This is the first guest post in almost 10 years of Under the Ancient Oaks. Please give a warm welcome to Morgan Milburn as she shares her story of her pilgrimage to Kildare.
To say my visit to Kildare was a beautiful experience would be putting it mildly. I was all smiles as we drove up to Solas Bhride – you can ask anyone who was along the ride. I felt like Belle when the Beast gifted her with every book-lover’s dream library, and like one would when gifted with a library, I was about to be educated.
Ever since I started my journey as a Pagan at Imbolc 2016, I’ve felt the Goddess Brighid has kept a close eye on my sister Gabrielle and me. Even in my sprouting times while I floundered trying to figure out what I believed, where I would put my faith, and who could I trust to help me grow, in many instances Brighid has patted my hand to reassure me I was doing exceptional (especially for a girl my age who was, at the time, a sophomore in college). It took a year to recognize how much I’d changed since I started my Pagan path and how dedicated to it I really was – realizing this I officially declared to my parents and Facebook that I was a Pagan.
Brighid had offered me the chance to visit her Forge where I would be “changed” within a few months after I told everybody. Along the way, She had always been close, but never had she forced me to do anything. Always I was the little ravenling (a nod to my name, I presume) who was trying to figure things out, it was always my decision to make for myself. I’m still young, there is time for me to change, I wanted to change. I wanted progress, growth, the wisdom behind experience, and when I accepted Her offer months later, I knew that She could help me in places I needed to improve. I’ll never forget the words she told me after I insisted I was prepared to take on the challenge of working with her:
“You would make a great nun.”
It took time for me to really understand what it meant to be a Pagan Brigidine novitiate, and I truly must take a moment to thank Cynthia Talbot not only for contacting the nuns of Kildare about our upcoming visit, but for assisting me in my practices that eventually lead me to being initiated as a follower of the Goddess Brighid. Along with being a dear friend, Cyn has also been my mentor in my practices.
During her conversations with the nuns, they gave her information on what they stand for, what they do as far as daily practices go, and what they make sure to achieve through their community and for the good of our natural world. Some of the information she passed on to me as a form of daily practice.
Each day, for 19 days, I wake up in the morning to pray to Brighid and keep a candle lit for Her until the 20th day where it’s Her turn to watch the fire. It’s a practice I didn’t even pause during the trip, even on the morning of my first hangover I woke up at 7am to turn on my little LED candle and recite my morning prayer.
This was my very first trip out of the United States and I was loving every minute of being in Ireland and Wales, and even as I grew weary through the two weeks I wasn’t ready to go home. But I was ready for our last day. No matter the obstacles of the cold weather, I would make it to Kildare. I could feel Her with me on a few occasions on this trip, especially in Limerick.
This might have been the first time She was really telling me to do something, because I pondered on something hard within approximately thirty minutes before I finally stood up after ordering my lunch and had to excuse myself. I could feel a strong urge to perform a specific act of kindness, but after running around the block a little bit, it appeared that my chances of carrying it out had disappeared. I was unsettled, not so much that I felt I had failed my first “mission,” but I worried for someone I could not help and throughout the day I kept my eye out for them should I get another chance.
You may be thinking that maybe it wasn’t a message from Herself, that it was me rolling over concerns in my head with the added paranoia that it might be a divine message of some sort. Well, maybe you’re right to think that, but as the day drew out I wasn’t spared the added hints throughout the day of Her presence.
We entered a small Celtic bookshop just in front of the Hunt Museum. I adore literature, and maybe I should if I hope to pursue a Masters in Library Science, so I was thoroughly intrigued, but instead of checking the top floor walled with books, I felt the desire to explore the downstairs. Upon reaching the last few steps, I look up to see Brighid’s crosses hanging above my head, perhaps as big as dinner-plates! I was beyond tempted to purchase one, but I told myself to wait until Kildare. Nearing the end of my visit I collected one little book on my way out, The Life of Saint Brigid by Anna Egan Smucker. I figured I knew a lot about the Goddess, but not enough about the Saint, so I made it my goal to read the little book from start to finish before my visit to Kildare. I was able to finish the book on the delayed ferry ride from Wales.
And finally, after anticipating the whole trip for this one adventure, we made it to the beautiful village of Kildare. As previously stated, I was in awe the whole time. My eyes were bright like an oncoming university student exploring her future campus for the first time. Again, I was glad I had my friends there, because I didn’t have words that wouldn’t make me embarrass myself in front of the nuns so they could distract them from my starry-eyed self. But I oughtn’t have worried about it, they were as gentle and kind as I imagined they would be. As they gave us a tour of their building, I absorbed the information they gave us about the building and its features. They reference a few of the Saints’ stories and since I had finished the book just the day before, the lore was fresh in my memory and I could connect with those stories.
I couldn’t tell you everything I felt about everything, simply because it’ll just lead to me rambling about how fantastic it all was. I think the best way to summarize the tour itself would be “inspiring.” I was inspired being there and learning about the nuns and their centre. I was inspired by their hospitality and services to their community. And when they let us explore the land on our own, I was inspired by the outdoor elements included with the land. The statue they had of Herself had a Celtic cross behind her body that had her story engraved in images on the cross. Most I could tell which ones they were and pointed them out to my friends. I remember thinking as I stood next to Her statue that I imagined Her to be much taller (which I’m sure She is outside of the artist’s depiction). And, well, I admit it’s silly to think, but I remember looking at the length of Her hair and thinking she looked like me.
We meandered over to the back of the building where there lay a stone maze. With Cathy aside to take pictures, we all walked it, following the little path and obediently keeping from skipping over the stones until we all circled close together in the center of the maze. In all of the sacred locations we visited, we all made sure to stop and pray for the spirits of the land, the fae, and/or whatever deity the place was sacred to. John asked me to lead this one. I’m not very good at praying with people around me, but I sucked it up for here. I don’t remember all I said, there were words of gratitude for our safe travels, and for walking with us along our own personal journeys, and a wish that She still deals with us even when we have to leave her home-lands the next day.
Before leaving Kildare, we visited the wells where we hung linen clooties on the trees and gathered water to bring home with us. We went to visit St Brigid’s Cathedral, but it was closed, and instead we went to one of Her churches where I was charmed by a plethora of Her crosses accenting the interior. I think after our visit to the centre, I was feeling content at last.
Throughout our trip abroad, I carried the mindset that this would be the only time I’ll be in Ireland and Wales for the rest of my life so enjoy it while it lasts. I will certainly carry these memories for the rest of my life, but after we left Kildare, I realized that this would not be my last time here at all. The nuns gave us a title, knowing that prior to Kildare we had traveled nonstop across the country and over the waters, they called us “pilgrims.” We were people who journeyed to many sacred locations along our adventures, and whether or not were all Pagans didn’t matter, because to us, all of the natural world and ancient locations we visited were sacred to us and our own religions.
I will return to Kildare. After I graduate and receive my bachelor’s degree, and maybe it won’t be until after I receive my masters, I’ll return to Kildare with the goal to learn more. Because I feel there’s more for me there after I’ve grown enough to pursue it.