To celebrate her new novel, Once a Goddess, author Sheila R. Lamb discusses some of her inspirations, including the two incarnations of Brigid of Ireland. Follow along with Sheila’s virtual book tour this week for more unique content about Once a Goddess!
Synopsis of Once a Goddess: For the sake of peace, Brigid of the supernatural Túatha de Danann enters into an arranged marriage with Bres, the prince of the enemy, and casts aside her own hopes for happiness. Set in a time when myths were reality, Once a Goddess brings the legend of the Ireland’s magical Túatha dé Danann to life…
St. Brigid’s Day: Pagan and Christian
Brigid: Goddess, druid, saint. Saint Brigid’s day has numerous meanings and goes back to pre-Christian times. In ancient Ireland, pre-Christian and pre-Celtic Ireland, Brigid was Goddess. Daughter of Dagda, wife of Bres, sister of Fodla and Banba. She was known as the one who blessed the ewes, the one who spoke poetry, the one who cried laments.
The Catholic Saint Brigid is considered to be patron saint of blacksmiths, infants, and poets, to name a few. In various versions of Catholic hagiography, Brigid is patron saint of many more aspects. Which Brigid is celebrated today? It all depends. Traditional Catholics will honor the day of Saint Brigid, the druid-raised woman from Fotharit who converted to Christianity and ran a nunnery in Kildare. Stories about her vary. For instance, most say she was converted and ordained by Bishop Mel. Other stories point her conversion to Saint Patrick. Almost all the stories recognize Kildare as under Brigid’s influence, though some pagan resources believe the nunnery actually began as a druid school.
Those who are in the pagan realm will celebrate Imbolc on the first of February. This is the mid-point day between winter solstice and spring equinox. The specialties of both versions of Brigid intertwine. The stories encompass both versions of Brigid, pagan and Catholic. Both are associated with Candlemas, lactating ewes, milk cows. Both were considered to be a friend to the farmer and friend to the poor. Saint Brigid is believed to have died on February 1.
Brigid of Imbolc was celebrated with light, as days grow longer toward spring. Others in the Imbolc tradition might keep candles lit for the bringer of light, one who brought life into the dead of winter (qtd. Condren 58). Known to be goddess of ewes and of cows, bowls of milk and butter are set out in traditional households for the spirit of Brigid who may pass by in the night. In Catholic belief, Brigid celebrated light with her perpetual flame at Kildare. A St. Brigid’s cross woven from grass or rushes symbolizes the Christian cross.
Brigid of Ireland is a blend of pagan and druid beliefs. It’s possible her pre-Christian mythology carried over into Christian hagiography. It’s hard to say where the line divides. Which of these is Brigid of Catholic belief? Which is of pre-Christian, pre-Celtic, pagan?
Though documentation is scarce about Brigid, Irish myths, traditional stories, and Church hagiographies tell us she did exist. Light candles, read poems, set out the milk and butter. Welcome the lengthening of days as the earth turns toward spring. No matter which belief is celebrated at the beginning of February, Brigid will be there.
Sheila Lamb received an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. Her stories have earned Pushcart and storySouth Million Writers Award nominations and can be found, along with a few photographs, here. She’s also the journal editor for Santa Fe Writers Project. Sheila has traveled throughout Ireland and participated in the Achill Archaeology Field School. She loves Irish history, family genealogy, and is easily distracted by primary source documents. She lives, teaches, and writes in the mountains of Virginia. Once a Goddess is the first book in the Brigid trilogy.
Bitel, Lisa. St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess (2001). Ohio State
University, Monastic Matrix. Web. 1/19/2015.
Condren, Mary. The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic
Ireland. New York: Harper Collins, 1989.
Grattan-Flood, William. “St. Brigid of Ireland.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New
York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 19 Jan. 2015
“Cross & Crucifix: St. Brigid Cross.” Cross & Crucifix: St. Brigid Cross. Web. 19 Jan.
“Saint Brigid of Ireland.” SaintsSQPNcom RSS. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.