(Catching up) S is for… Saints

I don’t talk much about the saints I work with. It’s totally outside my Gaelic tradition – and, indeed, outside my druidry path. I don’t have a detailed theology of what saints are, either. They’re my spiritual ancestors – an ongoing link to Christianity, which remains important to me as part of the history of my spiritual journey and the history of my culture - even if I can no longer support its theology (or host most of its practices) in my life. They are ancestors who are often very willing to help me with folk magic, and to receive prayers and attention in exchange for protection or provision.

In the Gaelic tradition, researching saints often becomes messy quite quickly. demonstrating the fluid boundaries between ancestors, gods and land spirits in Gaelic culture. Some of the saints-as-ancestors may also be gods. St Gobnait, in my UPG, definitely has something to do with Bhéarra - I’m just not sure what. (See my post on St Gobnait for more of my thoughts on that topic.) Studying the stories of the post-Christian saints has taught me as much about Gaelic culture as studying the myths. Both may well have pre-Christian roots – but regardless, I’m not sure the Christian/pagan dichotomy really works particularly well in terms of Gaelic reconstructionism. Gaelic culture has endured on through Christianity. The saints are a complex part of this, knotted into the threads of pagan and Christian Gaelic folk culture. Neopagans tend to have mixed, slightly confused responses to the Irish saints – St Patrick is vilified, but St Brigit is considered to carry survivals of the goddess Brighid in her stories. Keeping in mind how our views of the saints are socially constructed – in this case, by our social context of modern Paganism – could be useful here. My views are just as socially constructed as anyone else’s, but I try to approach the saints on their own terms, and ask what they can teach me.

Some of my saints are Gaelic. Some are not. Some may have pagan roots. Some do not. They are all my spiritual ancestors. They have all helped me, and many other people.

St Catherine, inspirer of scholars and strong women. St Gobnait, lady of the deer and the bees, from the Munster hills of my ancestors. St Francis, gentle brother to animals and to the land. St Cajetan, of social justice and concern for the poor and jobless. Mary, mother of a god, protector of the weak – in all her many aspects. Mary Magdalene, Gnostic avatar of Sophia, teacher of wisdom, whose story has been suppressed and lost, like the stories of so many women before her – and patroness of those whose brains and neurology don’t work too well. St Anthony, of the lost. And many others. They protect me, guide me and work with me. They are my ancestors, and I honour them. I don’t need much more theology than that, really. The rest is mere detail.

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Shrine areas for St Gobnait (well water and bee images) and St Catherine (spinning wheel), next to my general working area for folk magic

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Saints’ shrine – upper level (right to left: St Cajetan, Mary, St Expedite, St Anthony). The configuration changes depending on who I’m working with. Not all the saints want to be a constant presence on my shrine. Some do.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

- From the Breastplate of St Patrick

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3 thoughts on “(Catching up) S is for… Saints

  1. I definitely feel there are extremely blurred boundaries between Irish/Gaelic gods, saints, historical and other mythological figures. This may be true of many cultures, but perhaps particularly true of Ireland due perhaps to a lack of surviving manuscripts, the continuation of pagan traditions post-Christianity, and perhaps also the strong hold of early Christianity on the country and culture. I tend to revere the lot as ancestors.

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