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- This article refers to the Pagan Goddess Brigid. For the Catholic/Orthodox Saint of that name, see Saint Brigid.
In Celtic religion and Irish mythology, Brigit or Brighid (exalted one) is the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the wife of Bres of the Fomorians, with whom she had a son, Ruadán.
She is identified in Lebor Gabála Érenn as a daughter of the Dagda and a poet. The same passage mentions that she has two oxen, Fe and Men, that graze on a plain named after them, Femen. She also possessed the king of boars, Torc Triath, and Cirb, king of wethers (sheep), from whom Mag Cirb is named. As the daughter of Dagda, she is also the half sister of Cermait, Aengus, Midir and Bodb Derg.
In Cath Maige Tuireadh, Bríg invents keening, a combination weeping and singing, while mourning for her son Ruadán, after he is slain while fighting for the Fomorians. She is credited in the same passage with inventing a whistle used for night travel.
Brigid is considered the patroness of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, and spring. 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. 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.
In her English translation of Irish myth, Lady Augusta Gregory (Gods and Fighting Men, 1904), describes Brigit as "a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night. And the one side of her face was ugly, but the other side was very comely. And the meaning of her name was Breo-saighit, a fiery arrow."
Her British and continental counterpart Brigantia seems to have been the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena (Encyclopædia Britannica: Celtic Religion), goddesses with very similar functions and apparently embodying the same concept of elevated state, whether physical or psychological.
She is the goddess of all things perceived to be of relatively high dimensions such as high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts and upland areas; and of activities and states conceived as psychologically lofty and elevated, such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship (especially blacksmithing), healing ability, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare. In the living traditions, whether seen as goddess or saint, she is largely associated with the home and hearth and is a favorite of both Pagans and Catholics. A number of these associations are attested in Cormac's Glossary.
Brigid and Saint Brigid
In the Middle Ages, Brigid was syncretized with a Christian saint. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian "monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart," St. Brigid of Kildare.
St. Brigid was associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. The sacred flame at Kildare was said by Giraldus Cambrensis and other chroniclers to have been surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die or be crippled.
The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally-occurring eternal flames is a feature of ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality. Other examples include the Roman goddess Vesta, and other hearth-goddesses, such as Hestia.
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 and the diaspora.
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.
Other names and etymology
Old Irish Brigit [ˈbrɪʝɪdʲ] came to be spelled Brighid by the modern Irish period. Since the spelling reform of 1948, this has been spelled Bríd [ˈbriːdʲ]. The earlier form gave rise to the Anglicization Bridget, now commonly seen as Brigid.
- Brìghde/Brìde (Scotland)
- Fraid (Wales) Because of Welsh pronunciation mutations, her name changes to Ffraid in some place names such as Llansanffraid = Saint Bride's Village and Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain
- Breo Saighead (the fiery arrow – a folk etymology found in Sanas Cormaic, but considered very unlikely by etymologists)
- Brigindū (Gaul)
- Brigantia (Great Britain)
- Brigantia (former Gallaecia, modern Betanzos)
- Braga (former Gallaecia, modern Northern Portugal)
- Bragança (former Gallaecia, modern Northern Portugal)
- Brigantis (Great Britain)
- Bregenz (Austria)
- Campbell, Mike Behind the Name. See also Xavier Delamarre, brigantion / brigant-, in Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003) pp. 87–88: "Le nom de la sainte irlandaise Brigit est un adjectif de forme *brigenti… 'l'Eminente'." Delamarre cites E. Campanile, in Langues indo-européennes ("The name of the Irish Saint Brigid is an adjective of the form *brigenti… 'the Eminent'"), edited by Françoise Bader (Paris, 1994), pp. 34–40, that Brigid is a continuation of the Indo-European goddess of the dawn like Aurora.
- Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications. pp. 21, 25. ISBN 0-486-41441-8.
- Macalister, R. A. Stewart. Lebor Gabála Érenn. Part IV. Irish Texts Society, Dublin, 1941. § VII, First Redaction, ¶ 317.
- Cath Maige Tuired (The Second Battle of Mag Tuired), translated by Elizabeth A. Gray. ¶ 125
- Jones, Mary. "Brigit". Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807067239.
- "Saint Brigid: St Brigid's Fire". Cill Dara Historical Society. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- Cambrensis, Giraldus. "The Topography of Ireland". York University. pp. 54, 59. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- John T. Koch (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 287. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Bitel, Lisa M. 2001. St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess
- MacKillop, James. 1998. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. (Oxford: Oxford University Press) ISBN 0-19-280120-1
- The Slaney Press. 1994. Lady Gregory's Complete Irish Mythology. (London: The Slaney Press)
- St. Brigid Fire Pictures of St. Brigits Church in Kildare and the sacred fire pit.
- Sloinntireachd Bhride (Genealogy of Bride) from the Carmina Gadelica
- Mary Jones's entry on Brigid
- Brighid: What do we really know? by Francine Nicholson
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