COLUMN - The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head:
Brigit's Mysterious Spark
“…And the poems erased the stutters and pain. And the words loved me and I loved them in return.” Sonia Sanchez
Do you remember listening to your first favorite song?
You know…the one that broke your chest wide open and made you feel something so brand new, you wondered how you ever lived one day without it.
Okay, don’t laugh…but my first favorite song was Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of My Life”.
When I was around ten years old, a band covered the song at an amusement park near my house, and I still remember the smell of cotton candy merging with my instant need to get the album with that song. The melody made me feel like I was drinking something impossible to hold, like moonlight or ocean mist, my heart swelled with cascading voices and padded drums. Almost floating, I entered a place I had never before experienced.
When the band ended their set, I tugged hard on my mom’s arm, my eyes theatrically wide, begging her to buy me the album. She looked away and then toward her watch for what seemed like hours. It wasn’t until the crowd started lining up for purchase (just as I was about ready to make some promise I couldn’t keep – like not pinching my brother in the backseat or never putting empty milk cartons back in the fridge) that it finally happened. With the warmest look (perhaps amusement at my desperation) shining in her hazel eyes, my mom informed me just how much allowance money I would owe her. Yessss.
She might have regretted her kindness. Because for months, I played the song over and over, and the whole household must have gotten sick of me singing along with the scratchy needle at the top of my lungs…“That’s why I’ll always be aaaaaaaahhhhhhrrrrroooohhhhooooound…mmmmnnnnhmmmmmmmmmmm…yaaayyeah.”
I couldn’t help it, even without understanding what the words really meant, I loved them anyway, and how the music made me feel so full of someone else’s celebration and yearning – so alive inside.
Many years later, this is exactly how language and literature hit me – in a mysterious place smack in the center of my stomach. In the same way that melodies, chords, and percussion had enlivened all of my senses, reading opened me up to the emotions and experiences of others, and thus the finer nuances and possibilities of my own.
The authors I grew to trust were not always easy or formulaic. They told a more difficult and layered truth that transcended the accuracy of detail, defied the scorn of experts and even the hot air of opinions. I sensed, knew, felt their emotional truth when they seeped into my body, and equipped me with a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me through more than one thread of meaning.
Isabel Allende, Zora Neale Hurston, Boris Pasternak, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Herman Hesse, George Orwell, E.M. Forster, Sinclair Lewis…
“Love makes the soul crawl out from its hiding place,” wrote Zora Neale Hurston.
“Yes,” I might have whispered to myself from the floor of my room as I thumbed through soft pages, skipped dinners (only to pig out at midnight), let my legs, butt, AND toes fall asleep to get to the next chapter…Because deep within each new lush kingdom I inhaled the very breath, the unbearable sadness, the contagious laughter of others. I could step back into centuries only to recognize the voices of my own family, echo the curses of mineworkers and prisoners, recite the prayers of monks, endure the yearning of young girls with layers of thought as complicated as my own.
I began to cultivate a taste for something I’ll term emotional resonance, a euphoric connection between myself and the words of the author, that led me to what I experienced as outrageous levels of new understanding. Sometimes the words were compassionate (or even strange or cruel), but sentences like Hurston’s made sense to me in a way I could hardly have explained, but nevertheless felt as deeply true.
You see, words, written a certain way, could travel through the ever-vulnerable and abundantly rich territory, texture, and timeless cravings of the heart. Language seemed to provide concrete manifestation for invisible spirits and feelings, which in their finest expression simply set me on fire.
Brigit: Goddess of Inspiration and Poetry
That Brigit was the protector of poets and fire seems no coincidence to me. Because poetry and fire can both ignite and consume.
But before we speak of flames…come…let me take you to the forest of Brigit’s birth in the great Celtic empire of Brigantia, which once included segments of modern Spain, France and the British Isles. In Brigit’s home, a thick forest carpeted with mushrooms illuminates a thousand shades of green. In this land, dragonflies’ wings hum above thick moss, and dappled sunlight gives shape to miles of wood. Yet here, too, a terrible black darkness might sweep over passing travelers in a single breath; and you really should be properly warned—it is dangerously easy to get lost.
How do I describe the legendary and powerful Triple Goddess Brigit, an ancient goddess who endured modernization, and still holds a revered role as a Christian Saint?
I shall say this to all of you who have truly tasted life – you already know her!
Brigit is your heart at its most urgent. And your mind at its most inventive. She is the budding idea you reveal to doubtful strangers – as though you had a blueprint right in front of you. She is the letter you write at four in the morning as though your life depended on it, the poem you scribble down on a crumbled up receipt in the middle of a crowded department store. She is the new ingredient you pull down from the dusty shelves of your kitchen.
At Brigit’s counsel, I promise you will do something magnificent and perhaps foolish. Her bravery and beauty is such that you won’t care…at least not at the time.
Brigit’s abundant red hair flows to her waist. Her lips curve into a knowing smile. But I warn you, hers is not a painting’s aesthetic perfection. Rather Brigit reveals her beauty in layers that will never cease to confuse you and her shadows will always require the guidance of your own candles. Of course, poets know their protector well. They feel Brigit’s warmth when they taste new heights of excitement and terror in their own words.
Their fear is not without merit.
The Power of Words: A Love Affair
At the end of my twenties, when all prospects for some sort of “real” future career or marriage and children seemed to be quickly dwindling, I spent self-indulgent days full of soul searching and endlessly thwarted plans. It was then I cast all my doubts aside and fell deeply in love.
But I didn’t fall for a person.
Instead, I fell for the words and ideas that, in the past, I’d perhaps only shared a platonic relationship. Some people have a thing for feet or hair. For me, words started to make my heart race, my ears tingle...short words, big words, sharp words, soft words. Of course not all words, not clever words simply thrown together for show. Or verbs and adverbs strewn together with apathetic drool “blithely bantering along.” No. No. No.
Words that were sexy expressed exactly what was necessary to get to the core, the essence. And they hit me hard, like a well-placed kiss on the back of the neck…
Like the Neruda poems that always sent me flying to my keyboard…
Or the Sonia Sanchez poems that took my breath away…
On more than one occasion, I stayed up all night, called out of work, declined social invitations, ate dinner by my keyboard, sacrificed dates for my new “relationship,” until more than a few people asked with a little awkward hesitation “Um, Kim are you okay?”
Actually, I wasn’t sure. Like most people in love, an exhilarating fog seemed to be consuming my entire head and the mist was moving in fast on the rest of my body! I mean, I didn’t exactly feel “happy,” but I felt so damn satisfied and at the same time hungry for more of my delicious, beloved fog…And who was I kidding? I was in so deep…I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself anyway.
Consonant against vowel, blank space against paragraphs, the clickety-clack of the keyboard came like flames rushing up through hot air – with no time for inconvenient questions or cold feet.
Of course, the thrill of creation didn’t guarantee me top-notch or publishable content (hardly). In fact, my writing “sessions” often heralded in chin-tucking and shameful morning afters. But, I’m going to argue that every writing session brought me further and further down a crucial difficult path of self-discovery that for the first time in my life had nothing to do with external accomplishment (or failure), and was far more important than any certificate or degree.
I knew I was more alive than I’d ever been before.
What began to matter most was that feeling underneath the keyboard, the vigorous energy created, the uncontrollable ecstasy of walking inside Brigit’s fire. On good days, I felt like I’d landed in a virtual fountain of youth. Yet on others, a horribly painful emptiness and mortifying self-doubt made me want to hide under the covers.
In Brigit’s forest, night comes quickly and without warning. You’ll detect the shape of vultures waiting for your fatigue in the blur of dusk. The same trees that inspired you will blend into a confusing wall and ceiling. In the rapid darkness, twigs will snap beneath your steps and you might jump up in alarm at your own rising shadow.
At this moment, it’s likely you’ll think about the worthlessness of your trip, the inevitability of failure, you may even curse Brigit herself, and the risk you took in following your instincts. What for? With each thought, another confusing turn, another circle backwards.
But…on good days…if you dare to follow her all the way, in the very moment you throw up your hands and finally laugh at your mistakes, you’ll start to feel an opening in the hollow of your stomach…a crack of light beckoning you through the distance.
Should you finally make it to Brigit’s pastures, her cows never lack milk, skies remain pale blue deep into the night and wildflowers bloom and bloom. In this land, it is impossible NOT to scream your joy to the hills. For you will feel quite confident that your life will never end.
It won’t be long, however, that you will be equally certain (and once again horrified) that your time has long since passed.
Which is why you must come kneeling when you detect the tiniest spark of Brigit’s kingdom. Only then can she instruct you in the hard-knock school of your own magic…born in the nature of flames…which flare brightly, then almost disappear into the darkness again and again and again.
Tending Brigit’s Flames
You see, loving and honoring Brigit demands more bravery than that of any other Goddess. In order to walk in her eternal spring, you must remove your own skin and blood and throw it to the callous opinions of others. You must investigate and uncover the contradictions of your own heart to a fire that might leave you completely exposed.
Let me tell you straight up, the shameful humility of ash is never far away. To understand the fertility of Brigit, you must taste your own barrenness and hold its flavor on your tongue, turn around and name your every shadow, maybe even laugh out loud at the harsh smoke obscuring your breath…that is only after you cry.
So it was in Brigit’s lonely forest, I learned the hardest and perhaps most important of her lessons – how to trust my own flames by seeking out the warmth of others. According to scholar, Barbara Walker, “Brigit’s 19 priestesses at Kildare kept an ever-burning fire like that of the temple of Vesta in Rome.” These women were entrusted with keeping the fire lit no matter the external circumstances.
My opinion is that by entrusting her mysterious flame to a group of kindred spirits, Brigit saw to it that her energy would be reinvigorated again and again. After all, there are countless ways to coax dimmed ashes into fire once there is more than a single source tending the flame.
Every time we speak up and feel sparks fly, every time we awaken ourselves through listening…to a singer, a novelist, a friend, a neighbor, a spouse, a child, a parent, an artist, a lover, a comedian, a book, an enemy, an ancestor, a sibling, a poet…we tend the flame.
In this circle, even friction can create endless light. Sharing a new idea, a way to laugh, a way to fight, a way to cry, we strike another match to flare out against the darkness, a new expression rising up in light and warmth.