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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?

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.

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