I asked in the Brigid’s Forge group on Facebook for people to list out their top peeves about Brigid and I’d do a “top 10” type post. Well here it is! (in no particular order now, to be fair!) I will, as usual, try to point out specifically the UPG aspects here as I go, but if there’s anything you’re unsure of, ask!
- All Brigids and Brigid related beings are one (this could also be part of the hard vs soft polytheism thing as well to be fair!) I mention on this blog often that it’s Irish Brigid I deal with, while acknowledging that there are other Brigids out there: Scottish, Welsh, Manx for a start, a potential (potential I said!) link with Brigantia as well. And in Irish Brigid, I include both deity and saint. To some people the division between deity and saint is important and I respect that, for me, moving between the two is reasonably straightforward and easy, and she tends not to be overly bothered who I’m talking to, it’s whoever is best suited to deal with me at the time will answer. I believe that the lore and practice in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man are different and therefor the Brigids in each area is different as well. There is overlap, of course, areas of common interest, that sort of thing, but in my experience, they’re not the same. (And this is before we get into the Irish druid, nun, lawyer etc….) So if you’re a soft polytheist and believe that all deity is one (gross over simplification here) I fundamentally disagree with you.
- Ignoring the saint completely. Yeah this. So, in Ireland, it must be recognised that our ancestors were not converted to Christianity at the point of a sword and many of our pagan practices made it into Catholicism anyway. Just look at our history of well visiting, candle lighting, fairy rings, fairy forts, fairy trees… The pagan practices didn’t go away precisely, just got buried under a thin (extremely thin in some cases!) layer of Christianity. You don’t believe me? Look at this news article in our paper of record from 1999: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/fairy-bush-survives-the-motorway-planners-1.190053 Plus, a lot of our knowledge about the saint feeds into what we understand about the deity as well. The actual lore about Brigid in our myths and legends is not voluminous. It’s scanty in fact. And at least the hagiographies, especially the two later ones (Bethu Brigte is my favourite for many reasons!) give us a few more stories to be going on it. Further complicating the fact is there were up to 15 St Brigids in Ireland at one time of another, so stories and legends may related to one or more of them. Either way, the saint is a powerful force in her own right, with relations to the deity at the very least, so I wouldn’t be ruling her out. Now there are people with trauma from Christianity who can and do find it difficult to deal with anything related to that religion. That’s grand. But remember Christianity in Ireland was not forced on our ancestors, didn’t steal from paganism, but was syncretised and absorbed into the basic belief system.
- Over sexualisation of deity. Yeah this comes up a lot. There are many depictions of the deity out there, and this is true for many female presenting deities, not just Brigid, where they’re depicted as a teenage boys wet dream. Now there’s nothing wrong with sex, I’m a fan of it myself, great fun altogether. But reducing a powerful woman/ goddess to just a sex object is demeaning to them and a way to reducing them to a “manageable” level. Brigid is a smith, remember, and anyone who has ever seen a smith working will know formidable muscles are part of the job. Also, scanty clothing doesn’t really work in a forge. To be fair, it doesn’t work in healing either, you want to be not touching people too much if they’re infectious or infected… Safety, people, safety! But surely our deities deserve more respect than being represented as a sex object anyway? I know I often speak about Brigid in ways people are surprised by, since they don’t think I respect her enough, but I do. And one of the ways I respect her is to accord her the right to be whatever she chooses, not just a sex object. (I mean, my own UPG is she is fairly sex positive anyway, so she won’t mind a bit of dressing up or down as the case may be, but it’s at her choice, not ours)
- The triple goddess. Oh this one…. ok look, yes Brigid is a triple goddess in the Irish tradition but that does not mean she fits the maiden, mother, crone structure. That structure just isn’t there in the Irish stories. The triple goddess here is the healer, the smith and the poet. Not, not ever, no, no, no, not the maiden, mother, crone (I mean that structure is problematic in its own right, and yeah I know, it’s not purely on the function of the womb but it’s a fairly big part of it, but let’s not try and trap a powerful goddess into what her womb is doing alright? In fact, let’s not do that to anyone. Not every woman has a womb, not everyone with a womb is a woman, etc) So yeah. Triple goddess for Brigid means healer, smith, poet. It’s something different for the Morrigan. Ireland is different in many ways and this is one of them.
- Brigid’s mother. Anyone who works with Brigid, or indeed the Irish pantheon, has their own theories about who Brigid’s mother was/is. So far, we’ve reduced the list to any woman the Dagda had sex with or might have had sex with. There is nothing in the lore to indicate one way or the other who her mother was and frankly, (UPG alert!) she’s told me it’s none of my business and not to worry about it. If Brigid wanted her mother known or if her mother wanted to be known, I have no doubt she would be. But anyone who says for definite it’s X goddess or Y goddess is wrong. There’s nothing that absolute about it.
- That she’s a fluffy goddess who only wants to help. Maybe you’ve come across healers that are that fluffy and nice all the time and continuously helpful etc. Most of the true healers I’ve come across are fairly strident – they have to be, to get their patients to do as their told. Not to mention, a true healer, whether modern doctor or bean feasa or energy healer, can and will stand up for the good of their patient in the face of adversity. Fluffy won’t cut it. Equally, she’s a smith. Go back up to point 3 and reread the bit about the forge. She makes tools and uses them. If you are, we’ll say lucky, enough to be one of her tools, she will use you hard. People who work with Brigid mention being put on the anvil cos we don’t sort shit out quickly enough or effectively enough to suit her. That’s not a pleasant experience. She can and will use brute force if it’s needed. I mean for this point, also see the idea that she is meek and mild cos she’s a Christian saint – go read the hagiographies on that one. She pulled out her own eye to avoid marriage and in some stories, she pulls out her brother’s eye to replace it cos he was pressuring her into the marriage. She’s a fighter when needed.
- The name Brigid means “Fiery Arrow”. OK this comes from Cormac’s Glossary, from the Book of Leinster. It wasn’t written by an etymologist, but a bishop looking to get some fame for his diocese (seriously, looking into the aggro between diocese and monastries and churches in the medieval church in Ireland is better than any modern action thriller – modern politicians could learn a lot from the propoganda). The best I can do here is point to http://dil.ie/search?q=brig&search_in=headword The eDIL is the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language and is the best resource I’ve got for Old Irish. (Yeah the language changed over the millennia, bloody inconsiderate really!) The meanings given for Brig are: power, strength, force, authority; vigour, virtue OR value, worth; advantage; validity, virtue, efficacy. It appears to be linked to respect as well, as in the respect accorded someone, but it’s definitely not “fiery arrow” from the information we have available to us now. But yeah, Cormac’s Glossary is not a dictionary to say the least. Wonderful source of information, but not a dictionary, nor an encyclopedia, as we would understand it today.
- “Correspondences”. I’m grouping all this in one go – too tedious otherwise. So, around Imbolc in particular, you see a lot a articles with “crystals for Brigid”, “colours for Brigid” that sort of thing. And I get it, these lists are fierce handy when you’re starting out and wanting to do things right. The thing is – they’re not based in lore. Crystals and colours not really mentioned in relation to Brigid at all (In the Irish lore this is, I won’t speak for other lore) Now food – well for food, anything food wise is good, but dairy, poultry, beef, pork/ham, those sorts of things. Domesticated animals and the dairy is where she’s strong. Spuds – not so much. Spuds were brought to Ireland 1589 by Sir Walter Raleigh apparently, so a bit after the Tuatha De Danann were walking the land. They’re so synonymous with Ireland now, it’s hard to remember, but they’re not a native plant. But to get back to the original point – there are no real correspondences such as crystals, colours, etc with the Irish Brigid, or indeed the Irish deities in general. Our lore doesn’t work that way. Now, there is a correspondence between red and the Otherworld – as in a red and white animal is almost certainly from the Otherworld, including the cow that fed the saint as a baby. But that’s separate from Brigid.
- Celtic goddess. This is a hard one, but really, “Celtic” is like saying “European”. And let’s face it, if the EU has taught us anything it’s that getting even 3 countries in Europre to agree on something is well nigh impossible, never mind having a homogenous culture across the whole continent. Celtic is used to describe a group of languages, Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton) and non-Brythonic or Gaelic (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx) Irish culture, even 2 millenia ago, was different from the continent. The lore is different. The stories are different. It’s not the same. And lumping such disparate cultures together like this is disrespectful when dealing with deity at least. (I mean, it’s disrespectful when dealing with people as well, but let’s not get into that right now). So, when talking about ancient Irish culture, say ancient Irish culture. When talking about an Irish deity or Irish goddess – say Irish. As I said above, there are overlaps and connections with other Brigids, but they aren’t the same, so don’t lump them all together. Now of course, this is further complicated by the fact that up until about 100yrs ago, Gaelic was used for the Irish language as well. You won’t find that in modern Ireland. We use Irish for our language when speaking English, Gaeilge when speaking Irish. If we’re talking about Gaelic, we’re either talking about the Gaelic chieftains/ culture of the pre- and post- Norman period (up until the Flight of the Earls in 1609 anyway) or we’re talking about football. Yeah, we have a type of football that isn’t anything to do with soccer other than the ball is roughly the same shape. Google Gaelic football. Actually, while you’re educating yourself, google “hurling” as well. National sports, great craic, etc, etc. But don’t be lump separate cultures, separate deities, separate lore into one lump as Celtic.
- Red hair, green dress. It’s most likely the saint was blonde from descriptions and art we have around the place. And yeah, I know, red hair is almost synonymous with Irish people as well, we have the highest % of red haired people in the world at about 10% (according to Wikipedia, who I wouldn’t usually recommend as a resource, but this isn’t overly worrying). But there was a 90% chance Brigid wasn’t a red head. I know, it’s hard to take, but really, think about why it’s so important to you that she was a red head? As for the green dress – green is only a very recent addition to being Irish, y’know. It was St. Patrick’s blue for centuries. (although that was based on Henry II having a blue flag, so not exactly Irish either). Green came about as a way to unite disparate groups across the country and showing a different colour to the British. And if you look at the Union Jack, Ireland is represented on there (yes, even now) with St. Patrick’s saltire, which is a red X on a white field. Our currently green, white and orange flag is meant to represent nationalists (green), unionists (orange) with peace between them (white). Also, some of the green comes from the green colour of our land. This again is problematic, since the reason we have such green fields is that the forests of the past were stripped from us by colonisation. To bring it back to Brigid – fundamentally, I think she can appear however she wishes, wearing what she wants, looking how she wants. But trying to contain her in a red haired, green dress is tying into problematic stereotypes of the “Irish colleen” rather than based in reality.
So there you have it. Ten pet peeves addressed, as best I can in a single blog post. Have you any others? Are there things you want to point out?