Brigid's Cloak is told of through stories and traditions as being a cloak that covers all of the earth, covers sacred places, protects us as clothing, as a small cloth to hang to honour Brigid, down to being a small clutie offering on a tree beside a well.
Here I will travel through some stories and traditions trying to connect them as one guidance, blessing, nourishment, protection, and healing for us all.
cloak of the Earth
Brigid is told of as being carer of everything through which life flows and the elements that wrap around life. Many of us call this being "attuned to nature and the seasons". We create art, rituals and craft that inspires us to have reverence and engage in what small part we can do to care for the earth and the carriers of life upon it.
One of my favourite stories is our locel Birth Of Bhride.
It tells of the ending of an ancient ice age on earth when no life was romaing here. Through the first melting of ice the warmer seas flowed over the ice and its new strength cut out the rock to form caves on what we now call CÃ©is Corran. The water cut deep to touch the other world where the Cailleach, The Morrigu, The Morrigan, The Mór na Coire Cíuin, was sleeping.
She absorbed this new sea into her womb and within it gave the first life.
When the water container of her womb broke and flowed out of her vulva it cut four rivers north, west, south and east over what is now the Erin land, and soaked into the lands around them.
Then Bhride was born, the first life on earth, Bhride, Breo na Saigéad, Brí de Óg, Brighid, to be midwife to guide and nurture all other life arriving on earth, nourished by the waters.
All life on earth needs cloak to survive, the trees and plants with their soil and sun kissed and water nourished forms, the animals and ourselves cloaked with our body temples.
All cloaks that need care while Brigid endlessly works her magic. Care becomes sacredness and inside is the temple. The cloak of the earth with its Brigid womb, her temple, within.
cloak of Cill Dara
This is a well told Brigid story, perhaps the best known about her cloak ...
Brigid is said to have gone to the chieftain of the land that was about to become Cill Dara, later Kildare. She asked to if he could donate some land to her for use as a convent and monastic village.
Brigid guided the chieftain to the place where she said would be the perfect centre of her intended sanctuary. It was beside a forest where they could easily collect firewood and graft branches for replacement trees. There was also a good deep lake nearby that would provide water. The surrounding land was very fertile.
The chieftain laughed at her idea and refused to donate any land to her. Brigid prayed for a miracle to soften the king's heart, and she received an answer.
Brigid turned to the chieftain, smiled, and said "well will you donate to me as much land as my cloak, that I am wearing now, will cover?"
The cheiftain could not work out is Brigid was saying a joke or was just "simple", a kind word used in Ireland to describe someone mentally disabled. As Brigid's cloak was so small the chieftain decided there was no harm in going along with this woman's whim, so he said "yes, go ahead, it's your's, whatever your wee cloak can cover".
Brigid was accompanied by her 19 nuns, seaking sanctuary to start the firs Brigid retreat. She spread her cloak on the ground and asked four of the nuns to hold each corner of her cloak and walk in opposite directions to stretch the cloak as far as they could to get the best they could out of this deal.
The four nuns kept walking north, south, east and west, and the cloak kept stretching until it covered many acres of land.
The chieftain was not angry, he did not feel deceived, but was astonished, and was aware that the blessing of some kind of miracle had just taken place.
The chieftain knealed before Brigid and promised her not only the gift of the land but help with building, food supplies and tools to get them started.
That chieftain, unfortunately we do not know his name, is also said to have not allowed anyone on his lands to starve and need food, water and healing, and Brigid and her mission helped him to make this possible.
The chieftain and his people were forever within Brigid's cloak, as were the rest of Erin soon after.
cloak of Brat Bhríde
The most active Brigid Day tradition in Ireland today is the custom of putting a white or red cloth outside on the door or a window of a home or on a special tree near the house.
This is done on what is said to be the Eve of St Brigid's Day, at sunset or dusk of January 31st . This cloth was left out overnight, and some people leave Brigid's bread on the windowsill too. It is believed that St Brigid passes by and blesses the cloth.
In the morning, strictly at sunrise, the cloth was taken back into the home, dew water wrung out, collected, places in a jar and stored. The cloth then dried out, folded and put away for the year.
The folklore medicine tells that this cloth, and the dew water saved, has powers of curing the curses of sore throats, headaches and toothaches.
If anyone in the home was overcome with these cursing illness symptoms the cloth is brought out to wrap around the head of the afflicted person. A few drops of the collected dew water is added to more water to sprinkle or wipe on the patient's face too.
People place this cloth on animals to heal them, on wombs of women seeking to conceive, and even given to people to hold in hospitals and hospices to open up their faith and healing.
This cloth was known as the "Brat BrhÃde" and it is created in different ways in different parts of Erin.
In some areas it is a red cloth, such as on the Donegal islands and when people lived on Inishmurray island off of the Sligo coast. Red is the choice of many people living on the coasts of north and west of Ireland. Elsewhere white Brat Bhride cloths are preferred.
The picture here shows a single embroidered cross cloth. Tradition in some places tells us to embroider, to sew in, an additional Brigid's Cross each year until the Brat Bhride has seven crosses embroidered on it. Some people take this further and say the Brat Bhride cannot be put out for Brigid blessing and to collect morning dew until it is seven years old with seven crosses embroidered. Taking this down a stricter path again, its is also said that the embroidered crosses must only be sewn by a girl or woman who has never conceived or given birth to a child yet.
Of course, some people of Erin are still hanging out Brat Bhride cloths inherited through their parents or maybe grandparents and other relations until their own cloth is seven years old with seven crosses sewn in.
Another name you may hear for Brat Bhride is "Brigid's Mantle".
cloak of the Trees
the hanging cluties
This tradition seems to be a merging of the Brigid Cloak and Brigid Cross traditions, and performed all year round, but with a special emphasis at Imbolc and Brigid celebrations time.
There seems to be two traditions going on at the trees by sacred wells where people leave their cluties. The more modern tradition is for people to leave items connected to their "curse" which they will return to collect when the curse is gone, such as a smoker's lighter, a heavy drinker's bottle opener, and spectacles and even crutches by the most faithful.
The older tradition, is to leave something with a prayer woven into it that slowly goes back to nature and releases the healing. A linen cloth, or cotton cloth, or wool cloth, are quite common for this.
I'm not sure about a recent trend to hang lots of red and white tissues though as they do cause a littering problem at sacred wells after a rain.
There is also a big problem of people actually killing the 'wishing' and 'prayer' trees due to what they tie to the branches. The branches get strangled. Worse, is the people who bang coins into the trees.
I am inclined to suggest make something from organic, natural and non damaging materials such as rushes, reeds and grasses. Use these to weave your healing prayers and wishes to hang on these trees rather than precious cloths, your blankets, that are more worthy of being of your home.
Visitors to these wells seeing the colourful tokens of prayer and offering are deeply moved by this though. They do remind the visitors of the presence of sacredness, the presence of a Brigid's Cloak being offered to those who humble to its protection. Please do this without harming the trees and the water that flows from the earth nearby.
cloak of Your Life
If we are open to it, accept the illumination of it, I feel we can all be blessed with Brigid's Cloak. The above stories give visual and warming clues of how this can be, and is, so.
The trinity of the Brigid being and the four directions of the Brigid Cross I personally hold as powerful symbols.
We have 4 seasons, 4 quadrants of a astrology birth chart and I believe 4 stages or octave of our life, and 3 of those cause us to call upon Brigid's Cloak, a Trinity.
As individuals, after we are born, we discover what and how we are, how to move parts of our body, mind and spirit and how to co-ordinate them together.
We go onto learning and developing our crafts, more than our "smithcraft" but the handling of tools, and materials and how we share and interact with people while doing this. We discover how we are as a team member in a family, with friends and in some of our tasks. I find it is interesting how unions are symbolized with something of special metal whether it is a ring, a sword or a dowry of coins.
We move on into how we are "farmers" finding out how to provide not just for ourselves but for others through our gardens, windowboxes, farms and our vocations, our jobs. It is through this we nourish and heal not just ourselves but those around us. We learn the dance of men and women, masculine and feminine together.
We move on into service, as crones, as wide men, as grannies and grandpas. We guide those who are moving through the three stages, the three octaves we have lived through. I collectively believe this is "poetry" and we can use words and music and also use art and use dance, movement, and an overall cloak of mentoring to inspire those younger than us ... who actually teach us what to serve.
Together these four stages, these four octaves I image as the cloak of Brigid pulled in the 4 directions, as at Kildare, and each of those directions served by the 4 rivers in the story of the Birth of Bhride.
In the middle of this is our Midhe, our centre of sanctuary, our hearth of Bhride, and from this hearth we pour the waters of our 4 rivers to look after all we have dedicated ourselves to look after under our own cloaks of Bhride.
Like the chieftain at Cille Dara, if eel that the illumination of Brigid, if we choose to be illuminated by her, humbles us to her. It humbles us to the earth instead of trying to control it and change it.
Through recognizing this is Brigid's land, covered by her endless cloak we can be good stewards using our tools, materials, inspiration. Through our own intent of not wishing anyone, any life, under our cloak to starve and need food, water and healing, Brigid and her mission responds by helping to make this possible ... even if that does not always happen.
Its not often I write up a module in "sermon" style but hope something there stirs inspiration and ideas :-)
Like the chieftain and his people, we are always invited to be forever within Brigid's cloak. I think that Brigid's Day and Imbolc, when new life is born, opens us to a grand time to be reminded of this.