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To those in the Northern hemisphere, I hope you had a wonderful Lá Fhéile Bríde, Imbolc or St Bride’s Day, however you chose to celebrate. I too decided to celebrate on this day, although I am in the Southern hemisphere in a part of the world where the seasons are out of alignment with all of the Gaelic festivals. It is an issue I’ve been struggling with for many years, for celebrating Lá Lúnasa at the moment seems just as out of place, given that Summer is only just beginning. So, I asked Bride to give me some sign if she wished me to honour her feast on the eve of February 1st, and she obliged by unexpectedly getting everyone out of the house so I was free to honour her in privacy.

It was too hot to bake, so I gave offerings of milk and some very nice shortbread, as well as a new beeswax candle. I sained the house, each corner of each room with silvered water, inviting the blessings of Bride on our house, and made a simple bed for the small wooden doll of Bride that resides on my hearth-shrine year round. Next year I would like to weave a proper bed for her and perhaps a cros too, if I can get a hold of some decent material.

I have an open fireplace, but do not burn wood in it so in place of ashes I sieved some flour on the black hearth for divination in the morning. Last thing before bed I went to the front door and invited Bride in, whispering in to the night with my hands on the door jambs.

When I woke in the morning I took the offerings outside, bathed my hands and feet in the tiny amount of dew that had collected on the lawn, and returned to the hearth to look for signs of Bride’s visit. Sadly, there were no marks from her staff or feet, by I did find a single, golden hair curled in a perfect ringlet on top of the flour. Perhaps she did visit after all?

How did you celebrate Bride’s feast?

** When I wrote this I forgot to mention that I celebrated not on February 1st/2nd but a week before on the Gaelic New Moon (first crescent) which is tied, in my tradition, with the beginning of a new month.

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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!

The Rites of Brigid: Goddess & Saint by Sean O’Duinn

I really loved this book. As an overview of the traditions and rites associated with St. Bride in Ireland, and speculation of their pre-Christian origins in the cult of the Goddess this exceeded my expectations.

Friar O’Duinn who lives at Glenstal Abbey in Ireland gives an academic and unbiased description. He compares the various components of the rites on St. Brigid’s day in Ireland to the cults and festivals of other saints to show what was quite normal in the veneration of a saint, and what was clearly influenced by other beliefs. I particularly liked his assertion that both the Brideog procession and the Threshold rites on St. Brigid’s day symbolise Bride’s return from the Otherworld, something not generally appropriate for Saints who tended to remain in Heaven. I see this as a very good argument for their being derived from earlier traditions.

Of perhaps the greatest value are the many first person descriptions of the rites he has collected from various Irish sources and translated in to English for the reader. These pieces show how the rites varied by locality and are worth the price of the book alone, whether or not you get value from O’Duinn’s speculations.

One of my few peeves with this work is the occasional reference to a Goddess as ‘the fertility goddess’ or ‘the mother goddess’ without specifying which one is meant, as the Celts clearly had several. However references of this kind were few and far between, so it’s certainly readable despite this.

I also took issue with some of his speculation, such as his comparing the symbolism of the Cros Bride with the lozenge and dot found on some ‘goddess’ figures in central Europe. Likewise, while I support his pet theory, that the Celts had a ‘Purusha’ type creation myth, I think he goes too far by suggesting that the rushes used to form the Brideog then being pulled apart to make Cros Bride is a form of mythic dismemberment.

Overall this is an excellent work and I would definitely recommend it to anyone as a solid source book for the traditions and rites surrounding La Fheile Bride and Bride’s wells in Ireland. It is useful in a practical sense for those wishing to reconstruct the rites and as a starting point for meditations on the symbolism of the many aspects of our beloved Bride.

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.

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.

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