Goddess of Spring

Goddess of Spring www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Goddess of Spring
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Happy Imbolc! Today is the first day of Celtic spring, a tradition known in Ireland as Imbolc. This weekend we’ve had snow, we’ve had torrential rain, we’ve had wild winds, and we’ve had fog… it certainly doesn’t feel spring-like, and I wonder if the seasons have gradually slipped out of sync with the calender.

Today I was going to bring you to somewhere special, to a place associated with Brigid, but I’ve been ill this week, and so have my kids, a voyage of discovery out in the countryside just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Brigid.

I feel a connection with many characters from Irish mythology, but of them all, Brigid is the one I am most drawn to. Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda, a Druid and High King of the Tuatha de Danann, an advanced race with seemingly supernatural powers, who invaded Ireland some 4000 years ago.

Her feast day is celebrated at Imbolc, which falls half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is usually held on the first day of February to welcome the arrival of Spring.

Imbolc (pronounced I-molk) is one of four ancient Celtic/Gaelic festivals, the others being Beltaine, celebrated on May 1st; Lughnasadh, on Aug 1st; and Samhain, held on Nov 1st.

These major festivals were celebrated with the lighting of huge fires. My favourite explanation of the Old Irish word Imbolc comes from imb-fholc, meaning ‘to thoroughly wash/ cleanse’. To me, this is clearly a reference to the ritual cleansing and purification of fire and smoke.

However, it is generally accepted to mean ‘in the belly’, with reference to the pregnancy of ewes. Indeed, the C10th manuscript known as Cormac’s Glossary explains it as oimelc, or ‘ewe’s milk’. As such, Brigid has popularly become associated with the onset of the lambing season.

Sheep are not a native species of animal to Ireland; they are thought to have been introduced by Neolithic settlers some time after 4000 BC, so there would certainly have been sheep around in Brigid’s day. However, they don’t get much mention in Irish mythology, which is highly unusual; almost every other animal, wild or domestic, did.

The Danann were well known for their milk-white cattle, indeed, cattle were highly prized among our ancient ancestors, as the many stories of cattle raids, real and mythological, through the ages will attest. Queen Medb was famous for going to war over a bull, as told in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, for example. Cows were used as a measure of currency, as a measure of value, and as a measure of wealth.

In the ancient text known as the Lebor Gebála Érenn, Brigid was said to have kept  two royal cattle called Fea and Feimhean, the Boar King known as Torc Triath, and Cirba, who was King of the wethers. In case you don’t know, a wether is a castrated male sheep. She owned a number of castrated male sheep. No lactating ewes.

So it’s very interesting that in the tower on Glastonbury Tor, there is a carving which depicts her milking, not a sheep, but a cow.

Brigid was herself credited with the gifts of healing, of poetic inspiration, and metalworking. As with many of the Irish female deities, for example, the Morrigan (Badb-Anann-Macha), and the Sisters of Sovereignty (Eriu-Fodhla-Banbha), she was a Triune Goddess, meaning she was one and three all at the same time.

This triple aspect of their femininity related to the stages of womanhood, namely maiden-mother-crone. Unusually, Brigid’s triple aspect revolved around her skills, poetry- smithcraft-healing. I like that she stood out from the crowd, and I like her combination of skills.

Whilst we are on the subject of the triple nature of the Goddess, Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach, or Crone, gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intends to make the winter long and hard, she will bless Imbolc with a bright sunny day, so she can gather plenty of firewood to last her a long time. If Imbolc is a day of foul weather, it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.

The name Brigid means ‘bright/ exalted one’, from the Sanskrit brahti, and is thought to refer to her association with fire and the sun. When she was born (at sunrise), a tower of flame was said to have extended from the top of her head to the heavens, giving her family home the appearance of being on fire. This is how the C10th text, Cormac’s Glossary describes here;

“Brighid, a poetess, daughter of the Dagda. She is the female sage, woman of wisdom, Brighid the Goddess whom poets venerated as very great and famous for her protecting care. She was therefore called ‘Goddess of the Poets’. Her sisters were Brighid the female physician, and Brighid the female smith; among all Irishmen, a goddess was called ‘Brighid’. Brighid is from breo-aigit or ‘fiery arrow’.”

I like the description of the fiery arrow. I think it is more fitting for her role as a poetess, that she would receive divine inspiration or knowledge in this way. It also corresponds with the glowing white-hot iron she would have manipulated in the fire of the forge, and the light she would have used as energy to conduct her spiritual healing. However, modern scholars are not in agreement with Cormac.

Brigid married Bres, of mixed Danann-Fomori heritage, with whom she had a son, Ruadan. Bres was an unpopular High King; he was mean and a tyrant, and after seven years, the Danann opposed his rule and reinstated Nuada as their leader.

Bres enlisted the help of his Fomori relatives and attacked the Denann. During the battle, Ruadan entered the Denann camp on a mission to kill Goibniu, their master-smith, but was himself killed in the attempt. According to an ancient text known as Cath Maige Tuireadh, Brigid collapsed in grief over her son’s body, crying her sorrow, and was thus said to have invented the act of keening (in Irish caoine, or cine) for the dead.

It is thought that following Bres’s death, she later went on to have three sons, Ichvar, Ichvarba and Brian, with a man named Tuirean. After that, her name seems to drop out of the stories.

You can read more about Brigid and Imbolc in my other posts…

Irish Mythology The County Cavan Cult of Brigid

Irish Mythology Brigid, Queen of Imbolc

Today it’s Imbolc, and of course it’s SNOWING!

Irish Mythology The Tuatha de Danann Come to Ireland

Ireland also has a Saint Brigid, whose feast day is also celebrated on 1st February. Some say she is the Christianisation of a much loved pagan Goddess that the Irish people refused to give up. It is also said that she started out as a Druidess who tended the eternal flame at the Shrine of Brigid, and was responsible for bringing about its conversion to Christianity. However, that is a post for another day…

Irish Mythology | The Rough Month of the Cuckoo

scairbhinThe Scairbhín ( pronounced skara-veen) is an Irish weather phenomenon I know only too well, but until very recently, did not know it had a name. It translates as ‘the rough month of the cuckoo’ from the phrase garbh mi na gcuach, and refers to the period comprising the last two weeks of April, and the first two weeks of May.

These few weeks are often rampant with changeable extremes of weather patterns. In Ireland, we say you can expect to experience all four seasons in one day, and this is certainly true of the Scarbhín.

Our ancient ancestors who worked the land and were much closer to the seasons knew this as ‘the hungry time’ of the year. This is because they were busy planting and tending their crops which were too young and immature to produce food as yet.

But the Scairbhín was actually nature’s way of ensuring the crops success. Initial ‘unseasonal’ warm weather would enable seeds to germinate, a sudden cold snap would then serve to ‘harden off’ the young plants, and the howling gales which followed would distribute pollen.

So what has this to do with cuckoos?

Well, the Scairbhín coincided with the return of the cuckoo. The call of the cuckoo is often heard when the bird itself cannot be seen, which lends it an air of mystique. It was therefore seen as something of a herald of early spring and the milder weather which was sure to come, but which had not yet quite appeared.

Of course, the ancient Irish had quite a store of cuckoo lore; it was considered lucky to hear its call whilst out walking, but if you were to hear it whilst lying in your bed, you were sure to experience illness in the family before the cuckoo departed Irish shores for the winter.

If you heard the call whilst you had no money in your money, you were likely to remain poor for the rest of the year. Hmmm… so that explains it; I hear cuckoos most often whilst out walking with Indi, and I never carry money on me when walking the dog…

There are places in Ireland which have acquired their names through their connections with the weather. One of my favourites is Magha an tSamraidh, which means ‘the Plain of Summer’, and is located in Co Kerry within view of the twin peaks of the Paps of Anu, I believe. Incidentally, Tir na tSamraidh means ‘Land of Summer’, and is the name of one of the Otherworld lands… heaven on earth, perhaps?

Cnoc Firinne in Co Limerick means ‘Hill of Truth’, and is so named for the accurate weather predictions made on it over the millennia, based on cloud cover and formation, visibility,  and such like.

Closer to home, Loughcrew, also known as Sliabh na Caileach in Irish, or ‘Mountain of the Hag/ Crone’ is the site of a quaint Spring legend. It is said that if Imbolc (the Goddess Brigid’s feast day and first day of Spring, February 1st) dawns fine and bright, it means that winter has not yet relinquished its cold wet grip, and the crone is out and about collecting firewood to keep her warm. If, on the other hand, Imbolc dawns cold, wild and wet, it is a good sign, for it means the crone has no need of extra firewood, and is sleeping in her bed.

Five Photos Five Stories Challenge Day Three | Irish Sunset

sunset2

You will know by now that I am partial to a beautiful sunset, particularly if it is one which can be enjoyed from the comfort of my own garden, preferably with a glass of Prosecco or Bulmers in hand.

To our ancient Irish ancestors, sunset was considered the start of the day, not the end of it. They certainly considered the sun as an important source of energy, not only in practical terms with regard to the seasons and growth of crops, but perhaps also in mystical and ritual terms.

The darkest time of year, the winter, when the sun is at its lowest and weakest, was the start of their year, in the way that the dark of night began their day.

Their four major festivals, Imbolc (Feb 1st), Bealtaine (May 1st), Lughnasadh (Aug 1st) and Samhain (Nov 1st), celebrated the turning of the seasons with the lighting of huge fires, perhaps in honour of the life-giving warmth and energy of the sun.

The sun’s movements also gave rise to four other sacred occasions on the Irish Celtic calender; both equinoxes, when day and night are thought to be of equal length, and the solstices, when the sun reaches its highest and lowest position in the sky.


I was nominated to take part in this photo challenge by Sue Vincent, who takes the most beautiful images and always has a story to tell about them. I would like to nominate author and poet most extraordinaire, Jane Dougherty, to take part in this challenge.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!


Irish Mythology | The County Cavan Cult of Brigid

Replica of the Corleck Head, Co Cavan Museum

Easter is the festival of the pagan Goddess of Spring, Eostre, or Ostara, which was adopted by Christians as the resurrection day of Jesus. In Ireland, the beginning of Spring is celebrated by the festival of Imbolc on February 1st, which also happens to be the feast day of the Goddess Brigid.

According to the Cath Maige Tuireadh and the Lebor Gabála Érenn, two ancient documents containing Ireland’s mythic origins, Brigid was a princess of the Tuatha de Denann, and daughter of the Dagda. She was married to the tyrant-king, Bres, who turned his back on the Tuatha de Denann in favour of his Fomori heritage.

Patron of poetry, smith-craft and healing, she was deeply loved and revered by our Irish ancestors. It came as no surprise to me, therefore, to learn of a cult which had worshipped Brigid from pre-Christian times well into the C19th… but what did blow me away was that this took place in an area of Ireland only ten minutes drive away from where I live.

In 1855, an extraordinary artefact was unearthed in a small quarry on Corleck Hill near Bailieborough in Co Cavan. This unusual early Iron-Age stone head was 32cms high, made from sandstone, and had three faces, each one almost identical with a narrow mouth, bossed eyes, and a rather enigmatic expression.

Corleck Hill, also known as the Hill of the Three Gods of Art
Corleck Hill, also known as the Hill of the Three Gods of Art

Corleck Hill, from the Irish corr, meaning ‘round hill’ and leac, meaning ‘flat stone/ rock’, has a long association with the worship of the old Gods. It is also known by another name, Sliabh na trí Dána, meaning ‘the hill of three Gods’.

In Irish mythology, the term ‘Trí de Dána’ refers to the Three Gods of Art; Goibniu the smith, Luchtaine the carpenter, and Credne the goldsmith. Could the stone head with its three faces represent this trio of  skilled craftsmen/ deities, after which the hill of its resting place was named?

But what does this have to do with Brigid? Well, as one of the Denann, and daughter of the Dagda, she was contemporary with the Three Gods of Art. When the Denann invaded Ireland and fought against the Fir Bolg, Brigid was with them.

Now it gets really interesting; they settled in an area called Magh Rein. And guess where Magh Rein turns out to be? Only right next door to Magh Slecht (where St Patrick was said to have defeated Crom Cruach), on the borders of Co Cavan and Co Leitrim. From there, it’s not a long trek to Corleck, even without modern modes of transport.

Brigid’s festival was known to have been celebrated with huge fires on Corleck  Hill at Imbolc. Even more intriguing, the Corleck head was not the only such idol to have been discovered there…

The Stone Head of Brigid was said to have been worshipped as a triple deity at a shrine on top of the nearby Hill of Drumeague. Interestingly, her triple aspect celebrated her skills as a poet, a smith and a healer, rather than the typical maiden, mother and crone of womanhood, and thus we see another connection with the crafts of the Trí de Dána.

It’s certainly possible that the Denann could have roamed into the region now known as Bailieborough in the search for raw materials to supply their trades. Perhaps the arrival of Brigid and the Three Gods of Art into their homeland so impressed the local people, that they honoured and remembered them in their rituals of worship.

When Christianity claimed Cavan, the head of Brigid was hidden in a Neolithic tomb. Brigid was well loved for her protection and care; it’s quite likely that her followers were reluctant to give her up for the new god. But eventually, perhaps inevitably, her stone head was brought into the local church, where she was canonised as St Bride of Knockbride.

The 'new' Church of Knockbride.
The ‘new’ Church of Knockbride.

Unfortunately, this treasured idol has since sadly gone missing, but there is a curious tale attached to its disappearance.

When the church was rebuilt in its current position, Fr Owen O’Reilly, who was the parish priest between 1840 and 1844, brought the head from the old church in the west of the parish to the new one in the east.

He claimed that as he was passing Roosky Lake, the head ‘jumped’ out of the carriage of its own accord and fell into the water, never to be seen again.

Roosky Lake... who knows what secrets lurk beneath those still waters?
Roosky Lake… who knows what secrets lurk beneath those still waters?

However, there is also a story which says it lies buried beneath the new church, nestled among the foundations, perhaps in the hope that she will continue to bring her blessing upon those who worship there.

It is interesting to note that at some point between 1832 and 1900, the passage tomb, stone circle and large 64m embankment which crowned Corleck Hill, was systematically demolished and removed. It could be that this was where Brigid’s head was originally hidden to keep her safe from Christian priests.

Whether this act of destruction was instigated by zealous Fr O’Reilly, who was so keen to banish Brigid’s influence, or was simply the effect of farming on the landscape, we’ll probably never know. Although I would add that cattle graze very happily around other ancient monuments in Ireland.

Although the stone head of Brigid is now lost to us, the Corleck Head can be seen at the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin, and a fairly authentic looking replica stares rather disconcertingly out of a glass case in the local Co Cavan Museum.

Irish Mythology | Friday 13th… Unlucky for Some?

moon
The moon is associated with the divine femine as the feminine cycles were linked to the phases of the moon. In Ireland, Aine was Goddess of love, growth, cattle and light. Her name means “bright” as she lights up the dark

There is a deep-rooted fear in many cultures that Friday 13th is a very unlucky day, yet no one knows where this superstition has come from, or why it is so widespread.

It is certainly true that some pretty rotten things have happened in the past on this day, which have earned it such a terrible reputation. For example, on Friday 13th October 1307, hundreds of Knights Templar were rounded up and put to death in France.

In the Bible, Judas was the thirteenth person present at the Last Supper. Jesus was crucified the very next day, which was a Friday.

In numerology, the number 12 is considered to be a number of ‘completeness’; there are 12 months in  year, 12 hours in a day followed by 12 hours of night, there are 12 signs of the zodiac, etc.

In comparison, the number 13 is seen as irregular, imbalanced.

There is a Norse myth which tells that twelve Gods were dining in the great hall of Valhalla, when the trickster-God Loki turned up uninvited. He proceeded to convince the blind God of Darkness, Hoder, to shoot Baldur the Beautiful, God of Joy with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, thus we have another example indicating why the ancient people may have believed the number 13 to be unlucky.

By contrast, the ancient Egyptians actually believed the number 13 to be very fortunate indeed. They thought that man experienced twelve phases during his mortal life, but the 13th was to ascend to eternal after-life, which was considered a joyous event, even though achieved through death.

In the C19th, a man named William Fowler set up the Thirteen Club, in an effort to disprove the fear of Friday 13th. They met in groups of 13 for dinner, walked under a ladder before sitting down to eat in Room no 13, which was decorated with open umbrellas, ensuring much salt was spilled on the table, which no one bothered to throw over their shoulders. Their first meeting was held on Friday 13th January 1881. Interestingly, there is no record of anything remotely unlucky having ever happened to any of the club’s members.

Although the origins of this superstition cannot now be traced, some say it goes right back into our distant pagan past. Ancient pagan religions were matriarchal; they believed in the Goddess and Mother Earth, and venerated the ability of the female to bring forth life. The year was counted by lunar cycles, unlike today’s Gregorian calender, of which there were thirteen, and also thirteen menstrual cycles in a year.

As the priests of the new religion, Christianity, tried to wrest control from the pagans, they suppressed the power of the female; fertility and the sexual act was seen as unclean. Where childbirth was once seen as joyous and miraculous, the new religion considered the new mother unclean and she was not allowed into the church until she had been ritually purified forty days later.  I’m pretty sure the thirteen menstrual cycles were seen as unclean, as well!

Over time, this dislike of the number 13 may have adopted a more sinister tone, as the pagans associated with it became thought of as evil devil-worshippers.

For the ancient Celts, everything was interconnected, even numbers. All numbers had meanings, or associations, here are just a few;

No2 represented service and commitment, ie the loyalty as shown by Fionn mac Cumhall’s two hounds, Bran and Sceolán.

No3 we know was considered a very sacred number, and seen in such concepts as birth-life-death; mind-body-spirit; beginning-middle-end; sun-moon-earth; thought-word-deed; past-present-future, and of course the Triple Goddess maiden-mother-crone.

No4 was connected with wholeness, as represented by the four seasons; the four winds; the four directions; the four elements, and even the four provinces of Ireland.

To the ancient Celts, trees were very important, and were also associated with particular qualities which could be interpreted to be of good or bad fortune. The oak and the hazel were considered trees of knowledge.

There were nine hazel trees around Nechtan’s Well at the Source of the Boyne. They would blossom and bear fruit at the same time. These fruit, the hazel nuts, would drop into the water where they would be eaten by waiting salmon. If one was to eat the flesh of the Salmon of Knowledge, one would acquire all of his wisdom, but they weren’t easy to catch. The old Druid Finegas tried in vain for many years, only to be cheated out of his reward by the boy-hero Fionn mac Cumhall.

The ash and the rowan were esteemed for their powers of protection. Eating rowan berries were thought to induce longevity, and brought youth and happiness. In old Irish, the rowan was called Fid na nDruad, ‘Tree of the Druids’. Later, Christians adopted the habit of putting branches in their homes on Good Friday to ward off evil.

Fairy Tree on the way up to Loughcrew.
Fairy Tree on the way up to the burial mounds of Loughcrew.

The hawthorn tree was thought to guard the entrance to the fairy realm, and it was thought to be very bad luck to cut one down. Even today, you will often find hawthorns known as ‘fairy’ or ‘rag’ trees at holy wells and other ancient sites, where people leave a small gift, rag or prayer attached to the tree as a votive offering to the ancient gods of that place.

Today’s popular saying ‘Touch wood’ to invoke good luck stems from this ancient Celtic respect of the trees.

Many cultures still consider the rabbit to be a symbol of good luck, and this goes back also to Celtic times. In Ireland, the rabbit was thought to have special powers to thwart those of the Tuatha de Denann, as like them, it lived below ground. Therefore,  carrying a part of a rabbit, such as its foot, on one’s person at all times was considered to ward off fairy evil. Not so lucky for the rabbit, I think.

There are many examples of the hare having connections with the Otherworld in Irish mythology and folklore. Hares are associated with spring, thus with the Goddess of the season, and represented love, fertility and growth. In Europe, that Goddess was Eostre, after whom Easter is named, but in Ireland Brigid is the Goddess of Spring, or Imbolc, which starts on February 1st. February is when the hares start racing through my garden, driving poor old Indi wild!

I came across a story of a huge red-eyed hare which used Loughanleagh as its entry point into the magical realm. Oisin was once said to have hunted a hare, wounding its leg before it disappeared through a doorway into the ground. He followed it through a long passage, eventually emerging in a great hall where he found a beautiful woman bleeding from her leg. Not only does this story show a connection between the Sidhe and the hare, but also indicates a belief in transmigration.

Apparently, in order to ensure victory, Boudicca was said to have carried a hare into battle under her cloak, from where it proceeded to scream like a woman (or perhaps a banshee?) throughout the duration of the conflict.

Eventually, Christian superstition was to work its transformative magic over pagan traditions yet again, for the threatening spring hare was reinvented as the much less fearful Easter Bunny… although the notion of a bunny laying chocolate eggs around the garden seems infinitely more scary to me.

black-cat

When it comes to the black cat, messages are somewhat confused. We all know how highly the ancient Egyptians thought of their moggies, but around the rest of the world, it was a different story. Once, the cat was much admired for its independence, stealth and hunting prowess. In medieval times, this love of cats, particularly black cats, was considered a sign of witchcraft, and the cats were burned alive, along with the women who owned them, or were thought to own them.

The mythical Cait Sidhe is a large black cat said to be the size of a dog. It was thought that witches could transform themselves into a Cait Sidhe eight times, but that on the ninth, they would remain in their cat form. Thus we have the origin of the cat with nine lives, and the fear of black cats and their associated witchy owners.

So this Friday, keep away from witches, black cats, and spring hares; don’t tempt fate by walking under ladders, spilling salt, or opening your umbrella before you leave the house; try carrying a piece of wood around with you instead of a rabbit’s paw, and you might, just might, avoid any bad luck that’s whirling around in the ether.

May the luck o’ the Irish be with you!


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Irish Mythology | Brigid, Queen of Imbolc

St Brigid's Well, Lisnabantry, Co Cavan.
St Brigid’s Well, Lisnabantry, Co Cavan.

It was a really cold day. Drifts of snow lay on the ground, and frost iced the branches of trees and blades of grass with sparkling fairy dust. I decided to mark the festival of Imbolc by visiting St Brigid’s Well at Lisnabantry, about 5 minutes drive from where I live.

It is situated on the edge of bogland, near a very ancient looking cemetery called Roffney Burial Ground. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. It was well looked after, and clearly quite recently visited, as you can see from the pictures; there was evidence of many candles having been lit, and gifts had been left for Brigid.

It was a very peaceful place, in lovely, quiet countryside. I said my bit to Brigid, swirled my hand in the bone-chilling water, and turned to leave. It was only then that I noticed the magnificent milk-white bull at the top of the hill, watching me. You can just see him in the title picture. His presence felt right.

According to the Celts, Imbolc is the first day of Spring. It is also the feast day of Brigid, a Princess of the Tuatha de Denann, now more popularly known in Ireland as a Christian Saint. The word Imbolc is Old Irish, and thought to mean ‘in the belly’, with reference to the pregnancy of ewes. Indeed, the C10th manuscript known as Cormac’s Glossary explains it as oimelc, or ‘ewe’s milk’.

However, another term which I much prefer, but which scholars deem unlikely, is that of imb-fholc, meaning ‘to thoroughly wash/ cleanse’. To me, this is clearly a reference to ritual cleansing and purification, and as Imbolc is one of the four great Celtic fire festivals (the others being Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain), it makes much more sense to me.

For the ancient Irish, the day began with darkness, not light. It began at sunset. Therefore, although the festival is held on February 1st, it actually begins on the evening of January 31st. Great bonfires were lit, which represented the return of the heat and light of the sun as the days began to lengthen and ripen into summer. Fire and smoke were also important for purification rites.

Many of Ireland’s ancient stone monuments confirm the festival’s importance. The Mound of Hostages at Tara, for example, is a Neolithic passage tomb aligned with the rising sun on the morning of Imbolc. Loughcrew has another.

Brigid is generally accepted as being the daughter of the Dagda, who was once the Ard Rí, or High King of the Denann. As with many of the Irish female deities, she was a Triune Goddess, meaning she was one and three all at the same time. This triple aspect of their femininity related to the stages of womanhood, namely maiden-mother-crone. Unusually, Brigid’s triple aspect revolved around her skills, poetry-smithcraft-healing. In particular, she was greatly loved for her healing and protection. She is associated with fire, and, very popularly, with lactating sheep.

I wonder about the sheep association; the Denann were famous for possessing beautiful milk-white cattle (hence the guardian of the well on the hill above me). In her own herd of livestock, Brigid was said to have kept  two royal cattle called Fea and Feimhean, the King of the Boars known as Torc Triath, and Cirb, who was king of the wethers. In case you don’t know, a wether is a castrated male sheep. No lactating ewes.

Brigid was worshipped all over Ireland and also in the UK. There is a carving in the tower on Glastonbury Tor which depicts her milking, not a sheep, but a cow. Cattle were considered very important in Ireland in ancient times; not only were they seen as a symbol of wealth and power, but they were used as currency. Queen Medb was famous for going to war over a bull, as told in the Cattle Raid of Cooley. An association with cattle would therefore make so much more sense to me.

Brigid was married to Bres, of Denann-Fomori heritage, with whom she had a son, Ruadan. Bres went on to become High King, but was deposed for his tyrannical rule. Seeking revenge, he enlisted the help of his Fomori relatives and waged war on the Denann. During the battle, Ruadan was sent into the Denann camp as a spy. He tried to kill their smith, Goibniu, but was himself killed in the attempt. Brigid collapsed in grief over her son’s body, crying her sorrow, and was thus said to have invented the act of keening (in Irish caoine, or cine) for the dead.

Bres was defeated by the Denann, but his life was spared by Lugh, although it is said that he was responsible later for killing Bres with a cup of poisoned wine.

One story claims that Brigid also had a union with Tuirean after Bres was killed, probably marriage, as they had three sons together, Ichvar, Ichvarba and Brian. These three men caused a feud with Lugh by killing his father, Cian. But what became of Brigid, I’m not sure.

St Brigid founded a nunnery in Kildare. Here an eternal flame was lit in her honour, and tended by nineteen nuns. Men were not allowed to enter. She had a close companion who went on to take her place as abbess when she died. Intriguingly, this woman’s name was Darlughdacha, which means ‘daughter of Lugh’.

The name Brighid means ‘bright/ exalted one’, thought to refer to her association with fire and the sun. This sounds more like a title to me. Some say her name derives from Breo-Saighead which means ‘fiery arrow’. To me, this conjures up images of lightning… you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Lugh was the God of Lightning. Perhaps Darlughdacha was the real Brigid, daughter of Lugh, Goddess of Lightning. Lightning is a fitting way to describe the light, or divine inspiration of the poetry with which she is associated. It also accurately describes the glowing white-hot iron she would have manipulated in the fire of the forge. And the Celts used light rather than cosmic energy in their spiritual healing.

This paints a slightly different picture of Brigid than the one we’re used to, and perhaps it’s a challenge too far for some. In the end, none of it really matters. Belief is individual. She is what she is to you.

Look what came in the post today!

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The Imbolc edition of Bridgid’s Fire magazine… and I made the cover! This is my first ever article for a print edition of a magazine, and local friends please note; it features a local story, which most people have probably never heard of, so you might enjoy it!

You can download a digital copy here for the bargain price of only €2.90.