The Goddess Brigid
At the dawn of Imbolc, when the flicker of Spring quickens in the belly of Winter, the Goddess Brigid’s fiery arrow descends from the Heavens to usher in hope for the new season.
Brigid, also known as Brigit, Brighid, and Brighde/Bride, has been one of the most important goddesses of the Celtic pantheon. The Goddess of Spring and Fire, Poetry and Smithery, Healing and Prophecy, has a long and winding legacy that has survived the Christianization of Ireland and is beloved by Pagans worldwide to this day. Brigid has been transformed into both a Christian Saint and a Vodou Loa while still maintaining her primarily Celtic and Gaelic identity.
As we’re gearing up for Imbolc, the first Wiccan Sabbat of 2021, let’s spend some time getting to know the many different aspects of the Goddess and learn how to best work with her.
The origins of Brigid
When trying to understand a deity’s origins, the clue is often in their name itself. The name Brigid has an interesting origin — if a bit dizzying in its many iterations.
Originally called Brid in Old Irish, Brigid’s name stems from “Briganti,” a proto-Celtic word that means “The Exalted One” or “The High One.” From the word “Briganti” comes Brig, another form of Brigid’s name. in fact, some of Brigid’s militant followers used to be called “brigands” before the word got a negative connotation later on. As for Brid? The Old Irish form of Brigid’s name is where the words “bride” and “bright” stem from (both qualities attributed to her). And as you may have already guessed, the modern name Bridget stems from Brigid as well.
However you like to call her, Brigid’s domain is as vast as her name’s linguistic reach. She is the Goddess of Early Spring, of Fertility and Motherhood, of wielding both actual and metaphorical Fire, as a Smith and a Poet. Brigid presides over wells and water, is a healer and a prophetess, and protects farm animals as well as people who work with their hands. Similar to the Greek Muses, Brigid is to be called when one needs inspiration, invention, and creativity.
Brigid embodies qualities of all the three Goddess archetypes: the beautiful Maiden of the Spring Dawn, who will soon become a Bride, the caring and weeping Mother who protects and mourns for her children, and the wise and magickal Crone who knows what the future holds. But the Goddess also embodies certain typically male qualities such as bravery and strength, inspiration, and self-actualization.
It’s okay if you are a bit confused at this point. As Modern Pagans and Wiccans, we are used to our Gods and Goddesses being Gods and Goddesses of mostly one thing; to represent only one aspect of divinity and Nature. Yet Brigid spans across so many domains that many historians believe she was first worshipped as a Triple Goddess — just as Hekate was in the East before she was incorporated into the Greek pantheon. Unlike Hekate, who was “downgraded” by the Greeks to simply the Goddess of Magic, Brigid was often considered to be different Goddesses, each dedicated to a single thing. In one of the retellings of her myth, Brigid is thought to have two other sisters, also named Brigid: one a poet and the other a smith.
For the most part, though, Brigid has kept all her different aspects throughout the years.
Brigid’s role in the Celtic religion
To the Celts, Brigid was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann (which translates to “the children of Danu” or to “Tribe of the Gods”) were considered a supernatural race, much like the Aesir of the Scandinavians. The Tuatha Dé Danann came to Ireland and became the country’s main deities after battling the Fomorians (the scary-looking giants and destructive deities that lived there before).
The Tuatha Dé Danann leader was Dagda, King, First Druid and protector of agriculture, magic, and mysticism — and Brigid was his daughter by the Goddess Morrigan, purveyor of battle and death. It is thought that Brigid’s many different qualities stem from how different her parents were.
Brigid is depicted as a beautiful young woman with fiery red hair and a cloak made of sunbeams. She was born on February 1st, and her celebration was called Imbolc (which means “in the belly”). It is said that when she was born at sunrise, a tower of flame reached up from her head all the way to the Heavens, which earned her the names “Fiery Arrow” and “Flame of Ireland.” As her mother, Morrigan was not very maternal in nature; Brigid was nursed by a cow, which later became her sacred animal.
Brigid created a sacred grove in Kildare, Ireland, where she founded a school that taught animal husbandry, herb knowledge, and forging metals to humans who worshipped her. In that sacred grove, there was a healing well and a sacred flame that never went out, showcasing the Goddess’ connection to both the elements of Water and Fire. It is said that the custom of people throwing coins into wells and making wishes started there, in Brigid’s healing well.
Some say that Brigid married Bres, a High King of Ireland that had a link to the rival Fomorians. Others say that Brigid was married to Tuireann, God of Thunder. But all sources agree that during the battle with the Fomorians, one of Brigid’s sons, Ruadán, died.
And it was then that yet another aspect of the Goddess emerged: the Mourner. Faced with her son’s death, Brigid made a high-pitched sound, which became the first keening, creating the tradition of singing laments for the dead. Over time, Brigid also became matron Goddess of the cemeteries. This will be important later when we talk about Maman Brigitte.
Brigid and Saint Brigid
Brigid’s worship was so strong in Ireland that it was impossible to root out when the country was Christianized. This was not an uncommon practice. It is thought that many Christian Saints (like Saint Nick or Santa Claus and even Mary) were introduced as a way for people to keep worshipping the Pagan gods (like Odin and Freya) that they were so used to.
So in the Middle Ages, the Christian Church created Saint Brigid, a figure that basically functioned as the Celtic Goddess’s Christian counterpart. Saint Brigid was also the daughter of a Druid. She was associated with maintaining the sacred flames of a sanctuary in Kildare (a reference to Brigid’s sacred grove) that also included a holy well. Even Saint Brigid’s Day remained the same: February 1st, from now on called Candlemass, a nod to the Saint’s (and the Goddess’s) association with flames.
To this day, Saint Brigid is the matron saint of Ireland.
Brigid and Maman Brigitte
But Brigid’s far reach doesn’t stop here. As many Irish and Scottish people traveled across the Atlantic, ending up in Haiti (mostly as indentured slaves working on plantations), they brought their religious beliefs with them, which were then syncretized with the local pantheon. And so Brigid, who was already considered a Christian Saint by then and thus safe for people to worship openly, became Maman Brigitte in Haiti, one of the Vodou Loas.
Maman Brigitte is a powerful figure, worshipped to this day by people in Haiti, Louisiana, and other parts of the world. She is considered the wife of wicked Baron Samedi and the only Loa with white skin (and red hair). Maman Brigitte embraces a duality that’s also apparent in the Celtic version of Brigid: she rules over both life and death, both cemeteries and nursing homes.
This complexity of the Goddess has made her loved by so many, regardless of which form she’s taken over the ages.
Brigid and Imbolc
Imbolc is one of the major Wiccan Sabbats, marking a key movement in the Wheel of the Year: the slow transition from Winter to Spring. Still very much associated with Brigid, Imbolc is celebrated on February 1st and 2nd by lighting candles and making what is known as “Brigid’s Cross.” At the same time, the Christian celebration of Candlemas takes place.
Imbolc is a great time to bless waters, do healing spells, practice invocation rituals or write poetry, and start other creative endeavors. It is time to focus on farm animals, work with fire, and be brave.
At its core, Imbolc carries a duality very familiar to Brigid. This is a celebration of opposite powers: the waters that form as the ice starts to melt and the fires that melt them. In a deeper sense, it is a celebration of the quickening of life in the cosmic womb come Spring and an appreciation of the slower times the “death” we experienced during Winter has gifted us with.
Light a candle in Brigid’s honor this Imbolc and know that the Goddess is with you, no matter which form she may take.