Finding Hope in Brigid the Healer’s way of Self-Compassion

January 26, 2024

Healing is not the same as curing. When we wish, hope or pray for a miracle we are often looking for an instant and complete cure, like the kind found in Bible stories and shared on social media. I do wish for those kinds of miracles. Instead, I have come to recognize the slower, deeper miracles of healing. (1)

Healing and health both derive from a word found in Western European Germanic languages that means to make whole, or having a wholeness. (2) I remember visiting with a friend in her last year of ALS. One day she invited me to come when some of her friends from her Bible study group were also there. As the gathering drew to a close one of the women approached Nancy and said with confidence and conviction, “we are praying for your healing. You are going to be cured from this disease. We believe God will answer this prayer.” Then she turned to me and said, “don’t we?” I stumbled over my answer, “I don’t know.” Nancy interrupted and in her whispered voice said, “I am already whole.”

Philosophies abound on how to attain a cure. Nancy’s friend, like others, say you just need more or the right kind of faith. Others promote health and diet fads: eat these super foods, take these miracle supplements, do this right energy exercise. There is also the “law of attraction” in self-help and new age thinking that says that we invite our illnesses to live with us by our wrong thinking. All of these things at the least give false hope and worse, further oppress and isolate those who are suffering with chronic pain and chronic illness. (1)

Healing is different. It is a life-long process for all of us to become more whole. Healing brings into alignment our body, mind, spirit and relationships. Active pursuit to achieve our goals is the dominant world view in our society. Healing offers the wisdom of opening to allow self-compassion to do its work on us. (1) Offering our wounds compassion creates space for that great healing balm of forgiveness.

Such self-awareness enables us to recognize not just the source of our pains but also those areas of our lives where there is health and joy. We are each complex beings with the capacity to hold suffering and joy simultaneously. Because healing is a life-long journey we do not need to wait until we are cured or well to do things that bring us meaning or joy. (1) We can begin or continue as we are able to do whatever is our own to do in this life. Perhaps we have gifts to help others in their healing journeys. 

In many indigenous traditions January 31 – February 2 is celebrated as the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, an investment in hope that warmer days are coming. I have written previously about how we look for these early signs of Spring in Groundhog Day, Maple Syrup harvesting and in the Jewish arbor day, Tu Bishvat. (3) Celtic Pagans, called this midpoint Imbolc. In the Republic of Ireland February 1 is a national holiday in celebration of Imbolc and St. Brigid.

St. Brigid of Kildare is one of the three patrons of Ireland. She is also a patroness of healing, poetry, learning and other things. To be a patron means that she takes a special interest in these things and she is an intercessor for help.

Brigid is also the name of one of the Celt’s powerful goddesses who was traditionally honoured on February 1. This is no accident. Scratch the surface of many Christian traditions and one finds deep roots in indigenous traditions around the world.

What it means to be human is something that transcends time, culture and religion. Psychologist Karl Jung coined the word archetype to refer to ideal or true human qualities that merge in an image. (4) We recognize these true qualities because they resonate with us at a deep level; we are inspired by them; we desire them and we try to emulate them to grow into our best selves. Brigid, both the saint and the goddess, is an archetypal healer. (1) People are drawn to the stories of Brigid’s compassion for those who are poor and feel powerless.

I intuit that the attraction of Brigid is not that she performed miracles of healing but that she welcomed in outsiders, and we all sometimes feel like outsiders. Brigid the healer resonates with us on our journey to wholeness; we welcome with compassion those “outsider” parts of ourselves that need healing. At a deep level we recognize our own need for healing, and our own often unrealized gifts for healing.

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for Brigid, the archetypal healer – whose story draws our minds and spirits upwards to hope in our healing and wholeness.

  1. I credit Christine Valters- Paintner for introducing me to Brigid as an archetypal healer, as presented in Abbey of the Arts Self-Study retreat: “Visionary, Warrior, Healer, Sage: Archetypes to Navigate an Unravelling World”  This hope-note reflects Christine’s presentation in an understanding of healing as giving space and compassion for our wounds, recognizing that healing is a life-long journey and we don’t have to wait to live out our gifts. Also, Christine touches on unhelpful or oppressive perspectives on healing. https://abbeyofthearts.com/programs/self-study-online/visionary-warrior-healer-sage/
  2. Etymology of the word health:  https://www.etymonline.com/word/health
  3. https://hope-notes.ca/trusting-the-sign-of-the-maple-herald-of-spring/
  4. Archetypes do not always have human forms. For example, in some indigenous traditions animals are archetypes, representing particular characteristics. The coyote, for example represents the archetype of trickster.
  5. Other resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid_of_Kildare https://susannabarlow.com/2021/03/26/understanding-the-healer-archetype/