“I am older than Brighid of the Mantle…
“I put songs and music on the wind before ever the bells of the chapel
were rung in the West or heard in the East. …
“And I have been a breath in your heart.
“And the day has its feet to it that will see me coming
into the hearts of men and women like a flame upon dry grass,
like a flame of wind in a great wood…” Winged Destiny by Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp: 1855 –1905)
“Brigid was considered one of the most powerful Celtic gods, the daughter of the Dagda, the oldest god in the Celtic pantheon Tuatha du Danann. She had two sisters also named Brigid (though it’s speculated that these sisters are meant to symbolize different aspects of the same goddess.)
“Brigid appears in the saga Cath Maige Tuired and the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a purported history of Ireland collected from various poems and texts in the 10th century.
“Myths about Brigid’s birth say she was born with a flame in her head and drank the milk of a mystical cow from the spirit world. Brigid is credited with the very first keening, a traditional wailing for the dead practiced at funerals by Irish and Scottish women.
“In the middle ages, Brigid is in many stories. In one she is the wife of Bres, the half-Fomorian ruler of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Their son, Ruadan, wounded the smith god Giobhniu at the second battle of Magh Tuireadh but he himself was slain in the combat. Brigid then went to the battlefield to mourn her son. This was said to be the first caoine (keening), or lament, heard in Ireland. Until recent time, it was a tradition to hire women to caoine at every graveside. In another story, Brighid was the wife of Tuireann and had three sons: Brian, Iuchar and Ircharba. In the tale, The Sons of Tuirean, these three killed the god Cian, father of Lugh Lámhfhada when he was in the form of a pig.
“Fun fact: She is associated with many things, most significantly poetry and fertility, but such activities as healing, smithing, arts, and crafts, tending to livestock and serpents also make the cut. She is credited with creating a whistle for people to call to one another through the night.
“Some legends claim that while one half of her face was beautiful, the other was horribly ugly. She is thought by many to be the Celtic equivalent of the Roman goddess Minerva and the Greek goddess Athena.
“It is said that by repeating the genealogy of Brigid, you will always be protected.
“This is the geneology of the holy maiden Bride,
Radiant flame of gold, noble foster mother of Christ,
Bride, daughter of Dugall the Brown*,
Son of Aodh, son of Art, son of Conn,
Son of Crearer, Son of Cis, son of Carmac, son of Carruin,
Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Bride,
I shall not be killed, I shall not be harried,
I shall not be put in a cell, I shall not be wounded,
Neither shall Christ leave me in forgetfulness.
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
No lake, no water, nor sea shall drown me,
No arrow of fairy nor dart of fay shall wound me
And I under the protection of my Holy Mary
And my gentle foster-mother is my beloved Bride.”
“One of the most ancient rituals known is reflected in this piece. It is known as the Three-fold Death by burning, drowning and stabbing. This was usually the form of death of the Sacred King, after which time, he became one with his Land.
Brigid Becomes St. Brigid
“Bridgid meaning ‘exalted one’ from Old Irish (wiki pedia)
“Over the centuries, Brigid was adopted into Christianity as St. Brigid.
“One of Ireland’s three patron saints, the Catholic Church claims St. Brigid was a historical person, with accounts of her life written by monks dating back to the 8th century. Brigid (or Bridget) is the patron saint of Irish nuns, newborns, midwives, dairy maids and cattle.
“Whether or not she existed, these stories contain aspects in common with the details of the pagan goddess and illustrate the transition from pagan to Christian worship.
“Like the goddess Brigid, St. Brigid is associated with milk and fire. Born in Ireland around 453 A.D., St. Brigid was the daughter of a slave and a chieftain who was celebrated at an early age for her agricultural knowledge.
“With no interest in marrying, Brigid’s goal was to create a monastery in Kildare, supposedly the former site of a shrine to the Celtic goddess of the same name. Brigid lived her entire life there.
“She was renowned for her charity to the poor and stories abound about her healing powers. St. Brigid was a friend of St. Patrick, whose preaching set her on a course at an early age, and she became Ireland’s first nun.
“St. Brigid is said to have died in 524 A.D. The remains of her skull and hand are claimed to be in the possession of churches in Portugal.
“In the 12th century, legend holds that the nuns in Kildare attended to a fire built in St. Brigid’s honor. The fire had burned for 500 years and produced no ash, and only women were allowed in proximity of the fire.
“The celebration of St. Brigid’s Day on February 1 was put in place by the church to replace Imbolc. On her feast day, an effigy of St. Brigid of Kildare is traditionally washed in the ocean and surrounded by candles to dry, and stalks of wheat are transformed into cross talismans known as Brigid crosses.
“St. Brigid (in Gaelic pronounced sometimes Bride, sometimes Breed), St. Bride of the Isles as she is lovingly called in the Hebrides, has no name so dear to the Gael as “Muime-Chriosd”, Christ’s Foster-Mother, a name bestowed on her by one of the most beautiful of Celtic legends. In the isles of Gaelic Scotland, her most familiar name is Brighid nam Bhatta, St Briget or St. Bride of the Mantle – from her having wrapt the new-born Babe in her Mantle in Mary’s hour of weakness. She did not come into the Gaelic heart with the Cross and Mary, but was there long before as Bride, Brighid or Brighid of the Dedannans, those not immortal but for long ages deathless folk who to the Gael were as the Olympians to the Greeks. That earlier Brighid was goddess of poetry and music, one of the three great divinities of love, goddess of women, the keeper of prophecies and dreams, the watcher of the greater destinies, the guardian of the future. I think she was no other than the Celtic Demeter – that Demeter- Desphoena born of the embrace of Poseidon, who in turn is no other than Lir, the Oceanus of the Gael, and instead of Demeter seeking and lamenting Persephone in the underworld, it is Demeter- Brighid seeking her brother (or, it may be, her son) Manan (Manannan), God of the Sea, son of Oceanus, Lir…Persephone and Manan are symbols of the same Return to Life.”
“For the Celts, Bhrigid represented the all-important light half of the year, so her presence was much revered during the festival.
“On Imbolc Eve, it was claimed that she would visit the most virtuous homes and bless everyone who slept in them, so people would leave pieces of clothing, food, or other tokens outside the entrance for her to bless, or to entice her into the home, It was Bhrigid’s role as a fertility goddess that was most important here, but for the medieval people of Ireland, her healing powers and general protective sense were as important as well as her fertility.
“The majority of Imbolc traditions regarding Bhrigid or Bridget come from this time. While the tradition of leaving small tributes to Bridget on the doorstep continued for several centuries, several others sprang up too.
“Ashes from the fire that was left to burn all night long would be smoothed out and left to see if a mark from Bridget appeared, to confirm that she had visited the house. Sometimes a makeshift bed would even be made up next to the fire, in case the saint wanted to rest a while.
“This tradition was particularly popular in the Isle of Man and Scotland, where there were several short rhymes to go along with the tradition, acting as a call to the Saint to come and visit – generally, they were some variation on the phrase ‘Bridget, come in to our home, your bed is ready’. In some areas across Ireland and Scotland, women played a very important part in the festivities. They would make a doll figure from rushes known as a ‘Brideog’, dress it in white and with flowers, and carry it in a procession while singing hymns and poems in honour of Bridget.
“At every home they passed, they would receive more pieces of cloth or small bits of food for the Brideog. Once the procession was finished, they would place the Brideog in a seat of honour and have a feast with all of the food, before placing it in a bed for the night while they began celebrations.
Origin of Bridget’s Cross – Lore
“The most well-known tradition, however, and one that is still practiced today, is making a Saint Bridget’s cross and hanging it in the home. These crosses were a unique symbol of the transition from Paganism to Christianity. Before, bunches of rushes were tied together and hung at the entrance to homes to welcome Bhrigid. One of the stories of Bridget’s lifetime, however, recounts how she wove a cross from rushes and placed it above a dying man’s bed.
“He roused from his delirium to ask what she was doing, and on hearing what it meant, he asked to be baptised before his death.
“Since then, the cross has been a symbol for Bridget, and was also a familiar symbol for the Celts, making it the perfect transition symbol for Imbolc. The cross is distinctive, with a square in the middle and each point of the cross placed at a corner of the square. Somewhere between then and now, placing a cross in your kitchen came to mean that your house would be protected from fire.
“The epithet búadach, ‘victorious’…is one commonly applied to Brigit…A national saint in her own right, Brigit has been somewhat overshadowed by Patrick, but the variants of her name current for Irish girls are in themselves evidence of her enduring importance: compare the forms Brigid, Breege, Breda, Breed, Bride, Bridie, beside the diminutive in -een. Behind the Christian saint of the hagiographers and the accounts of wonders ucriously performed, and behind the oral and literary traditions, one can spy the figure of a pre-Christian goddess. Brigit is represented in the early poetry as Mother of Christ and equal in rank to Mary, and as ‘The Mary of the Gael”.
Brigid and the Sacred Flame
“In her earliest incarnation, as Breo-Saighit, she was called the Flame of Ireland, Fiery Arrow. She was a Goddess of the forge as well, reflecting on her fire aspect. Legend says that when She was born, a tower of flame reaching from the top of her head to the heavens. Her birth, which took place at sunrise, is rumored to have given the family house the appearance of being on fire.
“For many centuries, there were 19 virgins (originally priestesses and later nuns) who tended Her eternal flame at Kildare. There they are said to have sung this song (until the 18th century):
“Bride, excellent woman,
may the fiery, bright sun
take us to the lasting kingdom.”
“These women were the virgin daughters of the Fire and were called Inghean au dagha; but, as fire-keepers, were Breochwidh. The Brudins, a place of magical cauldron and perpetual fires, disappeared when Christianity took hold. “Being in the Brudins” now means in the fairies. Brigid’s shrine at Kildare was active into the 18th century. It was closed down by the monarchy. Originally cared for by nineteen virgins, when the Pagan Brigid was Sainted, the care of her shrine fell to Catholic nuns. The fire was extinguished once in the thirteenth century and was relit until Henry VIII of England set about supressing the monastaries. (8) Sister Mary Minchin, a Brigedian nun at Kildaire relit the flame on Febuary 2, 1996 and the intention is to keep it burning perpetually once again.
“In an ancient Irish text Giraldus Cambrensis, she and nineteen of her nuns took turns in guarding a sacred fire which burned perpetually and was surrounded by a hedge within which no male might enter. In this, Brigid is like the Gaulish ‘Minerva’.” In Minerva’s sanctuary in Britain there was also a perpetual flame. According to the Irish Text “The Book of Dunn Cow,” Brigid’s sacred number was nineteen, representing the nineteen-year cycle of the Celtic Great Year, the time it took from one new moon to the next to coincide with the Winter Solstice. It was believed though, that on the twentieth day of each cycle Brigid herself would tend the flame.
“Of this fire, it was said, during the time of the Norman conquest, that although it was fed the sacred wood of the hawthorn over a long period of time, “yet the ashes have never increased.” The area was said to be twenty feet square with a roof. The sacred fire was sometimes called a “need-fire.” Alexander Carmichael, the author of Carmina Gadelica, states that “teine éiginn was last made in Uist about 1829, in Arran about 1820, in Helmsdale about 1818, and in Reay about 1830.”
Patroness of the hearth
“The household fire is sacred to Brigid. The fire should be kept going, and each evening the woman of the household would smoor the fire, (cover it over to keep the fire overnight), asking for the protection of Brigid on all its occupants. The following is from volume 3 of the Carmina Gadelica:
Smúraidh mi an tula
Mar a smúradh Brighde Muime.
Ainm naomh na Muime
Bhith mu’n tula, bhith mu’n tán,
Bhith mu’n ardraich uile.
I will smoor the hearth
As Brighid the Fostermother would smoor
The Fostermother’s holy name
Be on the hearth, be on the herd
Be on the household all.
Patroness of the smiths
“As patroness of Smiths, there is the mention of a forge in a Old Irish poem in praise of Brigid. The poem contrasts Brigid’s lasting strength to the passing glory of the Fortress of Alenn, where once were witnessed:
Glés a hindeón cotad cúar,
clúas a dúan do thengthaib bard,
bruth a fer fri comlann nglan,
cruth a ban fri oenach n-ard.
The ringing of its busy bent anvils,
the sound of songs from poets’ tongues
the heat of its men at clean contest,
the beauty of its women at high assembly.
Beannachtaí ar an gCeárta — Blessings on the Forge!
Brigid and the sacred wells
“In a Druidic ritual, Brigid is honored with a central well containing candles. It was common in olden times to dress the well with flowers and greenery. Often coins and other silver objects were offered to the well. Many of Brigid’s Holy Wells still exist, some sacred to Her for thousands of years. Her waters were said to heal all manner of disease.
“I live in the Hebrides, in one of the many parishes of Kilbride that you find all over the islands. I’ve also visited several of her sacred wells in Ireland, where you find all sorts of votive offerings laid out (and no-one ever touches them). The best site was a kind of grotto, at Kilfenora in Co. Clare – it’s a very important shrine to Saint Bride, and it is looked after by nuns. The feeling there was wonderful.” Lorraine Macdonald.
Brigid and the sacred earth
“On Imbolc, in Ireland, they make Bride’s Cross. Brigit’s cross is usually three-legged; in other words, a triskele, which has been identified as an ancient solar symbol. It is sometimes also made as an even-armed cross woven of reeds. Rites for Bride have been preserved to this day by the women of the Outer Hebrides. At La Fheill Brighid, the women gather and make an image of the Goddess as Maiden. They dress her in white and place a crystal over her heart and place her in a cradle-like basket. Bride is then invited into the house by the female head of the household with sacred song and with chanting.
“There is also the tradition of leaving a loaf of bread, pitcher of milk and a candle out for Brigid. the villagers of Avebury in Wiltshire climb the earthen mound called Silbury Hill to eat fig cakes and sugar and water. They also climb Cley Hill to play a game within the earthwork at the summit.
“The references in the Carmina Gadelica to the serpent coming out of the mound on Latha Fheill Bride from these older associations; that she may be a Fomorian Earth goddess.
“In support of this, there is an ancient rhyme which is still said in the Western Highlands:
“Early on Bride’s morn
The serpent shall come from the hole.
I will not molest the serpent
Nor will the serpent molest me.“