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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
SiblingsCermait, Aengus, Aed, Bodb Derg, Brigid the Healer, Brigid the Smith

Brigid or Brigit (/ˈbrɪɪd, ˈbrɪd/ BRIJ-id, BREE-id, Irish: [ˈbʲɾʲiːdʲ]; meaning 'exalted one'),[1] also 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.

She is associated with wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, smithing 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.[2][3] This suggests she may have been a triple deity.[4] 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 called Imbolc. It has thus been argued that the saint is a Christianization of the goddess, or that the lore of the goddess was transferred to her.[5]

In early Irish literature


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 Brigit has two sisters: Brigit the physician or "woman of healing", and Brigit the smith.[3] 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".[6]

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 have been a byname for Brigid.[7] 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).[8] The animals were said to cry out whenever plundering was committed in Ireland. This suggests Brigid was a guardian goddess of domesticated animals.[2][9]

In Cath Maige Tuired, Bríg is the wife of Bres and bears him a son, Ruadán. His name is cognate to several words in Indo-European languages that mean "red, rust", etc.[10] The story says she began the custom of keening, a combination of wailing and singing, while mourning the death of Ruadán.[2] 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

Art mural in Dundalk depicting the duality of Brigid the pagan goddess and Brigid the saint.
Art mural in Dundalk depicting the duality of Brigid the pagan goddess and Brigid the saint.

Historians suggest 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," Brigid of Kildare.[5]

The goddess and saint have many of the same associations. Saint Brigid is considered a patroness of healers, poets, blacksmiths, livestock and dairy workers,[13] as well as serpents (in Scotland) and the arrival of spring.[14][15]

The saint's hagiographies "are mainly anecdotes and miracle stories, some of which are deeply rooted in Irish pagan folklore".[13] Dáithí Ó hÓgáin wrote that the melding of pagan goddess and Christian saint can be seen in some of the saint's miracles, where she multiplies food, bestows cattle and sheep, controls the weather, and is linked with fire or thermal springs.[2]

This theory is contested, however, with many scholars including Dr Elva Johnston arguing that the significance of the pagan goddess has been exaggerated at the historical figure's expense.[16] Dr Johnson has written "the argument for the priority of the goddess over the saint depends on three interrelated points: firstly, that Brigit is not real, secondly that her lives betray that they are an attempt to euhemerise a pagan deity and finally an underlying assumption that a goddess cult is more empowering for the women of ancient and, by analogy, contemporary Ireland".[16]

In the late 12th century, Gerald of Wales wrote that nineteen nuns took turns in keeping a perpetual fire burning at Kildare in honour of Saint Brigid, and that this fire was kept burning since Brigid's time. It has been suggested this fire originally belonged to a temple of Brigit the goddess.[17] The Roman goddess Vesta and the Greek goddess Hestia had perpetual fires tended by priestesses.[18] According to Gerald, it was ringed by a hedge that no man was allowed to cross,[13] lest he be cursed.[19][20]

The saint is associated with many holy wells and clootie wells in Ireland and Britain, where small strips of cloth or ribbons are left as part of a healing ritual.[21][22] Celtic healing goddesses, such as Sirona and Coventina, were often associated with sacred springs.[23]

Saint Brigid's Day is 1 February. It was originally Imbolc, the first day of spring in Irish tradition. Because Saint Brigid has been linked to the goddess Brigid, the festival of Imbolc is commonly associated with the goddess.[24] [25]

Saint Brigid's Day or Imbolc is traditionally a time for weather prognostication:

A tholus on Venus was named after Brigit by the International Astronomical Union in 1985.[26] As the planetary nomenclature rules prohibit the use of national figures and religious figures from contemporary religions, this is a reference to the goddess rather than the saint.



Brigid is an important figure for some modern pagans, who emphasize her triple aspect. She is sometimes worshipped in conjunction with Lugh or Cernunnos.[27]



Middle 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 Brigida, and from there to English Bridget, French Brigitte, Swedish Birgitta and Finnish Piritta.

The name comes 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.[6] 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").[28][29] Xavier Delamarre, citing E. Campanile, suggests that Brigid could be a continuation of the Indo-European dawn goddess.[1]

See also



  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. ^ a b c d Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend & Romance: An encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition. Prentice Hall Press, 1991. p.60
  3. ^ a b Wright, Brian. Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint. The History Press, 2011. pp.26-27
  4. ^ Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise (18 September 2000). Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications. pp. 21, 25. ISBN 0-486-41441-8.
  5. ^ a b Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807067239.
  6. ^ a b Koch, John. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. pp.287-288
  7. ^ The Metrical Dindsenchas: "Mag Femin, Mag Fera, Mag Fea," Poem 36
  8. ^ Macalister, R. A. Stewart. Lebor Gabála Érenn. Part IV. Irish Texts Society, Dublin, 1941. § VII, First Redaction, ¶ 317.
  9. ^ Ellis, Peter Berresford. "Celtic Women." Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1995, p. 28.
  10. ^ Stifter, David (1998). "Study in Red". Die Sprache. 40 (2): 202–223.
  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 c Farmer, David. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Fifth Edition, Revised). Oxford University Press, 2011. pp.66–67, 467–470
  14. ^ a b Carmichael, Alexander (1900) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume I, p. 169 The Sacred Texts Archive
  15. ^ Jones, Mary. "Brigit". Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 28 April 2009. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  16. ^ a b Johnston, Elva (January 2024). "Making St Brigit real in the early middle ages". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature. doi:10.1353/ria.0.a918428. Project MUSE 918428.
  17. ^ Burns, Paul (1998). Butler's Lives of the Saints: New Full Edition: February. Burns & Oates. pp. 1–4.
  18. ^ Wright, Brian. Brigid: Goddess, Druidess and Saint. p.75
  19. ^ Cambrensis, Giraldus. "The Topography of Ireland" (PDF). York University. pp. 54, 59. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  20. ^ "Saint Brigid: St Brigid's Fire". Cill Dara Historical Society. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Logan, Patrick (1980) The Holy Wells of Ireland. Buckinghamshire, Colin Smythe Limited. ISBN 0-86140-046-1. pp. 22–3, 95.
  23. ^ Koch, John (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 1488–1491.
  24. ^ John T. Koch (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 287. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  25. ^ Smith, Phoebe (31 January 2024). "On the trail of a Celtic goddess: the Irish town celebrating St Brigid". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  26. ^ Séaghdha, Darach Ó (1 February 2024). "The Irish For: Is Brigid the only saint in space?". TheJournal.ie.
  27. ^ Magliocco, Sabina (2001). Neo-pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole. University Press of Mississippi. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-57806-391-8. OCLC 46573490.
  28. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary. Vol. 9. Brill. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1.
  29. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q., eds. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5.

Further reading