I am very excited to start my new series of blog posts on Celtic deities! I will be dedicating single posts to a random Celtic deity of choice so we can all learn about them. Today for my first post, we will be discussing Brighid.
In Irish history, Brighid is considered to be one of the most powerful religious figures. She is the patroness of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. She is often seen as a universal muse. Her worship expanded across ancient Ireland, Scotland, and even Western Europe. Often unifying Celts and bringing understanding and peace to warring tribes. Brighid is also the Celtic deity I feel personally closest to. I am a creative soul, take pride in my “hearth” and home, have a background in medical science, and favour spring time. It is no doubt why I was so instantly drawn to her. She is filled with wonder, never ending strength, and inspiration.
Brighid, (or Brigid, Brigit, Bride, Bridey, Brigantia, to name a few aliases) is an Irish Goddess and member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was born at sunrise wearing a crown of flames, stretching high into the heavens and connecting her to the cosmos. Those who witnessed her birth said the family house looked as if it was on fire. She is the daughter Dagda, The Good God and Chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Her mother is said to be the Goddess Morrighan, or the Goddess Boann, with multiple sources stating one or the other. She is also said to be the sister of Ogma, the God of Speech and Language.
Tales of Brighid say that she wed Fres, Chief of the Fomorians, a rival tribe of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She is seen as a mediator between the two warring tribes. Her children were the Gods Ruadan, Iuchar and Uar.
Powers and Symbolism
As mentioned earlier, Brighid is the patroness of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. With these three elements she is sometimes depicted as a triple goddess. Imagery of her can show one aspect carrying a pair of blacksmith tongs and a sword, another aspect holding two healing snakes, and a third aspect carrying a wand with a crescent moon and a tablet. Other attributes given to her include being the Goddess of childbirth, inspiration, hearth, cattle, and warfare.
As a whole, Brighid is considered a fire deity. This association is clear from her very birth. Her fire is said to bring early spring, poetic inspiration, divination, healing, fertility, and creativity in smithing and crafts. To a lesser degree, Brighid is also associated with water. Water is viewed as a healing and purifying element, and also symbolic of the womb. Many rivers, springs, and wells are dedicated to her in Celtic lands. In some Druidic rituals, she is honoured with a well decorated in candles, flowers, and greenery. People would bring coins and silver objects as offerings to these wells. The water in these wells were said to heal disease. She is sometimes depicted with a cauldron, a perfect symbol of the balance and harmony between fire and water. Cauldrons are associated with the hearth and home as well, fitting for our Goddess.
She is considered an important deity on Imbloc, and is associated with the first signs of spring. The lighting of fires, purification with water, and the welcoming of spring truly suit her. Worshipers also make Brighid’s crosses on this day, a solar symbol which also represents the perpetual cycle of the seasons. Hanging Brighid’s cross in ones home brings protection.
Brighid has many associations and attributes. She is often paired with her pure white cow, symbolizing her protection of cattle and also a manifestation of her Mother (Boann in this instance). Her flower is the dandelion, a sunny yellow plant with medicinal properties and which produces a milky white sap (another reference to cattle and motherhood). Other sources say her flower is actually the coltsfoot, a similarly looking plant with medicinal properties and happens to flower around the time of Imbloc. Her messenger bird is the oystercatcher, and her divinatory animal is the snake, namely the adder (which references healing).
The Perseverance of Brighid and her Importance to the Celtic Community
When Christianity took a firm hold on Celtic communities, the love and reverence of Brighid was still so strong and integral to the Celtic identity that the Church had to make her a Saint. As a Saint, Brighid has been worshipped for over fifteen-hundred years.
When Brighid was transformed to a Saint, she managed to keep most of her pre-christian symbolism and traditions. St. Brigid is the patroness of sheep and cattle, dairy, children, poultry, midwives, poets, and blacksmiths. This is a clear correlation to her original triple goddess form and associations. Depictions of St. Brigid show rays of sunlight coming from her head, much like the crown of flames of the Goddess. Depictions of her with milk, fire, or serpents also are found.
Imbloc, usually celebrated on February 1st by the ancient Celts, was then made St. Brigid’s Day, or St. Brigid Feast Day. This day is still celebrated in Ireland. St. Brigid’s crosses (the exact same from Imbloc) are made for protection and good luck in the home.
Before the introduction of Christianity, before the invasion of the Romans, Brighid had an eternal flame at Kildare that was attended to by 19 women on a 20-day cycle. Each woman would look after the flame for 1 day, and it is said that on the 20th day the flame was tended to by Brighid herself. When the Goddess was transformed into the Saint, the flame was then handed over to 19 Catholic nuns. This shrine was watched over into the 18th century, with it being extinguished a few times due to political and religious reasons. I know the flame has been relit many times, but I could not find any recent sources telling me whether or not a flame is being tended to at this date. The most recent update I found was from 2006.
The love and devotion given to Brighid by her followers allowed her to survive the conversion of the Celts to Christianity. The choice was to give her up completely, or allow her to transform into a Saint. She is truly radiant, powerful, and enduring. Her flames are never extinguished from the Celtic identity no matter her form. Now with Celtic Reconstructionism, we may celebrate her again as the Triple Goddess. The patroness of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. Our universal muse.
What are your opinions on Brighid? What name do you call her by? How do you honour her in your daily life or in ritual? Do you have a cool fact about her that I missed? Let me know in the comments❤
Have a wonderful day, everyone!
Resources & Further Reading:
- Black, Susa Morgan. “Brigit.” Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, http://www.druidry.org/library/gods-goddesses/brigit.
- Cymres, Winter. “Brigid: Survival Of A Goddess.” Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, https://www.druidry.org/library/gods-goddesses/brigid-survival-goddess.
- Evert-Hopman, Ellen. A Druid’s Herbal: for the Sacred Year. Destiny Books, 1995, pp. 31-32 & 38-39.
- Ford, Akkadia. “Brighid And The Fires Of Love.” Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, https://www.druidry.org/library/gods-goddesses/brighid-and-fires-love.
- Kildare Community Network. “Lighting the Perpetual Flame of Brigid: a brief history of the flame.” Kildare Community Network, http://www.kildare.ie/community/notices/perpetual-flame.asp
- Kondratiev, Alexei. Celtic Rituals: An Authentic Guide to Ancient Celtic Spirituality. New Celtic Publishing, 1999, pp. 135-146.
- MacGowan, Doug. “Celtic Goddess Brigid and the Story of the Enduring Deity.” Historic Mysteries, https://www.historicmysteries.com/celtic-goddess-brigid-saint-irish-myth/
- Murphy-Hiscock, Arin. The House Witch: Your Complete Guide to Creating a Magical Space with Rituals and Spells for Hearth and Home. Adams Media, 2018, pp. 68–69 & 87-88.
- NicGrioghair, Branfionn. “Myths & Legends: Brigid, Bright Goddess of the Gael.” Mythical Ireland, https://mythicalireland.com/myths-and-legends/brigid-bright-goddess-of-the-gael/
- Williment, Paul. “The Goddess Brigid.” Brighid, https://www.brighid.org.uk/goddess.html