Brighid of the Mantles encompass us
Lady of the Lambs protect us
Keeper of the Hearth kindle us
Beneath your mantle gather us
And Restore us to memory.
from An Invocation to Brighid, by Rowan Fairgrove
With love and deepest gratitude, I invite you to join me in honoring this holy day that is dedicated to the Great Goddess of my ancestral people.
For while I deeply honor many Gods, and the many fluid, multiple, and mysterious genders that are manifestations of Deity, my own epiphany and transformation in 1974 was absolutely, unmistakably Feminine. Thus, it is to Her that I give my ultimate devotion.
And this is the One, in specificity, most dear to me, to Whom I offered my life and heart decades ago. Today (and for many, tomorrow as well), Christians and Pagans around the world give honor to blessed Brighid, the “Bright One.”
Her Catholic feast day is Feb. 1, and some Pagan traditions also honor Her on this date. Many other Pagan and Craft traditions celebrate this cross-quarter Sabbat on Feb. 2, calling it Imbolc.
Brighid, also spelled Brigid, Bridget, Bríd, or Bride (the latter two usually pronounced “Breej” or “Breed”), is one of the few Goddesses to survive Christianity nearly intact. She successfully made the leap to revered saint, thanks to the love and devotion of the people of the Celtic lands from which She comes to us.
Although successful in wiping out the worship of many others, the Church could not muster the power to break Her bond with the people, so with a few tweaks and revisions to Her stories, She is still beloved the world over.
Brighid is a Triple Goddess, but as Goddess scholar Patricia Monaghan notes in her essential guide, The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines, “There were three Brigids, who were probably never construed as separate Goddesses, but as aspects of one divinity; unlike other triple Goddesses, they were identical, not aging through the typical maiden-mother-crone sequence.”
The unification of Her triple aspect, Patricia explains, is through Her symbol of fire.
Born at the exact moment of daybreak, Brighid rose into the sky with the Sun, rays of fire beaming from Her head. She is the daughter of the Dagda, the great Good Father God of Ireland.
In Druid mythology, the infant Goddess was fed with milk from a sacred cow from the Otherworld. Brighid owned an apple orchard in the Otherworld and Her bees would bring their magical nectar back to earth. It is said that wherever She walks, small flowers and shamrocks appear. As a Sun Goddess, Her gifts are light (knowledge), inspiration, and the vital and healing energy of the Sun.
Brighid is the Goddess of smithcraft, the creative arts, especially of poetry and inspiration, and of healing and medicine. As the Christian saint, She is patron of the humble folk of the land, protector of the harvest, of wells and streams, and is the guardian of cattle and sheep. She lights the fire which is never extinguished, which is the hearth fire of the home. Saint Brighid is also the patron saint of research, studies, and learning.
Her Journey Through History
Even after the Roman Catholic Church banned all Pagan ways, She was so firmly and permanently beloved, She was absorbed into Christianity as a saint. Beloved to millions, She has been called the Mother Goddess of Ireland.
The (human) woman identified as St. Brigid built her Abbey around 480 C.E., on a hill beside a great oak tree. This had been an important gathering place and sacred pilgrimage site since far more ancient times, and it was named from the Gaelic term Cill Dara, which means the Cell [“kell”] or Church of the Oak, pointing to its importance in Druid practice. We now know it as Kildare.
Long before Her adaptation as a Christian saint, possibly even pre-dating the Celtic civilization, there had been a great cult that surrounded this Sun Goddess with various spellings including Bride (pronounced “breed” or “breej”), Brigit, or Brighid.
Brigid (both Saint and Goddess) presides over healing, inspiration, poetry, and smithcraft. She is provider of plenty, giver of life and is also identified with nurturing, childbirth, fertility, and fire.
In addition to Her fiery blessings, wells and many rivers and streams are sacred to Brigid, for they are doorways to the Underworld and the womb of our Mother, the source of all life.
Although we associate Her with Ireland (Éire), Her name is intertwined with Brigantia, the land inhabited by the Brigantes, a British Celtic tribe. In pre-Roman times, they occupied the largest territory in the heart of ancient Britain, from the Irish sea on the west coast to the North Sea in the east.
You can also see Her embodied in the bright stars of the constellation we call Orion.
Holy Water, Sacred Flame
For millennia at Her temple at Kildare, Brigid’s priestesses, and later, the nuns of Her order, tended an eternal flame in Her honor. Although it was extinguished and the monastery destroyed in the 12th century, during the Burning Times (the Inquisition) for being too Pagan, Sister Mary Minehan boldly re-lit St. Brigid’s flame on Her feast day in 1993.
It was lit again for the day in 1997, in the square at Kildare by Ragny Skaisten, a member of the Norwegian Brigidine Sisters.
Each year thereafter on Brigid’s Feast Day, despite reluctance from the Pope, the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare continued to light Her flame in the town square for the day.
For then, the Wheel turned yet again. That year, in Kildare, on St. Brigid’s day, with much ceremony and celebration, including the dedication of a specially commissioned sculpture housing it, Her eternal flame was lit once more, by the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese.
And there it burns to this day.
The local news reports described the sculpture as “a twisted column, which flourishes at the top into large-scale oak leaves, nestled into which there is a bronze acorn cup holding the flame. The use of oak leaves symbolises both the Christian beliefs of St. Brigid and the earlier Druidic worship of the trees.”
Her flame has spread well beyond the shores of Éire, for now there is a worldwide network of many hundreds of flame-keepers, many of whom are associated with the Ord Brighideach International. Its member groups or “cills” have nineteen participants. Each takes a turn, from dusk to dusk (the Celtic days begin at sunset) tending a candle in Her name. On the 20th day, Brighid Herself tends the flame.
This is in harmony with the Brigidine flame-keeping cycle kept at KIldare, although is not associated with the Catholic Church.
For a treasure trove of lore, and countless beautiful suggestions for ways to honor Her through ritual and sacred intention, I highly recommend the book by my friend and priestess, Lunaea Weatherstone: Tending Brigid’s Flame: Awaken to the Celtic Goddess of Hearth, Temple, and Forge.
Thou Shining Woman of Gentleness
Brighid presides over all transformations: birth and brewing, metal-smithing and poetry, and the passage from Winter to Spring. Her name may be derived from Gaelic “breo aigit” meaning “fiery arrow.” Her name is noticeably similar to the Sanskrit derivation “Brahti” which means “exalted one.”
The gifts of Brighid transcend spiritual path and culture. Brighid inspires us to become more than we have ever been – to reach for the greatest potential that exists in each of us. Her Flame is given to us for inspiration. It lights the path from the dark of Winter to the promise of Spring.
It illuminates us to see and know our ancient, true history. Hers is the purifying fire that heals our wounds, forges new strength, and weaves creativity and art into our lives.
May Brighid the Shining One bless you with Her hope and power. May the waters of healing in your life flow freely and clearly; may the Light illuminate your path. May we, with our lives, ensure that Her holy fire burns forever more.