Monday, 17 February 2014

Brigit, an Example of a Christianised Aryo-Celtic Goddess

With the enforced xtianisation of the Germanic, Celtic, Baltic and Slavic peoples their Gods were often either demonised, eradicated or given a xtian gloss. Often the Goddesses fared better than the male Gods and  underwent the process of xtianisation with very little change to their attributes or even names.

One such example is the Irish Goddess Brigit:

"The Dagda had several children, the most important of whom are Brigit, Angus, Mider, Ogma, and Bodb the Red. Of these, Brigit will be already familiar to English readers who know nothing of Celtic myth. Originally she was a goddess of fire and hearth, as well as of poetry, which the Gaels deemed an immaterial, supersensual form of flame. But the early Christianisers of Ireland adopted the pagan goddess into their role of saintship, and, thus canonised, she obtained immense popularity as Saint Bridget, or Bride." (The Mythology of the British Islands, Charles Squire)

The process of adopting the names and personalities of heathen deities in Europe is far more common than most people realise. Often these so-called mediaeval saints never existed as flesh and blood historical figures but were the ancient Gods and Goddesses of the European peoples given a xtian veneer. The Church realised that it could not initially succeed in suppressing heathen beliefs by the use of force as they initially lacked power unless supported by traitorous chieftains and kings so they used a mix of lying `miracles` and a false comparative mythological approach where they sought to show that there was little difference between their xrist and saints and the Gods of the indigenous heathen peoples.   

In addition to co-opting Indo-European Gods into the pantheon of xtian saints the Church also made use of heathen places of worship and existing temple buildings. Pope Gregory instructed Augustine, the apostle to the English to only destroy the idols within the temples not the temples themselves so long as they were first cleansed before being used as churches. The thinking behind this was firstly that the converted heathens would feel less of a stark transition if they were to continue to frequent their old places of worship and secondly if the buildings were soundly built why not make use of them?

"Daring attempts were also made to change the Tuatha De Danann from pagan gods into Christian saints, but these were by no means so profitable as the policy pursued towards the more human seeming heroes. With one of them alone was success immediate and brilliant. Brigit, the goddess of fire, poetry, and the hearth is famous today as Saint Bridget or Bride. Most popular of all the Irish saints she can still be easily recognised as the daughter of the Dagda. Her Christian attributes almost all connected with fire attest her pagan origin. She was born at sunrise; a pillar of fire rose from her head when she took the veil; and her breath gave new life to the dead. As with the British goddess Sul worshipped at Bath, who-the first century Latin writer Solinus tells us-`ruled over the boiling springs, and at her altar there flamed a perpetual fire which never whitened into ashes but hardened into a stony mass`, the sacred flame on her shrine at Kildare was never allowed to go out. It was extinguished once in the thirteenth century, but was relighted and burnt with undying glow until the suppression of the monasteries by Henry the Eighth. This  sacred fire might not be breathed on by the impure human breath. For nineteen nights it was tended by her nuns, but on the twentieth night it was left untouched, and kept itself alight miraculously. With so little of her essential character and ritual changed, it is small wonder that the half-pagan, half-Christian Irish gladly accepted the new saint in the stead of the old goddess." (Squire)

The tending of the sacred hearth by the nuns is no doubt the xtian continuation of a practice that would have been carried out by virgin priestesses and thus there is a remarkable similarity between Brigit and the Roman virgin Goddess of the hearth, Vesta and Her Greek equivalent Hestia. Vesta also had a priesthood of virgin priestesses to attend to Her fire so that it should never go out. Fire was sacred to the Aryan peoples and no doubt this Goddess archetype goes back to ancient Aryan times. George Dumezil theorised that the name of the Goddess Vesta may be traced back to an Indo-European root *h₁eu which has the meaning of `burning`. Bridget/Brigit/Brighid/Brigid has the meaning of `exalted one`. Her festival is Imbolc which took place on the 1st February which is celebrated as St. Brigid`s Day by the Roman Catholic Church. Brigit may also be the same Goddess as Brigantia, the tutelary Goddess of the Brigantes, a Northern tribe. In France She may have been known as Brigindo.

"Giraldus (12th century A.D.) informs us that at the shrine of St. Brgit at Kildare, the fire is never allowed to go out, and though such heaps of wood have been consumed since the time of the Virgin, yet there has been no accumulation of ashes. `Each of her nineteen nuns has the care of the fire for a single night in turn, and on the evening before the twentieth night, the last nun, having heaped wood upon the fire, says, `Brigit, take charge of your own fire, for this night belongs to you.` She then leaves the fire, and in the morning it is found that the fire has not gone out, and that the usual quantity of fuel has been used." (Celtic Mythology and Religion, 1885, A. MacBain)

Brigantia is the modern version of  the Proto-Indo-European  *bhr̥g'hntÄ« which has the root
berg'h, meaning `high, lofty, elevated`. A cognate is to be found in the Germanic Burgundi, derived from the Proto-Germanic *urgundī. From this term we get the name of the East Germanic tribe of the Burgundians. Their name meaning, `high, lofty, noble ones.` This is basically the same meaning as Arya. Clearly the ancient Germanic and Celtic peoples, being descendants of the undivided original Aryans thought of themselves in an aristocratic way.

MacBain then goes on to say:

"Brigit, therefore, is the Gaelic Minerva. She is goddess of the household fire; her position is that of the hearth goddess Vesta, as much as that of Minerva, for evidently she is primarily a fire-goddess. Her name is probably from the same root as the English bright, Gaelic breo. The British goddess, Brigantia, is doubtless the same as the Irish Brigit." 

In addition to the comparison we may make with Her British, Roman and Greek counterparts I am also reminded of the Frisian Oera Linda Book, a manuscript brought to light  in the 1860s. The book is written in Old Frisian but many suspect it of being a forgery. Fasta is the first Folk Mother of the Frisians, appointed by the Goddess Frya. Each temple had an order of priestesses who took it in turns to tend the sacred fire.
Interestingly Brigit is associated with a swastika-like cross which emphasises Her Solar qualities. Apparently such crosses may protect a house from fire.

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