Brigit / Brigantia

The Brythonic, Gaulish, Irish and Cymric Gddess also known as Bridig, Brigit, Brigindona, Brighid, Bríd, Bride, Brigan, Brigandu, Braidd: The Most High

Brigantia (Bridig, Brigit, Brigindona, Brighid, Bríd, Bride, Brigan, Brigandu, Braidd) is a goddess known from Irish literary sources, as well a number of inscirptions in the North of England and Southern Scotland where she emerges as the titular deity of the Brigantes tribe. She is invoked as a water deity and as Minerva in her warrior goddess form. She seems to be a goddess of the ‘gret mother’ type and may well be a goddess with multiple aspects, similar to the other mother goddesses of the Celts.

Though nothing is known about Brigantia from the Cymric written sources, and she appears in the Irish tales as Brighid the daughter of In Dagda, one-time wife of Bres, the half Fomorii who breiefly became leader of the Tuath Dé Dannan. By her second consort, Tuireann she had three sons: Brían, Iuchar and Iucharba. She is the brother of Oengus Mac ind-Óg, the Irish equivalent of the Brythonic Maponos and Bodb Derg, king of the Tuatha de Danann after they are driven underground into the sidhe. In one version of the Lebor Gabala Erenn Brighid is said to have owned two royal oxen, called Fea and Men, which gave their names to the plain of Feimhean. She is also said to own Torc Triath, the king of boars. Cattle being the main source of wealth in early Ireland (as they were for the Brigantes of Britain, see below). Both are also animals of the otherworld in both Cymric and Irish legend. She cries-out the first lament heard in Ireland when, during the second battle of Magh Turedh when her son Ruadhán is killed while attempting to slay Goibhniu the smith-god. Brighid Despite the paucity of written records a considerable amount can be inferred about this deity from epigraphic inscription, depiction in carving and surviving folklore.

The insular Brythonic goddess, Brigantia, was the tutelary deity of the Brigantes tribe of northern Britain. It is not surprising therefore that the inscriptional evidence for Brigantia in the Roman period is centred around Yorkshire, Northumberland and Southern Scotland. Inscriptions having been found at South Shields, County Durham, Adel and Castleford in Yorkshire.

At Brampton, Cumberland and Irthington Yorkshire she is invoked as deae Nymphae Brigantiae (the Nymph goddesses Brigantiae) indicating a clear association with water and the multiplicity of this deity. At Corbridge, Northumberland she is linked with Jupiter and this is the only evidence we have for Brigantia’s consort: indicating that he may have been of the sky god-warrior type. At Greetland, Yorkshire she is invoked as Victoria, (victory) — with the obvious implication that Brigantia, at least in one aspect of her multiplicity, was a warrior goddess. However, by far the most important and interesting depiction of Brigantia is the relief from Birrens (Blatobulgium) on the Antonine Wall, Dumfries, Scotland [see image above]. Here, Brigantia is depicted as Minerva. She bears a spear in her right hand and has a globe in her left, the symbol of victory. She wears a gorgoneion pendant about her neck (a symbolic representation of the Medusa replete with protruding tongue), symbol of Minerva in her goddess aspect and also shield-symbol of Pallas Athena. Behind Brigantia a shield can just be seen, another warrior attribute. Here Brigantia also wears a mural crown (a crown that looks like the crenulations of a battlement) indicating her territorial associations as both conqueror and defender of her territory.

The fact that the Brigantes held this powerful warrior deity as their tutelary tribal ancestor is interesting in that this potentially makes Brigantis a goddess of the Magna Mater or great mother type, akin to Dôn/Danu and Modron/Matrona. This may be why some authors have conflated Briganta with Danu, though there is no direct evidence for this association.

It is also likely that the river Brent (formerly *briganti) in Middlesex is derived from Briganta, indicating that the cult area of the goddess was wider than current evidence suggests. (Some have also suggested that the afon Braint on Ynys Môn is also derived from Brigantia; however this is etymologically dubious especially as the word braint in modern Cymric means ‘privilege’ and the word brig means ‘highest point or summit’. We may have an example here of the survival of the name of a lost goddess, now conflated with Brigantia.) Finally, it appears as if the Brigantes were a pastoral people, concerned with husbandry and shepherding, then it would be strange if Brigantia did not, herself, possess a pastoral aspect. In the insular tradition, therefore, Brigantia can be viewed as warrior, water deity and healer (if she is a pastoral deity and by association with Minerva).

We now turn to considering the Irish tradition of Brighid. She is sometimes referred to as the triple Brigid, suggesting that she is a triple mother goddess. Assuming that the original form of Brigantia is something like *Brigantī then Brighid is equivalent to Brigantia, given Goidelic and Brythonic divergence and etymologically at least they seem to be the same deity. According to Cormac’s Glossary (a tenth century encyclopaedia of Irish tradition compiled by Cormac mac Cuilennan priest-king of Cashel) a priceless repository of folklore, Brighid was a one of triplets, each with the same name. Respectively they were the goddesses of poetry, smith-craft and leech-craft, or healing. This may well reflect the survival of an older tradition that Brighid was a triune deity unto herself. In this respect here attributes are at least consistent with those of Brigantia. Folklore also portrays Brighid as the protectress of domestic animals and the bringer of fertility and new growth to the land and the people. During the christian period the legends of Brighid have become confabulated with those of St Brigit. These legends retain heavy mythological overtones and may have been borrowed from the goddess Brighid, though with a christian overlay that makes it difficult to separate the earlier myth from later tales. However, the saint was said to be daughter of Dubthach the Brown, who may have been a druid and in the legend is impervious to fire. He can only be sustained by a white, red-eared cow, the markings of an otherworldly animal, and the saint could magically provide a feast for all, regardless of how little food was at hand.

Brighid was said to be the daughter of the good god, the Dagda who is also associated with fire and is the possessor of the magic cauldron of plenty. In Ireland St Brigit became the principal focus of the feast of Imbolc or Oimelk (leterally oi-melc ewe’s milk) on February the first. This is when, after the depths of winter, the days begin to noticeably lengthen and the nights shorten. Traditionally this was when lambing time began, hence it is the time of ewes’ milk. In the Christian calendar Oimelc was subsumed into the festival of Candlemass. The association of Brigit in Ireland and her equivalend, St Bride, in Scotland with this day may man that is was once considered holy to the goddess Bridghid and to Brigantia, which would make sense in terms of her being a pastoral deity. But this association is uncertain. The association of St Brigit/St Bride with the coming of new light has been used as an argument that Brigantia herself was a solar or a fire deity. This is true in as far as the De Dannan and the Plant Dôn were the gods of light but any stronger association than this cannot be supported. St Bride of Scotland was invoked at childbirth and may be an echo of Brighid’s aspect as a healer. It is interesting to note that St Brigid returned to Cymru in the form of St Braidd and churches were dedicated to her as at Llansanffraidd (due to mutation the intitial ‘b’ in Braidd becomes and ‘ff’ which has caused many authors considerable confusion).

Finally we come to the Continental aspect of the goddess, where there is most paucity of evidence. In western France there are inscriptions to Brigindo and at Auxey in the Côte d’Or there is an inscription to the goddess Brigindona. Both deities seem etymologically related ti Brigantia/Brighid and may well represent the same goddess. We also have the Brigantii tribe of Central Raetia whose capital, Brigantium Raetiae, situated on the eastern shores of Brigantinus Lacus in Central Raetia is mow known as Bregentz on Lake Constance in the Austrian Tyrol. Again the Brigantii, like their insular equivalents the Brigantiae would seem to be ‘the people of the goddess Brigantia’. Interestingly this was also a location where a defixione (curse tablet) invoking Ogmios and also naming Dis Pater this indicates that Gaulish Brigantia, Ogmos and Dis Pater bore a similar relationship to one another as their Irish cognates: Brighid, In Dagda and Ogma (see entry on Ogmios for a full discussion), adding support to the proposition that Brighid is the cognate of Gaulish/Brythonic Brigantia.