Feb 26, 2010

Celtic Prayer


"Prayer was not reserved primarily for church: it was a natural outpouring of the culture, a culture that saw power in the natural world, one that did not see a division between the spiritual and the secular, one that did not judge worthiness--Jesus died for all. The Irish prayers reflected the life of the people and were melodic, continual and close to the heart."

Here is one prayer quoted in the book:

God be in my head
and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart
and in my thinking;
God be at my end
and at my departing.

These were simple prayers that made use of repetition for the purpose of memorization. But they were also heartfelt and have a kind of relevance that speaks to us today. If God is in the forefront of all you do, say, think…then you are sure to stay on the right track.

Feb 24, 2010

The Ministry of Monks

©Cindy Thomson
This is something I’ve thought about while doing research for my books. The Irish monks were laborers. The ancient monasteries were centers of trade and learning at a time when they were no cities as we know them. The monks were artists, tradesmen, scribes, and farmers, but all that was—and still is in communities today—a matter of simple survival. Their real work was prayer.

There were regular times of prayer. They even woke in the middle of night to a call for a prayer. The prayers were certainly for themselves and their community—for spiritual growth and a desire to be closer to God, but what I tended to overlook when I began researching was the monks’ prayers for everyone else, for the whole world, for all of God’s children.

What a difference these communities made (and continue to make) because they devoted so much time for prayer. While the rest of the world bustles about, scarcely giving thought to the One who created us, there were (and are) men and woman interceding for us.

I was reminded of this just today when I read a Facebook message from a “friend” I have never met in person. She went to Lindisfarne on a spiritual retreat and while she was there she prayed for me, knowing that I have a great desire to travel to her side of the pond. I didn’t know she was doing this. I was probably asleep when she prayed due to the time difference. She was carrying on the work of those ancient monks. I want to do that too. I’m praying for you, right now as I write this.

Lord, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, bless my readers in their pursuits today. Make them aware of your touch. You created us. It is Your breath that we breathe, Your love that we share, Your wisdom that we seek to use in our work. Thank you for bringing us together through prayer. It doesn’t matter whether I know their names or their faces. They are Your children and my brothers and sisters, and I commend them to Your care today. Amen.

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.—Psalm 9:9 NIV

Feb 22, 2010

Today's Interpretation of the Carmina Gadelica

Since I shared some of the Carmina Gadelica last week, I thought you'd enjoy this song, based on the Traveler's Prayer.

Feb 19, 2010

More from the Carmina Gadelica

St Canice Church, Kilkenny

The Blessing of Angels

The ancient Celtic Christians sought the blessings of angels and apostles. They were as close as your breath in their spiritual experience. I think this is a beautiful blessing.

The name of Ariel of beauteous bloom,
The name of Gabriel herald of the Lamb,
The name of Raphael prince of power,
Surrounding them and saving them.

The name of Muriel and of Mary Virgin,
The name of Peter and of Paul,
The name of James and of John,
Each angel and apostle on their track,
Keeping them alive and their progeny,
Keeping them alive and their progeny.

Feb 17, 2010

More Carmina Gadelica

©Cindy Thomson
There are many Celtic blessings for traveling. I was just thinking about this because of the perilous traveling conditions right now in snowy Ohio. It's not a bad idea to whisper a prayer or to bless someone who is about to hit the road. Here's a blessing from the Carmina Gadelica.

Travelling moorland, travelling townland,
Travelling mossland long and wide,
Be the herding of God the Son about your feet,
Save and whole may ye home return,
Be the herding of God the Son about your feet,
Safe and whole may ye home return.

Feb 15, 2010

photo via creative commons by Riccardo Cuppini
The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, poems, songs, and blessings collected in the Gaelic speaking regions of Scotland from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. The collector, Alexander Carmichael, translated these things into English. These collections were the everyday recitations of the people. There are many inspirational bits and pieces, and I thought this week I'd share some.

I will kindle my fire this morning
In presence of the holy angels of heaven,
In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
In the presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbour,
To my foe, to my firend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.

Feb 14, 2010

Happy St. Valentine's Day

photo via creative commons by Lawrence OP
Did you know that St. Valentine's resting place is in Ireland? It's interesting because he died and was buried in Rome. Actually there are several St. Valentines but the one martyred in the 3rd century is traditionally the St. Valentine that the tradition honors.

It's said that this priest defied orders from the Roman Emperor and married soliders and their girlfriends. For this he was sentenced to death. While in prison, these
Shrine of St. Valentine in Dublin
photo via creative commons by 
Canadian Pacific
grateful couples passed notes to him through the bars. He wrote, either to them or to someone he had fallen in love with, and signed his note "From Your Valentine."

But how did he get to Ireland? Saints' relics were often given as gifts or transported to other lands by the Crusaders. The relics were considered holy and the possession of them would bring protection and good fortune. In the case of St. Valentine, a 19th century Irish Carmelite priest was granted Valentine's remains by Pope Gregory XVI. The remains were exhumed and reburied under Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. There is a shrine there, and today it's visited by those seeking blessings on their love lives. Patrick Roberts has written about that in the Irish Central.

So, Ireland has St. Valentine! It seems that every major holiday has an Irish connection, doesn't it?

Feb 12, 2010

Book of Kells Part Three

From The Book of Kells
photo via creative commons by Larry Koester

The Tara Brooch
photo via creative commons by Pomax

photo via creative commons by Annie Gormlie

photo via creative commons by fhwrdh
Insular Art is a term that refers to the artistic style of the post Roman British isles. Besides the Book of Kells and other manuscripts, it is found in metalwork and on high crosses. Pictured above is the Derrynaflan Paten. It is dated to the 8th or 9th century. A paten is part of a set used in communion. It's the plate that holds the bread. You can see the detail around the edge. St. Martin's cross (above) on Iona is dated to the 8th century.

The Monymusk Reliquary

At the National Museum of Scotland. photo via creative commons by dun_deagh

As you can see, this insular art shows up in lots of places. It's no wonder that the monks replicated this in the Book of Kells. When you consider that fountain pens had not been invented yet and that there were no electric lights or magnifying glasses, it certainly is a marvel. No wonder it was called the work of angels!

Feb 10, 2010

Book of Kells Part Two

Book of Kells facsimile
photo via creative commons by Marius Jennings
Continuing my look at the Book of Kells, an 8th century illuminated manscript.
This illustration is called the Temptation of Christ. There is a lot of subtle symbolism in this piece. The house is Christ church. He is the cornerstone that holds it up (the blond figure in the center.) It is built on the apostles (the heads underneath.) The devil (the black forked handed creature near the top at the right) is outside of the church building. He is capable of tempting, but has still been expelled. There is much more to be explored than this, though. What else do you see?

The Book of Kells explores the four Gospels (New Testament) and the writers are depicted as beasts. These creatures are mentioned in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. From Ezekiel 1:4-10

photo via creative commons by Larry Koester

4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.

I love the fact that the Irish monks told stories in these illustrations. I'll look at more in my next post.

Feb 8, 2010

Penny Whistle

You just can't have Irish music without a whistle. The whistle is a very ancient instrument, first made of bone and wood. I found this instructional video of a circa 1900 whistle. I was interested in hearing it because the book I'm working on is set in 1900.

Where did penny whistle get its name? There are a couple of theories. In 1843 Robert Clarke of England made the first tin whistle and possibly sold them for a penny. Or the name may have come from the fact that people would through pennies to street performers.

One of the best flute players (and the penny whistle was once called a vertical flute) is Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies. She plays a variety of flutes and whistles during her performances.

I've been told the the penny whistle is easy to learn. Well, maybe someday....

The Book of Kells

©Cindy Thomson

photo via creative commons
by Michael 1952
Many of the Celtic designs you see on merchandise today were inspired by the artwork in the Book of Kells. Sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what the Book of Kells is. It's an 8th century illuminated manuscript (vivid illustrations that seem to glow) created by Irish monks. Its name in Irish is An Leabhar Cheanannais. It is written in Latin and contains the four Gospel books of the New Testament along with some indexes and other texts. As I said, it's lavishly illustrated, and it's those illustrations that have mesmerized people for hundreds of years.

The four apostles are illustrated along with symbolism. Below is John the Evangelist.
photo via creative commons by Larry Koester

In the 12th century Gerald of Wales wrote about what many believe was the Book of Kells. He viewed the book at Kildare, so some wonder if he was talking about another book now lost. Maybe, but these books were passed around from monastery to monastery. Scholars believe it is the work of more than one monk--probably several. The scribes were probably not the illustrators. Gerald of Wales's description of the book he saw matches the Book of Kells. Part of what he wrote:

"You will make out intricacies, so delicate and so subtle, so full of knots and links, with colours so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all this were the work of an angel, and not of a man."
photo via creative commons by Patrick Lordan
So delicate, so subtle.... These illustrations do merit careful observation and contemplation. Just what do those symbols mean? Why are certain animals depicted?

One of the best sources of information I've found on the Book of Kells is a video.

I saw a replica book at a library once. The photo of the open book above is from that exhibit.

It's amazing to think about the craftsmanship and dedication to perfection that the men who created this book put forth. They were monks who lived in service to God, so surely they could do nothing but their best. I hope I can put forth half the effort they did when I write.

I'm going to continue talking about Ireland's national treasure this week.

Feb 5, 2010


The Celtic year can be pictured as a wheel. Each season flows into the other and it's a cycle that continues on an on like a rolling wheel. In fact, some people think a Brigid's cross is the shape of a wheel and represents the four seasons. Imbolc (or Imbolg) is the day of the Feast of St. Brigid and originally belonged the Celtic goddess of the same name. Later the church used this festival and named it Candlemas, which is the blessing of the candles or more important to the church, the recognition of the purification of the Virgin Mary. From newadvent.org:
According to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification"; for a maid-child the time which excluded the mother from sanctuary was even doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to "bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin"; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
But getting back to Imbolc, which is the Celtic festival, it's the beginning of spring, the time when new life was just beginning to reveal itself, the first planting of crops and the beginning of fishing season. It was also the day for hanging a new Brigid cross over the front door of your house or your barn. You can read more about the crosses in my post here.

It may not feel like spring where you live. It likely didn't in the land of these ancient people either. But it was the beginning, the hope of new life, fertile crops, young lambs and calves.
©Cindy Thomson

Feb 3, 2010

Other Interpretations of Brigid

Used by permission. See post.
Brigid of Ireland is my interpretation of the saint's early life. Others have their own interpretations. Below is the book trailer for a children's book, The Life of Saint Brigid. It was written by Jane G Meyer, illustrated by Zachary Lynch. The author is sending me this book and I'll review it in a future post.

In addition, I'm posting, with the artist's permission, a drawing of Brigid by Ashmodai Bergisches from Germany (above.) It's interesting that the artist interpreted her as a blond, as I did in my novel. I had a reader ask me how I discovered what color her hair was. She had always believed it to be red. The truth is, no one knows! Remember we are talking about the late 5th-early 6th century here.

Here is another by an artist I met at the Milwaukee Irish Festival a few years ago, Andrea Bowes.

There are many interpretations, beliefs, and ways to celebrate Brigid's life. I find them all fascinating.

Feb 1, 2010

Groundhog Day Began in Ireland

photo via creative commons by Jeffrey Kontur
Possibly...it's a good chance it did. Here's why:

In ancient times there were no weathermen. I know that might be hard to believe, but it's true. The ancient people had to predict the weather themselves so they turned to nature to help them, specifically the hedgehog. On St. Brigid's Day, or Candlemas, they would spot those little fellows and determine that if they saw their shadows, more bad weather was in store, but if not, then spring was surely on its way. I doubt that these predictions helped them anymore than they help us today. It doesn't seem to matter, here where I live, whether the groundhog (substituted for the European hedgehog) sees his shadow or not. March seems to be more wintery than January was. By the way, we have our own groundhog: Buckeye Chuck. We can't allow anything from Pennsylvania to be our mascot, don't you know?
photo via creative commons by Anthony Quintano

(For a more thorough explanation of the history of Groundhog Day, see Cathi Hassan's blog today.)

Maybe the real sign that spring is on its way is the appearance of these animals in the first place. When hibernating animals start waking up, the days are longer and winter is wanning. Shadow, smadow! Doesn't matter.

But it's still fun, right? I mean, is there any better movie than Groundhog Day?

Happy St. Brigid's Day!

Ah, 'tis a day that is near and dear to my heart! 'Tis the feast of St. Brigid!

My dilemma is what to blog about. I've blogged about her here and here. But not to worry. There is still so much to tell!

As Joseph A. Knowles said (and is mentioned in my book, Celtic Wisdom):
In a life of the Saint...many legends and traditions must be introduced to stimulate the devotion of the reader, and to relieve the monotony which would inevitably ensue from a mere studied recital of historical detail.

So, Knowles gives us permission to let our imaginations run free!

St. Brigid is associated with fire. When she was a baby neighbors saw the house was in on fire. They ran to it, fearful that the babe had perished in the blaze. However, the house was just aglow and she was unharmed. This miracle was a sign that she was favored by God. She is also connected to an eternal flame. At her duel monastery (both men and women) she and nineteen virgins tended a flame. After her death the fire needed no tending on her assigned night. The fire continued perpetually until the 13th century when it was extinguished. It was soon relit and continued until the time of the Reformation when it was put out. In 1993 the tradition was renewed by the Brigidine Sisters and continues on today.

Brigid is associated with the hearth, which was the center of the Irish home. Surely the kitchen today is the heart of the home. I found this recipe on About.com and gave it a try. One of the traditions is to leave some of the bread on the windowsill for St. Brigid. I think I'll do that. The birds will enjoy it, I think. Below is a photo of my actual loaf.

St. Brigid's Oat Bread

Prep Time: 0 hours, 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 hours, 20 minutes
  • 1 cup flour (I used half white, half whole wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter (small flakes)
  • 3/4 cup uncooked oatmeal flakes (I used steel-cut Irish oats)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, 220 degrees Celsius.

Grease a baking sheet. (I used parchment paper.)

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
Add butter flakes, cutting them in with a knife until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Add oats and mix well.

Beat the egg with the buttermilk in a separate bowl.

Make a "well" in the dry ingredients, then pour in the egg mixture and mix all with a fork until the crumbs hold together.
Form the dough into a ball and knead (on a floured surface). Add flour if the mass is still too sticky to work with. (Just count on adding more.)

Form the doughball into a round bread and place it on the baking sheet.
Score a cross into the bread (do not cut through).

Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes, the bread should be medium brown.

I've never been accused of paying attention to presentation when I cook, so although my loaf wasn't pretty, it tasted pretty good. If you make a loaf, let me know. If you email me a photo, I'll use it in my next newsletter. What? Don't get my newsletter? Sign up here: http://www.cindyswriting.com

I think I'll blog some more about St. Brigid this week. I hope you'll come back! :)