A Meditation on the Shamrock By Barbara Ardinger
With the eyes of your imagination, see our bright goddess standing tall and fine at her anvil. Her holy and wholly unquenchable fire is burning in the forge. See her holding her hammer and tongs. Perhaps she’s beating a sword, for we sometimes need to defend ourselves, or perhaps she’s beating a sword into a plowshare, for we also need to feed the hungry.
February 2 is the pagan sabbat, or holy day, devoted to the great Celtic triple goddess Brigid (pronounced “Breed”). Brigid is the goddess of poetry, fire, and smithcraft. We’re told that she was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick and later canonized. Her temple was located at Cill Dara (better known as Kildare), where a holy fire was maintained for a thousand years. It was put out during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII when that British king left the Roman church. The fire was relit, but extinguished again in the 18th or 19th century. Today there is an order of Irish nuns that keeps Brigid and her fire alive. As you read the following meditation, imagine that you’re hearing the voice of an elderly priestess.
Come closer, my children. Come and look at this shamrock. Do you see its three green leaves, its delicate, white, bell-like flowers? It’s just a common plant, you know. And it’s also as modest and holy as any plant upon the earth. Did you know that it folds its hands, that is, its leaves, at night, as if it’s praying? The shamrock—
An interruption. “The pagan shamrock, in spite of itself, figures our Holy Trinity. It announces the Father, the Son, and the Holy Gho—”
Ah, my dears, pay no attention to that old man preaching over there. He and his kind conquered us many years ago. They established their narrow church in our holy precincts. Then came the warriors, and then the landlords, and they mowed us down. Did you know that the shamrock was forbidden for a time? They mowed it down, too.
Yes, we and our goddess were all mowed down. They told us she was a demon and the shamrock is only a common weed. Mere clover. A useless thing, fit perhaps for animals to eat. The learned horticultural books assign our little clover to three families. Sometimes they call it Medicago lupulina (“hop clover”). Sometimes it’s Oxalis acetocella (“wood sorrel”). Sometimes, Trifolium repens (“white clover”). Well, yes, they do recognize its Irish name, too. Seamróg. The learned horticultural books give our shamrock only a brief, dismissive paragraph. They call it a weed.
A weed. An orphan. Something growing where something else, something grander and more respectable, is preferred. But like our goddess, our weed is strong. Consider its rhizome. It looks like an ugly, knobbly nut. It lies underground, sleeps in the darkness. But it’s not dead! See? New roots. A new stem. Soon, new leaves. Then new flowers. I emptied a pot of shamrocks into my sack of potting soil one day and just left it alone in the shed. And when I opened the sack again, what did I see? Tiny roots. Tiny stems trying to grow toward a light they could only imagine.
We went underground, too, you remember, and we hid in the darkness when our lights were put out. And now, my daughters and sons, and now—new roots and stems, new green leaves and flowers. New lights.
But let’s do take a page from that old man and consider the symbolism of the three-leaved shamrock. No, not his invasive, all-masculine trinity, not that one at all. Our Brigid is a trinity unto herself, perhaps three sisters, more likely three aspects of our one great goddess. Leaf 1: smithcraft. Leaf 2: poetry and inspiration. Leaf 3: healing and medicine.
With the eyes of your imagination, see our bright goddess standing tall and fine at her anvil. Her holy and wholly unquenchable fire is burning in the forge. See her holding her hammer and tongs. Perhaps she’s beating a sword, for we sometimes need to defend ourselves, or perhaps she’s beating a sword into a plowshare, for we also need to feed the hungry. She works purposefully, and her blows are straight and true, but her work is not always large. Sometimes our holy craftswoman uses finer tools and creates the jewelry we wear to remind ourselves who she is. Smithcraft is of course a form of magic, the creation of something fine and useful from a dull lump of metal. It’s the alchemy of earth. Each one of us who believes in her has perhaps been crafted in her forge. We are part of her magic on the earth. We share her strength and intention. Look at the shamrock’s three leaves again. One stands for smithcraft, for work and strength and intention.
Again with the eyes of your imagination, now see her standing in a circle, standing before a crowd of people or at the altar. See her speak or write. Is it a sermon, and is it clearer and more filled with loving-kindness than the old men’s words? Is it a poem she writes, and does it touch the heart of us who hear and read it? When we are inspired, what is the source of our inspiration? We can find our source in the blessings that flare off our goddess, in the echoes that flow from her. Consider the books and magazines you read, the scenes you see on the screens of your electronics—consider what you look at and what might have inspired its writer or artist or director. Now turn back to the shamrock and consider the second leaf. Visualize the green of that leaf flowing in creative spirals into words and images that drive away anything that does not honor us. In our world today, the inspiration we cry out to receive is the inspiration freely given by our goddess. The second leaf stands for poetry and inspiration.
And what else do we need? With the eyes of your imagination again, see her standing beside a sickbed and laying her warm hands on a wound either physical or spiritual. See her listening to a troubled voice. See her preparing medicines. She is the nurse, the doctor, the psychologist, the healer. Her medicines have only beneficial side effects. Dear ones, let her touch you and heal you. Whenever you gaze upon a lowly shamrock, let its three leaves touch you and heal what ails you.
Gardeners and other wise people know that an orphan in the garden sometimes only looks like a weed. That orphan can be a refreshing and nourishing plant. Like the so-called weeds, we, too, have been mown down, but now we’re finding our roots and growing new stems and leaves and flowers. We’ve been hiding in the dark places, our lights have been put out, but now we’re emerging into new light and bringing the wisdom of our shadows with us. We’ve heard the preaching of the old men, but we don’t need to listen to them anymore. Now we’re listening to the words of women inspired by our triple goddess.
Stand tall, my children. Stand in the name of our goddess and learn her earthy magic. In her name, be inspired. In her name, spread healing into the world.
And so shall it be.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.