“Time spent among trees is never time wasted.” Anonymous
It’s March and spring equinox is nearly upon us. As the wheel of the year turns toward light, we long for renewal and the return of green. The color green, and the shamrock, do not really belong to St. Patrick or the festivities associated with this saint and his lively holiday celebrations, including wearing green and drinking green beer. The shamrock is an ancient symbol, appropriated by the Catholic Church in its effort to eradicate the worship of ancient goddesses. Ireland is known as the “emerald isle,” but green is the color of Earth, and the three leaves of the shamrock form an ancient symbol of the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother & Crone, or wise elder. Although tradition claims St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the male trinity, the three-fold deithy was far older by thousands of years and was a symbol of the Divine Feminine. The shamrocks I wear on this day honor the Great Goddess.
Brigit, or Brigid, the “exalted one,” or “bright one,” is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish myth as a member of the Tuatha De Danann, the people of the goddess Danu, a Celtic race of gods. They were believed to live on “island in the west” and to have perfected magic. Brigid is associated with fertility, healing, poetry, and the craft of metal smithing. Cormac’s Glossary, written in the 10th century by Christian monks, says that Brigid was “the goddess whom poets adored” and that she had two sisters: Brigid the healer, and Brigid the smith. This indicates that she was originally a triple goddess archetype.
Medievalist Pamela Berger says, “Christian monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart, St. Brigid of Kildare.” Both goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands, tying pure white wool cloths next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brigid, still occurs in some Celtic lands. This ancient goddess was so powerful and revered by the Celts that she was brought into the Catholic pantheon as a beloved saint.
Brigid’s festival is February 2, Imbolc, the half way point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It is a pagan festival that celebrates the return of life after winter. Imbolc is one of the four major Celtic “fire festivals” that are the midpoints between the equinoxes and solstices. Christians call the feast of St. Brigid Candlemas, and a ritual of candles as sacred flames are lighted. In a dim reminder, and insulting echo of its symbolic power, we now call this date Groundhog Day.
St. Brigid, like the goddess, is associated with perpetual sacred flames, such as the one maintained by nineteen nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. Giraldus Cambrensis and other chroniclers reported that the sacred flame at Kildare was surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die, or be crippled. One is tempted to see poetic justice. The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred and naturally occurring eternal flames is a feature of many ancient traditions, including the Greek Hestia and the Roman Vesta.
Some researches believe that St. Patrick was a fictional figure loosely based on a Roman priest. The legend that he banished snakes from Ireland is yet another reference to the wisdom of the Divine Feminine, often symbolized as a serpent, that the Church drove underground as the patriarchy rose to power. However, Ireland is one of a few places on Earth that does not have native snakes, but that is believed to be a result of the last Ice Age rather that a Catholic priest.
Thanks to the efforts of heroic researchers and scholars this knowledge is being rescued from the past. Knowing our true history empowers us. As women increasingly find our voices and our power, balance will be restored on our planet. As you celebrate the wearing of the green on St. Patrick’s Day, take time to thank the green and blue Earth with her trees and flowered hills, her deep oceans and white clouds. She gives us life as well as the occasional green beer.