Brigid, pronounced Breed, and meaning “Bright” or “Fiery Arrow,” is a goddess of the Irish Celts. She was Brigantia to the English, Bride to the Scots and Brigandu in Celtic France. She is considered a classic Triple Goddess, embodying the three archetypes of maiden, mother and crone, or wise elder, as she had two “sisters” also named Brigid. In the Middle Ages the goddess Brigid was syncretized with a Christian saint. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian “monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart, Saint Brigid of Kildare.
Brigid is associated with fire, specifically the sacred “need fire”, called tein-eigen. At the greater holy days in the Highlands of Scotland, and in the Western Isles, all the fires of the community would be allowed to go out and tein-eigen would be kindled at dawn. Any type of fire symbolism, including light, candles, illumination, heat, warmth or sunrises also belong to this goddess. The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally occurring, eternal flames is a feature of ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality. Other examples include the Roman goddess Vesta, and other earlier hearth-goddesses, such as the Greek Hestia.
Brigid is one of the Tuatha De Danann, people of the goddess Danuu, a race of mythical beings who were the deities of the ancient Celts. Saint Brigid was also associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by nineteen nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. Giraldus Cambrensis, and other chroniclers, said a hedge that no man could cross surrounded the sacred flame at Kildare. Reports claimed that men who attempted to cross the hedge were cursed, died, went insane, or became crippled.
Brigid was also connected to holy wells at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands. Tying cloths, especially white fabric, to the trees next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brigid, still take place in some of the Celtic areas. One legend says Brigid invented both whistling and the sound of mourning called keening. She is a goddess of healing, metal smithing, poetry and music. Brigid is considered the patroness of medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, and spring. Arrows, bells, thresholds and doorways are also included in Brigid symbolism. Several animal correspondences are tied to her, particularly ewes, dairy cows, bees, owls and serpents.
As a poetic muse she is called the “High One,” signifying the realm from which inspiration comes. She is the goddess of high dimensions, such as high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts and upland areas; and of activities and states conceived as psychologically lofty and elevated, such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, and druidic knowledge.
Her feast is February 2, Imbolc, or Candlemas to Christians, which marks the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. At Imbolc, the sap begins to run in the trees, and buds form as the energy of life flows again. Ground Hog Day is a dim reminder of honoring the shift in the balance of light and dark. On the eve of Imbolc, it was the custom to hang a pure white wool cloth outside on a tree. The cloth was believed to absorb the energy of the goddess, and sanctified in this way it would serve as an altar cloth or special talisman. As we have reached the balance point, midway between the darkness of winter solstice and the promise of spring at the March equinox, we can feel life flowing as inner potential is once again drawn into outer expression. If we purify our minds like a clean, white cloth we can ask to receive Brigid’s inspiration.
Based on and excerpts from Goddesses for Every Day © 2010 by Julie Loar. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA www.newworldlibrary.com