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St Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland. But the virgin nun has roots that go back to the days when the land’s pagan deities received prayers instead. It seems the Celtic goddess Brigid shares more than just a name with the saint.
There are churches dedicated to Saint Brigid in many parts of the world. With time, she became an important icon for the Catholic Church. However, it is still uncertain if she was a real person. An analysis of various resources suggests that her legend actually grew from a myth about a Celtic goddess .
During the first centuries of its existence, the Christian religion adopted and modified many pagan sites and stories. Several churches replaced ancient altars and sacred pagan locations. Moreover, stories about the great people of the past and myths about their deities became the foundation for legends which describe the lives of Christian saints . When the early Christians discovered a powerful story in the land of a recently converted community they tried to replace it with one of their own.
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Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Spring
Her name is often said to be Brigid, but she has also been called Brigit, Brig, Brighid, Bride, etc. She was an ancient Irish goddess who was associated with spring, poetry, medicine, cattle, and arts and crafts. Brigid’s feast day was celebrated around February 1 and was called Oimlec ( Imbolc). The original Irish text says the following about her:
''Feast of the Bride, feast of the maiden.
Melodious Bride of the fair palms.
Thou Bride fair charming,
Pleasant to me the breath of thy mouth,
When I would go among strangers
'Thou thyself wert the hearer of my tale.''
The name Brigid may come from the word ''Brigani'' meaning ''sublime one''. It was Romanized as Brigantia when that empire was powerful. This form of the name was used to name the river Braint (now Anglesey), Brent (Middlesex), and also Brechin in Scotland. Brigid appears to be related to the Roman goddess Victoria, but sometimes she was presented as similar to Caelstis or Minerva instead.
According to Cormac's Glossary (written by 10th century monks) she was a daughter of the god Dagda, a protector of a tribe. She was worshiped as a goddess of poetry, fertility, and smiths. Her identification with Minerva comes from the interest of both goddesses in bards and artists.
In ancient times, smiths were not only recognized for their craft, but their work was also connected with magic. Brigid was strongly associated with the symbol of fire as well. She was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann , an Irish supernatural race known from mythology. She may have also been one of the triple deities of the Celts.
Plate of god Dagda of the Gundestrup cauldron.
St Brigid of Ireland appears
When Ireland was Christianized, the monks and priests needed good examples to inspire people to follow the new faith . They used the same method as in the other parts of the world and started to create stories which sounded familiar to the inhabitants of the converted areas. In one of these stories they described a woman who connected the two cultures.
According to Catholic resources, St Brigid was born in 451 or 452 AD in Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth. She was said to be a daughter of a druid man and a slave woman. Brigid reportedly refused many marriage offers and decided to become a nun. She settled for some time near the foot of Croghan Hill with seven other virgin nuns . They are said to have changed their home a few times, but finally the nuns lived in Kildare, where Brigid died as an old woman on February 1, 525 AD. The Catholic Church argues that the date of her death and the pagan goddess’ day is a coincidence; however it also provides a meaningful link between the Celtic goddess and Christian Saint.
Saint Brigit as depicted in Saint Non's chapel, St Davids, Wales. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
In legends, St Brigid was a daughter of Dubtach. She was perhaps prepared to be a druid , though in the end she became a nun. This was quite a popular solution for wise people of pre-Christian religions: To avoid problems, many of them preferred to become a part of monasteries and continue their practice connected with the ancient ways while under the guise of “Christians.”
Like the goddess, St Brigid is associated with fire too. The first biography written about her was made in 650 AD by St Broccan Cloen. However, in the 20th century many researchers began to doubt the historical evidence for her life. The saint wrote:
''Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
Nor was she intermittent about God's love;
Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for
The wealth of this world below, the holy one.''
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The stories of St Brigid have some unusual details that differ from typical early medieval legends of Christian saints. One of the strangest examples is a story of her life with a woman named Dar Lugdach. According to the descriptions, these two women used to sleep together, but not for a lack of the space or beds. The name of the potential lover of St Brigid means "daughter of the god Lugh.” Moreover, St Brigid’s miracles are often strongly related to druid knowledge about alchemy, magic, and other disciplines.
Saint Brigid of Kildare.
A Double Symbol in Ireland
The history of both of the women is connected with the Brigantines tribe. They were both associated with Leinster, which was the tribe’s center. The monks who described the legend of the goddess in the 10th century would have already known the story of St Brigid as well. Thus, both of the women are icons supported by different groups. Many people agree that there is no reason to separate the two stories and today the followers of pagan religions worship both of them as one – the goddess Brigid.
The goddess of spring. ( SPIRITBLOGGER'S BLOG )
St Brigid is still one of the most important Irish saints and for the pagans she's seen as a continuation of old Irish traditions. The stories of both Brigids have inspired many writers, artists, etc. Both of the legendary females have become important symbols in Ireland and nowadays it is hard to decide which one means more. While the researchers argue about the evidence of their existence and connections, many people enjoy the celebration of both female icons on February 1 when they hold traditional feasts in their name.
How Brigid went from a Celtic goddess to Catholic saint
Spring in Ireland traditionally starts on St Brigid's Day, February 1. However, this may not be entirely historically accurate as it is a celebration with roots a long way back in pre-Christian times, some 6,000 years ago, when no written tradition existed.
As was the case in many ancient cultures around the world, female deities ruled supreme, making the similarities between Egyptian mythology and Irish mythology quite remarkable. For example, most people will be familiar with an Egyptian ritual from "The Book of the Dead" of Isis breathing life into the mummified corpse, but many may not know that the same scene is depicted in stone at the foot of a high cross in Ireland.
Brigid, the highly revered Celtic goddess, beloved by poets
Similarly, our Goddess had a sacred cow that suckled a king, the same as Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt. India and many other cultures revere the cow as a symbol of nurturing. In fact, up until the 12th-century children were baptized with milk in Ireland.
Fascinating or obvious, these ancient races relied on the land, so it is no wonder they revered the female goddesses that embodied and symbolized mother earth for them. The goddess had to be appeased and celebrated to ensure the fertility of the land, animals, and people.
Celtic mythology holds that the chieftains slept with the goddesses in a mating ritual that crossed the boundaries of physical and metaphysical, as these goddesses could shape-shift into birds and other mythical creatures. She could be "an old hag" in human form standing at a crossroads, or the triple goddesses "Moriggan" in the tale of the Tain, or the "Banshee" in later years foretelling death in a family.
When the Celtic goddess Brigid became a Christian Saint by the same name
Having infused tradition in Ireland with a mixture of reverence and fear, for thousands of years prior to Christianity creeping into Ireland, it is highly understandable that our ancestors would have been a tad reluctant to banish her completely, which coincidentally is about the time she seems to have morphed into the Christian St. Brigid we know about today. Although the signs were there from the start that this was no ordinary mortal woman.
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It is said that the Irish never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And so the story goes, that when St. Brigid was trying to wrestle enough land from the high king of Leinster to build her monastery in Kildare, he said that she could have as much land as her cloak would cover. Whereupon Brigid laid down her cloak and it magically spread out to cover several hundred acres.
Beannachtaí na feile Bride - "greetings of the feast day of Brigid on you." In other words, "Happy St. Brigid's Day!"
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How do you mark St. Brigid's Day (or Imbolc)? Let us know in the comments!
Saint Brigid - a pagan goddess turned Christian saint in Ireland
Spring in Ireland officially starts on St Brigid's Day which is February the 1st in our calendar? Which may not be accurate as this is a celebration that has its roots along way back in pre-Christian times, some 6,000 years ago actually when there was no written tradition.
Like many other cultures around the world female deities ruled supreme, the similarities between Egyptian mythology and Irish mythology being quite remarkable? For example most people will be familiar with Egyptian ritual from the Book of the Dead, of Isis breathing life into the mummified corpse, well not many know that the same scene is depicted in stone at the foot of a high cross in Ireland.
Similarly our Goddess, had a sacred cow that suckled a king, the same as Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt. Indian and many other cultures that revered the cow as a symbol of nurturing. In fact up until the 12th century children were baptised with milk in Ireland. Fascinating or obvious? these ancient races relied on the land so it is no wonder they revered the female Goddesses that embodied and symbolized mother earth for them. She had to be appeased and celebrated to insure the fertility of the land, animals and people. Celtic mythology holds that the chieftains slept with the goddesses in a mating ritual that crossed the boundaries of physical and metaphysical as these Goddesses could shape shift into birds and other mythical creatures. She could be ‘an old hag’ in human form standing at a crossroads, or the triple goddesses ‘Moriggan’ in the tale of the Tain or the ‘banshee’ in latter years foretelling death in a family.
Having infused tradition in Ireland with a mixture of reverence and fear, for thousands of years prior to Christianity creeping into Ireland, its highly understandable that our ancestors would have been a tad reluctant to banish her completely, which coincidentally is about the time she seems to have morphed into the Christian St Brigid we know about today? Although the signs were there from the start that this was no ordinary mortal woman?
Apparently or so the story goes and we Irish never let the truth get in the way of a good story, when St Brigid was trying to wrestle enough land on which to build her monastery in Kildare from the high king of Leinster, he said that she could have as much land as her cloak would cover. Where upon Brigid laid down her cloak and it magically spread out to cover several hundred acres.
Festival of Imbolc and the Two Brigids
B ack in the mists of time, long before the Milesians arrived from Egypt, and even longer before the Celtic tribes came and settled, another ancient tribe inhabited the island of Ireland. The ‘Tuatha De Dannan,’ translated as ‘people of the Goddess Danu,’ were a supernatural race who came to Ireland with the intention of removing the evil Fomorians, a race that already inhabited the island and who caused widespread destruction and mayhem. The ‘Tuatha’ were divided into three tribes: the tribe of ‘Tuatha,’ the nobility: the tribe of ‘De,’ the priests, and the tribe of ‘Danann,’ the bards, storytellers and minstrels. Their patriarch, the Dagda, associated with fertility, agriculture, magic, druidry and wisdom, had a daughter called Brigid. Like her father, Brigid was also associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and smith craft.
A Feis (gathering) was originally convened by her father, the Dagda, to celebrate the day of Brigid’s birth, which coincided with the first day of spring. Known as ‘Imbolc,’ it was a time of feasting and celebration and has been observed annually since then, in her honor. Imbolc has traditionally been celebrated on 1 February but because the day was deemed to begin and end at sunset, the celebrations would start on 31 January. It has also been argued that the timing of the festival was originally more fluid and based on seasonal changes. It has been associated with the onset of the lambing season, which could vary by as much as two weeks before or after 1 February, and with the blooming of the revered blackthorn trees.
The Feis was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearth fires, special foods, divination and watching for omens. Torches and bonfires were lit as fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of torches and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Through time, Brigid came to be revered as the goddess of all things of high dimension, such as 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, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, healing ability, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare.
In 453 AD, a daughter was born at Faughart in County Louth, to Dubhthach, a pagan Chieftain of Leinster and one of his servants, a girl called Brocca. Brocca was a Pict and former slave who had been converted to a new religion sweeping the country, by a man called Patricius. The newborn, despite being born into slavery, from an early age exhibited signs of a kind and charitable nature. When Dubhthach's wife discovered Brocca was pregnant, she was sold to a Druid landowner. When she was about ten-years-old, Brigid, as she was named, returned to her father's home, as he was her legal master. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter to hungry people in the area. Another story tells of how she gave some of her father’s belongings to many of the less fortunate, such was her caring nature.
Eventually, Dubhthach became tired of Bridget’s giving nature and took her to the king of Leinster, with the intention of selling her. As he spoke to the king, Brigid gave his jeweled sword to a beggar, so he could barter it for food for his family. When the king, who was a Christian, saw this, he recognized her kindness and convinced Dubhthach to grant her freedom by saying, "her merit before God is greater than ours." After being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, who was in charge of the Druid's dairy. Brigid took over as dairy maid and often gave away milk, but the dairy prospered despite the charitable practice, and the Druid eventually freed Brocca. Brigid then returned to Dubhthach, who, in her absence, had arranged for her to marry a bard, but she refused and made a vow to always be chaste. Many stories of Brigid's purity followed her childhood and she was unable to keep from feeding the poor and healing them. Legend has it Brigid prayed that her beauty be taken so no one would want to marry her, and the prayer was granted. It was not until after she made her final vows that her beauty was restored.
Little is known about Brigid's life after she entered the Church, but it is accepted that she founded a monastery in Kildare, called the ‘Church of the Oak.’ It was built above a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, which was sited beneath a large oak tree. Brigid and seven friends organized communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland and she founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. Brigid invited a hermit called Conleth to help her in Kildare as a spiritual pastor and to govern the church along with herself. She later founded a school of art that included metalwork and illumination, which Conleth led as well. It was at this school that the Book of Kildare, which the historian Gerald of Wales praised as "the work of angelic, and not human skill," was beautifully illuminated, but sadly, was lost three centuries ago.
The presence of the Brigid's cross in Ireland is far older than Christianity and dates to the time of the goddess Brigid. It was a three-armed, pagan symbol made from rushes and used to protect a home from fire. It was also hung above byre and stable doors as a protection for the animals. The Christian Brigid and her four-armed cross are linked together by a story about her weaving this form of cross at the death bed of a pagan chieftain from a neighborhood in Kildare. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ and when she arrived, the chieftain was in a state of incoherence and raving. As it was impossible to instruct the delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful, but nevertheless, Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness and Brigid stooped down, gathered a handful and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing, and she began to explain the meaning of the cross. As she talked, his delirium quieted, and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her gentle persuasion and intricate weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then, the four-armed cross, made of rushes, has existed in Ireland.
Today, Brigid is associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. The sacred flame at Kildare was said by Giraldus Cambrensis and other chroniclers, to have been surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die or be crippled. Both the goddess and saint are also associated with holy wells, at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands.
There is evidence that Brigid was a good friend of Saint Patrick's and that the ‘Trias Thaumaturga,’a hagiography of the Irish saints claimed, "between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works." Brigid helped many people in her lifetime, and on February 1, 525 AD, she passed away of natural causes. Her body was initially kept to the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, in a tomb "adorned with gems, precious stones and crowns of gold and silver." In 878 AD, during the Viking raids, her relics were moved to the tomb of Patrick and Columcille for safety.
Today, all three lie at rest together in the graveyard of Saul Church near Downpatrick in Co. Down, the site of the first church built by Patrick in Ireland.
Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pantheon - Part II
The Druids were the caretakers of Celtic culture. When he came into contact with the Druids during his conquest of Celtic Gaul, Julius Caesar confirmed their religious role:
The Druids officiate at the worship of the gods, regulate public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions. Large numbers of young men flock to them for instruction, and are held in great honour by the people.
Had it not been for the Celtic religious ban on committing the wisdom and learning of the Druids to the written word, our understanding of the Celtic Pantheon would be much greater today than it is.
Alas too few texts have survived the savagery and wanton destruction directed at the Celts over the centuries especially during the emergence of the modern nation states of England and France and the wholesale destruction in Ireland during its occupation. The surviving written Celtic source documents are due to accidents of history and geography, mainly Irish and Welsh in origin. The Folkloric traditions of all the Six Nations augment the written record and provide an important source of our knowledge of the Celtic pantheon.
This article is the second part of our survey of the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pantheon. Read Part I here.
Celtic Creation Myth
Due mainly to the Celtic religious ban on committing the wisdom and learning of the Druids to the written word, we lack a creation myth in Celtic Mythology. The Druids did not record our myths. But what comes close is a beguiling tale told in "Celtic Myths and Legends" by Peter Beresford Ellis. This volume is an entertaining 600 pages of 37 mythic tales drawn from the legends and folklore of the six Celtic Nations. The opening entry is the “Pan Celtic” tale which appears after the introduction and prior to the six chapters devoted to each of the Six Nation’s folklore. I was mesmerised by this tale of the creation of the Celtic gods, Beresford’s craft creating a brilliant image as if from the Celtic equivalent of the Old Testament:
From the darkened soil there grew a tree, tall and strong. Danu, the divine waters from heaven, nurtured and cherished this great tree which became the sacred Oak named Bile. Of the conjugation of Danu and Bile, there dropped two giant acorns. The first acorn was male. From it sprang The Dagda, “The Good God”. The second seed was female. From it there emerged Brigid, “The Exalted One”. And The Dagda and Brigid gazed upon one another in wonder, for it was their task to wrest order from the primal chaos and to people the Earth with the Children of Danu, the Mother Goddess, whose divine waters had given them life.
Perhaps not the inspired word of God, but this one paragraph is an amalgamation of the creation of the Celtic Pantheon. Dagda, the chief God of the Celts, the majestic Brigid who was worshiped throughout the Celtic lands, and Bile, whose role was transporting the souls of dead Celts to the Otherworld. Also included are the children of the Mother Goddess Danu, the Tuatha de Danann, who are fundamental to Scottish, Irish and Manx Mythology.
Celtic scholars agree that Danu is the name of a deity that ranked high in the Celtic Pantheon dating from the earliest history of the Celtic peoples. Danu was most likely the Celtic Mother Goddess and that she gave her name to the Tuatha Dé Danann (Children of Danu). But beyond this point the Celtic scholars diverge on the identity and origins of Danu. A mystical figure shrouded behind the curtain of lost knowledge that died with the last Druid. There is general agreement that Danu is related and cognizant with the Irish deity Anu, referred to as the mother of the gods of Ireland, and the Welsh deity Don, a mother fertility goddess. The similarity in spelling and the fact that Anu and Don are female deities related to the fertility of the land allows for the argument that Anu and Don are strongly connected to Danu and may be the same goddess in Irish and Welsh form thus merging the Goidelic and Brythonic branches of Celtic culture and language. Patricia Monaghan in the Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore has the following entry on Danu: “Most significantly, we find an Irish divine race, thought to represent the gods of the Celts, called the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the goddess Danu”. Similarly we have this entry from the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by Peter Beresford Ellis: “A mother goddess from whom the Tuatha Dé Danann takes their name. If her (Danu) counterparts in the Welsh tradition are anything to go by, Danu’s husband was Bile, god of death. The Dagda is her son. https://www.transceltic.com/pan-celtic/danu-myth-goddess-band
This modern Christian Saint serves as a classic example of the merging of Celtic and Christian traditions. A Christianised Celtic Goddess, Brigid is said to have been the daughter of the Dagda who was father figure and Druid of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. It is arguable that nothing typifies more the successful tactics of the Christian conversion of Ireland than the fate of Brigid. One is tempted to weep to imagine how she suffers having spent the past 1600 years confined to the rigid confines of the Christian liturgy. To promote their new religion, a new and confusing theology to the Gael, the soldiers of St. Patrick transformed Brigit into a Christian rather than a Celtic deity. In the early tales of the Christian Saint, Brigid is portrayed as the daughter of a Druidical household before her embrace of the new religion. Thus with her conversion to Christianity, Brigid abandons the Celtic Gods and their priests. To reinforce this transition the early church adopted Imbolg, the feast day of the Celtic Goddess Brigid, to the feast day of the Christian saint. “As goddess, Brigid is a rarity among the Celts, a divinity who appears in many sites. Her name has numerous variants (Brigid/Brigit/Brid/Brighid). As Celtic divinities tended to be intensely place bound, the apparently pan-Celtic nature of this figure is remarkable. The Irish Goddess ruled transformation of all sorts: through poetry, through smith craft, through healing. Associated with fire and cattle, she was the daughter of the (immensely powerful) god of fertility, the Dagda.” (Monoghan)
In some stories Kelpie are described as ‘shape shifters’. They are able to transfer themselves into beautiful women who can lure men and trap them. However, the Kelpie does not always take a female form and are mostly male. They are also described as posing a particular danger to children when in the shape of a horse. Attracting their victims to ride them they are taken under the water and then eaten.
Followers of Brigid Are Brigantines
According to the Irish, Brigid brought several useful things to humanity. She invented whistling one night to call her friends. She invented keening, the distraught, crying sound a completely devastated person makes when grief is unbearable, as when a loved one dies. One day she came in from the rain and could find no place to hang her cloak. She hung it on a beam of sunlight, which became stiff and hard until the cloak dried. In another tale, Brigid restored sight to a blind friend, who asked to be made blind again so her soul would not be tempted from the beauty of nature. It is likely this story which makes the connection of Brigid as the goddess said to cure eye diseases.
An ancient worship of the fire goddess continued almost into modern times, where nineteen virgins tended an undying fire, and on the twentieth day of a cycle, left it to be tended by Brigid herself. For more than ten centuries, Brigid was invoked as a Saint rather than Goddess, her attendant’s nuns instead of priestesses. Even after Christianity came to Ireland in the fifth century, and the shrine became a convent, the ancient rites were undisturbed. But 600 years later, Henry de Londres, archbishop of Dublin, understood the Pagan meaning of those flames. The fires were put out, but in 1993, the sisters of St. Brigid, called Brigandines, relit the sacred fire of Kildare and it now blazes continually, as a symbol of peace and healing.
In Brigid’s Footsteps: The Return of the Divine Feminine focuses on the Celtic goddess and Christian saint Brigid as an archetype of the Divine Feminine. Drawing on mythology, history, and transpersonal psychology, the author traces the iconic Brigid’s evolution from incarnation as goddess of wisdom, craft, and healing to embodiment as a saint of Celtic Christianity who served as midwife to Mary at the birth of Jesus. Part Two explores the suppression of feminine energies in mainstream western culture and the damaging consequences of living in our masculine-biased civilization. The final essays speculate on how the Divine Feminine may influence our masculine-leaning culture during the shift in consciousness Jung referred to as a “changing of the gods,” a time in which Brigid re-emerges as the spirit of liminal times and midwife to the Holy.
Table of Contents
- PART ONE Goddess Quest
- Chapter 1 Finding Brigid
- Chapter 2 The Irish Goddess
- Chapter 3 “The Saint of Their Desire”
- Chapter 4 Brigid and Mary, Co-Mothers of God
- Chapter 5 Bringer of Spring
- PART TWO The Exile of the Goddess & The Unbalancing of Western Civilization
- Chapter 6 The Dragonslayers & The Exile of the Goddess
- Chapter 7 “The Greatest People in Europe”
- Chapter 8 How the Irish Saved Celtic Mythology
- PART THREE The Return of the Goddess & The Age of Aquarius
- Chapter 9 The Return of the Divine Feminine
- Chapter 10 The Aquarian Threshold
- Epilogue Birthing the Divine Self
“The divine feminine has many faces in the great spiritual traditions of humanity. In the Christian world there is none so beautiful and so untameable as Brigid of Kildare. She is returning to us again today because we need her, perhaps like never before. She comes to lead us back into a true dance of the sacred feminine and masculine within us and between us, in our lives and in our world. Only then will we be well.”
-John Philip Newell, author of Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World
“Continuing the legacy and spirit of her Celtic patron saint, St. Brigid of Kildare, Linda McFadden serves as a modern midwife for the divine feminine that continues its insistent birthing. Writing with the passion of a prophet, the curiosity of a historian, and the eye of a depth psychologist, she challenges both women and men to attend the sacred task of incarnating the archetypal feminine. Readers will be entertained, enlightened, and filled with hope for the beleaguered soul in this threshold time. A wonderful and wonder-filled book.”
-Jerry R. Wright, D.Min., Jungian Analyst, author of A Mystical Path Less Traveled: A Jungian Psychological Perspective
“Linda McFadden invites readers to imagine ‘the energy of the Divine Feminine leading our masculine-leaning culture forward through these unsettled times.’ She chronicles the re-emergence of Brigid—goddess, saint, healer, and ever-deepening archetype in Celtic spirituality. This synergy of Divine essence can lead to an evolution of consciousness for the 21 st century in which violence is replaced by generosity and mercy.”
Legends of St. Brigid
St. Brigid is a mysterious figure in many ways. In the fifth and sixth centuries, during the time that Ireland was converting to Christianity, it was a common strategy to follow the example of St. Patrick by building the “new” religion onto the old one. And the truth is that one of the most powerful goddesses in the Celtic Parthenon was Brigantia—or Brigid. Her feast day, *Imbolg, became our St. Brigid’s Day, celebrated on February 1st or 2nd.
Born into slavery, it’s said that Brigid was “veiled” and became an abbess after vowing herself to Christ. According to tradition, around 480 CE she founded a monastery at Kildare on the site of an older pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess who was her namesake.
With an initial group of seven companions, Brigid organized the first communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland. Brigid is also credited with founding a school of art, including metal work and illumination. The Kildare scriptorium made the Book of Kildare, which drew high praise from Gerald of Wales, but which has disappeared after the Reformation.
Could Brigid have performed miracles? It’s not impossible. Take a look at some of miracles credited over the centuries to this saint:
Brigid was known to turn water into milk or beer for the celebration of Easter.
When she was a teenager, Brigid was trying to go see Saint Patrick, but was slowed up by the crowd. To get through, she healed people along the way who were waiting for St. Patrick to heal them.
The prayers of Saint Brigid were known to still the wind and the rain.
In one story, Brigid protected a woman from a nobleman who had entrusted a silver brooch to the woman for safekeeping but then secretly threw it into the sea. He charged her with stealing it, knowing that he could take her as a slave if a judge ruled in his favor.
The woman fled and sought refuge with Brigid’s community. Providentially, one of her fishermen hauled in a fish which, when cut open, proved to have swallowed the brooch. The nobleman freed the woman, confessed his sin, and bowed in submission to Brigid.
On another occasion, Brigid was travelling to see a physician for her headache. She stayed at the house of a Leinster couple who had two mute daughters. The daughters were traveling with Brigid when her horse startled, causing her to fall and graze her head on a stone. A touch of Brigid’s blood healed the girls.
One of the more commonly told stories is of Brigid asking the King of Leinster for land. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect spot for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood and berries. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water, and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king’s heart.
Then she smiled at the king and said, “Will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?”
The king thought that she was joking and, hoping to get rid of her, he agreed. She told four of her sisters to take up the cloak, but instead of laying it flat on the turf, each sister, with face turned to a different point of the compass, began to run swiftly, the cloth growing in all directions. The cloak began to cover many acres of land.
The king was persuaded, and soon after that became a Christian and began to help the poor he even commissioned the building of a convent. Legend has it that the convent was known for making jam from local blueberries, and a tradition has sprung up of eating jam on St. Brigid’s Day celebrated each year on February 1st or 2nd.
*Imbolc (Imbolg) – Cross Quarter Day
Imbolc (Imbolg) the festival marking the beginning of spring has been celebrated since ancient times. It is a Cross Quarter Day, midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it can fall between the 2nd & 7th of February when calculated as the mid point between the astronomical Winter Solstice and the astronomical Spring Equinox.
At the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the chamber. The sun also illuminates the chamber at Samhain, the cross quarter day between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
The Mound of the Hostages at Tara is a Neolithic Period passage tomb, contemporary with Newgrange which is over 5000 years old, so the Cross Quarter Days were important to the Neolithic (New Stone Age) people who aligned the chamber with the Imbolc and Samhain sunrise. In early Celtic times around 2000 years ago, Imbolc was a time to celebrate the Celtic Goddess Brigid (Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridget, Bridgit, Brighde, Bríd). Brigid was the Celtic Goddess of inspiration, healing, and smithcraft with associations to fire, the hearth, and poetry.
A Tale of Two Brigids: A Celtic Goddess and a Christian Saint - History
Brigid, Celtic Goddss
“I am Brid, beloved of Erin, spirit of fire, healer of ills, warrioress
of old, protector of life, woman of power, sovereign Mother
of all creation. I create, I inspire, I make magick. I am old,
I am young, I am eternal. I am the All-Power personified.
Brigid , the Celtic goddess of fire (the forge and the hearth),
poetry, healing, childbirth, and unity, is celebrated in many
She is known by many names, including that of Saint Brigid
who is, perhaps, the most powerful religious figure in Irish
Born at the exact moment of daybreak, Brigid rose into the
sky with the sun, rays of fire beaming from her head.
She was the daughter of Dagda, the great 'father-god' of
Ireland. In Druid mythology, the infant goddess was fed with
milk from a sacred cow from the Otherworld. Brigid owned
an apple orchard in the Otherworld and her bees would bring
their magical nectar back to earth. It is said that wherever
she walked, small flowers and shamrocks would appear.
As a sun goddess her gifts are light (knowledge),
inspiration, and the vital and healing energy of the sun.
During an Irish Civil war involving her family, after her marriage
(which was arranged to bring peace), Brigid's eldest son,
using the knowledge of metal-smithing that he had
learned from his mother, struck the first blow, killing the
smith of the opposing army. But as the warrior fell to the
ground, he managed one last blow before he died and
Brigid's grief was enormous--for the continual hatred between
the two sides of her family and for the death of her son.
Her lamentations were so loud they were heard throughout
Ireland and so heart-rending that
both sides left the battle and forged a peace. The goddess
Brigid is said to have originated the practice of "keening."
She is also credited with the invention of whistling, which
she used to summon her friends to her side.
Eventually the love and respect for the goddess Brigid
brought unity to the Celts who were spread throughout
Europe. Regardless of their differences, they all agreed
upon her goodness and compassion.
One of the most popular tales of the goddess Brigid involved
two lepers who appeared at her sacred well at Kildare and
asked to be healed. She told them that they were to bathe
each other until the skin healed.
After the first one was healed, he felt only revulsion for the
other and would not touch him to bathe him. Angered,
Brigid caused his leprosy to return. Then she gently placed
her mantle (cloak) around the other leper who was
Ireland is full of springs and wells named after the goddess
Symbolically, water is seen as a portal to the Otherworld and
as a source of wisdom and healing.
There is a saying that Brigid rewards any offering to her,
so offerings of coins were often tossed into her wells.
the forerunner of the modern custom of throwing a penny
into a fountain while you make a wish.
At her most famous shrine Brigid taught humans how to
gather and use herbs for their healing properties, how to care
for their livestock, and how to forge iron into tools.
As a goddess of childbirth and protector of all
children, she is the patroness of midwifery.
This shrine, near Kildare, was located near an ancient Oak
that was considered to be sacred by the Druids, so sacred
in fact that no one was allowed to bring a weapon there.
The shrine is believed to have been an ancient college of
priestesses who were committed to thirty years of service,
after which they were free to leave and marry.
Saint Brigit: Her Words
“Christ dwells in every creature.”
“I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.
I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety.
I should like the men of Heaven at my house.
I should like barrels of peace at their disposal.
I should like for them cellars of mercy.
I should like cheerfulness to be their drinking.
I should like Jesus to be there among them.
I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around from all parts.”
Saint Brigit of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland ( Irish : Naomh Bríd c. 451 – 525) is one of Ireland's patron saints , along with Patrick and Columba . Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun , abbess, and founder of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland, which was famous and was revered. Her feast day is 1 February, which was originally a pagan festival called Imbolc , marking the beginning of spring. Her feast day is shared by Dar Lugdach, whom tradition says was her student and the woman who succeeded her.
There is some debate over whether St Brigid was a real person. She has the same name, associations and feast day as the Celtic goddess Brigid , and there are many supernatural events, legends and folk customs associated with her.
Some scholars suggest that the saint is merely a Christianization of the goddess. Others suggest that she was a real person who took on the goddess's attributes. Medieval Art Historian Pamela Berger argues that Christian "monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart."Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin and others suggest that the saint had been chief druidess at the temple of the goddess Brigid, and was responsible for converting it into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint.
According to tradition, Brigid was born in the year 451 AD in Faughart ,  County Louth . Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many secular scholars and even Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. Three biographies agree that her mother was Brocca, a Christian Pict and slave who had been baptised by Saint Patrick . They name her father as Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster .
The vitae say that Brigid's mother was a slave, and Dubthach's wife forced him to sell her to a druid when she became pregnant. Brigid herself was born into slavery. From the start, it is clear that Brigid is holy. When the druid tries to feed her, she vomits because he is impure. A white cow with red ears appears to sustain her instead. As she grows older, Brigid performs many miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigid's prayers. Around the age of ten, she was returned as a household servant to her father, where her habit of charity also led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked. In two Lives, Dubthach was so annoyed with her that he took her in a chariot to the king of Leinster, to sell her. While Dubthach was talking to the king, Brigid gave away his jewelled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The king recognized her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.
Her friendship with Saint Patrick is noted in the following paragraph from the Book of Armagh : "inter sanctum Patricium Brigitanque Hibernesium columpnas amicitia caritatis inerat tanta, ut unum cor consiliumque haberent unum. Christus per illum illamque virtutes multas peregit". (Between St Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.)
Brigid refused to marry, choosing instead to serve Jesus only. Brigid founded a double monastery at Kildare. She was the Abbess of the convent, which was the first convent in Ireland. She also founded a school of art at Kildare. The illuminated manuscripts became famous, especially the Book of Kildare.
In art, Brigid is often depicted holding a reed cross made from the palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday. The cross is known as St. Brigid’s Cross. It is a symbol of peace.
When dying, St Brigid is said to have been given the last rites by St Ninnidh. Afterwards, he reportedly had his right hand encased in metal so that it would never be defiled, and became known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand." Tradition says she died at Kildare on 1 February 525.
St Brigid is said to have had a female companion named Dar Lugdach, a younger nun whom she shared her bed with. According to tradition, Dar Lugdach succeeded Brigid as abbess of Kildare and, as foretold by Brigit, she died exactly one year after her. The two thus share the same feast day. The name Dar Lugdach (also spelled Dar Lugdacha or Dar Lughdacha) means "daughter of the god Lugh ".
Imbolc, Feast of Saint Brigit
Imbolc, or Óimelc, occurring the first of February, is one of the four major Celtic festivals in the year, going back to Druid times. The Feast of St Briget is on the same day.
Miracles associated with Brigid
Brigid is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. In her case, most of the miracles associated with her relate to healing and household tasks usually attributed to women.
• When Brigit was of marital age, a man by the name of Dubthach moccu Lugair came to woo her. Since Brigid offered her virginity to God, she told the man that she cannot accept him but to go to the woods behind his house where he will find a beautiful maiden to marry. Everything that he says to the maiden's father will be pleasing to them. The man followed her instructions and it was as she said.
• In one story, Brigid protected a woman from a nobleman who had entrusted a silver brooch to the woman for safekeeping but then secretly threw it into the sea. He charged her with stealing it, knowing that he could take her as a slave if a judge ruled in his favor. The woman fled and sought refuge with Brigid's community. By chance, one of her fishermen hauled in a fish which, when cut open, proved to have swallowed the brooch. The nobleman freed the woman, confessed his sin, and bowed in submission to Brigid. A similar story is told of St Kentigern .
• On another occasion, Brigid was travelling to see a physician for her headache. She stayed at the house of a Leinster couple who had two mute daughters. The daughters were travelling with Brigid when her horse startled, causing her to fall and graze her head on a stone. A touch of Brigid's blood healed the girls
• When on the bank of the River Inny , Brigid was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes. She later entered a house where many lepers begged her for these apples, which she offered willingly. The woman who had given the gift to Brigid was angered by this, saying that she had not given the gift to the lepers. Brigid was angry at the nun for withholding from the lepers and cursed her trees so they would no longer bear fruit. Yet another woman also gave Brigid the same gift, and again Brigid gave them to begging lepers. This time the second woman asked that she and her garden be blessed. Brigid then said that a large tree in the virgin's garden would have twofold fruit from its offshoots, and this was done. 
• One Easter Sunday, a leper had come to Brigid to ask for a cow. She said she would rest and would help him later however, he did not wish to wait and said he would go somewhere else for a cow. Brigid then offered to heal him, but the man stubbornly replied that his condition allowed him to get more than he would if he were healthy. After convincing the leper that this was not so, she told one of her maidens to have the man washed in a blessed mug of water. After this was done, the man was healed and vowed to serve Brigid.
• One of the more commonly told stories is of Brigid asking the King of Leinster for land. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect spot for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood and berries. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king's heart. Then she smiled at the king and said "will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?" The king thought that she was joking and, hoping to get rid of her, he agreed. She told four of her sisters to take up the cloak, but instead of laying it flat on the turf, each sister, with face turned to a different point of the compass, began to run swiftly, the cloth growing in all directions. The cloak began to cover many acres of land. "Oh, Brigid!" said the frighted king, "what are you about?" "I am, or rather my cloak is about covering your whole province to punish you for your stinginess to the poor." "Call your maidens back. I will give you a decent plot of ground." The saint was persuaded, and if the king held his purse-strings tight in future, she had only to allude to her cloak to bring him to reason. Soon afterwards, the king became a Christian, began to help the poor and commissioned the building of the convent. Legend has it, the convent was known for making jam from the local blueberries which was sought for all over Ireland. There is a new tradition beginning among followers of St Brigid to eat jam on 1 February in honour of this miracle.
• After Brigid promised God a life of chastity, her brothers were grieved at the loss of a bride price. When she was outside carrying a load past a group of poor people, some began to laugh at her. A man named Bacene said to her, "The beautiful eye which is in your head will be betrothed to a man though you like it or not." In response, Brigit thrust her finger in her eye and said, "Here is that beautiful eye for you. I deem it unlikely that anyone will ask you for a blind girl." Her brothers tried to save her and wash away the blood from her wound, but there was no water to be found. Brigid said to them, "Put my staff about this sod in front of you", and after they did, a stream came forth from the ground. Then she said to Bacene, "Soon your two eyes will burst in your head" and it happened as she said.
• She is associated with the preservation of a nun's chastity in unusual circumstances. Some authorsclaim that it is an account of an abortion. Both Liam de Paor (1993) and Connolly & Picard (1987), in their complete translations of Cogitosus , give substantially the same translation of the account of Brigit's ministry to a nun who had failed to keep her vow of chastity, and become pregnant. In the 1987 translation: "A certain woman who had taken the vow of chastity fell, through youthful desire of pleasure and her womb swelled with child. Brigid, exercising the most potent strength of her ineffable faith, blessed her, causing the child to disappear, without coming to birth, and without pain. She faithfully returned the woman to health and to penance."
Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light, Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us,
The Memory of Brigid within us,
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn.
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St. Brigid, by Patrick Joseph Tuohy, Hugh Lane Gallery. (Public Domain)
There is one old Irish goddess who would appear to have evaded a fate beneath the fairy mounds, however. This is, of course, Brigid, the above-mentioned keeper of fertility, health, and the spring, who shares her name with St. Brigid of Kildare, a nun and abbess who is said to have lived slightly before St. Patrick.
There are some who suggest that St. Brigid is a true Christianization of the pagan goddess. Art historian Pamela Berger, for example, argues that “Christian monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart.” Others claim that St. Brigid existed independently of the deity, with the two becoming confused in associations and legacy after her death. No matter which belief resonates with you most, there certainly is no denying that the many similarities to be found between this ancient pair provides fascinating insight into the Christian conversion of the Emerald Isle.