“I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.” ~ St Brigid of Kildare
The color green, and the shamrock, do not really belong to St. Patrick and the festivities associated with this saint. They were ancient symbols appropriated by the Catholic Church in its effort to eradicate the worship of ancient goddesses in particular and paganism in general. Ireland is certainly known as the “emerald isle,” but green is the color of the Earth, and the three leaves of the shamrock form an ancient symbol of the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother & Crone, or wise elder. Although legend claims St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the male trinity, the three-fold deity was far older, by thousands of years, and was a symbol of the Divine Feminine. It’s sad that instead of a mighty goddess of healing and returning light, we think of drinking green beer. The shamrocks I wear today honor the Goddess with the wearing of the green.
Brigit, or Brigid, the “exalted one” or “bright one,” is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish myth as a member of the Tuatha De Danann, the people of the goddess Danu, a Celtic race of gods. They were believed to live on an “island in the west” and to have perfected magic. Brigid is associated with fertility, healing, poetry, and the craft of metalsmithing. Cormac’s Glossary, written in the 10th century by Christian monks, says that Brigid was “the goddess whom poets adored” and that she had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith. This indicates that she was originally a triple goddess archetype.
Medievalist Pamela Berger says, “Christian monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart, St. Brigid of Kildare.” Both goddesses and saints are associated with holy wells at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands. Tying pure white wool cloths next to healing wells and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brigid still occurs in some Celtic lands. This ancient goddess was so powerful and revered by the Celts that she was brought into the Catholic pantheon as a beloved saint.
Brigid’s festival is February 2, Imbolc, the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It is a pagan festival that celebrates the return of life after winter. Imbolc is one of the four major Celtic “fire festivals” that are the midpoints between the equinoxes and solstices. Christians call the feast of St. Brigid Candlemas and a ritual of candles as sacred flames are lighted. In a dim reminder and insulting echo of its symbolic power, we now call this date Groundhog Day.
St. Brigid, like the goddess, is associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by nineteen nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. Giraldus Cambrensis and other chroniclers reported that the sacred flame at Kildare was surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die, or be crippled. One is tempted to see poetic justice. The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally occurring eternal flames is a feature of many ancient traditions, including the Greek Hestia and the Roman Vesta.
Some researchers believe that St. Patrick was a fictional figure loosely based on a Roman priest. The legend that he banished snakes from Ireland is yet another reference to the wisdom of the Divine Feminine, often symbolized as a serpent, that the Church drove underground as the patriarchy rose to power. However, Ireland is one of a few places on Earth that does not have native snakes, but that is believed to be a result of the last Ice Age.
Thanks to the efforts of heroic researchers and scholars, this knowledge is being rescued from the past. Knowing our true history empowers us. Although I prefer to find my inspiration from an ancient and powerful goddess, I can also hearken to the wise words attributed to St. Brigit of Kildare in the quote above, and I think the goddess would agree. As women increasingly find our voices and our power, balance will be restored on our planet.
Copyright 2017, Julie Loar
About the Author: Julie Loar is the multiple award-winning author of six books and dozens of articles. She is an international teacher and scholar of myth and symbolism. Her latest book, Goddesses For Every Day: Exploring the Wisdom & Power of the Divine Feminine Around The World, , published by New World Library, is available from booksellers everywhere. She has traveled to sacred sites around the world, researching the material in her books and teachings, and each year she leads a tour to Egypt. Her popular astrology feature appears in ATLANTIS RISING magazine.