Brighid or St. Brigit?

The Roman Church has a penchant for laying claim to selected beliefs and practices of pagan religions and making them her own. For example, the German warrior god Wotan was morphed into St. Michael the Archangel and the Aztec earth-mother goddess Tonantzin became the Virgin of Guadalupe. Pope Gelasius changed the pagan celebration of Lupercalia into a feast honoring Mary's purification and that somehow was changed into a day to honor St. Valentine, though it had its origins in the Babylonian Mystery religion and actually honored Nimrod. Rome claims there is nothing wrong with adopting pagan things so long as they tack a Christian label on them,.

We need not shrink from admitting that candles, like incense and lustral water, were commonly employed in pagan worship and in the rites paid to the dead. But the Church from a very early period took them into her service, just as she adopted many other things indifferent in themselves, which seemed proper to enhance the splendour of religious ceremonial - Herbert Thurston, Candles, "Catholic Encyclopedia," © 2007 by Kevin Knight

Rome demonstrates an attitude that one can wink at practices offensive to Almighty God because by renaming them it is easier to seduce pagans into thinking they are Christians. Mama Church argues that it is okay to rename pagan things and then incorporate them into the Catholic understanding of Christian practice so long as our intentions are "good." T

What have you and I to do with maintaining our influence and position at the expense of truth? It is never right to do a little wrong to obtain the greatest possible good ... Your duty is to do the right: consequences are with God. -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1868, in a Sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle

What happens when a pope renames a pagan celebration and declares it now to be Christian? Does anything really change? Is God deceived? When a bishop announces that the high pagan deity of the Germanic people is really St. Michael the Archangel and renames all the hilltop temples and altars to honor the 'saint" what has he done? Well, he has lied for a start. Wotan, if he existed at all, would surely have been one of the demons who serve Satan. To declare that valiant Michael, who led the heavenly fight against Lucifer's rebellion, was really him is to both defame the archangel and give undue merit to the demon. To dedicate temples and altars to the worship of an angel is clear violation of the teachings of Scripture. Were the members of the German tribes changed? Likely they just continued to worship in the same old way (and we see those hilltop temples still being used today), only they called their deity by a different name.

Are people saved by believing lies? Not on your life! Are people saved by renaming their pagan deities so they can worship them as "Christians?" I don't think so. If I put a Mercedes Benz emblem on my Volkswagen, am I driving a Mercedes?

Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, - Colossians 2:18

Let us examine how a druidic earth-goddess became the Catholic patron saint of Ireland in another of those wondrous acts of religious morphology that Rome is so adept at. Long before Patrick found his way to the Emerald Isle, Celts were worshipping the triune goddess they called Brighid, or Brid, or Brig or Brigit or Bride or any one of a multitude of other names. Brighid has three natures: maiden, mother and crone. As maiden, she represents inspiration and poetry. Brighid the mother presides over midwifery and healing. The crone is in charge of the hearth fire, smithies and crafts. She is midwife to Spring and is honored at the druidic festival of Imbolc, which takes place on Candlemas, February 2nd. She also is goddess of agriculture, learning, divination, prophecy, animal husbandry, love, witchcraft and occult knowledge

In the legends, Brighid sometimes is called the 'Two-Faced One'. They tell us that one side of her face is dark and ugly, and the other white and beautiful. Each year, one can observe the "Mystery of Bride" in the transformation of the hag of winter into the fair maiden of Spring.

Celtic mythology hints that Brighid began life as a sun goddess. She is said to have been born at sunrise. A great tower of flame burst forth from the forehead of the newly born deity and reached all the way from the earth to heaven. She enjoyed messing around the blacksmith's forge, which led Romans to associate her with Minerva, their goddess of wisdom, the useful and ornamental arts and defensive war. As a warrior goddess, Brighid favored the use of the spear or arrow.

Because of her association with healing and midwifery, Brighid also presided over water as well as fire. The former Celtic lands are dotted with wells and springs either named after her or dedicated to her. The Celts presented offerings to Brighid by tossing coins or rings into the sacred waters. Other sacrifices were offered at sites where three streams came together.

As is to be expected, there are stories of miracles attributed to Brighid. One of them involves two lepers who went to one of her sacred springs seeking healing. The goddess told one man to wash the other. No sooner was this accomplished than the skin of the washed man was cleansed of disease. She then told cured man to wash the other, but he was disgusted by that one's condition and refused to touch him. Brighid washed the second man and he was healed. Upset by his lack of compassion, the goddess again afflicted the first man with leprosy before he could leave.

Brighid, who lives and works far underground, was honored in a perpetual sacred fire at Kildare. This fire was tended by 19 virgin priestesses called Daughters of the Flame, representing the 19-year Celtic "Great Year." Each day a different priestess had charge of the sacred fire and on the 20th day of each cycle, Brigit herself miraculously tended the fire. No male was ever allowed to come near it. These priestesses had nothing to do with men. Even their food and other supplies were brought to them by women of the nearby village. When Catholicism laid claim to Ireland, the shrine became a convent and the priestesses became nuns but the same traditions were held and the eternal flame was kept burning.

Brighid is interesting because she has retained a strong following among both pagans and Christians. Mythologists and historians alike believe Brighid was morphed into Christian saint Brigit because she was such a universally loved figure. After Europe was "converted" to Christianity, people continued to worship some of the pagan goddesses. A few of these, including Brighid, were brought into the Christian tradition.

An ascetic sanctity also flourished far to the west, in Celtic Ireland. Through the efforts of Patrick that land was converted to Christianity in the first half of the fifth century. Monasticism was quickly adopted along with the new faith and came to be the focus of Christianity in Ireland, recruiting large numbers of both men and women. The ideals of the Egyptian desert mingled with native concepts of holiness, such as the magical powers of the druids and the charismatic poetry of the bards. What emerged was a unique form of monasticism, especially severe in its ascetic rigor, but tempered by a boundless enthusiasm for the wonders of the natural world. On the plains of eastern Ireland, for example, a sanctuary dedicated to the fertility goddess Bríg was replaced by St. Brigit and the community which she founded at Cell Dara. The nuns served, like the priestesses before them, as custodians of an eternal flame. Another distinctive aspect of Irish monasticism was its itinerant character. In contrast to the continental tradition, where a fixed abode was the norm, many Irish monks and nuns undertook long pilgrimages in which they wandered from place to place spreading the message of the monastic life and of Christianity itself. - Thomas Noble and Thomas Head, Editors, Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Pennsylvania State University Press, (1994)

Catholic hagiography affords us few facts about Saint Brigit's life, explaining that, though there are many accounts (beginning a couple of centuries after her death), they deal mostly with alleged miracles and anecdotes, many of which are deeply rooted in pagan lore. She is said to have been born around the middle of the 5th century, likely of humble parents, but the most popular version makes her the daughter of a Celtic chieftain and his slave wife, both of whom were baptised by Patrick. Catholic saintlore declares that Brigit was a beautiful child who made a deal with the Lord that, if He would keep her mother from being angry because she had given away a whole pail of milk, she would give up her beauty. The Lord agreed and protected the child from her mother's anger, though He made her ugly. Later, when she consecrated herself to God, He restored her beauty. Doesn't that story bring to mind the Two-faced One?

Another Catholic fantasy concerning Brigit is that when she and a group of other virgins traveled to Telcha Mide to take the veil, Bishop Mel was happy to see them. Brigit, out of humility, held back so as to be the last to receive a veil. A pillar of fire rose from her head to the roof of the church (bringing to mind Brighid's birth). The Bishop was impressed and called her forward to be the first to take the veil and then read over her the form of ordaining a bishop. When rebuked for confirming a bishop's order on a woman, Mel supposedly replied, ""No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigid, beyond every (other) woman." Ever since, the men of Ireland have given episcopal honor to Brigid's successor.

Though reliable information is lacking, Roman hagiography claims she founded the first convent in Ireland at Kildare (originally Cill-Daire or 'church of the oak') sometime around 470 AD. Turning the shrine of Brighid into a convent was one of the ways the RCC sanctified the pagan by overlaying Christianity. The oak was sacred to the druids, and in the inner sanctuary of the Church 20 nuns maintained a perpetual flame, a religious symbol of the druid faith, as well as the Christian. Contemporary reports reveal the sacred flame was surrounded by a circle of thick hedges which men were forbidden to enter. For uncounted years, the priestesses of Brighid maintained the sacred flame and Catholic nuns continued the ritual for hundreds of years more until, in the Reformation, monasteries were dissolved.

When Ireland was Christianized, veneration of the Pagan Goddess Brigid was transformed into that of St. Brigit, said to be the human daughter of a Druid. St. Brigit became a saint after her "death" and was supposedly converted and baptized by St. Patrick. Pagan lore was incorporated into the Christian traditions and legends associated with her as a saint. For example, as St. Brigit, She had the power to appoint bishops and they had to be goldsmiths. She was associated with miracles and fertility. Into the 18th century a women's only shrine was kept to her in Kildare (meaning Church of the Oak) in Ireland. There, nineteen nuns tended her continually burning sacred flame. An ancient song was sung to Her: 'Brigid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom.' Brigid/St. Brigit was said to be the inventor of whistling and of keening. - Selena Fox, Candlemas Customs & Lore, © 1995 (1992 revised), Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

As a Catholic saint, there must be miracles attributable to her ministry. In an important synod of the Irish church, one of the bishops informed the assembly he had dreamed that the Virgin Mary would grace their gathering. When Brigid showed up, the bishop cried out, "There is the holy maiden I saw in my dream."

Brigid was known as the "Mary of the Gael" due to her legendary generosity. When sent to collect milk or butter as a child, she was said to give it all away. One account declares if she gave a drink of water to a thirsty stranger the water would miraculously be changed into milk. It was claimed she once gave a barrel of beer to a community and it was wonderfully able to satisfy 17 others. Many of her "miracles" involved multiplication. It was said that her cows gave milk three times in a single day in order to provide milk for a visiting bishop. One of the more strange miracle stories tells of how she changed her bath water into beer to satisfy the thirst of an unexpected clerical visitor.

Brigit is supposed to be buried at Downpatrick in Ireland, together with St. Colomba and Patrick, but her relics are scattered all over Europe. A jeweled tunic she was said to have been given by Gunhilda, sister of King Harold II, survives at Saint Donatian's in Bruges, Belgium. One of her shoes, made of silver and brass set with jewels, is at the National Museum of Dublin. In 1283, three knights took her head with them on a journey to the Holy Land. They died in Lumier (near Lisbon), Portugal, where her head is enshrined in a special chapel. One of her hands also has been preserved at Lumier since 1587, and there is another relic at St. Martin's in Cologne, Germany.

St. Brigit is the patron saint of Ireland, poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies. She is highly venerated in Alsace, Flanders, and Portugal (Montague), as well as Ireland and Chester, England. Pagan goddess Brighid is patron of inspiration, poetry, midwifery, healing, the hearth fire, blacksmiths, crafts, aggriculture, husbandry, learning, divination, prophecy, love, witchcraft and occult knowledge.

She is usually portrayed in religious art with a cow lying at her feet or holding a cross and casting out the devil. Her emblem is a lighted lamp or candle. She also may be depicted with a flame over her head, or with geese or a cow near her, or near a barn or letting wax from a candle drip onto her arm, or in the act of restoring a man's hand.

The pagan symbols associated with Brighid are: Fire - flames, candle crown, hearth; Water - cauldron, springs, wells; Grain - Brigid wheels, corn/oat sheaf Goddess effigy, Brigid's Bed; Creatures - white cow with red ears, wolf, snake, swan and vulture; and Talismans - Shining Mirror to Otherworld, Spinning Wheel and Holy Grail.

Though she, together with Patrick had remained the most popular Irish saint, she was decanonized in the 1960's in the wake of the Vatican II modernization. The reason given for firing her as a Catholic saint was that there simply was not enough proof of either her sanctity or even her existence.

The Roman church may have deprived Brigit of her sainthood, in a process which infallibly declared the infallible act of canonizing her by another infallible declaration by an infallible pope to have been fallible, but the Irish still love her. Like defrocked Christopher, Brigit lives on as a saint to many Irish Catholics. For those who worship the old gods, Brighid always has been alive and active, though in these times, formal worship is conducted primarily within wiccan and goddess-worshipping circles. Popular history records that, though the convent at Kildare was destroyed in the Reformation, nuns there have continued to protect Brighid's sacred flame. The destroyed shrine has been re-instated and today visitors might again travel to Kildare to view the eternal flame of Brighid.

The pagan goddess Brighid has endured many phases in her "existence," including canonization and decanonization, yet the cult dedicated to her has been faithful. The re-lit flame at Kildare is a symbol of Brighid which demonstrates that Rome's policy of assigning Christian labels to pagan deities and practices does not always work as she would have us accept. Rome morphed this fire goddess into a Catholic "saint" in her desire to find a tool to bring the Celts to her version of Christianity. Did it work? Well, there can be no doubt that Ireland is a nominally Catholic, though the Irish never completely abandoned their pagan ways. Don't you have to wonder, just a little, about how much of the other pagan worship lingers on in what Rome tells you are Christian rites and beliefs?

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. - 2 Corinthians 6:15-18

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