Listening to theologian Matthew Fox on the need for a resurgence of the divine feminine in modern spirituality and religion, he noted that Ireland has always been synonymous with ‘the body of the Goddess.’ For those of us familiar with the terrain, the mountains that are known as paps and the rivers likened to lifeblood, this makes supreme good sense. I have visited many places in many countries with areas of outstanding natural beauty. Yet, there is the integrity to the land in Ireland that captures the essence of divine femininity. The pantheon of goddesses in Ireland is abundant – Brigit, goddess of inspiration, healing and craft, Maeve, goddess of sovereignty, Áine, goddess of the fairy sídhe, and most ancient goddess of them all, Danu.
Since 2001 I’ve been graced to live in rural NW Ireland close to where the River Shannon originates under Cuilcagh Mountain. This country residence has deepened an empathic connection with the land and with the Goddess. My devotion centres on two manifestations of the goddess. Brigit was my initial call from the Divine Feminine; in her Christian saint guise, she is the sort of renaissance women for an age that needs sacred activism. So interwoven in Irish culture was she, they couldn’t let the goddess qualities of her go. Then in the fifth century arrives the woman with the same name who embodied the goddess’ ‘matronage’ of healing, poetry and smith craft. She is a liminal figure in myth where the goddess of the Tuatha dé Danaan intermarries with the Formorians. Brigit, both as goddess and Christian saint of medieval Ireland, is an important ‘crossover’ and bridge builder during times when a culture is in transition.
I love this story told about the Abbess of Kildare, also known as the ‘Mary of the Gael.’ In this anecdote the saint turns up in Bethlehem on the night Jesus is born and acts as midwife to Mary. We won’t debate time travel. To me this tale is about how the Divine Feminine is necessary to birth the Christ Consciousness.
Come the time. Comes the Divine Feminine Woman to speak to our condition.
The other deity who has been central to my spiritually developing consciousness, Danu, is as misty as the arrival of her people, the Tuatha dé Danaan, in Ireland. She came knocking on my consciousness once we had moved close to Slieve Anieran, the mountain where they first arrived in Ireland according to legend. She is very ancient, probably pre-Celtic, a goddess that possibly emigrated out of the Indian subcontinent and then kept moving with the nomadic tribes. She is sometimes a cognate of Brigit, called her mother. In my meditations she appears a Grandmother. In this she is the archetypal Cailleach, the crone or hag goddess of winter. The Cailleach is not so much a destroyer as the natural force of nature where the earth dies back in order to renew with spring, the maiden Brigit. She is the mother/destroyer/matrix/
How do these goddesses breathe into my life? They are present in the stories I tell as I guide visitors around this sacred landscape. There is a Cailleach’s Chair a few yards down my lane. Further still is a holy well, sacred to Brigit. I honour the traditions and celebrate the wheel of the year. Because the land – the water, the wind, the stones, the spirits- do speak if you listen.
She is very alive in the land here. Because of that I consider protecting and stewarding this environment sacred activism. This region is currently under threat from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas. The limestone geology that gives us the holy well springs and underground caverns is already splintered. I feel as if fracking will be an assault on a grandmother’s body, leaving her osteoporotic bones with compression fractures. And so her spine crumbles.
In this very literal way I feel the Ireland as the body of the goddess, the form of the Divine Feminine in the world. It’s important that She remain unmolested. She’s been abused enough elsewhere.
Bee Smith is a founder member of the Sanctuary of the Divine Feminine and guides tours in NW Ireland to sacred sites.