Postcards from the Pilgrim's Path

Postcards from the Pilgrim's Path

North American Festival of Wales

by Terri Lynn Simpson on 09/07/18

This past weekend I had the privilege to speak on pilgrimage places in Wales at the North American Festival of Wales. Wales has a rich history as a place of pilgrimage, long before the first Christians ever arrived or were formed in the country.Holy wells, lakes, trees, islands, and standing stones were sacred sites visited for prayer and ritual in the Iron Age and likely before.

Some of these sites have been remembered as they were woven into the Christian story, like Virtuous Well aka St. Anne's well near Trellech.  Others were lost to history and rediscovered through chance, such as Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey Island. Most have probably been lost to us for good.

Likewise, there were probably more established pilgrimage routes leading to places such as Bardsey Island and St. David's Cathedral than are remembered.  In 2013, pilgrims from Washington National Cathedral heard about the reclaiming of the North Wales Pilgrim's Way from some of the organizers of that project during the diocese of St. Asaph's "Year of the Pilgrimage" and then went on to visit some of the stops along that route. In my talks on Friday and Saturday, we traced that northern route from Basingerwerk Abbey to Bardsey Island as well as a pilgrimage trail in the south that leads from the Wye Valley along the coast to St. David's Cathedral. Below are a few maps and pictures of some of those sacred sites we virtually visited this weekend. Thank you to all who attended!


North Wales Pilgrim's Way

Basingwerk Abbey

St. Winefride's Well, Holywell


St. Beuno's Church, Clynnog Fawr


South Wales pilgrimage route

Clooties on a hawthorn tree by Virtuous Well


Tintern Abbey
Old Celtic crosses, St. Illtyd's Church




St. David's Cathedral

This Week on the Celtic Calendar - St. Patrick and the Tradition of the Lorica

by Terri Lynn Simpson on 03/17/18


Today is St. Patrick's Day and while some may be celebrating bedecked in shamrocks with a green beer in hand, for me this is the start of the season where I turn to St. Patrick's Lorica as my morning meditation. 

A lorica, from the Latin word for body armor, is a prayer or blessing for protection.  Often said in the morning or before the start of a journey, a lorica wasn’t recited as much to invoke the Spirit, which is always present, rather to remind the one praying of the presence of the Holy that is always with us.  When these types of prayers were said  it was customary for those praying to stand and draw a circle around themselves with their index finger to symbolize the encompassing power of protection they were  invoking.

The hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” is based on an old Irish lorica, and has been translated into these words of song:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else naught to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
Be thou my soul's shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of Heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of Heaven, thou Heaven's bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won!;
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

While some loricae are simple invocations, others, such as the Lorica of St. Fursey and the Breastplate of Laidcenn, go through an inventory of the body, asking for protection from head to toe, inside and out.

The Lorica of St. Fursey
The arms of God be around my shoulders
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbour in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all, my entire being.

The Breastplate of Laidcenn
O God, defend me everywhere
With your impregnable power and protection.
Deliver all my mortal limbs,
Guarding each with your protective shield,
So the foul demons shall not hurl their darts
Into my side, as is their wont.

Deliver my skull, hair-covered head, and eyes,
Mouth, tongue, teeth, and nostrils,
Neck, breast, side, and limbs,
Joints, fat, and two hands.

Be a helmet of safety to my head,
To my crown covered with hair,
To my forehead, eyes, and triform brain,
To snout, lip, face, and temple.

To my chin, beard, eyebrows, ears,
Chaps, cheeks, septum, nostrils,
Pupils, irises, eyelids, and the like,
To gums, breath, jaws, gullet.

Protect my spine and ribs and their joints,
Back, ridge, and sinews with their bones;
Protect my skin and blood with kidneys,
The area of the buttocks, nates with thighs.
Protect my hams, calves, femurs,
Houghs and knees with knee-joints;
Protect my ankles and shins and heels,
Shanks, feet with their soles.

Protect my toes growing together,
With the tips of the toes and twice five nails;
Protect my breast, collarbone and small breast,
Nipples, stomach, and navel.

Protect the whole of me with my five senses,
Together with the ten created orifices,
So that from soles of feet to crown of head
I shall not sicken in any organ inside or out.


The most well-known lorica today is the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, or The Deer’s Cry. While most
likely written by someone other than Patrick (calling on the strength of Heaven as demonstrated in the natural world  probably would have smacked a little too much of the pre-Christian druidic and bardic prayers for Paddy to be comfortable with), it serves as a good compass to point us back to the spiritual legacy of the saint.

THE CRY OF THE DEER  (Fáed Fíada  - St. Patrick)
I arise today through a mighty strength,                              
the invocation of the  Trinity,                                      
through belief in the Threeness,                                
through confession of the Oneness                                           
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim 
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels, 
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward, 
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets, 
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors, 
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men. 

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendor of Fire, 
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind,                            
depth of Sea, stability of Earth,                                  
firmness of Rock. 

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,                                                   
God's wisdom to guide me, 
God's eye to look before me,                                               
God's ear to hear me, 
God's word to speak for me,                                                    
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,                                           
God's shield to protect me, 
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils,                                                             
 against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature,                                                           
against everyone who shall wish me ill,                                                     
afar and anear, alone and in a crowd. 
I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets, 
against black laws of heathenry, 
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul. 

Christ to protect me today 
against poison, against burning, against drowning, 
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,                                     
Christ behind me, Christ in me,                                          
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,                                    
Christ on my right,  Christ on my left,                                  
Christ in breadth, Christ in length,  Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me, 
Christ in every eye that sees me,                                     
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength,                                 
the invocation of the Trinity,                                            
through belief in the Threeness,                                   
through confession of the Oneness                                        
of the Creator of creation. 



To read more about Patrick, in his own words, his Confession can be read here.

Imbolc and the Feast of St. Brigid

by Terri Lynn Simpson on 02/17/16

When I went to bed late Monday night, the half moon shone  dimly on a blanket of snow. I woke up the following morning to the sound of freezing rain bouncing off ice covered trees. By the time I left for the Cathedral, the last traces of snow and ice were melting in the margins of sidewalks and muddy yards, washed by a steady rain. As I parked my car and walked to the building where I had my first meeting, the sun shone warm on my back as robins, cardinals and blue jays congregated in the grass for a late lunch. 

Welcome to Imbolc, the season of change and transformation-- sometimes all in the course of one day.

Since we were still recovering from our first big snow of the year when February 1 rolled around, I've delayed posting about the season until I could see the tiny tell tale signs of early spring emerging from the thawing earth. 

On the Celtic calendar, February 1 is the beginning of the season of Imbolc, early spring, and the celebration of the feast of St. Brigid. The veneration of Brigid is one of those interesting conflagrations in Celtic spirituality, the coming together of a pre-Christian goddess and fifth century saint whose stories have been woven together to create a tapestry of legends that continues to intrigue and inspire. 

Brighid the goddess invented keening after the death of her son and, according to the story, was the first one to whistle in the dark to let others know of her presence. Brigid the saint traveled through time, had a magic cloak, and always seemed to find a miraculous way to provide for the sick and needy who crossed her path.  They were wise women, known for their powers of healing, and both goddess and saint are credited with being keepers of the flame and patrons of poetry.  

Part of following the path of Celtic spirituality in the 21st century is re-imagining the rituals of the past to fit the world of today. Many of the ancient rituals of Imbolc focus on hearth and home, a realm watched over by Brigid. Cleaning out clutter, kindling the hearth, lighting fires, and inviting the holy to cross the threshold are all activities for the first stirrings of spring.  Below are a few rituals, rooted in traditional celebrations of the season. 



RITUALS AND MEDITATIONS TO DO AT HOME

Blessing Home and Hearth
 In some areas of Ireland, the household rites associated with the Feast of St. Brigid began with the head of the family walking around the house three times, to bless the dwelling and those within before Brigid was invited to enter.  As many of us are twenty-first century urban and suburban dwellers, walking around your “house” may necessitate walking around an apartment building, townhouse complex, or even a city block.  As you walk, walk slowly and prayerfully, focusing your intention on bringing protection and well-being to all those within the parameter of your walk.   


Offering Hospitality
Whether she was churning a never ending supply of butter, turning well water into ale, or feeding a stray dog meat from a pot of soup meant for her father’s guest, Brigid was always ready to share food and drink with strangers and friends, animals and humans alike. Often the household rituals on her feast day included some sort of communal or family meal. Extend hospitality by sharing a meal with friends, family or neighbors. Carefully consider what dishes to prepare. As Brigid is the patron saint of cows and dairy farmers, you might want to include cheese, milk or butter as part of your menu. And she also liked beer . . . a lot.

Kindling the Flame
For thousands of years, a sacred fire burned in Kildare—first honoring the goddess Brigid and later kindled and kept by the community who honored Brigid the saint. Light a fire/candle on Imbolc and invite the three fold blessing of the flame for transformation during the coming year.

The Three-Fold Fire of Brigid
Fire in the forge that
shapes and tempers.


Fire of the hearth that
nourishes and heals.


Fire in the head that
incites and inspires.

This Week on the Celtic Calendar: Beltane

by Terri Lynn Simpson on 05/04/15

This year's Beltane fire.
On the Celtic calendar, May 1 is the celebration of Beltane, the first day of summer.  In the pastoral world of the Celtic peoples of long ago, the first day of May (or thereabouts) marked the transition from budding spring to blossoming summer.  The rituals surrounding Beltane--dancing around May poles, courting rituals, honoring the blossoming of flowers and greening of trees-- symbolize the energy of new growth and fertility evident in the natural world during this season.

Beltane is also a time of transition and purification.  Households would douse their individual fires and relight them from a common bonfire, lit on the evening of the celebration.  Livestock were often driven through a path between two bonfires in order to ensure fruitful breeding seasons.   Sometimes oatcakes or bags of flour were shared around the communal fire to ensure a good harvest.  

While most of us no longer dance around be-ribboned poles or sit around bonfires on May 1, Beltane does offer us an opportunity to reflect on where we are in the cycle of life:   new growth, fertility, or transition and purification.  For more suggestions for spiritual practices for the season, click here ..

This week on the Celtic Calendar . . . Samhain

by Terri Lynn Simpson on 10/31/14

From ghoulies and ghosties 
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night, 
Good Lord, deliver us! 
                                       ~Traditional Scottish Prayer

Just as the new day in the Celtic tradition begins with nightfall, so too does the new year begin as darkness closes in around us. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) starts at sun down on October 31 and marks the beginning of the new year on the Celtic calendar. 

Like other threshold times and places, the beginning of Samhain, is a thin time when the veil between heaven and earth, this world and the next, is particularly permeable. It was thought that this liminal time allowed the ghosts of ancestors to come back and visit their former homes, along with more undesirable visitors from the other world who managed to sneak through. 

Many of our Halloween traditions come from this idea of discouraging the not-so-friendly spirits from visiting. Jack-o-lanterns carved from rutabagas or turnips were placed in windows or by doorways to frighten away trickster spirits. In case scare tactics didn't work, treats of food were left as offerings for the ghosties and ghoulies and faerie folk who might be out wandering on Samhain night. Later customs saw people dressing up as these creatures, going from house to house to collect the treats and sometimes playing a trick or two on their neighbors in the process.

Community bonfires are one of the earliest Samhain traditions. Bonfires were lit in the hills or in the center of towns to keep the evil spirits at bay. As people left their homes to participate in revelries with their neighbors they'd extinguish the fire in their hearths. Before returning home, they'd take fire from the communal bonfire in order to light their home fires afresh, often encircling their houses, barns and fields with the new fire as a form of purification and blessing.

In practical terms, Samhain was a time to finish bringing in the last of the harvest, move livestock from their summer pastures to shelter closer to home, and to begin to settle in for the long, dark months of winter where light and resources were scarce. It was a season not only to take stock, but also to plan for the year ahead.

Spiritually, Samhain offers us the opportunity to honor those who have gone before us. Festivals such as Dia de Muertos and All Saints and All Souls day on the Christian calendar invite us to give thanks for the wisdom of our ancestors and the inspiration of the saints who have shaped us. During Samhain as we reflect on those who have passed out of this life, we are also called to take stock and consider the things that may be germinating in the dark, waiting to be born into this world. Samhain is a time to douse the embers of the old fire and kindle new the sparks of new passion and energy in our lives.

Postcards from the Pilgrim's Path is the official blog of Anam Cara Retreats.  Postcards periodically offers insights on Celtic spirituality, glimpses of sacred sites, and reflections on what it means to be a pilgrim in the twenty-first century.  The archives of this blog can be found here.