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Brigid's primary symbols have always been fire, flames, and the hearth. Even so, she has also been represented by other symbols, such as water, grain and a white swan.
Brigid was the daughter of The Dagda, the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, one of the most ancient of all the races, inhabiting Northern Europe. Since the Dagda was the son of the Great Mother Goddess Danu, that automatically made Brigid, Danuís grandaughter, as well as a member of one of the most respected families of all the Gods in Ireland. Brigid was also married to Bres, another member of the Tuatha da Danaan, who was not only the King of the Gods; he was the King of Ireland, as well.
In all likelihood, Brigid was originally a Sun Goddess. Legend tells us that when she was born at sunrise, a tower of flames burst forth from her forehead, reaching all the way to Heaven.
Brigid has been viewed as a Triple Goddess, although there are a variety of different ways in which she is believed to wear that title. Some people claim that there were three Brigids, the first represented the healer, the second, the smith, and the third, the poet, who were actually three different aspects of the same Goddess, rather than three separate, individual Goddesses. Unlike the more conventional form of a Triple Goddess, in which there is a Maiden, a Mother, and a Crone, these three aspects were all identical, and never aged. Brigid has also been viewed as a Triple Goddess, that consisted of three sisters who were all named Brigid. The first Brigid was in charge of poetry, creativity, prophesy and inspiration, and it was she who invented the Ogham alphabet. The second Brigid was in charge of healing, midwifery, fertility and medicine, and the third Brigid was in charge of the hearth fire, smithies and a wide variety of crafts.
Because of her association with smithcrafting, the Romans believed that Brigid might be an aspect of their Goddess Minerva, the Roman counterpart of the Greek Goddess of War, Athena, who was known as a Goddess of Arts and Crafts and a Keeper of the Hearth, or Fire-Keeper. The element of fire is of great importance to Brigid, because it is fire that joins all of her different aspects together: as the flame of the forge, the fire of the hearth, and the spark of poetic inspiration.
Brigid has also been known as the 'Two-Faced One,Ē since she was the Goddess of both poetry and blacksmithing. One description states that one side of her face was black and ugly, while the other side was white and beautiful. In other words, one side of her face, the side that represented poetry, appeared to be pale, while the side of her face which was turned toward the fire, in her role as the Goddess of Blacksmithing, appeared to be dark. Brigid has also been seen in the more common form of a Triple Goddess, in which she represents the pure and innocent Maiden, the fruitful and comforting Mother, and the wise and healing Crone, depending on the particular time of the year. However, mo matter which way you might choose to look at her, one thing remains amazingly clear. Brigid was an extremely important Goddess to the Celts, and that is a role that she continues to play to this very day.
Imbolc, more commonly known today as Candlemass, is the Pagan festival of early Spring, which is celebrated on February 1st or February 2nd. It represents the awakening of life in nature, after the cold, dead months of winter. Imbolc eventually became known as Candlemass, since it was on this particular day that all the candles, which were going to be used during the rest of the year, were made. Candles were also lit as a part of the festivities.
The old Irish holiday named Imbolc, which means "in the belly," was a sacred day, that was filled with the lighting of fires, and the performing of various rituals, to guaranty farmers a bountiful harvest. People looked upon the Earth as though it was a woman in her first few months of pregnancy, keeping the life that was waiting to burst forth deep within her soil until Spring finally arrived, bringing with it the first signs of new life.
While this ancient Celtic fire festival celebrated the new life that was coming into the world, the sheep and goats were all preparing to give birth and, in doing so, their bodies began to create the mothersí milk which would be necessary for them to feed their new young. The word Oimelc, which means the "milk of the ewes," is also associated with Imbolc, since it represents Brigid bringing forth the lambs in the Spring, as well as the mothers' milk of the ewes. These actions associate Brigid with the color white, which is also the color of mother's milk. The color white is associated with Brigid, as well, when she takes on her role as Brigid the Bride.
It really doesnít matter whether you happen to view Brigid as three separate Goddesses, or as one individual Goddess with three different aspects, because the Brigid that is associated with Imbolc is always Brigid the Maiden. When Imbolc arrives, Brigid the Mother moves aside so that Brigid the Maiden can take her rightful place as the lover of the young God. It is for this reason that many people celebate Imbolc as the time when the true marriage of the God and the Goddess occurs.
Traditionally, at Lammas, a Corn Mother doll is made, and then she is put away inside a trunk so that she can rest and rejuvinate, until she returns at Imbolc in the form of the Corn Maiden. When Imbolc arrives, the Corn Maiden is wrapped in white bridal attire to show that she represents the Goddess, and then she is shown around as the bride, or more frequently as "Brigid the Bride." The bride is then laid in a basket, representing her bridal bed, and a wand decorated with ribbons and flowers is placed over her, representing the God.
In Scandinavia, this ritual is performed in a slightly different manner. At Imbolc, a maiden of the house is chosen to wear a wreath of holly upon her head, which is crowned by lighted candles; while in yet another variation of this tradition, a slice of buttered bread is wrapped onto a butter churn, to honor the Goddess Brigid. At sunrise, on the morning of Imbolc, three ears of corn are set out to replace the Yule Holly wreath, which symbolizes the Triple Goddesses' return to the world of men.
It is during this period, as well, that Brigid is associated with the colors white and yellow-gold. The color white is taken from the milk of the ewes, the snow on the ground, and Brigid the Bride. The color yellow-gold is taken from butter and from the sunlight that passes overhead, which is believed to represent the Sun God.
During later, Christian times, when Candlemass arrived people would carry torches or candles as they marched in great processions. While the Pagan Festival of Imbolc eventually became known as the Christian holiday of Candlemass, many of its festivities stem from the the older, Pagan traditions which honor nature and Goddess Brigid, as they bring new life and warmth into the world.
The Goddess Brigid was such an immensely powerful force in Ireland, that when the Church began to convert the Celts to Christianity, it realized that it would be impossible to stop many of the people from worshipping her. To that end, the Church came up with a solution, and it then proceeded to absorb Brigid into the Church. It was then that Brigid the Goddess, suddenly became Brigid the Saint. Brigid represents, perhaps, the best example of how a Goddess was able to survive into Christian times. The Catholic Church cannonized her as Saint Brigid, and then proclaimed that she had been the foster mother of Jesus Christ. The Church's official story stated that Brigid, who was the daughter of a Druid, predicted Christianity and then, in approximately 453 C.E., was baptized by Saint Patrick. Brigid then went on to become a nun, and later an Abbess, and it was she who founded the Abbey at Kildare. Saint Brigid was known as the patroness of farm work and cattle, as well as the protectress of households from fires and other tragedies.
It was, indeed, a very strange thing, because the Church supposedly gave Brigid the power to appoint Bishops. That was an extremely unusual power for an Abbess to have. Stranger still was the fact that Brigid required that all of those Bishops be goldsmiths. In reality, a shrine to Brigid the Goddess had always existed in Kildare, where a perpetual flame burned, tended to by nineteen virgin Priestesses, known as the "Daughters of the Flame." No men were ever allowed near the shrine, nor could they even enter the area surrounding it, and Brigidís Priestesses were never allowed to have any contact, whatsoever, with men. Even the food and supplies, which were necessary for them to live, had to be brought by women from the neighboring villages.
When Catholicism took hold in Ireland, Brigid the Goddess' shrine became a convent, and all of her Priestesses suddenly became nuns. That was actually the only real difference between the two. The same traditions remained, and the eternal flame continued to burn. A different nun was still placed in charge of the sacred fire every day, and that sacred flame was still tended to by nuns for over a thousand years, just as it had been done when Priestesses had tended to it, for the many thousands of years before the Church came into power.
In 1220 C.E., certain policies within the Church began to drastically change. One particular Bishop actually became so angry, regarding the policy that forbid men from coming near Saint Brigid's Abby in Kildare, that he insisted that the nuns were subordinate to priests (and that women were subordinate to men), and thereby concluded that because they were subordinate, the nuns had to open their Abbey to a priest, and then submit themselves to a priest for his inspection.
The nuns of course refused to abide by that decision, and they requested that another Abbess, or at least some other female perform the inspections, rather then a priest. That request only fuled the Bishopís anger and he insisted upon their strict obedience. Then, he went even farther, by decreeing that the eternal flame was nothing more then a Pagan custom. It was then that he ordered that the Flame to be extinguished. Amazingly, and even after all that controversy, Brigid continued to remain the most popular Irish Saint, other than, perhaps, Patrick.
During the 1960's, the Catholic Church, under Vatican II modernization, decided that it did not have enough evidence by which it could uphold Brigid's sainthood, and then it went even farther by questioning whether Brigid had actually existed at all. That was the beginning of the Church's gradual attack upon Brigid the Saint, until she was finally decanonized.
Brigid the Goddess, or Brigid the Saint: no matter which way you might happen to look at her, one thing will always remain. Brigid was, and always will be, such a powerful force, to so many people, and so deeply loved with such an uncommon devotion, that no act or action could ever change that fact. She remains in the hearts of so many, unequalled, and so powerful a Goddess that there will always be, eternally, the Goddess Brigid.