One story tells us Brigid’s mother was a Christian and her father a Druid or spiritual leader in pre-Christian Celtic society. Iona was a sacred site for Druidic pilgrims before St. Columba in the sixth century. The name “Hebrides” means “the islands of Brigid or Bride.”
Thus she stands for “a symbol of continuity in the Celtic world between one age of wisdom and the next.” The pre-Christian and Christian merge with Brigid.
The Book of Leinster, a twelfth century Irish manuscript, says Brigid was a Druidess or leader in that community to which the oak tree was very sacred. With its roots in the earth and its reach for the sky, it “connected heaven and earth.” “Kildare” means “Church of the Oaks” and Brigid saw Christ as her Druid.
The pre-Christan earth goddess was “brigid” or the “great one” or “shining one.” Says Newell, “the earth goddess was the shining or brightness deep in all things.”
Recall that Hildegard of Bingen calls Mary “the ground of being” and Eckhart calls God “the ground of being.” The “shining” element of being is also the Cosmic Christ. Hildegard and Aquinas talk of the “radiance” in all of being.
In the centuries following her death, St. Brigid “took on many of the characteristic of the goddess” and was remembered though the ritual of the perpetual fire, a ritual that lasted a thousand years right up to the Protestant reformation when it was extinguished.
Says Newellhis: This marked a tragic shift in Ireland’s dominant form of Christianity away from the divine as immanent and feminine toward regarding it solely as masculine and transcendent.
Surely this parallels the shift in the Hail Mary prayer in the sixteenth century that we discussed in a previous DM and set the pace for the modern era of patriarchal excess.
As an abbess in Kildare, Brigid celebrated Mass along with other women—we know this because a synod of bishops in Rome in 520 denounced the practice as “abominable.” “She had episcopal status in the Celtic world.”*
*Philip Newell, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know And Healing the World, pp. 48-54.
See Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, pp. 17, 111-131.
And Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, p. 472.
Banner image: St. Brigid’s Well, Cullion, Ireland. Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
How does Brigid’s story speak to you and to the patriarchal excess we are trying to move beyond today?
Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century
Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.