Research focus: Brigid

Research focus: Brigid

It hasn’t been obvious to me where to begin to focus as I work to develop a consistent research-based practice. I wrote down a (long) list of possible areas to explore and have mused on it for a few weeks, mind mapping, gathering my thoughts, making notes, curating and organising my collections of information in Workflowy and Pinterest. I started this blog, and mused some more, and listened.

As a result, I’ve decided to return to Brigid of Ireland for the foreseeable future. I think actually I could stay with Brigid for the rest of my life and not have explored everything I would like to explore. In 2020, during the longest lockdown, I wove some cloth inspired by her story, and I’ll post a bit about that later. I’m choosing to focus on her again now when I want to start to go deeper, because she seems to encompass almost everything that I dwell on. She holds a ‘space between fiction and non-fiction’ (Julie Upmeyer). Brigid is a woman, a saint and a goddess, inhabiting layered worlds that interweave with one another, embodying a spirituality that is ‘earth-centred, heroic, otherworldly’ (Lunaea Weatherstone, Tending Brigid’s Flame).

Domesticity, mothering, nurture, creativity, justice, courage, strength, community, pilgrimage, the hearth and the habit, sacred rhythms, holy fire: they are all there in her stories. Cloth too, in abundance. I imagine her mantle flung outwards, growing to settle quietly over my scattered scraps of here and there, gathering them in to a wide, continuous land.

Brigid inspires scholarly research, vibrant art and poetry, religious devotion. Venerating her is an ancient and living practice across several traditions; she is ambiguity and unity, an ‘unbroken vessel’ (Lunaea Weatherstone). Her presence is strong in all the places my ancestors called home. As Bride, in Scotland, and Cumbria too – I grew up only a few miles from Bridekirk and Kirkbride. In Ireland, of course, she permeates the landscape and the lore, in stones and wells, shrines and churches, placenames and customs. And in Cymru, where I live now, ‘still her name lives in a scatter of sanctuaries’, as Ruth Bidgood writes in her long poem Hymn to Sant Ffraid, and

‘St Bride’s, Llansantffraid’—
in her old valley-parishes
and on the hills, her name
strikes like a bell through silence
or lingers with a bell’s insistence
behind the traffic of great roads.

Ruth Bidgood, Symbols of Plenty, Canterbury Press, 2006

I need to take care that such a big subject, a life force really, doesn’t become a path to indecision all over again. So many facets make up her bigness. But so many threads make up a woven cloth. Start with a thread, a yarn… Every word about Brigid is a story, a legend, a myth, tales unwound from the heart. Not facts but truths.

‘I pledge myself to the fire of life, to the poetry of the soul, to the forging of our strongest, supplest, most radiant selves, to the healing of my life, ever forward, gently, to the mending of old hurts and conflicts …’

Lunaea Weatherstone, Tending Brigid’s Flame, Llewellyn Publications 2015

I’m making this journey within the inspiring Maker Membership community, created and nurtured by Ruth Singer.

Header image credit: Rag Gate by IrishFireside, used under licence CC BY 2.0

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