The Fire & Legend of Bridget of Kildare

What follows is an article by Erin Durrett introducing the new Explore Celtic Spirituality series starting up this coming Sunday. I’m delighted to be one of the co-dreamers of this offering!

February 11, 2018, 4pm-5pm
Church of the Holy Spirit
15420 Vashon Hwy.
www.holyspiritvashon.org

What does the word “Celtic” conjure for you? Lively, lilting music on St. Patrick’s Day? Lines of high-steppin’ Riverdancers? The misty isles of Britain? For the next few months we’re going to be exploring the deep currents that underlie these well-known traditions and images in a series of short workshops that will offer music, poetry, movement and food for the soul that come from the ancient sacred traditions of Celtic culture.

February 11th the series begins with a celebration of the “fire in the heart” of Bridget of Kildare, whose legend goes back into the mists of Irish prehistory. Like many saints, she comes down to us carrying the elements of her Divinity – blessings of fire and water, guarding prayers of home and hearth, brewing and good fellowship. She is the shepherdess of flocks and tender of their abundance.

One of her legends: When Bridget was a young woman her father tried to marry her off to a local king. As the king stood at his window watching her he said, “I suspect you want me to marry her because you are tired of her giving away all your possessions – just as I see her now giving away your jeweled sword to that beggar”. Her father, enraged, ran over to the window and began to yell down at Bridget but the king stopped him. “Your child’s reputation for generosity is well-known. But I think she will have no king of Tara; she is already the worthy bride of a greater King”.

Indeed, the fire in Bridget’s heart waits on no man! She walks back and forth through the mists of time tending that fire by touching the human heart with generosity, courage and companionship. She is with us when she makes ale for a bunch of thirsty lepers, when the last coals of the fire are banked with her blessing so the family may have hot porridge in the morning, when we weave the image of the fiery sun from cold, wet rushes as she taught us on her feast day in the bleak mid-winter.

Come with your children, grandparents and friends to celebrate with us at the fire in the labyrinth, with music and good fellowship in the hall! People of all ages and spiritual leanings welcome!

For more information: www.holyspiritvashon.org

And also in celebration of Brighid.

For the next two weeks you can listen to an episode of Forest Halls Celtic devoted to exploring the legend and myth of Brighid by way of music, poetry, and folklore.  Head over here to listen to Show 22

For You Who Love Selkie Legend – Encore!

For the next two weeks, my radio show Forest Halls Celtic will air “Selkie.” Catch it on demand here.

The legends of the Selkie – remarkable people who are seals in the sea and humans on land – are haunting, often sad, and strangely compelling. In this show we take a deep dive into the music and magic of the Selkie with tales and songs arising from the coasts and islands of Scotland and Ireland, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands, as well as some contemporary expressions. Enjoy!

12:00: Spookytree – Lochaber No More
12:02: Carolyn Allan, Jenny Keldie, Phil Cunningham – The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry
12:05: Kim Robertson – The Selkie
12:08: Heather Dale – The Maiden and the Selkie
12:16: Jean Redpath – The Song Of The Seals
12:20: Patrick Ball – The Seal
12:23: Mason Daring and the Secret of Roan Inish – The Roan Inish Theme
12:25: Mason Daring and the Secret of Roan Inish – Fiona Explores
12:30: Seamus Byrne – Ocean Surf
12:37: Anne Roos – The Mermaid’s Tears
12:43: Mary McLaughlin – Sealwoman-Yundah
12:47: Knodel and Valencia – The Fisherman’s Song for Attracting Seals
12:55: Tori Amos – Selkie

Listen to the latest episode on demand

Show11-Selkie2-180dpi

Telling Stories to Children: Why Not You?

I am sitting with the children at the lunch table at Heartstone School, the farm preschool where I teach once a week. It is full-on spring, and the children are full of the life of it. They are mischievous and chatty. While this is the time for Quiet Lunch – several minutes when we focus on enjoying our meals –  the lively spirits of one and all suggest that a Quiet Lunch will be a challenge!

To support a Quiet Lunch, one of the instructors usually tells a brief tale about a nature experience she’s had. It’s my turn, but luckily, I have a spicy true-life tale. And, though this isn’t always the case, today I have a perfect hook.

“When we’re all quiet, I’ll tell you a story that happened just yesterday.”

I pause to give them a chance to register what I’m saying, and also to create and invoke – in a simple way – the Storyteller’s Space. If I’d had my harp with me, I would have strummed it, or played a chord. If I’d had a shaker, rattle, or drum, I might have shook or struck it.

But this is the lunch table, and not a full on storytelling session. Even so, I use the pause in my speech to enter into the space and bearing of a storyteller, the space where all words that follow are the path into the woods and into the shared experience of a tale. The space where a personal experience steps outside of itself and becomes something larger, something that belongs not just to me now, but to us. The space that becomes an invitation.

“When it’s quiet, I’ll tell you what happened with the fairies in my forest.”

Immediate and expectant silence! All of the children are listening. I then tell a story that really happened in my woods the day after Mother’s Day, a tale that involves a lost treasure, a rodent cemetery, the vibrant listening aliveness of the forest, a conversation with the fairies and … the fairies’ response. (Yes, I intend to share the story on this blog!)

If I had been telling with a harp, I might have strummed to indicate the breeze, played harmonics for water droplets, or played a few notes to indicate birdsong. I might have struck rich chords – in ninths perhaps, or a G major chord in one hand and a D minor in the other – to indicate the lushness of the springtime plant life. I might have played dissonant chords and quickly damped them for some of the more startling things I discovered (the rat cemetery!). I might have played snippets of a fairy tune – say, Turlough O’Carolan’s “The Fairy Queen”–just a couple of measures — at various times through the tale to suggest the enchantment, and perhaps played the whole tune at the end of the tale.

Other instruments could have been just as effective and evocative: recorders and flutes, percussion, a song. One could easily play with sound that musically suggests sorrow, regret, shock, wonder, beauty – the emotional terrain of the tale.

But a storyteller’s voice can be enough. And that’s what I have for this telling.

Field Outside the Forest
Field Outside the Forest

I tell the tale, bringing myself as much as I can into the feelings and landscape of my experience, and doing what I can to bring my listeners into those places too. Then I finish.

Now, I make space for the kids to ask questions and share their own stories and wonderings, all of which had been bubbling up during my telling. Questions about the rodent skulls, a sharing about their own experiences with fairies – anything is fair game if it has to do with the story.

This is a great time too for adults to ask questions or to voice some of their observations, which is what we instructors — here at Heartstone and also at the Vashon Wilderness Program where I also teach — do for each other when we tell stories to the kids. It’s a way to model questions that dig into the story, or even – as in cases of personal stories — into the teller’s memory.

Stories told to children can inspire, suggest, teach, captivate, and so much more. When we share stories with children, we are engaging in a timeless technology that is part of our humanity. Even more, we’re sharing connection, a special time that can allow for listening deeply to one another.

Telling stories to children and listening to their stories in turn is a magic that goes back to our human beginnings. And it is a magic in which we can all partake. It’s natural for us to do so.

The harp, Snowy Owl, in Forest Halls

In the coming series of blog posts, I’ll dig deeper into these elements of telling, especially to kids. If you’re a parent, grandparent, educator, or one who works with kids, you’ll find tips for telling stories to children, and, I hope – encouragement to do so. If you’re a harper or other musician, I’ll offer ways in which you can weave your music into your storytelling, the better to draw the listener into the fabric of your tale.

And if you are a storyteller already (actually, to be human is to be a storyteller!) then maybe something in these articles will offer an additional perspective or idea. Even more, I hope these posts inspire you to share from your experience and expertise. We can all learn from each other!

And now, dear reader, over to you.

Do you tell (formally or informally!) stories to children? In what circumstances do you find yourself telling stories? Is there a recent telling that was particularly meaningful to you? Please share about it in the comment box below!

Highland Cows at Heartstone Farm Preschool/Kindergarden
Highland Cows at Heartstone Farm Preschool/Kindergarden