Mar 31, 2010

St. Patrick's Breastplate Part Three

photo via creative commons by Ted

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort, [at home]
Christ in the chariot seat, [traveling by land]
Christ in the poop. [traveling by water]

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

Continuing the prayer for protection, this section calls specifically on Christ and prays for Him to be everywhere: before me, within me, everywhere I go. And then the prayer acknowledges that Christ is in others. The last section calls on this power, the power of the Trinity, to be bound to the speaker. I know I'm repeating myself, but that's why this is a breastplate prayer, meant to be worn, kept close to the heart, and meant to shield you.

There are many English versions of this prayer. That's why what I have here might differ from what you might find elsewhere.

The ancient Celtic prayers were often (if not always) sung. I thought you might enjoy this version.

Mar 30, 2010

St. Patrick's Breastplate Part Two

photo via creative commons by Tony Hisgett
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

This is truly the part invoking protection. The first part is acknowledging the wonders of the natural world, the world God created. Have you ever stood somewhere and gazed in utter wonder? I have felt the vastness of the creation while gazing at the Grand Canyon, while out on a boat on the ocean, while riding out a violent storm inside my house and watching the wind bend and even break the trees. Even quiet times can bring the wonder of God's touch into your life: a sunrise, a sunset, a soft rain shower. This power, God's power, is what this prayer seeks to bind the speaker to.

And then the prayer goes on to describe the perils that this breastplate is meant to protect oneself from, such things as the snare of demons and the lust of nature, false prophets, heresy, idolatry, and even women and smiths. The writer of this prayer might have had sexual sin in mind when he prayed for protection from women, but smiths? I don't know! Maybe someone can enlighten me on that one.

The last line of this section intrigues me:
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
That seems to be a summation, but the idea that "knowledge" can bind the soul goes against what we're taught today about knowledge being good and powerful. But in thinking about that a little more, I realize that there are some things I'd be better off not knowing intimately, and those are things that can lead to addictions, which "bind souls."

Jesus, speaking to the Jews, said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8: 31-32 NIV. So the kind of knowledge that sets me free is what I want to bind myself to.

Your thoughts???

Mar 29, 2010

A Closer Look at St. Patrick's Breastplate

photo via creative commons by madmrmox
This week I'm going to divide St. Patrick's Breastplate into three parts to examine it more closely.

A bit about the Breastplate:
It's a prayer found in the 9th century Book of Armagh. Most scholars agree that it wasn't actually written by St. Patrick because it was written in a later timeframe, but it was certainly penned by someone who had been influenced by the patron saint.

It's also called the Lorica or The Deer Cry. The title Breastplate comes from the ancient warrior battle gear. The prayer is meant to be worn, meaning you wrap yourself in it and take it on as a part of you. A breastplate is protection, and this is certainly a prayer for spiritual protection.


I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

This part of the prayer is a sort of statement of beliefs: The Trinity; Christ's baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and second coming; the angels, the Biblical fathers, and modern day saints.

I wondered if this was anything like the creeds the church uses today, so I decided to take a look.
Here is the Apostle's Creed, believed to possibly predate St. Patrick's Breastplate by about four centuries.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.
I don't want to get into church theology here, but while these two statements are not identical, there are some similarities. What the Breastplate has in common with this Creed is a belief in the Creator; the Trinity; Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and coming again; and a belief in modern day saints. So, there are some things in common. However, one difference I see is between the words "bind" and "believe." You could argue that they say the same thing, but I think "bind" says it better. It speaks to the Celtic belief that the spiritual and the physical are intertwined.

So, not being a religious scholar, I'm wondering....what you do think? Please share.

Mar 26, 2010

Celtic Pilgrimage

I don't see this program listed on my local PBS station. I hope I get to see it. You should check yours. It started airing this month. Two years ago John O'Donohue unexpectedly passed away. He is the author of the best selling book Anam Cara. His web site is still maintained, and you can visit it here.

Mar 24, 2010

St. Patrick's Bell

photo via creative commons 
From A Social History of Ancient Ireland
P.W. Joyce, 1903

The bell of St. Patrick, which is more than fourteen hundred years and is now in the National Museum, in Dublin: it is the oldest of all; and it may be taken as a type of the hammered-iron bells. Its height is 6 1/2 inches: but projecting from the top is a little handle 1 1/4 inch high, which gives it a total height of 7 3/4 inches. It is made of two iron plates, bent into shape by hammering, and slightly overlapped at the edges for riveting. After the joints had been riveted, the bell was consolidated by the fusion of bronze into the joints and over the surface - probably by dipping into melted bronze - which also increased its resonance. This is the bell known as Clog-an-uudhachta, or the 'Bell of the Will' (so called because it was willed by the saint to one of his disciples), which is much celebrated in the Lives of St. Patrick. A beautiful and costly shrine was made to cover and protect this venerable relic, by order of Donall O'Loghlin, king of(died 1121): and this gorgeous piece of ancient Irish art, with O'Loghlin's name and three others inscribed on it, is also preserved in theNational Museum.....

According to legend, this bell (probably one of many that Patrick had commissioned for the new churches he established) was buried with the saint and retrived decades later by St. Columba and brought to Armagh. The bell is mentioned there in ancient manuscripts. It's interesting that there were special keepers of this bell throughout history, the O'Maelchallans. Late in the 11th century, a jeweled shrine was made for the bell. It also resides at the National Museum today.
photo via creative commons by damian entwistle
The inscription reads:
"Pray for Domhnall grandson of Lochlainn for whom was made this bell. And for Domhnall successor of Patrick in whose house (it) was made and for Cathalan O Máelchalland for the keeper of this bell. And for Cúdúilig O Inmainen with his sons (who) enshrined (it)"

Oh, my. I have way too many ideas swimming in my head for possible novels!!!!

Mar 22, 2010

Still Thinking About St. Patrick

photo via creative commons
by Chris Fifield-Smith
Even though St. Patrick's Day was last week, there is still plenty to contemplate when thinking about the life and ministry of this ancient saint. One of things that impresses me is his prayers. When he was kidnapped from his home as a teenager, he says in his Confession that he was not a Christian. He had been raised in a Christian home in an area of Britain where the Christian church survived, but he says that he did not at that time follow God's precepts. He was taken away to a pagan land where he was made to work as a shepherd, alone and without any counsel. And yet, this is where he found God.

How many times have we heard stories about people in a crisis calling on God? Perhaps we've even experienced it ourselves. Maybe it was a ship wreck, or a serious illness, or some other physical danger. I wonder how many of these people would continue to cry out to God if their prayers were not immediately answered. What if it took six years? That's how long Patrick prayed before God showed him how to escape. And during those long, lonely years, he found himself growing ever closer to God. He says:

"...I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number."

The prayer not only got him through that time and delivered him, the process drew him closer to God and strengthened his faith. I wonder...if it were me, would I give up long before the end of six years? Especially if I had no faith at the beginning? God rewards faithfulness, and he rewarded Patrick's in a way that blessed us all even these many hundreds of years later.

Blog Tour

Several bloggers hosted me during the week of St. Patrick's Day. I thought I'd share the links here in case any of you would like to read them.

Small Leaf Shamrock (scroll down the page.)
Sunnybank Meanderings
Celtic Treasure by Liz Babbs
and again here
Cara Putman's blog
Nicole O'Dell's blog
Favorite PASTimes
Susan Miura's blog
And finally, here's the photo of shamrocks growing in the wild in Ireland that I promised you last week.
photo via creative commons by IrishFireside

Mar 19, 2010

Celtic Treasure

I've been a little under the weather this week, so I'm going to let my fellow author Liz Babbs take over for me today by sharing an interview. She is talking about her latest book, Celtic Treasure. She and I share a view of Celtic Christianity, so I thought it would be appropriate to let her speak for me today. If you haven't yet checked her book out, you should. I blogged about it earlier here.

Mar 17, 2010

Why We Need St. Patrick

'Tis a grand day, to be sure. Are you wearing green? Are you going to a parade, or have you already been? Have you had your green beer, green frosted cupcakes, soda bread, Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage?
©Cindy Thomson

Fine then. Let's talk about this celebration a moment. Why is it important? (And let there be no mistake, it's important, especially for those of Irish decent and for Christians.)

St. Patrick's Day is a national holiday in Ireland. People used to attend church on the patron saint's feast day, and that's about it. Pubs were closed on that day until the 1970's. As I mentioned in my last post, it became a day of national pride as the shamrock was banned by the English government. Wearing your shamrock was one way to demonstrate this pride (or rebellion if you looked at it from the English side.)

It's important to note that both Catholics and Protestants honor St. Patrick. He is the patron saint of all, and, as Tim Campbell of the Saint Patrick Centre likes to point out, he
photo via creative commons by DonkeyHotey
was cross-cultural. Patrick was from Roman Britain, not Ireland, and he came to Ireland after having been enslaved there, to reach out to the Irish. So whether you're Catholic or Protestant, English or Irish, St. Patrick belongs to you. During a time when these groups shared little in common but hate and distrust, they've always held Patrick in common. Just as he reached across the Irish Sea over a thousand years ago, we can reach out to each other in the same spirit today to celebrate a common Christian heritage.

Patrick himself said, “…without regard to danger, I make known God’s gift and the eternal comfort he provides; that I spread God’s name everywhere dutifully and without fear so that after my death I may leave a legacy to so many thousands of people.”

He has left a legacy, not to thousands but millions, maybe billions over the centuries. But it all began with one person and is carried on by individuals.

Why is the day important? Sure there are parades and food and music, but what this celebration does is bring attention to the culture of Ireland. It's been said that there only two types of people: those who are Irish and those who wish they were.

New York City held the first St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 1762. As Irish immigration in this country increased, the Irish in America formed aide societies such as the Hibernians and Sons of St. Patrick. These Irish-American groups helped preserve Irish heritage, and the parades were (and are) a big part of that. In 1848 all these groups consolidated to form the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade, which now has approximately 150,000 participants and 1.5 million spectators! The parade even has a mission statement:

There are parades all over the country. I don't care to count them all, but this web site lists them by state.

A rich Christian heritage comes from Ireland and belongs to everyone of the Christian faith. If you know me, you know I have a passion for writing about these ancient Irish Christians. Their stories should never be forgotten, and the essence of how they lived, their relationship with each other and with God, are lessons that we can be inspired by as we seek our own spiritual paths. The celebration of St. Patrick's Day brings all of that to light wherever the holiday is

Musician John Doan. Click on the picture to go to his web site.

So, what does St. Patrick's Day mean to you? How are you celebrating?

Mar 15, 2010

The Shamrock

©Cindy Thomson
In Irish Gaelic, seamróg, the shamrock is an Irish symbol we're all familiar with. But how did it come to be associated with Ireland, and why is it important to St. Patrick's Day? In a previous post I talked about St. Patrick's association with the shamrock and the Irish fondness for the number three.

The plant is common in Ireland, a clover weed. Sometime in the 17th century Irish folk began wearing shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. In the 19th century the shamrock became a symbol of Irish independence and was worn in the lapel. This is where the term "Wearnin' o' the Green" came from. Irish regiments were forbidden to display the shamrock because it was seen as an act of rebellion against the British government. This prompted the words to the popular song:

O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that's goin' round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick's Day we'll keep, his color can't be seen
For there's a cruel law ag'in the Wearin' o' the Green."
The words and music can be found here.

From Irish Culture and Customs:
Today, the shamrock is firmly established as the most instantly recognizable emblem of Ireland. For good luck, it's usually included in the bouquet of an Irish bride, and also in the boutonniere of the groom. It's the symbol of a quality B & B that's earned the right to display it. It's part of the Aer Lingus logo, as well as those of many other companies, sports teams and organizations. And, it's also an integral part of an old tradition called "drowning the shamrock."
This takes place on St. Patrick's Day, when the shamrock that has been worn in the hat or lapel is removed and put into the last drink of the evening. A toast is proposed and then, when the toast has been honored, the shamrock is taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder. Sláinte!
So, it seems that the shamrock as the symbol of Ireland is a much more recent tradition than St. Patrick's era, but still a vital part of Irish history.

The picture above is a shamrock plant I bought at a store. Like I said, the shamrock is a variety of clover, but just which variety? This has been debated for quite some time. In the late 1800's a man named Nathaniel Colgan undertook the mission of determining which one was the shamrock. He had botanists from all over Ireland send him samples, which he planted and labeled. His conclusion:
The results of this harvest may be most clearly shown thus :-
19 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium repens.
12 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium minus.
2 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium pratense.
2 Shamrocks matured into Medicago lepulina.
Make of that what you will, but it seems to me that there is no one conclusive variety that we can call THE Irish shamrock. Later, I hope to post a photo of shamrock growing wild in Ireland. I'm awaiting permission. (I'm particular that way!)

More about the shamrock and the shortage this winter's weather has caused can be found here.

So, wear your green this St. Patrick's Day. I always do, and if I were to forget, I'm always covered. I have green eyes!

Mar 12, 2010

Sharing some links

photo via creative commons by Christophe BENOIT
From time to time I'll pass along some links that I think readers of this blog might be interested in visiting. Today, I'm sharing some of the links from folks who have contacted me or that I found by some means that I cannot now remember. :-/

The Celtic Monk. This blog is written by a clergyman named Andy. I especially found his post on dreams and how the ancient Celtic Christians considered dreams to be messages from God interesting. Celebrating all things Gaelic.

Irish Heritage Carnival
A very cool site with links to other blog articles you might enjoy.

Patrick Comerford's Site
Lots of interesting tidbits on Ireland and other sites the author has visited. He is a priest in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and a former journalist.

I'll share more links in the future. Please let me know if you find this helpful.

*Next week, of course, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, so I'll be sharing my thoughts on the patron saint. Also, if any of you are local, please drop by tomorrow and see me at the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, OH. I will be at the Tehku Tea Company from 10-3. Pictures are sure to follow. ;-)

Mar 10, 2010


The Yellow Plague killed many Irish in the 6th century, including many monks and abbots. One of the most famous was St. Ciaran, founder of Clonmacnoise, an important early Christian monastic center. He died at a young age, and his death is attributed to this plague. But this disease is most known in Ireland in the 7th century. Bede, the great historian and author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, mentions this plague, which spread from Britain to Ireland and seems to have been at its peak in the year 664 when a solar eclipse also occurred.

The disease was likely spread from mosquitoes to mice to men, but at that time where it came from and how it was spread was unknown. It's no wonder the people thought the wrath of God was raining down on them. This period of time is also known as the Dark Ages, and it must have been a horrifying time to be alive.

St. Colman, an Irish abbot living in the 7th century, fled to an island with his followers where they believed the plague could not reach them, beyond the ninth wave of the sea. He composed a poem. Here is a portion of it from my book, Celtic Wisdom, Treasures From Ireland:

The blessing of God come upon us. May the son of Mary cover us. May he protect us this night, wherever we go through out great numbers. Whether at rest or at motion, at sitting or standing, the King of Heaven be against every assault. This is the supplication that we offer up.
photo via creative commons by Sandy Sarsfield
County Cork. St. Colman may have sailed from here to avoid the plague.
Modern medicine has done much good. We no longer fear many of the illnesses that destroyed large populations of the ancient world. But there are still some we haven't defeated. In those cases, St. Colman's prayer is still relevant.

Mar 8, 2010

Ancient Irish Medicine

photo via creative commons by Exotissimo Travel
It may surprise people that medicine and surgery was studied in Ireland from early times. Physicians were professionally trained. Medical practice and knowledge was handed down in families in treasured books and the great physicians were accounted for in the Irish annals during Christian times.

The O'Callanans were physicians to the Mac Carthys of Desmond; the O'Cassidys, of whom individuals of eminence are recorded, to the Maguires of Fermanagh; the O'Lees, to the O'Flahertys of Connaught; and the O'Hickeys, to the O'Briens of Thomond, to the O'Kennedys of Ormond, and to the Macnamaras of Clare. The O'Shiels were physicians to the MacMahons of Oriel, and to the MacCoghlans of Delvin...~Van Helmont of Brussels, a distinguished 17th century physician and writer on medical subjects according to PW Joyce in A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland.

What I think is really interesting is what Joyce (writing in the early 20th century) added almost as a footnote: It is worthy of remark that in our legendary history female physicians are often mentioned: and so we see that in ancient Ireland the idea was abroad which is so extensively coming into practice in our own day.
Women doctors in ancient Ireland? Apparently so, and they were not novelties. It does make you wonder what happened to change the role of women. Most people think it was the influence of the Roman church. What do you think?

You cannot talk about disease in the early middle ages without talking about plague. I will talk more about that in my next post and follow that will a discussion on healing herbs.

Mar 5, 2010

Pangur Ban

photo via creative commons by Samantha Forsberg
For those of you who are not familiar with the poem Pangur Ban, I want to introduce to you to it. It's very popular and found in many books, including my Celtic Wisdom, Treasures From Ireland. It dates from the 8th or 9th century and was written by a monk who was probably taking a break from his regular duties. I love it because it shows the creativity and the humor of these people, like the Book of Kells. Have you ever seen the drawings of the mice in the Book of Kells? (I tried to find an online picture for you, but failed, sorry.)

©Cindy Thomson

So, for your pleasure, here it is, Pangur Ban (Which means White Cat.)

I and Pangur Ban, my cat
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
Translated by Robin Flower

Mar 3, 2010

Celtic Mothers

photo via creative commons by Geoff Johnson
Today is the feast day of St. Non, St. David's mother. Being a mother, I am naturally interested in these mothers. St. Non was a nun, and in the eyes of the Roman church nuns are virgins. So how did she give birth to St. David? Well, according to the church she was either seduced or raped. The picture above are the ruins of St. Non's chapel. The chapel supposedly sits on the site where the young Non gave birth to David. There is a stone with imprints that are supposedly the fingerprints she left there while giving birth. (Must have been a difficult labor!)

I have no reason to think that the story about the nun being raped isn't true. However, Celtic monks, nuns, abbots, and abbesses could be married in the ancient Celtic world. It was not unheard of.

Another mother of a saint that I'm keenly interested in is Eithne, mother of St. Columba. I've studied a little more about her and I'm struck by the parallels in this story and that of Hannah in the Bible, the mother of Samuel. Eithne also prayed for a child and promised to give that child to God for his service. Eithne sent Columba to a monastery when he was young, but the legends say that she visited him every year and when he was banished to Iona, she followed and lived on a nearby island.

It's hard to let your children grow up, but how hard must it have been to watch from afar as Columba grew up? Ah, the things that historical fiction novels are made up of!

Mar 1, 2010

Happy St. David's Day!

photo via creative commons by Lawrence OP
Today is the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. His name in Welsh is Dewi and he lived from about 500-589. He was another of the great teaching monks of the 6th century.

His monastic rule was severe. The monks had to pull their own plows (no horses or oxen); they ate only bread and spent their non labor hours praying, reading, and writing.

photo via creative commons by Gerald Davison
As with most saints, there are miracles associated with St. David. A white dove sat on his shoulder, and when he preached and listeners complained that they couldn't see him, a platform miraculously appeared and elevated him.

The picture above is Llanddewi Brefi, the village that is located on the spot where this miracle is supposed to have taken place.

St. David's famous quote: "Do the Little Things in Life."

St. David's Day is not, as of yet, a national holiday (or bank holiday as they call it in the UK) but according to Wikipedia a poll found that 87% of the Welsh people want it to be. Celebrations in the country include parades, festivals, and lots of food. The daffodil is associated with the day (the flower is in season in March) as is the leek, the symbol representing St. David.

Patron saints seem to be a matter of national pride in Europe, at least in the Celtic countries. I think that's a noble quest, but I also like to learn about these saints and see how they lived and how they honored God with their lives.

He was a church leader and official. He founded monasteries in Britain and Brittany during a time when pagan tribes ruled. His life was written by
Rhygyfarch in the 11th century, although mention of him was made in 8th and 9th century manuscripts.

From Rhygyfarch's Life:

"Saint David, the bishop, was made the chief overseer of all, the chief protector, the chief spokesman, from whom all received the rule and model of right living. He was the standard for all, he was consecration, he was benediction, he was absolution and correction, learning to readers, life to the needy, nourishment to orphans, support to widows, head to the country, rule to the monks, a way to seculars, all things to all men..."