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Georges de La Tour 049 Many who honour Bride choose do so by burning a flame in her name; whether it is the fire on the hearth, the cooking stove or a candle on the shrine or altar. There are many Brigidines who are part of flame keeping orders, and this means burning a flame continually on a day set aside for reverence and prayer.

We often choose candles for our devotions, as they create less mess and smoke than a wood fire or brazier, and are easy to light and incorporate in to simple daily practices. However I think it is important to consider the type of candle you’re using, and whether it is really the best one for honouring Bride and for your own health.

Most of the candles we buy in shops are made from paraffin wax, a toxic bi-product of the petroleum industry that is then bleached with further chemicals and gives off harmful fumes when burnt.

A recent alternative to this are the popular Soy or Palm oil candles, which are cheap and burn for longer than paraffin. Unfortunately, they are not so good for the environment, as land all over south east Asia is currently being cleared to grow the plants that produce these oils.

From a Re-constructionist perspective, neither Paraffin nor Soy candles are historically accurate. The oil most commonly burned in European history would have been tallow, or animal fat, with Beeswax reserved for those who could afford it. Now, Beeswax candles, while still the most expensive on the market, are much more affordable to most of us and I believe they are the best choice in any spiritual practise, and as an offering to Bride are ideal.

Why?

  • Beeswax candles actually help purify the air in the rooms they are burnt through ionisation
  • Beeswax burns with a slight honey scent, surely a better offering than burnt petrol?
  • Beeswax burns longer than any other wax and is ideal for flamekeeping and vigils
  • Beeswax burns with a more golden flame than other waxes
  • Beeswax candles were traditionally brought to church to be blessed on Candlemas day
  • The higher cost of Beeswax makes it a more valuable offering than cheap paraffin
  • By buying locally made Beeswax you are incorporating something of the land in to your offering
  • You can safely make Beeswax candles yourself and show your devotion through crafting them especially for this purpose
  • While Bride herself may or may not be associated with Bees, she is associated with the flowers they make the wax from, the process of purification, the golden colour and traditions of Candlemas day, which falls the day after her own feast

I invite you to try burning a pure beeswax candle for your next vigil, or to honour Bride on a festival day. You will be surprised at the difference and may find it hard to go back!

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To explore the colour symbolism of a deity, we must put aside a few modern biases and assumptions. I have had the opinion expressed to me before that the colours of Bride, described as her white skin and golden hair are superficial and unimportant. I can understand this from a modern perspective, where we associate such things with vanity or even racism, but I do believe that anything important enough to be preserved in lore and prayers for centuries is worth looking at and likely to be significant on a symbolic level.

Bríde, being a Goddess primarily associated with fire is often linked in modern thought to the colour Red. In fact many modern artists give her Red hair too, which is further linked to her Irish dominion. However this is something I’ve begun to question in my studies and work with her. To begin with, is red really the colour of fire? It is only one of the colours in fact, with shades of gold, blue, purple and white also present in flames. In fact the hottest flames are white. I do wonder if our idea that red is the primary colour of fire could be a fairly modern one, and the ancestors may have considered yellow/gold or white to be it’s true colour.

The reason I consider this, is because of the little recorded lore we have of Bríde, albiet after her assimilation with the saint of the same name, she is linked with the colours Gold and White repeatedly.

Carmina Gadelica Vol 3. Page 365 Night Shielding Verse “And Brigit, the fair and tender, Her hue like cotton-grass, Rich-tressed maiden, Of ringlets of gold.”

The above phrase appears again in a House Blessing chant in The Sun Dances Prayers and Blessings from the Gaelic, Alexander Carmichael, which I have previously posted on this blog.

Carmina Gadelica Vol 1. Page 277 Herding Blessing

“And of the milkmaid of the soft palms,
Bride of the clustering hair golden brown,
And of the milkmaid of the soft palms,
Bride of the clustering hair golden brown.”

In less scholarly sources, Bride is described as having golden-brown hair in The Coming of Angus and Bride (1917) by Donald Alexander MacKenzie, and as having long golden hair in Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts (1900)

Additionally, the flower for which we have the most evidence of connection to Bríde is the Dandelion, which turns from gold to white. The foods given to Bríde include milk (white) and butter (gold) due to her connections with cattle and the dairy. In the sources we have describing the Brideog it is often dressed in white cloth, and the reeds woven in to the cros Bride are golden when dried. The more one looks, the more connections one finds between these colours and the Goddess/Saint.

Conversely, I have found no great connections in the lore between Bride and the colour red. The only one that has been pointed out to me is the Oystercatcher, Bride’s bird, which is Black, White and Red in colour.

Of other interest is the colour of Bride’s mantle, which I have yet to find any description of in lore, other than being ‘bright.’ John Duncan paints it white, but it is also often represented as blue or green, both in modern Pagan and Christian iconic art. This article is a fascinating exploration of the possible colours of Bride’s mantle.

Why is this of any significance? Because it allows us to evaluate other connections and associations to Bride in a different light. One might be more inclined to research the connection between Bride and a certain tree, flower or animal if it reflected the colours associated with her. Likewise one can meditate on the symbolism of these colours to uncover further mysteries of Bride, our bright lady of the white palms and golden hair.

There is a sentence I keep coming across in articles and mentions of Bride, it is this:

“Brigid possessed an apple orchard in the Otherworld; bees traveled there to obtain magical nectar.”

If you google ‘Brigid apple orchard’ you will find this copy and pasted on countless websites, with some slight variations. However for the life of me I can not find a source for it anywhere. Although many of these web sites state that it is mentioned in a Gaelic folk song, I have found no such song as of yet.

The only connection I’ve dug up is this tiny mention of Bride’s feast in Ireland:

“St Brigid’s Eve was the time to save apples for the last night of January when old fashioned griddle apple cake was made. In some places this was known as St Brigid’s tea.” source

There is a lot of lore attached to Bride in modern times that has actually been borrowed from the myths of other, less popular Goddesses and spirits so it is no surprise to find something like this floating around. One of my favourite such attributions is that white trefoils spring up in Bride’s footprints, which is actually taken from the Mabinogion where this attribute is given to Olwen.

This idea that both Bees and Apple Trees could be connected to Bride is a very interesting one, although at present I remain sceptical of it’s origins. Apple Trees have a huge body of lore in Celtic myth and Bees come with their own powerful folklore. The reason I am so curious is a bit of UPG about a goddess in an orchard, which has been with me a long time now, far before my connection to Bride was born. I would love to hear anyone who knows a legitimate source for Bride’s bee-beloved Apple Orchard!

There are many plants and animals associated with Bride both as Goddess and Saint. However a distinction needs to be made between those traditionally associated with her, and more modern suggestions. I will attempt to describe the possible origins and symbolism behind these connections, whether new or old. Today I will look at trees and flowers often mentioned in connection with Bride.

Kopie von DSCN0097

Dandelion
The bearnan Bride is traditionally one of the floral symbols of Bride, having a Gaelic name connecting it with her. Bearnan is the plural form of Bearn, which means a notch, gap or crevice. Presumably this indicates the toothed shape of the Dandelion’s leaves, which are also said to give it the English name, meaning ‘lion’s tooth.’ I have heard two explanations of it’s connection to Bride, that the yellow flower resembles the sun (Bride being considered a Solar goddess by some sources) and that the milky sap and presence of the flower in fields links it to St. Bride’s connection to the dairy and cows.

Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp) calles the Dandelion – am dealan Dhé (flame of god) in his essay, St. Briget of the Shores. This is the only reference I’ve found thus far to that name for the flower, but interestingly Norman MacLeod’s dictionary gives us this meaning of Dealan Dé: The appearance produced by shaking a burning stick to and fro, or by whirling it around. It is also a yellow butterfly.

The Dandelion as a herb, is one well respected by healers for it’s diuretic and tonic properties. It purifies the body via the urinary system, and as a salad green is highly nutritious. In this it may be linked to Bride’s healing aspect as well as the purifying nature of her fires.

Galanthus nivalis close-up aka

Snowdrop
The Scots Gaelic names for the Snowdrop are bláth shneachdaidh (snowy blossom) and gealag láir (white mare or white earth?) Neither of these bears an obvious connection to Bride, so I assume the association comes from the time they bloom, as some of the first flowers of spring, around Bride’s feast day in early february. In Alexander MacKenzie’s story, The Coming of Angus and Bride, the ‘princess’ Bride is given a bunch of snowdrops by Father Winter which she shows to the Cailleach, telling the winter hag that her reign is at an end. It is however, believed that the Snowdrop is an introduced species in Scotland.

Symbolically, the Snowdrop is interesting because it has six tepals (not petals) three larger external tepals and three small internal ones. Three is perhaps the most significant number in Celtic religious belief, and is connected with Bride in her description as a triple goddess of crafts (smithing, poetry and healing.. not mother/maiden/crone.)

Lawn daisy

Other early spring flowers
Bearing in mind Bride’s connection with the first signs of life in early spring, we can imagine that Bride may be connected in some way to other flowers that bloom first in Scotland and Ireland. Among these are the primrose, who’s English name means first-rose, indicating it’s early blossoming. Also possible is the daisy, which can flower as early as January in the Western Isles. The name of this flower is from the Old English ‘day’s eye’ and it’s Middle Latin equivalent is ‘sun’s eye.’ Clearly there is a solar connection in this flower’s symbolism.

English Oak - geograph.org.uk - 1194077

Oak
Oak is often listed as a tree sacred to Bride. I believe this stems primarily from Kildare, the abbey of St. Bride in Ireland, which is believed by some to also be a site of pre-christian worship to her. Kildare comes from Cill Darre, or Cell of the Oak. Cill in Irish place names usually indicates the presence of a church, no doubt the abbey founded by St. Bride. There is believed to have been a significant Oak tree in the area, after which the community took it’s name. Oaks are certainly important in Celtic religious belief, but we can only speculate as to the connection of the Kildare oak to Bride’s cult.

Silver birch on Copythorne Common - geograph.org.uk - 207628

Birch
Another tree associated with Bride in modern times is the Birch. Popularly considered to represent beginnings and early growth, this may be due to the fact that the birch is one of the first species to repopulate land that has been cleared or burnt by fire. The name is believed to derive from the IE root bherəg, “white, bright; to shine.” The only reference to Bride and the Birch that I have yet to find is Carmichael’s description of the wand or staff that is placed with the Brideog. He says:

“This wand is variously called ‘slatag Bride,’ the little rod of Bride, ‘slachdan Bride,’ the little wand of Bride, and ‘barrag Bride,’ the birch of Bride. The wand is generally of birch, broom, bramble, white willow, or other sacred wood, ‘crossed’ or banned wood being carefully avoided.”

Rowan - geograph.org.uk - 218424

Rowan
As far as my research has uncovered, there is no direct link between the Rowan tree and Bride. Despite this I often see it listed beside her with the explanation that it’s red berries represent her flame. However there seems to be very little lore to even suggest the colour red was associated with Bride, her flame is more often described as ‘gold’ at least in the Gaelic prayers that mention her. That said, Rowan was clearly a very important tree to the Gaelic peoples, and was popular in Scotland as a protective wood to ward off Witches and Fairies. Crosses were made from Rowan and Red thread and branches of it were brought inside the house at certain times of the year.

Alchemilla vulgaris

Lady’s Mantle
This article suggests the herb Lady’s Mantle may have originally been connected to Brigid before it was associated with Mary. While this is just speculation, it is certainly a plant which grows in Britain and Ireland and has some interesting features such as it’s collection of dew, something the brat Bride would also have done when laid out on Lá Fhéile Bríde.

On my small Hearth-shrine I have a linen cloth which I’ve embroidered with floral motifs in each corner: a dandelion, snowdrops, an acorn and oak leaves and a bunch of early spring flowers (primrose, daisy, violet.) In the centre is a cros Bride woven from thread. I also keep a tiny glass vase filled with flowers or greenery, whatever is in season, and both of these serve to remind me of Bride’s role in the seasonal changes, and those woods and wildflowers she loves best.

References: A Modern Herbal: Dandelion. Western Isles Wildflowers, Other references linked within text.

The Cros Bride is the symbol par excellence of St. Bride of Kildare and is also widely accepted and made for Her festival by those who honour Her in polytheistic traditions. I would like to look at both the traditionally recognised symbolism of the Cros and muse a little on other possibilities.

The story of St. Bride and the cross is commonly referenced in connection to it’s Christian symbolism. St Bride, at the death bed of her pagan father made a cross from the rushes strewn on the floor and with this explained the passion of Christ to him, thus converting him before he died. Although the Cros Bride is usually equal armed, unlike the traditional Christian Cross, it is worth noting that the Celtic Christian Cross is also often portrayed as equal armed enclosed by a circle. Whether the Cros predates the Saint or not, it must be recognised that for many the symbolism of the Cros Bride would be intrinsically linked to Christian theology.

If we accept that the tradition of weaving Cros Bride is in fact pre-Christian* then there are other possibilities. It may be that the traditional form of the Cros was in fact the three armed variant, which has been recorded also by folklorists, and that the four armed variant was an adaptation to Christianise the tradition. Scholars have also speculated that the four armed ‘swastika’ cros is based on a Pagan solar symbol, Bride often being given solar attributes. Indeed, the swastika symbol is present across Europe and India in decoration and religious symbology, and has been found in celtic art, such as the Battersea Shield.

I am now going to propose two alternate symbologies for the Cros. The first is in connection with Bride’s role as a hearth goddess. The Hearth is traditionally the centre of the Celtic household. It was even physically the centre in earlier dwellings and traditional houses, some of which survive today. The four directions were also widely recognised by Celtic tradition, particularly in Ireland where they form not only the four quarters and provinces of the country: Connacht, Leinster, Ulster and Munster but also the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann which were brought from the four island cities. I do not propose that the the directions were recognised in a ritual form, as in Neopaganism, but simply that the number four was very much attached to the land and that the directions were recognised in pre-Christian Irish cosmology. With this in mind, I consider it possible that the Cros itself is a cosmological symbol, representing the four provinces and directions, and Bride’s place as the flame at the center. Likewise in the microcosm of the house, where she is present in the hearth which radiates her warmth and light to the four corners of the building.

My other pet theory, which is mostly UPG, is that the Cros is in fact, a Star. The only evidence I have to back this up, comes from Carmichael’s notes in the Carmina Gadelica:

A similar practice prevails in Ireland. There the churn staff, not the corn sheaf, is fashioned into the form of a woman, and called ‘Brideog,’ little Bride. The girls come clad in their best, and the girl who has the prettiest dress gives it to Brideog. An ornament something like a Maltese cross is affixed to the breast of the figure. The ornament is composed of straw, beautifully and artistically interlaced by the deft fingers of the maidens of Bride. It is called ‘rionnag Brideog,’ the star of little Bride.

A Maltese cross is an equal armed cross, and woven from straw would be rather similar to the Cros Bride I imagine. That Carmichael records this being used to symbolise the rionnag Brideog, where the Scottish custom uses a rock crystal or shell, suggests to me the possibility that the Cros Bride is in fact the Reul-iuil Bride.

Reul-iuil is the Pole star, the North star which stays fixed in the night sky while all the other stars rotate around it. This is the guiding star, which leads sailor or traveller north through the darkness of night. It forms a steady flame, a central point and is one of the brightest stars in the sky. The ‘swastika’ type of Cros Bride depicts movement, the arms indicating rotation like the blades of a windmill, or the procession of stars around the pole star. Reul-iuil is the hearth of the night sky, or as Ella Young calls Bride in Celtic Wonder Tales; O Shepherd of the StarFlocks.

Resources: Brigid Cross Varieties, Brigid’s Cross, Four Jewels, Talam – Earth, Carmina Gadelica

* Something I have yet to see any conclusive evidence of, but which I would like to research more.

I praise to Brigid
She is praised in Ireland
She is praised in all countries
Let us all praise her
The bright torch of Leinster
Shining throughout the country
Head of Irish youth
Head of our gentle women
The house of winter is very dark
Cutting with its sharpness
But on Saint Brigid’s Day
Spring is near to us in Ireland

This is the most exquisite performance by Claire Roche, I wasn’t able to find the Gaelic lyrics to the song sadly but they are lovely even in English. While trying to uncover the meaning of the song title I came across some fascinating connections in words with the root ‘gabh’ … now this is coming from someone who does not speak a word of Gaelic, but this Irish-English dictionary lists the following definitions:

gabha: a smith
gabhal: burning in to a flame
gabhar: light, illumination, comfort
gabhlaim: (to) spring, shoot out
gabhluigim: sprout, shoot forth
gabhuin: a calf

Now, I’m hardly qualified to conjecture, but it seems the root word ‘gabh’ (gav) has meanings involving smiths, fire, sprouting of plants and young animals (particularly hooved animals) as well as being the mundane verb for ‘receive, accept, take.’ Very exciting to a Brigidine for obvious reasons.

Edit:  I’ve found the Gaelic lyrics at this wonderful site.

Bride (Brigit, Brighid, Brigid,) is one of the most popular and well loved dieties of Celtic polytheism, she is also one of the three patron saints of Ireland, and is beloved still in the Gaelic speaking countries. I have known of her, and her flame keepers at Kildare for some time, and yet only recently felt drawn to study and follow her, but why? How does the call of Bride come, she who’s voice awakens the world from slumber, bell-bright and harp-clear? What draws myself, and others, like moths to her ashless flame?

It is possible that there has always been more than one Bride, both as a Saint and Goddess, there is evidence to show she was honoured differently by tribes and peoples of various regions. It is common in any religion, for a diety to have diverse aspects and sometimes contradictory traits. With this in mind, it is easy to see one aspect of a diety represented in a certain way, and feel no connection to them, whilst another aspect can be both inspiring and delightful to the seeker.

The Brigid that I was aware of, however vaguely, was a firey Irish woman. Flame haired and powerful, a little intimidating and weilding the Blacksmith’s tools or acting as Midwife. A Mother Goddess, or a Warrior Goddess in the guise of Brigantia. No doubt this is still the image that many find attached to her name. It is one I can respect, but do not feel drawn to.

Instead I found myself searching, in that gentle way which we only realise after we have found what we are looking for. I was searching for a diety who I could only think of as being a little like the Virgin Mary, but somehow different, whole in herself without Father or Child. I have never been a Catholic and so was hardly looking to replace this figure of the feminine devine, and yet it was the closest I could come for a while to what I was seeking, until I discovered the Scottish aspect of Bride.

Admittedly, the image that first called to me was not in any historical source or myth (there are few that mention her, and none recorded in Scotland from pre-christian times) it was instead in the inspired story by Donald Alexander MacKenzie, part of a collection called Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, “The Coming of Angus and Bride.” How much of this tale was invented by MacKenzie and how much he borrowed from oral lore, I do not know, but it was his description of Bride as the goddess of spring, and the details which reflect the Brideog (Little Bride doll) reported by Carmichael, which formed the first glimpse I had at a different aspect of Bride.

“As swiftly as the bright sun springs out from behind a dark cloud, shedding beauty all round, so swiftly did Bride appear in new splendour. Instead of ragged clothing, she then wore a white robe adorned with spangles of shining silver. Over her heart gleamed a star-like crystal, pure as her thoughts and bright as the joy that Angus brought her. This gem is called “the guiding star of Bride “. Her golden-brown hair, which hung down to her waist in gleaming curls, was decked with fair spring flowers–snowdrops and daisies and primroses and violets. Blue were her eyes, and her face had the redness and whiteness of the wild rose of peerless beauty and tender grace. In her right hand she carried a white wand entwined with golden corn-stalks, and in her left a golden horn which is called the “Horn of Plenty”.” 1

This adoring portrait may seem flowery at first, but there is some evidence in folklore to back it up. The white robe, the star and the wand are all attributes given to the Brideog in the Carmina Gadelica. The blossoms she wears in her hair are early spring flowers and the corn stalks and cornucopia link her to the abundance of nature, in providing the very bread we eat, something which is reflected in the legends of St. Bride who had, it seemed, an everlasting larder.

This story opened my eyes to a different Bride, the Maid of Spring, the Morning Star, the bright and gentle flame of the hearth. Perhaps more in line with the Saintly legends than the Neo-pagan idea of a pan-celtic mother goddess which I found so unappealing. Further research and contemplation drew me to new conclusions, Bride as protectoress of home and livestock, Bride as healer and spinstress, muse to poets and priests. None of these ideas are new, but they show the diversity of her aspects. There is a simplicity, a purity and a warmth to this image of Bride, which I find hard to put in to words, knowing only with my heart that this is the face she wants me to see, and is perhaps the one my Scottish Ancestors turned to from time to time.

“Bride is said to preside over the different seasons of the year and to bestow their functions upon them according to their respective needs. … Bride with her white wand is said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead Winter and to bring him to open his eyes to the tears and the smiles, the sighs and the laughter of Spring.” 2

Of course, it may be that there were many Brides and that attributing all of Her many aspects to the one Saint or Goddess is a modern affection. We know so little about the Gods of the Celts and the early lives of the Saints that scholarship falls short of a complete picture and we are left to pick through the pieces with Inspiration as our guide, hoping to uncover something of the true brightness of Her flame.

For me, this is the Call of Bride.

References: 1. Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 2. Carmina Gadelica

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