Goddesses and Abbesses 

Day 10 – Celtic Spirituality 

The day started early with some pilgrims gathering around a laptop in the early morning to watch the AFL Grand Final. 

We started the official part of today with a beautiful liturgy created by Carolyn and Andrew that connected Brigid’s Oak, the circles of Celtic art and our need to lean on each other to be strong. It connected us so well to the theme of the day. 

Rev. John Joe Spring and Dori Balford (op) were our guest speakers today. This will read like notes from a lecture but I will reflect at the end.

John Joe taught us about the way the early Christian missionaries engaged with the Celtic culture in order to share the Gospel.  He introduced us to a statue made of Bog oak of a bird in flight by Kevin Casey. This is the wood of a tree that fell in The megolithic age and has now come to the service. He used this to connect us with a time and place beyond our comprehension and to highlight the way the celts looked at the natural world.


Defined as the various processes by which the local church integrates the gospel message with its local culture. 

“Sanctity of Inclusion and integration rather than exclusion and repression.”

A faith which does not become a culture is a faith that has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived. Pope John Paul II 1982

Celts were broader than Ireland.

Overview of Celtic spirituality 

  • spirituality of nature – Sacramental – more than meets the idea. A tree is more than wood.
  • Sense of sacred time and space (kairos – significant time) (nert-divine energy)
  • Celebrating both masculine and feminine in the divine
  • Tradition of heroic sanctity
  • intergrated spirituality
  • Contemplative living 

Our lectuee today looked at all of the above through two lenses:

  1. Christian interpretation of the Celtic calendar 
  2. Monasticism – an interpretative key to Celtic spiritually

Christian interpretation of the Celtic calendar 

Bru na Boine megolithic (5000BC) – Predates Celts

Use of Circles – sun, moon, houses, movement and calendar (Cyclical time not linear). Buildings were oriented to solstices. Newgrange is more than a passage tomb – it’s a Cathedral!

Megolithic calender and Celtic calender merged with Christian calender.

Monasticism – an interpretative key to Celtic spiritually 

Patrick brought a Roman Christianity to Ireland that didn’t go down well with the locals. Roman  Tradtions were a difficult fit with Celtic culture and Christianity which were more rural. The missionaries needed to teach the Gospel to what was already a very spiritual people.
Monastic structure worked better as there were no big towns like in Britain.

Celtic Hero stories 

Celtic hero became the gentle hero, the monk.
Saints were the new heroes. It was not hard to tell the stories of Jesus and the apostles in this way. ‘I have come from the father…’ 

The Dying Gaul 3 BC

Keeper of the Arts

Celtic learning honored poetry and the arts and The monastic scribe was the heir to the tradition of Aos Dana – learned class which had high status in the community. Illustrated gospels combined artistic excellence with love of scripture.
Matthew 1:18 from Book of Kells Chi-Rho

Detail from Chi-Rho page 

Why would they illustrate using cats and mice?

Lions lying with lambs =cats and mice. A cultural interpretation. 

Celtic circle and Christian cross

The holding together of creation and redemption in a redeeming wholeness – Esther de Waal 

The Celtic crosses were Sermons in stones – a visual aid!
Inculturation was not a new idea. Paul did this in Corinth! 

Acts 17:23

22-23 So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

Patrick and the princesses of Tara 
In this story the princesses met Patrick and asked him “Who is this God of yours and where does he dwell?”

Patrick replied:

“‘Our God is the God of all things; the God of heaven and earth; the God of the sea, and of the rivers; the God of the sun, the moon, and the stars; the God of high mountains and of lowly valleys; the God who is above the heavens, in the heavens, and beneath the heavens. He has many mansions in heaven, on the earth, in the sea, and in all things that exist within their compass. From Him are the sun and moon, the luminaries of the world, and by Him is their light infused. His hand has brought forth the rivers and fountains from the earth, and the islands from the sea. “

The princesses were convinced and baptized.

Links were made with Celtic spirituality and the teachings and beliefs were still perfectly orthodox.

Lecture 2: connecting the masculine and feminine in the divine 

Dori brought Brigit and Brigid together for us.

Brigit Celtic goddess to Brigid the Christian Saint 

Good read on both Brigits
Brigid is the perfect example of the three streams meeting.

  • What’s known about the Celts
  • The interface of celts and Christianity 
  • Celtic piety 

Brigit triple Goddess 

Poet      Smith       Healer

The triple was helpful for explaining the trinity. Romans were very literal. The celts were able to see the deep truths embedded in the story. Myth is and is not. True and not true.

Poet – Smith – Healer:  we see these in Brigid’s life too.

Brigit daughter of Dagda – ‘the good god’

Brigit was linked with one of the Great Celtic festivals – Imbolg on 1 Feb which celebrated the arrival of Spring – the beginning of the cycle of the goddess’ life. Rituals sureounding milking and fertility. Fertility and child birth were honoured unlike later when women were considered (and still are) unclean when having a period, after childbirth or shunned for breast feeding in public. 

Attributes of Brigit 

  • Fertility protector of woman in childbirth protector of crops 
  • Guardian of hearth 
  • Significance of the well
  • fertility 

The St. Brigid’s Cross design, made from woven rushes keeps evil, fire and hunger from the homes in which it is displayed.

Legends of St Brigid say there was an old pagan Chieftain who lay delirious on his deathbed in Kildare (some believe this was her father) and his servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the saintly woman may calm his restless spirit. Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and calming him and it is here that she picked up the rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern. Whilst she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain and it is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul. He was so enamoured by her words that the old Chieftain requested he be baptized as a Christian just before his passing.

The presence of the Brigid’s cross in Ireland is likely far older than Christianity. The cross is very likely the descendant of a pagan symbol whose original meaning may have been locally understood even into the early 20th century in rural Ireland. One remnant of that tradition in the meaning of the Brigid’s Cross today, is that it is said to protect a house from fire. This does not fit with any part of the Christian story of St Brigid, and so is likely a part of the older spiritual tradition behind the feast day.


Imbolg  means ‘in milk.’ Lactation time the time the ewes were coming into milk. At Imbolg, Brigit presided over hearth and forge, over crops, livestock and nature. 
The Sacred Well

Womb of the goddess – source of power and fecundity. We visited one on Inish Mor.

Celtic women 

“they neither scorn to consult their women nor slight their answers.” Tacticus 

St Brigid of Kildare (454-524)

Ireland has a real affection for her. The ordinariness of her spirituality. She’s sometimes referred to as ‘Mary of the Gael.’ Edward Sellner 
In a way the adoration of Mary and Brigid is sort of compensation for missing the feminine in God that the romans did not place emphasis on. 

Historical Sources:

  • Bethu Brigte by Bishop Ultan ardbraccan
  • Life of Brigit by Cogitosus (620-680)

Prophecies and miracles surrounded her birth.

Transfer of customs to Brigid

  • Sacred oak
  • Fire enclosure – vestal virgins 
  • Regeneration 
  • multiplication
  • 1 feb she is patron saint of new life, crops

St Brigid’s fire was still being tended in 1180.

Brigidine Sister Mary Teresa rekindles the flame Kildare town 1 feb 1993

Sacred Wells (Bridewell). We will see these in a few days. People leave tokens on bushes surrounding wells like we did in Inish Mor.

One of the legends of Brigit merged with Saint Brigid. Angels carry Brigid to Bethlehem (includes the otter of the legend)

Saint Bride by John Duncan

Our final session linked Celtic spirituality with stewardship of the earth. Does our Celtic background call us to respond to the need of our planet?


The sessions were pretty full on in terms of facts and figures but they were not just head knowledge, what we learned and heard led to heart knowledge. An understanding of Celtic spirituality that enhances and deepens our faith.  You may have noticed that the word ‘pagan’ was  not used even once. The first missionaries used an approach of integration not of “winning the pagans”.  Rev John Joe said Christianisation of the pagans is an unhelpful way to frame this period and instead we could refer to Celtic spirituality as our ‘Old Testament’ the way the Jewish scriptures enlighten and inform our Christian faith which is the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. We are Christian Druids!

Afternoon walk into Tullow

An afternoon stroll to town ended in a yellow and black pub where we watched the time in Australia change to Daylight Savings Time

Today was also Jo’s birthday!

We ended the day with a good Irish craic, singing songs, listening to bird calls and dancing an Irish jig. 


And the Tigers Theme song for Shane!

​It was a HUGE day!

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