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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Brighid

"Three renovators of the world: the womb of woman, a cow's udder, a smith's moulding-block." - Traditional Irish Triad

  One of the most popular Irish goddesses in modern times is Brighid, also called Brigit, Bríd, Brig, Bric, Bride, Brigantia, Brigandu. A pan-Celtic goddess, in Ireland she was a deity of healing, fertility, poetry and smithcraft, sometimes seen as a single deity and sometimes as three sister deities. As three sisters, they were daughters of the Daghda; Brighid of the poets, Brighid of the forge, and Brighid the healer. It is very difficult however to sort out which Brighid of the three was meant in any story or reference 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 Brighids logical choices must be made about which Brighid would have most fit each story or attribution; that said Brighid below will be discussed as a single Goddess, with the understanding that any one of the three could likely be referred to. O'hOgain says that Brighid, whose name probably means "Exalted One", is a protector and inspirer of poets, as well as being connected to agricultural fertility.  The 9th century glossaries say that "among all the Irish a goddess used to be called a Brigit" (O'hOgain, the Lore of Ireland). Of course most if not all Irish deity names are actually titles or epithet so its hard to judge how meaningful that was in the pagan period, but it does add to the confusion about who exactly Brighid was and is from a pagn perspective. The information we have relating to Brighid comes from the traditional mythology including the Cath Maige Tuired and Lebor Gabala Erenn as well as mythology of the Christian saint of the same name who many believe is a continuation of the Goddess; modern beliefs and practices surrounding Brighid are an amalgam of older pagan sources and newer Christian ones. Much of this is due to the logical assumption that many of the beliefs and practices surrounding the saint reflect older pre-Christian beliefs originally attached to the goddess.
      Finding anything clear cut in Irish myth is difficult and this is true of trying to sort out Brighid's genealogy. In many cases Brid's mother is not listed, she is simply called the daughter of the Dagda (or daughters of the Dagda as the case may be). Now what gets tricky is that in some medieval sources she is given as the mother of the three gods of Danu, which is where some people come to think that she may be the same deity as Danu, although 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. In mythology she was married to the Fomorian Bres and bore him a son Ruadan; 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. She is viewed as the sister of Angus mac Og, which plays an important role in some of the recent stories surrounding Imbolc, Brighid's special holiday.
    Imbolc is a holy day dedicated to the Goddess Brighid and celebrated on February 1st or 2nd, although Carmichael mentions an older date as well of February 13th. The Gadelica mentions several traditions relating to this holiday. I've blogged about Imbolc before so I won't repeat everything here, but in brief it is a holiday specially dedicated to Brighid in both Ireland and Scotland. There are some modern stories that connect Brighid and the Cailleach at Imbolc; some people say that Imbolc is the day that the Cailleach Bhur releases Brighid who has been held prisoner all winter, while others say that Angus rescues his sister. Still another version says that Brighid and the Cailleach are the same deity, and that at Samhain Brighid becomes the Cailleach while at Imbolc she drinks form a sacred spring that turns her back into Brighid. Although the ideas connecting Brighid and the Cailleach are entirely modern, dating no further back than the 20th century, they have become increasingly popular among neopagans. 
    Brighid was said to have two oxen and a pig who would cry out "after rapine had been commited in Ireland", which O'hOgain says relates her to domestic animals. He also sees 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 Brighid was motherly to all those who prayed to her or honored her. Berresford Ellis also connects her to healing, fertility, smithcraft and poetry and mentions that she and Danu may be equivalents. Brighid has many strong associations to healing, partricularly of livestock, and also to protection and blessing in folk magic charms as can be seen in the Carmina Gadelica material. Brighid has a special healing well and site at Kildare and is associated with water that has healing powers, as well as a special talisman called a brat Bhride (Brigid's mantle or cloak) which is a small piece of cloth left out on Imbolc eve to be blessed by the goddess/saint which would then have healing properties throughout the year.
     Personally I've always also associated Brighid with grief, mourning, and children because of the incident in the Cath Maige Tuired where her son Ruadan is killed and she is said to be the first to ever grieve and keen (caoine) in Ireland. Offerings to Brighid often could include milk, butter, cheese, and bread, and in some cases chickens. For a modern practitioner these would all still be viable options and reflect Brighid's connection to agriculture and dairy products. According to Carmichael her special bird is the oystercatcher, which in Scottish is named Bridein, Bride’s bird, and Gille Bride, paige of Bride. The linnet is also special to the goddess and is named bigein Bride, little bird of Bride. Brighid’s flower is said to be the dandelion, and I have been told that the rowan tree was also particularly associated with her.
I am including my own version of a popular prayer to Brighid, the "Genealogy of Brighid"; this is the version from my book By Land, Sea and Sky.

Genealogy of Brighid (pagan version)
The genealogy of the holy goddess Brighid,
Radiant flame of gold, noble mother of Ruadan,
Brighid, the daughter of an Daghda the Good God,
Brighid, daughter of Boanne, shining white,
Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Brighid,
I shall not be killed, I shall not be harried,
I shall not be jailed , I shall not be wounded,
Nor shall my Gods leave me.
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
No lake, no water, nor sea shall drown mc,
No arrow of fairy nor dart of Fey shall wound me,
I am under the protection of the Gods of life,
And my gentle foster-mother is my beloved Brighid.
-          Modified based on material from volume 1 of the Carmina Gadelica by A. Carmichael, 1900.

References:
Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin        
Carmina Gadelica, volumes 1 and 2 by Alexander Carmicheal
 Lebor Gabála Érenn. Part IV. R. A. Macalister, Irish Texts Society, Dublin

1 comment:

  1. http://celticscholarsworld.yolasite.com/brigit.php another very good blog about Brighid that discusses etymology and spelling a bit more than I do : )

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