Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who is Brigid?

The Brigid Shrine

Brighid, Brigid, Bridget, Bride etc
all names evolved from her ancient name of Breo-saighead
literally translated as "fire with a point", Flame.

No wonder that in winter a fireplace in Ireland is often known as Brigid's Hearth, "an Alter of the Flame"

Not so long ago every home in Ireland had some shrine to St. Patrick and St. Brigid, Brigid above and around the fire and Patrick at or near the door.

A Brigid shrine would not be complete without a cross wove from rushes to honour the legend that Brigid's first cross was one she woved from rushes that covered the floor of her home. Celtic Christians record that the Brigid who became St. Brigid, was born around 451 at Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. She is said to have lived until February 1st 525, the year she passed from this world from Kildare, Ireland. Her passing was peaceful and of natural causes and her body was carried to Downpatrick where her remains still share those sacred grounds St Patrick and St Columba, except her head. Mysteriously, St. Brigid's head was removed and buried beside a Jesuit Church in Lisbon, Portugal.

The Christian Brigid

The story of how Brigid became Christian and dedicated herself to a live of celibacy and service. Some stories start this journey from Faughart. Others say it commenced when she was converted from Druid to Christian on Iona, indicating she was Scottish. With the Faughert story it is said her father was a Scottish Pict who had become a King Of Leinster, Ireland. Some stories tell of the same conversion from Derry where her father was a Scottish born druid but Brigid became Christian.

The story I like best is her commencement of Christian calling at Oughteragh, near Ballinamore in Co. Leitrim. This in an area very close to Celtic and Tuatha De Dannan legends of Brigid. Its as if this is the place of her incarnations. I find visiting this region has a deep effect. It is an area rich in the origin of many traditions, much deeper than mere legends. From Oughteragh it is said that Brigid learned, served and ordained at Abbeylara Monastery. Mysteriously there is also a lot of Columcille reference in the Abbeylara area including the Columcille GAA sports ground in a very low population area.

Arrival at Cill Dara

All of the Christian Brigid stories move into Druin Criadh on the plains of Magh Life, where Brigid lit a fire under a large oak tree and around this flame led the creation of her Convent of Cill-Dara, "the church of the oak" (now Kildare). More important, Brigid's small oratory, at Cill- Dara, grew to become one of Europe's most important centres for learning and wisdom. This was not just a place for nuns, for women, because Brigid founded a monastery for men too and appointed Conleth as it's spiritual leader. Brigid also founded a school of art, that interestingly included smithing as an art. Interesting, because the Tuatha De Dannan Brighid was a goddess of smithing along with healing and poetry.

The Brigid child of Faughart had a royal father but a slave mother, according to an early monastic scribe called Cogitosus. He wrote that she shared the kitchen and farm duties of her slave mother where she learned to care for cattle, make butter and cheese and cure pork into bacon. Through this writing, Cogitosus excels Brigid into stories of miracles of multiplying small amounts of food so that it fed many poor people.

Brigid Accepts The Veil

There are even tales of her stealing possessions from her father that she melted down and re-smithed into cultivation tools for the poor too. Eventually at a royal court the king recognized the spirit behind her "crimes". Instead of being ensalved to live like her mother Brigid was invited to make a vow of chastity and accept the "veil" from a bishop.

It is said that after ordaining, though I suspect that for being a woman she was never ordained, she travelled around Ireland with her own Christian mission through the eyes of a woman, maybe with Mary as her guide, but more likely as a true goddess. While elevating the spirits of women by showing them their true "goddess" spirit that flowed through their nurturing, healing, nutrition, care and protection she grew a collection of lady followers who finally settled with her at Cill Dara.

Rekindling Brigid's Flame

It seems very natural and even essential for many women still follow Brigid to Kildare, or at least the spirit of Cill Dara, especially women who have served their time as physical mothers to their children and have evolved to become part of the mother spirit of earth. Within the flame of Brigid, whether at the site of Kildare or within the spirit of Cill Dara women are able to re-kindle their flame.

This is not exclusive to women because Brigid's flame is also there to warm the feminine values within all men. This may be why Brigid established a school of art so that men could cross the veil that separates their masculinity spirit from their femininity spirit.

I feel the time from Samhain to beyond Imbolc is a time for men to lay down their swords and explore their art and gentleness because during the warmer days of Beltaine and Lughnasa are times of swords and blades to manage, harvest and even cull the yields from the caring months before.

Brigid's Scribes

It is said that the trilogy of leaders of Celtic Christianity were Saints Patrick, Columcille and Brigid and remains of all three remain at Downpatrick. One mystery is that from the three there is no known manuscripts handwritten by St. Brigid yet she is said to have created schools. Several other saints, such as St. Urbana, are claimed to have written what Brigid dictated but saints did not have the pens or lettering to write quickly like we have today and they certainly did not have dictation machines.

Another consideration is the competition there must have been between the early universities of Patrick in Armagh, Fenian's at Clonard and Brigid's in KIldare. Even the ministry of early Celtic Christianity was largely an exclusive club for men. It must have been very hard for these "wise men" to even recognize Brigid as a priest so how could they have venerated her as a saint? We could say the same for other early lady saints like Attracta and Lazier, both with legends and traditions around the Bréifne region of Ireland, just like Brigid.

A wonderful mystery is how the early Christian scribes, male monks, wrote about Brigid as having connection to pre-Christian faiths. Any other "holy" woman would have faced danger if she was linked to any "pagan" connection.

I believe that early Irish became Christian on condition that they could hold onto their Brigid traditions instead of worshiping the Virgin Mary. Eventually I believe the Virgin mother evolved into the early Irish Christian faith as long as Brigid was maintained as Jesus' midwife. For the early Celtic Irish to accept Christ as a son of God, Brigid had to be present at his birth. Brigid was always present at the birth of druids.

The Tales Of The Scribes

One thing that is misunderstood about early Christian scribes is that they were not historians. They were merely script writers. The stories of the pre Christian "gods" and "goddesses" had been carried by oral tradition by bards for probably 2000 years, and maybe more. The scribes seem to have taken these stories, compared them to the stories of miracles from "holy" land scriptures and then applied the same stories to the folk heros of ancient Ireland. In fact is was probably the scribes that transformed what were known as wise and educated people into a vision of "gods" and "goddesses".

One example could be the "water to wine" miracles. Today, if we have a bitter drink our urge is to sweeten it. Ireland's water flows through limestone and turf. In later summer, when flowing water is reduced, this water can taste quite bitter. However, in late summer we are blessed with sweet blackberries, raspberries and bilberries that if added to water would sweeten it and turn it into a burgundy colour. Would it be exciting to tell people that story? Some of you reading now may even have already rejected it due to your faith in the water to wine miracles. Therefore, scribes would, instead, write the water to wine drama to capture interest and even faith and following.

The writings of these scribes evolved into sacred circle miracle plays which then incarnated into the traditions of Mummer's Plays and roots of many elements of theatre and film we have today. Again, another subject I am personally passionate about. In ancient times stories would travel with bards and tought to other bards. Stories would further mutate to adapt to replace the heros or other countries and even other regions of Ireland. Even in our Co. Sligo some Brigid traditions shared at Imbolc in parts of the county are shared at Samhain in other parts of the county.

Was Grainne really Brighid?

One of the most famous bardic tales of Celtic Ireland is the story of the romance of Dairmuid and Grainne which sounds so real and factual, but was it? The bardic story is that Grainne, daughter of King Cormac, was arranged to be married to the very elderly Finn McChuill, leader of the Fianna, Cormac's warriors. She fell for one of the younger warriors, Dairmuid and they ran of together. The tales rambles on about the chase by Finn McCuill and the final settling of Dairmuid and Grainne in fertile lands below Ceis Corroan cave. Years later Dairmuid was killed off, Finn McCuill married Grainne but she committed suicide by jumping out of a chariot on a very bumpy part of Tara Hill.

Here's another version. Cormac, Grainne's father was born by Ceis Corroan cave and is said to have spent his first year in the cave and raised by wolves. Ceis Corroan Cave is the cave of Morrigan, mother of the Tuatha De Dannan Brighid. Where Grainne fell out of the chariot on Tara Hill is said to have become a site of healing pilgrimage for people with headaches. This site is also said to be a Brigid site. Another lesser known tale does tell this story with the characters of Brigid and Lugh and all along it does fit the ancient locations and symbols of both of them. Part of the Dairmuid and Grainne Story tells of them spending every night at a different ancient dolmen, sacred ancient structures probably built by the Tautha De Dannan. It would make more sense to tell this story using the names of Brigid and Lugh as there visiting spirits would be in harmony with re-charging these sites with light and fertility. Another story does tell of Cormac being a father of triplet daughters all called Brig who each grew to be leaders of healing, bardic arts and education.

The Sacred Goddesses of Ireland

At the time of the late Tuatha De Dannan and early Mils (Celts) it seems each region of Ireland had a goddess ruling it. Ulster had Morrighan, Leinster had Boann (BUinne), Munster had Beare (BhEirri) and Connaught had Maeve. The current region names came later but did maintain similar borders set up by the tribes of the Firbolgs, a tribe before the De Dannans. Stories tell of Brighid being daughter of Morrighan and Boann with Morrighan being first, fathered by Daghda, then Boann, fathered by one of Daghda's sons, Angeus Og.

Brigid of Leinster, Patrick of the rest

During the Early Christian times it seems Brigid eventually became the "goddess" of Leinster. Politics that evolved from the growing family clans that were becoming tribes tried to be instrumental in steering the church. Priests and Abbots were eventually given land, territories and influence in treaties and judgements. Brigid, being a woman, was not entitled to any of these positions. Somehow, in due course, the influence of Patrick's mission from Armagh ruled the administration of early Christianity throughout Ireland, except for much of Leinster that Brigid remained teacher of, if not a kind of owner of. Despite Patrick's "spiritual" rulership of most of Ireland all of the told miracles connected to land and nature were all credited to Brigid. Its as if St. Brigid was the spirit of nature just like the Celtic and especially the Tuatha De Dannan Brighid was. Lesser known was that Brigid's Leinster became a place where women were never to be slaves. The region became a sanctuary for slaves of men from other regions and the men are said to have never entered the region to reclaim their slaves.

Brighid Tradition told through ancient symbols

The ancient Goddess of Brigid we think of today is surely another incarnation of her based on the stories, traditions and wisdoms of the past brought to the present and through divine guidance synthesized by nature for our time today.

The Astrology tradition was passed onto me by my family but rather than use this wisdom for diagnosis, trends and even prediction I am fascinated by its mechanics. The progression of the Great Year, I find the most fascinating. I will not explain it here but it's cycle takes about 25,000 years. Many "mystics" claim were are now in the early days of Aquarius that followed over 2000 years of the age of Pisces. Again, I will not write many words on this here but see if you can think of how the story of Jesus and the symbols of the Christian religion fits into the symbols and legends of Pisces and its opposite Virgo the virgin.

The most familiar symbol for Aquarius is of flowing water and sometimes a man or goat pouring water from a pot, known at the "water bearer", but these are modern symbols for Aquarius. An ancient symbol is of a lady passing water or even breaking water and this has led to legends of fertilizing land and life itself. Is this a symbol of what we now call Brigid. The day of solar Imbolc, the ancient Brighid day, is always at the central point of the time of Aquarius during the year. Opposite Aquarius is Leo and its lion symbol but, again, this is a modern symbol. Leo used to be a man with a spear, like the famous Piltdown Man carved in chalk in England. Was this Lugh?

Has Brigid now taken the complete vow from Christ?

The alignments of our universe, the symbols linked to them and the incarnation of our vision of Brigid today may somehow explain how those who once carried what they called Christ in their heart now live with Brigid as their guide.

I now wonder if Moslems, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists can identify a shift of identity in the guiding spirit that has guided them for over 2000 years.

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