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The Pagan Goddess Brigid, or the Christian Saint Brigid


St. Brighid

The Goddess Brigid
a.k.a. St. Brigid of Kildare, Brigid of Ireland, “Brigit”, “Bridget”, “Bridgit”, “Bríd”, “Bride”, “Mary of the Gael”, or “Naomh Bríd”
As a Saint and Actual Living Person: St. Brigid – c. 451 – 525 C.E. (A.D.)
Goddess of Poetry, Magic, Healing, Smith craft, Learning, Common People, Flocks/Stock/Yield of the Earth, and Inspiration.
Patron Saint of Ireland along with Saint Patrick and St. Columba. Early Christian Nun, Abbess, and Founder of several Monasteries.
Holiday: February 1st as “Saint Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Imbolc, or Oimelc.

“As the Goddess: ” Throughout Europe, especially in England and Ireland, was the Pagan worship of the Goddess Brigid. She was the Goddess of Poetry, Magic, Healing, Smithcraft, Learning, Common People, Flocks/Stock/Yield of the Earth, and Inspiration. She is identified in Lebor Gabála Érenn as the Daughter of Dagda and a poet; a half sister of Cermait, Aengus, Midir, and Bodb Derg. In the Cath Maige Tuireadh she is responsible for inventing keening while mourning as well as the whistle used for night travel. Her British Counterpart Brigantia was the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena. She is also the Goddess of all things perceived to be of higher dimensions such as high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts, upland areas, activities depicted as lofty or elevated such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, healing, Druidic knowledge, the home, the hearth, and skills with warfare. When the Celts came to Ireland in 500 B.C.E. they brought with them the Druidic religion. Druidism was polytheistic with many Deities who interacted with humanity for good and for bad. It was a common practice for various Deities to be assigned to certain regions or places where a cult site would be established. One was established, as early, if not earlier than, 500 C.E. in what is now known as Kildare. The shrine and cult was dedicated to the Goddess Brigid. In the Celtic cosmology, the chief God was The Dagda Mor (God of musicians, magic) who ruled over the people of Dana (the Tuatha de Danann or the Faerie folk). Dana was the Mother of Irish God/desses. She was also associated as “Brid” the “Poetess” which is identified with the Goddess “Brigantia” who ruled over the Brigantes – a powerful Celtic tribe in North Britain. Brigantia ruled over water and the rivers – the Brighid in Ireland, the Braint in Wales, and the Brent in England. “Brid” meant “exalted one”. She is often referred to as a “Triple Goddess” – the Three Sister Goddesses named Brid: (1) Goddess of poetry and traditional learning; (2) Goddess of the Smith’s Art; and (3) Goddess of Healing. Through time, these three Goddesses and their attributes were merged into one figure – the Goddess Brigid. With the coming of Christianity, Paganism became absorbed and purposely phased out by the mainstream populace until eventually it was not tolerated. The Gods and Goddesses of old were diminished down to the same rank as faeries, angels, Saints, and royalty. Many of the ancient Gods and Goddesses were converted to Christian Saints by the Catholic Church as a means to dissolve Pagan belief systems. In Christian times she was converted to a Saint, after the actual St. Brigid of Kildare.

    Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach
    Ni bu huarach im sheirc Dé,
    Sech ni chiuir ni cossena
    Ind nóeb dibad bethath che.

    Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
    Nor was she intermittent about God’s love of her;
    Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for The wealth of this world below, the holy one.
    ~ Saint Broccan Cloen

“As the Saint and Historical Person:” St. Brigid was the “Mary of the Gael” and only second in popularity to the people of Ireland next to St. Patrick. She was primarily associated with Kildare, the Curraugh, and the whole region of the Liffey Plain known as “Magh Life”. St. Brigid was born to Dubtach or Dubhthach, the descendant of Con of the Hundred Battles, a Pagan Chieftain of Leinster; and to Brotseach or Brocca, A Christian Pict of the house of O’Connor who was a slave baptised by St. Patrick. St. Brigid was believe to have been born somewhere between 451-458 C.E (453 most common) at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Some accounts state that Dubhthach, her father, was from Lusitania and kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave in the same regard as happened with Saint Patrick. Her mother, Brotseach, was also believed to be a slave of Dubtach who was sold off shortly before Brigid’s birth to a Druid who lived at Faughart a few miles from Dundalk. Apparently much of this regard in her life affected Brigid’s views on things, especially with the concept of people being property.
Dubtach, her father, and his family, were natives of Leinster and Fr. Swayne, the late Parish Priest of Kildare, who claims they were from Umaras between Monasterevin and Rathangan in County Kildare. She was baptised in the Christian faith under the name of “Brid” or “Brigid”. Legend has it though that she was weaned on the milk of a white red-eared cow, the color of the beasts of the Tuatha De Danann. Through her life Brigid was especially kind to the people she encountered and was notorious in legend for miracles to be associated with her. One legend tells of her as a child in charge of the dairy by her mother that she gave away so much milk and butter to the poor people where they lived that none was left for her family. She knew her mother would be furious so resorted to prayer. As an answer to her prayers, when her mother visited the dairy she found an abundance of milk and butter. She was also known to be a lover of animals and had many tales of her kindness to stray and starving dogs. In childhood she supposedly encountered St. Patrick. Supposedly she was brought to hear him preach and when she listened to him she fell into ecstasy. She was so dedicated to charity, taking care of common people, healing the sick, and her faith that when she reached marriage age, she instead decided to dedicate to religious life. Pagan lore states she was one of the guardians of the Sacred Flame and Shrine of the Goddess Brigid in Kildare.

Christian tales tell of her leaving home with seven other young girls and traveling to County Meath where St. Maccaille the Bishop resided. The Bishop was hesitant to instate the girls because of their young age into the order. During prayer, it was here that they experienced a column of fire that reached the roof of the church resting on Brigid’s head. The Bishop gave the veil to the eight young girls upon hearing of this miracle. St. Maccaille’s Church was on Croghan Hill in County Westmeath and it was here that St. Brigid founded the first convent in Ireland which attracted many ladies of nobility as postulants and it was here that Brigid and her sisters completed their novitiate. After completion, they journeyed to Ardagh where they made their final vows to St. Mel, the Bishop of Ardagh and nephew of St. Patrick. Brigid founded another convent here and remained for 12 years. At the Bishops request, she sent sisters to various parts of Ireland to establish new foundations including herself. As St. Brigid traveled around Ireland, she visited with St. Patrick when he was preaching at Taillte or Telltown in County Meath to obtain his blessing. Throughout her travels she conducted blessings and miracles along the way gaining Sainthood. The Leinstermen knew Brigid was from their province and constantly asked for her to return home amongst them and was offered any site in that province. She decided to make her foundation on Druim Criadh near the Liffey in what eventually grew into Kildare. She chose a spot on the ridge of clay near a large oak tree and decided to build her oratory beneath its branches. Purportedly there was already a Shrine to the Goddess Brigid here. The new foundation prospered and grew quickly. Girls from all over Ireland and even abroad came to St. Brigid’s foundation to join the community. The foundation was named after the “Church of the Oak” or “Cill Dara” which evolved to modern day Kildare. The poor, the afflicted, the sorrowful came to Kildare for Brigid’s healing, advice, and guidance.

Besides a church, Brigid built a small oratory at Kildare which became a center of religion and learning and developed into a Cathedral city with two monastic institutions, one for men and another for women with St. Conleth appointed as spiritual pastor for both of them. She also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination that St. Conleth presided over as well. From this was produced the “Book of Kildare” which was praised by Giraldus Cambrensis as having every page fantastically illuminated with interlaced work and a harmony of colors that it was the work of Angels and not of Humans, but it has long since vanished since the Reformation.

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The Curraugh

The Curraugh
Near Kildare and Naas, Ireland

It is said that in 480 C.E. Saint Brighid came to the area to found a monastery in Kildare and had approached the King of Leinster and asked for land for the poor and on to which to build it. He laughed a her and told her that if she lay out her cloak, whatever space the cloak covers is hers to keep. She laid out her magical cloak and thus claimed almost 5,000 acres of land in County Kildare which is known as “The Curraugh” (a.k.a. “An Currach”). It is a flat open plain that is common land for the Irish. It is used for Army maneuvers, Irish Horse breeding / training, horse racing, sheep herding, and public recreation. Ireland’s largest Fen, the Pollardstown Fen is also located here. There are many rare species of plants that grow on the Curraugh so it is a hot spot for botanists and ecologists. The Curraugh also has a sandy soil that was formed after an esker deposited a sand load on it thereby creating excellent drainage characteristics. In early Irish history, the Curraugh was a central point for legends and lore for thousands of years. The hill north is called the “Almhain” or “Hill of Allen” where the mythical Fianna used as a meeting place. The Fenian tales talk of much mythology here. The Curraugh is littered with prehistoric ruins, ring burial-mounds, and the Race of the Black Pig which may have been an ancient cattleway. In 1234 C.E. Richard Marshal, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke lost a battle here against a group of men loyal to King Henry III of England, he was wounded, and died at his castle at Kilkenny the same year. The Curraugh was also a common site for the mustering of the armies of the Pale. They held a Rebellion in 1798 here that resulted in a massacre of 350 unarmed United Irishmen at Gibbet Rath. This location is now where the Curraugh Camp is hosted where the Irish Defense Forces train. On March 20, 1914 the Curraugh Camp saw an incident called the “Curragh Mutiny” while the Camp was the main base for the British Army in Ireland. As in 1912 the Liberal coalition British governmen of H. H. Asquith had just introduced the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland which proposed the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. Numerous Unionists objected to the inclusion of potential rule by the proposed Dublin Parliament and founded the Ulster Volunteers paramilitary group in 1912 to fight against the British government if necessary on this point. In 1913, Lord French and Henry Hughes Wilson with a number of senior officers expressed concerns to the government that the British Army would find it difficult to act against the Volunteers since they were all there to defend the British Empire. To combat this the Curraugh base commander Sir Arthur Paget was ordered by London’s War Office in March 1914 to start preparations to move troops to Ulster in order to deal with any violence there that might break out by occupying governmenet buildings and to repel any assaults by the Ulster Volunteers. He misinterpreted his orders from a precautionary deployment to meaning an immediate order to march against the Ulstermen. At this point he offered his officers the choice of resignation rather than fighting this battle. 57 out of 70 of the Officers, mostly Irish unionists resigned or accept dismissal rather than enforce the Home Rule Act of 1914. When Paget reported this to London. This caused Asquith’s Liberal Government to back down claiming an honest misunderstanding and the men were reinstated and the Army would not be used to enforce the Home Rule Act. A month later, the Northern Irish Ulster Volunteers covertly landed about 24,000 rifles at night in the “Larne gun-running” incident without discovery or arrest. This event led to Unionist confidence and the growing Irish separatist movement convincing nationalists they wouldn’t have Army support in Ireland which in turn increased nationalist support for the Irish Volunteers and a growing concern for an Irish Civil War. The Home Rule Act was dropped after the start of World War I. The plains were also used to film the battle scenes in the film “Braveheart”. A famous Irish song called “The Curraugh of Kildare” is dedicated to the plains.

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Saveok Water Archaeological Site (Cornwall, England)


Saveok Mill Archaeological Site

Saveok Mill Site
Greenbottom, Cornwall, England * http://www.archaeologyonline.org/index.html *

A small local farm in Greenbottom, Saveok Mill has placed itself on the archaeological map when resident Jacqui Wood discovered very curious archaeological features in her backyard when clearing the ground for a metal-work furnace on her land as one of her experimental archaeology projects. The current property, as “Saveok Mill” or now “Saveok Water”, is in its current evolution from the 17th century as a standing farm or community of 5 houses that once housed occupants who had worked at the local mill. When Jacqui Woods moved onto the property as her new home, little did she know what laid beneath her feet but none-other but an Archaeologist’s fantasy. Jacqui Woods, one of the world’s authorities on Prehistoric Cooking as well as Experimental Archaeology, who was also the consultant on the 1991 world famous discovery of the “Ice Man” could not believe her eyes with what she was uncovering. Since discovery, she has been excavating the finds at Saveok for at least the last 8 years. Jacqui has turned Saveok Mill into a Center for Experimental Archaeology, as well as home to archaeological field school sessions run and operated by herself. I first heard about the site in Archaeological Institute of America’s “Archaeology Magazine” article on the Cornwall Witches. Having been a subject of speciality for my graduate work research on the study of modern day Witches – this article struck a cord of harmonization within me as a means of continuing my research. I was extremely excited to visit this site that was revealing amongst the world’s first evidence of ritualistic practices of this nature all in one place. I made arrangements to visit with Jacqui in June of 2010.

Nestled in a sheltered river valley in Mid Cornwall England appears to be a ritualistic site that has been utilized as such for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The site dates from the Mesolithic (7,000-3,500 BCE) upwards to the 17th century of the Common Era (C.E.). Exposed in a trench along the south facing peak pank on the bend of the river between two shallow lakes were revealed Mesolithic remains ranging from evidence of dwellings, stone tools, and lithics. There are also well-preserved Animal Hoof prints along what was once the river or lake bed shoreline. Through time, this entire site was purposely covered over with various clays to make the river bank a suitable place for dwellings through the years. In an area that Jacqui Wood (excavation director and site manager) has labelled “A/2” there has been found the first phase of the site that is believed to be the Mesolithic dwelling platform (approximately 8,500 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era)) which is covered by a dense green clay floor surrounded by stony yellow clay in which stake holes were found to support the dwellings were driven. The next site phase determined appears to be a Neolithic ritual area was a series of Spring pools that may have been utilized as ‘purification pools’ or ‘sacred wells/springs’ through the ages. This natural spring line were large rectangular pools stone-lined with white quartz cores. As of this writing, there are at least two such pools on the site. Patterns of the stone lining, pool contents, and the seasonal filling of the second pool appears to have religious or ritualistic usage. Both of these features are very unique in Cornish archaeology – the only other such find was under the Maeshowe monument in Orkney that had a similar stone lined drain. The next phase of the site appears to have had ritualistic use by means of offering pits (upward of 35) primarily swan-feather lined with imported pebbles or additional elements in them that date from the late 1500’s to the 1640’s onward. Use of such offering pits during a period of turmoil in England when Cromwellian Puritans destroyed much of pre-Christian Pagan England along the countryside would not only have been extremely dangerous to practice, but simply unheard of for the time period as the practice of witchcraft often led to a death sentence. These offering pits are believed to be evidence of Cornwall Witchcraft practice throughout the ages. While lineage or written evidence for the site is lacking, the remains are vast and tie into much of the lore, practices, and belief systems utilized by Paganism in the area – standing as the most common-sense theory at this point in the investigations. These practices may or may not have been done by the former 17th century residents who built the dwellings that currently exist on the site. But some of the offering pits were certainly dug during their occupation. Ethnographic discussions with locals suggests that some of the land’s residents, the Burnett’s, were reputedly witches. Since anti-witchcraft laws were in place since 1541, their participation in these activities would have definitely remained hidden, for at this time the King James version of the Bible at the time declared into law that “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live“. [Exodus 22:17] The stone-line spring may have been utilized as a ‘holy well’ by these residents as well as its prehistoric use as such. The spring was packed full of ‘offerings’ dating to at least the 17th century including 125 strips of cloth from dresses and clothing, as well as pins, remains of a cauldron, cherry stones, human hair, shoe parts, imported heather branches, and nail clippings – all very commonly used offerings to sacred springs and wells. Modern day applications of these elements can be found existing in sacred wells and springs throughout the Cornish landscape today. Pins and cloth are common offerings to wells. Heather branches are associated with luck. The scraps of clothing could potentially have been remnants of ‘clotiers’ that are found around most of the wells throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland perhaps from a tree that was alongside the spring or just offered into the pool directly. (see modern example in article on “St Madron’s Well” located 25 miles from this site) This Well and/or Spring had sometime after the time of Cromwell had been filled in and destroyed in order to hide the practices that were taking place on this site since at least Neolithic times. The death penalty for the practice of Witchcraft officially ended in 1735 and by that time, evidence of this ritual site was covered over, and later residents of the site would have not been aware of what lie beneath.

The presumed ritualistic “offering pits” are generally 40 cm sq. x 17 cm depth earthen dug pits that were primarily carefully lined with the intact pelts of a swan and other bird remains such as claws and beaks from different species. Some of the pits had other animal elements including pigs, dogs, and cats. One was lined with the skin of a black cat and contained 22 eggs – all with chicks close to hatching, as well as cat claws, teeth, and whiskers. Another had a dog skin, dog teeth, and a baked pig jaw. Another pit had a mysterious 7 inch iron disk with a swan skin on one side and animal fur on the other. Based on ritualistic comparisons from Celtic Paganism, Witchcraft, Santeria, and Voodoo – such offering pits are common practice for fertility spells, sacrifice, and magical intentions. The abundant use of swan feathers, suggest fertility in this case, and based on local folklore could have been offering pits to the Goddess Brigid (now the Catholic St. Brigid) as per interviews with local witches and folklorists determined due to Brigid’s association with swans and fertility magic. According to local folklore and beliefs – the swan feathers associated with fertility were possibly offered her to promote conception. If conception took place – then 9 months later the person would return to empty the pit. This is the current explanation for some of the empty pits that were found. Some of the pits also contained leaf parcels of imported stones that have been traced to Swanpool Beach which is approximately 15 miles away from the site – a area famous for its population of swans. Not only were these practices at this time dangerous because of Cromwell, but the act of killing a swan would have been risky throughout English history as swans belong directly to the Crown. In addition within these feather pits were found over 57 unhatched eggs ranging in size from bantams to ducks that were flanked by the bodies of two magpies. Magpies are birds very tied to Cornish folklore and also seen as taboo to be utilized in such a way. These organic remains had incredible preservation on this site due to the Spring’s water-logged ground and mineral content. Radiocarbon dates of some of the swan feather fits date to 1640. The cat pit dates to the 18th century and the dog pit dates to the 1950’s. The combination of the holy well/spring, remains of the cauldron, ritual offerings to the well, swan feather lined offering pits, and other ritualistic evidence strongly suggested that this site was a ritual place for Cornish Witches. If this is the case, then Saveok Mill serves as one of the world’s best examples of sites of this kind since much of Witchcraft practice through the ages prior existed only in witches bottles and remains found in Salem, Massachussetts in the New World. Much of this fabled history, ressurrected by modern day Witches or continued by family tradition witches in the local area, has been buried in secrecy and buried underneath intentional cloaks of mystery. Until the modern era of the practice, written records of this religious movement and/or practice was next to non-existent.

In addition today for Saveok being a Archaeological Center and Site, as well as a training ground for future archaeologists, the location also serves for the groundbreaking launch ground for a number of Experimental Archaeology projects. Jacqui Wood through the last several years has been working on developing a re-created Iron Age village with roundhouses, kilns, and structures to explore into the lifeways of past. During my visit in June of 2010, I participated in their current project in Construction of an Iron Age Round House.

More photos and parts of the site:

More Pictures and Story to come …


remnants of cloth from the Spring/well

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