I had planned a post on the animals related to Brigid, but after a discussion on Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I’m going to leave that alone for a bit. The discussion did bring forward to me the need to discuss native Irish vs non-native Irish Brigid.
I don’t believe I have kept quiet that it is Irish Brigid I work for/with. I am aware there are other Brigids out there, but it is the Irish Brigid I deal with. So what I write here today is coming from that perspective. It doesn’t necessarily mean your practice is wrong if you feel a connection with one of the other Brigids. Hell, it might not even mean your practice is wrong if you connect with Irish Brigid – UPG is a valid concept, as long as it is highlighted as such and not passed off as general lore. (I do try to highlight all the areas where my beliefs and practices are UPG or at least how I link it back to the lore, but everyone slips up on this sometimes. If you do, deal and move on. It’s what I try to do!)
With that in mind, here we go.
The Brigid I work with is the daughter of the Dagda and her mother is not named. I mean the list of her possible mothers is anyone the Dagda is ever linked to in either a sexual or co-parental relationship. I have my favourite options, same as anyone else, but this is definitely an area that is personal gnosis. It’s highly unlikely to be unique, it may be unverified, but it will be personal. Do your reading, see who you favour. And remember, who you favour may change over time as you learn and work more.
Irish Brigid is a triple deity (see Cormac’s glossary) but she is NOT a maiden, mother, crone archetype. I feel very strongly about this. I think in Wicca practices, she is considered under the maiden, mother, crone shape, but there isn’t an equivalent in Irish lore. In Irish lore, the triple deity for Brigid is under the goddess of poets, the goddess of smiths and the goddess of healing. There’s a lot to explore there, in terms of what poets, smiths and healing meant in the Iron Age in Ireland and even unto the present day. In fact, in the book I’m writing, I extrapolate from these three to most professions, activities, work in the modern world. There’s very few areas Brigid isn’t interested in when it comes to community.
There is a strong link for me between the Irish deity and the Irish saint. St. Brigid is one of the three patron saints in Ireland. St. Patrick is the most famous, mainly because of our exportation of the celebrations, although it should be noted that as recently as my parents’ generation the drinking culture just wasn’t there that is today. Also – dying stuff green is grand, but if you want to explore Irish roots go beyond both dying stuff green and St. Patrick. St. Colmcille is the third patron saint – an exile from the land himself.
But St. Brigid is our homegrown saint who stayed. She’s ours, through and through. And through the saint, we have a lot of links to dairy, cattle, food, drink – in one of my classes I reference the poem about the lake of beer in heaven. While Jesus transformed water into wine, Brigid turns water into beer. Support your local products people!
There is still, I believe, a huge devotion to St. Bride in Scotland, with different lore there to support the actions there taken. For example, in Ireland, while the saint’s day is 1st Feb, one potential date for Imbolc, there is no tradition of Brigid ruling over summer, as there is in Scotland. There is a tradition in Wales of an Irish nun called Ffraid, feeding the poor, as well as turning various things to food. There is also the tale in Welsh lore of Brigid plucking her eye from her head to get out of marrying a suitor her father picked out.
There is a possibility that Brigantia in England is a fore-runner of Brigid in Ireland, brought by the settlements of Brigantes in Leinster. I know nothing about the lore of Brigantia though, although I understand the Romans, those loveable scamps, syncretised her with Minerva and Victoria. There is also a link to healing wells as well.
There’s nothing wrong with working with Brigid from different lands. There’s a St. Brigitte in Sweden, who is one of six patron saints of Europe (who knew??), a Maman Brigitte in vodou (please someone who know better correct me here!) who is associated with death, and doubtless many more I don’t know about. I’ve previously said there’s probably as many Brigids as there are people who work with her, and that’s grand.
But if you’re putting out information on Brigid, be clear about which one you’re talking about. Because each of these aspects or beings has a clear and distinct traditional practice behind them. Each of these aspects or beings has things they do, things they look for, things they work best with…
When it comes to Irish Brigid, well, I find it simple, but I focus almost exclusively on Irish Brigid, so I may be over simplifying it. The records in our lore, even including the saint’s lives, are few, so it’s reasonable easy read them, learn from them etc. We have Brigid as mother, Brigid as healer (saint), Brigid associated with cattle, oxen, sheep, boars. We have the hearth fire, the smith fire, the muse fire. We have our healing wells. We have our crafts and our arts. We have our rushes-based weaving and our dairy based miracles. We have the three Brigs in the Ulster cycle, the hospitaller, the judge and the cowless. We have strong women, doing what needs doing.
Lighting a candle is so ubiquitous in Irish culture (The Mammy had a candle lighting for me for a difficult meeting last week!) it’s impossible to rule out flame tending as a native practice, not to mention the Brigidine sisters in Kildare re-igniting the sacred flame there. Weaving a cross or whatever symbol you wish on Imbolc. Leaving out the brat Bhríde on Imbolc to give us healing, particularly for headaches, for the rest of the year. Leaving out the sheaf of oats (or something that represents your coming prosperity and fertility in the coming year) to ask for a blessing from her and making sure there’s enough food and other resources for the coming year.
All of these are actions taken by generations in Ireland, and probably elsewhere as well, given how long emigration from this island has been occurring, and still happening today. But the most important part of Irish Brigid? Living up to her standards. What are you doing for the community, the people, those around you? How do you support that community, virtual or physical, that you are a part of? How do you develop your skills and knowledge to make the world a better place? Honestly, that’s the best thing you can do to work with her.