Lady of bright inspiration. Brighid, Gaelic goddess of smith craft, metal work, poetic inspiration, and therapy.
THE SMITH GOD
JULIUS CAESAR does not list Vulcan (the classical smith god) in his description of the Celtic gods of Gaul, yet smithcraft was highly regarded by the Celts, and a smith god is certainly known from various sources. The triple goddess Brighid, for example, was patroness of inspiration, therapy and smithing, and the craft of the smith or metal worker was developed to a high degree by the Celts. Romano-Celtic carvings of a smith god, sometimes bearing tongs and hammer, are known in Britain; he is also associated with Mars, or with Celtic gods similar to Mars such as Toutates.
THE SMITH was always associated with magical powers, for he, or she in the case of Brighid, mastered the primal element of fire and moulded the metals of the Underworld through skill and strength. This magic of the smith is often said, quite incorrectly, to be a superstition developed out of the change-over from stone to bronze and bronze to iron in early cultures, as if technology alone was a mystery; such an explanation is insufficient, for there is a close connection between concepts of smithcraft and concepts of the creation of the world, in which the Elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth are fused together in a new shape. Smiths are frequently associated with supernatural powers, including therapy, in folklore, so it is no surprise that the ancient smith gods were credited with similar magical abilities.
IN IRISH mythology the divine smith is known as Goibhniu, and he is accompanied by two further aspects, or brothers or associates in typical Celtic triple form: Creidhne, god of metal-working, and Luchtaine, divine wheelwright. We can see the significance of this triad when we consider that the pagan Irish culture was, in one sense, an aristocratic heroic warrior society: such crafts were fundamental to survival and development. But we should also remember that warrior skills and 'aristocracy', which is perhaps an unfortunate modern term to employ, were part of a fundamentally matriarchal society, as is clearly shown by the role of goddesses and queens in Celtic myth, history and legend. We find the three craft gods making weapons and carrying out repairs for the divine Lugh and the entire Tuatha De Danann at the battle of Magh Tuire where the powers of light fought the powers of darkness: the resulting objects were magically empowered. This heroic tradition may be seen initially as ideal myth for a warrior culture, but it runs far deeper than the surface the for it is an analogy of the creation of the world or worlds.
SMITH GODS are associated with the important theme of the Otherworld Fea which is found in Celtic, Greek and Indian mythology, and has many other parallels worldwide. Goibhniu was host at a feast in which his guests were rendered immortal through a magical, intoxicating drink. Similar themes a found in Indian tradition, while the Greek smith god Hephaestos serves the gods(??) with drink. In Welsh tradition the god is known as Gofannon (both the Irish an Welsh names derive from a root word for 'smith'), and an old Welsh law rule that in a chieftain's court the smith should have the first drink of any feast.
THE THEME of the regenerative Otherworld or Underworld was of great importance to the Celts, and ultimately led to the medieval heretical pagan Christian legends of the Holy Grail. The Grail derives from an Underworld cauldron of immortality; such a cauldron once belonged to the Daghdha, and another was given as a gift by the god-king Bran in the story of Branwen in the Welsh Mabinogion.
'And I will enhance my gift,' said Bendigeid Vran 'for I will give unto thee a cauldron the property of which is, that if one of the men be slain today, and be cast therein, tomorrow he will be as well as ever he was at his best, except that he will not regain his speech.'
ON THE Giindestrup cauldron one of the images shows a line of warriors assembling in front of a huge vat or cauldron, into which a giant figure or god plunges them one by one to be renewed and ride away. There is a connection between this theme and imagery and the use of a cauldron or vat of intoxicating drink as one of the elements of the kingly Threefold Death, though it is unwise to draw exact comparisons.
IN LATER Irish tradition the divine smith becomes a great builder, or a resourceful master mason. Similar traditions are preserved in England in the figure of Wayland Smith, who owes much to both Celtic and Saxon origins; he too is a giant smith who forged wonders and presided over the ancient road of the Ridgeway, here he is associated with a prehistoric burial mound, Wayland's Smithy . This site is close to the great earthworks of the Beigae at the White Horse, Uffington, and was a potent place of ancestral magic millennia before the axons came to England.
WAYLAND'S SMITHY is an excellent example of the manner in which successive culture, divinities and myths are merged, in time, through the agency of the land self. The Smith remains today as a legendary figure, having passed from a prehistoric role as a sacred ancestor within a burial mound, to the skill and craft of a Celtic god, to the Saxon and Norse Volundr, a smith god or hero of mighty deeds and power. The resulting fusion creates a distinctive yet harmonious British god, representing many phases of history and magic or religion, deeply rooted in the land, and specifically located in one region. These are abiding requirements of magical images attuned to a sacred landscaper.
THE LAND is itself a sovereign power, simultaneously an agency of transformation and preservation through time. When we encounter such profound but slow organic transformations and harmonizations of varied influences, we should be reminded of the story of Arthur and Morgen, the Otherworld priestess, mistress of the Fortunate Island. She examined the wounded king and said that she could heal him, in time, if he remained with her.
THE ISLAND of Apples which men call 'The Fortunate Isle' gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself, the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmer, and all cultivation is lacking except that which nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods from the close clipped grass. The ground of its own accord produces everything over and above mere grass, and people live there a hundred years or more.
NINE SISTERS rule there by a pleasing set of laws those who come to them from our own country. She who is first of them is most skilled in the healing art, and excels her sisters in the beauty of her person. Morgen is her name, and she has learned what useful properties all the herbs contain, so that she can cure sick bodies. She also knows an art by which to change her shape, and to cleave the air on new wings like Daedalus; when she wishes she can be at Brest, Chartres or Pavia, and when she wills, she slips down from the air on to your shores . . .
THERE AFTER the battle of Camlann we took the wounded Arthur, guided by Barinthus to whom the waters and the stars of heaven were well known. With him steering the ship we arrived there with the king, Morgen receiving us with fitting honour, and in her chamber she placed the king upon a golden bed, and with her own hand she uncovered his honourable wound and gazed at it for a long time.
AT LENGTH she said that health could he restored to him if he stayed with her for a long time and made use of her healing art.
Rejoicing, therefore, we entrusted the King to her, and returning spread our sails to the favouring winds.
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Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses
By R. J. Stewart, Courtney Davis (Illustrator), Miranda Gray (Illustrator)
Blandford, an imprint of Cassell
Wellington House, 125 Strand, London WC2R OBB.
Distributed in the U.S. by Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.,
387 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10016-8810.
ISBN: 1844035506 (2006 paperback)
Takes a look at the mythology, magic and religion of the Celts, and examines their strengths and their relevance. This work is an examination of the relationship between the gods as people, as symbols of nature, and as sacred powers.
Brighid, Bright Goddess of the Gael
St. Brigit, Brighid, Brid, Bride, Briga, Brigid, Bridgid, Briginda, Brigdu, Brigittina, Brigantia, Ffraud, Cailleach Bearra, Minerva, Maman Brigitt
Link: Ord Brighideach
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