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Member of the Tuatha Dé Danann
"The Coming of Bríde" by John Duncan (1917)
TextsLebor Gabála Érenn, Cath Maige Tuired, Cormac's Glossary
Personal information
SiblingsCermait, Aengus, Aed, Bodb Derg, Brigid the Healer, Brigid the Smith

Brigid (/ˈbrɪɪd, ˈbrɪd/ BRIJ-id, BREE-id, Irish: [ˈbʲɾʲɪjɪdʲ, ˈbʲɾʲiːdʲ]; meaning 'exalted one' from Old Irish),[1] Brigit or Bríg is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán.[a]

She is associated with wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, blacksmithing and domesticated animals. Cormac's Glossary, written in the 9th century by Christian monks, says that Brigid was "the goddess whom poets adored" and that she had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith.[3][4] This suggests she may have been a triple deity.[5] She is also thought to have some relation to the British Celtic goddess Brigantia.

Saint Brigid shares many of the goddess's attributes and her feast day, 1 February, was originally a pagan festival (Imbolc) marking the beginning of spring. It has thus been argued that the saint is a Christianization of the goddess; a form of syncretism.[6]

In early Irish literature[edit]

Cormac's Glossary, written by Christian scribes in the 9th century and based on earlier sources, says that Brigit was a goddess and daughter of the Dagda. It describes her as a "goddess of poets" and "woman of wisdom" or sage, who is also famous for her "protecting care". It says that Brigid has two sisters: Brigit the physician or "woman of healing", and Brigit the smith.[4] It explains that from these, all goddesses in Ireland are called Brigit; suggesting that it "may have been more of a title than a personal name".[7]

The Lebor Gabála Érenn also calls Brigit a poetess and daughter of the Dagda. It says she has two oxen, Fea and Femen, from whom are named Mag Fea (the plain of the River Barrow) and Mag Femin (the plain of the River Suir). Elsewhere, these are named as the two oxen of Dil, "radiant of beauty," which may be a byname for Brigid.[8] It also says she possesses the "king of boars", Torc Triath (from whom the plain of Treithirne is named), and the "king of wethers", Cirb (from whom the plain of Cirb is named).[9] The animals were said to cry out whenever plundering was committed in Ireland. This suggests Brigid was a guardian goddess of domesticated animals.[3][10]

In Cath Maige Tuired, Bríg is the wife of Bres and bears him a son, Ruadán. It says she began the custom of keening, a combination of wailing and singing, while mourning the death of Ruadán.[3] She is credited in the same passage with inventing a whistle used for night travel.[11]

In her English retellings of Irish myth, Lady Augusta Gregory 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."[12]

Brigid and Saint Brigid[edit]

In the Middle Ages, some argue that the goddess Brigid was syncretized with the Christian saint of the same name. 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.[6]

St. Brigid is 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.[13][14]

The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally occurring eternal flames is a feature of ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality.[citation needed] Other examples include the Roman goddess Vesta, and other hearth-goddesses, such as Hestia.

Both the goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands. Well dressing, the tying of rags, (called clooties in Scotland), to the trees next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brigid still take place in some of the British Isles and the diaspora.[15][16]

Brigid is considered the patroness of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, sacred wells, serpents (in Scotland) and the arrival of early spring.[17][18] In the Christian era, nineteen nuns at Kildare tended a perpetual flame for the Saint, which is widely believed to be a continuation of a pre-Christian practice of women tending a flame in her honour.[13][14] Her festival day, Imbolc is traditionally a time for weather prognostication:


Saint Brigid's feast day is on 1 February celebrated as St Brigid's Day in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and by the Anglican Communion. The Gaelic festival coincides with Imbolc the first day of Spring in Irish tradition, and because St Brigid has been theorised as linked to the goddess Brigid, some associate the festival of Imbolc with the goddess Brigid.[19]

Neo-Pagan revival[edit]

Brigid is an important figure for some modern pagans, who emphasize her triple aspect. She is sometimes worshipped in conjunction with Lugh or Cernunnos.[20]


Old Irish Brigit [ˈbʲɾʲiʝidʲ] came to be spelled Briġid and Brighid [bʲɾʲiːdʲ] by the early modern Irish period. Since the spelling reform of 1948, this has been spelled Bríd [bʲɾʲiːdʲ]. The earlier form gave rise to various forms in the languages of Europe, starting from the Medieval Latin Brigit /ˈbridʒit/, and from there to English Bridget, French Brigitte, Swedish Birgitta, Italian Brigida and Finnish Piritta.

The name is derived from Proto-Celtic *Brigantī and means "the high one" or "the exalted one". It is cognate with the name of the ancient British goddess Brigantia, with whom Brigid is thought to have some relation.[7] It is also cognate with the Old High German personal name Burgunt, and the Sanskrit word Bṛhatī (बृहती) "high", an epithet of the Hindu dawn goddess Ushas. The ultimate source is Proto-Indo-European *bʰr̥ǵʰéntih₂ (feminine form of *bʰérǵʰonts, "high"), derived from the root *bʰerǵʰ- ("to rise").[21][22] Xavier Delamarre, citing E. Campanile, suggests that Brigid could be a continuation of the Indo-European dawn goddess.[1]

Possibly related names in Celtdom are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ His name is considered by scholarship to be cognate to several words in Indo-European languages that mean "red, rust, etc."[2]


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ Stifter, David. "Study in red". In: Sprache 40/2 (1998), pp. 202–223.
  3. ^ a b c Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition. Prentice Hall Press, 1991. p.60
  4. ^ a b Wright, Brian. Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint. The History Press, 2011. pp.26-27
  5. ^ Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise (18 September 2000). Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications. pp. 21, 25. ISBN 0-486-41441-8.
  6. ^ a b Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807067239.
  7. ^ a b Koch, John. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. pp.287-288
  8. ^ The Metrical Dindsenchas: "Mag Femin, Mag Fera, Mag Fea," Poem 36
  9. ^ Macalister, R. A. Stewart. Lebor Gabála Érenn. Part IV. Irish Texts Society, Dublin, 1941. § VII, First Redaction, ¶ 317.
  10. ^ Ellis, Peter Berresford. "Celtic Women." Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1995, p. 28.
  11. ^ Cath Maige Tuired (The Second Battle of Mag Tuired), translated by Elizabeth A. Gray. ¶ 125
  12. ^ Gregory, Isabella Augusta (1904). Gods and fighting men : the story of the Tuatha de Danann and the Fiana of Ireland. Yeats, W. B. [Lexington, KY]: [publisher not identified]. p. 24. ISBN 9781495385148. OCLC 907958219.
  13. ^ a b "Saint Brigid: St Brigid's Fire". Cill Dara Historical Society. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  14. ^ a b Cambrensis, Giraldus. "The Topography of Ireland" (PDF). York University. pp. 54, 59. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  15. ^ Healy, Elizabeth (2002) In Search of Ireland's Holy Wells. Dublin, Wolfhound Press ISBN 0-86327-865-5 pp. 12–19, 27, 56–7, 66, 69, 81.
  16. ^ Logan, Patrick (1980) The Holy Wells of Ireland. Buckinghamshire, Colin Smythe Limited. ISBN 0-86140-046-1. pp. 22–3, 95.
  17. ^ a b Carmichael, Alexander (1900) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume I, p. 169 The Sacred Texts Archive
  18. ^ Jones, Mary. "Brigit". Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 28 April 2009. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  19. ^ John T. Koch (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 287. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  20. ^ Magliocco, Sabina (28 January 2001). Neo-pagan sacred art and altars : making things whole. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. p. 30. ISBN 9781578063918. OCLC 46573490.
  21. ^ Matasović, Ranko, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series no. 9), Brill, 2009, pp. 78-79
  22. ^ Mallory, J. P. and Adams, Douglas Q. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Taylor & Francis, 1997, p. 269
  23. ^ Hilaire Wood. "Brigit's Forge". Retrieved 24 April 2015.


Further reading[edit]

  • Catháin, Séamas Ó. “Hearth-Prayers and Other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 122, 1992, pp. 12–34. JSTOR, Accessed 7 May 2020.

External links[edit]