Ruminations on Brighid

Another antiquated round of musics from my journal. (My apologies for the uncorrected capitalization issues.)

lately, i’ve been pondering the love affairs of Brighid. i’ve had an issue with Alexei Kondratiev’s contention in Judy Harrow’s “Devoted to You” that Brighid is primarily a virgin goddess — at best, an Athena-like foster mother with no “issue” (his word, not mine) of her own.

let us consider the evidence pro-Kondratiev:

  • She is now a Catholic saint, although personally i think she’s just moonlighting for the extra cash.
  • Her sacred flame at Kildare was — and is, now that it’s been revived — kept only by women, and there was rumors of all sort of nasties that would befall men if they entered the sacred enclosure.
  • Vesta in Rome was worshiped similarly, with a female college and a sacred flame. Vesta was known for being chaste; her priestesses were tossed in a pit if they decided to “get it on” before their term of service was up. (The reason being that their impiety would have threatened the security of the entire city in a magickal way, one presumes.)
  • the Romans considered her cognate with Minerva, whom they saw as a virgin. however, that was after their association with the Greeks; prior to Greek influence, Minerva was an Etruscan deity and may have had different habits.
  • Brighid may have been married to the Fomhoire Bres, but it was under duress and their son, Ruadhan, died in the war with the Tuatha De Dannan. Ergo, they had no living “issue.”
  • She wears a lot of white. Personally, I think it’s because it matches her complexion so well.

and now, let us consider evidence to the contrary:

  • Celtic goddesses in general are not known for their celibacy. To wit: the Morrigan, Boann, Fand, the various incarnations of the land goddess(Maeve, Tailtiu, Eriu, etc.) the Celts didn’t seem to particularly value virginity in their women, who were just as fierce as their men, if the many tales of female warriors are to be believed. in short, they seem to like a little nookie. the only one to protest — and a little too much — was Arianrhod, and she was just plain lyin’, as her brother demonstrated with a certain wand.
  • A sacred flame was also kept in the temple of Sulis in Bath. Sul/Sulis may have been the same deity as Brighid; both have associations with holy wells and sacred flames, and solar attributes. in fact, there may have been many such sacred well/flame sancturaries across Celtic territory, and the only one limited to women seemed to be at Kildare. This indicates to me that the prohibition against men was a Christian one, intended to keep the nuns from getting a little nookie.
  • We don’t really know the circumstances of her marriage to Bres. perhaps they grew to like each other; at any rate, no myth expresses their antipathy. and they did have at least one son.
  • Kondratiev seems to discount Ruadhan because he died in wartime. (make that argument to a mother who lost her son in war. i dare you. get a bullet-proof vest first, though.) but Brighid did love him. upon learning of his death, she invented keening, folklore says.
  • In some sources, Brighid is also rumored to have been wed to Tuireann, likely the Irish version of the old Celtic thunder-god, Taranis. (there’s no word whether that was before, during or after her marriage to Bres.) with him, she had three sons — Brian, Iuchar and Ircharba; they killed Cian, father of Lugh, who killed them in turn. however, i rather suspect that this was a late development, dating to the times when the Christian Irish tried to make sense of their complicated Pagan past.

    sometimes these sons are listed as Creidhne, Luchtaine and Goibhniu, which makes sense since Creidhne is the god of craftsmen, Luchtaine of carpenters and Goibhniu of smiths in general. Brighid, as the goddess of all human arts, would likely have been their mother.

  • I rather suspect that Ogma, as god of eloquence, would have been her son as well. his mother is not often listed, although some speculate it was Danu or Eithne, both occasionally listed as the mother of the Dagda. sometimes Ogma is Dagda’s son, other times his brother.
  • If i remember correctly, Steve Blamires claims that Brighid is Danu, as the goddess of skill and human arts. this would make all the gods her children. personally, i don’t believe this. if anything, they were perhaps mother-daughter doubles of each other. Brighid’s mother is not listed, but it must have been Danu, unless you believe Markale’s claims (listed below).
  • Jean Markale claims that virtually all goddesses in the Celtic pantheon are expressions of Brighid, but particularly Boann, whose name means “white cow” (kine being sacred to Brighid) and who was associated with sacred wells (mainly, the well of Segais, later the Boyne, but by extension all waters). Boann certainly was not celibate; hence, the existence of Aonghus mac Og, her adulterous son with the Dagda. (She is married to Nechtan, a water-god considered the Dagda’s “dark twin,” i.e., asshole brother.)

    I can see the validity of Brighid’s identification with Boann, but i do not believe she is the same as the Morrigan, as Markale attests, simply because both are threefold. but who knows? in Markale’s estimation, Brighid is simultaneously the mother, lover and daughter of the Dagda, which is something that likely belongs on Jerry Springer if true.

  • just because she became St. Brighid doesn’t mean she was truly “saintly” in the Christian sense. scribes of that period has a vested interest in portraying women as virginal and/or dependent upon men, because that came down directly from the church. changing social mores and all that.
  • Brighid is a virgin in the sense that she really doesn’t need a man, but who does? and that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like them, or want attention from them either. heck, at grove rituals, she has occasionally flirted (mutually) with Mannanan.

to sum up, Brighid was a mother as well as a maiden (and probably a crone too; at least, she must have had her destroyer aspect. ask the Brigands!)

Brighid: not just a Maiden Goddess.

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About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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4 Responses to Ruminations on Brighid

  1. Briar says:

    If we believe that at one time any aspect of Brighid was connected with the Land – for instance, if we believe that Brighid and Brigantia are more or less the same Goddess, Brigantia being the Land Goddess of the Brigantes – then she could not have been purely virgin. Virgin Land is Land that does not support life. Some sort of mythology of sacred marriage between the King and the Land must have taken place among the Brigantes as well.

  2. Gwynn Morgan says:

    Very intersting and I too find virgin goddesses rather boring and unrealistic. We are ostensibly created more or less in the pattern of the original Mother and why would She have given us the capacity for pleasure as well as fecundity if She did not intend us to use both? So whether the original Mother was one and the same with Brighid or not–and who knows as we cannot time travel back to check it out, but in either case, I expect Brighid enjoyed a good tup as much as any. I put the whole virgin thing in a box with much of the Christian theology that was bent on putting women ‘in their place’ and reducing pagan goddesses in especial to the lowest level possible. The whole virgin birth thing has always torqued my tailfeathers and a creator who is solely male? Gimme a break!!
    Wind Dancer of TdB

  3. tressabelle says:

    I think its easy to get Brighid the Goddess and Brighid the saint all blended together. The whole supposed story of Brighid the saint placed her as an actual person, an Irish Christian nun. This is where the whole virgin associations come from, not from the Irish lore of Brighid the Goddess. I’ve heard it said that the whole “Maiden, Mother, Crone” thing is a modern invention and the Celts did not categorize their deities in this way. I accept the truth in that, however, I tend to categorize Goddesses in that way despite myself.
    But I do not associate maiden with virgin- I simply think of maiden as a young woman.
    The idea of Maiden-Mother-Crone in my mind is Brighid-Danu-Cailleach.

    • An interesting triad. There are some authentic maiden/mother/crone triads; the one that springs to mind is Hera, the unwed maiden/the fulfilled or married woman/the widow. Granted, her status seems to revolve around marriage, but it has the right age connotations. Brighid herself is seen as threefold, but all the Brighids are in fact identical and deal with different aspects (healing/smithcraft/poetry). In my own UPG, I tend to view Brighid as more maternal; she marries three times and is mother to the Three Gods of Skill as well as the late Ruadhan. But divinity is complicated enough that all interpretations may hold true in some way….

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