I was scrolling through my feed last night and came upon this poem.
St. Brigid’s Eve
they would hang the cloths
for birthing and healing
over the thorn branches
for her blessing,
that as she walked the land
the divine dew, twice sanctified
by the dawn and the day both,
might soak them sacred again
and enrich them with this vigil’s virtue
for the passing of all pain.
they would sweep the hearth and house
and bless the barn and the beasts,
settling the kine as Queens
in the golden hay of gratitude
for their animal alchemy.
they would leave out
the old gifts of grace,
the milk and the salt and the bread,
and light the lamp in the window
with love for her,
their princess, passing in peace.
the stranger that knocked
would be welcomed and warmed,
invited to stretch their feet
before the fire
and offer a story to the circle.
as the Moon rose over the mountains
the old songs were sung,
and the women watched and waited
plaiting the rushes and the reeds
into ancient patterns of power.
as all surrender to sleep
she walks the land lightly,
over barn and beast and babe,
she who fears no dark,
goddess named and God re-born,
by water and fire and blood,
in the Three who are One.
our ancient Abbess
and lady of the Light,
she whose cloak enfolds
the land she loves
For this night,
When I read it then, and when I read it now, I am filled with a desire to know this princess who fears no dark, receive her blessing, feel the power of the plaited cross, and be enfolded in her cloak. I’ve been praying to Saint Brigid for some time now — introduced to her by lovely Irish priests we’ve been watching preach online during the pandemic.
Providentially last night was the St. Brigid’s eve. I wanted very much to make St. Brigid’s cross.
Typically the cross is made with reeds — which interestingly enough are pulled rather than cut. I have yet to discover why, but, I liked the idea of pulling some from one of our hiking jaunts. It was, however, cold and beginning to snow, so, my mind turned to what I had in my home that might work instead. Nothing organic immediately came to mind.
The acrylic paint lying by my chair caught my eye and imagination. I could paint a sheet of watercolor paper, cut it into strips, and plait my cross with these handmade paper reeds. I chose various shades of greens and some metallic gold, and set to work with an old gift card as my painting tool.
I placed the paint with joyful abandon — layering colors one on top of another. The blank page didn’t give me the least worry. But the finished product felt so lovely I didn’t immediately want to cut it.
Instead, I pulled another sheet from the pad and began to experiment. Should I cut long-ways or short-ways? Would the construction of the paper influence how each strip laid? How thin should I make each strip? How many do I need to create the cross? Would the longer strips be more appropriately proportioned for the task? After a bit of playing and noticing, I decided on long strips. I grabbed some tools — a bone folder, and a doubled pointed knitting needle – and set to plaiting.
I almost immediately discovered a downfall of paper versus actual reed. Reeds are three dimensional which makes them lie nicely next to one another. Not so the paper.
The strips paper constantly move out of place and make it difficult to maintain the cross shape. I tried gluing the center of each fold. It worked, but gave too rigid a look to the cross. I made the first strip twice as wide as the others and folded it to give it more 3D heft hoping it would act as an anchor for the rest of the work. It worked only minimally well.
As I manipulated the strips for a longer and longer time, I realized I could use the structure of weaving to aid my quest. Since each strip is folded in half, the back part could be woven and give structure, while the front piece stayed long and free mimicking the actual reed. Success!
The next dilemma I encountered was how to secure the ends of each arm of the cross. Wanting to maintain the integrity of the paper reeds, I experimented with thinner strips of my hand painted paper. I needed them to be thin enough to tie, but not so thin as to break.
Turns out watercolor paper is quite strong and malleable. After a few tries I found the size that allowed me to create a knot that was effective and artistically pleasing to me.
I finished the cross in the wee hours of the morning. I’m really pleased with the result, and the increased connection to Saint Brigid.
Today I stumbled upon a speech by Irish President Michael Higgins for St. Brigid day.
As he spoke, words and phrases jumped out at me:
~ creativity, genius, courage
~ Brigid is patroness of, among other things, healing, and the arts.
~ St. Brigid was a woman who dedicated herself to innovation in the realm of education
~ She had to summon an extraordinary courage
~ (She had to) transcend obstacles
~ (She had to) not just survive, but put a new version of things in place.
~ We invoke her
~ We seek strength together in such values as solidarity, care, compassion and kindness.
~ We prepare to move into the brighter, warmer days of Spring, with renewed hope
~ (As we move) through moments of darkness, it is important to celebrate the light.
~ (May we all find) rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection and regrowth.
Creativity. Courage. Education. Hope. Faith. Surely I have found a kindred spirit in this strong woman. She is a patron of many things. I think she should be my patron as well. I’m adopting Saint Brigid as my elder Irish sister — or am I just accepting her invitation to be her younger non-Irish sister?
So happy to have found Brigid, and to have had the moments of joy-filled creativity in her honor. The cross hangs on our door, blessed with this prayer: May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost be on this Cross and on the place where it hangs and on everyone who looks on it.
Happy St. Brigid day!