Brigid’s tale begins with the Irish people, first as a Goddess, then later transformed into a Saint, when Christianity came to Ireland; for her people would not set her aside. The line that separate the two is so fine, it is hard to determine where one ends and the other begins. If fact her temple in Kildare, Ireland holds not only Christian artifacts and stories of her Sainthood, but also of her history as Goddess.
According to medieval historians, Christian monks took the ancient Mother Goddess and wove her tales into that of Saint Brigid. I saw this first hand when I visited her home in Kildare, Ireland in the spring of 2013. It was pleasing to see that the Goddess Brigid had not been set aside, that she is present and welcome both within the temple and the home of the Brigidine Nuns. Brigid is deeply connected to flame; that of the hearth as well as the smith, she is patroness of the artisan crafter, poet & magician. She is benefactor of the poor, caretaker of the earth & connected to many holy wells; for she is a healer.
Brigid’s Flame was considered sacred, and was cared for in pre-christian times by 19 priestess’s. The flame burnt continually for hundreds of years, each of the 19 priestess’s took turns guarding the flame and on the 20th day Brigid herself kept her flame going. When Brigid was tranformed into Saint the stories of her kindness and miracles continued and so did the tending of her flame. Brigidine sisters/nuns took turns tending the flame of Brigid…each in turn for 19 days and on the 20th the flame was left for Brigid herself to tend. It is believed that the tradition was carried out until the 16th century when it was extinguished for Christian fear of its connection to a fire cult. In 1993 it’s flame was relit by Brigidine Nuns in Kildare. Since then it has been cared for in the fashion it was intended, with the 20th day being that of Brigids to watch over herself.
I have been a practicing pagan Celt for most of my adult life & have honored Brigid with fire and fed her my dreams at Imbolc for many years. My personal connection to Brigid however is much newer and carries an interesting tale. In the first year of my Druid training (2008) I was gifted with the flame of Brigid. My teacher Ivan McBeth had received the flame in a ceremony years prior when it had been brought from Ireland to England by Brigidine sisters. They carried the flame alight from their home in Kildare by ship to England. Upon sharing it with others they explained that once a candle has been lit with Brigid’s flame it can always be used to call upon her, you simply relight it and ask her to join you. This made it a lot easier for Ivan to bring it into the United States as you can imagine. Receiving this gift & its history was an honor. In the ceremony as we all awaited our time to light our candles and connect with Divine inspiration (the heart beat of the bard) in song. We sat around a fire chanting a simple song, holding space for the others as they approached the flame of Brigid and looked deep inside themselves for Awen (the spirit of creativity) & the blessings of Brigid.