St Brigid and… love potions?

I know, saints, even if they are as Irish as St Brigid, and love potions don’t usually mix. There is a bit in Bethu Brigte that makes me a bit uncomfortable. It’s where she apparently brews a love potion for a man, whose wife hates him passionately.

A certain man of Kells by origin, whom his wife hated, came to Brigit for help. Brigit blessed some water. He took it with him and, his wife having been sprinkled [therewith], she straightaway loved him passionately.

Bethu Brigte, Section 45,

And, a question was raised by a member of Brigid’s Forge, following my post on Brigid and Sex. The poster was correct in saying this sort of charm (love potion kinda thing) was against Brehon Law. So why would St Brigid do it? I mean, as a matter of ethics as well as anything else, forcing someone to love someone else by means of magic, is not a good look.

A picture of the saint, on a red background with white flowers round the edge and a yellow halo showing around her head. She is wearing a black veil and white wimple with a green cloak/ over tunic and a black under tunic. Her arms are crossed in front of her with a bishop's crook in one hand and a 4 armed Brigid's cross in the other.
A picture of the saint, looking very holy altogether

Especially since, in my opinion, a love charm or potion could extremely easily breach consent as well! And as I said in that previous post – consent is important. As long as the people involved in any act are consenting adults in private – I don’t see how it’s anyone else’s business! And that will remain my position.

The law (i.e. Brehon law…)

But, if we look at this excerpt, let’s consider consent in the 5th century.

There are seven women in Irish law who are liable in their encounters [who are without remedy in their encounters] and who are not entitled to penalty or honour-price for their sleith; they are not entitled to fine or body-fine for rape whosoever may have done so: a whore who offers her body to all, until she becomes chaste; a woman who observes that she is the victim of sleith [and does nothing about it]; a woman who conceals her rape; a woman who is raped in a town and who does not cry out until the rapist has got away; a woman who agrees to have illicit intercourse in despite of her husband; a woman who trysts with a man in the bushes or in bed; a woman who invokes a body-surety, cleric or lay, by the offer of sexual favours; a woman who offers herself for something trivial. These are seven women who are capable of giving their bodies in sexual intercourse, provided they do not fail in their duties. Their children do not belong to the family and they are not entitled to the profits arising from cohabitation’.

Heptad 47=CIH 42 (cf. 1845)=ALI v 272–77.

It should also be noted, that even in modern times, marital rape was not listed as a crime until 1990. And worse – 2002 was the first occasion of a successful conviction of the crime. So, it is no wonder that marital rape isn’t listed in the Brehon laws. Donnchadh Ó Corráin wrote an interesting article about women in the law (where the above quote comes from). A telling commentary is:

Something of the punishment for rape—that is, the legal penalty, as distinct from the possibly violent summary justice of kinsmen—can be found elsewhere.

Donnchadh Ó Corráin,

This would indicate at the time that any non-legal reprisal might be expected…

But where does this leave us with St Brigid and her love potion?

Well, I can think of a few different alternatives. First off, one of the reasons for a divorce includes one partner withholding sex. So, if the man didn’t want to divorce, this could have been a factor. Or if there were significant political reasons why the couple couldn’t divorce. I mean, marriage was fairly heavily covered in the Brehon laws. They weren’t messing about with it!

Equally, married women were traditionally deemed to consent by virtue of the marriage. A “blanket consent” if you will… not something I’d ever countenance in modern life. But this isn’t modern life. This is 5th century Ireland. Ideas around consent were… different. Just look at the Heptad about the “not crying out” issue.

And, it could have been that this was a temporary hatred. Anyone in a long term relationship knows that there are times when you could happily strangle your partner(s). It’s not a good thing. Let’s be very clear about that. But equally… it happens. And St Brigid offering a “love potion” isn’t clear in the text. She provided the husband with essentially, holy water. Maybe the bringing of the water was a sign. Maybe this was the husband making amends. It’s possible St Brigid made the water taste like beer…

To finish

The ultimate answer is, we just don’t know the answer. Whether there’s more to the story or not, we also have to remember the Church’s stance on marriage. The Church has always been clear (well… mostly…) that marriage is for life. Maybe St Brigid was trying to make life easier for the couple in question. Or she had a strong stance on sex in marriage.

We don’t know.

What I do know is: ideas around consent evolve and develop over time. Even within the last 20 years, my understanding of the topic has greatly improved. I better understand the nuance between “yes means yes” and “no means no”. I’m sure many people can say the same! And offering anyone a potion or charm to force them to love someone, or force them to have sex with someone? Well that’s rape. We know this.

I find love potions in general to be problematic for this reason. And I can’t see St Brigid, or deity Brigid supporting the use of them today.

Author: galros2

I've been working with Brigid for many years now and looking to share my experience and knowledge with those who wish to learn. Check out my links here: Patreon: Facebook: School: Blog:

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