Mirror of Isis - An Official Fellowship of Isis Publication

The Fiery Arrows of Brigid
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COVER: Volume V, Issue 3, Samhain 2010
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The Fiery Arrows of Brigid
Goddess of the Illuminating Flame


by
Linda Iles, ArchDruidess
Grove of Elen of the Ways and Llew of the Silver Hand

 
“And the day has its feet to it that will see me coming into the hearts of men and women like a flame upon dry grass, like a flame of wind in a great wood. For the time of change is at hand…”    - (words spoken by the Goddess Brigid) from “The Winged Destiny” - by Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp)

It is certainly not by chance that the Festival of Brigid is celebrated in early February when the earth shows the faintest stirring of the promise of spring. This is the time of year when the period of sunlight during the dark days of winter gradually begins to increase, culminating in the balance of light and darkness at the spring equinox, when the darkness of winter is ended.

One of the most ancient forms of Her Name comes from the Gaelic “Breo-Saighit“ which means "fiery arrow". These ‘fiery arrows’ illumine our minds, hearts and spirits. Brigid is a Goddess of healing, artistic inspiration and creative expression. She is also Patroness of prophecy and oracles as well as the arts. Oracular offerings were given by those who were said to have the imbas forasnai, or the "Light of Foresight". These individuals, both women and men, received illumination from the flaming shafts of the arrows of Brigid.

Seers, Prophets and Oracles

In Ancient Gaul

Most people may associate the Goddess Brigid with Gaelic nations of Western Europe, She was also a popular Deity in other parts of Europe, including Scandinavia, Germany and France. When the Roman legions entered the Celtic territories of central and western Europe, they identified Brigid with their Goddess Minerva, who was said to be Mother of the Muses. Minerva, in turn, was identified with the Greek Athena, whose major festival took place in early February as did Brighid's. Greek Athena, Roman Minerva and Celtic Brigid were patronesses of the arts and of artistic and mystic illumination. Along with Brigid there were other European Goddesses associated with oracles and prophecy. A few are listed here: Ahnfrau, Berchta and The Fylgir of what is now known as Germany, Dis, Sar-akka and The Norns of Scandinavia, in the British Isles there were most notably Arianrhod, Cerridwen and Morgan.

There are accounts dating from the period of Roman invasions into this territory of Europe which the Romans referred to as “Gaul.“ It comprised a geographic area of Europe populated by Celtic people who lived on land that has since become designated as modern day northern Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and areas of the Netherlands and Germany which are situated along the west banks of the Rhine river. There was a long tradition in these areas in earlier ages which accorded women the roles of priestesses and prophetess. They were held in high regard. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote of one such woman of the Celts who lived in the German region of Gaul:

“Veleda was an unmarried woman who enjoyed wide influence over the tribe of the Bructeri. The Germans traditionally regard many of the female sex as prophetic, and indeed, by an excess of superstition, as divine. This was a case in point. Veleda's prestige stood high, for she had foretold the German successes and the extermination of the legions.” - Tacitus, Histories 4.61

“They even believe that the female sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In Vespasian’s days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women, but not with servile flatteries, or with sham deification.” - Tacitus, Germania 6

In the Northern Europe

Folklore in the Scandinavian countries and particularly in Iceland and Finland, have offered a glimpse into a past rich with gifted shamanesses and prophetesses. “Spakona” is Old Norse and the basis for our word “spae-wife” Both men and women functioned in this role in the past, but “Spakona” is the feminine form. A “Spakona” possessed the gift of foresight and premonition. Their prophecies manifested through trance, scrying and psychic impressions. Although the method used by a Spakona could vary from one instance to another, the most usual method is through trance induced by the beating of a drum. Sometimes this is accompanied by singing or chants.

Other terms in Old Norse describing women with psychic gifts include “Draumkonur” (women whose prophecies are gained through their dreams), “Shamanka” (female Shaman), “Vitkar” (women who cast and read the runes) and “Volva” (prophetess).

In Western Europe

Brittany

Breton stories that have come down to us tell of the “Gallizenae”. They were druidesses who lived on the Isle de Sein, which lies off the shore of Finistère in western Brittany. Unlike other ancient groups of holy women who were typically comprised of a sum total that had sacred significance, their numbers were said to vary. Each druidess who served as a “Gallizenae” came to the island as a virgin. Their skills included the arts of healing, divination, control of the tides and of the weather, shape-shifting into animal form and the ability to fly.

Ireland

The “Táin Bó Cuailnge” is the central tale of the Ulster Cycle, which comprises one of the four great literary cycles of Ireland‘s mythology. It makes reference to the Seeress and Druidess named Fedelm, who was said to possess the gift of the imbas forasnai, or the "Light of Foresight". This particular type of prophecy comes in the form of a vision. According to the “Táin Bó Cuailnge,” Fedelm received her training in Alba, the Gaelic name for Scotland. Fedelm foretold the defeat of Queen Medb's in Ulster. The Queen of Connacht chose not to believe the Seeress, and as a result the Queen’s armies suffered a terrible defeat.

Another Irish prophetess was mentioned in “Airne Fíngein”, a tale that appears in the “Cycles of the Kings” of Ireland. Her name was Rothníam ingen Umaill Urscathaig. She was described as a woman of the otherworld who lived in Síd Cliath, which is present day Knockany, County Limerick. She offered prophecies for Fingein Mac Luchta, the King of Munster, every year on Samhain Eve.

Not all the Druidic prophets mentioned in the literary cycles are female. One famous example is Cathbad, a Druid who served Conchobar Mac Nessa. He was present at the birth of Deirdre and gave a prophecy of her tragic fate.  

Wales

In the traditional literature of Wales, the term “awenyddion” sometimes spelled as “awenithion” designated a gift of poetic insight utilizing skills of perception beyond the ordinary scope. It came during trance-like sleep and in the form of a dream, the sleeping person would be granted a vision from the Otherworld and speak in an enraptured ecstasy. "Awenyddion" is also used in Wales as a descriptive title for individuals who function as an ovate, a seer or shamanic practitioner. The word translates as "The Enlightened One."

Elis Gruffydd wrote an account of the Druid bard Taliesin in the sixteenth century, which many believe is a written account based on a much older oral tradition. Taliesin's work comprises some of the oldest known Welsh literature, some of it believed to date back to the sixth century, and like the account of his life by Elis Gruffydd, the body of literature attributed to Taliesin preserves elements of an older tradition that previously existed in oral form. During his life, he was accorded many honors and enjoyed high status, Taliesin was said to attain the rank of “Chief Bard of Britain”. According to the “Book of Taliesin” his gifts were said to come from the Goddess Cerridwen Herself, though according to the tale, this was not Her intention. He was called “Radiant of Brow” - a reference to the illumination he received from the Otherworld.

In the legends of Wales and the stories of King Arthur, we find the Druid and Prophet named Merlin. His clairvoyance was so strong that he could see into the future, the past and the present and correctly interpret the signs he saw there. Merlin had a keen affinity with the powers of nature. He could talk to animals and read signs and omens from the stars.

Types of Prophetic, Oracular or Psychic Gifts

In addition to the "awenyddion" of Wales, terms are provided in traditional Irish literature designating specific visionary gifts.  In the Táin Bó Cuailnge”  three types of psychic abilities are mentioned by name which are connected to oracular or prophetic abilities. One was the previously mentioned prophetic gift of Fedelm, listed as imbas forasnai, or the "Light of Foresight". The imbas forasnai was was not limited to seers; poets of the highest rank could have this prophetic gift. Scáthach, a warrioress who taught the martial arts to the hero Cúchulainn was said to have this gift. Another gift of prophecy was called teinm laída, which involved ‘chewing’ and chanting. What was chewed upon is not made clear. The third was named díchetal do chennai and required the use incantation.

Merlin, as mentioned earlier, had the ability to see into the past, present and future all at the same time and correctly interpret what he saw there. It's interesting to note at this point that the Irish Druidess Prophetess Fedelm was described in the “Táin Bó Cuailnge” as having eyes with triple irises. Perhaps the descriptions of Merlin and Fedelm make reference to the same ability. A Druid prophet, ovate, seer or oracle would see equally well and operate freely in the traditional format of Druidic triplicities.

  The Touch of the Goddess
Oracular and Mystical Experiences in the Fellowship of Isis

In October of 2004 I was guided to create a ritual in honor of the Goddess Selket to present at the annual Convocation of the Fellowship of Isis in Geyserville, California. One of the elements of the ritual included an oracular priestess. I was strongly impressed as to who this oracular priestess should be, and my choice was proven to be a true one.

This all came about for a variety of reasons. But first and foremost I felt, and had felt for many years, that one of the purposes of the liturgy of the Fellowship of Isis was to attune members to the Divine Source, to awaken and develop their psychic gifts. As a direct result of this awakening, they become vessels, channels of Divinity, guided through whatever path or medium of expression that their Divine Patroness inspires them to choose. The path they are directed to often includes a form of oracular work.

What is an oracle exactly? “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,” published by Houghton Mifflin, contains the following information. The word “oracle” derives from Middle English and from Old French, originally from the Latin “oraculum” ‘place of the oracle’ and from “orare” which means ‘to speak.’ The definition of an oracle reads: “Something that is wise, authoritative and/or prophetic that is foretold by or as if by supernatural means, through divination, prophecy, soothsaying, vaticination, vision or foresight.” The definition included the following listing, with my own additions in parentheses:

1. A shrine consecrated to the worship and consultation of a prophetic deity, as that of Apollo at Delphi.

2. A person, such as a priestess (or priest), through whom a deity is held to respond when consulted.

3. The response given through such a medium, often in the form of an enigmatic statement or allegory.

4. A person considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinions.

5. An authoritative or wise statement or prediction.

6. A command or revelation from God. (or Goddess)

7. In the Bible, the sanctuary of the Temple.

Through this definition and listing we see there are many ways to be an oracle. The first one that usually comes to mind is that of words given through divine inspiration - when the Goddess delivers a specific spoken message through a priestess or priest. But the oracular touch of the Goddess can move Her devotees in a variety of ways. As Olivia has written in the introduction to her book “Sybil, Oracles of the Goddess”: “The Goddess, feminine Manifestation of Deity, shows Herself according to the divine Name invoked, involving attributes of a particular being. She may be called upon as Hathor of Love, Athena of Wisdom, Cerridwen of Creativity.”

Therefore the Divine Message can be delivered through acts of loving service and through words of wisdom. It can be delivered through the creative arts, music, writing, sculpture, poetry, drawing and painting. Works that are truly inspired ignite a spark in others, they elevate the heart, mind and spirit. They generate a new understanding. The Divine Flame of the Goddess has been kept alight and shared and kindled in many hearts through the work of ‘inspired’ individuals who have been ‘touched’ by the Sacred Muses, Goddesses of Divine Expression. Examples of this diversity of manifestation have been described above, as provided in extant sources of the old traditions of Europe.

The Practitioner of the healing arts can function as a manifestation of an oracle, for the healer who uses esoteric gifts will often ascertain the condition of their patient through seeing with ’second sight’ the color of the aura or locating blockages of energy. They are sometimes inspired to deliver a message to the patient to aid recovery.

There are oracular priestesses and priests whose gifts consist of an unusual degree of insight. Recognizing a spark in others, they create venues to satisfy general needs within the Goddess community. Led by an inner voice that speaks in their hearts through their Divine Patroness, they achieve a positive means to an end. These priestesses and priests are Seers, whose gifts of Foresight enable them to find a path of right action. Quietly and discreetly they guide others along a path of self-discovery. The end result - other priestesses or priests by being so guided may find, recognize and validate their own oracular gift - and by so doing, are validated by the response of others in the Goddess community.

There has been oracular activity within the Fellowship of Isis for decades, with members receiving visions and messages. In the 1980’s an FOI based group in the UK began receiving psychic impressions from a Goddess with long red hair, wearing reindeer antlers, who was not known to them. Subsequently they found through continued psychic work and research that She was Elen of the Ways, a Goddess who dates from the Neolithic period. Elen had been ’forgotten’ and now has made Herself visible within the Goddess community once again.

Other priestesses have reported visions of the sacred fires alight in heart and spirit, forming a network of light around the world. The telepathic rapport of spiritual attunement helps to ease the travails of the world as we undergo transition into the New Age. Birth is a process of initiation, so the coming of a New Age brings it’s own labor, it’s own travail. The Fellowship of Isis has worked to alleviate negativity and promote healing during the process, by providing meditations, oracles, rituals and prayers by attunement through small groups that meet worldwide and through online groups that meet in cyberspace.

It is not only Deities that touch our hearts and minds to bring forth a message of hope and healing. One FOI ArchPriestess, Caroline Wise of London, received a visit in a dream from one of the leading women of the early days of the Golden Dawn at the turn of the twentieth century, Florence Farr. She asked Caroline to produce her plays in London to raise money for breast cancer research. The dream occurred in the early 1990’s, Florence had succumbed to breast cancer many decades before.

One Priestess who is not conversant in Gaelic recently experienced a unique vision. She was transported to another place and time and took part in a ceremony with astral Druids and Druidesses in Gaelic, asked by the others present in her vision to repeat a line in Gaelic, first in Irish, next in Welsh, in Scottish and then in Manx. She writes: “I have no idea where this all came from, but it did. And no, I am not fluent in Gaelic. I only know that whatever sounds came into me and through me were symbolic of doing this. It was cleansing, cathartic and empowering.” Another FOI Priestess, of some years training along the paths of Druidry, confirmed what the visionary had seen and believes that this vision was the result of a past life memory.

Oracular experiences often occur during times of one of the Basic Initiations of Life. Sadly, for the past few years, the initiation that has touched so many lives has been the initiation of death. It is not a happy one usually, for those of us left here, who have witnessed suffering and endured subsequent loss of a loved one. Yet we receive messages from the Goddess to comfort our hearts. One priestess recently was able to assist the spirit of a loved one who had died and whose spirit lingered, because he was confused by what had happened. She helped him to cross over.

Two priestesses who are divided by geographic distance, had similar visions when a beloved FOI priestess of Mayan ancestry recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge. The first saw a line of ancestors, including copper skinned Mayans who had served as priests in the Mayan tradition generations ago waiting for the upcoming arrival of their descendant. This was a few days before the Priestess passed over. After her passing, another priestess was notified and reported a vision of the Goddess Maya, with long flowing black hair and copper colored skin.

The above types of experiences may come unannounced. To the previously uninitiated, the power and imagery, the direct experiencing of reality through another level of consciousness, can be unsettling. Olivia wrote of this in the following passage in the introduction to her book, Sybil, Oracles of the Goddess:

“So the oracles return. Deprived of help from orthodox establishments, whether clerical or scientific, newly awakened men and women search for teachers. For only those who have had mystical and psychic experiences understand the turmoil and soul-shattering bewilderment that result. And they know the path through such a labyrinth. It is also inevitable that people with psi-faculties join various telepathic networks, once they have developed this way of communication.”

Olivia calls the guiding through this resulting labyrinth of spiritual turmoil that can result from sudden spiritual awakening, “The Path of Alchemy.” It is one reason why the Alchemical Pathways of the Fellowship of Isis Liturgy are designated to facilitate the spiritual growth of ordained Priestesses and Priests of the Fellowship of Isis. It is why Olivia has focused on this path of teaching over the past few years. As she said in 2004, to a gifted Oracular Priestess at Isis Oasis and to the gathered assembly in the main temple there, “It is time that the Oracles return.”

And we can rest assured that they are doing so, in a variety of forms, unique to the individual personalities of Her devotees. This wealth of creative expression offers healing, hope, beauty and strength from a world beyond our own. The light it brings is forged in the fires of Brigid, the fiery arrows loosed by Her own Hand.

 

Sources:

Davidson, H.R. Ellis, “Myths and Symbol in Pagan Europe, Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions,” Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York, 1998

Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence, "Juno Covella: Perpetual Calendar of the Fellowship of Isis," Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Enniscorthy, Ireland, 1982

Ford, Patrick K., “The Celtic Poets: Songs and Tales from Early Ireland and Wales,” Ford and Bailie Publishers, Belmont, Massachusetts, 1999

Krupp, E.C., “Beyond the Blue Horizon, Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets,” Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1991

MacKillop, James, “Dictionary of Celtic Mythology,” Oxford University Press, 1998

MacLeod, Fiona (William Sharp), “The Winged Destiny,” William Heinemann, London, 1910

Matthews, John, “Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland,” Harper Collins, London, 1991

Monaghan, Patricia, "Book of Goddesses and Heroines," E. P. Dutton, New York, 1981

Moss, Katherine, “Sorceress or Witch? The Image of Gender In Medieval Iceland and Northern Europe,” University Press of America, Lantham, Maryland, 1991

Pennick, Nigel, “Celtic Sacred Landscapes,” Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 1996

Pennick, Nigel, “Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition,” The Aquarian Press, Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Hammersmith, London, 1989

Robertson, Olivia, “Sybil, Oracles of the Goddess,” Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Enniscorthy, Ireland, 1989

Robertson, Olivia, "The Call of Isis," 2nd revised edition, Neptune Press, London, UK, 1993

Stewart, R. J., “Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses,” Blandford, an imprint of Cassell, London, 1990

Sutton, Maya Magee, Ph.D., and Mann, Nicholas, R., “The Practice of Celtic Wisdom, Druid Magic,” Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota, 2000

Tacitus, “The Agricola and the Germania,” Penguin Classics, reprint edition, New York,1978

Tacitus, “The Histories,” Penguin Classics, New York, 1998

 

Drawing by Linda Iles of Brigid and Her Sacred Flame copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Photo of Brigantia from R. J. Stewarts book "Celtic Gods and Goddesses" referenced above. Photo of Olivia Robertson and Pamela Scott by Johnny Merron, AU.  Used by permission. Drawing of the Goddess Maya by Lady Olivia Robertson, AU. Used by permission.  Celtic knotwork pattern from "Celtic Art, The Methods of Construction" by George Bain, Dover Publications, New York, NY, first published in 1973. Photo of Florence Farr from "Women of the Golden Dawn" by Mary K. Greer, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1996.

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