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This exquisite painting depicting the Goddess Brigid (Bride) is by Helena Nelson Reed. It is probably one of my favourite contemporary images of her, for it’s intensity and the detailed symbolism Helena has used.

The painting is titled after the folk etymology of her name(1), and features arrows rising from her brow. The image is like a mandala, with layer on layer of meaning. The longer you look at it the more you see. I like that land, sea and sky are all represented as well as sun, moon and stars. Some of the more Bride specific symbols depicted are snakes, flame/candles, swan(2), wand/staff, mantle and the reuil-iuil Bride. It includes colours often connected with her, white, blue, green and flames of gold to red(3).

I think what strikes me as most significant about this image is the sense of rising motion, of things growing and reaching up to the light. Helena has captured the very feeling of the reawakening of life in springtime.

If you would like to purchase a print of this image, or see more of Helena’s amazing artwork you can find her Etsy store here: Helena Nelson Reed. Thanks to Helena for giving me permission to feature her artwork here.

1. Breo Saighead “the fiery arrow” a folk etymology found in Sanas Cormaic, but considered very unlikely by etymologists. The generally accepted etymology is ‘Exalted One.’ Reference.
2. The swan as a symbol of Bride seems to be SPG but I will write about this in another post.
3. The colours associated with Bride are also largely SPG, except for white (and possibly gold) which is referenced in folklore.

Some of the only works of fine art we have depicting Bride are by the enigmatic Scottish artist, John Duncan. He was involved in the Celtic Rival movement of the early 20th century, and collaborated with figures including William Sharp (Fiona MacLeod) Patrick Geddes and singer Marjory Kennedy-Fraser. What little we know of him shows him as a mystic painter, who heard Faery music while he painted and was inspired by the old Celtic tales, both Christian and Pagan.

St. Bride, painted in 1913, depicts the Saint being carried by angels from her bed to the Holy Land to attend the Birth of Christ. She is often given the title Foster Mother of Christ in Scottish sources, and has been described in several stories linking her to the events in Bethlehem. Of course, as she was born several centuries later in Ireland, there had to be some explanation as to her travels through time and distance.

The Coming of Bride, painted later in 1917, is my favourite of his images (as you can probably tell from the banner of this site.) It has more in common with his Celtic Mythology inspired works, and while the figure in this painting could also be seen as the Saint, I feel she is Duncan’s representation of Bride of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Here Bride is shown at the beginning of Spring, bringing flowers and sunlight to the land. She is dressed all in white and has bare feet and is surrounded by her loving people who welcome her. Of particular interest I find the lady in the far left, dressed in a cloak and knitting something white on her red needles. Could she be the Cailleach Bheur? The Winter Queen, who has been linked with Bride in more recent interpretations of their myths.

There is another painting by Duncan of a woman on fire, which I have often seen attached to descriptions of Bride. It should be noted however, that this painting is titled Semele, and is a depiction of the Greek Myth. An almost identical image is found in a group of characters in Duncan’s The Masque of Love.

Duncan was also known to have been involved with designs and illustrations for stained glass windows and other projects. While searching for images, I came across this:

Which looks to me like a tapestry, it is labelled St Bride and has three initials in the lower right corner, possibly ‘S.M.A.’  Whether this was based on a design of Duncan’s or inspired by his work, it is certainly an interesting depiction of the infant saint, you may notice the angel is waving a dandelion puff over her crib, the flower most associated with Bride.

John Duncan painted largely in Tempera, a medium used prior to the discovery of Oil Painting which uses egg yolk as a base. Tempera paintings are famously long lasting, and often associated with religious iconography.

Resources: Ossian, Sonority and the Celtic Twilight in Geddes’ Circle, Athenaeum Gallery, Wikipedia Bio

Kilmeny

Bonnie Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu' the cress-flower round the spring;
The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hung frae the hazel tree;

Kilmeny, James Hogg