My grandmother has been with me a lot lately.
Though she passed away many years ago, I am constantly reminded of her at the moment. She taught me to read when I was very small; I think (though I could be exaggerating!) that I could read when I was four years old. She eased my toothache and blessed my eyes and taught me to love the craft of music…
She came from Clare Island, a small island in the North Atlantic Ocean, and her name was Brigid.
Her name descended from that of the triple goddess of pre-Christian Ireland who we remember on February 1st every year. The story is that when humans first arrived in Ireland, maybe 10,000 years ago, they encountered a race called the Tuatha Dé Danann (people of the goddess Danu) already living on the island. These were a magical people who later made a sacred agreement with the incoming humans, that they, the Danann, would “turn into the light” and leave the visible land to the new arrivals. They became the spirits of the trees and the lakes and the mountains of Ireland. Brigid, princess of the Tuatha Dé Danann, was a daughter of Danu, the mother goddess the Tuatha were named after, and the Daghda the “good god”.
In the tradition of the Indo-European dawn goddess, Brigid was the “Triple Goddess” of poetry, healing and craftwork and protector of Rebirth, Fire and Springtime. My favourite story about Brigid was that she, as goddess of smiths and craftworkers, made a giant iron cauldron, from which, every year on the first day of February, she pours the future into the river Shannon. In pre-Christian Ireland, the time was called Imbolc, literally meaning “in the belly”, evoking the birth of lambs and calves.
The myth of the goddess was later syncretised with the story of the Christian saint of the same name, Brigid of Kildare, though she kept many of her pre-Christian attributes. To this day a group of women followers, the Brigidine Sisters, tend a perpetual fire dedicated to her at Solas Bhríde in Kildare, hinting at how early medieval Christian nuns and monks adapted to a changing religious landscape by retaining many of their older native “pagan” elements. She is also celebrated all over Ireland at this time by people making Brigid’s Crosses from green rushes, a living memory of a pre-Christian symbol of auspiciousness and rebirth.
On February 1st this year, I will go to look for lambs born in the healing landscape of south Galway and north Clare, I’ll light a fire in a stone circle and I’ll play as much music as I can for my grandmother Brigid.