A Common Celtic Thread: A Book Review of “Brighid’s Mantle”

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    Can a Pagan and Christian ever find common ground? I am very happy to say that it appears so! In this book two friends from different traditions, but connected by a common Celtic Heritage show why inter-faith dialogue is not only possible, but very necessary.

     Lilly Weichberger is a healer, teacher, and eternal student of the Celtic Shamanic tradition. In the pursuit of deepening connection with the Divine, she works with students of many backgrounds, both individually and through group classes and workshops, both locally and across the country, to help individuals find and strengthen their power and their own unique connection the Earth and to the Infinite. Her teaching focuses on a synthesis of Shamanism, Magic, and Celtic spirituality to help bring individuals into a more direct and personal relationship with the Divine, in whatever form is most appropriate to them.

     Kenneth McIntosh is a writer, educator, and spiritual mentor. As a child he became fascinated with the Celtic legends of his heritage, and then as a young adult he experienced a profound spiritual conversion that led to him becoming a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Degrees in English and theology, combined with travels in the Middle East and the Celtic lands of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, further inspired his life and writing. He is best known for his book Water from an Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life. In addition to writing, he teaches comparative religions at a community college and serves as pastor for a Congregational Church.

     In an informal, relaxed and respectful manner these two friends discuss their faith, a faith that differs in many ways and yet seems connected by a bridge named Brigid. Saint and Goddess, Brigid somehow manages to be both for many seekers, and as the authors state right from the start: “Brigid is often seen as a vital connection between the old Pagan ways and the newer ways of those who followed the teachings of Jesus. Her mantle covers both perspectives.”

      The deeper I got into this book the more I realized how true that opening statement is.

     The Book begins with an overview of Celtic Spirituality in general. It compares Brigid’s Mantle to Celtic Spirituality itself, because in the same way that Brigid in her dual role as Goddess and Saint is able to hold seeming opposites in harmony so Celtic Spirituality is “a term that’s wide enough to cover many perspectives beneath its shelter, even while it means different things to different people. For some it’s an ancient form of Christianity, one that’s particularly appealing to modern followers of Jesus who want a faith that focuses on justice, tolerance, equality for women, creativity, and a love of Nature.

     For others, Celtic spirituality is a way to connect with a pre-Christian perspective on the world, one that celebrates the Earth and her seasons, finding deep spiritual meaning in land and sea and air. Celtic spirituality offers a place of commonality between the two. A mantle is not rigid. It’s not a box that keeps some things in and others out. Instead, its cloth is wide, sheltering, inclusive. Within Brigid’s mantle, both Christian and Pagan can find the Divine presence revealed in the ordinary patterns of daily life.

     The conversation starts by defining the word ‘Celt’, drawing on the common thread running through Celtic Christianity and Celtic Paganism alike. Namely that Divine Presence is everywhere, all around us. The Celts, whether Christian or Pagan, never saw God as ‘somewhere else’, or ‘out there’ God was present always and everywhere, which is why to the Celt all things, and especially nature was sacred because of this Presence…and because the Celts could perceive this God of Saint Patrick having been amongst them and their ancestors all along, long before Patrick came preaching, the new Christian converts felt no need to throw away what came before.

     Kenneth tells stories of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid to illuminate his points, while Lily comes from the perspective of the Goddess, always illustrating the common ground at the crux. The discussion of luminal spaces or thin places, highlights another similarity, which Brigid in her dual guises hold together.

     I found the discussion about the Celts circular view of time fascinating, and it explained brilliantly how the Celts had no trouble at all inserting the future Saint Brigid as foster mother of Christ, (even though she is said to have been born several centuries after the event) this particular legend never touched me as deeply as it did in this book, with the symbolism laid bare so expertly.

     There are of course major differences between these two branches of Celtic Spirituality and these differences are not glossed over by either party. One such difference is in how the universe is seen: for Lily it is an interconnected web. For Kenneth it is the Celtic cross, the whole universe revolving in circular fashion around the axis that is Christ…

     This book is a breath of fresh air and a demonstration of how unity can be found in diversity. At no point did I feel that either of these authors were in any way compromising their respective beliefs for synchronicity’s sake. Lily’s devotion to Brigid is sincere and heartfelt while Kenneth’s love and passion for Christ shines bright.  Their differences are always acknowledged and never glossed over, yet unity remains.

     This book highlights all the things I love about Celtic Spirituality. Passion, joy, love of beauty…and perhaps most importantly…the ability to see the Spirit and Sacredness present in all things. I’d heartily recommend this book to Pagans and Christians alike, or to anyone interested in Celtic culture. I found it a joy to read and will probably re-read it several times yet.

By Mercia van der Vyver

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