Astronomically, February 1 is the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. In the Celtic shamanic tradition, this is an important day dedicated to the Goddess Brigid. SSP offers you this overview of the Celtic Goddess of new life, of new fire, Brigid, to help you prepare for working in a Celtic framework as the wheel of the year turns.
Brigid is probably the best-known Irish-Scottish deity, and certainly one of the easiest to work with. She is associated with innumerable powers: fire, water, the heavens, the earth, birth, healing, poetry, metalworking, grieving, crafting and all art-making, fertility, dawn, springtime, compassion for the poor, abundance, even crafty political maneuvering. This wide breadth of powers reflect the Mother-Goddess quality that Brigid embodies.
Brigid’s many powers are seen as pleasant, and she is seen as an incredibly loving and friendly figure, so she is very approachable for those who want to work with her. Compared to the Morrigan (the goddess of death, battle bloodlust and sex) and the Cailleach (the old hag of winter who comes to smash the green of summer with her giant hammer), Brigid is delightful, and people love to engage with her as a spiritual helper and guide. Brigid was rapidly absorbed into the Irish Christian world as Saint Brigid of Kildare, and she has remained a favorite, popular figure over many hundreds of years.
The downside of Brigid’s positive and pleasant aspects is that it is easy to underestimate the sheer power of this sacred force. You’ll find thousands of romantic, glowing, radiant, and, often sexy looking images of young Brigid on the internet. But remember that Brigid is a force of nature. She appears to you however she wants to appear to you in order to teach you or work with you, and how she appears to you may change.
Brigid is not a big human. It is the mysterious power inside the first light of dawn, and inside the force of springtime. We call these powers “Brigid,” and we may imagine her looking a certain way, because that makes it easier to work with these powers.
Brigid: Bringer of Fire
I like to see Brigid as the force inside the element fire. Every element has a feminine and masculine quality, and I like to think of Brigid as the feminine fire. The young sun god, Angus, – god of springtime and love – can be considered the young masculine fire; and the god of the high summer, Lugh, can be considered the mature masculine fire energy. The Crone figures and cauldron goddesses like Cerridwen (Welsh) could be seen as mature feminine fire figures. All of these energies have their place in the web of life – none are less or more than any other.
In some forms, like dawn and early spring, that fire energy is sweet, spacious, gentle, careful, and delightful. In this way, Brigid is the bringer of human inspiration – the Gaelic word is “Imbas” (Gaelic for “fire in the head”) – the spark of “aha!” that bursts in all artistic and creative work. This is why the ancient Irish poets, who studied formally for many years, saw Brigid as their lifelong guardian, teacher and patron spirit. One beautiful image of Imbas/Brigid is this: it is the gleam of light inside the drop of morning dew suspended on the edge of a leaf overhanging the sacred river Boyne at dawn.
In this gentler form of fire, Brigid is also seen as goddess of the hearth. She is the central spot in ancient Irish and Scottish houses, where the fire burns constantly, warming the house and cooking the food, sustaining and protecting the family.
In more concentrated form – with more heat – Brigid of the fire brings the warmth of springtime to melt the constricting forces of winter inside the land. She calls out the new life hidden under the layer of ice. This is why she is a healer, because she unbinds the cold death force, she evaporates darkness, and she melts hard, frozen, constricting winter where she finds it – whether in the land, or in the body, or the heart or the mind.
In even more concentrated form, Brigid is the intense fire in the forge – the fire that transforms something into a different shape. As the goddess of the forge, she is involved in making beautiful and useful metal objects: containers, farming implements, adornments and weapons. The heat of the forge needs to be intense because the iron does not want to change. It wants to stay the way it is. So when it is necessary to affect transformation, Brigid turns up the heat. In this way, Brigid is present in any initiatory event in our life, and in those events where we feel great resistance, she may come as a gentle flame at first, but if our resistance does not melt away, she may turn up the heat.
Humans cannot, by themselves, bring new daylight to night, melt the ice of winter, or transfigure raw earth into gleaming objects. We need to ask bigger powers to help us with that. So, I urge you to be careful about shrinking Brigid down into a lovely teenage sexpot with a crystal hanging on her forehead. Brigid may not look so sexy and mild to the iron – or to the parts of us in great resistance to the new life that she is bringing forth from our inner earth.
Brigid is spelled and pronounced many ways: Brigit, Brigh, Bridey, Brighid, Brigit, Briggidda. The name can be pronounced like the common girl’s name, Bridget, or in Gaelic it can be pronounced BREE-ya or BREE-ja or Breet. In Scotland she is called Bride (pronounced BREE-ja), and in the Scottish lowlands/northern England she is seen in the goddess of the land named Brigantia. Even the fact there are so many variations and pronunciations of her name give you the idea of how widespread, flexible, welcoming, assimilating and adaptable this figure is.
The root of her name – Brig – is the Gaelic word for “power.” Brigid is power, and what is fire if not pure, radiating power?
Kindling a New Fire
Every fire kindled has a moment of resistance, where the fire may or may not light. The match, the flint, even lightning, needs some form of resistance in order to spark the fire alive. Most of us also have resistance to making the changes we deeply want to make.
There are three kinds of fire humans kindle: the cooking fire, the heart fire and the holy fire. For me, these are connected with the three energy centers (in the Celtic system, called “the three cauldrons of the body”): the belly cauldron (life force/power, body health, daily life and business), the heart cauldron (relationship/connection/emotions) and the cauldron of the head (spiritual power/vision/ intellectual power and the practice that feeds them all).
Do a self-assessment – scan your three energy centers. Ask if one of these energy centers needs to be kindled alive, or stoked with more heat. Ask Brigid, the one who brings new fire, to come in and kindle that fire.
Brigid (and all true spirit guides and teachers) is a “high frequency” force that comes from beyond the low-frequency ordinary, body-ego-based world – from outside of our usual rule book. All spiritual transformation begins with calling out to Brigid (or another high frequency force) to come and kindle the new flame. The new flame cannot be kindled by low frequency beings. We need help. At this time when the wheel of life is turning toward the very first hint of new fire of spring time, call out to Brigid to kindle the new fire in you.
A practice you can try:
Place attention on any resistance you have to actually having a transforming fire be kindled in any of your energy centers. What patterns, habits and beliefs in you make it certain that the fire won’t take (as, perhaps you have seen again and again in your life)?
What resistance have you laid into the kindling?
Did you choose wet wood?
Did you lay the fire in a hurry, not allow enough space for it to breathe?
Did you start with too big of sticks, not small enough kindling?
Did you forget your match?
Did you forget to praise the spirit of the fire and make offerings to it? (For me this has been a huge lesson: the fire must be praised and blessed and fed with prayer before striking the match.)
Did you do any of this because in actuality, you really do not want the fire to rise up, you’d rather complain about how someone stole the fire from you, how the world won’t let you have fire? You’d rather complain about living in the cold and dark (I’ll show THEM! I’ll live in the dark cold and then they’ll….fill in the blank)
Ask Brigid to help make you aware of your resistance, make you aware of the “winter” in you that you just won’t let go. And then ask Spirit to help you breathe new fire into the mouth of that dead winter – and remove it, or dissipate, melt it or evaporate it. Listen to what spirit tells you to do – what practice, what discipline must you do, and what commitment must you make in order to make sure that fire grows? What fuel must you place on that small fire in order to build it so that the land will be warmed, the crops will grow, and the animals will eat and get fat?
Below is a praise song to Brigid from the Scottish writer Fiona MacLeod/William Sharp (d.1905). I’ve edited out the Scots Gaelic phrases.) The poem contains names for Brigid that you may be able to integrate into your work with her. (“Brigid of the Mantle” is the term used for The Christian Saint Brigid, absorbed from the pre-Christian Goddess. The mantle is Brigid’s green cloak of power, and sometimes seen as the green earth itself.
I am older than Brigit of the Mantle,
I put songs and music on the wind
Before ever the bells of the chapels
Were rung in the West
Or heard in the East.
Brigit of the Mantle,
Brigit, Conception of the Waves,
Brigit of the Faery Host,
Brigit of the Slim Faery Folk,
Brigit the Melodious Mouthed
Of the Tribe of the Green Mantles.
And I am older than Friday
And as old as Monday
And in the other world my name is
Mountain Traveler, Gray Hound, and
And I have been a breath in your heart,
And the day has its feet to it
That will see me coming
Into the hearts of men and women
Like a flame upon dry grass,
Like a flame of wind in a great wood.
There seems to be a fair bit of cross cultural mixing between: Celtic, Christian, and Shamanic lores.
Earth mother goddesses must have been the most loved and successful as home fire gods, because their artifacts date back as far as 5,000 BCE, and cover most of the Middle East. Darlene Kosnik’s book, “Asherah, History’s Vanishing Goddess”, documents many of the symbols and artifacts found in the Middle East in the last 30 years. The original nurturing force on the land, Earth Mother, has been given many names, and her popularity appears to have been far greater than the destructive male force known as Yahweh [Egypt, followed by Jericho, the site of his first holocaust.]. The most common names for mother goddesses were: Asherah in the Middle East, the black Madonna in eastern Europe, Sophia and Gaia in modern times.
Jaime, I enjoyed your wonderful article. Like you, I follow the Celtic path and routinely incorporate the Cauldrons into my practice. I wove in your intentions into my Imbolc journey this year and had a meaningful experience. Interestingly, although the relationship with the element fire is important to me, Brigid is not closely involved in that relationship. For me, Brigid of the Green Mantle speaks most clear as she deepens my relationship with nature and its healing energy. I think this speaks to the power and empyreal nature of her Archetype and how Brigid’s power can fill our heart in the way that it needs most. That said, I will always now pay homage to Brigid of the Spring Fire. Thank you!