One of the Deities that I work with is Lady Brighid, a Celtic Goddess of great antiquity, whose practices and lore passed into Irish Catholicism, and who is a much loved Goddess of many modern pagans, especially those with connections to things Celtic. She is of course the Lady of the blessed flame, and the holy well. According to the Fellowship of the Stag and Flame, the Flame may be expressed in triple form, as the flame in the belly, the flame in the heart, and the flame in the brow.
The flame in the belly is the flame of health and vitality. A strong flame in the belly gives one the power to digest food and absorb nutrients. In the olden days, the process of digestion was seen by some as “cooking” the food by the stomach. Today, in Chinese medicine and naturopathy, cooked food is regarded as easier to assimilate than raw food. You may have noticed when laughing a jolly belly laugh, that heat is generated in the lower abdomen around the naval area. This is also the flame in the belly, the energy of mirth and merriment, which is healing and restorative in so many ways. In Shiatsu, Japanes finger pressure massage, the hara, the region around the naval, is considered to be the key to healing transformation, and the energy is felt as heat moving in this region. In Tai Chi, and Chi Gung, the life energy is cultivated in the lower abdomen, at a point just below the naval, called the tien ten. In our own Australian English vernacular, people speak of the fire-in-the-belly possessed by certain go-getters who live with energy and passion, and who won’t countenance defeat or set-back. Behind these different expressions is an energetic secret of health and longevity, which I regard as the cultivation of the first of the three flames of Brighid.
This is the place to begin with cultivating the flame, as health and humour are the foundations upon which all else must build.
The flame in the heart is a symbol of western mysticism that goes back many years, perhaps most conspicuous as the symbol of the sacred heart of Jesus in the Catholic religion, which is depicted as a heart merged with a candle flame. While I don’t myself work specifically with the sacred heart of Jesus, as a pagan, the symbol is not out of place as Brighid is regarded in Ireland as the foster mother of Jesus. However the symbol of the flame in the heart transcends the Christian religion. It represents the flame of alchemical transformation. Just as the flame applied to the alchemical vessel results in transformation and change, hopefully in a positive direction towards the philosopher’s stone, so does the application of love to any situation result in positive transformation and change towards enlightenment.
But the flame in the heart is more than just a metaphor. It is an effective transformative symbol, a switch, which can be applied through visualisation, in order to bring love into a situation. The visualisation is the flame burning in the heart. The feeling is the opening of the heart chakra. The effect is the creation of loving energy which emerges into the energy field of the interaction, and which transforms negative energy in that same energy field. The effect is subtle, but powerful. It should be noted that the potential exists to misuse such loving energy in order to manipulate people. Needless to say, operating in this way is unethical, and will sooner or later re-bound upon the practitioner.
The fire in the brow represents the energy of creativity, and direct connection with divine creative energy. It is expressed through extemporisation in music and poetry, in which the greater consciousness has its opportunity to manifest its expression through the poet or musician, artist or writer. It is also associated with seeing through the inner window, or opening of the third eye. A basic technique in Yoga is to visualize a candle flame, while holding the attention lightly on the brow chakra. In druidic lore, the Awen is the stream of divine inspiration which moves the poet.
The three flames of Brighid are both a symbol of the threefold way of wisdom – a healthy body, a healthy heart, and a healthy mind, and an energetic presence that one can work with esoterically. In these days, in which individualism is taken as a matter of course, it is easy to forget that we are part of something greater than ourselves. The flame of Brighid is both a symbolic reminder and an esoteric technique for linking with and experiencing ourselves as part of a greater existence.
All who work with the healing energy of Brighid are linked by the matrix of the Goddess as she transmits and transmutes the healing energy. To meditate upon the flame of the heart is to invite an opening into the oneness of love. To work with the fire of the brow, the flow of the Divine inspiration, is to transmit and mediate the creative conscious expression of the spirit realms. In each case, these practices and experiences transcend the everyday conscious mind, and one becomes a part of something greater and all-embracing.
The up-side of such experiences is plain. These transcendental experiences are generally a peak experience for people, in which feelings of happiness and upliftment replace the habitual modes of being, and in which the usual mind chatter focussed on the efforts of the rational conscious identity to confirm its own existence, is swept aside by an experience of being that is deeper, wider, and more mysterious.
The down-side of these experiences is often over-looked. To taste the nectar of the Gods makes other food taste like cardboard. Things that ordinarily one would enjoy and find satisfying may pale by comparison into empty and hollow experiences. Activities where the individual rational consciousness is running the show seem to be devoid of the luminous depth and intensity of transcendental contact. One pines for these experiences once one has had the taste of them, yet mysteriously, or frustratingly, life seems to require one to put them aside – in order to carry out one’s mundane duties.
Thus commences the dark night of the soul. The knowledge of the darkness of one’s life is manifest, where perhaps it wasn’t before. With an experience of light, comes a knowledge of darkness. Living in this darkness is almost unbearable, when one has yet to find a way to structure one’s life around regular transcendental experience. The problem with our current society, is that there are so few ways in which transcendental experience can be expressed or encouraged on a regular daily basis. When people are working 50 and 60 hours a week, commuting a couple of hours a day, and doing their best to raise a family in the time that’s left, there is precious little time available for the cultivation of the transcendental connection. Yet once tasted, this transcendental contact is a necessity of life.
Perhaps one answer is to find a way to have that transcendental connection within one’s normal activities. This is not easy, but is the way of Zen – chopping wood, carrying water, with mindfulness. The problem for many people is that many of us are having to spend our day concentrating, focussing, thinking, planning, decision-making, and other forms of intellectual and rational activity – activities that require us to be in the seat of rational self-identity. With this necessity, the transcendental experience recedes. But perhaps there is a way to incorporate the transcendental awareness into these kinds of activities. The flame of Brighid need not be extinguished, but may burn steadily throughout each day – it is just a matter of holding an awareness of the flame, lightly in the background. In this way an element of numinous awareness may be present in the most mundane of activities.