Spring and Cowslips

How spring plays out in terms of wildflowers varies a lot from year to year and from place to place. This year, the celandines and violets have appeared in remarkable profusion around my home, and I’m still seeing a lot of them. Fruit trees have been abundant with flowers as well. I don’t have a fantastic visual memory but even so I’m confident I’ve seen more flowers on blackthorn and soft fruiting trees than I normally would. However, I hear from friends that their apple flowers locally are late.

In the last week I’ve seen my first buttercups and cowslips of the season.  I’m watching for the kingcups, but I’ve not seen any of those yet. Soon, it will be time to go looking for orchids. Last year I only found one bee orchid, which was an unusually low number.

There must be a lot of variables impacting on plants. How the winter went, what the spring temperatures are like, how much rain there is – and different plants are all adapted to thrive in slightly different conditions. Sometimes, if you know a plant well you might have a sense for how it will respond to the conditions as a year unfolds. I don’t have that depth of connection and am generally surprised.

I watch with interest to see what flowers when, and enjoy watching for new plants as the year progresses. The cleavers seem to be doing really well this year, and the garlic is growing large and lush.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to get onto the hilltops for the bluebells and wood anemones, but remain hopeful.

Cowslips are especially significant for me, because they were rare when I was a child. A plant pushed to the edge, they have somehow made a comeback during my life and as such are a symbol of hope, to me.


Dead Tree Woman

Dead Tree Woman has felt the blow of every axe, heard the growl of chainsaws and the awful creak of life falling into death.

Dead Tree Woman is there when the ground is barren, when the roots and leaves that made the life in the soil are gone, taken for short term profit and indifference. Long after the memory of fallen trees has been erased, she remains, feeling the loss, grieving the destruction.

She is the rage of the ravaged landscape. She is the unforgiveness, the absence of compassion for those who despoil what they most need. She is revenge against greed and the thwarting of every money-hungry plan made in some lifeless office for the sake of profits that have nothing to do with life.

She is the memory of the dead. She is the life that should have been. She is wood and flesh, life and death in one body. Year by year she grows slower, heavier, weighted with pain and fury.

One day she will find some still-soft patch of earth and plant herself there, roots sinking into soil in relief and forgetfulness. One day she will overcome the brutal bitterness and become the memory of lives lost. She will recall beauty and the way summer light passes through a leaf. She will remember the sweet taste of rain on bark and soil.

One day she will forget what it means to be Dead Tree Woman. From her remains, saplings will grow and seeds will form. Her body will send forth runners that become everything she remembers, everything that was life, returning to life.

(This is a collaboration with Dr Abbey – the art is his, and it is part of a project we’re developing together. I think it’s going to be Hopepunk.)


Druidry and Celebration

What should Druids celebrate? The short answer is – anything you find meaningful. While a lot of writing prioritises the 8 festivals model, it’s not the only way to approach celebration as a Druid.

Druidry honours nature. Therefore any aspect of nature that you want to celebrate, you could honour in ritual. Solar events, moon phases, how the seasons manifest where you are. If there are significant local events, you might want to honour those – arrivals and departures of migrating birds, key local crops, wild flowers – whatever feels important.

Druidry honours ancestors of blood. Therefore as a Druid you may find it makes sense to include festivals that your blood ancestors honoured. If you grew up with a different religion that you still respect and want to acknowledge, or if there are festivals that are culturally important to you, or part of your family identity, honour those.

Druidry honours ancestors of place. If it makes sense to honour festivals that relate to your location, go for it. Engaging with the culture around you can make a lot of sense.

Druidry honours ancestors of tradition – if you feel something belongs to your history, honour it. The 8 festivals in the wheel of the year fall into this category, and there might well be festivals from other Pagan traditions that make sense to you.

As Druids we also get to take ourselves seriously, if we want to. If there are important days in your wheel of the year that you need to honour and approach in sacred ways – you should go with that.

Druidry is pragmatic. Meet up when you can. If community celebration is your focus, getting together can be more important than the precise timing.

It’s good to celebrate. It’s good to engage with the world in a joyful way and to connect with other people while doing that. If you run into someone who is dogmatic about what Druids should and shouldn’t be celebrating, try to be compassionate. They probably need to feel in control for some personal reason. They may need the comfort and security some people find in rules and systems. They may not feel confident enough in their own choices to follow those without the affirmation of everyone else being the same.

Your Druidry is your Druidry. Your celebrations are your celebrations. That’s all held by the context of your culture, family background, personal heritage and local landscape. Celebrating is good. Celebrate in any way you find meaningful, soulful, helpful or necessary.


Was Saint Brigit a Druid?

A guest blog from Mael Brigde

I suppose I will jump right in here with both feet. I could call this post Unpopular Opinions.

I don’t think she was.

There are a few ideas about the Irish goddess Brigit that are popularly accepted as ancient but which appear to be modern in origin, often arising from the unsupported speculations of Victorian thinkers, and which have fallen out of favour among Irish scholars. One is that Saint Brigit is an outgrowth of the goddess, that the cult of the goddess was either absorbed into the saint’s, or the saint was herself a druid who, with her sisters in druidry, was a disciple of the goddess. In this role it is conjectured that she took on the goddess’s name, perhaps as a title. Under pressure from mounting Christianity, say some versions of the story, they converted to that faith but retained their goddess in the traditions and practices that they carried forward in her saintly guise. Thus, the two cults ran seamlessly together.

I have been a devotee of Brigit since the early 1980s. At that time, I didn’t hear that she might have been a druid. But I did absolutely accept that the cult of Saint Brigit had absorbed major aspects of the goddess’s, and that Saint Brigit and her sisters tended a perpetual flame that was not extinguished until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, over a millennium after she lived. That last idea both excited and enraged me – how wonderful to have such a communal veneration, and how terrible to have it destroyed. It was this story that inspired me to start the Daughters of the Flame in 1993, to bring Brigit’s fire back to the world.

Ever since I first met Brigit she has beguiled me. I’ve made a point of reading everything about her that I can in order to expand my understanding and help me deepen my connection with her. So it was with some discomfort that I began to read things which made me question my view of the goddess to whom I was devoted. My concern kicked into high gear with Erynn Rowan Laurie’s fine essay, “Queering the Flame – Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities.” Erynn did the work of digging into the whole idea of Brigit and her flame, in part because of a dispute between different practitioners over whether men should tend it. I will refer to her article again below, but first I want to address the idea of a druid sect being forced to convert in Brigit’s day, and the place of perpetual flames in the Irish landscape.

At the time of Saint Brigit, Ireland was very early in its transition from pagan to Christian. She is credited with travelling the country and establishing religious communities, but these were not simply additions to an already flourishing network of Christian monastic houses; they were among the first seen in Ireland. Until this change, women religious stayed with their families while practicing their faith. Though Palladius and others had come to tend the scattered faithful, Christians were few, and there is no evidence of the kind of brutal forced conversions that happened in other areas of Europe. It seems highly unlikely, especially at such an early time, that any druidic or pagan community would have felt such pressure to convert.

We know the Sisters of Saint Brigit tended a perpetual flame. How likely would the Sisters of Goddess Brigit have been to do so?

Classical writers, when speaking of the Celts, nowhere mention the tending of perpetual flames. Considering the importance of the perpetual flame in the rites of the Vestal Virgins in Rome, and the Roman habit of equating or assimilating local deities into their own, it is unlikely that such a practice would have gone unnoticed. But the Romans never reached Ireland. Might such fires have been unique to that land? Most of us will be aware of the large bonfires kindled on three of the four Quarter Days in Ireland. But were there instances of sacred flames tended all year round?

The best known, of course, belongs to Kildare. Saint Brigit lived in the 5th and 6th centuries, yet no mention of a perpetual flame at Kildare appears until the last years of the 12th century. The many Lives, prayers, masses, and so on written about or to her in the centuries between are silent on the topic. One Life, written by Cogitosus, presumably a monk of Kildare in the 7th century, describes her church in detail, but makes no mention of a fire temple or perpetual flame. We first read of Saint Brigit’s perpetual fire in the Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales, more than seven hundred years after Saint Brigit’s birth. He tells us that it had been tended originally by the saint herself and that now, when she has long since gone to heaven, she keeps it lit miraculously on the twentieth day of every cycle.

This is a good time to return to Erynn’s essay. It was there that I learned that Brigit’s monastery in Kildare was not the only Christian establishment in Ireland tending perpetual flames at the time, and that all of the others were tended by monks. (Erynn counted three. I have since learned that there were seven at least.) This information struck me hard, especially when coupled with the very late reporting of Brigit’s fire. It became difficult to avoid the idea that the perpetual flame was both late in origin and Christian, not an ancient holdover from the cult of a goddess. And as Erynn points out, the name itself, Kildare – Cill Dara – is a specifically Christian name, referring to the church (cell, or cill) of the oak (dara). In addition, there is no reference to it in the Dindshenchas, that repository of place names with sacral significance to the pre-Christian Irish. If it had been an important sanctuary for the goddess, she argues, it would be mentioned there.

That there was a goddess named Brigit, or Brig, perhaps several, I do believe. That Saint Brigit was modelled on her, or was her devotee, I sincerely doubt. This is not to say her cult wasn’t influenced by the themes of Irish goddesses, but which ones, and in what way, we don’t know.

Thus, I have had to adapt my own devotion, my own understanding of the goddess I have given my life to. This was not easy at first. Letting go of my original view of her felt threatening, as if my faith was a lie, which I knew it could not be. Over time, I realised that I was losing nothing. Or, in vernacular terms, I wasn’t losing a goddess, I was gaining a saint. The two2 Brigits now live side by side in my awareness. I give to the saint what is the saint’s, and to the goddesses what is theirs.

Dubthach Versus the Druid

much is made of your father

Dubthach

how you lived with him and worked

in his dairy

how you gave away his splendid things

his gold   his sword

his butter and meat

but what of the druid

who bought from him

your pregnant mother

your birth on his threshold

his care as you grew

was he not the true father

of your childish heart

did not his love of gods

obedience to sun and earth

his store of lore and genealogy

shape your vision of your world

give you perfect apprehension

of this sacred pagan place

if in time you drank

from another cup

where a Son

predominates

were you not still at ease

in flesh and heart

among the spirits

of land and beasts

so the oaks embrace you

you know the fox’s speech

the snowdrop lifts its head

where you have trod

in you they recognise

the blood of one

who lives upon the limen

walks in bright accord

with sanctity

Bio:

Mael Brigde is a devotee of the Irish goddess and saint, Brigit, and the founder of the Daughters of the Flame, which has tended Brigit’s flame since Imbolc 1993. She publishes a general interest Brigit blog, Brigit’s Sparkling Flame, and a Brigit poetry blog, Stone on the Belly. She teaches courses and webinars on Brigit, including Journey with Brigit, Goddess of Poetry, an intensive class that explores reading and writing poetry as a sacred act. Her book, A Brigit of Ireland Devotional – Sun Among Stars is now available for pre-order.

Mael Brigde lives in Vancouver, Canada.

______________

1 Laurie, Erynn Rowan. “Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities,” The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism. Megalithica Books [Stafford, England] (2015).

This essay is by far the most comprehensive examination of the topic that I have yet seen.

2 – or four, if you count all three goddess sisters, the daughters of the Dagda – and possibly more, if you count other Brigs in the literature, but we aren’t going there…

3 For more on these ideas and the background to support them:

Bitel, Lisa M. Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Oxford University Press (2009).

Harrington, Christina. Women in a Celtic Church: Ireland 450–1150. Oxford University Press (2002).

4 The poem “Dubthach Versus the Druid” is from Mael Brigde A Brigit of Ireland Devotional – Sun Among Stars, pg. 163. Moon Books (1 September 2021).


What if we had 15 minute cities?

The idea of the 15 minute city appeared last year, in part I think as a response to lockdown.  It’s a simple principle – that if you live in a city, most of the things you need should be within 15 minutes walk of where you live. Work and schools, health care, food, leisure, green space and so forth.

Most of us can walk for 15 minutes, and those of us who can’t, would benefit from fewer cars on the roads. Many people would benefit from being more active. Reduced travel in our daily lives would cut carbon use, and give us more time back. So many people sacrifice so many hours of their lives to commuting, which is a joyless and literally toxic thing. We’d have better air quality for not doing that.

In a 15 minute city people would get to know their neighbours. There would be more social connectedness. We’d only travel for fun and to do unusual things that aren’t on our doorsteps. While it might be hard to organise towns and villages in the same way, the principle of having access to essential things with as little need to drive as possible, backed up by decent public transport, would make a lot of odds.

If most of us could walk or cycle to do most of our everyday things, we would need far fewer car parking spaces. As it is, the average car is only used for an hour or two every day. The rest of the time it sits somewhere, taking up space and requiring tarmac. What could we do with all that urban space? Imagine if we halved the number of car parking spaces and replaced the tarmac with plants. Imagine green and shady streets, fruit trees, and play areas woven into our urban spaces. Imagine benches, and sheltered spaces for sitting out in inclement weather. Imagine social spaces that don’t depend on paying to access them. Outdoor gym equipment, street pianos, safe places for children.

Children would benefit greatly from fifteen minute cities. With school close enough to walk to, children could exercise and socialise going to and from school. That’s much better than being trapped in a car each time, with no scope to let off steam. Children would be healthier and less stressed if they had a short trip to school in a green and playful environment. Take out some of the car parking and every child could have a safe play area really close to where they live. Every child could cycle and walk safely without the fear of traffic. With more people present in the streets, children would be safer from stranger danger, from bullying and generally less vulnerable.

Take out car parking spaces and put in green spaces, and we’d bring more wildlife back to our towns and cities. More trees and other plants means more insects, supporting more birds. It means biodiversity, and more space for wild things. We wouldn’t have to travel to encounter nature – instead nature would be something we’d encounter every day and that would be living and thriving around us.


All my relationships are queer

One of the biggest problems I have with hetronormative approaches, is what the assumption of ‘normal’ does to relationships. If you think relationships have a ‘normal’ shape there’s an awful lot you’re never going to talk about. However, if you are queer, polyamorous, kinky or otherwise complicated, you know you can’t afford to assume anything. You have to talk, and figure things out and negotiate. This makes for better relationships with fewer assumptions.

By ‘relationships’ I’m not just talking about sex, or romance. Part of what hetronormative thinking does is makes people focus too much on that in the first place.  It applies just the same to friendships and working relationships. I note that my queer friends are often the ones most willing to talk about how the friendship works, what we might expect from each other and where the edges need to be. By contrast, I’ve had far too many rounds of straight men who want to flirt but are totally resistant to talking about where the edges are. That never goes well.

For the person who thinks that relationships happen along a narrow selection of default lines, there are going to be issues. I’ve dealt with men who were sure that they could not be friends with women – and I’ve seen how badly that impacted on their romantic connections because they had no idea how to be friends with their lovers.

There’s a lot of diversity out there in terms of how people think, what they feel, and what they want. Most of us do not fit neatly into pre-designed relationship shapes. I suspect a lot of the chafing I’ve experienced trying to deal with heterosexual folk has had everything to do with them not fitting into their boxes either, but not being able to talk about it. If you think there’s a normal way of doing things, your own not fitting in that must be highly uncomfortable.

It starts so often when we are children. Who is allowed to be friends with whom? What games are you allowed to play? What sports are you taught? Schools can be a hotbed of reinforcing gender difference and encouraging people to divide up along gender lines. Many people will also grow up with clear messages at home about what their gender means for their interactions with other people. The rules about gender, normality and relationships tend to be absorbed unconsciously. Those of us who really don’t fit are more likely to notice that we don’t fit, and that’s greatly to our advantage.

Those of you who know me well may be wondering what happened and why this is on my mind. The way in which we negotiate relationships is on my mind because I recently had an involved conversation about a creative relationship. How committed is it? How faithful are we going to be to each other?  We’re both people who thrive on certain kinds of interaction so being too focused on each other would be stifling, but we do also both need the commitment, and that shape is going to require care and attention.

There are relationships you can’t have and can’t develop if it isn’t possible to talk about who you are, who they are, and how that might work out.


Living Creatively

Creativity shouldn’t be just for the professional few or for whatever time we can invest in creative hobbies. Creativity should be part of normal life.

I’ve been glad to see memes doing the rounds pointing out that singing, dancing, making art and so forth used to just be things people did. In having turned that into professions, and in having industrialised our lives, we’ve lost a lot of that. Obviously I’m in favour of there being space for creative professionals, but I feel very strongly that creativity should be for everyone, all the time.

We’ve traded our freedom to create for convenience.

Well, that’s almost true. Our ancestors were sold the idea of convenience, and forced off the land and into factories as a consequence of industrialisation.  Creativity isn’t something you can have when a large percentage of your working time is about making money for other people. Creativity takes time – both thinking time and the time to act.  You need the space to wonder and imagine.

A life built out of wondering and imagining is a lot richer. Whether we’re thinking about homes, gardens, meals, clothes, our neighbourhoods, our extended family our social lives… everything is richer if we have time to think about it and invest creatively in how we live.

There’s a unique pleasure in having something that is perfect for you – the perfect fit, the perfect flavour, the exact right combination of colours or scents… and you can’t buy that from a one-size-fits-all retailer. You can’t buy the pleasure of creating, or the delight of manifesting your inspiration in your life.

We should all have the time to enrich our lives in any way we like. What we have are lives dominated by work and responsibilities in which we buy the insipid things that are mass produced with an eye to not being entirely hateful to the highest possible number of people. Life should not be this narrow.

A creative life can be a relatively cheap and affordable life. However, what it definitely requires is time. If you’re constantly run off your feet here’s no opportunity to daydream, to imagine things that would be fun or pleasurable or health promoting. Delight takes time. Instant gratification often turns out to be not that gratifying – especially not compared to the joy available from something you have made yourself, in your own way and for your own reasons.


Cats and Comfort

Cats have always been a tremendous source of comfort to me. My experience of cats flags up many of the things I find problematic in my dealings with people.

Most cats are really uncomplicated. If you treat them with care and affection, they will reward you with care and affection. And sometimes leave mice in your shoes. Cats have never been bothered about my face, or my body shape, or how I dress. They just want to snuggle, or play, or eat my toast. When I have been sad, the cats in my life have generally been inclined to comfort me. They bring their warmth and their purrs. When I have been ill, they have sat with me. When I’ve been unable to sleep, they have kept me company.

Cats just respond one body to another, one living being to another. There’s a beautiful simplicity to it. In that gentle acceptance, I find peace, and I get to feel a bit better about myself. Cats generally find me ok. They find me adequate and tolerable and reasonable. I know many people have similar experiences with dogs, and horses and other creatures.

I wish humans were better at being creatures together. I wish we were more straightforward about needs, and the need for comfort. I wish we cared less about appearance and more about closeness and what we can share. You won’t impress a cat with a fast car – rather the opposite. So long as there is food and shelter, a cat really doesn’t care about your bank balance. It is not that difficult to be a good enough person for a cat to like, or love.

Animals generally aren’t interested in the kind of posturing humans go in for to try and impress other humans. They’re much more accepting of our diversity than we are. They are entirely willing to find us good enough, regardless of age or wrinkles, or how well we conform to human notions of beauty. They aren’t afraid to be excited when they are pleased to see us. They ask for food, and walks and affection and so forth with the confidence of beings who know these are needs that should be met and that asking is fine. And we don’t mind them asking, where we might feel put-upon or otherwise uncomfortable if a person asked us so bluntly for things they needed.

Creatures we live with are quick to forgive us our shortcomings and mistakes. They don’t bear grudges very often. They don’t save up grievances to air at some future date. What they want from us is simple, and they express it as clearly as they can. There’s so much they generously do not care about that we take such issue over when dealing with other humans.

If I was a cat, I would not need to ask for your attention or affection. I could just climb into your lap, and the odds are you would be pleased, in a really uncomplicated way. You would feel warmed and affirmed by my presence, not uneasy, compromised or threatened.  I wouldn’t seem difficult, even if I wanted a lot of affection and attention.  We don’t second guess cats. We don’t worry about their motives, or what they might expect from us.

If only we better knew how to be creatures for each other, how to accept each other and take joy in those small interactions.


The main character

She doesn’t have a name yet, although I know what language base we’ll be using for naming. I think this is always a consideration when writing fantasy. Entirely made up names can be awkward to pronounce and can feel fake.  Drawing on a time, place or culture can give you feelings of coherence and resonance, which I rather like.

But, I digress. We knew we had at least one female lead on the way. We’d had conversations about her, and I thought she might be a former soldier. Abbey introduced me to her via Facebook, having posted this image of her and announcing her as the main character, and a virgin.  I noted that other people commenting on the post thought it unlikely that this was a representation of a virgin, and that convinced me that it was going to have to be.

We read sexuality into the female body. Large breasts are invariably read as sexual, regardless of the behaviour of the person whose breasts they are. There is no way of arranging fabric over large breasts that does not draw attention to them. And thus your body shape becomes your perceived sexual identity. I’ve had some first hand experience of having my body shape read as meaning promiscuity.

Sexual appetite is not about body shape. How we function romantically and sexually can have very little to do with how we look. Innocence is not a body shape. Experience is not a body shape. Being asexual is not a body shape.

This is a character who is struggling with guilt and trauma. She’s got a history to overcome and a lot to deal with around things she has done, and the reasons she did those things. She’s not looking for a relationship, and she doesn’t have the emotional space to even consider wanting to be sexual. She is also entirely used to people making assumptions about her based on how she looks, and she is very tired of that shit.


New Stories

I have three new stories out in the world at the moment…

I have a tiny flash fiction piece in the album notes of Maximum Splendid, the new Rapscallion album. I’m very taken with the music, and it’s always lovely to be part of a steampunk thing! Hard copies here – https://rapscallionband.com/store#!

And you can listen to a couple of tracks over here – https://rapscallionband.com/music

Over on Patreon, I’ve started serialising a new book. That’s available to anyone who signs up as a Dustcat, Steampunk Druid or Glass Heron. It’s a speculative novel, plenty of magical Pagan elements, plenty of weirdness… Spells for the Second Sister isn’t available anywhere else at present.  You can find that over here –  https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

The Hopeless Maine kickstarter hit its funding goal, so we’re now looking at stretch goals. The odds are very good of hitting the first one, and at $7k everyone who has supported the project gets a new story as a pdf. That means the odds are very good of getting a story for a dollar. There are lots of other interesting things you can have should you feel so moved.  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown/

Here’s a little taster…

That morning he found a large, yellowish ball of spider eggs inside the collar of his jacket. It was not an omen. Durosimi did not believe in omens.

Any occultist worth their salt knows that divination, prophecy and other variations on a theme of anticipating the future, are tricksy things. Durosimi considered it an inexact science at best.  He preferred exact science and dependable outcomes. Alchemy, necromancy, demonology; why try to see the future when you could create it through deliberate action? Most of what passed for divination was nonsense anyway.

The ball of spider eggs did not mean anything. The large, dead spider that somehow got into his breakfast did not mean anything. Only that the latest cook was as incompetent as the previous one.