Several versions of the “Invocation of the Graces” appear in the Carmina Gadelica, the massive collection of Gaelic prayers and charms collected and edited by folklorist Alexander Carmichael in the late nineteenth century. The “Invocation of the Graces” is a charm or blessing that was recited over young people in the Scottish Highlands to protect them from various potential threats while endowing them with a number of virtues or powers Carmichael’s translation refers to as “graces.”
The version of the “Invocation of the Graces” that appears in Volume I of the Carmina Gadelica only mentions Brighid in passing as one of several female powers who provide the graces. However, the versions given in Volume III name Brighid as the creator of the charm:
The grace placed by Brigit,
Maiden of graces,
In the daughter of the king,
Gile-Mhin the beauteous.
If the charm was originally spoken by Brighid as a blessing on Gile-Mhin, then we can think of the entire charm as the words of Brighid. When you read the words of the “Invocation” in your mind, you can think of them as being spoken by Brighid Herself.
There was more than one version of the “Invocation of the Graces,” and Carmichael is thought to have embellished his sources to some extent to produce a coherent version out of fragmentary survivals from the oral tradition. As such, there is really no definitive text of the original charm, so we will be examining selected verses from more than one version. The verses we will be discussing in this series are as follows:
I bathe thy palms
In showers of wine,
In the lustral fire,
In the seven elements,
In the juice of the rasps,
In the milk of honey,
And I place the nine pure choice graces
In thy fair fond face,
The grace of form,
The grace of voice,
The grace of fortune,
The grace of goodness,
The grace of wisdom,
The grace of charity,
The grace of choice maidenliness,
The grace of whole-souled loveliness,
The grace of goodly speech.
Dark is yonder town,
Dark are those therein,
Thou art the brown swan,
Going in among them.
Their hearts are under thy control,
Their tongues are beneath thy sole,
Nor will they ever utter a word
To give thee offense.
A shade art thou in the heat,
A shelter art thou in the cold,
Eyes art thou to the blind,
A staff art thou to the pilgrim,
An island art thou at sea,
A fortress art thou on land,
A well art thou in the desert,
Health art thou to the ailing.
Thine is the skill of the Fairy Woman,
Thine is the virtue of Bride the calm,
Thine is the faith of Mary the mild,
Thine is the tact of the woman of Greece,
Thine is the beauty of Emir the lovely,
Thine is the tenderness of Darthula delightful,
Thine is the courage of Maebh the strong,
Thine is the charm of Binne-bheul.
Thou art the joy of all joyous things,
Thou art the light of the beam of the sun,
Thou art the door of the chief of hospitality,
Thou art the surpassing star of guidance,
Thou art the step of the deer of the hill,
Thou art the step of the steed of the plain,
Thou art the grace of the swan of swimming,
Thou art the loveliness of all lovely desires.
Grace upwards over thee,
Grace downwards over thee,
Grace of graces without gainsaying.
Grace of form,
Grace of fortune,
Grace of voice,
Excellence of men.
Excellence of women,
Excellence of lover.
Excellence of sons and of daughters be thine.
Excellence of corn,
Excellence of drink,
Excellence of music,
Excellence of guiding,
Excellence of sea and land be thine.
Excellence of sitting.
Excellence of journeying,
Excellence of cattle,
Excellence of churning.
Excellence of curds and butter be thine.
Excellence of the swan of the fountain,
Excellence of sheep and of wool.
Excellence of kids and of goats.
Lasting excellence by day and night be thine.
Grace of the love of the skies be thine,
Grace of the love of the stars be thine,
Grace of the love of the moon be thine,
Grace of the love of the sun be thine.
The word translated as “excellence” in these verses is actually buadh, the same word translated as “graces.” So there are clearly far more than nine of them! In this series of articles, I will go through the “Invocation of the Graces” verse by verse, analyzing it to discover what it has to teach us about Brigidine devotion, virtue ethics, and spirituality.