Offerings

I wasn’t able to capture most of them with my camera, but I want to speak of bird visitors nonetheless. This morning little winter goldfinches, with their olive feathers, were flocking to our bird feeder, and to the water, and to the dead heads of bee balm never cut down, and likely full of lovely little seed breakfasts. The seeds, and the water kept liquid by electric warming, are our offerings to the creatures with whom we share this land.

I think of February 1-2nd–Imbolc, Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Groundhog Day–as the day the birds start singing again. The light returning. Still, even though something is stirring anew, this year there were many birds and other creatures who frequented our little offerings of seed and water during the dark of winter as well. There were a couple days mid-January when flocks of robins appeared. I only managed to photograph this one getting a drink of water, but there were likely a dozen. They love our neighbor’s crabapple tree. The birds also love to perch in our fruit trees branches nearby.

Photo: dark day, robin drinking water

The cardinals have stayed throughout the winter, and I often see the female cardinal at the feeder. The other day she and other smaller birds were jockeying for position—if three were on the roost, the seed door would close—so they chased each other off long enough to get a snack. Of course, the squirrels always have to take their turns–they’ve mastered the acrobatic positions needed to keep the door open. So smart.

Storms seem to increase the number of creatures who seek out our offerings. During our last blizzard, as dusk enveloped our yard, Margy called me to the back door, where we saw two deer walking so quietly near the bushes. The next morning, I saw their tracks leading to the seeds and water. I have heard it said that one of the rituals of Brigid’s day is to give food offerings to the spirits of the land. I hope our seeds and water might be a blessing to all the creatures who visit or call this place their home.

Finding Inner Wisdom

Woodstove Fire

Wood stove Fire-Photo by Margy Dowzer

During our ritual celebration yesterday evening for Imbolc/Groundhog Day, we scryed with the magic of the fire in our wood stove.  Scrying is a form of seeking wisdom, by gazing into some sort of medium–such as a crystal ball, tea leaves, a bowl of water, a candle flame.  It gets a bad rap on Wikipedia as “unscientific.”  But as one person mentioned last night, while meditation may sometimes be difficult, there is something about quietly staring into a fire with each other that brings one to a state of stillness within.

When we find that stillness, we have access to our own deeper wisdom, and the wisdom of the deeper mystery. Some people see images in the fire. Others notice whatever thoughts or feelings emerge in the stillness of gazing.

Here is what I noticed on the way to the wisdom in me:  First of all, a sense of deep weariness.  Then, a desire to stop doing so much out there in the world, to pay attention to what is happening within.  Then, a feeling of how difficult it is to say no to invitations to activism on issues that are important.  There is so much hard stuff in our world right now, and so many good people are responding.  How do I know when I should be taking action, and when I should be in stillness?

Then, a fear that if I choose to say no, I will disappoint people, lose their love and acceptance. Then, a realization that that motivation, that fear, is not a source of wisdom, but rather a wound that needs healing.  I sat with the fear for a while, gazing still into the fire, opening my heart to the healing energies of the mystery.  We were celebrating Brigid after all, who is a Celtic goddess of healing. We had brought into the circle a small bottle of water from one of Brigid’s wells in Ireland, and I anointed my forehead and heart and hands with some of that water.

Deeper still, I realized that I am in the midst of a profound change.  I am shifting from one identity, one chapter of my life–as the minister of the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church, to another identity, another chapter–as yet unknown.  What I most desire is something like a cocoon in which to make that transformation, just as the caterpillar encloses itself for its transition to the butterfly.

This “enclosing myself” is not the same as doing nothing at all.  There are activities that directly relate to this transition–processes of ending, closing down, completing the work. I notice how hard it is to turn my attention away from the usual activities of my current/former self, to pay attention to the transition.  And in understanding this, I realize that I have to be courageous enough to say no to some good and important activities and activism. I have to say no, so that I can be courageous enough to say yes to the transformation.

Water from Brigid’s Well

On our way from the west to the east of Ireland, we stopped in Kildare, the town which was home to St. Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland and, according to the stories, an abbess who founded a monastery in 5th and 6th century.  Many stories link her to the older goddess Brigid, goddess of smithcraft, poetry, and healing.  We had read that there were two Brigid’s wells in Kildare–one now designated for the saint, and a pagan well still associated with the goddess.  Apparently, the pagan well wasn’t advertised, but we had read that it could be found near the parking lot of the Japanese Gardens/Irish National Stud.  So we set out to find it.

St. Brigid's Well, Kildare

St. Brigid’s Well, Kildare

On the way, close by, we saw a sign for St. Brigid’s well and found that one.  People come to the Brigid’s wells for the healing properties of their waters, and so we touched the water and asked its blessing.  The well is shallow, about a foot deep, and is spring fed. We left a coin in the water along with our wishes. It is said that this well, too, may have ancient connections to the goddess Brigid, incorporated into Celtic Christianity as St. Brigid.  There are other Brigid’s Wells all over Ireland.

Then we went on to the Japanese Garden, and searched around the parking lot, but didn’t see anything.  We went inside, and had a lovely lunch at the restaurant there.  Afterward, we asked a man at the ticket counter about the second Brigid’s well, and he told us to go around to the other side of the parking lot, behind a little wooden gate.  So off we went, and we found it.  Totally unmarked on the outside, but set into a lovely little paved area, with a half circle of stone wall opposite that could be used as seats.  Nearby, people had left ribbons on the branches (we saw those at the other well too).  It was intriguing to Margy and I that these ancient sacred sites are so hidden in plain sight.

Brigid's Well, Kildare

Brigid’s Well, Kildare

I felt so delighted and awed to be in this place where healing waters have been flowing since ancient times.  Margy and I drank a little water, and took pictures, and absorbed the magic all around us.  Then, an unexpected encounter–I was down on the stones next to the well, with the camera, and Margy was on the stone pavement above, holding my backpack, and she leaned over a little, and suddenly my metal water bottle that was in the open pocket of the backpack fell right into the waters of the well.

Into the Well!  Photo by Margy Dowzer

Into the Well!
Photo by Margy Dowzer

Those of you who know me know that this water bottle I carry has its own sacred role in always reminding me of the holiness of all water.  When I saw it there on the bottom of the well, I remembered that I wanted to take some of Brigid’s healing waters to bring home with me.  Was Brigid herself reminding me, and making a personal connection to us in this way?  I have celebrated her holiday in February for many many years.  So, I leaned in to scoop it out of the well, and then emptied its water into the nearby plants, and filled it with water from the well.

After that, Margy and I sang some more songs, sent healing wishes to all our friends back at home, and left our own ribbon on the branches hanging over the well.  If I may, I also send healing energy to you who are reading this.