There are stories hidden within stories.
The monks of Ireland once wrote down a tale concerning a holy woman who went before the king of Leinster, asking for a plot of land upon which to build her convent. The king, though amused by her request, was not of a giving nature, and she was denied.
Dismissed though she was, she favored him with a smile and tried once again, this time asking if he would not offer her at least as much land as her cloak might cover, when laid flat upon the ground.
Feeling himself mocked before his men, he laughed, as if sharing in the joke, and agreed to her terms. And it was, after all, only a very small cloak.
Removing the cloth from about her shoulders, she held it tightly by one corner while instructing her young students to grip the other corners and to pull the cloth out as far as it would stretch. The girls did as she asked and, to the amazement of the king and his party, the great cloth trailed out behind them as they backed, first walking, then running and leaping away, over distant fields.
As the cloak spread out before them, the king knew he would soon be bound by his promise to give up the whole of his kingdom. And so he cried out, begging the young woman to stop, and offering her all the land she had originally asked for.
And so the matter was settled.
The woman in the story is Saint Brigit of Kildare, who is said to have roamed the emerald isle from the late 5th to early 6th century C.E., and whose feast day on February 1st, has only just passed.
There are stories hidden within stories, and sometimes, there are gods hidden within saints.
There is much evidence to suggest that the the woman venerated today as “Mary of the Gael” is actually a modern reflection of a much earlier goddess — Bríde the ‘exalted one’, goddess of both hearth and forge, inspiration of poets and sacred flame of ancient Ireland.
With that thought in mind, imagine the same story, only stripped now of its hagiographic trappings…,
Imagine the cold fields and forests of that long ago time, still covered in the frost of the long winter. This is the dead half of the year, when the doors to the House of Donn are thrown open, and its king holds sway over all the land.
But there is movement in the fields and valleys. A goddess walks upon the earth. She opens her arms, trailing her long cloak behind her, blanketing the fallow soil with the first warmth of spring. And while the cold wind still whips above, in the deep places there is a stirring, as the seedlings of the new season begin their journey upward, where they will eventually burst free into the light of the sun.
The season of death is over and soon, the king of that realm must surrender his lands, once again, unto the living spring. If you listen, you can still hear a gentle laughter carried on the breeze. Step outside and turn your face to the sun, and you can’t help but feel the warmth of her smile.
The stories that we tell and pass down make up a great tapestry, a cloak of sorts, that we pull with us, covering all the lands and binding us together. Lift up a corner of that vast cloak, and you will find truths hidden there, waiting to be discovered.
Lá Fhéile Bríde is upon us, yet again.
May it find you warm and happy!