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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Misconception of Brighid (PBP)

Brighid is not a triple goddess.

There. I said it.

Brighid is a goddess of fire, but I think it is more fitting to say that she is the goddess of life-giving fire on Earth. This implies the more positive, helpful aspects of fire. She is a goddess of the hearth, of the fire that cooks our food, keeps us warm, and protects us. She is also a goddess of the creative aspects of fire, be it the fire of a forge, or the spark of inspiration. Lastly, she represents fire as the flame of life and healing. And this is all apt. These aspects are all attested to in the myth of the Cath Magh Tuireadh, where she is described as such: "Brigit, that was a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night."

A handful of modern Pagans cite Cormac's Glossary for the Brighid as triple goddess theory. He wrote "Brigit, i. e. a female poet, daughter of the Dagda. This Brigit is a poetess, or a woman of poetry, i. e. Brigit a goddess whom poets worshipped, for very great and very noble was her superintendence. Therefore they call her goddess of poets by this name. Whose sisters were Brigit, woman of healing, Brigit, woman of smith-work, i. e. goddesses, from whose names with all lrishmen Brigit was called a goddess. Brigit then, i. e. brco-saigit, a fiery arrow."

If we take this definition literally, the problem with it is that she is clearly defined as one three separate individuals, and thus the triple goddess idea has no merit there. What furthers this problem is the fact that these sisters are never mentioned in Brighid's genealogy (her sisters are often identified as Eire, Podia, Banba, and Eado), and the same is true for Dadga, who only has one Brighid as a daughter. If we read into this definition an a more figurative sense, that still doesn't solve the issue. It leads me to think that, if anything, this was Cormac's metaphor for the many talents and spheres of influence Brighid has. And again, this triple goddess Brighid notion is not attested to in any of the myths, which leads me to believe that good ol' Cormac's definition was something of a fluke.

I think that it is because of Brighid's broad range of aspects that modern Pagans and Wiccans tend to refer to her as a triple goddess, despite the fact that the idea of a triple goddess did not exist in ancient Ireland, and, as I have said, nowhere in myth is Brighid referred to as such. Yes, the argument can be made that Brighid as triple goddess is merely a modern interpretation of her, but I would say that she is such an amazing goddess as she is, there is no reason to try to redefine her, or make her into something that she is not. Aside from being inaccurate, I feel that giving Brighid the title of triple goddess is an oversimplification. Why can't she be one whole being who encompasses the ideas of poetry, healing, and smithing/creation? Why must Pagans separate these aspects of her? Doing so only diminishes her.



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9 comments:

  1. Thank you for a lovely post on Brighid. I teach Celtic Spirituality (bording on the Reconstruction) and I bang my head trying to explain to my students that She is not a triple goddess. Also that She prefers yellow over red.

    Do you think that the classical view of the Greco/Romano gods/goddesses has a lot to do with this 'triple' aspect being overlaid on others cultures gods/goddesses?

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    1. A kindred spirit! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

      I have to admit, I'm not familiar enough with the Greco/Roman gods to say for sure. I always figured it was due to the popularity of the triple goddess concept in Wicca. So inasmuch as Greco/Roman ideas influence Wicca, I suppose the answer would be yes.

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    2. I always assumed that the triple goddess thing came out of misunderstanding about Morrigan and the Morrigan. Like, people would read about Morrigan as a goddess, then about Badb, Macha and Anand as THE Morrigan, and rather than put two and two together and say that Morrigan =/= the Morrigan, they simply assumed that the three were aspects of the one. It's very weird.

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    3. You bring up a good point. Morrighan often does get the same treatment as Brighid, as in people assuming that she is a triple goddesses, but I don't know if she is where the idea comes from. I know it is a Wiccan concept, but being that Wicca borrowed quite a bit from Celtic religion, I suppose that misconception could be where it comes from....

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  2. Thank you very much for sharing! :)

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    1. You're welcome! Thank you very much for reading. :)

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  3. I'm curious to know which translation of the Cath Maige Tuired you got this quote from.

    “Brigit, that was a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night”

    It doesn't appear in my copy (Elizabeth A. Gray). From that I get “Brig came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Brig who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)”—but nothing about a woman of poetry. And vanishingly little more.

    Ta!

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    1. Hello, Mael.

      The quote I used came from "Gods and Fighting Men," by lady Gregory. You can read this version of the story at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/gafm/gafm03.htm

      I hope that answer is sufficient. :)

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  4. Ta! It sounds like she merged the two sources to come up with this. Here is Elizabeth Gray's translation of the original text:

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/cmt/cmteng.htm

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