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.
While I deeply honor the 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 (and yes, little Miss Episcopalian Me was STUNNED by this!).
Thus, on this 50th anniversary of my call to the Goddess, I am rededicating myself to Her in all Her forms. But most especially, to beloved Brighid, for I have served Her for many years, including as a flamekeeper in a Brigadine group that takes turns tending Her flame.
Brighid roughly means the “Bright One.” 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 the late 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.
Keeping the Hearth Flame
As my friend, acclaimed artist and devoted flamekeeper, Mickie Mueller writes:
The household fire is sacred to Brighid, and each evening the woman of the house would smoor the fire, (cover it over to keep the fire overnight) asking for the protection of Brigid on all its occupants.
Sometimes a small piece of cloth meant to represent Her cloak is left on a tree, windowsill or anywhere outside so that Brigid blesses it as she passes by on the evening of Her feast day, this is called a Brigid’s Mantle or Brid Brat. It’s used all year to bless the home and also is useful to place near the bed of anyone who falls ill, as Brigid is a Goddess of healing.
Here is my own Brat, draped for extra blessings on one of our Hawthorn trees.
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.
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. 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 — particularly 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.
Saint Brigid is also the patron saint of studies and learning. Beloved to countless 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 or Church of the Oak, pointing to its importance in Druid practice. We now know it as Kildare.
She is provider of plenty, giver of life and is also identified with nurturing, childbirth, and fertility.
In addition to Her fiery blessings, springs, wells, and many streams throughout the British Isles are sacred to Brighid, for they are doorways to the Underworld and the womb of our Mother, the source of all life. You can also see Her embodied in the bright stars of the constellation we call Orion.
The Flame Keepers
For millennia at Her temple at Kildare, Brighid’s priestesses, and later, the nuns of Her order, tended an eternal flame in Her honor. Although it was extinguished during the Burning Times (the Inquisition) for being too Pagan, one of the sisters of Her order boldly re-lit St. Brigid’s flame on Her feast day in 1993.
It was lit again for Her feast day in 1997, in the square at Kildare by a member of the Norwegian Brigidine Sisters.
Each year thereafter on Brigid’s Feast Day, despite the displeasure of Popes John Paul and Benedict, 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.
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.” And there it burns to this day.
But that was still not the end of it, for Brighid is profoundly beloved by Her people, and (as the Catholic Church learned the hard way) not easily ignored.
After years of urging by an Irish feminist organization, just last year Her feast day, Feb. 1, became a permanent public holiday for all of Ireland, right up there with the more contentious Patrick on March 17.
Ignite Your Holy Fire
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. In fact, Maman Brigette, one of the primary loas in the Voodoo tradition, is associated with the Celtic Brighid and shares Her feast day. Author and Voodun Priestess Lilith Dorsey has written this inspiring essay about Their connection.
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 our dark Winter to the promise of Spring.
As mentioned, there are springs and wells and rivers all across the British Isles that are considered sacred to Her, and people implore Her grace by tying ribbons and pieces of cloth to the nearby shrubs and trees. Countless healing miracles are embedded in the lore of those liminal places.
Her grace illuminates us to see and know our ancient, true history. Hers is the purifying fire that cleanses our wounds, forges new strength, and weaves creativity and art into our lives.
May Brighid the Shining One bless you this day and always with Her hope and power. May Her healing waters flow freely and cleanly in your life; may Her creativity and poetry ever illuminate your path.
And may we never, ever lose our way to Her well.