Saining – The Sop Seile

A silver sixpence – while modern pennies no longer contain silver (much, or any), older ones do and can be used to silver your water to make menstruum

A silver sixpence – while modern pennies no longer contain silver (much, or any), older ones do and can be used to silver your water to make menstruum

There are many different ways to perform a saining – with juniper, as McNeill describes being performed at Hogmanay (although arguably, since this is the only festival juniper is associated with, it would be most appropriate specifically on this date; it should be noted that the use of juniper is not limited to this one and only occasion, however, so wouldn’t necessarily be out of place at other times), with water or urine, or by burning an oatmeal bannock. The cros Bríde may also be used in a saining ritual before it is hung up.

This is a ritual I perform at each Quarter Day and other festivals or important occasions I celebrate, usually after performing the Deiseal; I find it helpful to perform an opening, at the very least, where I light the candle on my shrine and make prayers and offerings to An Trì Naomh for their assistance in what I’m about to do. It feels, to me, a little rude to just launch into something like this.

The intention of this saining is to bless and ward the house and all those in it from harm in the coming season, and follows the basic idea of the sop seile rite, as described by John Gregorson Campbell (see Ronald Black’s The Gaelic Otherworld (2005) for more on this; his discussion of Gregorson Campbell’s comments here are important). I’ve chosen to use water here because it has the major advantage of not needing choking fumes as part of the proceedings, and is more appropriate to my circumstances (kinder on the pets, children, and smoker detectors…). I do sometimes use juniper, which I collect from my garden, but do bear in mind that if you have medical conditions like asthma, using juniper could be problematic for you; since you’re supposed to get a good thick cloud of smoke going, it can be hard on the lungs. If you prefer to use juniper, however, the following outline can be easily adapted.

So water is my usual go-to for saining. I also like the fact that it allows me to incorporate the water I skim at Bealltainn (or at Hogmanay, sometimes), which is supposed to have powerful properties. In recent years I’ve been using water I collected from Brigid’s Well in Kildare, however, which has been very effective. Again, this is a personal preference, rather than something that is attested to in the lore (although I do think it’s in keeping with it), so it’s not an absolute necessity; water taken from the ‘dead and living stream’ as described in the juniper rite would arguably be sticking more to the letter of the lore.

The wording I’ve used in the following ritual is either my own, or adapted from the Carmina Gadelica. I’ve addressed Brigid specifically since I see Her as particularly appropriate to matters of the home and hearth, and She is someone I have a relationship with in my practices anyway; your mileage may vary, of course, and you might prefer to address someone else, or keep things less specific and simply address An Trì Naomh if you’re more comfortable with that.

The instruction to go round in a deiseil manner is based on the fact that it’s considered to be an auspicious direction, and as a general rule of thumb it should be carefully observed in most important actions; it’s something I observe in all of my rites.

Before you start you will need to have everything prepared. You’ll need the water, some silver (or gold, or just spittle, if you like…), a small bundle of straw (if using; you can use three pieces of straw, or multiples of three just to be all symbolic), and something for an offering when you’re finished.

Saining Ritual

Go to the hearth or the designated centre of the house (if you have no hearth, the stove in the kitchen will do, or wherever you keep an altar or shrine if you keep one). Using some of the water skimmed at Bealltainn, or fresh spring water if you don’t have any, put something gold or silver into it with the words:

Toradh, airgead, uisge,
(Produce, silver, water,)1
Blessings of An Trì Naomh on this water.

Dip your fingers (or a small bundle of straw) into the water and sprinkle it liberally over yourself, saying:

Ta mise fo dhìonadh
Na Brìghde gach latha;
Ta mise fo dhìonadh
Na Brìghde gach oidhche.
I am under the shielding
Of Brigid each day;
I am under the shielding
Of Brigid each night.2

If you are in a group, repeat for everyone present. Now go deiseil (sunwise) around the house, sprinkling the water around. Concentrate on the thresholds and windows especially, and as you do so repeat:

Dìon Brìghde air gach uinneig,

Dìon Brìghde air gach doras,
Dìon Brìghde gach toll a leigeas solas,
Air ceithir oiseannan mo thaighe,
Air ceithir oiseannan mo leaba,
Air ceithir oiseannan mo thaighe,
Air ceithir oiseannan mo leaba.
The protection of Brigid upon each window,
The protection of Brigid on each door,
The protection of Brigid on each hole that lets light in,
Upon the four corners of my house,
Upon the four corners of my bed,
Upon the four corners of my house,
Upon the four corners of my bed.3

You can keep reciting this as you go around your home sprinkling the water. You should ideally finish where you started, making a complete circuit of the house.

Once you are back at the hearth (or wherever you started), sprinkle some water over it (or process round the outside of the house, if you can, but either way sprinkle deiseil), saying:

A Bhrìghde, beannaich an taigh,

Bho steidh gu staidh,
Bho chrann gu fraigh,
Bho cheann gu saidh,
Bho dhronn gu traigh,

Bho sgonn gu sgaith,
Eadar bhonn agus bhraighe,
Bhonn agus bhraighe.
Brigid, bless the house,
From site to stay,
From beam to wall,
From end to end,
From ridge to basement,
From balk to roof-tree,
From found to summit,
Found and summit.4

When you have finished, return to your hearth or shrine and give prayers of heartfelt thanks and offerings to Brigid for her assistance. Take some time to contemplate and decompress so you come back to yourself properly.


References

1 Approximate pronunciation: Tor-ug, air-eh-ket, ush-keh 
Or: “Produce, silver, water.”

2 Adapted from Song 264, Carmina Gadelica Vol III, 1941, pp162-163. This is just one verse of a much longer prayer. The whole prayer, in its entirety, would be appropriate to if you prefer something a bit longer.

3 Adapted from Song 298, Carmina Gadelica Vol III, 1941, p264-265.

4 Song 45, Carmina Gadelica Vol I, 1900, p104-105. As Carmichael aside from the first line being changed to address Brigid instead of God.