This past Wednesday I saw my doctor for my annual physical. Last year at this time my blood pressure was 80/60. I had been feeling the fatigue for months and would for many more. This January my blood pressure was back to 104/72, normal for me. I had always had low blood pressure, but never so low. Was it the long hours involved in publishing my second book? Was it stress at work? Was it diet?
I tried salt. I limited my intake of carbohydrates. I initiated a 360-degree feedback process for self-awareness. A few months ago my energy started to shift; this past week I was even up early some mornings at my desk writing again. Friday I walked to work with the light beginning to break on the horizon. The first time in months. And I remembered that we are at the Celtic spring, the feast of Imbolc and the return of the light.
I am put in mind of the perpetual fire at Kildare, Church of the Oak, a sanctuary pre-Christian in its origins, tended by a group of nineteen holy women, each taking a turn holding vigil over the fire for one day, then on the twentieth day leaving it for Brighid to tend herself. Though the fire consumed fuel, it was said to leave no ash.
There were vestal virgins in Greek and Roman times as well. But historic chroniclers tells us that the fire at Kildare was still burning in the twelfth century and probably not extinguished completely until the British suppression of the monasteries in Ireland, during the sixteenth century. The fire was re-lit in Kildare in 1993, where it is tended once again by a group of women dedicated to Brighid.
The number nineteen is significant astronomically. Babylonian, Hebrew and ancient Chinese calendars were based on a nineteen-year cycle worked out by astronomers to synchronize the number of times the moon orbits around the earth and the earth around the sun. Nineteen is also a common eclipse cycle for the sun and moon. Some standing stone circles in the Western Isles of Scotland were built with a nineteen-year cycle in mind; at Torhouse the circle is comprised of nineteen standing stones.
Brighid’s wheel is a sun symbol and Brighid herself was a sun Goddess before she became a Christian saint. The women at Kildare were feeding the fire but more than the sun’s fire, they were feeding their souls, keeping vigil over the light within. The perpetual fire is the human spirit, the light that is never extinguished, even though we may see no evidence for its existence for long stretches, only ruins where it once shone. Sometimes it moulders unseen in our hearts, sometimes there are only coals, sometimes only memories.
William Blake wrote:
The Human Dress, is forged Iron
The Human Form, a fiery Forge.
The Human Face, a Furnace seal’d
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.
And sometimes others tend the fire for us.