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Pagan Portals - Brigid is a basic introduction to the Goddess Brigid focusing on her history and myth as well as her modern devotion and worship. Primarily looking at the Irish Goddess but including a discussion of her Pan-Celtic appearances, particularly in Scotland. Her different appearances in mythology are discussed along with the conflation of the pagan Goddess with Catholic saint. Modern methods for neopagans to connect to and honor this popular Goddess include offerings and meditation, and personal anecdotes from the author's experiences are included as well. Who was Brigid to the pre-Christian pagans? Who is she today to neopagans? How do we re-weave the threads of the old pagan Goddess and the new? Learn about Brigid's myths among the pagan Irish, the stories of Bride in Scotland, and the way that people today are finding and honoring this powerful and important deity to find the answer.
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Pagan Portals Brigid
Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well
By Morgan Daimler
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Morgan Daimler
All rights reserved.
Trí aithgine in domain: brú mná, uth bó, ness gobann.
Traditional Irish Triad
Three regenerators of the world: a woman's womb, a cow's udder, a smith's furnace. (Translation, M. Daimler)
One of the most popular Irish Goddesses in modern times is Brigid, known as both a pagan Goddess and for her associations with the later Catholic saint of the same name. A pan-Celtic Goddess, Brigid is found across a variety of Celtic cultures; in Ireland (in Irish) she is Bríd, or Brighid, which has been Anglicized to Bridgid or Bridgit; In Scotland she is Bride and in Wales she is Ffraid. In Old Irish her name was Brig or Bric, in Middle Irish she was Brigit, while in Celtic Britain she was Brigantia, and in Gaul she was Brigandu.
In Ireland Brigid was a deity of healing, poetry and smithcraft, sometimes seen as a single deity and sometimes as three sister deities. As three sisters, they were: Brigid of the Poets, Brigid of the Forge, and Brigid the Healer. It is very difficult, however, to sort out which Brigid of the three was the one indicated in most of the stories or references to her. Many people simply treat her as a single Goddess, although this may be oversimplifying. For a modern polytheist who wants to honor all three Brigids, logical choices must be made about which Brigid would have most fit each story or attribution; that said Brigid here will be discussed as a single Goddess, with the understanding that any one of the three could likely be referred to. Additionally there are several other Irish Brigids: Brig Ambue (Brigid of the Cowless), Brig Brethach (Brigid of the Judgments), and Brig Brigiu (Brigid the Hospitaller). These three may be later interpretations of the previous three — and indeed Irish scholar Kim McCone describes them as such — or they may be different Goddesses, or perhaps even different aspects of a single Brigid. It is up to the reader to decide for themselves what view makes the most sense, but information about all of the named Brigids will be given below.
Finding anything clear cut in Irish myth is difficult and this is true of trying to sort out Brigid's genealogy. Brigid's mother is not listed, and in the material we have she is simply called the daughter of the Dagda, or daughters of the Dagda since she also appears as three identically named siblings. Brigid is sometimes conflated with Danu, and less often with the Morrigan, because of instances in the Lebor Gabala Erenn where each is said to be the mother to the same set of three sons by the same father. It is impossible to know with certainty if this is so, or only a medieval attempt to reconcile the pagan mythology into a more cohesive system, and so some people accept it and some people don't. However, it is worth noting that Danu and the Morrigan have a different father than Brigid does, a fact which is mentioned repeatedly, making it unlikely in my opinion that they actually are the same being.
In mythology she was married to the half-Fomorian, half-Tuatha Dé Danann Eochaid Bres and bore him a son Ruadán. In some stories she also had three sons with Tuireann named Brian, Iachar, and Iucharba although this may result from confusion between her and Danu/Danand who is listed as the mother of these three sons elsewhere. This confusion is reinforced by other sources, which list Brian, Iachar, and Iucharba as either sons of Brigid and Bres or sons of Bres (Gray, 1983). No daughters are attributed to her, and all of her sons die tragically by violence: Ruadán is killed after a failed assassination attempt of the smith God Goibniu during the war with the Fomorians and Brian, Iachar, and Iucharba die after completing a series of nearly impossibly tasks set by the high king Lugh as punishment for killing his father.
She is viewed as the sister of Angus mac Og, which plays an important role in some of the recent stories surrounding Imbolc, Brigid's special holiday. As a daughter of the Dagda she would also have had at least two other brothers, Aed, and Cermait, according to the Lebor Gabala Erenn (Macalister, 1941).
Brigid is a protector and inspirer of poets, as well as being connected to agricultural fertility and healing (O'hOgain, 2006; Clark, 1991). As a Goddess of poets she would also have had ties to prophecy, a skill practiced by the Irish poets and considered essential to their art. Nerys Patterson describes her as 'the high goddess Brig, patron of food production, war, and knowledge' (Patterson, 1994). Brigid is sometimes equated with the Roman Minerva as a Goddess of healing and skill and the Greek Athena (Green1995; McNeil1956). She was said to have two oxen, a pig, and a ram who were all the kings of their respective species, which could further relate her to domestic animals, and in folk tradition she is regularly called on as saint Brigid to heal animals. Brigid has many strong associations to healing, both of animals and people, and also to protection and blessing in folk magic charms as can be seen in the Carmina Gadelica material. Her healing of people is both general and specific to women, who prayed to her to conceive, during pregnancy, labor, and also for issues such as mastitis. In Scotland Brigid as Bride is strongly associated with childbirth; it is said that if a woman has an easy birth Brigid is with her, but a difficult birth means Brigid does not favor the family (Ross, 1976).
She is also seen as a Goddess of prosperity and abundance who blesses homes she visits (Sjoestedt, 1940). As the tutelary Goddess of Leinster she could arguable be seen as a sovereignty deity as well; her marriage to one of the kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Bres, would reinforce this idea as the kings of the Gods were each associated in some way with a particular sovereignty Goddess. A poem in the Lebar na Núachongbála calls Brigid the Lady of Sovereignty, further confirming this association (Meyer, 1912).
Many people see her as a mother Goddess; the saint is referred to as the foster mother of Christ and this may well reflect an older feeling that Brigid was motherly to all those who prayed to her or honored her. Celtic scholar Anne Ross associates Brigid with the role of mother of the Gods, comparing her to Danu and to the Welsh Dôn, and groups them as deities who are 'gods of the divinities themselves', or in other words deities who the Gods themselves would go to in the same way people went to the Gods (Ross, 1970). Professor Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, a linguist who wrote about Celtic mythology and themes, refers to Brigid as a 'goddess par excellence' along with Danu and Anu and writes that 'the pagan Brigit was the most excellent goddess' (Sjoestedt, 1940, p. 25). In some sources including the Lebor Gabala Erenn Brigid is conflated with both Danu and the Morrigan, which is sometimes used to support the viewpoint of her as a mother Goddess or even as the mother of the Gods, although the confusion between the three Goddesses might only be a result of later attempts to homogenize different local folklore into a single mythological system. In this view Ross argues that Brigid is ultimately an earth-mother Goddess who supports and nurtures the Gods themselves and who is the mother of exceptional children, whose skill exceeds the other Gods (Ross, 1970). Certainly Brigid does have an unusually broad range of abilities and expertise, which at least indicates that she held a significant and prominent place historically.
Brigid has tenuous war aspects in Ireland, although thinly disguised as saint Brigid. Lady Gregory in her book Gods and Fighting Men sought to chronicle Irish folk beliefs in the 19 century and related a story of the battle of Dunbolg, which saw the war Goddess Badb, one of the Morrigans, aligning with one army while Brigid incited the other army (Clark, 1991). In one version of this tale Brigid simply looms over the Leinstermen, the side she favors, intimidating the enemy, but in another version she takes an active part in frightening them so that they are defeated (O Cathasaigh, 2014). In this tale we can fairly easily see the tutelary Goddesses of Leinster and Connacht facing off in Brigid's and Badb's support of the army from their respective territory. One aspect of Brigid in particular, Brigid Ambue, who will be discussed in detail below, is strongly associated with the landless wandering warriors and the Irish style of warfare typified by cattle raiding, adding another connection between Brigid and war.
In Wales we also see Brigid, as the Welsh saint Ffraid, associated with beer and brewing, an association shared with her Irish counterpart (Baring-Gould, & Fisher, 1913). Saint Brigid was reputed to be the best brewer in Ireland, and her association with beer, ale, and brewing were shared by her counterparts in Scotland, saint Bride, as well as the Welsh Ffraid. This particular association may reflect an older pagan belief connected to Brigid of Smithcraft, as it was not uncommon for smith deities to also be Gods of brewing. The Irish smith God Goibniu, for example, was associated with brewing as well as smithing. Goibniu had a special mead or ale called the fled Goibnenn, 'drink of Goibniu', that conveyed the gift of youth and immortality to the Tuatha De Danann (O hOgain, 2006). Similarly the Welsh Gofannon was a brewer as well as smith and the Gaulish Secullos, the 'Good Striker', although not known explicitly as a smith God was depicted with a hammer and associated with wine. The process of brewing itself is one which, like blacksmithing, involves using both fire and water to transform a substance; this may be particularly appropriate for a Goddess like Brigid who has such strong associations to fire and water, and it should be noted in connecting Brigid to brewing that one type of wheat used in making malt, emmer, is also one possible meaning of Brigid's son Rúadán's name.
The Many Brigids: Triplicities of the Goddess
In Irish mythology it was common to see significant deities appear in groups or as multiplicities of deities with the same name (Macalister, 1941). There are at least two distinct groupings of three Brigids. The first is a set of three sisters, all daughters of the Dagda, each of which is given a specific focus. The second trio is mentioned in the Ulster Cycle in relation to Senchan the chief poet and judge of the Ulster court: Brigid the Hospitaller (Brig Brigiu) is his mother, Brigid of the Judgments (Brig Brethach) is his wife, and their daughter is Brigid of the Cowless (Brig Ambue) (Thompson, 2014). Within this second grouping, however, each of the three Brigids is often mentioned interchangeably and the epithet of one may be applied in a story to another, creating confusion, and implying the possibility of an older belief that perhaps the three were originally one cohesive figure only later divided. For some people the variety of Brigids in the different myths and stories will be seen as unique individuals and not all may be perceived as deities while to others each of these appearances of Brigid reflects a deeper united divine nature. It is up to the reader to decide for themselves, but the various evidence will be presented here.
The Three Sisters
Brigit — a poet, daughter of the Dagda. This Brigit is a woman of poetry (female poet) and is Brigit the Goddess worshipped by poets because her protection was very great and well known. This is why she is called a Goddess by poets. Her sisters were Brigit the woman of healing and Brigit the woman of smithcraft, Goddesses; they are three daughters of the Dagda.
Brigid of the Poets
Besides her connection to fertility and domestic animals she is also strongly associated with poetry as well as several vocal expressions from warning cries to grieving (Ellis, 1994; Gray, 1983). The associations with warning cries come from her possession of the animals which cried out in times of social upheaval, and with her invention of a whistle to signal at night. Because of the incident in the Cath Maige Tuired where her son Ruadán is killed, she is said to be the first to ever grieve and keen (caoin) in Ireland, although the Dindshenchas tradition says she began the practice to mourn the death of Mac Greine (Gray, 1983). It should be noted here that Mac Greine, a later king of the Tuatha De Danann, would have been her nephew, her brother Cermait's son. Her connection to different types of vocal expression is strong and repeatedly emphasized throughout her stories.
Brigid of Healing
Listed in Cormac's Glossary as a sister of Brigid the Poetess, we are told only that she is a 'woman of healing'. The ancient sources for her in this role are scant, but in modern folk magic Brigid is one of the main beings called on for healing purposes. She is strongly associated with childbirth, called on during the birth itself and also to bless the child afterwards, and she is also called on for healing animals.
Brigid of Smithcraft
In Cormac's Glossary she is listed as the third Brigid, also a daughter of the Dagda. We are told that she is a 'woman of smithcraft' and explicitly that she is a Goddess, but nothing else. It is likely that this aspect of Brigid may relate to Brigid as a fire Goddess, as fire was an essential element of the smith's craft. It is generally taken as inarguable that Brigid was a Goddess of fire and possibly also of the sun (McCone, 2000).
The Three Brigids of the Ulster Cycle
Brigid the Hospitaller
Brigid the Hospitaller is associated with providing hospitality to those seeking it. The word 'brigiu' is used in old Irish legal texts to denote wealthy land owners who had to provide food and shelter in the manner of a hostel, whose honor price was equal to a king's, and who often served as mediators or judges in disputes (eDIL, n.d.). Through this aspect we may see Brigid associated with generosity and hospitality. It is also worth noting that hostels in mythology were often Otherworldly in nature or location and the people who kept them, the hospitallers, were often magical in nature (Lehmann, & Lehmann, 1975). There seems to be a clear connection between this Brigid in particular and the earliest depictions of saint Brigid who was renowned for miraculously being able to provision people with supplies, food, and drink (McCone, 2000). This aspect of Brigid as a provider of resources and nurturer could be correlated above with Brigid of Healing (McCone, 2000). Both provide nurturing and support of the physical body.
Brigid of the Judgments
Brigid the judge is a figure who appears in the Ulster Cycle and is referenced in the Brehon Laws. Although she appears as a semi-historic figure in the Ulster stories it is quite likely in my opinion that this Brigid was originally viewed as a deity, possibly identical with Brigid the Poetess. In one story of Brigid of the Judgments, a false judgment was given in a ruling about women resulting in blisters on the face of the judge who spoke; these were only cured when Brigid spoke the correct judgment (Kelly, 1988). In the Ulster Cycle her husband is one of the foster-fathers of Cu Chulain implying that she could possibly have been the hero's foster mother, a logical conclusion given the more general association of Brigid with the role of foster-mothering (Thompson, 2014). Brigid of the Judgments could be associated with Brigid of the Poets (McCone, 2000). Both are connected to the power of speech.
Brigid of the Cowless
Brig Ambue is an obscure figure from the Ulster Cycle. Her father is the chief poet and judge of Ulster and her mother is Brigid of the Judgments (Thompson, 2014). This Brigid, like her parents, is associated with legal judgment, but is also seen as a patroness of both women and the lowest classes of people who she rendered judgments for in legal cases (Thompson, 2014). Brigid of the Cowless tends to be strongly associated with warriors, particularly those on the fringes of society. The word 'ambue' in Old Irish literally means 'no cows' and was a term used to classify people without property, land, or family, as well as foreigners (eDIL, n.d.). The ambue, or cowless, were generally young, unmarried warriors and hunters who lived on the edges of society, particularly being associated with the warrior bands called the fían (McCone, 2000). The warrior bands had their own structures and yearly cycles, tending to form during summer months during periods with lower agricultural activity (Patterson, 1994). It is interesting to contemplate Brigid of the Cowless and how she may relate to the pagan Goddess Brigid who lost all four of her sons to violence after their own lawless actions brought fatal retribution back on them. Brigid Ambue could be associated with Brigid of Smithcraft (McCone, 2000). Both are connected in different ways to warriors.
Brigid in My Life
My first visible experience of Brigid in my life was not one I expected. I had been honoring her for many years, praying to her, making offerings, celebrating her on Oimelc (Imbolc). But I had never truly felt her presence before, except perhaps as a distant sensation of calm and comfort.
Excerpted from Pagan Portals Brigid by Morgan Daimler. Copyright © 2015 Morgan Daimler. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Author's Note xiii
Chapter 1 Meeting Brigid 3
Chapter 2 Brigid by Other Names 15
Chapter 3 Brigid in Mythology 25
Chapter 4 Symbols, Animals, and Holidays 37
Chapter 5 The Goddess in Modern Times 53
Chapter 6 Prayers, Chants and Charms 63
Appendix A Pronunciation 75
Appendix B Mixed Media Resources 77