Understanding Goddess Culture and Christian Saint
Brigit is described as Mary of the Irish. She is the daughter of the Daghda and the Morrigan. She was born in a fiery flame on the 1st February and with a crown of fire around her temple. While her father had many nurturing qualities her mother did not and she was brought up by cattle, white with red ears, which we know as being from the other world. She lived beside an orchard and from early on had an insatiable love of knowledge.
Her school in a forest glade had healing springs and wells, oak trees and an eternal flame. Her followers took 30 years out of their lives to study with her. 10 years were dedicated to learning, 10 to putting the theories into practice in areas such as herb love and childbirth and for 10 years the pupils were to go out into the community to pass on the wisdom.
She is often seen as a triple goddess, representing poetry, smithcraft and healing and many came to her for her qualities and wisdom. She had a mantle, a cloak with a hood that was imbued with sacred qualities. The cloak was able to heal and protect. She would throw the cloak over Ireland when the country was in need of protection. Brigit was married to Senchán Torpéist, said to be the author of the Tain.
One of the best known Brigit stories concerned two lepers who came to her for healing. She took them to the healing bath where they were to wash each other. One of the men was washed and when he saw how he had been healed became repulsed by the other he was meant to wash and heal. He refused to wash in return. Brigit was furious and admonished him harshly, whispered a spell that brought back the leprosy only in a worse form. Meanwhile, she wrapped the other man in a mantle and healed him.
Brigit had a consort, Bres, who participated in the second Battle of Moytura. She had a son by this relationship, Ruan. He grew up to become a great warrior but he was killed in the battle. She realised through her second sight that he was dead and went right into the heart of battle to perform the first act of keening. The keening was of such intensity that all the soldiers laid down their weapons until the body was carried away.
Such was the regard of the Irish people for Brigit on the day of Imbolg to catch the very dew on that day would heal people. This was a tradition to leave out clothing to catch the dew.
With the demise of the Tuatha Brigit realised her knowledge would be lost and agreed to come in human form. We now hear of her as St. Bridget. She was revered in Leinster and associated with a convent in Kildare. She was born to a non-Christian family a few years after the time of St. Patrick.
She had a very generous nature and gave everything she had away including her father’s sword. Her father had to stop the recipient because he need the sword. She begged her father to follow a new God. At the time she would have been seen as suitable for marriage. She prayed so hard that she became very ugly so repulsing suitors. Her father realised he had no choice. You have to go and set up a religious community he told her. She did, with a community of women. Her beauty then returned. This was the first convent in Kildare and was associated with bee keeping and a sacred flame. They also studied the scriptures.
There is the famous symbol of the Brigit’s Cross. A dying man, not a Christian, sought her help. She saw a pile of reeds which she wove into a 4 pointed cross which she said was a symbol of the Christ. Just before he died the man decided to convert. This cross was the symbol for many years of the Irish National Broadcaster.
The Connections and insights from Participants on the Brendan Voyage
Here are some of the connections and insights made by the participants at the Brigit event.
Insight 1 – The Fire and Water
Brigit is associated with two elements that in normal circumstances are totally opposite: fire and water where one would extinguish the other. Yet as an archetype, she holds these opposites. It seems like an example of ‘making a contradiction dance’, to hold two such elements together.
Insight 2 – One Tough Lady
Having a mother as a ‘war goddess’ in the Morrigan and being born in a flame makes her out as one tough, formidable and essentially fiery lady. In the pre-Christian story we see this toughness, even ruthlessness in the way she deals with the man who will not wash his fellow leper. She is ruthless.
Insight 3 – Parental Reversal
In many ways her parent have kid of ‘reversed’ roles. Culturally war would be more associated typically with a male archetype and hospitality with a female. In Brigit’s case it is her mother who is the war goddess. And Daghda, who actually also has a club that can kill, as well as bring people to life, is generally associated with fun, hospitality and a larger than life friendliness. Her parents represent an interesting combination.
Insight/Connection 4 – Goddess or Saint
The group discussed the idea of Brigit as a reincarnation of the Goddess. But are we to see them as entirely separate figures. The question was asked can there not be room for both, Brigit the Goddess and Brigit the Saint to co-exist.
Insight 5 – The familiarity of the Saint
Within the Irish context there is naturally much more familiarity with Brigit the Saint. There is a strong awareness of the Brigittine community of the Celtic tradition, and Celtic aspects evident in their rituals.
Insight/Connection 6 –
There was a question as to the nature of the Christian adaptation of the myth. Was it to preserve the Celtic tradition or to co-opt it to steering them to the new one. In other places the Roman Christianity tended to obliterate indigenous cultures. But the form of Christianity, Celtic Christianity that emerged in Ireland had far more of a sympathetic feel. So perhaps this was a way of preserving the old order.
Insight 7 – Strong Female Archetype
Patriarchal culture invariably undermines and sabotages strong female characters. In the Greek context, Hera was turned from a much loved Goddess into a shrew like character chasing around her husband Zeus’s lovers – and not him. Brigit held on to her remarkable power and without compromising her femininity.
Insight 8 – Brigit and Patrick
One of the group, Melanie Lynch of HerStory told us of her campaign to have St. Brigit’s Day declared a national holiday in the same way as St. Patrick’s Day.
Insight 9 – The Gender of the Divine
One strand of the conversations and reflection raised the question of the gender of the divine. What if, perhaps inspired by Brigit, the creator deity was defined as female? And one capable of continuously giving birth. The Wednesday take on Brigit by Mary Condron covered the area of female icons such as Saraswati in the Hindu tradition, Guan Yin the Goddess of Love and Peace in the Chinese tradition. The masculine gender of the divinity as a convention. There are other options and certainly the pre-Christian Brigit is one.