Irish-American Witchcraft: A Year With Our Gods-Brighid

I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences here about how I found a deeper appreciation for the Irish goddess Brighid at a recent online conference.

On January 27th I did something I’d never done before: I participated in an online conference. I come from that weird in-between generation that isn’t quite Gen X and isn’t quite a Millennial either, so while I’m pretty comfortable with a lot of basic tech I’m also often baffled and impressed by turns at what technology can do.  When I was first approached by Vyviane Armstrong of Land Sea Sky Travel about participating in a series of online conferences they were putting together I found the idea of a polytheist conference conducted online both intriguing and a bit intimidating.

When Vyviane asked me if I would headline the first conference*, which was focused on Brighid, I agreed but with some trepidation; I wasn’t sure how a conference set entirely online would work in practical terms and I worried that my lack of tech-savvy might be an issue. It turned out to be a great experience and a great conference, and I learned a lot about the way we can share our Gods across diverse perspectives.

The conference featured five speakers, including myself, as well as a panel discussion, several different giveaways of items that had been donated, and a series of breaks between speakers. It ran from 10:30 am EST (eastern standard time) to 8:15 pm EST, but all the times were also given in UTC (universal standard) and PST (pacific standard) to help people in different parts of the world coordinate viewing. As far as I’m aware we had participants from not just the United States but also Ireland, the UK, Israel, and Canada – quite possibly there were others that I wasn’t aware of.

The set up was an online meeting room that allowed people to see and talk to each other, although it was clear early that everyone having an open mike was confusing. With more than 70 people logged on at one point, that I was aware of, you can imagine what it would have been like if everyone was talking at once. Participants could choose to turn their cameras on and off; during the presentations generally only the presenters had theirs on. During breaks everyone had the option to see each other if they wanted to turn their cameras on and also to chat in a forum style chat box to the side of the video screen. There was an ongoing chat room option to the side of the main screen during the workshops, allowing participants to ask questions and engage with each other.

Photo © Morgan Daimler.

The day began with a one hour workshop by Irish author and guide Lora O’Brien, discussing Lora’s connection to Brighid and understanding of who Brighid was, followed by a guided meditation to meet the Goddess. The meditation was long and detailed and was offered with Lora’s usual skill and eloquence. After Lora’s presentation and a short break for a giveaway the next presenter was Gemma McGowan a priestess who helped coordinate and officiate at the Tlachtga Fire Festival for years. Gemma’s connection to Brighid is deep and experiential and she shared that with us in both personal stories and song.

At this point we broke for lunch, and then it was my turn. As the keynote speaker I had two hours for my workshop and I joked as I started that I felt like the nerdy kid following the cool kids, because my workshop was definitely more dry and lecture oriented than the previous two. I discussed the evidence of Brighid in Irish mythology, specifically the Lebor Gabala Erenn and Cath Maige Tuired, what the Sanas Cormaic had to say about her and touched on some of her possible different appearances in the Ulster cycle as well. Following my workshop there was a panel with all five speakers, where we each answered questions focused on Brighid and on our various connections to Her.

After that was Mael Brigde, founder of the Brigidine Order Daughters of the Flame,  and blogger at Brigit’s Sparkling Flame. Mael discussed the practice of flame tending as well as the history and crossover between Brighid the goddess and saint Brigid. The final presenter was Julia Waters, a witch and priestess of Brighid. Julia discussed Brighid as a healing deity and different methods of folk magic healing that people could utilize.

I went into this worrying about what I would be able to offer to people, but I was really surprised by what I got out of it. It was fascinating meeting the participants and seeing their questions and thoughts as the day went on. I also really enjoyed the other presenter’s material  – although I wasn’t able to stay online for the final one – and I gained a lot of insight into how different people not only connect to and honor Brighid but also how they understand her. She is such a diverse and multifaceted deity and I think I understand that much better now having seen firsthand how diverse and different Her followers can be, yet how powerful the shared connection through Brighid is.

Photo © Morgan Daimler.

At one point in my workshop while discussing Brig Ambue we ended up spontaneously starting a fundraiser for Repeal the 8th in Ireland and later the final workshop featured a focused healing group effort for a young child with cancer. We were all different people in different countries – even different continents – and in some cases from almost antithetical spiritual traditions, yet there was a feeling of unity through our joint focus on Brighid. Even if we all had our own ideas of who and what She was, we were learning from each other rather than arguing over which view was correct. And that was really nice to experience.

This was the first conference in a year long series, with one event at each holiday. The next will be in March and is focused on the Welsh goddess Blodeuwedd. I will also be participating in the third conference in April focusing on the Morrigan and the Dagda.  I am very excited to see what other people have to say at that one and how my understanding and appreciation of those deities can grow. In June the conference will be about the god Manannán.

*I wrote a book on Brighid in 2016, called Pagan Portals Brigid

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