A topic we are currently tossing around on our ABCD book group page is ‘Magical Thinking’, which originated in a post made by Judith Staines, of Taleos: talismans that ward off danger, in particular plague and illness.
Taleo in a Lao village
So I started looking around for home grown talismans (-men?), and came across the St Bridget’s cross. “Making a St Bridget’s Cross is a custom in Ireland. The St Bridget’s Cross is made out of plants called rushes for hanging above the entrances to dwellings to invoke the saint’s help in warding off disease.”
I’ve been aware of St Bridget, or Brigid, or Bridie, or Bridghe, for a long time, as she is closely associated with Glastonbury, my home town. On the outskirts of the town is a green hill (not the Tor, much flatter!) known as Bride’s Mound. For several years now it has been owned by a trust of local people who have so far successfully warded off encroachment onto the site by the neighbouring industrial estate, the former Morlands site. Excavations were undertaken in the 19th and 20th centuries, and I believe also recently. These have revealed the foundations of an old chapel, or maybe two, possibly corroborating the legend that St Bridget came here from Ireland and that this place was the entry point for Irish monks visiting Glastonbury, one of whom is said to have been St Patrick himself.
‘Bride’s Mound’, an etching, part of my ‘Holy Islands’ series
Bride’s mound during the floods of 2013
My etching was made in 2013 as part of a solo show at Glastonbury Abbey. But my interest stems from earlier than that: in around 1988 I took part in an annual ritual of making a ‘Brighde Doll’, in the Bridget Chapel that leans against the north wall of Glastonbury Abbey. A group of women friends had got together on Brigid’s Day, February 1st, to make a doll out of anything that they had/was lying around. Our Brighde that year is the one in the middle of my etching, with a cork for a nose (lavish wine drinking traditionally accompanied the ritual, or so we imagined). The 3 Bridghes, that one and the two from previous years, took up temporary residence at the Dove in Diana Griffith’s caravan, and there I drew them and made this etching:
The etching had the distinction of being considered for removal from an exhibition at the Black Swan Gallery, Frome, later that year, following several complaints from the public that it was ‘black magic’ and too ‘witchy’. Plus ça change….Luckily, it was saved by the then curator, who didn’t bow to public pressure.
So….later, in the ’90’s, I made many etchings from imagination, eyes closed at first, and then worked with what emerged. This one became ‘Old Biddy’ and shows Brigid with her cows.
Brigid, incidentally, can be seen with her cows in a carving on the side of the Tor.
Brigid milking her cow, bas relief on the outside wall of Glastonbury Tor
Here’s a lovely description of Brigid from the Glastonbury Abbey website: “Most of the miracles attributed to her were concerned with the relief of poverty or illness. She is reputed to have personally ministered to lepers and to have cured many. Legend draws for us vivid pictures of the kind of woman she was: her lavish generosity, tireless energy and irresistible charm, equally at home in the fields tending sheep or bringing in the harvest. She is found milking cows, making butter and cheese, and tubs of home-brewed ale.”
I love her more already.
So, today I set about making a Brigid Cross from reeds I found in the Whitefield. They were a bit brittle – the time for making these is reputedly February 1st, her day; also Celtic Imbolc and New Year, which would, of course, also have been the totally appropriate time to start guarding ourselves again the plague. But I managed, and here it is, the Brigid Cross, adorning the wall by my ‘magical thinking table’ by the door.