Brigid is the Exalted One, the Irish goddess of spring, fertility, and life. Beloved by poets, she is the master of healing and of smithing. Her holiday is February 1st, called Imbolc, marking the midpoint of winter. Many of Ireland’s wells and waterways are devoted to her.

As a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, she is the wife of High King Bres and mother of Ruadán. She shares many similarities to the Catholic saint, Brigid of Kildare.

Etymology

Brigid can be Anglicized from the Old Irish Brid in multiple ways: Brigit, Brig, or Bride (from which the word bride is derived). Stemming from the Proto-Celtic Briganti, which means “the High One” or “the Exalted One,” it is the origin of the popular name Bridget. This likely refers to her connection to sunlight and fire. Her name may be related to dawn goddesses across the Indo-European world, as Brigid is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root for “to rise” or “high”, as is the English word bright.

She is known as the Goddess of the Wells, due to her connection to wells and waterways.

Attributes

Brigid is a goddess of healing, fertility, and motherhood, of passion and fire, and of serenity and water. Evidence of her worship can be found all over Ireland, reflecting her importance not just as a deity but as a personal deity, as she protects mothers and newborn children and inspires poets and writers, for which Ireland is internationally renowned.

She appears as a fiery-haired goddess wearing a cloak of sunbeam. She appears primarily in the form of a maiden or a mother, variable depending on the tale and perhaps reflective of her status as a triple goddess.

Domains

Her domain over fertility and motherhood includes not just mortals and gods, but animals as well. She is the protector of domesticated animals, shown in part in the special animals she keeps:

  • Fe and Men, two oxen who lend their names to Mag Femen, a field in County Kildare,

  • Torc Triath, the “king of boars” which appears in Arthurian legend,

  • Cirb, a powerful ram who was king of sheep.

She is a goddess of fire, of passion and of poetry, and of invention. Well into the Christian era, Irish writers often credit Brigid with their inspiration. Through her connection to high architecture, she is a learned goddess, inspiring not just smiths but craftsmen of all trades. Her connection to healing and wisdom may be linked to her father, the Dagda, master of magic and mysticism. She always knows what is needed, and it is one of her sacred gifts.

Her status as a fire goddess is also apparent in her connection to the sun and dawn, with Imbolc reflecting the return of the sun in the world as winter’s hold on the land lessens. Though her name means “Exalted One,” this reflects her nature as a solar deity as well as her connection to crafting and wisdom.

Her invention of keening, a lament for the dead, reflects her status as a goddess of life and death, as she also protects cemeteries, which can be found at many of her holy sites.

Given the diversity of her attributes, Brigid is believed by many to be a triple goddess, but unlike most triple goddesses in Ireland, all of her aspects are named Brigid. This explains how she can have many separate husbands, parents, and children without contradicting one another.

Imbolc

Her holiday is Imbolc, the beginning of the Irish year which takes place on February 1st. Offerings are brought to waterways or wells, particularly ones named in her honor. These include food or coins. Those seeking her blessings often ask for healing from illness, protection of their household, children, and livestock, and for inspiration.

Sites and Symbols

She is also a goddess of water, of both rivers and wells. Two of her most famous wells are:

  • Brigid’s Well in Kildare, which is one of the most famous sites in all of Ireland. The water is said to be able to heal any sickness or wound. The site now belongs to St. Brigid, though many visit for both saint and goddess. It is at this well that the Flame of Ireland burns, dedicated to her.

  • Brigid’s Well in County Clare, similarly at a church but also built into and underneath a cemetery. This is near the famous Cliffs of Moher.

Brigid also has a clear symbol going back to prehistory, the Brigid cross. Made of rush or grass, this is an impressive geometric cross that is still made across Ireland, and hung above doorways in many homes and businesses. It is especially common near Imbolc, and is used as one of the symbols of St. Brigid. Historically, there are also three-armed variants.

Family

Brigid’s father is the Dagda, the Great God, a chief among the Tuatha Dé Danann. Through him she has many siblings, including her brothers Aengus and Midir. In some sources, her mother is Danu, a powerful river goddess and the namesake mother-goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann (“Children of Danu”). Her husband is Bres, the High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, with whom she had a son, Ruadán.

In another tale, she is the wife of Tuireann, and mother of three sons, Brian, Iuchar, and Irchaba, who slew Cian, father of Lugh of the Long-Arm, while he was transformed into a pig.

Mythology

Brigid appears in a number of myths and legends, showcasing her wide range of skills and knowledge.

Origins

The Lebor Gabála Érenn gives her origin as the wife of Bres and daughter of the Dagda, placing her in a place of high esteem. She came to Ireland with the rest of the Tuatha Dé Danann, after which they came into conflict with the Firbolg and Formorians for mastery of Ireland.

Second Battle of Moytura

Brig came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. Cath Maig Tuired

Both battles of Moytura pitted the Tuatha Dé Danann against earlier settlers of Ireland. The first ended with their victory over the Firbolg in County Galway, and their conquest of Connacht, the western-most region. Next, in County Sligo, the Tuatha Dé Danann faced off against the Fomorions, fearsome giants of hideous appearance and abhorrent cruelty.

The second battle of Moytura also proved to be a victory for the Tuatha Dé Danann, but at a great price. Brigid’s father, the Dagda, was mortally wounded and died after returning to his home. But for Brigid there was a second loss. Though her son Ruadán slew the smith-god Giobhniu, he was himself killed in the fighting. She rushed to the battlefield and there mourned her son, giving a loud lament called a keening: it was the first time sorrow had been felt in Ireland, and from this a tradition came down that women keen at graves for the dead.

Folktales of Healing and Inspiration

Many tales exist of strangers who come to Brigid (or St. Brigid), asking for her blessings, her inspiration, and her healing, which comes to those pure of heart and intention and those clever and cunning. To those who lack these things, her gifts come at a price: a lesson, giving them what they really need to act better and be better.

St. Brigid

Brigid shares many of her attributes with the Christian saint of the same name, St. Brigid of Kildare. She is the patron saint of babies, midwives, cattle, dairymaids, and of Ireland itself. Scholars have long puzzled at the link between the two, with historical evidence showing that over time the saint took on many of the goddess’ attributes and sites. Many recognize these sites as belonging to both saint and goddess, a universal sanctity of place and purpose. One of her titles is “The Mary of Ireland.” St. Brigid’s feast day falls on the same day as Imbolc, February 1st.

Elsewhere in the World

Elsewhere in the Celtic world Brigid is known as Brigantes. Her attributes are largely the same, though in some places there is more focus on the dawn. Writers of Antiquity linked her to the Greek Athena, known in Rome as Minerva.

Through St. Brigid, she became Maman Brigitte in Haiti, a Vodou loa. The wife of Baron Samedi, she is unique in that she is the only non-African loa, having pale skin and either brown or red hair, much like the goddess. She reigns over life, death, fertility, cemeteries, and motherhood.

Brigid may also be related to other Indo-European dawn goddesses, as their names are derived from the same Proto-Indo-European root word, ranging from Scandinavia to India.

Pop Culture

Brigid appears in several sources of popular culture, including:

  • Brigid of Kildare: A Novel by Heather Terrell, combines the story of the saint with the goddess, with members of the Catholic Church attempting to cover up a potential heresy regarding her origins.

  • Brigid appears as a goddess in the Celtic pantheon in most editions of Dungeons & Dragons, though often named for her continental counterpart, Brigantes.

  • Several songs and poems exist to both goddess and saint, showcasing her many aspects, primarily the hymn “We Sing a Song to Brigid”.

References

Gregory, Isabella Augusta. Gods and Fighting Men : the Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and the Fiana of Ireland. Lexington: 2015.