Worshiped by the people of Ireland as saint for over 1500 years and as a goddess since long before the Roman invasion of Britain and the birth of Christ, Brigid served as a bridge between pagan Celtic and Christian traditions. Her influence extended through the British Isles and beyond.
There are many variations in the spelling and spelling and pronunciation of her name. She is called Bride in Scotland, Brigandu in France, Ffaid in Wales, and Brigitania in England. In Ireland, she is usually known as Brigid (usually pronounced Breet), but also Brighid, Bridget, Brid, and others. Even “Britain” is a derivation of her name. According to one legend, the island of Ireland was created when she spread out her green mantle, and as a result, she is sometimes also known as the Mistress of the Mantle.
In the Celtic tradition, Brigid is a sun goddess, with strong associations with fire. She is considered a triple goddess because she is the patroness three important skills: poetry, healing and smithcrafting. As such, she is often portrayed with a pair of blacksmith tongs and a sword, handling two healing snakes, and holding a wand and a tablet.
Brigid played an important role in the Celtic festival of Imbolc, which was traditionally celebrated midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox (around February 1st and 2nd). Imbolc marked the beginning of spring. Winter was very difficult in ancient agrarian societies, and this festival was the harbringer of better days to come. The holiday had pastoral connections as well because, by this time of the year, the cows and ewes would have birthed their young. And milk, a sacred food to the Celts, was flowing again. It was used as a beverage, and for making cheese and curds. One of the (many) symbols often associated with Brigid is a cow with red ears.
Later, when the Christian church came to Ireland, they had little hope of making converts unless they incorporated the beloved goddess Brigid, so they made her a saint. Even as Saint Brigid, themes of milk, fire, sun, and serpents followed her. Many of the ancient legends of the goddess became the deeds of the saint. There is some evidence that Saint Brigid was an actual woman who was born in 451, the daughter of a pagan chieftain and his Christian wife. She became an Irish nun, abbess, and the founder of several convents.
Second in importance only to St. Patrick, Brigid is a patron saint of Ireland, often referred to as “Mary of the Gael.” Her feast day, called St. Brigid’s Day in Ireland, is February 1st. Many traditions associated with Brigid have also been incorporated into the Catholic celebration of Candlemas on February 2nd.
Goddess or saint, she was a busy woman. Brigid was known for her compassion, generosity, and hospitality. In both pagan and Christian forms, she was responsible for the fires of inspiration, the hearth, and the forge. Here are just a few of the things that might have appeared on Brigid’s to do list:
Brigid, the “Fire of Inspiration,” was the muse of poetry, as well as storytelling and folklore, singers and musicians (especially harpists). She was also the protector of all cultural learning.
As the “Fire of the Forge.” Brigid, like the Greek goddess Athena, was a patroness of blacksmiths, as well as other womanly arts and crafts (especially weaving, dyeing, embroidery, and brewing).
Brigid, the “Fire of the Hearth,” was the goddess of healing, fertility, family, and midwifery. According to some traditions, she was the midwife present at the birth of Christ (a particularly impressive accomplishment since she wasn’t even born until nearly 500 years later). As a canonized saint, she was said to have been the foster mother of Jesus, and instrumental in saving him from slaughter of male infants instigated by Herod.
Brigid was also the guardian of children and farm animals—especially cows—and the patroness of prophets and seers. Ancient people looked to her for purification of well water, and as she was also the patroness of healers, there are many healing springs and wells around Ireland dedicated to her.
In whatever form she may take, saint or goddess, Brigid is looked to for inspiration, loved for her compassion and generosity, and revered as one with great gifts of insight and wisdom.
So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by all your own roles and responsibilities, remember Brigit. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the term “domestic goddess,” doesn’t it?
Here’s a hauntingly beautiful song in honor of Brigid (spelled Brighid, in this case). I think the imagery that goes with it is beautiful, too.
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