In Celtic and Irish mythology, Brigit or Brighid is the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She had two sisters, also named Brighid, and is considered a classic Celtic Triple Goddess. As the daughter of the Dagda, she is also the half sister of Cermait, Aengus, Midir and Bodb Derg.
With Tuireann Brighid had three sons, Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba. With Bres the Beautiful, a miserly ruler, she had one son, Ruadan. He tried to murder Goibniu, the smith who created magical weapons that always hit their mark, but the smith killed him. It is said that Brighid’s lament for Ruadan was the first keening to be heard in Ireland.
Brigid is is a goddess of healing and is considered the patroness of poetry, useful and inspired wisdom, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, and spring. She is also a goddess of fertility and is said to lean over every cradle. She is also associated with the sovereignty and the protection of her isles and the sea.
Along with these attributes, she also is associated with fire. Any type of fire symbolism, including light, candles, illumination, heat, warmth or sunrises also belong to this goddess. As Brighid’s Cross is in the form of a solar wheel she may also be a Sun goddess. It is believed that nineteen priestesses tended the eternal flame of Brighid at the place now known as Kildare. It has even been suggested that St. Brighid may have been a priestess of Brighid before her conversion to the Christian faith.
Brighid’s fire is truly the fire of creativity. It is responsible for the kindling of the earth in early Spring, the kindling of sexual passion, the kindling of the body in healing, the kindling of the heart in poetry and song, the kindling of the mind in science and craft. Her fire is a guiding light to her people in times of trouble, darkness and despair. To see her pass the house at Samhain is a sign that those within will be safe throughout the dark days of Winter.
It is said that Brighid taught the Irish people how to weave as she wove her own mantle at the loom by the hearth. It is easy to imagine the very flames themselves being woven into that wondrous cloth. Brighid’s Mantle is left outside the house at Imbolc. She blesses it as she passes so it will bring healing to those wrapped in it.
Brighid was also connected to holy wells, at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands. Well dressing, the tying of clooties to the trees next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brighid still take place in some of the Celtic lands.
Brighid is particularly associated with the first stirrings of Spring as the days begin to lengthen, the snowdrops bloom, and the ewes begin to lactate. In a Scottish story Bride is taken captive by Beira, the Queen of Winter. Some say her winter prison is the mountain, Ben Nevis. Before the fire of the sun can warm the earth again Bride has to be freed. So a spell is cast borrowing three days from the heat of August. As Bride walks free light fills the earth and the land turns green again.
Arrows, bells, thresholds and doorways are also included in Brigid symbolism. Several animal correspondences are also tied to Brigid, particularly ewe, dairy cows, bees, owls and serpents.
Today, many places in the British Isles bear her name. As “Brigantia” she gave her name to the Celtic lands of the North of England. She is similar to the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman Minerva. Rivers are also named after her including, Afon (River) Braint, the longest river on Ynys Mon (Anglesey); Brent, London; and Brue, Somerset.
In many Pagan traditions today, Brighid is celebrated with crafts that honor her role as the protector of the hearth. You can make a Brighid corn doll, as well as a Bride’s Bed for her to sleep in. Perhaps the best known decoration is the Brighid’s Cross, whose arms represent the place where a crossroads comes together, the space between light and dark.
St. Brighid lived at the threshold of Christianity in the British Isles. She was quite literally born on the threshold of two worlds. The accounts of her birth and childhood are redolent of Celtic paganism. Her life is full of magic and miracle. The date of her death was purposefully aligned with the feast of Imbolc.
The Celtic Church seems to have been happy to lay her story over that of the Goddess. Most early Celtic saints are unknown outside their immediate locality. But here Saint and Goddess are guardian and healer of the common people of the land. She aids birth, ensures the harvest, increases the lactation of cows, protects the croft, lights the winter fire, provides the ale, inspires the storyteller and guides the smith’s hands. It is no wonder that her cult spread widely.
She was the daughter of a princely father, Dubthach and a bonded mother, Broicsech. Two druids and two bishops prophesied that the child would be like no other on earth. When her time came Broicsech gave birth at sunrise as she carried the milk into the house with one foot outside and one inside.
St. Brighid’s transitional nature is portrayed in her early association with sacred fire. Whilst the infant lay sleeping in her house neighbours saw the house ablaze with a flame that linked heaven and earth. A druid saw three angels of fire anointing the infant Brighid with oil and baptising her with water. As she grew to puberty Brighid fulfilled her role as guardian and healer by tending the sheep, satisfying the birds, feeding the poor and healing her nurse by turning water into ale for her to drink.
As a woman of great beauty St. Brighid received offers of marriage which she refused. In order to make herself less attractive she gouged out one of her own eyes, but when her family promised that she would never be told to marry she put her palm to her eye and healed herself.
St. Brighid and eight virgins went to Bishop Mel of Ardagh to be consecrated. St. Brighid held back but a column of fire rose from her head and so Mel called her first. Mel used the form for ordaining a bishop when consecrating Brighid. When some of the men objected that bishop’s orders should not be conferred on a woman, he told them that that dignity had been conferred on her by God.
About the year 470 St. Brighid founded the double monastery at Cill Dara (Cell of the Oak) now called Kildare. Cill Dara is famous for the sacred perpetual fire that was tended by nineteen nuns. Today people around the world take it in turns to keep the sacred flame burning continuously.
Saint Brigid’s feast day is on the 1st February celebrated as St Brigid’s Day in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and by some Anglicans. The Gaelic festival coincides with Imbolc, which is a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid.