Saint/Goddess Brigid

Why I’m Keen on Keening

I wrote this blog prior to my African trip inspired by realizing that I’d return home in the wee hours on February 2nd. 

February 1st and 2nd are known as Imbolc, Candlemas, or Groundhogs Day here in the USA. It’s halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. 

It’s also a day in honor of the Celtic goddess and Matron Saint of Ireland, Brigid.

Arriving back on this day seems like divine timing—to return after my deep dive into the heart of Africa on the day when spring is beginning to stir. 

Seed tendrils are starting their journey of growth, but before they reach upwards towards the light, their tiny roots first reach further down in the dark.

The dark supports growth. This is important to remember when we’re stuck in the darkness of grief…




In my rabbit hole of research I learned that Groundhogs Day was inspired by Brigid. The ancient ones did weather divination; they would listen for birdsong and if they heard it they knew spring was returning. If not, it meant more winter. 

In my experience, grief feels like a state of perpetual winter, regardless of any birdsong. 

It’s like Bill Murray’s movie, Groundhog’s Day, where he repeats the same day over and over again. Just like grief, yes? Every day the same heavy griefyness. 

In grief, there’s a longing for the ice to thaw and for spring to finally come. It may take years for our grief to melt and have more moments of light and joy. Eventually it comes. And for me that also meant crying tears of joy when spring finally arrived.


One of the ways to be with the perpetual winter of grief is to tend to the body. And it seems that Brigid knows all about that.

Brigid is known as the goddess of fertility; she tends to the hearth, childbirth, poetry, smithing, crafting and cares for domesticated animals. She is the goddess of life and death; and is said to watch over cemeteries.

The Celts believed she brought civilization to Ireland. I also learned that Brigid brought the practice of keening to them as well. She witnessed the death of her own son and cried out in raw anguish.

In my opinion that makes sense; to keen is to be civilized, really, because what else can you do but cry and wail when you lose that which is most precious to you?

When they wheeled my partner Michael away on the gurney to his first neck surgery, I sat on my friend Annie in the ER and made sounds I’ve never made since. Those were the sounds of grief. I wailed or keened in my shock and disbelief. I allowed that painful sound to make its way up and out as if to announce to the wider world, “Help! I’m being eviscerated by grief.”

Grief needs to move through the body and keening is just one of the ways to support this. 

Keening is “a vocal ritual artform, performed at the wake or graveside in mourning of the dead. Keens are said to have contained raw unearthly emotion, spontaneous word, repeated motifs, crying and elements of song.” 

“Keening is a shamanic (pagan) ritual for both the deceased and the griever of the deceased, who move on parallel tracks, each of whom can get caught between the world that once was (and who they once were) and the world in which they must now live (and who they must be).” Jane Burns ~ https://shamanicpractice.org/article/our-unspent-grief-the-lost-art-of-keening/

Burns explains that keening was mainly done by women, they ushered the dead into the spirit world while metabolizing the grief of those left behind with their wailing songs of sorrow.

She also says, keening came from the otherworld and the lament provided an energetic pathway for the deceased to follow the portal into the spirit world.

The laments were written like eulogies. Stories of the deceased were sung and at some point in the keening process it became a cacophony of painful grief sounds—guttural, wild and feral. 

Jane says, “But, not all of keening was melodic lament. Some of it was a cacophonous wailing or toning, shouting, crying and sobbing, often accompanied by the ban chaointe wrestling with the Death itself: beating her fists, tearing her garments, or throwing herself onto the earth or into the grave… The keening often protested the inability of the loved ones to join the deceased and was intended to extract the turbulent emotions of all those present. Tears of the mourners would often fall unbidden and sometimes without them even realizing it.”

To me this sounds very similar to a Dagara Grief ritual. In my first grief ritual I did with Sobonfu, I was like a race horse busting out of its gate; I ran to the grief altar to grieve. It was the only civilized and sane thing for me to do.

According to the Dagara, our grief is food for the ancestors. Our grief supports our loved ones. 

Like Burns explains so well, the family and ancestors who had gone before are called on to “provide a spirit ladder for the departing soul to climb back home.”

I will end by saying that keening is not unique to the Celtic Isles. Its origin goes back to Egypt as it appears in the Pyramid Texts of 2600 B.C. Isis was the first keener. After the death of Osiris, she transformed into a falcon, flew over his dead body and let out a long painful cry that had never been heard before.

So my dears, let’s come together and keen like those falcons for the sake of our bodies, our grief and our ancestors. 

I’ll speak more in my next blog about keening and the Dagara grief ritual. 

Until then, grieve well, be well.

Another keening resource: https://www.pathoftheancestralmothers.com/an-introduction-to-keening