I didn’t want to write about Brigid.
For one thing, there are an awful lot of posts about her already.
For another, due to my upbringing, my relationship with the concept of deity is fraught. As a general rule I don’t have much to do with deities, and they don’t seem to want to have much to do with me. When I do vision or journey work, I encounter all sorts of beings but none that I would describe as god(dess), most of the time.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know if I believe in gods/goddesses. But. There she is, this presence, this pull. A tugging that I’ve felt since I first encountered her in 2004. I’d been a pagan for just three years and my studies had been sporadic and scattered, but something about Brigid got a hold of me. A friend of mine felt the same, so we decided (as many naive baby pagans do) that we would do a ritual to dedicate ourselves to her.
We did the ceremony, and it was lovely, but nothing very exciting happened after. Life went on as usual. Brigid didn’t visit me in dreams or send messengers my way. I had a permanent falling out with the friend I’d done the ceremony with. After a few years it seemed like the pull I’d felt toward her was something I’d made up.
But I had a binder full of articles about Brigid I’d printed off the internet, and I couldn’t bring myself to recycle them during any of my frequent paperwork purges.
I stopped wearing the necklace I’d made with the Brigid medallion, but I couldn’t bring myself to give it away or sell it.
Every time someone would mention the goddess, I’d feel a funny little wistful ache. Then I’d forget about it.
Last year, as the demands of the people in my life started to conflict with my spiritual practice, I spent a lot of time reevaluating my path. I wondered if maybe I hadn’t imagined the connection I felt to Brigid. I wondered if she might be more than a nice idea. I wondered if I might try to just decide to believe in something, try creating a devotional practice even if I was full of doubt.
I wondered: If she is out there, would she welcome my attention after I had failed to follow through on working with her? I asked for some kind of sign, but I didn’t expect one.
And then I got an email from someone who had created a gorgeous Brigid art doll . . . and a few days later I received the doll in the mail. I was surprised and excited–and disappointed that the doll wouldn’t fit on the altar I had planned to put her on (she was taller than I’d expected).
So I put her on my desk with plans to move the altar somewhere else.
That was early September. A few weeks later Brigid was in a box in my trunk and I was sleeping on a mattress on my friend’s living room floor. Once I got semi-settled in my one-woman living room refugee camp, I put the Brigid figure on a little shelf in my crowded corner. My friend and I admired her, but I was in shock and the question of belief or spiritual practice was kind of on hold. I couldn’t connect to anything anyway–I wondered if all of my meditation and learning and magical work was a big lie I’d been telling myself, a crazy delusion to help me deal with the things I felt like I couldn’t walk away from. My doubt was deeper than it has ever been.
But when my friend and I moved into a bigger apartment and I unpacked my bedroom, the altar where Brigid would live was the first thing I set up. My spirituality was floundering, but creating Brigid’s altar was a compulsion I couldn’t ignore.
Those three hawthorn berries picked at the roadside a few days before Samhain were for her altar, and I placed them in front of her with a hasty, embarrassed prayer. Help me survive this. Help me know what to do. Help me have some kind of hope. I didn’t believe it would do any good. I didn’t think anyone was listening. But, again, it was a compulsion. I wanted to believe there was some force, somewhere, that would intervene on my behalf, that would give me some relief or some nudge of guidance or some comfort. But I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t feel any connection to . . . well, anything. Not even to caring friends. The isolation of grief was absolute.
I’d like to say that after the prayer to Brigid everything was miraculously transformed, but we all know it doesn’t work that way. Change takes time, and as I’ve said before, magic isn’t about immediate gratification–and neither is prayer. Things did get better, but slowly, and I have no evidence that the prayer made a difference. For all I know, prayer only makes a difference in the mental state of the one saying it.
But the pull I feel to engage with Brigid more consciously and intentionally has been getting stronger–and I’m not sure what to do.
I still don’t know what I think about the gods. I’ve been struggling with the question for years. All week, thinking about writing this post, I’ve been mulling over the concept of deity and trying to figure out how to relate to it.
There’s this line in the movie Practical Magic: “You can’t practice witchcraft while you look down your nose at it.” As I consider the question of Brigid, consider the pull that I can’t ignore, I wonder if trying to work with a goddess I’m not sure I believe in is kind of the same thing. Can you worship the gods while looking down your nose at them? Or in my case, while not wanting to look at them at all?
I don’t have any answers to that question. I live in the middle of a constant tug of war between my skeptical side and my mystic side. I don’t know if this means I have a healthy balance or a split personality. And I don’t really know how to begin reconciling my internal contradictions. Do I just start saying prayers and making offerings and see what happens? Do I decide to believe in something? Do I see a therapist and ask for medication? Hell if I know.
All I know is that altar in the corner of my room has a strong gravitational pull, and I started wearing my Brigid medallion occasionally again.
Joseph Campbell talked a lot about living with myths that no longer fit us. As I understand it, he felt a lot of our problems as a society rose from a lack of a properly working mythos. I think if I’m going to be devoted to something, someone, I have to understand how it is relevant to me here and now. Figuring that out could take a while–especially when I’m not even sure where to start. I’m open to suggestions, y’all.