Brighid, Bright Goddess of the Gael
by Branfionn NicGrioghair
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is the Daughter of the Dagda, one of the more universal deities
of the pagan Gaelic world. She is known as the Goddess of Healers,
Poets, Smiths, Childbirth and Inspiration; Goddess of Fire and
Hearth and a patron of warfare or Briga. Her soldiers were called
Brigands. Her name means "Exalted One." She is also
known as Brigantia, Brid, Bride, Briginda, Brigdu, and Brigit.
She is said to lean over every cradle. The lore and customs
have continued to this day regarding Brighid, more vividly than
all the other Gaelic deities combined.
the middle ages, Brighid is in many stories. In one she is the
wife of Bres, the half-Fomorian ruler of the Children of Danu.
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
was transformed by the Church of St. Brigid into St. Brigid about
453 C.E. Saint Brighid
is known as the patroness of farm work and cattle, and protector
of the household from fire and calamity. To this day, one of her
most common names in Gaelic is Muime Chriosd, "Foster-Mother
of Christ." St. Brighid was said to be the daughter of Dubthach,
a Druid who brought her from Ireland to be raised on the Isle
of Iona, sometimes called "The Druid's Isle."
fascinating link to the traditions of the saint
Brigid is the fact that a woman called Darlughdacha appears
in St. Brigid's community in Kildare as her close companion, sharing
Brigid's bed. Darlughdacha, who became abbess of Kildare on Brigid's
death, means 'daughter of Lugh' and the 'saints' lists' also give
her feastday as 1st February...Mary Condren thinks that Darlughdacha
might even be the original name for the goddess Brighid, presumably
as Brigid (Exalted One) is a title rather than a name." (2)
is said that by repeating the genealogy of Brighid, you will
always be protected.
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." (1)
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.
is known in the Hebrides as the foster mother of Christ, and
this clearly shows the mixing of Christian and pagan influence
that is so common here. As foster mother she is of course exceptionally
honoured, since in Celtic society the foster parents had special
place, they ranked higher than the natural parents, the relationship
being considered extremely sacred." (3)
Brighid (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." (9)
makes connections between the saint, the goddess, the sun, poetry,
cows, Vedic tradition and the Goddess Boann (eponym of the River
Boyne), who may have been the mother of Brigit, and whose name
seems to come from bo/-fhionn (white cow, she of white cattle,)
cognate with Sanskrit Govinda." (5)
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". Hence the tradition
of Brigit goes deeper as well as further back than that of the
Briton, Patrick." (4) And from the same book on page 50,
Búaid na fine,
Siur Ríg nime,
Nár in duine,
Riar na n-oíged,
Glory of kindred,
She has reached holy Heaven,
Support of strangers,
Spark of wisdom,
Daughter of Dubthach,
The living one of life.
(*dangerous to swear - for perjurers.)" (4)
this day there is the unusual blending of Brighid the ancient
Goddess with the Saint and how typically Gaelic this is; this
mixture of Christian and Old Celtic and pagan lore, exemplified
in poetry like this:
tu gleus na Mnatha Sithe,
Is tu beus na Bride bithe,
Is tu creud na Moire mine,
Is tu gniomh na mnatha Greuig,
Is tu sgeimh na h'Eimir aluinn,
Is tu mein na Dearshul agha,
Is tu meann na Meabha laidir,
Is tu taladh Binne-bheul.
is the skill of the Fairy Woman,
And the virtue of St. Brigit,
And the faith of Mary the Mild,
And the gracious ways of the Greek woman,
And the beauty of lovely Emir,
And the tenderness of heartsweet Deirdre,
And the courage of Maev the great Queen*,
And the charm of Mouth O' Music**."
*Literally, "the strong"
I was putting another word to it, for her, fair Foster-Mother
of Christ, when she looked at me and said, "I am older
than Brighid of the Mantle...I put songs and music on the wind
before ever the bells of the chapels were rung in the West or
heard in the East. I am Brighid-nam-Bratta, but I am also Brighid-Muirghin-na-tuinne,
and Brighid-sluagh, Brighid-nan-sitheachseang, Brighid-Binne-Bheule-lhuchd
-nan-trusganan-uaine, and I am older than Aone and am as old
as Luan. And in Tir-na-h'oige my name is Suibhal-bheann; in
Tir-fo-thuinn it is Cú-gorm; and in Tir-na-h'oise it
is Sireadh-thall. 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..."
other names are old Gaelic names: Brighid-Muirghin-na-tuinne,
Brighid Conception of the Waves; Brighid-Sluagh (or Sloigh),
Brighid of the Immortal host; Brighid-nan-sitheachseang, Brighid
of the Slim Fairy Folk; Brighid-Binne-Bheule-lhuchd-nan-trusganan-uaine,
Song-sweet (literally: melodious mouth'd) Brighid of the Tribe
of the Green Mantles. She is also called Brighid of the Harp,
Brighid of the Sorrowful, Brighid of Prophecy, Brighid of Pure
Love, St. Bride of the Isles, Bride of Joy and other names.
Aona is an occasional and ancient form of Di-Aoin, Friday and
Luan of Diluain, Monday."
(commonly anglicised as Tirnanogue) in the Land of (Eternal)
Youth; Tir-fo-thuinn is the Country of the Waves and Tir-na-h'oise
is the Country of Ancient Years. The fairy names Suibhal-bheann,
Cú-gorm; and Sireadh-thall respectively mean Mountain-traveller,
Grey Hound and Seek-Beyond...."
older Brighid of the West, Mother of Songs and Music - she who
breathes in the reed, on the wind, in the hearts of women and
in the minds of poets...Banmorair-na-mara, the Lady of the Sea...a
woman of the divine folk, who was called the Lady of the Sea,
and was a daughter of Lir, and went lamenting upon the earth
because she had lost her brother Manan the Beautiful, but came
upon him at last...and wooed him with songs and flowers and
brought him back again, so that the world of men rejoiced, and
ships sailed the seas in safety and nets were filled with the
fruit of the wave...that passing world of songs and beauty,
of poets' dreams and of broken hearts, that even now...is loved
again by Brighid the White..."
with you for guidance be)
The fairy swan of Bride of flocks,
The fairy duck of Mary of peace." (9)
AND THE SACRED FIRE
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.
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):
may the fiery, bright sun
take us to the lasting kingdom."
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 Brighid 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
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, Brighid 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,"
Brighid'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
Brighid herself would tend the flame.
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."
OF THE HEARTH
household fire is sacred to Brighid. 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 Brighid on all its occupants. The following
is from volume 3 of the Carmina Gadelica:
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.
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. (1)
OF THE SMITHS
patroness of Smiths, there is the mention of a forge in a Old
Irish poem in praise of Brighid. The poem contrasts Brighid's
lasting strength to the passing glory of the Fortress of Alenn,
where once were witnessed:
a hindeón cotad cúar,
clúas a dúan do thengthaib bard,
bruth a fer fri comlann nglan,
cruth a ban fri oenach n-ard.
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
AND THE SACRED WELLS
a Druidic ritual, Brighid 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 Brighid's Holy Wells still exist,
some sacred to Her for thousands of years. Her waters were said
to heal all manner of disease. (5)
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
AND THE SACRED EARTH
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. (6)
is also the tradition of leaving a loaf of bread, pitcher of
milk and a candle out for Brighid. 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. (6)
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. (3)
support of this, there is an ancient rhyme which is still said
in the Western Highlands:
on Bride's morn
The serpent shall come from the hole.
I will not molest the serpent
Nor will the serpent molest me. (7)
Carmina Gadelica, by Alexander Carmichael
2. Celtic Women by Peter Berresford Ellis ISBN 0-8028-3808-1
3. Dal Riada Celtic Heritage Trust, Registered Scottish Charity,
Isle of Arran, Lorraine Macdonald.
4. Dánta Ban: Poems of Irish Women Early and Modern -
5. Email from "Donncha, Dennis King.
6. Fire Worship in Britain by T. F. G. Dexter
7 The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands by Anne Ross, ISBN
7. Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions by James Bonwick
9. Winged Destiny by Fiona MacLeod
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