The Wise Women of Britain had their own special patron – the goddess Brighid – who later became known as Saint Brigit. She was a Celtic pagan deity, the equivalent of Roman Minerva and Greek Athene, whose name meant exalted one. In Irish mythology, Brighid was the daughter of Dagda, wife of Bres, and the mother of Ruadan – the son she invented keening for when he died in battle.
Brighid was one of three sisters (all named Brighid) who jointly made up the Triple Deity – maiden, mother, crone. For many years she was closely associated with Wise Women and became the goddess of healers and magicians. Called on for assistance with prophecy and divination, Brighid represented wisdom, intelligence, excellence, perfection, craftsmanship, artistry, healing, and druidic knowledge. Because she protected pregnant women and aided in childbirth, she was also connected with the hearth and home.
At some point in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church syncretized Brighid into the Christian St. Brigit of Kildare, making her the keeper of the eternal flame (from her former role of protecting Druid priestesses) and tender of holy healing wells (as she was already widely associated with medicine). Her festival day at the start of February marks the arrival of spring, but instead of being called Imbolc it then became known as St. Brigit’s Day instead.
Brighid is the patron saint of poetry, blacksmithing, arts and crafts, cattle, and serpents. She is credited with inventing the whistle. Her symbols include the hearth, cauldron, forge, and bridal bed. Corn dolls, crosses, and knots have been named after her, and she is connected with cats, foxes, cows, bees, and wrens.
The last time I visited St. Mary’s Church at Newchurch-in-Pendle I was delighted by the collection of rush decorations nailed along the walls, carefully fashioned into crosses, knots, and dollies.
The old traditions die hard!
(Photos: Public Domain)
Lockhart, Elaine. “Brighid: A Personal Relationship” in Modern Witch, First Issue, Imbolc, 2012 (p8-9)
About Religion. “Brighid: Hearth Goddess of Ireland.” Available at http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/godsandgoddesses/p/Brighid_Profile.htm (2/25/2015)
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