The Many Faces of Brigid .... and her White CowJan 27, 2024
Image credit : Kaye Maahs.
I remember as a child a large picture of Brigid with a white cow that hung in one of the bedrooms in our house.
When I lay in the bed underneath, I often found myself drawn into the image. Even now I can remember the details; Brigid's soft face, a Brigid's cross in her hand, the light green field and the very bony cow.
In those days, the mid 1970s, we learned about Saint Brigid, her cloak and her cross in school but there was never a mention of a white cow.
It was decades later before I met Brigid of the white cow.
February 2012 to be precise. My second retreat with Dolores Whelan, a true Carrier of Brigid's Flame on this land.
That weekend Dolores became my gateway guide into the more expanded wisdom of Brigid as Goddess, Saint, Druid and Holy Woman.
Brigid the pre-Celtic pagan Goddess and the Christian Saint appear to have morphed into each other over the centuries because the ancient myths were retold and christianised when the Christian scribes wrote them down.
In the legends of Brigid we cannot be sure where the Goddess ends and the Saint begins.
Many of the pagan qualities we now associate with Brigid come from the very strong folklore, traditions and the lived customs that were practiced in Ireland right up to the twentieth century.
The word Brigid means “exalted one”. The root of her name, Brí, comes from the Indo-European meaning for female divinity.
Below I offer a brief glance at the many faces of Brigid that I have encountered since that weekend with Dolores.
Saint and Goddess
As Goddess and Druid she was the daughter of the Dagda, a High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the early Gods/supernatural race of Ireland. As Saint, she was born in the 5th century, the daughter of a Christian slave mother and Pagan Chieftain father, Dubhthach. In Ireland she has been called Muire na nGael – Mary of the Irish.
Goddess of the Hearth and the Eternal Flame
Both as Goddess and Saint she and her priestesses/nuns were known as keepers of the eternal flame, a flame that did not burn or harm as long as those who tended it stayed in their integrity. The flame holds the power to purify, inspire and transform and often symbolises our Soul's highest path.
Patron of Healers, Poets and Blacksmiths
Brigid was Patron of the Blacksmith and the Poet who were both powerful figures in the Celtic society. The blacksmith worked with fire to transform metal, an archetypal symbol of alchemy. The vision poets were seers and truth tellers. When we invoke Brigid she will transform the base metal of our playing small into the gold of us living into the poetry of our Soul’s destiny.
Brigid is known as the Fiery Arrow, often depicted with flames coming out of her head. As the Fiery Arrow she represents the deep primal feminine energy of creation/inspiration with masculine energy of intention and volition.
Goddess of Holy Wells and Water
We find sacred wells of Brigid and Gobnait (another name for Brigid) all over Ireland. In the Celtic tradition water is used in ritual to purify. In Celtic mythology the well is a portal into the Otherworld, a place of magic, wisdom, abundance and harmony that exists along side the human realm. Women traditionally gathered at wells and bodies of water.
Brigid is often depicted as the white maiden, the young pure energy of Spring. Purification is a part of both the pagan Imbolc and the Christian festival of Candlemas. At Imbolc we speak of purification, not in the traditional sense, but to purify is to cleanse ourselves of the patterns that might take us off the path of our Soul.
Bringer of the Dawn
Brigid represents the energy of the dawn, of new beginnings, hope and possibilities. At the festival of Imbolc when we celebrate Lá Fhéile Bhríde, Brigid's Day, the days are lengthening, the light is increasing. Hers is the energy we invoke to ignite the creativity that will birth new realities.
Thresholder for the Liminal
In one of her legends, Brigid was born on the threshold of a doorway and at daybreak which is the threshold of night and day, As Saint, she had a Chieftain father and a slave mother. She can teach us how to be in liminal space and time, how to be in the liminal state of “the in-between”, how to navigate a threshold without moving out too fast. This is a vital feminine mode of power that is needed at a time between worlds.
Goddess of Fertility and Childbirth
Brigid is also depicted as an ancient fertility Goddess, a powerful force who revitalised the Earth with returning fertility.The great Brigid scholar Mary Condron suggests that Críos Bríde (see below) is a symbol of the birthing belt seen in many indigenous cultures. She was also known to help ease the pain of childbirthIn folklore it was said she attended Mary at the birth of Jesus.
She challenged the patriarchal power structures and according to Mary Condron “escaped the efforts to colonise the female spirit”. She defied her father who was part of the patriarchal culture when she refused to marry and instead followed her Soul’s calling to establish a convent. She was known to give away her father’s swords.
Manifestor of Abundance
Legend tells us she gave away food from her larder and found that each time it was replaced. In another famous myth, when she requested land to build her convent/temple from the High King, he offered only as much land as her cloak would cover. She agreed and with trust spread her cloak out and it magically expanded to cover acres and acres of land in the Curragh in Co. Kildare.
Brigid trusted that if she was doing the work of her Soul she would be looked after by a greater force (Spirit, God, the Mystery, Source, whatever term resonates for you). Her courage and conviction came from that faith.
And it is here in her aspect as Manifestor of Abundance I met the famous white cow.
The white cow with red ears is a symbol of Brigid's abundance that kept her and those she tended nourished and sustained.
Brigid's many faces offer us a myriad of doorways into the reclamation of feminine consciousness across the planet. I see her now more like like a diamond shaped oracle reflecting aspects the Divine Feminine(Water) and Divine Masculine (Fire) in her many facets.
She is accessible for anyone who wishes to invoke her powerful archetypal energies to guide us at this time of death and rebirth on the planet.
That is why she is so relevant today.
There is so much more I could say about Brigid...... of her cross, her cloak, her críos and all I am still learning but that is for another day......
On Saturday February 3rd, as part of Brigid's Festival Dublin, myself and Karina Tynan are hosting a workshop FINDING BRIGIT AT THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE in The Space Between. 2pm - 5.30pm. Karina will do a retrelling of
Image credit : Kaye Maahs. B'o Chluasach Dearg Bhríde - Brigid's Red Eared Cow