(Dis)Empowered by Gemma Burford

“If you’ve lost all your lanterns, you’ll have to become the Sacred Flame; and if you’ve no-one there to care for you, you’ll have to become your own Flame-Keeper.  You can do this, you know you can.  You’re more than strong enough…”

`The Nineteen Songs of Remembering’ – the first book in the Magdalene Fellowship Trilogy, available now in PDF beta version and due to be published in February 2019 – tells the story of Brianna, an orphan raised by nuns at Kildare Abbey in Ireland in the seventh century AD.

It’s a story of courage, transformation, Deep Love, the healing power of song, and the mysteries of the sacred land.

It’s about remembering who you are, and being brave enough to risk everything for an unconventional love.


The night before Brianna’s due to take the veil and become one of the nineteen ‘Keepers of the Flame’, who keep St Brigid’s sacred flame burning, she hears a voice telling her that this is not her path and she has to leave the Abbey immediately.  It’s not long before she falls under the spell of her childhood friend Daman, an ex-missionary turned treasure trader. He persuades her to accompany him on a bold new mission: to carry a lantern lighted from St Brigid’s flame to a convent in Glastonbury, in the hope of earning the patronage of the King of Wessex.

After landing on the Holy Isle of Anglesey, they’re met by Aelfric – an enigmatic guide who leads them on a nineteen-day journey of transformation along the Pilgrims’ Path through Wales, in the footsteps of St Brigid herself.

But when Brianna reaches Glastonbury, one tragedy follows another, and she has to call on all her inner strength to survive. She finds hope and healing in the `Nineteen Songs of Remembering’ taught by the secretive Magdalene Fellowship, denounced by the Church as heretical…but their teachings challenge everything she thought she knew about nature, faith, what it means to be a woman, and who St Brigid really was.

And when she’s reunited with Aelfric two years after the pilgrimage, a startling secret from his past threatens to destroy Brianna’s new-found happiness…

About the Songs

“Learn the Nineteen Songs of Remembering, with your heart as well as your voice, for a year and a day,” Brianna is told by one of the elders of the Fellowship.  But what are the Songs of Remembering, and why do they matter?

Many Indigenous communities have a ‘Wheel of the Year’ or ‘Medicine Wheel’ symbol – representing different elements, directions, colours, and/or animals as points on the rim of a wheel.  The Wheel reminds us of the seasonal cycles of growth, death and rebirth.

In the ancient Brythonic / Celtic spiritual tradition, the Wheel of the Year has eight points.  These are the winter and summer solstices (the shortest day and longest day, respectively); the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the day and night are equal in length; and the four ‘cross-quarter days’ that mark the half-way points between them.

In The Nineteen Songs of Remembering, each of the seasonal festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year cycle is associated with either one, two, or four songs.  They don’t just represent the seasons themselves, but also different ways of being human.  There are three each for the Daughter, the Bride and the Mother; three each for the Son, the Bridegroom and the Father; and one for the Deep Mystery, the Love beyond all names.

When we learn them with the heart as well as the voice, we fall in love with our Selves.  All of them.

All of our nineteen beautiful Selves.

It doesn’t matter whether we identify as male, female, both-at-once or neither; as young, middle-aged or old; as single or married.   We can all be both Son and Daughter, both Bride and Bridegroom, both Father and Mother… we can all be the Sacred Land and the Sacred Sky, and the Love beyond all names.

Wheel of the Year

“The Wheel of the Year”,  © Gemma Burford, 2012 .  This traditional seasonal calendar is made from a log of sweet chestnut wood.  The pointer is approaching the Winter Solstice.


About the Magdalene Fellowship

Did Mary Magdalene and St Brigid really visit Glastonbury, and does the Magdalene Fellowship – or, to give it its full name, `The Avalon Fellowship of the Magdalene and the Nazarene’ – actually exist? 

Historical evidence suggests that there was, indeed, a chapel or oratory dedicated to Mary Magdalene in the place that’s still known as Bride’s Mound, in the Beckery area of Glastonbury, which was visited by St Brigid (Bridget) of Kildare in the fifth century.  The name ‘Beckery’ is widely thought to be derived from Beag Eire or Becc-Eriu, ‘Little Ireland’ in Irish Gaelic, because the area was home to many Irish people. An alternative theory suggests it was derived from the Old English word for ‘island of bee-keepers’.  Archaeological excavations on Bride’s Mound have confirmed the existence of a Saxon chapel dated to around 700 AD, the same time as Glastonbury Abbey was rebuilt and enlarged on the orders of King Ine of Wessex.  A larger Norman stone chapel was built at Beckery in around 1000 AD and extended again in 1290.

Many legends associate Mary Magdalene with Glastonbury, along with Joseph of Arimathea, a rich disciple of Jesus (his uncle, according to some sources) who is alleged to have planted the Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill. The Domesday Book names Glastonbury Abbey as ‘The House of God’ and ‘The Secret of Our Lord’, and records its ownership of ‘twelve hides of land which have never paid tax’.  It has often been suggested that this land was gifted directly to Joseph of Arimathea by the British king Gweirydd, known to the Romans as Arviragus, for the establishment of the first Christian church in Britain – a small circular building of wattle and daub.  This is not, however, believed to be at Beckery, but on the site that later became Glastonbury Abbey.  There is a stone engraved with the names ‘Jesus-Maria’ at the entrance to what was once the Lady Chapel of the Abbey, which has historically been interpreted as Jesus and his mother but is believed by many to refer to his wife, consort and co-equal partner, Mary Magdalene.

Several `channelled’ books suggest that the Magdalene and Yeshua (Jesus’ original Aramaic name, sometimes spelt ‘Jeshua’)  spent time together in Glastonbury before his ministry began, and that their presence there was related to older Druidic spiritual traditions that honoured the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine equally.   These include, but are probably not limited to, Power of the Magdalene by Stuart Wilson and Joanna Prentis; The Secret Teachings of Mary Magdalene by Claire Nahmad and Margaret Bailey; and Anna, The Voice of the Magdalenes by Clare Heartsong.  However, none of these books specifically refer to Beckery, mention the ‘Fellowship’ by name, or offer any details of the type of worship gatherings that might have been conducted there.

These books all agree that the core message of the Magdalene and Yeshua (Jesus’ original Aramaic name, sometimes spelt ‘Jeshua’)  was the message of love, and especially the ‘Sacred Marriage’ between the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine – symbolising the reunion of the spirit and soul.  If this resonates strongly with you, if the words ‘Magdalene Fellowship’ or ‘Apostle of the Magdalene’ sound inexplicably familiar, if you feel a particular connection to Mary Magdalene, or if you’re already working in the service of Magdalene, Gnostic or Essene traditions and would like to learn more about the Avalon Fellowship, please get in touch via my Facebook page.

St Brigid and Beckery

St Brigid’s visit to Beckery was mentioned by William of Malmesbury in about 1129.  The later chronicler John of Glastonbury, writing around 1340, gives some intriguing insights into how her presence there was celebrated for almost a thousand years:

“Saint Bridget flourished at the end of the life of the greater Patrick, with whom we dealt earlier. She survived him, as Gildas writes, by sixty years, and she came to Glastonbury about AD 488…Saint Bridget made a stay of several years on an island near Glastonbury, called Beckery or Little Ireland, where there was an oratory consecrated in honour of Saint Mary Magdalene. She left there certain signs of her presence – her wallet, collar, bell and weaving implements, which are exhibited and honoured there because of her holy memory – and she returned to Ireland, where, not much later, she rested in the Lord and was buried in the city of Down. The chapel on that island [i.e. Beckery] is now dedicated in honour of Saint Bridget; on its side there is an opening through which, according to the belief of the common folk, anyone who passes will receive forgiveness of all his sins.”

Is ‘Nineteen Songs’ fact or fiction?

All I can say is that to me, it feels like historical fact, although most fiction writers would probably say the same thing about their creations…
My experience of writing the first draft (85,000 words in 30 days, from 1-30 April 2017) felt much more like ‘taking dictation’ than any of my previous attempts at novel writing, which had involved meticulous planning of the plots, the characters and their back-stories.  At the start of the process, I only knew the two central characters, Brianna and Aelfric, and a small fragment of their story that had come through to me in a shamanic journeying meditation in the summer of 2015; and I had no idea, at that point, that they might have been historical figures who actually existed.
I later had the insight that Aelfric was one of my past-life incarnations, or as I jokingly put it, Seventh-Century Me.  At the time, I was more or less a ‘traditional’ Christian (albeit with a strong interest in Druidry and the Celtic festivals) and had no particular belief in reincarnation.   The Magdalene connection was as much a surprise to me as it was to any of my beta readers.  I was somewhat shaken when I discovered that several of the Nag Hammadi gospels – which were discovered in a sealed jar unearthed in Egypt in 1945 – confirmed that the earliest Christians believed in reincarnation, as well as hinting at what modern churches would view as highly unorthodox beliefs about gender.  These ideas resonated strongly with my original story-fragment about Aelfric and Brianna!
Of course, none of this proves anything to a cynic, and every reader must choose for themselves whether to take The Nineteen Songs of Remembering as fact, legend, or pure fiction.  But I’ll leave you with one of the messages that came to me at the same time as ‘The Song of the Beloved’, one of the central songs in the story:
Each tiny piece is being fitted lovingly into place, and I am exactly where I should be.  All these things will be a part of the puzzle, but it’s only by writing the story that I’ll see the whole picture, and understand…”