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I have a rather strange relationship with music. I don’t listen to it for leisure very often and tend to feel that, like tobacco, it is overused in our culture to a point where it’s significance is lost. In the not too distant past, music was not something you could acquire in abundance or carry in your pocket. It was something that required skill and learning and was always live. It drew communities together, preserved ancient lore and had a powerful emotional, physical and spiritual effect on people. I realise there were plenty of rowdy bar songs too! Yet still I feel that by overexposure to music we become insensitive to it these days, and that is a great loss. Of course I’m probably in the minority with this opinion.

This song is an adaptation of  Gabhain Molta Bhride, which I have posted previously, and includes lyrics sung in both Irish and English by the group Triniti. I think it is a beautiful and moving adaptation and I even appreciate the new English lyrics which complement the Gaelic ones.

While I don’t agree with a lot of this slideshow information (or the appropriation of other’s artwork without credit) I’m posting this particular version because of a quote by the poster of the video:

“On the 19th of May 2011 Queen Elizabeth II visited Kildare.
Locals were shocked when the Royal party stopped at the
Shrine to Saint Brighid (Brigid), and THE
QUEEN STOOD IN REVERENCE BEFORE BRIGHIDS
STATUE AND BOWED HER HEAD TO BRIGHID!
Big thank you to Breda Murphy (native of Kildare) for the information.”

I would dearly love to find more reports of the Queen’s visit to the Cathedral, but while I can confirm she was in Kildare at that time, I can’t find anything about her visiting the Cathedral or paying homage to Bride. Please share if you can confirm this information!

Interestingly, while trying to find out about the Queen’s visit, I discovered that the Dalai Lama visited Kildare this year as well. I wonder if he visited her Cathedral too?

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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.

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.

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