Myths are stories to live by. Every element in a story has a meaning. Everything symbolises a part of the listener's psyche. When you listen to a myth more deeply, you discover its meaning for your life. This is what meditation has taught me about the stories of Brigit's initiation:
Centuries of Christian devotion have done much to obscure the original meaning of the ancient elements that make up the stories about how St. Brigit became a nun. All I could do to get some of the ancient flavour is to meditate on each element in the story and see if the whole made sense. I must stress that what follows is by no means set in stone. It is the result of my personal meditation practice and work with the story. It is an attempt to bring ancient wisdom closer.
It all starts with Brigit's virginity. Her family thinks it's about time she loses it. She is old enough to be 'given away' in marriage. Unlike Cairenn, Brigit knows her value as a person in her own right. She prefers to stay as she is, to not become a possession of or an appendage to a man. She makes her point very powerfully. She'd rather go through life deformed and looking like a hag (with one eye, just like the Cailleach) than lose her integrity as a person - which is all 'virginity' originally meant.
The single eye Brigit is now left with is symbolic of the Thirde Eye Chakra. It is the energy centre in the middle of the forehead that governs our inner perception and vision. This is where we visualise everything we intend to do or make. Every artist has a 'vision' of what they are going to create before they ever start collecting their materials together. We can also create an inner vision of what our lives can be like, and then use that vision as a signpost to guide our choices. And we can have a vision of a better world that we can all work towards. Brigit has such a vision of her life. She knows she wants to dedicate her life to Spirit.
The Third Eye Chakra is activated through meditation and visualisation. It is also stimulated if we work with our dreams. Our spiritual life as well as our daily life is greatly enhanced if we start paying attention to the messages we get from these practices and begin to integrate them into our lives.
It's remarkable that Brigit's sight is restored as soon as her integrity is guaranteed. In some versions she simply puts her eye back into its socket herself. Clearly, she can function in the two-eyed, dualistic world perfectly well, as long as she can also look at the world in a non-dualistic, spiritual way.
In one of the versions, Brigit creates a healing well in order to heal her sight. Many holy wells in the British isles are dedicated to her and are reputed to cure eye problems. In the autumn we will return to her as a healer. It is also remarkable that she blinds her brother. He has proven to be unable to see non-dualistically, and will now be forced to learn how.
In the second part of the story, Brigit becomes a nun. She follows her vision and dedicates her life to Spirit completely. As she waits to be given the veil, a fiery pillar rises from her Crown Chakra. Her spiritual practice has bron fruit: her consciousness expands to include the All and she has a permanenet connection to Spirit.
Then, 'by the grace of the Holy Gost', i.e. by Divine guidance, the bishop is inspired to read the form of ordaining a bishop over Brigit. She becomes a spiritual leader in her own right, eventhough other members of the establishment object. Her spiritual power is officially recognised.
I believe that a bishop is the closest Christian thing to a shaman. There are quite a few parallels between the regalia of a bishop and some of the tools used by Celtic shamans.
The most obvious distinguishing item of a bishop is his mitre. It is a clear indication that the Crown Chakra is functional and in permanent connection with the Divine. Celtic shamans, like the druid Mog Roith, had a 'bird headdress' which helped them in their spirit flight.
A bishop also has a staff. A shaman's staff is a symbol of the Pole of the Heavens, the ritual centre of the Earth. For each of us, the Centre of the Web ultimately lies in our deepest self. But for people who's spirituality is less developed, the shaman's staff, and therefore the shaman, represents that centre of wisdom and healing. The staff is the symbol of spiritual leadership.
During ritual, bishops also wear cloaks, just like shamans. Celtic shamans used cloaks of cow hide to hide under when they took their spirit flights.
Brigit is given the recognition and regalia of a shaman. She is dedicated to Divine Spirit and becomes a spiritual leader in her own right. Through persistence in our own spiritual paths, we can open our own vision and follow our own spiritual guidance. After many years we, too, can become teachers, healers and learders of our people.
Main picture: 'Ajna' by Ralph Adamson
Lotus from the TARA project Australia
Brigit with bishop's staff from a ladies' association that I can no longer find on the internet.
Veil from a photo by Barbara Beckerman
Eye from a NY department of psychology, although it no longer features the eye.