Imbolc is a time to celebrate the coming of spring and is also the feast day of Saint Brigid (February 1). We’re delighted to share a post from Lunaea Weatherstone, a long-time Amber Lotus contributor and author of Tending Brigid’s Flame: Awaken to the Celtic Goddess of Hearth, Temple, and Forge. The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of Tending Brigid’s Flame. ~Amber Lotus
Why include a saint in a book largely intended for Pagan readers? To put it plainly, it’s because the saint and the goddess are one and the same. She never left. No other Western goddess has an unbroken history of worship. No other goddess has been clung to so passionately by her devotees, no matter what other canons of faith they accepted. To write a book about Brigid without including her saint aspect would be denying half her powers:
- The power of endurance
- The power of practical love
- The power of bridging differences
As a Pagan, there was a time when I assumed that the goddess Brigid had simply been co-opted and whitewashed by the Church into something more manageable, less powerful. I see it somewhat differently now.
Travel back through time and imagine yourself as a Celtic woman in the mid-fifth century or so. Yours is a warrior society, and violent conflicts frequently end in brutal death. Women are often captured as slaves and their children raised as slaves. You are proud of your heritage, but life is hard, so hard. A new religion makes its way through the land, a gentle faith that promises peace. The new faith has a holy trinity, a concept familiar and dear to Celtic hearts, whose deities often appear in threes. It espouses hospitality, charity, care for the humble and downtrodden, freedom from slavery. These are all things that your goddess Brigid has always meant to those who love her. What mother wouldn’t welcome the chance to spare her children a lifetime of war, exchanging it perhaps for a lifetime of learning? And if this means that the new religion wants to call your goddess a saint, does that really matter so much? She is still Brigid.
I can easily understand this from a Pagan perspective, because the cauldron of modern Goddess spirituality is also a melting pot. We love Demeter and Isis and Sarasvati and Pele and Changing Woman and Kuan Yin. Many of us also love Mary. It’s not a stretch for me to believe that the nuns in Saint Brigid’s monastery and the countrywomen tending their cattle, and all the thousands upon thousands of people since, loved the same qualities in their saint that I love in my goddess. As Celtic scholar Proinsias Mac Cana writes:
“Paradoxically, it is in the person of her Christian namesake St. Brighid that the pagan goddess survives best. For if the historical element in the legend of St. Brighid is slight, the mythological element is correspondingly extensive, and it is clear beyond question that the saint has usurped the role of the goddess and much of her mythological tradition…. It must be accepted, therefore, that no clear distinction can be made between the goddess and the saint and that in all probability Brighid’s great monastery of Kildare was formerly a pagan sanctuary…. Brighid became St. Brighid and her cult continued uninterrupted.”
“Continued uninterrupted”—how wonderful that is! Envision a perpetual flame dedicated to the Goddess, tended faithfully by women. When the new religion came, the holy women built a monastery on their sacred site, and the flame continued to burn there uninterrupted, tended now by nuns. As late as the twelfth century—six hundred years after Saint Brigid’s death—the flame still burned. It may have burned until the sixteenth century, when the monasteries were suppressed. In 1993, the perpetual flame was relit, and it burns to this day.
Lunaea Weatherstone is a priestess dedicated to Brigid and a flamekeeper tending the Goddess’s perpetual flame. As priestess, writer, teacher, and tarot counselor, Lunaea has served the Pagan community for more than twenty-five years, including her time as owner/editor of SageWoman magazine. As Grove Mother for the Sisterhood of the Silver Branch, she offers year-long programs in goddess spirituality. Lunaea has been working with the tarot for forty years and is the author of the Victorian Fairy Tarot and the Mystical Cats Tarot.