Friday, November 12, 1999


SOURCE SYNOPSES ON BRIGID AS GODDESS & SAINT (bibl at end of each synopsis)
(parenthetical notes are mine; not text’s)

BRIGID/BRIGIT  A triune goddess of:
1) healing                             therapy           
2) blacksmiths                            fire
3) fertility & poetry                    light       poets/seers  divination, prophecy

(also Patron saint of travelers, domestic arts;weaving & dyeing, agricultural abundance; the kitchen (bread), brewing;  arts/crafts learning; protectress of women; patroness of midwives/childbirth (water?), )

Mythological aspects: A daughter of the Dagda (The Good God ....Q is Boand (cow goddess) her mother??? her tow sisters were also called Brigid, in other words she was a triune goddess: three in one)
she was married a while to Bres, the half-Fomorii ruler of the Dé Danann. By Tuireann she had 3 sons: Brían, Iuchar, Iuchara (twins+ 1, a mythic motif. at the death of her son, uttered the first cry of sorrow in Ireland.)

She appears as the equivalent to Dana, mother of all gods.
Counterpart in Brythonic Celtic (Brigantia; Totem of the Brigantes) and Gaulish (Brigindo) cultures. Her name seems to represent “High One”
(Exaulted One, Fiery Arrow...Brig means god. cognate with brihati in Vedic Sanskrit, correspondent in Britain with Briganti latinized Brigantia,)

Festival, Imbolg/Imbolc, Feb. 1, one of four great Celtic feasts. Pastoral festival assoc. w/the milk of the ewes and 1st day of spring.
(NOTE St. Brigid’s Night divided the year into 2 seasons winter/summer ....(from A& B Rees book, Celtic Heritage) Gemredh (winter half) Samhain (summer half)  Earrach (spring or Oimelk/Imbolg or Imbolc -bolg+stomach/bag...ime is butter  butterbag??? cream bag/stomach? bainne = milk in Irish. If she’s the Indo European Cow Goddess, this all ties in. Cow, serpent, bird, cockerel assoc. w Brigid)

4. 5th C. SAINT Mary of the Gaels; her tradition is often confused with the goddess. Attribute;  Icon: cow lying at her feet, 

Born in Faughart in AD 540 and died in Kildare in 523; (note c.453 -523;
daughter of a slavegirl and Dubthach...a chieftain (or possibly a druid)
either sent to a druid or was born in a druid’s house...
She was baptized and returned to her father’s house, refusing offers of marriage (from a poet, no less), took the vow of virginity & w/ 7 companions founded Kildare, one of the greatest monasteries in Ire....probably an important pagan site  kil= cell and dare= oak; Classical references state the druids worship in oak groves; it’s possible she was a druidess.. On the flat plains of what came to be Cell Dara were certain areas sacred to the fertility goddess Bríg, where her priestesses kept an eternal fire, The plains were left untilled  even though fertile, a sign that the goddess owned them.  Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland, Lisa Bitel, Cornell  University Press, 1990   p 44)

Numerous accounts of her life were written soon after her death and her cult became widespread.. Her cult is second only to St. Patrick in Ireland (a paradox, if she was real, with 2nd generation monk-saints, a real misogyny seems to arise: St. Kevin disliked women as did Kentigern, and Columba, there’s even a tale attached to Brendan’s fear of women...a new element under Christian : women lost many legal rights with the introduction of Christianity)

Many traditions and ceremonies assoc. w/ her predecessor, the goddess. Her Feast Day Feb. 1.  (Candlemas...interesting fire imagery here, also one description of her from the Hebrides has her head haloed with candles)
“RAS MacAlister put forward the theory that the saint was actually a priestess of Brigid who converted to Christianity. In most accounts of her life, her father is named as Dubhthach, a druid.”

p 50, A Dictionary of Irish Mythology, Peter Berresford Ellis, Oxford University Press, GB 1987.

BRIGID (Brigit, Bridget, Bride)  d 525 Abbess of Kildare. Historical facts about her extremely rare; some scholars doubt her existence. Lives mainly anecdotes and miracle stories, deeply rooted in Irish pagan folklore.
Born near Uinmeras, 5 miles from Kildare, parents of humble origin, baptized by Patrick, became a nun at an early age, founded a monastery at Kildare and contributed notably to the spread of Christianity. Her miracles stories portray her as a personification of compassion. Themes: multiplication of food, butter to the poor, and her bathwater into beer!(kinky!!!)to satisfy the thirst of unexpected cleric visitors. Even her cows gave milk three times the same day to enable some bishops to have enough to drink.

Other legends personify her with the Blessed Virgin (Mary of the Gael) based on a vision of Bishop Ibor the night before an assembly addressed by Brigid. When she arrived she corresponded exactly to his vision of Mary. Ibor also supposed to have consecrated her
(or perhaps Mel “When Brigid went to Bishop Mel to receive the veil of a nun, he became so ‘intoxicated’ with the sanctity in his presence that he read the ritual for ordaining a bishop over her. Thus, Brigid is unique among Irish holy women in being a fully accredited bishop.” (Conversing With Angels & Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland,  Joseph Nage (Cornell 1997)  p233 ) 

ODS  author David Hugh Farmer states: claims of bishops and abbesses of Kildare supreme over others in the whole of Ireland were a principal reason for the existence of even the earliest
Lives, such as that by Cogitosus *(c. 650).  (Ultan of Ard Braccan, d. 657, also wrote a Life). Lives translated into Old French, Middle English, German (some 7 Lives written??? )

(Cogitosus maintains that Brigid’s patruchia  stretched throughout Ireland....Brigid remains so colorless  as an historical person that one doubts whether she had lived as a saint at all.” Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition, Michael Richter, St. Martin’s Press 1995   p78

(In Conversing With Angels & Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland, UCLA Celtic Studies scholar Joseph Nage writes; “There is no serviceable modern edition of Cogitosus’s text (in Louvain)” page 234)

(“The cult of Brigid is the most spectacular example of the transformations effected by the medieval Irish hagiographic tradition, whereby pre-Christian divinity or divine trait becomes Christian saint or typical saintly behavior. There are incontrovertible references in medieval Irish literature to a pre-Christian divinity Bríg or Bright, who is obviously the inspiration for much of the cult of St.  Brigid.”  Conversing With Angels & Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland,  Nage,  p 233)

Unusual Double monastery of Kildare Brigid and Bishop Conleth
(it’s significant that he’s a metalsmith, in one story, he’s accused of fathering a child and Brigid makes the child point out its father, in another story the cleric is Brón (sorrow), Another more repressed story where she gets rid of a nun’s fetus  “public determination of at the heart of the story pattern.”  Conversing With Angels & Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland,  Nage,  p231)

NOTE also suggested that the double monastery was w/ Patrick/ or her brother)
Her cult is second only to Patrick. Popular in England (19 ancient churches dedicated to her: St. Bride’s Fleet St.)  and in Wales: as many churches (NOTE numerology: 19 churches, 19 nuns) St. Bride’s Day, Dyfed emphasizes strong links w/ Irish Christianity. Many places in Wales called Llansantaffraid (=St Bride’s Church ...llan  santa FFraid: Welsh for Brigit). Popular on Continent, esp. in Alsace, Flanders & Portugal. (Also France & Italy...what’s amazing about this is that women didn’t travel, so monks had to spread the word. if she was indeed a bishop as Nage suggests, it would explain her power and widespread cult)
 Brigid is patron of poets, blacksmiths and healers. Icon: cow lying at her feet, which recalls her phase as a nun-cowgirl.
A relic of her shoe in Nat Museum, Dublin (NOTE: she is often paired w/ Lugh...patron of shoemakers...get back to that later)
folkloric elements important in her Lives and cult. Gerald of Wales d.c. 1200 (See orig. text, incl. & use in paper) described a fire kept burning continuously  at her shrine for centuries, tended by 20 (19) nuns of her community. The fire was surrounded by a circle of bushes, which no man was allowed to enter.
Brig means valor or might, personified as a goddess  whose fire cult took place on Feb. 1; her translation to June 10. another feast on march 24 commemorated the discovery  by St. Malachy in 1185 of the supposed bodies of Patrick, Columba and Brigid at Downpatrick.

from p 50 Oxford Dictionary of Saints, David Hugh Farmer, ed. Oxford University Press, GB 1978. (he cites Plummer, among others) take tidbits from his intro on Celtic saints???

(Note Morgan uses similar verbiage as Oxford Dictionary) Brigid...gathered together women form all over Ireland into protected monastic communities. She was legendary in her abilities to multiply food: turning bath water into beer & milking her cows successfully 3 x day (he misunderstands info: 3 x the yield, not 3 x day) agriculturist: cowherd, shepherd, butter churner, baker, corn reaper (add more from Life)
assoc. w/ Brig whose cult was celebrated w/ a ceremony of fire. “Brigid has experienced a relatively recent insurgence of popularity due to the interest of contemporary feminist and environmental groups, as well as the growing women’s movement in Ireland.”

p 29 Saints: a Visual Almanac of the Virtuous, Pure, Praiseworthy, and Good, Chronicle Books, Tom Morgan, San Francisco 1994

Brigid: Caesar includes her among major deities of Gaul (Interpretatio Romana) as Minerva, patron of the arts and crafts, but Celtic deities were larger and more complex, often assoc. w Mercury & Vulcan. Her cult strong among the lower social orders, hence the patron of domestic arts;weaving & dyeing. Arts & healing, honored at Bath (Aquae Sulis) with Sulis.
Nearest counterpart, Irish Brighid in Cormac’s Glossary (c.8th c) states that she was the patron of filidhecht (poetry and learning, divination and prophecy-worshipped by the filidh
Daughter of the Daghda, her two sisters also named Brighid.: patrons of healing and smithing.
p 34  “Among all the Irish a goddess used to be called Brighid...her name used to be synonymous for Goddess.” Cormac’s Glossary (c.8th c)
slight historical evidence for her Christian namesake. “She usurped the role of the goddess and much of her mythological tradition”
in the saint;s Lives, she;s assoc. with livestock and produce of the earth
born at sunrise  neither within nor without the house (between worlds like Cuchulainn at the ford),fed milk from a white, red-eared cow (supernatural connection). (while in conversation w/ St. Brendan) she hangs her wet cloak on the rays of the sun (Lugh/Griannos connection??) her house ablaze when she entered.
Gerald of Wales quote she and 19 nuns took turns guarding the perpetual sacred fire surrounded by a hedge, no men could enter (NOTE add Columba story of the man who went mad who crossed the threshold of bushes)

Solinus 3rd c mentioned Minerva;s sanctuary in Britain contained a perpetual fire. Minerva’s epithet: Bélsima (most brilliant) Brigid: The Exalted one; cognate with brihati in Vedic Sanskrit, correspondent in Britain with Briganti latinized Brigantia, tutelary goddess of the Brigantes She gives her name to rivers: Brent in England, Braint in Wales and Brighid in Ireland.
no clear distinction bet goddess and saint. Kildare was probably an important pagan site, Brigid was not a missionary saint, nor widely traveled (though chariot stories abound). dedications to her throughout Celtdom

p 93 (compare w the Hag of sovereignty) mother goddess, shaper of the land, consort of kings  “The composite legend of goddess and saint connected her to...learning, craftsmanship, healing; ,,,childbirth and animal abundance....predominantly pacific concerns.” War: she intervenes for Leinstermen as a tutelary goddess concerned  with political and economic well being. A territorial goddess of the land assoc. w sacral kingship. Land should be prosperous and inviolate under his rule; only a legitimate spouse of the goddess personified

p 132 ...the notion of sovereignty...abundant evidence that symbolism and function of both myth and ritual, still clearly perceived pagan traditions and cults thrived and flourished...under the mantle of the church...spurious seal of respectability, pagan deities canonized and assimilated.

pp 32-4; 93, 132  Celtic Mythology, Proinsius MacCana, Peder Bedrick Books, 1983

p 53 springs and sacred wells assoc. with divine cults of healing, Brigid, Coventina
p54 Celtic Festivals 4 seasonal religious festivals  mythic tradition, farming year Imbolc Feb. 1-2 (lactation of ewes aka Oimelk) linked with Brigid (St. Brigid’s Night/Candlemas) a multifunctional goddess who protected women in childbirth who presided over the ale harvest; assoc. w poetry and prophecy
p65 Brigid born in a druid’s household
p66 Brigid patron goddess of seers, an expert in divination, prophecy, learning & poetry

p 53, 54, 65, 66  Celtic Myths, Miranda Green, British Museum Press/Univ. of Texas, 1993

p 78 Matres, triple goddess assoc. w food loaves fishes suckling infant and dog at feet (dog=abundance, Brigid story where she feeds the dog the bishop’s dinner and the meat is magically restored--abundance) (portrayed w cow resting at her feet)
“Triplism a basic phenomenon of Celtic religion...mother goddesses abound...a type  of Celtic divinity...and the triadic form appeared to have played an important role in her worship and cult expression.” three headed goddesses...mercury was triple phallused (Welsh saint had three breasts).

p 101  ...native /fertility goddess mates with mortal sovereign to ensure continued prosperity of Ireland.” The idea of Triplism ethnically important. War also an important aspect of fertility symbolism. “Irish fertility goddesses combine features of war, maternity, youth, age, monstrosity, always part of a fundamental life/death protective symbolism.”
p 150  Healing cult of sacred springs   votive offerings, replicas of heads, organs, legs, offered to the goddess Blindness, arthritis, goiter, hernia clearly represented. Breasts, genitals (archaeological evidence in Britain and on the continent)  regenerative powers of water, a kind of fertility motif
p 153         Epona, Apollo/belenus, bricta 7 Luxouvious    couples who was Brigid’s?
154 Coventina counterpart? w/ sulis minerva?

pp 78, 85, 101, 150, 153, 154  Gods of the Celts, Miranda Green, Sutton Publishing, Ltd. 1986

“The abundance of cow imagery reinforces the dependence of Ireland upon cattle. The goddess Brigid was reared on the milk of an otherworld cow.”

pp184-5  Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, Miranda Green, Routhledge NY 1992

p 20 threefold goddess o light/fire/healing; worshipped at a fire festival Feb. 2 called brigantia or Imbolc

Cormac’s Glossary (9th c) the bishop wrote: “A goddess whom the bards worshipped, for very great and noble was her perfection. Her sisters were Brigid, the woman of healing, and Brigid, the smith-woman.” when Christianity replaced polytheism, ...(did) a priestess-guardian of the shrine became identified mythically with the goddess (use Giraldus’ description of the sacred fires like the Vestal Virgins of Rome)
“Until 1220, a perpetual fire, tended by 19 nuns, burnt in a shrine near her church at Kildare. bellows were used to keep the fire burning, only the breath of women.... there were attempts to rekindle it in the 1990’s”

St. Brigid the epitome of kindness and charity: assisting and feeding the poor, freeing slaves, interceding on behalf of the unfortunate.

p21  Story of her father beating a servant, she stopped him “‘Would to God you were always here to protect us from the Master’s violence,’ a servant told her. Because of this, St. Brigid is the protectress of women.” Wild geese and ducks came to her for caresses, foxes...

Famous for her ale (from bathwater?) “...on one occasion she supplied 17 churches in Meath with ale from Maundy Thursday to Low Sunday.”

under the name of St. Ffraid, Brighd was a popular saint in Wales
travelers said this prayer; “St. Ffraid bless us on our journey.”
she was sometimes confused w/ Mary. St. Broccan called Brigid “The one-mother of the Great King’s son,  wrote a hymn; Brigid, mother of my king,/ of the Kingdom of Heaven,/ Best was she born.”

Three was more than one St. Brighd, who were disciples, or former devotees of the Goddess. “In Ireland, at Candlemas, it is the custom for people to make special St. Brigid crosses out of rushes, The rushes must be pulled up, not cut on St. Brighd’s Eve., and must be woven from left to right, Then the Brigid’s Cross is set above the door, as a sacred protection for the house, and left there until the next year, when it is replaced by a new one. Traditionally Brigid is welcomed back at her festival by rekindling the hearth fire after the house has been spring-cleaned.”

pp 20, 22  The Celtic Saints, Nigel Pennick, Bridgewater Book Co., Ltd., GB 1997.
misc notes:

Synopses of L Gregory’s collection: some 20 tales of Brigid which seem to incorporate most of the earlier Lives themes, some are barely recognizable and some are skeletal remains of the earlier miracles; most have interesting accretions that include many aspects of the heroic tradition; especially the supernatural signposts surrounding her birth She was born at sunrise (another tale has her born half way between day and night) on the first day of spring (between the 2 halves of the year) in a druid’s house...she drank the milk of a white, red-earred cow (which is her totemic animal), everything she put her hand to used to increase, feeding a dog (another totemic animal)

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