, a law student and native activist who explained some of the most problematic parts of the law, and then proceeded to give us a demonstration of one of the many forms of self-expression: Inuit throat singing. Subversive!
(I found to my shock that I did not, in fact, get this on video. So I'm using a link that Paula E. Kirman posted to FB from her channel. Let me know if you want me to remove the link, Paula!) 

See all of the presentations posted here:



Sunday, April 19

Blue dot action at EGS

Met up with some of the lovely folks at Earth's General Store, and stayed for a few hours. They even remembered me from my climate change speech last week! I'm totally flattered... Went into more detail about the issues, handed out a few cards, but there were no babies to shake or hands to kiss. Or is that other way around? Good thing there weren't any then! Had a lovely chat with Estefania Cortes-Vargas, ND candidate for Strathcona-Sherwood Park. We discussed at some length the current problem of the ND's shifting to a non-cooperative and adversarial model, and how that affects the Left as well as their own policies. A truly progressive young woman, who I hope to work and get better acquainted with! 

April 20 & 21


Doorknocking with the Leader, and our Crew


Me, and your Green Party candidate for Edmonton-Riverview, Sandra Wolf Lange!
Janet Keeping, our indomitable Leader, managed to make it up to Edmonton with her team for two days this week. We spend the evenings doorknocking in two ridings with fellow candidates. I was privileged to spend some quality face time both days, as well as show off my riding.

Monday night we paired off in teams and hit Edmonton-Riverview and Edmonton-Whitemud with a vengeance. In part because I forgot it was 4/20. That will tell you how much campaigning makes you completely lose track of everything else. Should've been there for the spinning alone... Tuesday we were in Edmonton Decore, right beside Northgate Mall. Met one of the ND volunteers hitting the streets, too. Lovely young man! They have such great people! I wish they would let them talk to us...

A much deserved celebration!  Kathryn JacksonSandra Wolf Lange,  me, my campaign manager, Francis Ho,  Jill Browne, and our Leader and inspiration, Janet Keeping 

Tuesday Afternoon, April 21

Shaw Interview



Local cable isn't dead! At least, it's putting up a good fight.. Shaw invited all the candidates into the studio, in both Calgary and Edmonton, to present a 90 sec speech, which isn't easy to do when they suggest you talk about yourself, discuss taxes, and throw in a health care plan. A great plan for local relevancy, and I for one applaud their initiative. Most of the Greens managed to avail themselves of the invitation, and it took alot of polishes and practices before most of us felt comfy with the timing and the material. Yes, we write all our own speeches. I know for a fact that the Liberals have their own speechwriters, for the federal campaign anyway, even for tiny ridings, so I have little doubt that the other parties have a more..consistent.. message with actual writers. But since the Greens are all volunteer, being the only citizen's action party, we do it all ourselves. And you know, we are pretty damn good!

I only found out the night before that they were using a green screen, so we couldn't wear green, black, or white. Due to my religious vows, I've only worn black and green for over 25 years, so that's all I have in my closet. Fortunately, my other colour is silver, so even though I thought it might seem frivolous, it was really my only option left. So in that spirit, I tried to get my daughter to lace me into my silver steampunk corset for the presentation, because if you can't hide it, you'd better decorate it! But she couldn't do it up, so I had to go with a silver shirt. My campaign manager thinks it was for the best. Sigh...

I wrote my speech only a few hours earlier, because I always work to deadlines, and I just couldn't get inspired before. However, my 13 yo daughter said something that totally gave me my speech. She said, and I quote, "We're the heart of Canada's oil industry. Why is everyone getting cancer?" And that kinda did it for me. She gets it, even at her age, because that's it in a nutshell.  I wrote furiously, for about an hour, and it all came together. Rearranging it was tough, though, since I didn't have time to copy it out, so with taking out the bits that were too long, and trying to point to where I was supposed to go next, it was an editor's nightmare.

They had to check to see if my green hair would scan properly...

Which is kinda what did me in when I actually got there. Shaw is Hel and gone for me, so I had to cab it. I do that very rarely the rest of the year, but I have to rely more on it during a campaign. I and my campaign manager can get everywhere in the riding by bike or bus, as we otherwise do, but some events are simply not doable in a reasonable time frame without utilizing cabs. I think of it as stimulating the local economy! But it does make for some stress, so I was a bit freaked out by the time I got there. And I actually can get terrible stage fright, though you'd never know. That's why they call me "professional"... Heh.

So, after being lead in, and ushered and maneuvered around by the lovely staff, I was set up to go. I took a deep breath, and managed about half the speech, when my edits caught up with me. I got lost. Could not figure out where I was supposed to be going next. Like the trouper I am, though, I had already practiced it earlier, and I actually do know my material and what I want to say, so I just vamped my way through it. I may have been a blunter than I would have otherwise, but I was just under time, and got in most everything I was planning on saying anyway. And the staff looked stunned. Even my campaign manager thought that was some of my best work. Apparently, we could have another take, so I suggested I try doing the speech I had originally intended, but they strongly encouraged me to keep that one. So I abide by their advice, and we kept that.

Profiles of the candidates are available up to election day, and the schedule is posted on my website, my FB page, and I'm assuming, Shaw's, but I didn't check. And if anyone could record it for me, I'd really love a copy. Because I have almost no idea what I said. I mean, I know what I said, but you know... And Shaw has for some reason decided that they aren't going up on YouTube or their site, so I'm kinda outta luck, unless they relent and allow me to have a copy after the election. Because, I kinda rocked. Or, I think I did... Isn't that the same thing? Heh.

Wed, April 22

Candidates Public Forum on Education: Crestwood Community League



The Future of our Public Schools and School Closures, sponsored by Community Action for School Renewal



Me in the new T shirt design!
Supposedly an all-candidates forum: but just like the one on education held in Calgary, the PC and the WildRose chose not to attend. Or even send an excuse, I think... Much note was made of it, since it was the only one of its kind this election held in Edmonton. Despite that, however, a highly useful and productive evening was spent by all. FB listing is here, with more details and pics.

For my full answers to all the questions, check out my Youtube channel!

Actually in attendance were two Alberta Party candidates, two NDP candidates, one Liberal, and me, representing the Greens. My answers are on my Youtube channel. Thanks to my campaign manager for taking them! The MC announced that they would be livetweeting the answers, which put on a bit more pressure. However, I only looked at them afterwards, and was very impressed that someone could manage to summarize our answers so well and so quickly. I didn't quite know I was so well received until after the event, when so many participants came up to me to offer congratulations, and I looked over the tweets the next day. They do make me look pretty darn good! It's nice to have the pat on the back every once and awhile. We really work hard for this... See them all yourself, with the hashtag #casrforum 

I was very impressed with Dr. Donna Wilson, Liberal candidate for Riverview. She was clear and focused, with great answers and a real knowledge of the subject. As a prof, she could also speak to post secondary as well.Great stats! I could only really disagree on the Liberal party line of keeping government out of the schools. Well, no. That's kinda what government is *for*: collecting taxes and providing education. When we have decided on a system of public education, that's one of the things governance is for.

The male Alberta party candidate, Brandon Beringer, standing for Riverview, the only boy on the panel, held himself fairly well for his first election. He was a bit flippant, and didn't know his material much, but he kept to his script, which is what he's supposed to do, I guess. I have no clue why he thinks that the Alberta Party policy of *borrowing* to get out of our financial mess, instead of just collecting a more appropriate amount of tax from the rich and corporations getting wealthy off OUR resources, is somehow a better plan.  You know we have some of the lowest royalties on the planet, right? And borrowing puts us in *debt*? Really. Those oil companies aren't going anywhere. They could just pay their fair share. I couldn't stop staring at Dr. Christina Stasia, the female Alberta party candidate for Goldbar. The work that goes into looking like she is literally off a Mad Men set was impressive. And a bit stunning. However, she was also clear, with a lovely speaking voice, and totally knew her subject matter. I felt like I had to up my game with this crowd.. Which isn't a bad thing. 

The two NDP were right beside me. And barely looked at me the entire time. I will admit - I was very disappointed in them. As a former hard core NDP, I must say that this new route of hostility, rather than co-operation, does not suit them at all. One at least gave me the time of day, then proceeded to ignore me, but Sarah Hoffman, for Glenora, was a wall of rude. Although I admit I didn't get most of that until *after* I mildly satirized her idol worship of Notley. But really. Do the NDP think we are that stupid? Or was that just her? I know they have been instructed to say "Rachel Notley and the NDP" whenever they breathe, but she was giving the impression that Notley herself was going to build all those schools personally. She said it so often that the kids were considering making a drinking game of it. I'm glad they can't legally use alcohol yet. They'd have died from the poisoning. I personally found it deeply embarrassing and shameless, and shades of Ralph's Team and the PC Cult of Personality, were hanging over us all.  Everyone who spoke to me afterward felt the same way. I couldn't help but get a little bit angry over it. None of us mentioned our leaders. Mine in particular is an inspiration as a spokesperson, but she's not the Be All and End All of all the candidates and our platform... I did have a chance to sneak a peek at their notes, cheat sheets, and talking points. (Which we don't have, by the way. Just our policies.) I saw an actual chart comparing Prentice to Rachel, him all bad and her all good. It was eye opening - the push to manipulate, and in such a simplistic fashion. I almost got a picture of it with my phone. The candidate was rather indiscreet with such party secrets. You know we don't vote for a premier, right, Rachel? And encouraging use of your first name to promote a false sense of intimacy, countering his use of last name to indicate authority, is a rather sleazy and manufactured tactic? The best part was the end, when we all wandered around and shook hands, giving each other sincere compliments on an evening well spent. Except for the NDP, who totally ignored me. Again. I don't know if they shook hands or spoke to any of the other candidates, but their bad form and general discourtesy was highly pointed. I don't know if that was just them, or if they are under orders to snub us. Because they most certainly did. Bad NDP. No cookie.

Feature in Diversity Magazine!


Leader Janet Keeping, Sandra Wolf Lange, and me hamming it up. We have such fun in all the hard work...

Also while Janet was in town, we had a photo shoot at Diversity Magazine! See the full article here...Big thanks to editor Franklin, the Green Crusader, for the invite!

Sunday, April 26

Earth Day in the Downtown core


The martial arts Green contingent

Of course, it is the must attend event of the day.  My campaign manager and I meet another local Green, Chris Vallee, and hang out with the usual suspects. Garbaganza was in attendance, as was Greenpeace, Amnesty, Permaculture, local green hero Michael Kalmanovitch from Earth's General Store, and some new folks we said hi to. I was particularly impressed with the new vegan food truck! A great addition! We did our duty and dropped off some literature and buttons, which joined the federal swag on the table. More pics here.

Then we spent the rest of the day, for some much needed R and R, at the Legislature grounds for ArtsJam: a very loosely organized group of flow artists, hoopers, musicians, and now, the martial arts group, of which I happen to have the honour of joining from time to time... 

Sword training and one of our dapperest attendees

Hoopers and jugglers and drummers: oh, my!
Hand to hand, because we didn't bring enough weapons...

April 29


Pack the Chambers

Livetweeting selfie! Sandra Wolf Lange, your Green candidate for Edmonton Riverview, and me!

A call to action! The Edmonton City Council was meeting to discuss the motion to reduce our carbon footprint, for the *very* realistic goal of 35% reduction by 2025, and the Greens, and green minded citizens, came out in a show of support. It was just an ordinary business meeting, which happens fairly often, but in this case, we were to bare witness and demonstrate how much we cared about this plan. Several of us livetweeted, including me, and you can see most of them on the FB event.  Our mayor, Don Ivason, is a popular progressive, and even mentioned climate change! And so near to the tarsands, too... And not a single job was lost. He did, however, chastise us for not 'sitting respectfully in silence" when we made sedate polite applause over one Councillor's remarks about an hour into the meeting. You know, you ARE facing us in a semi-circle. You are OUR employees, doing work for us.  That's a democracy thing. I'm not sure admonishing us like bad children to 'sitting respectfully in silence' is the best way to address us. One attendee went so far as to call it an abuse of power. I probably wouldn't say that, but it wasn't cool, Don..

Greenies in the house!

Yes, we really do the less glamourous stuff, too, to get the job done.




Saw a sound check for a really good musician on the way out. Oooo...looked fancy! I wonder what was going on here...


 



May 1


May Day Worker's Rally and March

The worker's / united / will never be defeated!
I'm all scary when I'm in Fight mode..
We started off at the Legislature. Speakers went on for about 45 min, but mysteriously, the clarion at the Ledge continued for about 10 minutes during it all, making it very hard to hear the speakers. I have honestly never, ever heard those bells go on for quite so long. I'm not gonna say someone did it deliberately, but...

Much hedging around for the political Labour talk, and election was obliquely referred to, but no one was crass enough to really promote the orange party, and they were not predominantly in attendance. I for one found it refreshingly tasteful, and also did not shove my literature at anyone. And yet, not one of the speakers insisted that everyone just out to VOTE, DAMMIT! I hung out with Janis Irwin, federal NDP candidate for my usual riding of now Edmonton Griesbach. We really wanted to start the chant of Vote, Vote, Vote! but we were both too shy to interrupt the proceedings with such a political agenda. Even though a damn election and the workers should speak up with their vote! Grumble, grumble... Even though somehow we've never actually met before, we have both followed each other for awhile and made a great connection. We vowed to hang out in future and the possibly of ...gasp...co-operation is a very distinct possibility. Hush.

The march was one of the longest I've been in for awhile, and we ended up at Grant Notley park. Nope. No political statements there.. Heh. We didn't get permission to march, but the organizers informed the cops of our route, so there was a police escort, and we were encouraged to take over Jasper Ave! Which we kinda did. It was exhilarating! I know some folks may have had their travel interrupted, and often will whine over that, but I tells ya: your human rights are way more important, and exercising them is sometimes inconvenient for others. At least we weren't in Quebec, where they were tear gassed for the very same action. So, we get to count ourselves lucky...? Or do we have to fight harder for them?

I usually celebrate Beltaine today, but instead, I headed out in solidarity. I will have to make it up my observances *after* the election, I guess. I certainly can't take much time for them now...


Sunday, May 3


North Glenora All Candidates Forum




Well, okay. *First*, it was Artsjam,  And although I am usually the one documenting, someone finally managed to sneak pics of me. Not with any of the weapons though. Just dancing and borrowing a robe for effect. My arms still ache from swinging at my campaign manager with the Ken-do staff, too...

Then we were off to Glenora. I was filling in for David Parker, and holding up the Green banner for the riding. All parties chose to attend this one, and the format was like a quiz show, with random questions from the audience, names picked out of the bowl to answer, and one minute timed. They WILL take the mic from you in mid-sentence, btw... Fortunately, this is my sixth rodeo, so I was the only one they never had to do that to. Booyah. My answers are loading up on my Youtube channel, though not totally complete. It's hard to video when you don't know who's coming up next.

As usual, I totally got on great with the Liberal candidate. I hadn't met Karen Sevcik for Glenora before, but it was her first campaign, and obviously her last forum for it, so she was a bit more experienced in them by now. She was delightful, and not yet had her sense of humour, and disgust, crushed under the weight of it all, so we tried hard not to look appalled at the PC incumbent's Orwellian take on education funding and taxation. Sarah Hoffman of the NDP was there again, and really gives the impression that she doesn't like me. One remark satirizing her idolatry of Notley in a forum and a girl can't get a break... Heh. The first thing out of her mouth when she noticed me was "Oh, are you in the audience this time?" I have no clue why she would think that, esp. dressed all in my Greens, but I assured her I was on the panel with her. As a real, live candidate. I wasn't even snarky about it! After her brag about how many forums she's been in so far this campaign (I've still been in far more in my six times running, but who's counting?), she again dismissed me. I love working with professionals... At least this time she shook my hand afterward.

The Wildrose candidate sitting to my left, Don Koziak, had run lots of times himself, for city council and other seats, but he still shook like a leaf and looked like he was gonna puke. And he almost couldn't finish one minute for each question. I kinda felt sorry for him. But this is part of the job, and if I may recommend, you are not good at this at all. You may want to consider another way of participating in the democratic system. Oration in front of crowds is not your bag. The PC incumbent, Heather Klimchuk, flailed around like she was desperate to keep her job, but like an employee in a bad performance review, not enough to be honest about mistakes or blame. Just "how I'll do better!" Many found it rather distasteful.

And with that, and a few more blog posts, we reach the end of one of the hardest campaigns I have ever done. With the new change looming and the complete shut out of the media on the Greens, it also seems like this one will see the least returns. But we are building a party here, and more hope for the future. And rest assured, a conscience and alternative for the NDP. So keep that in mind, oranges. What you did this time, we can do next, if you don't keep your people happy. And do something about that appalling environmental record, switch our jobs and our industry green, clean up our air and water, and make us world leaders again. Properly and sustainably this time. Or your votes are ours.

Election Night after party


Greenies hang out at vegan eat and drinkery Arcadia on 124th St. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Some Differences in Priestesses and Witches - Personal Transformations

La Belle Dame sans Merci

I am Renounced. I am no longer a Priestess, though I am still a witch, and possibly still an abbess. It's a disconcerting and enlightening sensation, replete with relief and disappointment. I have been Dedicated for two decades, and had forgotten what it was like not to be constantly connected with Deity. Since becoming Renounciate, however, the change in perception has been so quick and profound that I feel more qualified to speak on the difference in roles, abilities, and experiences of each.

Being a witch and being a priestess are manifestly not the same thing, though many of the current crop of books imply otherwise. A priestess is a conduit of Deity in the world, and can be from any tradition or set of practices, including wizardary. Invoking Deity during a ceremony, feeling Her move you occasionally or hearing Her is a completely different experience from dedicating yourself to a manifestation of the Universe. It is a contract; a Covenant between you and the Deity, where you are both matched and agree to it. You may hear the Call, but your deity must also take you on... Your inner Divine slowly, or sometimes radically, creates a constant communication with the outer Divine, learning from it, hearing it, and aligning yourself with it. You also represent Deity on earth, and channel that into spellwork and ceremony. Eventually, as you practice and feel the Calling, you take on aspects of the Deity, which manifest in your daily life. It greatly increases your abilities, sometimes even giving you new ones, since they are automatically Divinely channelled. As you become more aware of the bigger picture, and your mind is expanded to encompass it, you envision better your place in the Universe, and what you need to do to achieve it. Priestessing therefore touches Destiny, and you are filled with Purpose, and the passion for it. When you are an accomplished priestess, you are always in contact with Deity. Everyone talks to themselves, but priestesses sense the echo that their words, thoughts, feelings, and wishes are heard directly by Deity. In a way, they are always praying.

In our relatively safe Western world, we forget that many of these paths are actually dangerous, so therefore the tests can be as well. Not all Shamans or priests make it through their Initiations and Trials with whole skins or minds intact. It sometimes isn't simply a case of passing a sword over someone's head or anointing. It can involve passages to other worlds, links with other hearts and minds, and can threaten one's very physicality. Because that's what the job can sometimes entail and it can be pretty tough. Especially for priestesses, who are the Deity's representatives, doing Her work in the physical realm.

Priestesses and witches both have Initiations. Like most spiritual or mystical beginnings, they can be extremely similar or even simultaneous, often confused with each other. Both also share the concept of Trials, where major changes in life circumstances or spirituality are marked with an ordeal. In the case of priestesses, however, it isn't merely the inner self or circumstances and how one reacts that denotes the Initiation or Trial and its success or failure: it is the intervention and channelling of Deity itself that, if not creates the circumstance, then at least does the judging. Passing means that entirely new paths, powers, or perceptions open up. Think leveling. Failure in a Trial as a witch can mean that no movement into a particular new life path is possible for a time, perhaps ever. Failure for a priestess can mean much the same. However, it can have graver consequences. It can result in penance, with the promise of further chances to rectify, or punishment, or in the loss of favour from Deity entirely.

The latter such was my case recently. My Goddess has only benevolent aspects, so my Trial was, if you will, subcontracted out to another, less merciful manifestation of Spirit. Or simply not interfered with as another borrowed me for Her own purposes, which works out the same. I was geased with a task last October. Rather like a command function, it is a fundamental set of instructions that overrides any other code, to the exclusion of all other orders. It overwhelmed every part of my mind and body - the strongest Sending I have ever received in my life. Therefore, I never questioned its authenticity or imperative. Though seemingly simple, it was made clear that my entire future depended on its execution. However, since it conflicted with other self-imposed restrictions and needs, the task became more complex and harder to complete. The sacrifices became greater and, though I was willing to pay them, came with fewer results. I burnt everything - my sense of self, my defences, my university work, my ties to my family and home - none were worthy of acceptance. Uncompleted, though still running, for months the geas drove me mad. Ironically, I have never worked so hard at my spirituality in my life. Every single night without fail, for months I lit my candles and concentrated for hours. Spells, prayers, meditation, writing hundreds of pages, fasting, altering my biochemstry to dull the pain and make me functional... I prayed for mercy, and tried everything to break the geas or complete it. Waking or sleeping, it consumed my every moment, and I had no relief for my torment, except for brief periods of joy when a newly Initiated Priest took pity on my plight. For which I remain deeply grateful. Judgement was finally realized in the form of the new priest in the name of his Deity, and I was found wanting. My strength and honour were not enough to overcome the obstacles to the task, particularly my personal demons. Though I was responsible for his Initiation, even his introduction to his new Matron deity, which was part of my task, it was not enough of a boon to switch the judgement in my favour. It took me some time to process that, and all the while the geas continued unabated. Finally, only a few days ago, I realized that the only way to release it, since I wasn't going to be able to complete it, was to cut off the Divine conduit itself.

My Deity was clearly disappointed in my service, and had removed Her protection and dismissed me, though in Her kindness, rather allowed me to resign. So on April 1, without even an auspicious date, since it seemed pointless, I Renounced my Deity. Never having participated in such a ritual before, I had to wing it a bit. I announced my intention to my family to prepare them and took off my pentangle, some version of which hasn't left my neck in over two decades, as a symbol of repudiation of our Covenant. The results were astonishing. The overwhelming pain of the uncompleted geas was gone almost instantly, and the dominant sensation was one of a burden lifted, though not without sorrow, particularly in my proven failure and weakness. So in case I was still in doubt, I was proven correct - the source of the geas was Divine, and though this destiny remains unfulfilled, it no longer matters.

As I return to being a humble witch, my perceptions and abilities have been altering rapidly, as I discover which parts of my life were intertwined with my constant channelling and which are my own inherent gifts and skills. For example, for me that means I retain my precog, which I've had since I was a child, but all the Destiny and grand epicness that I used to manifest on a daily basis is gone. No longer connected to the Divine, I am suddenly cut off from the bigger picture, and cannot touch the filaments of Destiny that weave through life. Sidelined, if you will...

That does beg the question, however: how much of my witch skills were boosted by Divinity?  I can no longer perform some duties, clearly, but others remain as my own, though lessened. Will I be able to help others heal anymore? Can I teach? Will I even want to, as I am bereft of the sense of passion and destiny necessary for such grand schemes? I have known what I was supposed to do since I was 12, with every single skill, task, risk, and relationship in my life, including that with Deity, moving towards that goal, and now, I literally have no future in front of me anymore. Even my cooking is off. Apparently, even that was a prayer, since my Deity is a Healer and Hospitaler. Now I have to re-learn how to do that without channelling, too... My daughter, who has never known me when I wasn't a priestess, says that I'm 'all here' now and that when she speaks, all my attention is fixed on her. She claims that part of me was missing when she used to talk to me, since I was in constant communication with Deity. Which I agree with, since now it seems like my universe has shrunk, and it's only me inside my head. She insists that I even smell differently.

Part of me still retains hope that I can be Redeemed and finish my task, returning to the Divine in humility but triumph. Fulfilling my Destiny by completing my quest and moving on to the next level. However, that requires the relenting of my priest judge, and neither he, nor his matron, are known for their mercy. So it's a false hope. Turns out that he'll make a far better Manifestation of his Deity than I ever did of mine, though, so at the end of this, it's a net gain of Priests, right? I do feel that this withdrawal could eventually change, however. Perhaps, once I learn who I am, by myself, and again increase my natural gifts, in a number of years I might be able to rededicate to Deity - though not necessarily the same one, or Her and another, and maybe reintegrate with Destiny, being useful on a grander scale once more. Or I might not, since I'm not enough of a optimist to believe that She is doing this in the long run for my 'own good'. Maybe I just failed and got fired, because that is what happens sometimes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Brighid – Celtic Triple Goddess for the Ancient and Modern World

My essay containing some of the latest research on my matron deity for my Goddess Mythology, Women’s Spirituality, and Ecofeminism course.

Figure 1. Four arm version, and most commonly known, St. Brigit’s Cross from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid's_cross

Though the standardized spelling of Her title in English is now Bridgid or Bridgit, and in oral narratives as Bride, this ancient Goddess is known in Gaelic languages as Brigit, Brighit, Brid, Briid, Brigid, Brighid, usually pronounced “Breed”; all stemming from the root of the ancient word Brig meaning “exalted”, “high”, “fire”, or conveying power or authority. Her name is usually translated as some form of “The Exalted One”, “High One”, “Bright One” or sometimes “Bright Arrow”.  Not simply an Irish Goddess, as She is currently known, Her influence is felt all over what was known as the Celtic world. She has been linked with Ffraid in Wales, Brigindo amoung Gauls, Brigandu in Celtic France, and Brigantia in Britain, and therefore the symbol of the island as Britiania itself. The Celtic tribe of Brigantes took their name from Her, and all over the ancient world, even surviving to the modern era, hundreds of places, wells, rivers, and centres of worship bear the remembrance of Her name or symbolism.


Brighid is rather unique in that She has survived relatively intact and still worshiped in the modern era. To that we must owe, ironically, the canonization and popularization of Her as a Catholic saint. In 633 CE, in Leinster, a new sept, Ui Dhúnlainge, rises to power. Its leader, Faolán mac Colmáin, was brother to the Bishop of Kildare and commissions the Vita Brigitae, or the Life of Bridgit, around 650 CE. This saint’s supposed biography is compiled a century after her alleged death by the monk Cogitosus, and is the “oldest surviving biography of any Irish saint”, according to Ó hÓgain, D. (1985). Focusing largely on her miracles, “a skillful combination of pagan and Christian elements”, it has very little real information about the historical Brigit, and is largely concerned with the claims of her church’s and therefore the sept’s power and jurisdiction. It succeeds brilliantly. In less than 50 years, Kildare reigns supreme in matters spiritual and secular, and the Fotharta, which claimed Bridgit as originally a member of their sept, retained power. However, we do owe a great deal of thanks to these machinations. The pronoun "Kil" or "Cil" indicates a sacred shrine in many parts of the Celtic lands and Kildare, or ‘Cill Dara’, meant Church of the Oak Tree, was already associated with the pagan Goddess for centuries earlier. Drawing extensively on extant legend and contemporary practices, the Life of Bridgit gives us a snapshot of some of the authentic beliefs, rituals, and stories of Her worship.

Domains of Influence

Bridgid is a triune, or triple Goddess, but not a typical Maid, Mother and Matron trinity, since aging is not a feature. Instead, as Monaghan, P. (1997) points out, Brighid and her sisters “were never construed as separate goddesses but as aspects of one divinity…they were identical”, linked in the symbolism of fire in what many propose as a remnant of a primary Neolithic Sun deity. However, one can make the argument that She did in fact represent the Creatrix, Preserver, and Destroyer sequence. As Creatrix, She was the Bright Lady of Flame, or Inspiration of poets and bards. Her symbol in this aspect was the caldron. Most other crafts are under Her auspices as well. As a Spring deity, She was also most associated with fertility (an aspect hard to overcome for the Catholic saint). She was responsible for agriculture, such as crops and cattle, and healthy babies. She was literally the Bride; the wedded one. As the Preserver, She is a Mother goddess and associated with healing and medicine, especially in midwifery, “who in Ireland was honoured for her ‘protecting care’”, as Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991) reports. As the “Bright Flame of Love”, Her sway was over sexual fertility and erotic love. Her specific totem plants were the mountain ash tree, the holly berry, and the shamrock, as a symbol of Her triple aspect. As the Destroyer, in another facet of fire, Brighid is matron of smithcraft and of smiths. Her symbol in this aspect is the forge. Although at first blush this seems to be related to Her creation and craft aspects, this is the one of the only crafts that is directly mentioned in stories. Some have gone further to associate Her further with war[1], the legendary female fighting arts trainers in Celtic lore, and brigands or medieval fighters outside Christian law, as Walker, B. G. (1983) notes. Her epithet of “Bright Arrow” lend support to this claim. The connection of “the fianna, a legendary group of warriors from Celtic mythology”[2] to St. Brigit’s primary seat of Kildare and whose symbol is a harp, one of the bardic instruments, who Brighid is matron of, also indicates that might be the case. If further investigation of these links yield more results, Brighid is also a warrior Goddess, in the manner of the triple Morrigan, with smithcraft as representative of Her solar fire on earth as well as Her patronage of warfare and the martial arts.

In all Her aspects, She is most associated with fire and light; and with healing or ‘lucky’ wells, especially wellsprings, thermal waters, and most particularly milky artisan wells; especially in Her physical places of worship.

Festivals and Rituals

Festivals

Brighid’s main festival is Imbolc; also spelt Imbolg, Óimelc, Oimelc, and Oimelg, on Febuary 1st. A pastoral festival, it is best translated as “parturition”, the usual explanation relating to the dropping of lambs. Even in Britain, however, spring would not yet be fully evident, so the signs of spring, such as animal births and generation of milk, do not strike our unagrarian eyes as sufficient reason for a fertility festival. Mac Killop, J. (1998) suggests that “the visibly perceptive lengthening of the light, and therefore the anticipation of spring” is a more satisfying explanation, but there is another. Imbolc, as one of the four Great Celtic high feasts, is also on the opposite end of the calendar from Lammas or Lughnasa, or First Harvest festival on August 1st. In the four quarter solar symmetry of the Celtic world view, all of these reasons together would be more than enough to denote a sacred time and appropriateness of spring worship.

In the Christian attempt to claim of the power of Brighid as a saint, they renamed the festival “Candlemas’, meaning “Mass of the Candles”, including therefore the symbolism of the coming of light. Some modern traditions retain the link to the holiday only through the Saint, such as the Scottish Gaelic name of  Lá Féill Bhríde, and the Irish Lá íl Bride, but others are completely converted to the Candlemas form and associate it with the Christian Mother of God. There is some logic to this. Brigid as Mother Goddess never truly lost her supremacy in her native lands and St. Brigit is widely known as “Mary of the Gaels”, with many stories associating Her with the Christian Blessed Mother and Son. Sometimes St. Brigit is seen directly as Mother of the Savior, sometimes as midwife at the Nativity and foster mother of the Christos, sometimes as compatriot and assistant to Mary. In fact, the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin, which takes place 40 days after Christmas, is on February 2, the day after Imbolc. It celebrates when the Blessed Mother is Churched, or purified after the spiritual pollution of giving birth, so many stories, explanations, and confusion of the holidays, as well as the two figures, abound.

Rituals

Current traditions of Brighid in Her native lands are largely in the context of St. Brigit, though obvious parallels to Her original Goddess origins can still be found in past and extant examples. Origins of Her fertility cult and Mother aspect were notable in practices and legends. Men were originally banned from coming past the hedge at Her shrine at. Even when Christianised, Her orders retained many traditions from Her former incarnation.  St. Brigit’s bishops,  Monaghan, P. (1997) reports, had to be practicing goldsmiths, an unusual requirement, harking to Brighid’s domain of crafting, smithing, and embodiment of Fire.

One of the most telling ancient practices was the sacred Fire at Kildare itself. Cultural archeology and folklore has produced intriguing evidence of practices that indicate the Fire may have continued for centuries before St. Brigit is alleged to have lived, tended by the original pagan nuns occupying the shrine far in advance of the advent of Christianity. Reported in the Life of Brigit as already being old, it was still being maintained in 1184, as Giraldus Cambrensis records the “inextinguishable vestal fire tended by nuns”. Even at this time, men were still not allowed near the fire itself. It was also considered miraculous, in that it produced no ash in the centuries it had been burning. Contemporary accounts number nine or, more usually, nineteen priestesses tending the Fire. Both are sacred numbers of traditional Goddess worship – nine being the Triple Goddess tripled, such as the Muses, and 19 representing “the cycle of the Celtic ‘GreatYear’” – the mating of the solar and lunar calendars, as Walker, B. G. (1983) explains. Each nun was responsible for tending the sacred fire for one day at a time, and on “the eve of the twentieth day the last nun would place logs by the fire with the prayer: ‘Brigid, guard your fire, this is your night.”… In 1220, some forty years after Gerald’s visit, the Norman-appointed Bishop of Dublin grew angry at the exclusion of men from the Abbey at Kildare, as well as the obvious paganity of the sacred flame[3] and demanded they open the Abbey, claiming nuns were subordinate to priests. After their refusal, his men forced their way into the Abbey and extinguished the fire. Under Henry VIII’s Reformation, the archbishop George Browne of Dublin ensured that the flame stayed dead. However, in “1993, the flame was re-lit by Sister Mary Teresa Cullen, then the congregational leader of the Brigidine Sisters” [4], ensuring a modern order of nuns to again take up the duties and mantle of their ancient sisters.


Along with Her main shrines, such as the one at Kildare, hundreds of ancient healing wells and sacred spaces dot the landscape all over Ireland and many other parts of the Celtic world that are associated with Her name or titles. They are so numerous that many are largely unknown, except by locals, and attempts are being made to catalog them all. Many are still visited and favours are still sought in traditions that clearly go back centuries. Most closely linked with the milky white artisan springs, invoking Her as lactating Mother; other forms can include wells and caves with pure water.

The most well known ritual of St. Brigit is of course the “Cros Bhride” or Brigit’s Cross. Traditionally made out of reeds or straw, again harkening to Her fertility and agriculture patronage, it is become the most popular and recognizable symbol of the saint, and used in most ceremonies, invocations, and even heraldry.  It was “placed under the rafters of the dwelling house so as to ensure health and good fortune”, and occasionally in the cow byre to protect the animals, according to Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991).  Though the most common versions are based on the solar number of four or a lozenge shape, an authentic version is also a triskelion, harkening to Her trinity aspect as the Goddess, as demonstrated by Matthews, C. (2008). The lozenge and triskelion shapes indicate that the Cross pre-dates the Christianized saint and is an ancient symbol and rite for Brighid.  

Figure 2: How to make a Brigit’s Cross from: http://www.earthwitchery.com/makeacross.html

  

Major Stories


With such an early medieval emergence of the saint with the ancient Goddess, many stories have clearly been Christianized. However, we do have some very obvious indications of the traditional domains, attributes, and original responsibilities of the Goddess through less altered or edited versions.

One of the most famous oral tradition stories points to Her most ancient form. Brighid, in her guise of Bride, in a trial of servitude and cunning, defeats the Old Woman of Winter, the Cailleach, by turning Her to stone. Bride also steals the secret of Immortality and Youth, by using a triskelion cross of rushes in a well, and uses it to revive the land from winter, invoking all her traditional symbolism and ritual. Bride is also assisted by a druid in the form of a bird, specifically an oystercatcher, known as Gille Bridhid, or Bride’s Servant, much like a totem animal. She also obtains a birch wand and vows to use it assist any who need Her help, instructing listeners to invoke Her when they require Her aid. In this story, Bride is in essence Spring itself, which is perfectly in line with Brighid’s sacred day of Imbolc and indicates Her extreme antiquity as a representation in the wheel of the seasons itself. However, the Cailleach is also portrayed as much older, and originally one of a sisterhood herself in her youth, indicating that, as ancient as Bride is, She is still a more recent incursion.

Figure 3:  Triple armed Brigit’s Cross

Since the Church was almost exclusively responsible for literature for nearly 1000 years, the written stories are almost entirely about the Christianized St. Brigit. However, even with those, we are given insight into the previous Goddess incarnation. St. Brigit is said to have invented both whistling and the death keening, easily linked to a Goddess of bards and warfare. Her father is demoted from the Dagda, and becomes the druid Dubthach. The saint herself is reduced to founding the Abbey at Kildare and therefore made its patron. She is still portrayed, however, as having the ability to multiply “butter, bacon, and milk, to bestow sheep and cattle, and to control the weather”, as Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991) tells us. Most of her stories involve healing, or generosity in the form of giving food and cows to the needy. Some involve the dispensing of justice, especially as a trick to the wicked. As ancient protectoress of her people, St. Brigit was said to favour Lienstermen in time of war. There were said to be nineteen churches dedicated to her all over the British Isles on the eve of the Reformation, harkening back to the traditional number of priestesses at Her shrines.

One of the most well known Christianized tales pertains to the founding of her abbey. When St. Brigit asks for land for her convent, a powerful local bureaucrat, usually a chieftain or a bishop, refuses to give her any more land than her cloak will cover. In response, she lays out her cloak on the ground and it begins to spread, taking up so much land that he begs her to stop before he loses everything. In another version, she takes apart the weave of her cloak and encircles the area with the thread. In either case, it offers the spiritual and physical foundation for her abbey. In form, it is from a traditional Irish folk tale, where the trickster makes oxhide into strips to draw out a large area of land.

We also run into the problem of the confusion of the pagan Mother Goddess, the subsequent saint, and the imported Mary, Mother of God. Not only are their feast days equated, but many stories justify that association. In one story, Mary confesses that she is ashamed to be churched after the birth of the holy child and doesn’t want to be stared at. Brigit eases Mary’s fears by taking it upon herself to don garish attire, making it impossible for anyone to look at anything else, and precedes Mary down the aisle. Mary is so grateful that she permits Brigit’s feast day to precede her own ever after. There are similar stories to justify the order of the feast days, and they usually involve Brigit in her Sun deity aspect – lights in her hair or headdress, or garb that no one can look at, or can stare only at her.

Later versions are more problematic, however. St. Brigit, in her association with the sun, light, fire, and other pre-Christian attributes, manages to become entangled in symbolism from other saints from the Continent, largely Christianized deities themselves, complicating the problem of what ancient Brighid would have actually represented to Her people. We can make some educated guesses, however. St. Lucy, in particular, as the original Goddess Lucia of the reborn Light at Solstice, has her properties intermingled with the stories of St. Brigit as each of their cults gain influence. Lucy, as the Sun, becomes patron saint of eyes and eye diseases, and many of her stories and attributes are reflected in later Christian miracles of Brigit. She, like Lucy, plucks out her eyes to be less attractive to a suitor, though her healing aspect later restores her sight. Her mother is said to have an eye disease, and several of her stories feature eyes and sight, including actually giving eyes to a ‘flat faced man’. The lighted headdress mentioned in some stories, and occasional rituals for Brigit, especially seems to come from traditional Lucia worship.

Narratives also include St. Patrick, or the Father god. Though he is often dependant on Brigit’s perception, trickster qualities, mercy and justice, he is still able to instruct her, to demonstrate his pre-eminence.

Significance


Possible IndoEuropean roots

In Kildare, and in other sacred shrines of St. Brigit, the order of Brigantine nuns that tended the eternal flame were called kelles or Calliechs.   The term kelle, Kelly as a first name, O'Kelly as a last name and Kelly Green as a clan colour has also been linked (for they are often interchangeable with various forms of Calliech in the old records) as is The Book of Kell(e)s itself. The term "kelle' is still used in India in the meaning of "prostitute', and in conjunction of Mary Magdalene, often described as a temple prostitute. Like the holy houris of the ancient world, the 'kelle's may have performed a similar role. These primary priestesses would have remained unmarried to mortals and their children therefore were gifts of the Goddess and could only be of the Kelly clan, or O'Kelly, in a practice very similar to the Indian Goddess Cunti, who gave children as a gift without requirement of wedlock. It would explain why the O'Kellys were the spiritual, financial and sole caretakers of the shrine at Kildare and other shrines until fairly recently. Many scholars have linked these practices to the Indo-European shrines and temples from which they may have been imported. [5]The similarly of language and concepts cannot be overlooked, and could possibly lead to further depth of understanding.  In particular, Goddess worship in the Indus Valley and Fertile Crescent areas and highly probable links to the Calliech and Kali Ma are numerous, as are the practices and structural organization of Her Priestesses.

 

Original Contexts

Brighid was clearly a trinity Goddess of great antiquity, with shrines and cult centres all over the ancient Celtic world. In the earliest written records, we find Her aspects associated with Minerva and Vesta. With links to the Indo-European Goddesses, She is slightly younger than the deities already occupying the British Iles, but She is readily embraced as the approaching Sun, the Spring, the Healer, the fertile Mother, and even as consuming and just Death, as She takes over some of the aspects of the Old Woman herself, the Cailleach. Brighid is appealed to for aid, with the expectation of assistance, bestows generosity to those who require it, and unlike most other trickster figures, does not vindictively punish Her enemies, displaying kindness and mercy. Even as a trinity, She is the young and vigorous Mother from which all good things came, such as the technology, knowledge, and culture Her people needed to survive and thrive. She symbolized the land itself; and its people saw it as good, healing, warm, generous, just, and with enough for all. She also embodied Her people, as is shown by some tribes actually taking their name from Her.  Perhaps, then, that we can conclude that the peoples who embraced Brighid as their Mother also saw the world as a beautiful, bountiful place, worth celebrating, with kindness and justice as ideals that could be manifest in each other, offering a death with peace or righteously fighting to achieve it.  

Contemporary Women

Modern Irish women in particular are embracing Brigit as their matron saint, but also with echoes of the earlier Goddess being deliberately included. In 2014, in one of the many ceremonies at Imbolc, for example, Louth County celebrated the 7th Brigid of Faughart Festival. Incorporating the Goddess’s traditional symbolism and aspects such as bard and protectress of the land, workshops in Brigit’s cross making, circle dance, poetry, painting and organic gardening took place, as well as a professional bardic night.[6]  Healing pilgrimages and more Christianized activities also featured, demonstrating the fluid nature of the Celtic Goddess with Her saintly counterpart in the eyes of many of Her worshipers.  With modern nuns and lay orders such as Cháirde Bhríde or “Heart of Brigit” taking up the care of her sacred flame, shrines and wells are now being attended, decorated, and maintained by a new generation of Celtic women.

Wiccans, a very recent and highly popular neopaganism tradition, have embraced Brighid and Imbolc especially. As one of their Eight Great Sabbats, Imbolc is viewed as the quickening of Inspiration, new ventures, and cleansing of energies and preparation.

With Her warmth, strength, justice, bounty and independent power as a Mother and a woman, She is a model that is in sore need in an era of patriarchy, war, capitalism, and ecodestruction. Brighid still has the ability to inspire women today. As one attendee said of Her ceremonies: “I have never felt more Irish than I did that night. I felt an atavistic sense of blood connection, an awareness that I was celebrating in ways that had been part of my heritage for generations and generations. I felt as though my body were temporary, almost illusory, existing only to trace ancient sunwise paths around a holy place. As though my body reflected, like wellwater reflecting countless candles, the bodies of others -- women of Irish blood, women like me -- who had celebrated at that very place, on that very night, down through the centuries.”[7]


References



Budapest, Z. (1989). The Grandmother of Time: A Woman's Book of Celebrations, Spells, and Sacred Objects for Every Month of the Year. HarperOne
Campanelli, P. (1989). Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life. Llewellyn
Ellis, P. B. (1992) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Constable & Robinson Limited
Green, M. J. (1997). Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames & Hudson
Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Second Edition. Facts on File
Mac Killop, J. (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford Univ Pr.
Matthews, C. (2008). Tales from Celtic Lands. Barefoot Books
Monaghan, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines . Llewellyn Publications
Ó hÓgain, D. (1985). The Hero in Irish Folk History, Gill & MacMillan
Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991). Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition. Prentice Hall Press
Ó Súilleabháin, S. editor (2012). Miraculous Plenty: Irish Religious Folktales and Legends, Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann
Walker, B. G. (1983). The Woman's Encyclopedia Of Myths And Secrets. HarperCollins Publishers
Walker, B. G. (1988). The Woman's Dictionary Of Symbols And Sacred Objects. Harperone
Wilson, K. M., Margolis, N. editors (2004). Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, Volume I, A-J. Greenwood
Zucchelli, C. (2007). Stones of Adoration: Sacred Stones and Mystic Megaliths of Ireland. Collins Press




Appendix I


Websites consulted:




[1] “In the past twenty years, scholars have cast Brigit as a pre-Christian tripartite hospitaller, lawgiver, and warrior based on the British goddess Brigant” http://monasticmatrix.osu.edu/commentaria/st-brigit-ireland
[2] http://www.ngw.nl/int/ier/counties/kildare.htm
[3] http://www.unicorngarden.com/brigid.htm
[4] http://www.brigidine.org.au/about-us/index.cfm?loadref=36
[5] "Sergeant Vithana beat her with a baton saying, "Go, prostitute girl, find your brother" ('Palayan vesa kelle, ayyawa gihin hoyapan')."  http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2002/280/  Sri Lankan language. 
[6] http://www.independent.ie/regionals/argus/entertainment/busy-festival-to-celebrate-saint-brigid-29939042.html
[7] http://www.matrifocus.com/IMB04/earth.htm