I'm a bit behind on blogging and translations because I'm in the middle of a new book draft for Pagan Portals: Brigid. The idea of doing more goddess-themed Pagan Portals was suggested by someone on my facebook author page and my publisher really liked it, and asked if I'd be interested in writing about Brigid. I'm about 14,000 words into the 25,000 word draft and its about all I've had time to work on, excluding real life child care (the never ending work-in-progress). So today I thought it would be fun to share a small excerpt from the new book in progress. Although the main focus of the book is specifically on the pagan Goddess Brighid it's inevitable that saint Brigid will have to be discussed too....
Brigid – Goddess and Saint
Our modern understanding of Brigid is largely the result of a blending of the features of the pagan Goddess and Catholic saint (Clark, 1991). There is a sharp divide among scholars on the subject with some like Kim McCone stating that saint Brigid, particularly in her later stories, shows a clear separation from the pagan Brigid, while others like Marie-Louise Sjoestedt say that the saint is an accurate preservation of the Goddess. This makes it difficult and at times almost impossible to untangle one from the other, particularly from material that dates to the transition period when Ireland was still nominally pagan and not yet entirely Christian. We can see this for example in the proliferation of both mythic figures and saints named Brigid as well as the characteristics of the early saint Brigid which clearly reflected earlier mythic patterns, such as providing food and drink to those in need (McCone, 2000). In the Lebor Gabala Erenn we are told that the Dagda is Brigid’s father and that he also had a son named Aed; interestingly saint Brigid also was associated with a person named Aed, in this case a fellow saint. Saint Aed was said to have founded a monastery with buildings dedicated to saint Brigid and saint Brigid was said to have invoked the name of saint Aed to miraculously cure a headache (McCone, 2000). Those seeking to connect to the Goddess today will have to decide for themselves what they feel genuinely reflects older pagan beliefs and what may have evolved in the later Christian period.
Saint Brigid was reputed to be the best brewer in Ireland, and her association with beer, ale, and brewing were shared by her counterparts the Welsh Saint Ffraid and the Scottish saint Bride. This particular association may reflect and 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.
Saint Brigid is most strongly associated with Kildare where her church stands near her sacred healing well; the church itself features a perpetual flame tended by Brigadine nuns. Although the perpetual flame cannot be traced with certainty back to the Irish pagan period Brigid’s British counterpart Brigantia had a temple under the guise of Brigantia-Minerva which also featured a perpetual flame (Puhvel, 1987). The Irish saint Brigid and the Scottish saint Bride are believed to be both the midwife and foster-mother of Jesus Christ and both are very strongly connected to childbirth, potentially reflecting older mother Goddess concepts.