Brigid and The Eternal Flame - The Tale of Two Brigid's
Today, February 1st, is historically regarded as the first day of spring here in Ireland. This start of spring is known as Imbolc in ancient Ireland. Based on a Celtic tradition, Imbolc marked the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox in Neolithic Ireland and Scotland. The other festivals are Bealantine (May 1st) Lughnasadh August 1st and Samhain on November 1st.
Today is also St. Brigid’s Day.
Who are the Two Brigid’s? Brigid The Saint was Born in Dundalk in 450. Supposedly she was inspired by St. Patricks teachings and founded the first monastery in County Kildare, Ireland. St. Brigid is beloved in Ireland, and is revered and honoured in stories and at Holy or Blessed Wells across the countryside – I’ve had the chance to visit a few this past week.
St. Brigid’s father was chieftain of Leinster (one of the four provinces of Ireland). When she was born, he chose to name her after one of the most powerful Celtic Goddesses named Brigid who was The Goddess of Fire.
Who was this Celtic Goddess Brigid? In her earliest origins, Brigid was called the Flame of Ireland, Fiery Arrow. According to Mythical Ireland, legend says that when She was born, a tower of flame reaching from the top of her head to the heavens. Her birth, which took place at sunrise, is rumoured to have given the family house the appearance of being on fire.
She was the daughter of Dagda (Celtic: “Good God”) and a member of the Tuatha dé Danann (“tribe of the gods in Celtic Mythology). Known as the Goddess of Healers, Poets, Smiths, Childbirth and Inspiration; A Goddess of the Forge, Fire and Hearth. A triple Goddess, her name means “exalted one.”
There are many many stories of the Brigid’s and one will find mention of stories of her cloak and fires, some that will trace her to being the midwife at Jesus’ birth and others of the Saint turning bathwater to beer (only in Ireland). I could not do these stories justice here, do look them up. Over time both the Church and Stories have intertwined the Two Brigid’s, oft times reflecting them as one, even though they are from two separate timelines. In many ways, the Catholic Church hijacked the narrative to strengthen their position with the people. This is not something that is agreeable with me as a tactic, but it is understandable how it could be used as a means to buy people over.
More recently though, Brigid is viewed by some as an archetype of the Divine Feminine. From her incarnation as goddess of wisdom, craft, bringer and keeper of the Eternal Flame, healing to her embodiment as Christian saint who served as midwife to Mary at the birth of Jesus and her evolution into a cultural icon whose all-embracing cloak symbolises her protection.
More than ever, I now understand and resonate with the idea that the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine reside in all of us. When these two energies are in balance, we will be in a position to truly connect with our hearts and connect our heads and hearts. It is from this place of balance and love that a new world will be born – the sacred heart. Hence the Sacred Heart flame in pictures of Jesus was popping to mind as I considered the eternal flame that is attributed to the Goddess Brigid and was thereafter tended by St. Brigid.
These great beings always have balanced masculine and feminine energy and often they are a twinned pair like Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Each one of the individuals is particularly powerful and ‘impressive’ as they are internally balanced masculine and feminine energies with a fully open and expressed heart energy.
Anyway, back to Brigid. True to her nature, the Goddess Brigid had an eternal flame, that was kept burning in her temple at Kildare, long before Christianity arrived in Ireland.It was on this site of this shrine to the Goddess Brigid with the eternal flame burning on it that St Brigid built her monastery in 470. St. Brigid and her nuns took over maintenance of the flame and kept the flame lit over the centuries.
The tallest round tower in Ireland is in Kildare, next to the Church which was the site of the former Abby. Brigid’s Abby had fallen into disrepair in the 1200’s and like the song said, a church had been built in its place. All that remained off the shrine was a foundation which was rebuilt in 1988. The town of Kildare was raided numerous times, but the ancient flame burned on, only being extinguished once in the thirteenth century. The flame was finally extinguished from the site of the original shrine around the time of the reformation & King Henry VIII in the 16th century. (In the 1990s a group of local nuns relit the flame at another location in Kildare and it was moved to the town square in 2006)
An ancient Irish text -the Giraldus Cambrensis recorded that nuns and before that virgins took turns guarding the sacred fire, which burned perpetually at the site. The shrine was surrounded by a hedge within which no male might enter.
It was at the location of the original shrine I found myself today.
This past weekend I happened upon Brigid’s Well in Clare on a trip to the Cliffs of Moher, – wind, fog and mist greeted our arrival so instead I took the time to visit her well. It felt like our paths were destined to cross again so today on St. Brigid’s day I took myself to Kildare.
My first visit today was to St. Brigid’s Garden Well in Kildare – I thought this to be the best place to start. It was lovely, mucky from the many footsteps that preceded my visit. There was a lady singing a song about how the church decided to build over Brigid’s Abby with a male church or something like that. It was a beautiful melody, a crowd gathered to hear. The stream was flowing, and the well glistening, the oak tree covered in prayer wishes.
The garden was fairly busy, mainly women seeking Brigid, occasionally a man. The kind and loving care taker of the site was a man, who silently and beautifully tended and relit the dampened candles. A continuous pilgrimage for this windy day. I spoke to one woman who found herself off for the first day every and she had traveled from Dublin to visit the Garden, wearing a scarf she had left out last night for Brigid’s blessing for the upcoming year.
I had decided to visit the shrine after the garden, I expected that it would be busy, over trodden and did not expect to have any moment of peace there. Instead I had thought I would find that at the garden.
I struggled for a moment to find the location of the shrine when I got to the Abby as there was no one else there and it is low to the ground. Inside the church was busy with people, and the town was also busy preparing for the festival of Brigid. The fact that there was no one there at the shrine on this day was curious to me for reasons I can’t describe.
I took my opportunity of peace and was there alone for a long time. There was no flame there – where the eternal flame once burned and no one else. For me, I had wanted to go to the original site, the location where the eternal flame had burned, it was void of all decorations, no prayer wishes, no flowers, just stone and a bench. I found it curious that there was no flame or candle there given there were so many at every other location I had been at. This site was where the flame had burned for eons, continuously over one to two thousand year or longer and none today.
After a while one person came. It was a man, his name was Noel. We talked a few words for a few moments. I commented on how strange it was that no one else was there and he agreed. I also commented his showing represented the Divine masculine to me and me the Divine feminine, he had no idea what I was talking about, but was content with the conversation and I didn’t think about it much either until I sat down to write this.
“I wonder why the Church is so afraid of Fire?” he asked. “The just don’t seem to like it, it seems like they are afraid of it.”
After a while he said “seeing that you are here and you seem to know what you are doing, I was wondering if you would do a favour for me? “Sure,” I responded.
He reached into his pocket, took out a candle and a box of matches and asked “would you light this candle for me?’ And I did, We put candle it in the corner out of the wind and I lit it. “At least there is a flame here now” he said as he left, and there was.
All this time, the shrine received no other visitor but the church was quite busy. The church was beautiful, but even more interesting was the circle in the moss that was on the door of the garden shed outside in the corner of the yard. How did that get there?
I stopped into Firecastle Store and Deli on my way out. A sign mentioned the name Firecastle was to represent all the years the flame was out. While ordering, I ended up chatting to Simon who was in line with me, “I have the day off” he said, “Well, it’s St. Brigid’s Day, you know, and I decided I should take it off .” And I did.