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Why Is Brigid The Goddess Associated With Imbolc? - Any theories on why?


Guest JamesByrne
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I was wondering if anyone has any theories or opinions on why Brigid is specifically associated with Imbolc in neopaganism?

 

Every year I consider the link and I havent come to any conclusion personally. I dont know how it happend in neopaganism and Ive never found out who first suggested it. Im always looking for more insight.

 

I think the link might be between saint Brigit and the goddess Brigid and the imbolc date might be tied into the positioning of the saints day. But if thats the case the question of why the saints day was positioned at that time of year comes up for me. Was it positioned there because of concerns for folk trad or was it there because it related to another christian holy day?

 

If it was put there in pre history then the issue is a little solved, there could be some folk traditions between the saint brigit festival and an imbolc festival and that would help towards creating a link with brigid and imbolc. The folklore of the days would probably be continuous. On the other hand Saint Brigits day comes just before the feast of Mary on Feb 2nd and saint brigit is called 'Mary of the Gael'. Is that coincidence or were christians trying to relate their saint with their version of the feminine divine rather then a pre existing pagan version? I think thats worth considering because the christian case might mean Saint Brigits link to Imbolc is recent and its positioning might be too late for many meaningfull pagan links to exist. Meaning the Brigid link might be just our neopagan thing and not the trad stuff Im really into. Not a concern for everyone but its something Im into...

 

If Saint brigits day is calculated in relationship to marys feast then before the christian calendars changed from the julian to the gregorian the saints day may have been madly far away from imbolc. The gregorian positioning of the day that we have now might be recent. It might only date to the middle of the 16th century and given that Britain didnt take on the gregorian calendar til midway in the 18th century the folk trads might be very recent and so very far from any pagan celebration of imbolc.

 

Maybe that link isnt the best one to follow... atleast it seems dodgy to me. I cant think of another link between Brigid and Imbolc but maybe Im fixated hehehe Does anyone have any theories that could help?

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I'm doing some digging about but in essence it seems to boil down to the Goddess Brighid being adopted as the Saint Brigid. It's interesting that according to JG Campbell's "Gaelic Otheworld", St Brigid's Day was incorrectly conflated with Candlemass, when St Brigid's Day actually occurs on Feb 1st and Candlemass on Feb 2nd.

 

But why that day, and not, say, April 9th, I can't find. The traditions of Brighid in the Western Isles (and probably everywhere else) focus on the hearth and good health and prosperity in the year to come but believe me, in those places, on that date, there is precious little sense that the winter is easing her grip.

 

Sorry, nothing earth shatteringly enlightening - interesting topic though, will continue to keep investigating and seeing if there's anything. Of course, the main issue is that as a Celtic Goddess, anything we know is Mediaeval, very early Christian, or our best guess: there's nothing written from that era to help us.

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Isn't Brigid associated with milk? In that case, the major lambing season begins around mid to the end of January.

 

Or is it a back association? i.e. because of the date, the link with lambing is made.

 

And before anyone says "but milk = cows" it wasn't so a thousand years ago. sheep were cheaper than cows. OK, so not everyone could afford sheep - and, even if they did, they might not be able to afford to milk them. But sheep milk was far more common than cow's milk, which was a rich man's product.

 

From memory, calving begins a lot later.

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There is also a link with snowdrops - it is said that as the snowdrops show Brigid is throwing her mantle over the earth and so some don't celebrate Imbolc until the snowdrops show

 

Ed

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That (@Moonhunter) all sounds eminently sensible. Where did you find the stuff about the association with milk hun? All I can find is the Catholic Church stuff about her saint day being based on her date of death (and her birth into heaven - as with all saints) - and how she's also the Patron Saint of Fallen Women :)

 

ED - point me in that direction? I'm feeling the need to make my brain work again!

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Dear James,

 

You might find it interesting to read "Fiona MacLeod" (the pen-name of William Sharpe, 1855-1905), if you haven't already done so. He wrote a great deal about Brigid/Bride, drawing extensively on Gaelic oral tradition adapted through his own religious vision. He's an often forgotten figure from the earlier days of the modern Pagan revival, a mystic with very strong leanings towards Pagan Goddess-worship, sometimes mixed with elements of radical Christianity. He even launched a magazine called the 'Pagan Review' though I believe it only ran for one issue.

 

BB,

 

John Macintyre

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I'm doing some digging about but in essence it seems to boil down to the Goddess Brighid being adopted as the Saint Brigid. It's interesting that according to JG Campbell's "Gaelic Otheworld", St Brigid's Day was incorrectly conflated with Candlemass, when St Brigid's Day actually occurs on Feb 1st and Candlemass on Feb 2nd.

 

That is interesting Pomona cheers, does he by any chance say why he doesnt think the feast of mary is related to the saints day or maybe has anyone done a literary criticism of the book and guessed at motives?

 

but believe me, in those places, on that date, there is precious little sense that the winter is easing her grip.

 

Yeah brrr, its still freezing, raining, blustery and pitch black at 6pm. Round here parts we go by the shortest day to say when winter is ending because we could still get snow in april.

 

 

Isn't Brigid associated with milk? In that case, the major lambing season begins around mid to the end of January.

 

Thats a great point moonhunter I like to look at the agrarian nature of the festivals too. Brigid as a generic tutelary goddess should have an association with milk, according to people like Patricia Lysaght. I dont know if its literal milk though or just the symbol of fertility and inspiration. Rivers are talked about as fonts of milk so I dunno if itd link someone to a literal animal and literal milk...

 

Your point about cows is good too and the difference in animals might link Brigid to sheep. Brigid the tutelary goddess of the Brigantia as opposed to the saint in kildare is a goddess of mountains. The Brigantia lived in the Pennines in Britain and the Black stairs mountains here so if the goddess Brigid was associated with literal milk giving animals they might be animals of the moutains rather then cows.

 

And before anyone says "but milk = cows" it wasn't so a thousand years ago. sheep were cheaper than cows. OK, so not everyone could afford sheep - and, even if they did, they might not be able to afford to milk them. But sheep milk was far more common than cow's milk, which was a rich man's product.

 

From memory, calving begins a lot later.

415197[/snapback]

Yeah if Brigid was associated with calving shed be around bealtaine not imbolc. Though here milk does = cows normally. Since the iron age cattle farming has taken precidence over crops here, the cow is the monetary unit right up to the 16th century and warfare revolved around capturing cattle. Even in brehon law fines and honour prices are calcualted according to how many cows will be awarded the plaintif. The more cows you have the higher your status and the more status you have the higher the number of cattle will be for the fine on anyone that messes with you.

 

Mooooooooooo!

 

There is also a link with snowdrops - it is said that as the snowdrops show Brigid is throwing her mantle over the earth and so some don't celebrate Imbolc until the snowdrops show

 

Ed

415199[/snapback]

 

I hadnt heard that before Ed cheers. Where does it come from? Is it folk trad in Scotland?

 

Dear James,

 

You might find it interesting to read "Fiona MacLeod" (the pen-name of William Sharpe, 1855-1905), if you haven't already done so. He wrote a great deal about Brigid/Bride, drawing extensively on Gaelic oral tradition adapted through his own religious vision. He's an often forgotten figure from the earlier days of the modern Pagan revival, a mystic with very strong leanings towards Pagan Goddess-worship, sometimes mixed with elements of radical Christianity. He even launched a magazine called the 'Pagan Review' though I believe it only ran for one issue.

 

BB,

 

John Macintyre

415284[/snapback]

 

Hi John thanks for recommendin the author to me, I havent read any of his/her stuff before. Do you know if any of Fiona MacLeod stuff is online?

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There is a further connection - Brigantia, the celtic goddess of Northern England. Worshipped in the Brigantes Celtic confederation.

Look up more in http://www.sacredbrigantia.com

 

The Celtic Goddess: Brigantia

 

Brigantia is the name of a Celtic diety worshipped throughout the North of England at the time of the Roman invasion (around 2000 years ago).

 

Her followers, the Brigantes, were the largest tribal federation in Britain and occupied much of the land that is now Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Durham and Northumberland.

 

Her name, derived from the root 'Brig', meaning 'flame, force, vigor, and exalted status' also equates her with the Irish Goddess Brighid.

 

The Christian St. Bridget is also associated with sacred flames, and in her home county of Kildare in Ireland a fire was kept continously burning in her honour by nuns of the local abbey (a practice that is generally believed to have been the survival of a much older pagan tradition).

 

The Romans equated the characteristics of Brigantia with their own diety of Minerva (the Greek Athena), patron Goddess of 'poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic, and the inventor of music'.

 

Find out more about Brighid/Brigantia at:

applewarrior.com/celticwell

 

Imbolc (February 1st) is the Celtic festival more traditionally associated with Brighid/Brigantia (see 'Wheel of the Year' opposite), but given Brigantia's strong connection with fire and flames we feel it appropriate to evoke her name and blessings at the traditional 'fire festival' of Beltane.

 

We hope you will join us in saying: Hail Brigania! And raise a cup of mead in a toast to the Land, People and Goddess of the North of England.

Hail, Brigantia! Keeper of the forge

 

She who shapes the world itself with fire,

She who ignites the spark of passion in the poets,

She who leads the clans with a warrior's cry,

She who is the bride of the islands,

Snd who leads the fight of freedom.

Hail, Brigantia! Defender of kin and hearth,

She who inspires the bards to sing,

She who drives the smith to raise his hammer,

She who is a fire sweeping across the land.

 

An original poem by: Patti Wigington

Edited by Norseman
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Dear James,

 

Dear James,

 

You might find it interesting to read "Fiona MacLeod" (the pen-name of William Sharpe, 1855-1905), if you haven't already done so. He wrote a great deal about Brigid/Bride, drawing extensively on Gaelic oral tradition adapted through his own religious vision. He's an often forgotten figure from the earlier days of the modern Pagan revival, a mystic with very strong leanings towards Pagan Goddess-worship, sometimes mixed with elements of radical Christianity. He even launched a magazine called the 'Pagan Review' though I believe it only ran for one issue.

415284[/snapback]

 

Hi John thanks for recommendin the author to me, I havent read any of his/her stuff before. Do you know if any of Fiona MacLeod stuff is online?

415349[/snapback]

 

I haven't seen any of Fiona MacLeod's work online but then I haven't really looked. ABE books should be able to track down copies if you're interested.

 

BB,

 

John Macintyre

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Hail, Brigantia! Keeper of the forge

 

She who shapes the world itself with fire,

She who ignites the spark of passion in the poets,

She who leads the clans with a warrior's cry,

She who is the bride of the islands,

Snd who leads the fight of freedom.

Hail, Brigantia! Defender of kin and hearth,

She who inspires the bards to sing,

She who drives the smith to raise his hammer,

She who is a fire sweeping across the land.

 

An original poem by: Patti Wigington

415422[/snapback]

 

Indeed - Goddess for blacksmiths! Also sometimes associated with Boudicca ...

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The Brigid tradition in Ireland goes back to at least the 8th century in christianity and most scholars agree that the Kildare convent was originally a pagan shrine and the bridgit light /fire tended there stems from pagan traditions. Folklore also abounds with traditions associated with brigid on feb 1st, la fheile Bríd or St bridgit's day. So the link (goddess Bríd to St Bríd, both associated officially with feb 1st) is generally considered to be established.

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Hi John thanks for recommendin the author to me, I havent read any of his/her stuff before. Do you know if any of Fiona MacLeod stuff is online?

415349[/snapback]

 

Try archive.org, there's quite a few there.

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  • 2 weeks later...
The Brigid tradition in Ireland goes back to at least the 8th century in christianity and most scholars agree that the Kildare convent was originally a pagan shrine and the bridgit light /fire tended there stems from pagan traditions.

 

Hi SaraMacha, I wouldnt be as well up as yourself and Im hopin you could help me out. Have you seen or heard of someone publishing an article on a pre christian origin for kildare specific to a pagan brigid? Itd be fun even theory to read even if just for the criticism of it. Itd be fun for me because Id whip out the book constantly. it seems to be assumed in neopaganism that if there was a prechristian sanctity involved at kildare that it was related to the deity brigid... but to me that seems a bit too simple and uncharactoristically functionalist for the Irish culture. Could it be possible that the name Brigit came about because of its relevance to the mythology of a dynastic family or myth of sovereignty for the region?

 

Anyway... that aside (itd be a fun read!), I might debate the usage of the word pagan in your post there. Im not criticising you for using it but in relation to the topic I think its worth discussing. I think another assumption in neopaganism is that there was a break or major change in sanctity after the coming of christianity. Imo it seems likely enough that the site that the monastery was built on in kildare was a preexisting site considered sacred to Irish people but if that perceived sanctity was cultural or social it, like our naming traditions, might have continued with the advent of christianity. Christianity didnt radically alter our culture or our society until after the famine... so it might be normal enough for a sacred place like a monastery to be built in a landscape perceived as sacred by the people. If that is the case it would probably be abnormal for a christian site to occupy a profane landscape and saying the monastery in kildare occupied a pre existing sacred site probably isnt saying much at all. You know?

 

The idea that an oppressive christianity came in with the sword and changed everything is thick in neopaganism and it becomes an assumed truth but I dont think it holds water where medieval Ireland is concerned.

 

Folklore also abounds with traditions associated with brigid on feb 1st, la fheile Bríd or St bridgit's day. So the link (goddess Bríd to St Bríd, both associated officially with feb 1st) is generally considered to be established

 

Granted the day has a feminine divinity associated with it but I dont see how that -specifically- links The Bríg to saint Brigit and to the saints day or imbolc. Lots of folklore around the day revolves around mythical women so it does seem to me that imbolc has a specifically feminine symbolism but those women associated with that time of year are not frequently called Brigid... There is a difference between The Brig and Saint Brigit that isnt highlighted by etymologies. Like sovereignty queens become generic cultic cailleachs or like war goddesses might become generic banshee's Cormac Mac Cuilleann says that among the gael all goddesses are called Brigid implying, bias aside, that in his day what was a specific goddess might have become a generic title for a feminine divinity. He certainly doesnt know what the name means given the pseudo etymology he provides so its probable that the memory of a pagan goddess was long gone. If that is the case, the name Brigit might indicate feminine divinity rather then a link with brigid or that saint brigids day is universally a time for focusing on brigid.

 

While its also true that there isnt a second imbolc like there is a second christmass, that doesnt necessarily mean that the sanctity of the date is prechristian. There isnt a second easter either and the dating of easter was a major issue that may ultimately have paved the way for the colony here. Something that historically significant and completely christian should have left an imprint here, but it didnt. A day far less significant then easter might not have left any imprint.

 

Hi John thanks for recommendin the author to me, I havent read any of his/her stuff before. Do you know if any of Fiona MacLeod stuff is online?

415349[/snapback]

 

Try archive.org, there's quite a few there.

415444[/snapback]

 

Deadly! Thanks Seren :P

Edited by JamesByrne
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  • 2 weeks later...
I'm doing some digging about but in essence it seems to boil down to the Goddess Brighid being adopted as the Saint Brigid. It's interesting that according to JG Campbell's "Gaelic Otheworld", St Brigid's Day was incorrectly conflated with Candlemass, when St Brigid's Day actually occurs on Feb 1st and Candlemass on Feb 2nd.

 

But why that day, and not, say, April 9th, I can't find. The traditions of Brighid in the Western Isles (and probably everywhere else) focus on the hearth and good health and prosperity in the year to come but believe me, in those places, on that date, there is precious little sense that the winter is easing her grip.

 

Sorry, nothing earth shatteringly enlightening - interesting topic though, will continue to keep investigating and seeing if there's anything.  Of course, the main issue is that as a Celtic Goddess, anything we know is Mediaeval, very early Christian, or our best guess: there's nothing written from that era to help us.

415181[/snapback]

That's interesting

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