Brighid’s Flame

Do you have a favorite goddess? If I had to pick, Brighid and Sarasvati would probably be mine. Brigid in particular appeals to me for a number of reasons. As one of the oldest goddesses of Celtic Europe, she connects me to my paternal ancestry. I know so much about my German mother’s family, but very little about my father’s and she gives me a link to a lost part of my background that fills me with curiosity.

Brighid is a classic triple goddess, a goddess of healing and magic, fire, forge and hearth. Legend has it that when a baby is born, she watches protectively over its cradle. Her mantle holds powers of blessing and healing, so much so that on Imbolc, people will leave out a cloth for her to bless during the night. What most draws me to her, however, is that she is the patron of poets and bards. If there are three things in life that I venerate, they are creative expression, music and words. At this time in my life, her nurturing and healing aspects are also a great draw.

One of my favorite stories from her lore concerns Brighid’s Flame, the sacred fire that burned on a hill in the area of Kildare, Ireland reaching back into Pre-Christian times. As the story goes, priestesses gathered there, lighting ritual fires in her honor in the hope she would protect their herds and hearths and bless them with a bountiful harvest. There they kept vigil to make sure the flame was never extinguished.

After Ireland’s conversion to Christianity, a monastery was built on the same site where priestesses had tended their flames, but Brighid didn’t just fade away. Instead, she was synchretized into the Christian church as a Saint in the Middle Ages. By the 13th century, the monastery was replaced by a cathedral where the Sisters of St. Brighid continued the work begun centuries earlier by her priestesses. They too kept tended her flame until the time of the Reformation.

And then came Henry XIII and the Dissolutions of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541. With this process, monasteries, abbeys, and priories across England, Ireland and Wales were disbanded.The flame remained extinguished for four hundred years until it was re-lit in 1993 at the opening of a justice and peace conference. Since then, the Brigittine Sisters in Kildare have tended the flame at Solas Bhride.

What I love about this story is not only the way in which Brighid’s flame has endured , but that it did so through the work of a devoted community, each person tending the fire in turn, nurturing it, so it never goes out. Imagine if we gave such care to more aspects of public life! It’s such a lovely example of people working together to keep a tradition alive. It is a reminder of the importance of perseverance and of leaning on others in the recognition that some things are just bigger than we are. And, for me especially, it is a reminder that none of us tends her flame alone and that we can accomplish so much more when we reach out to others and work together.

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