In my previous post I mentioned Fiona Macleod’s assertion that another name for the Dandelion (Bride’s flower) was Dealan De. Well, I quite accidentally found a version of an Irish song, Deirín dé, which is about the very same thing.

From O’Sullivan, “Songs of the Irish”:

DEIRÍN DÉ

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Tá’n gabhairín oíche amuigh san bhfraoch,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Tá’n bunán donn a’ labhairt san bhféith.

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Geóidh ba siar le héirí an lae,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Is raghaidh mo leanbh ‘á bhfeighilt ar féar.

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Eireóidh gealach is raghaidh grian fé,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Tiocfaidh ba aniar le deireadh an lae.

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Leogfad mo leanbh a’ pioca sméar,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
–Ach codail go sámh go fáinne an lae!

I. The nightjar [lit. little goat of the night!] is abroad in the heather, The brown bittern speaks in the reeds.
II. Cows will go west at dawn of day, And my child will go to mind them in the pasture.
III. The moon will rise and the sun will set, Cows will return at close of day.
IV. I shall let my child go picking blackberries – but sleep soundly till daybreak!

Singable translation by Donal O’Sullivan:

Derreen day, derreen day,
The nightjar calls upon the heath.
Derreen day, derreen day,
The bittern booms the reeds beneath.

…Cows will go west at dawn of day, …
My darling will watch them lest they stray.

…The new moon greets the setting sun’s ray, …
Homeward the cows will wend their way.

…I’ll let my darling go gathering may, …
If he sleeps soundly till dawn of day.

Link to further notes and translations

Inspired by this enchanting song, I went off to do a little more research and found the following passage in the Carmina Gadelica:

“Dealan-De, butterfly, golden butterfly; lit, fire of God–‘dealan,’ fire, flame, lightning; and ‘De,’ God.

The golden butterfly is held sacred. It is said to be the angel of God come to bear the souls of the dead to heaven. If it beseen in or near the house where a person is dead or dying, the omen is good, and the friends rejoice. If it be not seen, a substitute is made by rapidly twirling a fire-pointed stick, moving the while from the dead or dying person towards the door or window. This is called ‘dearban De,’ ‘dealan De.’

The ancient Egyptians represented the soul leaving the body as a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, sometimes from the mouth of the dead.”

Whether there is any link to Dandelions and Bride or not, this is quite fascinating in itself.

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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.

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.

Brìde of the Mantle
Brìde of the Hearth
Brìde of the Golden Hair
Brìde of the Frìth

Brìde of the White Feet
Brìde of the Calmness
Brìde of the White Palms
Brìde of the Kine

Brìde of the Flocks
Brìde of the Well
Brìde of the Poet’s Song
Brìde of the Forge

Brìde of the Guiding star
Brìde of the Spring
Brìde of the Ashless flame
Brìde of the Dawn

Brìde of the Girdle
Brìde of the Cros
Brìde of the People
Gabhaim Molta Brìde!

Adapted and added to by myself from the Carmina Gadelica, verse 263. Please do not reproduce without permission.

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

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

May Brigit give blessing
To the house that is here…
Brigit, the fair and tender,
Her hue like the cotton grass.
Rich-tressed maiden,
Of ringlets of gold;
Both crest and frame,
Both stone and beam;
Both clay and wattle;
Both summit and foundation;
Both window and timber;
Both foot and head;
Both man and woman;
Both wife and children;
Both young and old;
Both maiden and youth.
From: The Sun Dances  Prayers and Blessings from the Gaelic, Alexander Carmichael

Reul-iuil is the Gàidhlig (Scots Gaelic) name for the North Star, Polaris, which for centuries has guided sailors and travellers abroad and home again.  Reul-iuil Bride is the star worn by the Goddess or Saint Bride, over her heart.  When the Brideog (Bride-doll) is made, a small ornament, shell or rock crystal is put in this place, and is called the star of little Bride.

The image of Bride as the guiding star, who lights the darkness and shows us the way with her eternal flame is an image which has become so dear to me that I decided it a fitting name for this small shrine-journal, which I hope to fill with little tributes to her, pieces of lore and poetry.

My personal connection to Bride has quite recently begun, but I feel so strongly about her that I wanted to find a way to contribute something to others who have also felt her call and the warmth of her flame. There are already some wonderful sites available, with well researched and referenced articles, on Bride (also called; Brigid, Brigit, Brighid.. I use the Scottish variant by personal preference) and I have placed links to a few of these in the side bar to the left.

What this site will be, I can not yet say, but I hope to express a more personal story of my own connection to Bride. My religious path is Polytheistic/Animistic, with an inclination towards Scottish folk practice. I have a great respect for proper historical research and referencing and the attempts of Celtic Reconstructionism, and something of an allergy to Neopagan and Wiccan themes. That said, much of what is found on this site is likely to be UPG, which I value equally without expecting others to recognise.

As Bride presides over the hearth and the heart-flame of the house, may she welcome you to mine, where I hope you will find even a glimpse of the light and warmth she offers.

References:  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