Sit down, sit down, make yourselves comfortable; you should be comfortable to listen to the stories of Brigid, because Brigid always wanted people to be comfortable.
Now, the stories of Brigid have no single beginning. Some people say Brigid was a goddess, daughter of the Dagda, the good god – and it’s no surprise that he should have plenty of children, because he was … his …you know … well, let’s just say it was mistaken for a club sometimes! And the goddess Brigid was born to the mother goddess Danu, whose people are the Tuatha de Danaan; and Danu is the one who pours out the rivers that flow through the lands. And some people say that Brigid was a woman, the daughter of a druid, or maybe just born to a serving-woman in the druid’s house. And maybe both are true.
Now, Brigid was out one day, and when she came home, her cloak was wet all through. So she hung it on a sunbeam to dry. And it stayed there till it was dry. By that you know she had the power – not because she hung her cloak on a sunbeam, mind, but because the sunbeam stayed there till the cloak was dry! For in Ireland, the weather can never make up its mind for five minutes altogether, and while you might get a sunbeam where you ask for one, it’ll never stay there when you turn your back on it. But I think that maybe the sunbeam just wanted to be helpful to Brigid, because Brigid herself was helpful to others. That’s how she used her power, after all.
Now the power Brigid had, she used for three great talents: the service of healing, the gift of giving what was needed, and the wisdom to inspire and change the souls of men and women.
Once a sick man came to Brigid to beg for food. Brigid asked, “Would you rather be king of all Ireland, or be healed of your disease?” The man answered, “I would rather be healed, holy Brigid, for a man who is healthy is his own ruler.” And she saw that he had asked for what he needed most, and she brought water, and washed him, and he was healed. This was the service of healing.
Another time, two sick women came to beg for food, and Brigid offered them the one cow that she had, and bid them share it between them. But one of the women was proud, and insisted that she would not share, and went away. The other woman told Brigid to keep the cow, and asked Brigid to pray for her instead, saying that she would be content with the reward of Brigid’s holy prayers. She blessed her, and brought water, and washed her, and she was healed. Just as she was going out, another man who had been helped by Brigid came, bringing her a cow, and she gave it to the woman who had been healed, and said, “See, because you were humble, you have your health and a cow, while the proud one went away content with her pride.” This was the gift of giving what was needed.
Yet another time, two lepers came to beg for healing, and Brigid washed the first one, and he was healed, and she bid him wash his companion, so that he too might be healed. But the one who had been healed refused, and would not share the gift of healing, for now that he was clean and whole, he disdained to touch the ragged skin of his fellow leper. Brigid was angry, and as she washed the second leper herself, his disease went to the skin of the one who had refused to share the gift of healing. Now he cried out twice as loudly for Brigid to heal him again, and was sorry for his pride. She healed him again, and then he had gotten not only the gift of healing, but what he really needed as well, which was the wisdom that gifts are meant to be shared. This is wisdom that inspires and changes the soul.
A similar thing happened when Brigid was working in the dairy, for she was told to divide the milk and butter into twelve parts, but she divided them into thirteen, and made the thirteenth larger than all the rest, and gave it away to the poor and hungry. A woman working with her warned Brigid that the owners of the dairy would know that she had stinted the twelve parts, but Brigid said, “The Dagda, the good god, he will make it up.” Then the woman looked, and Brigid was right: the twelve jars of milk were full up to the brim, and the twelve portions of butter were overflowing. On another day, Brigid had given the milk and bread and butter for the evening’s dinner to feed a hungry woman and her children, so Brigid went out before dinner to milk the cows again. And although the cows had been milked twice already that day, and their udders should have been empty, but they gave milk in plenty, and as soon as Brigid put her hand to the churn, there was butter, as much as she had given away, and more.
As you’ve heard, a great many of the tales of Brigid have to do with cows and milk and butter, so it’s no surprise that her day falls at this time of year, when the first milk begins to come into the belly of the cows and ewes. Brigid’s day also comes at this time when we crave the beginnings of spring, and we look for the light that was promised to us at midwinter. Brigid brings that promised light, just as she and her priestesses tended the sacred flame at Cill Dara, the church of the oak, and still, today, in Kildare in Ireland, her sacred flame is burning, and with her three great talents, she lights the way for us.
And now, when they need her talents, the healers call on her, and they bless their water in her name, saying, Brigid, let this be the water of healing just as pure and as clean as if it came from your holy well. Brigid, let me serve others with my healing, and make them whole. Then healers wash people with the water of healing, serving with compassion and caring, helping others become whole. And in doing the service of healing, they shape the world.
And when the smiths need her talents, they call on her, and on her sacred flame, for smiths know that the fire doesn’t just consume things – the fire can give, too, and the fire can be used to make what is needed. The smiths kindle the fire in their forges, saying, Brigid, let this be a spark of your flame, let me use this flame to give to others. Then the smiths heat the metal and bend it and shape it into the tools that are needed. Thus the smiths give the gifts that are needed, and in their forging, they shape the world.
And the poets call on her too. Now you know what poets are like – they are people who feed their souls on beauty, and a verse that won’t run to its meter is as painful to them as a wrenched knee is to the rest of us. But a poet wants more, too – a poet wants a verse to go out and do some good; for the poet shapes the verse – which is what the root of the word poetry means, after all – but then she sets the verse out to do some shaping of its own. So the poets call on Brigid, saying, Brigid, heal my words so that they run to the meter, and Brigid, light the flame of inspiration so that I can bend the words to my purpose, but most of all, they say, Brigid, let my words go out to others to be a source of wisdom, wisdom that does the service of healing, and wisdom that gives the gift that is needed, and wisdom that inspires the souls of women and men.
So when we come together, we who bend and shape the world, we who practice the craft of the wise, we honor Brigid. On this, her day, let us give her praise and thanks, and petition her to be with us, so that she will share her power and her three great talents with us, as we strive to be healers, and smiths, and poets.
[Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on the history of magic with the support of her husband and four cats. www.worksofliterata.org]