22. Brigid (Irish Mythology)

In today's episode we discuss Brigid, a significant female figure in both pagan and Catholic Irish history. We talk about Christian syncretism, the transformative powers of women's grief, and touch on some LGBT+ themes.


Brigid: Goddess, Druid, and Saint by Brian Wright

Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber

Brigid and Darlughdach: Celtic saint loved her female soulmate

Inclusive Liturgy for LGBT History Month: Brigid and Darlughdach


Meaning, origin and history of the name Brigid

Oxford English Dictionary—bridewell, n.

Oxford English Dictionary—bride, n.1

Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee

St. Brigid’s Cross

Transcript below:

Musical intro

Zoe: Hello and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts--

Lizzie: I'm Lizzie.

Zoe: And I'm Zoe. Lizzie, how's it going today?

Lizzie: I'm fine. I'm preparing for the new semester, and I'm excited for today's episode! So.

Zoe:Awesome, yeah! I'm very excited for it too.

Lizzie: How are you?

Zoe: I'm good. I'm a little stressed cause I'm working on quitting my job, but by the time this episode airs, hopefully I will have done that and have been successful, so we're excited for that!

Lizzie: Something to look forward to.

Zoe: Yeah! Alrighty, so Lizzie, today you did the research, so who are we gonna be talking about?

Lizzie: Today, we're gonna talk about Brigid (Zoe gasps)the Irish goddess.

Zoe: Ooh! Yay. Okay.

Lizzie: So, she was a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland, who was also syncretized with the Christian saint of the same name, becoming St. Brigid of Kildare.

Zoe: Oh! Cool.

Lizzie: So, in today's episode, we’re going to talk about history, Christian syncretism, uh, the transformative power of women’s grief--

Zoe: Ooh!

Lizzie: --and there might be some LGBT themes!

Zoe: Ooh! Cool.

Lizzie: Yeah! So, I'll start with some etymology. So, Brigid means “High One” or “Exalted One”, stemming from the Proto-Celtic word, Briganti.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: The name can be anglicized in a variety of ways, and there have also been some spelling changes from Old Irish to Modern Irish, which also includes the Modern Irish spelling B-r-i-d, which is pronounced “breed."

Zoe: Mm, yeah.

Lizzie: Oh, did you actually--have you heard of Brigid before?

Zoe: Yes I have. I don't know much about her, but I know that, um, St. Brigid is a very important saint in Ireland--

Lizzie:Mm hmm.

Zoe: --and I know that she's an important, like, mythological figure. So. I'm excited to learn more!

Lizzie: Great! So, um, her name is the origin of the name Bridgette, which also includes French Brigitte, Swedish Birgitta, Italian Brigida, and Finnish Piritta, as well as similar names in a host of other European languages.

Zoe: Interesting! And is that--is she, like, the origin, then, do we think?

Lizzie: Yeah. Yes, I-I do believe she was the origin.

Zoe: That's really interesting, that she's the origin.

Lizzie: Yeah!

Zoe: That's super cool!

Lizzie: I also read that her name is the origin of the English word “bride”--

Zoe: Mmm!

Lizzie:--but I checked on the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the most thorough source of etymology in the English language, and found that the word “bride” came to English through Old English, originally from a Germanic root, not a Celtic root, so I don’t think that’s true.

Zoe: Okay. Well, oh well.

Lizzie: However, I did find there was a prison called Bridewell in London, which was formerly a palace of Henry VIII.

Zoe: Mm!

Lizzie: And its name actually does refer to a holy well dedicated to St. Bride, which was another name for St. Brigid of Kildare.

Zoe: Really!

Lizzie: Yeah. So, the word “bridewell” came into English from the name of the prison, and was a common word for prison in general, which also gave us the term “bridewell bird,” which meant prisoner, and the noun “bridewelling,” which meant imprisonment.

Zoe: Hmm. Alrighty.

Lizzie: So even though “bride” doesn’t come from Brigid, there is still an English word that does come from her name, even though it’s obsolete.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: And kind of grim.

Zoe: Yeah! And it's interesting that that's the origin.

Lizzie: Yeah. So, Brigid was often described as three goddesses, or as sisters all called Brigid.

Zoe: Hm!

Lizzie: This may mean that she was a triple goddess, or else one goddess with three main aspects or spheres.

Zoe: Okay. Wait, so what's the difference, then, between that and a triple goddess?


Zoe: Oh-are-were you just defining it?

Lizzie: No, no, no. She either was a triple goddess, or she was one goddess with, like, domain that were, like, separated.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: What's the difference, I don't know. But--anyway.

Zoe: Okay--yeah, no, I think I understand now. I-I think I understand it better now. Thank you.

Lizzie: Yeah. So, these three--oh, okay, so, like, sometimes she was seen as, like, three actual, like, separate people, all named Brigid--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --and sometimes she's one Brigid with three aspects.

Zoe: Yeah, okay, that makes a lot more--that makes a lot of sense, thank you.

Lizzie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, so these three Brigids all had their own sphere of influence; one was learning, poetry, and protection; one was healing, and one was metalworking.

Zoe: Awesome!

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Those are all great skills.

Lizzie: For sure. In the Celtic world, three was considered to be a sacred number, and triple deities were not uncommon.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Her mother was also considered to be a triple deity, but I'll get to her later.

Zoe: Hmm.

Lizzie: But first, some background about pre-Christain Ireland. So, there were druids who came to Ireland from Britain, bringing with them beliefs of a goddess called Brigantia, which was the Latin form of the British name Briganti, meaning “high one.”

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: Even under Roman rule, the goddess Brigantia was still worshipped, and the Romans even equated her to their own goddess, Minerva. So, when British Druids came to Ireland with belief of this goddess, female druidesses, who, side note, were seen as equal and sometimes even more important than male druids, would have wanted to merge the belief of their high goddess with the Irish equivalent, who at this time was Anu, or Danu, a fertility goddess.

Zoe: Uh huh.

Lizzie: So the British Druids, instead of modifying Anu, conceived of a new goddess influenced by their own Brigantia. They were able to sort of “invent” a new deity because Celts didn’t view their deities as their creators but rather their ancestors, so it wouldn’t have been hard to “discover” a new ancestor, especially since the Druidesses had a lot of influence with tribal leaders.

Zoe: Okay! That's really interesting.

Lizzie: Yeah! I feel like it's pretty rare to know the exact origins of a goddess.

Zoe: Uh huh.

Lizzie: This new goddess was called Brigid. She had a little bit in common with the goddess Brigantia, but she had even more qualities taken from two existing Irish deities, The Dagda and the Mór-Ríoghain--

Zoe: Mm!

Lizzie: Who, together, combined many of the most important attributes to the Druids. Have you heard of the Mór-Ríoghain?

Zoe: Is that like the Morrigan?

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: Okay, then yes, I have. I've heard of, uh, I've heard of her.

Lizzie: Yeah. However, both the Dagda and the Mór-Ríoghain were associated with war, which Brigid notably is not.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: This is because war wasn’t really an acceptable association for a goddess that was the patron deity of the Druids, who generally had a more peaceful role and didn’t fight in battles.

Zoe: Okay, yeah!

Lizzie: From the Dagda, Brigid had the attributes of magic, healing, knowledge, producing an abundance of food, control of the weather and environment, and also association with fire.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: From the Mór-Ríoghain, Brigid had the attributes of fertility, foretelling the future, animal husbandry, protection of her people, and also association with fire.

Zoe: Okay! Yeah. She's got a lot of different things going on. She's kind of a really all-encompassing goddess of their--the lives that they must have been living.

Lizzie: She really has a lot of domains. So, since Brigid got her main attributes from these two deities, they were also suitable parents for her, which made her acceptable to the Irish people. So, they were then Brigid's parents.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: It's also notable that Brigid was also associated with fertility, and particularly livestock, something that would give this new goddess widespread appeal to the common people. So, overall, they sort of designed her in a way to appeal to the Irish people, who then accepted her.

Zoe: Hmm!

Lizzie: So, even though she was thought up in relation to Brigantia, she is primarily a new goddess, being conceived between 71 and 74 CE by the Druids.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Ah yes, that very recent modern time of 71 CE.

Lizzie: (laughs)Yeah. So, stories about this new goddess would have been told orally in accordance with tradition--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --so we don’t necessarily have all of these stories preserved in their original forms. However, we dohave stories about St. Brigid of Kildare that were noted down by monks from the 7th to the 10th century, which give us some indication of the stories that were told about her.

Zoe: Oh!

Lizzie: There are some things we know about Brigid for sure. So, like, some of her attributes are: she was a goddess of learning.

Zoe: Mm.

Lizzie: She is sometimes credited with the invention of the Ogham alphabet, which was an early medieval alphabet used for writing ancient forms of Irish.

Zoe: Wow! No wonder the monks liked her so much.

Lizzie: Exactly! I do think it's really interesting when gods invent the alphabet.

Zoe: Yeah! I think that's so cool, cause it just shows, like, how powerful the written word is.

Lizzie: For sure.

Zoe: And how powerful that, like, you know, it's considered to be because of its--really changes everything.

Lizzie:It makes it feel, like, very holy, you know.

Zoe: Yeah. Definitely. And especially because, like, in that time, like, monks were, like, some of the few people who could actually write.

Lizzie: Exactly. So she was also a goddess of poetry. Poetry was vitally important in the Celtic world, and was used to record important events, to praise their chieftains and brave warriors, as well as to denigrate their enemies.

Zoe: Mm, fun!

Lizzie: Very! So she was also a goddess of healing, which was traditionally the domain of women in many societies, including the Celts.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Metalworking was also associated with Brigid. Which, metalworking was also vitally important in Ireland, and blacksmiths were seen as almost, like, magicians with the power to turn ore into weapons and other useful items.

Zoe: I mean, that's how I view blacksmiths, personally.

Lizzie: Exactly (laughs).

Zoe: (laughs) Cause that-that stuff's crazy.

Lizzie: Yeah, literally. Especially, like, back in the day, like--

Zoe: Yeah

Lizzie: Absolutely crazy.

Zoe: It's so cool. Yeah.

Lizzie: And blacksmiths were also seen to be able to heal people as well.

Zoe: Really?

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: That's very cool.

Lizzie: They were considered very magical. This association is related to her association with fire--

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: --both in a literal sense because blacksmiths obviously used fire, and also in a domestic sense, as she was associated with the hearth, as well as possibly the sun.

Zoe: Oh! Okay.

Lizzie: But that's, like, disputed, I believe.

Zoe: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Lizzie: Her status as a goddess is debated, but the main evidence is her association with livestock and crops, which was almost certainly one of her main roles.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: She was associated with some specific animals that she kept, namely two sheep called Fe and Men, who a field in county Kildare called Mag Femen was named after; as well as Torc Triath, the “king of boars” who appeared in Arthurian legend. So yeah, animal association.

Zoe: Wow. Yeah! Love that.

Lizzie: Very fun. She's also associated with magic, though possibly not directly. No stories involving Brigid and magic actually survive, but there are miracles associated with St. Brigid, which were probably folktales about the goddess given a Christian twist.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So it’s highly likely that these stories show the sort of magical acts she was associated with.

Zoe: Ah, yeah! That's cool.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. So, I mentioned before that Brigid was a later addition to Irish mythology. However, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a place in Irish creation stories.

Zoe: Mm!

Lizzie: She’s credited as being one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who were a supernatural race in Irish mythology whose name means “The Folk of the God Whose Mother is Dana.”

Zoe: Hmm! Okay.

Lizzie: The Tuatha Dé Danann represented civilization, while the Fomorians, who were their enemies, represented the perils of life such as famine, bad weather, and dangerous animals.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: So, in this creation myth, Brigid came to Ireland with the Dagda and the other Tuatha Dé Danann and helped create civilization. She gives the people tools of civilization, such as the forgem so that they could live a prosperous life, and also taught them respect for the original source of life. In some mythological pantheons, the gods are constantly in conflict with each other, but not in this case.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: Brigid, as a goddess of harmony, sets an example for how all of the Tuatha Dé Danann can live together in peace.

Zoe: Wow. That's really nice!

Lizzie: Yes. They're more, like, united than some pantheons.

Zoe: Yeah. Like, they're all--they have, like, a shared mother and everything.

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. At one point, there was a king called Nuada, the King with the Silver Hand, who was unfit to rule the throne of the Tuatha Dé Danann because his hand was missing, meaning that he was blemished--

Zoe: Huh. Okay.

Lizzie: --and therefore unfit to rule.

Zoe: Hm.

Lizzie: Yeah (laughs).

Zoe: Hm.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Alright. Well.

Lizzie: So--(laughs)this was ancient times, I guess. Anyway.

Zoe: Yeah. Well, what happened to him?

Lizzie: What did happen to him? Do you know?

Zoe: Oh! Oh, I thought you were gonna continue telling the story.

Lizzie: No! (laughing)I mean, I am gonna tell you the story, but that's not part of the-that's just background.

Zoe: Oh. Oh! Okay.

Lizzie: I thought you knew.

Zoe: Well then contin--no. (Lizzie laughs)Continue telling the story, please (laughs).

Lizzie: So, the Tuatha Dé Danann summoned a king of the Fomorians, called Bres, to be the king. His leadership solidified a bond between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians, thus representing an end to their feud.

Zoe: Ah!

Lizzie: To solidify this, Brigid agreed to marry Bres, and together, they had three sons.

Zoe: Mm.

Lizzie: So, Bres was a good leader at first, and people were happy, but this didn’t last.

Zoe: Hm.

Lizzie: He “claimed all milk from all cattle, all grain from each field, and all sparks from each fire.”

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: And the Tuatha Dé Danann were forced to work in the fields, and the people starved.

Zoe: Wow!

Lizzie: Yeah! He was a terrible ruler.

Zoe: Apparently.

Lizzie: And Brigid kept her silence so as not to tempt her husband’s anger. So she would brew beer, sing songs, and tell stories to Bres until he fell asleep, and then she would gather cheese and bread in her cloak and share the food with the people.

Zoe: Wow, that's awesome!

Lizzie: According to one source. So, after a while, with the strength from the food that Brigid brought to them, the Tuatha Dé Danann began to plan an attack.

Zoe: Mm.

Lizzie: Basically, they repaired Nuada’s hand and accepted him as their king again.

Zoe: Okay!

Lizzie: Together, they overthrew Bres--I don't know why they didn't do that before, though. Like, if they had the power to heal his hand, but.

Zoe: Yeah. Anyways (laughs).

Lizzie: I don't know. Together they overthrew Bres, and he fled back into the sea, taking Brigid’s three sons with him.

Zoe: Oh no!

Lizzie: So, Bres counterattacked, but the Tuatha Dé Danann were stronger. So, he sent his and Brigid’s eldest son, Ruadan, up to the shore to collect the Tuatha Dé Danann’s secrets. He dressed Ruadan up as a Tuatha warrior, and he watched the smith, the carpenter, and the bronze worker of the Tuatha Dé Danann work, and took his observations back to his father.

Zoe: Hmm.

Lizzie: Bres instructed Ruadan to kill the smith. So, Ruadan asked him for a javelin, which he gave to him. So, Ruadan threw the spear through his chest, but the smith just plucked the javelin from his chest as though it was nothing and threw it back at Ruadan, who was killed.

Zoe: Oh! Well! Awesome! But also sad cause he died, but also awesome that he just plucked it out.

Lizzie: Yeah, that's pretty cool, honestly. Like...

Zoe: Like, that's a sick trick!

Lizzie: Yeah! (both laugh) Very-very cool, very powerful.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Love that imagery. So, as her son lay dying on the shoreline, Brigid mourned, and her cries pierced the sky. This weeping came to be known as keening, and it’s credited--

Zoe: (overlapping)Yes!

Lizzie: --as Brigid’s invention. You've heard of keening, then?

Zoe: Oh, yes I've heard of keening! I'm sure I've heard of keening.

Lizzie: Ooh, great!

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Okay (laughs). And it’s one of the things she’s most famous for. This was the first time that sorrow was known in Ireland, and, henceforth, Irish women would keen for their dead loved ones.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: That's awesome. It's such a powerful tradition of mourning.

Lizzie: Yeah, for sure.

Zoe: Like, literally just expressing--

Lizzie: Yeah, we'll talk about that a little later, but...

Zoe: Oh, okay!

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: Also, I have to say that the story sounds very--is very interesting in the context of the colonization of Ireland, in that the Tuatha Dé Danann allowed an outsider to be the leader, but then the leader turns out to be cruel and oppressive, and take all the goods away from them, and starve the people. And then they rise up and overthrow 'em.

Lizzie: Interesting! Oh, I didn't think about that!

Zoe: So to me, that sounds like a--very much like a nationalist story about, um, resisting, like, colonial oppression, p-possibly.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yeah, I see that.

Zoe: Mm hmm. So that's my thoughts on that.

Lizzie: Speaking of...

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: Christianity officially came to Ireland in the 5th century C.E. with the arrival of Christian missionaries, but it didn’t take hold until St. Patrick returned in about 450 C.E.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: It was around this time that the attributes of the goddess Brigid began to be transferred onto St. Brigid of Kildare.

Zoe: Mm!

Lizzie: So, the Christians didn’t try to suppress their pagan beliefs, but rather adapted pagan festivals as part of an ultimate end goal to Christianize them. It's kind of a milder way of, you know...

Zoe: Destroying culture?

Lizzie: Yeah (laughs). Rather than forceful, I guess. Yeah.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: In addition to that, a lot of early Celtic saints were either real people who had founded churches or monasteries, or replacements for ancient deities or heroes. So one of the reasons Christianity was able to spread so easily throughout Ireland was because of the Druids. Druids and the early Christians were similar in many ways, including that they both baptised babies after their name was given--

Zoe: Hm.

Lizzie: --both brought about cures using magic or miracles, and both were intercessors between mankind and the god or gods.

Zoe: That's really interesting!

Lizzie: In addition to that, triple deities were commonly found in Celtic lore, so it was not a stretch for them to grasp the concept of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So it’s easy to see why the Druids would have had an easy time converting, and many of them entered the Christian church as priests.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: That makes--that totally makes sense.

Lizzie: And so, remember how I mentioned before how Druidesses were very important to early worship of Brigid?

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Christianization of these Druids would have spread to the Druidesses who tended to Brigid’s temple. So, of course, they would have wanted to keep celebrating their goddess even through their conversion to Christianity.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: In addition to that, many of Brigid’s attributes were found in the New and Old Testaments of the Bible. These were things such as, um, the power of healing, the attributes of wisdom and knowledge, and the connection with fertility and agriculture. Thus, tales of Brigid were retained, but just Christianized.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: There was a woman who had been a former Chief Druidess who was now Abbess of Kildare, and the tales of the goddess Brigid came to be associated with this woman following her death.

Zoe: Okay. Interesting!

Lizzie: Mm hmm. So, Brigid was syncretized and became St. Brigid of Kildare.

Zoe: Gotcha.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. For early Irish Christians, moral purity was not as important as the ability to perform miracles; and although there are early stories of St. Brigid that mention things such as her chastity and goodness, there is even more about her connection with wisdom, prosperity, healing, and cattle—all things associated with the goddess Brigid.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: There were many stories about her performing miracles that were added to her repertoire, and veneration of St. Brigid became widespread across Ireland, Britain, and the rest of Europe. So, I mentioned that the real St. Brigid of Kildare was a Chief Druidess who then became the Abbess of Kildare. After this woman’s death, her successor was a woman named Darlughdacha, or Darlughdach.

Zoe: Hmm.

Lizzie: Her name meant the daughter of Lugh, which was the name of a Celtic god, plus the personal name dacha, meaning dark one--

Zoe: Mm!

Lizzie:--which was probably a reference to her hair color.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: Darlughdacha had been a friend to St. Brigid, and, supposedly the two shared a bed each night.

Zoe: Well! Isn't that exciting.

Lizzie: It is for me! (laughs)

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: So--

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: Yeah. So, Darlughdacha was Brigid’s “anam cara”, or soul friend.

Zoe: Mm.

Lizzie: Coming from the Irish anamchara.

Zoe: Wow. That's really sweet.

Lizzie: Reportedly, the real St. Brigid died on February 1st of the year 525 C.E., and Darlughdacha died exactly one year later, on February 1st, 526 C.E.

Zoe: Wow. That's very--I mean, it's sad. I mean, it's, like, romantic, (laughing)but it's also sad.

Lizzie: It's, like, sad and romantic, it's both.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Anyway (both laugh)another story says that Brigid caught Darlughdacha staring at a passing warrior, and became jealous.

Zoe: Hm!

Lizzie:And as punishment, she made Darlughdacha walk in shoes packed with red-hot coal.

Zoe: Okay, well that's not very nice.

Lizzie: Not really (Zoe laughs). But this story is further proof that they were most likely lovers.

Zoe: I mean yes, but still, (laughing)that's not very nice!

Lizzie: There's, like, some variations on this story, like, in some, she did it to herself but Brigid was still jealous, and everything. But anyway.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: They shared a bed! They were anam cara, you know?

Zoe: Yeah, well they were definitely in love.

Lizzie: Yes (laughs).Anyway, so, Brigid and Darlughdacha’s story is actually celebrated by LGBT Christians, such as, um, Dignity & Worth, who are a group of British Methodists, who celebrated Brigid and Darlughdacha for LGBT history month in 2019.

Zoe: Cool.

Lizzie: And the website QSpirit, who include Brigid and Darlughdacha in their Litany of Queer Saints.

Zoe: Awesome! Yeah!

Lizzie: Very! I think that's really, really nice.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: I just-I just think it's really beautiful, like I'm not Christian, but just in general, it makes me really emotional to see LGBT acceptance in world religions. Um--

Zoe: Definitely.

Lizzie: And I just think it’s so beautiful they were considered to be soulmates.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And, like, there’s a quote from a very old Christian work called the Martyrology of Oengus that has St. Brigid saying, “anyone without a soulfriend is a body without a head.” which is very beautiful.

Zoe: Yeah! Also, I wanna find more about that Litany of Queer Saints, because I wanna know what other saints are there.

Lizzie: Oh yeah, it's on their website. You should look it up.

Zoe: Yeah, I'll look it up when we're done. That's really cool, and it's really significant, because she's such a--she's such a powerful--she's so important!

Lizzie: She definitely is.

Zoe: Like, she's, like, one of the patron saints of Ireland, and, like--

Lizzie: Mm hmm. And one of the most well-known saints.

Zoe: (overlapping)--the main goddess.

Lizzie: Exactly.

Zoe: Yeah! Mm hmm. And so--and the fact that she was-was almost definitely gay is like-like, that's so cool!

Lizzie: Exactly. It's so exciting.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: And I feel like it would be, like, of some comfort to LGBT Christians--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Knowing that she is venerated and that she was gay, you know?

Zoe: Yeah. Do you know what she was the patron saint of? Do you--are you--are you getting to that?

Lizzie: I believe she was a patron saint of spring, and also of Ireland itself.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And some other things I forget, but, yeah.

Zoe: Okay, yeah. Awesome!

Lizzie: Yeah. So, St. Brigid’s feast day is on February 1st, which is also the same day as Imbolc, which was the goddess Brigid’s holiday that marked the beginning of the Irish year.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: And, if you’ll remember from like a minute ago, was also the day that both St. Brigid and Darlughdacha died.

Zoe:Yeah. Mm hmm. Uh, feast days are normally the day they died, but it's also interesting that she died on the-the celebration day.

Lizzie: Exactly!

Zoe: Like, there really is that connection between the--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: --the-the figures.

Lizzie: Exactly. And, I mean, like, cause Brigid was sort of, like--they transferred her attributes, which is why, like, the, like, supposed biography of St. Brigid was, like--I mean some of it. They're not really sure how much of it is actually, like, factual, or how much of it was just connecting her to a saint or whatever, but, um.

Zoe: Yeah! Mm hmm.

Lizzie: But still! I love that.

Zoe: Yeah. And also the fact that she was a druidess priest before she converted to Christianity--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: --I think is just so emblematic of the--like, the figure of Brigid in, like, the culture. Because in her transferrence from, uh, pagan worship to Christian worship--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: --as a saint, like, from a pre-Christian goddess to a Christian saint through the form of someone who is--who was once a druid and then became Christian.

Lizzie: Exactly, yeah.

Zoe: And helped, sort of, like, bring that spirit along.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. So, what are your overall thoughts on Brigid?

Zoe: Well, yeah, so, like, I mean, those were my main thoughts.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: Um, I think she's--like I--as-as always, I think she's really cool. I think, like--I think the fact that she's the patron--or she was, like--one of her domains was blacksmithing is super cool.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: And I think that she really did--her domains really represented basically all the necessary aspects of life for, like, ancient Ireland.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. Exactly.

Zoe: And that's one of the reasons I--she's such an important figure for them--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: --cause she just, you know, oversaw what they needed to live.

Lizzie: Exactly, yeah. She provided for them. She gave them the keys of life.

Zoe: Exactly! Yeah. And so I think--and then I think the way that she, you know--not only, like survived the imposition of Christianity on Ireland, and the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, which, like, as we said in a previous episode, often, sort of, ends up burying or erasing pre-Christian gods or religions.

Lizzie: Exactly.

Zoe: But in fact it amplif--like, it continued her worship and in fact even amplified her and gave her new--like, a new form and a figure that could carry her on into a new light.

Lizzie: Exactly, like--I mean, I feel like the Christian missionaries and everyone tried to sort of suppress--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --you know, pagan beliefs, like they tried to slowly cut it out of their lives.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah.

Lizzie: But-but then there's, like, the fact that we only know about Brigid the goddess because of St. Brigid, so...

Zoe: Yeah. And so it really allowed--she was still able to continue and remain a really important figure, and, like I said, she is quite important, and she's, like, one of the main Irish saints besides, like, obviously St. Patrick.

Lizzie: Yeah, ex-exactly.

Zoe: And I think it's really cool. In that sort of way, it kind of reminds me of the, like, figures, the Erzulies that we've talked about--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: --who have their Christian counterparts--

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: --through, like, the imposition of Christianity. But also exists in their own non-Christian ways, in their own right.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: And, like--yeah, I don't know, I don't really have a fini--like, an end to that thought, I just am thinking about, like, the--comparing them.

Lizzie: No, yeah. It's like, they transformed them into these figures that are important beyond their association with Christianity, if that--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Like, Brigid is...influential.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Like, she was influential before she was St. Brigid, and she's influential after.

Zoe: Yeah, definitely, like, she's influential as a saint, but she's also influential for reasons other than her being a saint. Um, I was thinking though that, like you said that we only know about the goddess Brigid because of the saint Brigid, but I also think we only have the saint--we might have the saint Brigid because of the goddess Brigid. Because, like--

Lizzie: No, yeah, exactly.

Zoe: She probably--like, St. Brigid might have still become a saint even without the goddess in her own right, but also would she have the same level of influence and importance without, like, the--

Lizzie: I mean, she probably wouldn't have all these miracles associated with her that she--

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: --was associated with because of Brigid.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Which made her into a saint.

Zoe: Exactly. So, they're connected in that way.

Lizzie: Exactly, like, without pagan early beliefs, there wouldn't be St. Brigid, who's influential in modern day--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --or probably many other saints as well.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So, something I really love about Brigid is that I was doing research, I felt like I was getting into this whole, like, saga. Like she went from a Britannic goddess to an Irish goddess to the inventor of keening to a Catholic Saint.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Like it’s so interesting how much history there is regarding her. And it’s also really fascinating the way you can trace her worship all the way back to the beginning, and even up until now.

Zoe: Mm hmm! Yeah.

Lizzie: And that's, I feel like, pretty rare, so I think it's really interesting.

Zoe: Yeah, it's really interesting to see how, like, she's--has all these different cultural influences, and, like, religious influences on her, and to see how that, like, has changed who she is over time. It's super cool. And also the fact that we can actually, like, track it so directly.

Lizzie: Exactly. No, it's so cool. I think it's really, really interesting. So. As I mentioned, Brigid is the inventor of keening, which is defined as “the action of wailing in grief for a dead person.”

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: In the book Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber, she describes the invention of keening as a mechanism for coping, much in the same way that Brigid gave humanity the tools of civilization such as the forge. It’s described as a deeply personal and cathartic experience that would move anyone in the room.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And you had mentioned before, like, about keening, like what--what's your association with keening?

Zoe: Yeah, so, my association with keening, besides it being mentioned in, like, a short play that I did when I was little, um--

Lizzie: Aww.

Zoe: --was (both laugh)--yeah, it was-it was like, it was--it was a--it took place in a funeral--it was--it was, like, funny, um, anyway, um--and, like, heartfelt. But anyway, so, like, basically (Lizzie laughs) just a lot of, like, wailing, like a lot of wailing and just, like, really complete expression of pure emotion, and, like, just letting it all out, which is, like, so powerful, and, like, think--I think about whether or not I could do something like that, and it's, like, a very intimidating idea, but I think it would just be, like, so, like, significant and cathartic and freeing.

Lizzie: No, yeah, exactly. I think it seems really cathartic and just, like--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: I don't know. Like, I will admit that when I first heard about keening, I thought of it as one of those, like, mythological descriptions that seem otherworldly, like--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --you know, she couldn't contain her grief, so she invented a new godly way of mourning that inspired the people; but, no, it was a real thing that people, like, actually did in Ireland.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah.

Lizzie: Like, people did it when they were grieving a loved one.

Zoe: Yeah. But I also love the idea of, like, a godly form of grieving that the people do, like that's so--such an interesting concept.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yeah. And, uh, in fact, it was so real that supposedly the Catholic Church banned it in the mid-1800s because of its pagan nature.

Zoe: Meh. Boo (laughs).

Lizzie: I know. So lame.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: So, (laughs) There’s this really beautiful quote from Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess, which goes: “It's a stretch to call grief a gift, but there is a gift in a method of coping with sorrow. Giving voice to our sadness and pain, be it through a chorus of wails or another cathartic method such as words on a page, is a type of Brigid work.” Just, like, connecting it with, like, the idea that it's sort of, like, a gift that she gave to people, like, being able to mourn freely.

Zoe: Yeah! Yeah. Absolutely. And just, like, considering, you know, Catholic, like, repression, and, like, not wanting to (laughs)--

Lizzie: True (laughs).

Zoe: --you know, burden other people with your emotions, and then the complete opposite of that is keening and just, like, letting it all go, and letting the whole world know how much--how upset you are and how much you're grieving. It's just, like...

Lizzie: Yeah. Grieving with full, like, abandon and just, like, letting it overtake you and all that.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Like, seems very freeing. If--

Zoe: Definitely.

Lizzie: --intimidating.

Zoe: Mm hmm. For sure.

Lizzie: We’ve talked before on this podcast, like many times--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie:--about the transformative power of women’s grief, and Brigid is just another example along with Erzulie Freda, Oba, like, Kannaki, and others.

Zoe:Mm hmm. Yeah.

Lizzie: And it’s also really beautiful, like, women’s tears can be so transformative and revolutionary.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: And it's one of the things she's most associated with, which I think is super interesting.

Zoe: Yeah! Like, I actually remember, like, reading about her as being, like, you know, she's the goddess of this and this, and she's most known for inventing keening, the Irish, like, burial, like, grief practice, or whatever--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: And I remember being like oh, that's so interesting. And it's, like, so--shows that it's so significant--how significant it is, cause they have a story about its invention by, like, a god, you know, like...

Lizzie: Exactly! And it's, like, this whole big, like, myth and, like, story, it's not just like oh, she invented it. Like, it's like a whole--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --thing.

Zoe: Yeah! For sure.

Lizzie: Which shows how important it was.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So, I asked my Irish friend Cathy--who also helped me with the pronunciations with this episode, so shoutout to Cathy (Zoe laughs)--what she thought of Brigid (Lizzie laughs). And she told me that Irish mythology isn’t all that well-known, and that growing up you hear more about, like, the legends and fairy tales.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: But she told me that St. Brigid is more well-known to her than the goddess Brigid, which I mean, makes sense.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: And that basically everyone knows who she is. All she really knew about her was that she was the patron saint of spring, and that her holiday is February 1st, and that you always had to make a St. Brigid’s cross on that day.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Which, um, the St. Brigid’s cross is a small woven cross. It looks different from the Christian cross and consists of four arms tied at the ends with a woven square in the middle. And St. Brigid’s cross was typically hung over doorways and windows for protection from harm.

Zoe: Awesome! I feel like I've definitely seen those.

Lizzie: You probably have, like, I mean, crosses were also associated with other things in the Celtic world--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --so...

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: The legend says that St. Brigid wove the cross herself when she was at the deathbed of a pagan lord, who then requested to be baptized.

Zoe: Hm!

Lizzie: Powerful cross.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: It's like the opposite of, like, the Pele episode where at the end--

Zoe: Oh yeah!

Lizzie: --they show that Pele's more powerful than the Christian god--it's like the opposite of that.

Zoe: Uh huh. Yeah, well I mean, there's-there's, like, so many deathbed conversion stories, you know.

Lizzie: Are there? (laughs)I bet.

Zoe: Ah yeah, cause they're like, oh when I'm dying I realize that God is the answer and I wanna go to heaven, so like--(laughing)please baptize me before I die.

Lizzie: Wow.

Zoe: You know.

Lizzie: (overlapping)That's what happened with this pagan lord as well, (laughs)with Brigid.

Zoe: Well--

Lizzie: By his bedside.

Zoe: I hope he found--I hope it was, you know, peaceful and meaningful for him.

Lizzie: Yeah. So, in terms of her influence outside of Ireland, Brigid is associated with the Vodou loa, Maman Brigitte.

Zoe: Yes!

Lizzie: Both Brigid and Maman Brigitte are healers and protectors, and both are associated with crosses.

Zoe: Okay! Yeah.

Lizzie: So that's pretty interesting.

Zoe: I do remember reading that, but--yeah. It's all coming back to me as I listen to you (both laugh).

Lizzie: Also, her name appears in some Welsh place names as Ffraid, which actually makes sense considering historical Welsh phonological mutations that turned a /b/ sound into a /f/ sound, so it's like Ffraid, Bride...

Zoe: Of course.

Lizzie: It's connected.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah, so, she really is everywhere. She is all--she's, like, all over the world.

Lizzie: Yeah, she's in Haiti, she's in Wales...(laughs)

Zoe: Yeah, she's all over Europe, there's all these different versions of her name that have, like, come out of--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: Like, that's so cool. So thank you so much for telling me about her. Um, you know, I always love to hear about Irish mythology.

Lizzie: Yesss.

Zoe: So this is very exciting and very fun. Um, and I had a really great time, so, thank you so much! Um, everyone else, I hope you enjoy this episode. Thank you for listening. If you did enjoy, please subscribe, leave a review, follow us on our socials, tell all your friend about how much you loved it, and we'll be back here next week with another episode.

Lizzie: Thank you!

Zoe: Buh-bye.

Outro, underscored by music:

Zoe: Mytholadies Podcast is produced by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today’s episode was researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix, with help from Margot and Zaïn. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter (and now Tumblr) @mytholadies, and visit us on our website at Mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening! See you next week.