It's February 1, 2023 and for the first time in history, the Republic of Ireland will celebrate a new official holiday in honor of a female Saint: Brigid's Feast Day, taking place on Imbolc--an ancient fire festival marking the midway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Today's festivities honor the beginning of spring, the beginning of the sheep mating season, rebirth, fertility and purification. Bonfires, lamps and candles will be lit, corn dolls made in the image of Brigid, St. Brigid crosses woven from reeds (pulled, never cut), singing, dancing and feasting. It is a joyous celebration in honor of the Goddess and Saint, bringing light into the dark of winter.
Brigid the Goddess
The ancients often ascribed creation to female deities as “the bringers of life”. Such is the mythology of one Celtic version of creation. The great Goddess, Danu and her opposite sister Domnu feature prominently in myths of ancient Ireland and the titanic struggles for domination of “The Island of Destiny”, Inisfáil.
When the earth was new and without form, the time of the great void, the Goddess Danu caused a trickle of water to become a great torrent upon the hot and dry earth, cooling the molten rock into giant granite mountains and the earth to become fertile. From this grew a great tree, “Bile”, a massive oak from which two huge acorns fell. The first produced the good God Dagda and the second, Brigid, the exalted one.
From these two the children of Danu began to populate the earth. Meanwhile, Damnu created a race to inhabit the Island of Destiny. As the children of Danu populated, they spread across the land naming great rivers after their great mother Goddess, Danu (such as the Danube River, still named after her today).
Dagda became the father of the Gods while Brigid became the wise one, mother of healing, poetry, animal husbandry and civilization. She taught her children to gather wisdom at the water’s edge from Bile, the sacred oak. But since Bile was so sacred, they were not permitted to say his name so they called the oak “Draoi” and those who obtained this knowledge were called Druids.
As the children of Danu grew in numbers, Brigid instructed them to travel to the Island of Destiny but warned them of her sister’s people who were like her opposite sister. The Tribe of Danu, “Tuatha Dé Danaan” struggled for control of Inisfáil and there are tales of great battles, heroic warriors, deceit and betrayal. Brigid, Goddess of fire, provided guidance and assistance during these trials which so endeared the people to her that they established an eternal flame* on her sacred Hill of Kildare. This flame was tended by only women for thousands of years and it continuously and miraculously produced no ash.
When St. Patrick arrived in 432 CE, this flame was still being tended and he took no exception to it. A sacred well nearby where St. Brigid’s faery cow would later drink was also well respected and thought to be imbued with magical healing properties.
The flame was continuously maintained even following the establishment of a monastery by St. Brigid and her 19 nuns. Each nun would attend the flame for one day and on the 20th, St. Brigid herself would attend it. Not until the 16th Century was the flame extinguished by order of a Protestant King.