I have been tinkering with a draft for some time on the Great Goddess and now Saint Bridgit. Here below is an article which is reprinted from bridgitcheri.com It is an exhaustive well written rounded piece with many facets of this lovely and powerfully magical, healing, woman who won our hearts. She has a special meaning for me in many ways. I find her powers in poetry being considered the forefront flames of knowledge in Ireland? High on my priority list too! However she is known for a great deal of good I could certainly use her blessings!
The Goddess Bridget
Bridget was one of the great Deities of the Celtic people. She was known as Brigit or Bridget to the Irish, Brigantia in Northern England, Bride in Scotland, and Brigandu in Brittany. Various interpretations of her name exist including, “Bright Arrow,” “Bright One,” “Powerful One,” and “High One.” Bridget was a Sun Goddess, and the legend of her birth is that she was born at sunrise, and a tower of bright flame burst from her forehead that reached from Earth to the Otherworld.
As a Goddess of healing, herbalism, the arts, and midwifery, She is in deep touch with both powers of water and those of fire. There existed a vast number of sacred wells and springs dedicated to Bridget. Offerings were cast into the water in the form of gold or brass rings, and in later times, coins. The Goddess Bridget had always a shrine at Kildare, Ireland, with a perpetual flame tended by several priestesses. No male was ever allowed near, food and other supplies were brought by other women. When Catholicism took over in Ireland, the shrine became a convent and the fire was tended by nuns. The tradition was held and the eternal flame was kept burning for many years, until a catholic bishop became angered because he felt women were subordinate to men, and therefore insisted upon their obedience and ordered the flame to be extinguished.
However, Bridget is the best example of the survival of a Goddess into Christian records. So cherished by the Celts, Her image was dedicated by the Catholic church as St. Bridget and various myths were made. The most popular folk tale being that She was midwife to the Virgin Mary, and thus was always invoked and prayed to by women in labor. Another story tells that she was the daughter of a Druid who predicted the coming of Christianity and was baptized.
Clearly, Brigit is the most loved Goddess of the British Isles. Her fire so bright that she survived mass spiritual transformation and lives on today watching over her children all over the world. Her festival, Imbolc, is celebrated February first or second, representing the coming of spring. Fires are lit at sundown and feasts are shared with the Bright One.
Celtic Hearth is dedicated to Bridget, and the fire is always kept aflame. Tonight light a candle and give thanks for Her creative inspiration and love.Probably the clearest example of the survival of an Early Celtic Goddess into Christian times is Bridgit, the great triple goddess of the Celtic Irish who appears as Brigantia in England, Bride in Scotland, and Brigandu in Celtic France. The Christians “converted” Bridgit along with the other people, calling her “Bridget”, the human daughter of a Druid, and claiming she was baptized by St. Patrick. The ancient Bridgit had three manifestations, one the goddess of smithcraft, one ruled poetry and inspiration, and one the goddess of healing and medicine.The three Brigids were different aspects of one divinity unified in the symbol of fire for Bridgit was “Bright Arrow” or simply “Bright One” as her name tells us. The Irish say that Bridgit invented many useful things including whistling and keening, the mournful song of the bereaved Irish women. Bridgit is identified with the earth herself and with the soil fertility. Today, little is left of the legends told of the greatest of all Celtic goddesses, a deity so intensely related to the feminine force that no man was allowed to pass beyond the hedge surrounding her sanctuaryCeltic Goddess, Christian SaintSaint or Goddess, Brigid still holds an important place in Celtic folklore – Douglas MacGowan
Over the centuries, the stories of two women named Brigid (or Brigit or Bride or Brighid) have become intertwined in an intricate Celtic knot of myth and miracle as both a Celtic goddess and a Christian saint of that name have personified essential spiritual values of their eras.
According to the surviving mythology, the goddess Brigid was a powerful deity and the patroness of healing arts, fertility, poetry and music, prophecy and agriculture. Her exact mythological role is confusing: in many myths she is the daughter of the great Celtic god the Dagda, but she is also commonly equated with the much older Danu, the mother of the earlier Celtic gods the Tuatha de Dannan. Additionally, in some of the myths, Brigid appears as three immortal sisters who share the one name. As a transitional deity between winter and spring, Brigid is often depicted in two forms: the “cailleach” or old crone of winter, and a fair young maiden of spring.
One famous myth associated with the goddess states that when Brigid’s son Ruadan is killed in battle, Brigid mourns for the first time in the clamorous method that would later be commonly known as “keening.”
The history of the saint is unfortunately not much clearer than that of the goddess. As Christianity spread through the Celtic lands, many properties of the older religion were Christianized rather than eliminated, and this was so true of the Brigids that it is now impossible to tell where the goddess ends and the saint begins. In fact, some believe that the saint never actually existed,and that St. Brigid is merely a canonized version of the goddess. Evidence suggests, however, that an abbess named Brigid did live in 5th century Ireland.
Legend says that St. Brigid was born in approximately 450 AD at the base of the Cooley mountains near Dundalk Bay, and died 75 years later on the first day of February. Her father, usually called Dubhtach, was commonly believed to have been a druid or pagan chieftain, although her mother, Brocseach, was a Christian slave. In explaining her taking the name of a pagan goddess, some scholars believe she may have been originally a worshipper of the goddess Brigid and later converted possibly baptized by St. Patrick himself. Although early biographies or hagiographies of the saint exist, they do little to clear up the confusion; they are not reliable as historical documents, and often disagree about biographical facts. These hagiographies were principally written to highlight St. Brigid’s miracle stories.
Many of the miracles attributed to the saint relate to agriculture, the arts and fertility the same realms of which the goddess was patroness. St. Brigid reputedly tamed wild boar and foxes, turned salt to stone when it was refused to her by a passing merchant, and miraculously gave an untrained young man the ability to play the harp perfectly the first time he picked up the instrument. Her larder’s supply of food never ran out, and on one Easter a small cup of malt from her scullery yielded enough ale to supply all 17 of the abbeys and monasteries under her rule. In another legend, a man whose wife founds him repulsive is given water by the saint which causes the wife to deeply love the man ever after.
One celebrated story of the young saint illustrates the charity and piousness for which she would later be recognized. Her father, angered by Brigid for constantly giving his possessions to the poor, brings her to the local king in hopes of selling her into the king’s service. While waiting outside the royal estate, a poor man comes up to Brigid and begs for alms. Having no money, Brigid takes her father’s ornamented sword and gives it to the beggar. Her father notices the sword missing when he brings the king out to inspect her. Brigid declares that she would gladly give all she had, all her father had, and all the king had in order to aid the destitute. Impressed by her piety, the king tells Brigid’s father he could not accept her as a bondmaid, as he could never pay a price worthy of her.
Bryd The Goddess
Released from her father’s rule and shunning his choice of husband for her, Brigid and seven companions founded the first female religious community in Ireland near Croghan Hill. Up to that point, early Irish nuns had remained in their family’s house after taking their vows. When Brigid took her vows to become a nun, the presiding bishop was reportedly so flustered by her piousness that he read the wrong section of his book and consecrated Brigid as a bishop by mistake. Later, after founding several small monasteries, Brigid asked the King of Leinster for land to build her motherhouse on. He agreed, but only granted her the land that could be covered by her cloak. She spread her cloak on the ground and it eventually grew in size to cover all of Curragh. (Brigid also took this same cloak, legend tells, and hung it on a sunbeam to dry). The large monastery she then built at Kildare, became a focal point for Brigid and for the spread and growth of Celtic Christianity. It housed both men and women, which seems unusual by today’s standards, but was acceptable at that time. Only women, however, tended to the holy fire that burned ceaselessly during Brigid’s rule and continued to blaze for almost 1,000 years after her death.
St. Brigid was a favourite among the Irish Celts, and tales about the saint quickly spread to other Celtic lands. She grew in popularity in Celtic devotions to the point where she became closely associated with the Virgin Mary (in fact, she was commonly referred to as “Mary of the Gaels”). The connection to Mary became so strong that later Christian legends confused Brigid’s life-span, as the 5th century saint was commonly believed to have been Mary’s midwife, the wife or daughter of the Bethlehem innkeeper who let Mary and Joseph stay in the stable, and the person who led Mary and Joseph to the Temple in Jerusalem when the teenaged Jesus was “lost.” The two Brigids intersect on February 1st, which marks not only the saint’s feast day but also the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc, a seasonal festival partially in honour of the goddess that celebrated the end of winter and the beginning of the lactation of the ewes. Imbolc rituals in honour of the goddess have been lost over time, but “St. Bride’s crosses” made of rushes or reeds are still placed in houses on February 1st for protection and the assurance of good luck.
Each Brigid reflected the essential spiritual values of her time, whether pagan or Christian. They both embodied the important Celtic realms of agriculture, the fine arts and the natural environment. The goddess epitomizes maternal love while grieving for her dead son and by her connection with the great mother goddess Danu; and while St. Brigid never bore children, her position as abbess and her close association with Mary shows her to be a strong mother figure in the Celtic mind. The ease with which the two Brigids have become intertwined shows that many of the values they symbolize have not altered as much over the past centuries as people might initially believe.
The Pagan goddess Brigid is perhaps one of the oldest goddesses of Celtic Europe still recognized and worshipped. In fact, until the mid-twentieth century in Scotland, she was still welcomed in at Imbolc by the symbolic rekindling of the hearth fire after the house had been cleaned from top to bottom for spring.
Brigid has been known by many names, mostly depending upon the specific location or time period. Worshipped in Ireland, Wales, Spain, France, and Britain, she was called Brighde in Ireland, Bride in Scotland, Brigantia in Northern Britain, Brigandu in France, and also known as Brid, Brig and Brighid. The name Bridget is the Christianization of these pre-Christian goddess names as will be discussed below. Her name is taken to mean “Power,” “Renown” and “Fiery Arrow of Power.”
Celtic MythIn the Celtic myth cycles, she is an aspect of Danu, the daughter of Dagda. She is a triple goddess. However, she is not of the maiden, mother, crone variety; she has three different aspects which are all parts of the same ageless goddess. One aspect of Brigid is of poetess and muse, goddess of inspiration, learning, poetry, divination, witchcraft, occult knowledge. A second aspect of Brigid was as goddess of smithcraft, carrying a famous cauldron for this purpose. The third aspect of Brigid was that of healer, goddess of healing and medicine. These three aspects were united through the symbol of fire; thus here appellation as a fire goddess. In various places she was also know as goddess of fertility, the hearth, all feminine arts and crafts, and the martial arts. She was identified with the changing moon and the ox, boar and ram. Her sacred number is 19 (the Celtic Great year — the number of years it takes for the new moon to coincide with the Sun’s winter solstice).
Some clues to her association with fire, and possibly the Sun, can be found in an Irish legend that states that in Winter Brigid was imprisoned in an icy mountain by a one-eyed hag (Calleach, see below). In some places, she presided over thermal springs (i.e. water warmed by an underground Sun…?). But these are speculative.
Brigid may even pre-date the Celtic period, being a remembrance of a more ancient seasonal goddess of Ireland and Scotland. The relevant legends recall how Cailleach kept a maiden named Bride imprisoned in the high mountains of Ben Nevis. But Cailleach’s own son fell in love Bride and they eloped at winter’s end. They were chased by the angry hag Cailleach who caused many a fierce storm. Finally Cailleach turned to stone and the couple was free. This type of story, which may date back to 2000 or 3000 BCE, recounts Brigid as a spring and summer goddess who alternates her rule with a fall and winter hag. Also, the monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury are constructed of massive sandstones (called sarsens). These stones are also known as Bridestones, suggesting that Brigid may have been a primary goddess used in that area in the Neolithic, the late Stone Age.
IrelandBrigid had an extensive female priesthood at Kildare, Ireland and an ever-burning sacred fire in her shrine. There were 19 priestess representing the 19-year cycle of the Celtic “Great Year.” Each priestess tended the sacred fire in turn, through a 20-day rotation. On 20th day of each cycle the sacred fire was said to be tended by Brigid herself. Her shrine was likened to that of Vesta tended by the vestal virgins in Rome. Its sacred flame was kept burning even after the shrine became a Christian nunnery, until 1220 when Archbishop Henry of Dublin ordered it extinguished.
The Irish claimed that she brought “whistling” to the world, which she invented one night when she wanted to call her friends. She also invented “keening,” the mournful song of the bereaved Irishwoman, one night when her son was killed.
In 722 she appeared to the Irish army of Leinster, hovering in the sky before they routed the forces of Tara, rather like the sun god El Gabel had appeared to (the Roman) Aurelian in 273 and as the Christian chi-rho sign had appeared to Constantine in 312.
BritainBrigid was known as Brigantia in Northern Britain, and also as The Three Blessed Ladies of Britain, and The Three Mothers. The name Brigantia for the goddess arises from that of the ancient people that bore her name, the Brigantes. She was worshiped especially in Yorkshire, and her name is still echoed in the names of rivers Briant in Anglesey and Brent in Middlesex. It is likely that the ancient Brigantes saw her as the power of rushing rivers and the thrusting hills of the countryside, rather than a personification of a triple goddess.
ChristianityThe Christians converted the goddess Brigid along with the people of the area. They fabricated an entire history for this “Saint Bridget.” She was said to be the daughter of a Druid, who was baptized by the great patriarch St. Patrick. Bridget apparently took Christian religious vows, and was canonized upon her death by the church. She was given sainthood by Pope Gregory I. The Pope told Augustine in the sixth century that Brigid should be co-opted rather than having the Church destroy the pagan sites and customs of the “newly Christian” pagan peoples.
The Chruch added Bridget to the the nativity scene, calling her Mary’s midwife. They also renamed Imbolc to Candlemas, to disguise this holiday’s pagan origins. Bridget was attributed a curious list of qualities that were coincidentally identical to those of the earlier goddess. She was said to have the power to appoint the bishops of her area, an unusual power for an abbess. This was made stranger by her apparent requirement that her bishops also be practicing goldsmiths (hearkening to the second aspect of the goddess described above). This Christian saint was also invoked as muse and healer (the first and third aspects described above).
Queen of Four FiresThis is a myth of Brigid taken from The Storyteller’s Goddess referenced Below. It well described the qualities of the goddess Brigid.
A long time ago, near the beginning, at the first crack of pink in a young morning, near the waters of the magic well, the goddess Bridget slipped into the world and the waiting hands of the nine sisters who swayed and crooned in a great circle around her. The waters of the magic well burbled their joy.
Up rose a column of fire out of the new goddess’s head that burned to the very sky. Bridget reached up her two hands and broke away a flaming plume from her crown of fire and dropped it on the ground before her. There it leapt and shone, making the hearth of the house of the goddess.
Then from the fire of her hearth, Bridget used both hands to draw out a leaping tongue of heat, swallowed it, and felt the fire burn straight to her heart. There stood the goddess, fire crowning her head, licking up inside her heart, glowing and shooting from her hands, and dancing on the hearth before her.
The nine sisters hummed and the waters of the magic well trembled as Bridget built a chimney of brick about her hearth. Then about the chimney, she built a roof of thatch and walls of stone. And so it was that by the waters of the magic well the goddess finished the house in which she keeps the four fires which have served her people forevermore.
Out of the fire on Bridget’s hands baked the craft of bending iron. Out of the fire on Bridget’s hearth and the waters of her magic well came the healing teas. Out of the fire on Bridget’s head flared out writing and poetry. Out of the fire in Bridget’s heart spread the heat of compassion.
Word of the gifts of Bridget’s fires traveled wide. People flocked to learn from Bridget the secret of using fire to soften iron and bend it to the shapes of their desires. The people called bending iron smithcraft, and they made wheels, pots, and tools that did not break.
All the medicine plants of the earth gathered in the house of the goddess. With their leaves, flowers, barks, and roots, and the waters of her magic well, Bridget made the healing teas. She gave a boy with weak teeth the tea of the dandelion root. She gave a young woman the tea of the raspberry leaf to help her womb carry its child. An old man, a cane in each hand to help him walk, took from Bridget wintergreen bark for his pain and black cherry juice for the rheumatism. She gave comfrey to a girl with a broken leg and blue cohosh to bring her bloods without cramps. Bridget brewed motherwort, licorice root, and dried parsley for a woman who was coming to the end of her monthly bleeding. “Cup a day,” said Bridget, “that you stay supple and strong.”
The people wanted Bridget’s recipes. “But we can’t remember which plants for which healings, where to gather them or how long to steep them,” they told Bridget.
The fire on Bridget’s head blazed bright. She took up a blackened stick and made marks with it on a flat piece of bark.”These are the talking marks,” She said. “They are the way to remember what you don’t want to forget.”
The talking marks also let the people write down the stories of her wisdom.
Once two men with terrible stories of leprosy came to Bridget.
“Bathe yourself in my well.” said Bridget to the first man. At every place Bridget’s waters touched, the man’s skin turned whole again.
“Now bathe your friend,” said Bridget.
Repulsed, the man backed away from his friend. “I cannot touch him,” he said.
“Then you are not truly healed,” said the goddess. And she gave the first man back his leprosy and healed the second man. “Return to me with compassion,” she said to the first man. “There find your healing.”
Every year at midwinter the people than Bridget for her well of wisdom and her fires of hand, hearth, head and heart. “Thank you, Bridget, for the simthcraft, for the healing teas, the talking marks, and compassion. May you dwell with your fires in your house by the waters of your magic well forever.”
St. Bridget Bridget was born at Faughart, near Newry Co. Down to a Druid named Dubhtach and his bondwoman, who was soon sent away after her birth. Bridget’s father raised her in Druid symbolism and “according to the Rennes Dinnsenchus, she was a ban-druÍ, a female Druid, before she converted to Christianity” (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.146).
Bridget first studied under Bishop Ibhair. The tale says that was converted because he had prophozied that the Virgin Mary would appear in his church, however, on the chosen day, she did now appear, but Bridget appeared. To save face, he called her ‘Mary of Gael,’ and soon after she gave up her possessions and life to join the church (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.146).
Some time later, to avoid a suit with the King of Leinster, she studied under Mel, the Bishop of Ardagh, son of the important abottess Darerca, sister of St Patrick. Mel went on to first ordain Bridget as a priest and then later as a Bishop.
Bridget went on to found orders with Celtic traditions. Her first overlooked the Liffey and was placed within the shade of an oak tree. She called her church, “the church of the Oaks,” which was also near the pagan fortress of Dún Ailinne. According to the Life of Bridget written by a monk in her following in 650 AD, both men and women were abundant in the community. Peter B. Ellis, a Celtic scholar, suggests that Bishop Conlaed and she were lovers at some point. According to customs of the time, his suggestion is not that preposterous.
The Cult of Bridget After Christian influence ended most sacred marriages, the cult of St Bridget helped it remain a vital part of Celtic life. The spirit of Bridget was kept alive through her memory as a Christian saint and the Christians connected her memory with the Celtic goddess known as Brighde in Ireland.
The goddess Brighde represented warmth, fire, summer, and possibly the sun and in some Celtic cultures she watched “over thermal springs, presumably as the underground Sun” (Jones, p.102). The goddess was celebrated with a shrine in Kildare County (Image to left), where a sacred flame burned and a number of women, possibly like the Vestal Virgins in Rome, tended it. The flame burned through its transition into a Christian nunnery until 1220 AD when Archbishop Henry of Dublin ordered it to be extinguished (Jones, p.102). At the time of its conversion into a nunnery, the Christian order dedicated it soley to the woman known as St Bridget instead of the Pagan goddess whose memory they wanted to disappear.
Bridget’s contributed her Celtic beliefs to the changing world of Briton. Although, she converted from the Celtic religion to Christianity to the detriment of most of her fellow Druid and Druidess colleagues, she continued the traditions of equality among men and women in Celtic society in her communities. Her conversion like many others contributed to the fall of Druidism and Celtic religion and is a wonderful example of the conversion of Celtic figures into Christian saints.
Brigit: Goddess of the hearth, fire and poetry; best loved of all deities; Candlemas is held in her honor; she is the only goddess to survive into the Christian pantheon of saints. The Catholic church made her a saint then later decided she was not saint material but just a good woman who was a missionary. Probably the clearest example of the survival of an early Celtic Goddess into Christian times is Brigid, the Triple Goddess of the Celtic Irish, who appears as Brigantia in England, Bride in Scotland, and Brigandu in Celtic France. The Christians “converted” Brigid along with her people calling her Bridget, the human daughter of a Druid, and claiming she was baptized by St. Patrick.
The Ancient Brigid had three Manifestations; one of Goddess of Smithcraft, one of poetry and inspiration, and one of healing and medicine. All were different aspects of one divinity unified in the symbol of fire, for Brigid was “bright arrow”, as her name tells us. The Irish say that Brigid invented many useful things including whistling and “keening”, the mournful gong of bereavement. Brigid is identified with the Earth herself and with the fertility of the soil.
Brigit’s Feast Day, Imbolc, is a celebration of the union of Goddess and God. Lupercalia is the romanized version of Imbolc, sacred to Venus, to women in general, and the ancestor of our modern Valentines Day. Brigid’s Fire, like that at the Temple of Vesta (a Virgin/Whore/Hearth Goddess of Rome) was tended by 19 Civic Virgins. Virgin originally meant one-in-herself, not belonging to any phallocrat. The estrogenic root is derived from the Latin, meaning strength, force and skill. Ishtar, Diana Astarte, Isis, Asherah,Mari, Anath, were all called Virgin; referring to sexual independence not sexual chastity. The Sodomites were originally the Holy Harlots,brides of gods, set apart to give birth to the sons of gods, i.e. the empenised prophets. The druidic/Celtic fire festival Imbolc, the celebration of the return of the Sun. The Virgin Moon Goddess was worshipped in orgiastic rites, where women were free to take as many lovers as they chose. Making love to a stranger in Her temple was away for women to participate, for a ritual moment, in the DivineBe-ing of the Goddess. This was a way for each woman to experience herself as “the Moon”, and the precursor to our contemporary *drawing down the Moon* ritual. Today, little is left of the legends told of the greatest of all Celtic Goddesses, a deity so intensely related to the feminine force that no man was allowed to pass beyond the hedge surrounding her sanctuary.
The holiday of Imbolc is also known by the names of Imbolg, Oimelc, the Feast of Brigid, and in post-Christian times, Candlemas. It is celebrated either on one of the first two days of February. Imbolc is a holiday sacred to the goddess Brigid in her maiden aspect. Brigidis a highly influential goddess holding sway over subjects as diverse as blacksmithing, poetry, the hearth, and childbirth. It is explained that Brigid is a triple Goddess. to the discussion of Imbolc, Brigidis often milking, fertility, and the return of spring. The word “Imbolc” literally translates as “in the belly.” This is a reference to the season of spring, which shall soon be born. Although February is considered a cold winter month, the seeds within the soil are at this time beginning to awaken and grow. This parallels the growth of the animals still in the womb who will be born later in the year. Oimelc is an alternative title for Imbolc and means, “in milk.” T hisses a reference to the lactation of ewes and cows, which begins in February. Chicken and geese begin to lay eggs in the month of February. February being a cold month does little to indicate the end of winter but hope and faith make Imbolc a festival of celebrating spring. Imbolc begins on February second and hence is very close to the beginning of the Roman festival of the Nones on February fifth, which marked the beginning of spring on the Roman calendar. Since the Romans consider winter to be the last season of the year and spring to be the first, the Nones marked the New Year and where considered a time to clean old scores and to consider new endeavors.
The modern Imbolc takes on most of these rules, but is also considered to be a festival of fire. It is an obvious welcome to the returning sun and heat as well as a celebration dedicated to Brigid, who is the goddess of fire. On the night of Imbolc, bonfires used to light the hills and the daytime was filled with the praise of chandlers. It was this theme that the Catholic Church latched on to for their celebration of Candlemas. Obviously, Imbolc is a terrific day for making candles. A Crown of Lights is sometimes constructed to be worn by a group’s High Priestess at this time by fastening candles to a cornet. In old Europe many people would spend Imbolc making candles from the animal fat collected during the winter. These candles would usually last all year and where considered to be lucky. This is one of the Imbolc traditions adopted by the Catholic Church. There is an old Scottish tradition of feeding the last ear of last harvest’s corn to the livestock on this day. In modern days, most people do not own livestock so the tradition has turned to burning the corn dollies that many witches construct for the autumn. Making Bride’s Bed Long before she befriended the Mother of God, Brighid was the Mother herself, her agricultural roots going back to the Neolithic. Campanelli describes and **Imbolc** ritual for creating Bride’s bed, drawn from ancient rituals in which harvesters at the Autumn Equinox would bring the last sheaf of wheat or other grain in to the house, believing the Goddess of the Grain lived within. The harvesters often made this last sheaf into a woman’s shape, the Corn Bride or Maiden, dressing her in white.
So though Bridgit was the Mother Goddess herself she was so well loved that many would not go into Christianity without her so she was given the status of a saint I am sure to help convert people into the Catholic Church. She then was said only to be a good woman by the church and her sainthood taken away. She like the virgin Mary lost status but still the Mother Goddess symbolized by the church and still is today. No matter what we call her she is still the lady of a thousand names. She like the muses have been in my life to inspire poetry and writing.
I first came across references to Elen when reading The Green Stone a book on psychic questing in Britain which took place in the late seventies/early eighties. She appeared as a goddess archetype synonymous with the land – in fact, the ‘guardian’ of the land. She was a fascinating character – quite enigmatic. Further references to her in later books futher intrigued me and I felt that as there seemed to be very little reference to her on the net (but plenty on various other goddess archetypes), that it only fair to put a page together on a British goddess – perhaps the guardian goddess of Britain. So here’s my humble offering!
In the distant past, the goddess Elen had many guises… Brigantia, Brigit, Brighid, St Bride, Helen of the Hosts – all with virtually the same qualities, dominion and appearance.
Elen was almost certainly an iron age deity whose cult centres were found across Northern Europe. Elen was the forerunner of many other Celtic goddesses, such as Brigantia, the battle goddess, and Brigit or Bride, the goddess of fire, smithcraft, poetic inspiration, healing and fertility.
The whole of Yorkshire, the West Riding, in particular, had been occupied by the fierce, warlike Celtic tribe known as the Brigantians, during the late iron age and early Romano-British period.
Their patron deity had been Brigantia; traditionally she was linked with both fire and solar imagery, as well as with water, and was often depicted in a robe of pure white.
In West Yorkshire, many place names contain the root words of: El, Ellen, Elli or Helen. Her name is derived from the root El or Elle, which although translates as ‘the first one’ in Hebrew, in British place names, seemed to refer to light.
Elen has also been linked to Sheela-na-gog statues – which were often incorporated into Norman or medieval church architecture. These crudely carved statues can be found right across the country and represent naked women with their legs held open.These statues although crude in their nature seem likely to be a reference to Elen/Brigits role as not only healer and source of wisdom/inspiration but also her role as fertility goddess of the land. One of these carvings, in Colchester Castle Museum actually has the word ‘Eleu’ inscribed on one of its legs. All the more significant as in her christianised aspect Saint Helen is associated with Colchester.
EL – ILU etymologyIn Irish traditional mythology, from the original pantheon of the Tuatha De Danann, Ainne or Anu, the principal – and most persistant – deity of all, was canonised as St Anne, and Brigit, who was closely associated with Anu, became St Bride.
Deities tended to change their sex according to the society in which they were worshipped. The principal deity – in this case – Anu – under the influence of later matriarchal society – became Danu – the mother of the Irish ‘gods’ – the Annage or Tuatha de Danann. Danu was also known as An, Anu or Aine – hence the reference to St Anne.
An, Anu, or Aine, a term meaning ‘brightness’ or ‘radiance’ has associations with the Middle Eastern word ‘El’ or ‘Ilu’ – the ‘shining one’. Aine was often referred to as Ailill Aine, a subjoining which may have some connection to the old Cornish ‘el’ meaning ‘angel’. ‘Ailill’ could also have been a descriptive term, as the Welsh ‘Ellyl’ means ‘an elf’. Therefore Ailill Aine, would therefore mean the ‘elfin Aine’. The characteristics recognised as ‘elfin’ were those of the Annage or Tuatha de Danaan – tall, fair haired, shining faced – the same as the ‘ilu’ of Sumerians, and the ‘Elohim’ of the Hebrews – the ‘shining ones’.
It’s therefore interesting that Elen is associated with fire and is blond and shining in countenance.
It’s also interesting to note that Elen, strongly allied with the ‘strength’ of the land, was considered the mother of elemental forces and supernatural denizens, who apart from being referred to, ironically, as the little people (their folklore roots coming from the Annage pantheon), were also known as the Elle folk.
Fire and Light and WaterThe original megalithic builders of Britain revered the life giving light of the land – these days described as the ley energy lines or ‘chi’ vital energy lines sometimes referred to as serpent/dragon energy – as a deity with no gender – but seen as a supernatural pure source of fire/energy. Much later on in British history, the deity takes on a female gender as Elen – the bright, shining, light.
Elen was aspected more with fire and solar imagery than she was with the traditonally goddess
associated moon. But, being female, she was also associated with water sites such as holy wells and waterfalls – again a stong link to ley lines as the currents are also associated with water. She was very possibly, the prototype for the Lady of the Lake who presided over sovereignty of the land in the Arthurian romances.
In the Welsh medieval romances, collectively known as The Mabinogen, she can be found in the story called ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’ – here she is Helen of the Hosts who rules over the country of dreams; she builds the highways from one fortress to another across the length and width of Britain (another reference to ley lines?).
Macsen, a legendary emperor of Rome, sees her in a dream. She sits upon a chair of red gold, wearing shifts of white silk with red fastenings across the breast, and a gold brocade surcoat and mantle pinned by a brooch. Her hairband is of rubies and gems, her belt is made of red gold and she is very beautiful. Macsen sends out envoys to find her and eventually she is discovered at the fortress of Segontium, near Caernarvon. Macsen meets her and soon afterwards she becomes Empress of Rome.The Welsh also revered Elen as a star goddess; Elen of the Roads who with the advent of Beltane (1st May) opened the season of travel. Sarn Elen, one of the ancient Welsh trackways is named after her. Alex Langstone in his book St Bega and the Sacred Ring refers to Elen as the goddess of evening and morning – a possible reference to the evening star Venus? Therefore a possible link to Elen being a star goddess? She is also seen as guide and instructor to those seeking the dragon paths to the sites of secret wisdom – another possible reference to dragon lines ie ley lines; the theme of living energy/fire/light/knowledge of land arises again.
It’s inevitable that as time progresses, original archetypes will change, evolve and merge with other aspects from differing cultures. It seems that the essence of the land, some kind of sentient energy was originally revered by the megalithic people in Britain. Seen as a source of both light, fire and knowledge, this aspect eventually took on a female aspect becoming the fire goddess of the land, Elen – recognised especially in Wales and possibly also Yorkshire and Cumbria. From then on she became the warrior goddess Brigantia & Britannia – from which Britain takes its very name. She was also Brigit/Brighid the fire goddess of healing, inspiration, fertility, smithing and fire. Christianisation brought us Saint Bride and St Helen… and she seems to have made somewhat of a comeback recently with the various ‘quests’ – popping up regularly through psychic means as both a guide, a guardian and, true to form, a healer of the land. (References to these episodes will appear shortly in the psychic questing page – when time allows).
Associated Festivals, Traditions, ImageryFestival Names: Imbolc/Candlemas – traditional fire festival – the first of the Celtic/Christianised date of the year after solstice.
Festival Dates: 31 January , 1 February, 2 February, 6 February, 7 February.
Symbols Fire – flames, candle crown, hearth Water – cauldron, springs, wells Grain – Brigid wheels, corn/oat sheaf Goddess effigy, Brigid’s Bed Creatures – white cow with red ears, wolf, snake, swan and vulture Talismans – Shining Mirror to Otherworld, Spinning Wheel and Holy Grail
Sacred Fire torchlit processions circling fields to purify & invigorate for the coming growing season (old Pagan) lighting & blessing of candles (11th century, Christian) sacred fire of Brigid (Celtic Pagan) torchlit procession to honor Juno Februata/Regina (Pagan Rome; Christianized, 7th century)
Purification removing Yuletide greens from home & burning them (Celtic) cleaning up fields and home (old Roman, Februa “to cleanse” month) Mary purification festival (Christian, Western church) burning old Brigid’s wheels and making new ones (some parts of Ireland)
Brigid: Celtic Goddess Goddess of Inspiration – poets, poetry, creativity, prophecy, arts Goddess of Smithcraft – blacksmiths, goldsmiths, household crafts Goddess of Healing – healers, medicine, spiritual healing, fertility (crops, land, cattle)
Name variations: Brighid; Bride (Scotland), Brid, Brigit, Bridget, Briganta (England), Brigan, Brigindo (Gaul), Berecyntia, Brigandu (France)
Name means: Bright One, High One, Bright Arrow, Power.
Christianized forms: St. Brigit (Irish), St. Ffraid (Welsh), St. Bridget (Swedish), Queen of Heaven, Prophetess of Christ, Mary.
Associated Irish Transitions and Traditions When Ireland was Christianized, worship of the Pagan Goddess Brigid was turned to that of St. Brigit, said to be the human daughter of a Druid. St. Brigit became a saint after her “death” and was supposedly converted and baptized by St. Patrick. Pagan lore was incorporated into the Christian traditions and legends associated with her as a saint. As St. Brigit, she had the power to appoint bishops and they had to be goldsmiths. She was associated with miracles and fertility. Into the 18th century a women’s only shrine was kept to her in Kildare (meaning Church of the Oak) in Ireland. There, nineteen nuns tended Her continually burning sacred flame. An ancient song was sung to Her: “Brigid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom.”
Sources of information: The Megalthic Odyssey (a search for the Master Builders of the Bodmin Moor Astronomical Complex of Stone Circles and Giant Cairns) by Christian O’Brien, first published 1983 by Turnstone Press, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire ISBN 0-85500-188-7 The Sword and The Stone by Andrew Collins – first published 1982 by ABC Books, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex and 1983 by Earthquest Books, London, ISBN 0-9508024-0-9 The Green Stone by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman – first published 1983 by Neville Spearman (Jersey) Limited, Jersey, Channel Islands and 1984 by Granada Publishing Limited, London, ISBN 0-85978-060-0 Bega and The Sacred Ring (Restoring a Goddess Archetype) by Alex Langstone – first published 1992 by The Lantern Press, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex ISBN 0-9520048-0-1 Candlemas Customs & Lore by Selena Fox – a study guide from a work in progress
Modern-day people who honor the deities of the Celts look to Elen as their Celtic goddess of roads and crossroads. Her association with roads comes from the old Welsh tale, The Dream of Macsen Wledig. In this story the construction of Roman roads in Britain is attributed to her, not to anything the Romans may have done.
According to the tale, Macsen Wledig (Emperor Macsen) of Rome dreams of a mysterious court. An old man sits carving playing pieces out of gold, seated on an ivory throne. He is adorned richly with gold, and has an august demeanor. Two auburn-haired youths sit playing gwyddbwyll, the magical chess-like game for which the old man is carving pieces. They play upon a silver board with golden pieces, and they are dressed richly in black brocaded silk. Most astonishing of all, Macsen dreams of a maiden seated on a red-gold throne. Her face shines so brightly that to look at her is like looking at the sun. Her clothing, white silk beneath, gold brocaded silk above, and red gold, rubies, gems and pearls adorning her, complete her as the fairest sight to see among mortal women.
Awaking from his dream, Macsen is full of love for the maiden and will not rest until he finds her. Like the Irish god of love, Angus mac Og, he refuses food and drink. His advisors persuade him to send messengers out to seek the land and the folk he dreamed of, and the messengers, finally, come to the Island of Britain and the castle of Aber Seint, at the mouth of a river. Inside they find the old man, the youths, and the maiden, just as Macsen described.
The old man, it turns out, is Eudaf, son of Caradawg. The two youths are his sons, Cynan and Gadeon. Most importantly, the maiden is his daughter, Elen.
The messengers fall down in obeisance and hail Elen as Empress of Rome. They explain that the Emperor has seen her in his dreams, and will have no one as his wife but her. Elen graciously thanks them, but declares that if the Emperor wishes to marry her, he must come to the Island of the Mighty and do his own wooing.
The messengers hasten home to Rome and give Macsen the good news. Macsen rallies the hosts of Rome and sets out immediately for Britain, conquering it and driving its ruler, Beli ap Manogan, and his three sons into the sea.
Macsen arrives at Aber Seint for his first joyful meeting with Elen, his bride. They sleep together that very night, and Elen asks for her maiden price the next morning. She secures all three islands of Britain, plus the three islands adjacent, for her father, Eudaf. For herself she takes three strongholds at Arfon, Caer llion, and Caer Fyrddin.
Subsequently, Elen has the idea of building high roads from each stronghold to the other throughout the Island of Britain, and orders these roads made. Thus are they called the Roads of Elen of the Hosts, since the hosts of Britain would never consent to work so hard for anyone save her.
Macsen stays for seven years in Britain with Elen, and during that time a new emperor comes to power in Rome. Macsen returns to Rome, conquering as he goes, but cannot take the city itself until Elen’s brothers, Cynan and Gadeon, arrive with their much smaller army and their greater cunning.
Building ladders of a precise height to scale the city walls, the brothers eat a feast in the morning, and drink until they are full of courage. The two emperors take their feeast at mid-day, calling off hostilities at that time. The Britons seize their opportunity, swarm over the rampart, slay the new emperor, and subdue Rome to their will. Macsen and Elen ask the brothers if they may have the city, which they agree to give them.
This story is clearly based on the historical conquest of Britain, and on the Celtic conquest of Rome by Brennus in 390 B. C. E. It is altered, though, to center upon the Celts and confer upon them Roman greatness