Bridget and Bridget (and possibly also Bridget)
In case you hadn’t guessed, and if you haven’t it’s on you ‘cause its all in the title, this weeks article is going to be about Bridget. St Bridget yes but also her close relative, Bridget the Goddess. I say close relative, more like her other half, crossed with her twin sister, crossed with her great great grandmother.
This, undoubtedly, sounds confusing, and you’re right it is. Don’t worry though! It’s not quite as complicated as it might appear!
As February is Bridget’s month, given that February 1st is her feast day, lets finish of the month by diving into her background a little bit.
Bridget the Saint, and her exploits, are fairly well known. The patron saint of Kildare, breweries, and midwifery she was said to be the daughter of a chieftain who spurned marriage in order to lead a religious life. Many of her stories involve conversion to Christianity, including the story of the St. Bridget’s Cross.
St. Bridget was called to the bedside of a chieftain who was close to death. Knowing that this may be her last chance to convert the man she hurried to his side. The chieftain had heard of the stories of Jesus and the promise of Heaven after death. He begged Bridget to tell him these stories and convince him that being baptised a Christian was the way to enter Heaven. Bridget sat by his bedside but realised that, in her haste to get there before the chieftain passed, she had forgotten her crucifix. So, while she told him stories from the life of Jesus, she gathered rushes from the floor and began to craft a cross with them. As she came to the end of her telling she held up the cross to the chieftain and explained its significance. With that he was convinced and converted and so died and went to heaven.
The exploits of St Bridget are well known to every primary school child in Ireland, but she has existed for a lot longer than most of those stories.. Before she was a saint she was a goddess. She was born the daughter of the Dagda, the father-figure and chieftain of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people who would later become known as the fairies.
It gets a little complicated here though, as she wasn’t one goddess, she was three goddesses. A triple goddess.
What is a triple goddess you ask? Well the most well known version is the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone triad, as seen in Greek mythology with the likes of Hebe, Hera, and Hecate.
Triple gods and goddesses appear worldwide, from Hindu gods, throughout the Greek and Norse pantheons to, of course, Celtic religious practices. The most famous Irish example is the Morrigan, which includes Badb, Macha, and Nemain. The Morrigan is a warrior queen, who is the three goddesses rolled into one, working in tandem with one another and often appearing as, or represented by, a crow.
Similarly, Bridget is sometimes split in three, or combined into one, depending on how you look at it. Simpler than the Morrigan though, all three were known as Bridget. Bridget the poet, Bridget the healer, and Bridget the blacksmith. It is debatable whether these three were all aspects of the one or all sisters with the same name, and this changes depending on what source you look at. So is she a goddess, fairy, or saint? Or all three? Lets take a closer look.
As a goddess she has dominion over fertility, craft, spring, domesticated animals, and women in childbirth. Being the Dagda’s daughter meant that she was closely associated with plentiful food and provisions. She drank milk from a magic cow as a child and, as a result, when she grew older she was always surrounded by plentiful food and was able to milk cows that were otherwise dry.
As a more mystical or magical “fairy” deity, she was the wife of Breas. Breas was a king, part Tuatha Dé Danann, and part Formorian (think giant magical pirates.) Again, she was the daughter of the Dagda, but the stories around her marriage are quite different than the ones she is most known for. For instance, when the king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Nuada, loses his hand, it is Bridget who declares that he cannot rule because he is no longer “unblemished,” so her husband Breas the Beautiful becomes the king. This didn’t actually turn out too well as Breas was cruel and domineering and actually ended up enslaving her father, the Dagda. This seems out of character for the Bridget that we know, and this story may have something to do with her being re-cast as chaste in later stories.
As a saint Bridget is most often referenced as a daughter of a pagan chieftain, named as Dubhthach, and of Brocca, a Christian baptised by St. Patrick. Her father was none too pleased at her choice of life but, despite him, she went on to found a monastery in Co. Kildare. Speaking of said monastery, there is an interesting story about that where she bargained with a wealthy land owner, who wouldn’t give her land to build a church. She reasoned with him that he should at least give her all the land that her cloak could cover, to which he agreed, but when she laid her cloak down it began to grow to a huge size and he had to concede all of the land it covered to her. After that, of course, as most Christian stories end, this led to his conversion.
So how did she come to change so much? And how has she survived this long? Well the long and short of it is we don’t know. What we do know though, is that in each incarnation Bridget is a fearless and bad-ass woman, who does not listen to what any man has to tell her. She champions art and craft alike, and is a force for healing and protection. In short, she’s pretty cool, and we can all learn a little something from her.
This is but a brief overview of all of the forms Bridget, Bridget, and the third Bridget took throughout Irish folklore, religion, and mythology. There is so much more to her than I could even begin to look at here so get out there and find out more about this fascinating figure this February! It is her month after all.
Five things you didn’t know about St./Goddess Bridget
- She invented keening Keening is a type of crying, singing, and almost competitive mourning unique to Ireland. Women at funerals will ‘keen’ in order to show just how sad they are about the death of their loved one and to prove that they are the most sad. Bridget invented this when her son, Ruadhan, was killed in battle
- She can cure warts In Rathbride in Co. Kildare there is a large stone, said to originally have been the base of a cross marking the corner of St. Bridget’s land. There is a hollow at the top of it in which water gathers. Place a wart-afflicted limb in this water and St Bridget will heal the wart.
- Her mother was Scottish Early Christian biographies of Bridget name her mother as Brocca, a Pict slave of the King of Leinster, Bridget’s father. The Pict were a Scottish tribe in the Iron Age and Medieval periods. Not much is known about them, but it was said that Brocca was converted by St. Patrick.
- She shared everything with her best friend Darlugdach was St. Bridget’s favourite pupil, best friend, and successor. They shared a bed, a feast day, and a, though one year apart, a death date. Interestingly the name ‘Darlugdach’ means ‘daughter of Lugh’ who was the god who killed Bridget the Goddess’ husband Bres.
- Bridget performed the first recorded abortion in Ireland Being associated with midwifery, healing, and women’s health seems to have included terminating pregnancies. In 650 AD a biographer of Brigid, Cogitosus, told the story of a young woman who had broken her vow of chastity and fell pregnant as a result. The young woman went to see Brigid, who took care of the problem:
Brigid, exercising with the most strength of her ineffable faith, blessed her, caused the fetus to disappear without coming to birth, and without pain.