I stand at the sink doing some washing up and thinking about how I can find the right words, how to describe the Brigantia I see and my mind slips sideways…
I walk into a room with a fireplace ahead of me, a few flames dancing across a bed of warm coals and burning wood. The scent of woodsmoke reaching me. In the soft light I see a woman seated in a recliner to one side of the fire place, her feet up in comfy looking socks, a wine glass in her hand. She looks over to me and gesture to an armchair on the other side of the fireplace, “take a seat” she says. I sit down and look at her, this middle aged woman. She has shadows under her eyes, a smudge of dirt or dust on one cheek and her hair is a mess. She’s wearing loose clothes that look like they’ve seen better days but are clearly comfortable. As I look at her so she is looking at me. Our eyes meet. “Drink?” she asks and gestures towards the bottle and another glass, “help yourself” she adds. I get up and pour a glass, bring the bottle over to her and top up the glass she holds out. I put the bottle back and then sit down again glass of wine in hand and take a sip. It’s rich and warming, a fruit wine or a mead, I’m not sure. It’s good though. She looks at me again. “Here to talk?” she asks. I shake my head “Not really” I reply. She nods. We both turn and gaze into the flames.
I blink and reach for the plates that need washing up. The images burnt into my mind.
This wasn’t the first time I had been given glimpses of a different goddess to ones often pictured. I have seen Her standing beside a motorbike dressed as a paramedic with short curly reddish hair. I have seen Her in oil stained overalls in a workshop with a large tool box behind Her. I have seen Her dressed brightly with short straight greying hair walking in what looks to be a University building and carrying a leather satchel with papers peeking out. This time She looked tired other times She has seemed full of energy. In two of these images She has looked like a fairly young woman perhaps mid twenties. In the other two She has looked much older. I have no idea why.
The gods have taught me not to rely on physical imagery. I still use it but I understand that the image I may use is like a suit of clothes for them, they are not tied to these things. They have taught me to look beyond what my eyes see to recognise them. I don’t always know who I see or feel but I know Her, Brigantia.
Brigantia is known of from inscriptions and imagery that have survived from the Roman occupation of Britain. Nothing of Her original mythology has survived so what we do know is what can be pieced together from the imagery and associations from the Romans. It is important to remember that the Romans didn’t link deities up without good reason. They were a polytheist society and veneration of the many gods was an important part of their culture and society. This means that if they linked a British deity with a Roman one they had a strong reason for doing so both in text and in imagery. This in turn means we can learn a great deal about the attributes of these British deities from the attributes of the linked Roman deities.
We know Brigantia was the tutelary deity of the Brigantes tribe, the home area was even called Brigantia. Written records of the Brigantes start during Roman times but archaeological records suggest that the area was continually occupied for a considerable time before the Romans which would indicate a powerful and stable tribe. The heartland of the Brigantes was in northern England and maps showing their territory show it stretching from east to west coasts. It covered the majority of the land between the River Tyne and the River Humber covering much of what is now Yorkshire, Northumberland, County Durham, Lancashire and into Cumbria. They were a large powerful tribe, territorially the largest Brythonic tribe or kingdom of ancient Britain. They would have had a wide trading influence and chances are that their deities would have been known of and probably worshipped in neighbouring tribal areas. We also know that there was a Brigantes tribe in Ireland in what is now the Leinster area, very likely to have been related to the one in what is now north England but exactly how is unknown.
There are not a huge number of surviving inscriptions or imagery for Brigantia but what there is tells us quite about this Goddess. A search of the online version of Roman Inscriptions of Britain using “Brigantia” as a search term results in seven different inscriptions. In two inscriptions She is linked to the goddess Victoria who is the Roman goddess of victory, one is from Castleford and one from Greetland. The inscription from Castleford is for an altar dedicated solely to Victoria Brigantia. The Greetland inscription is for an altar dedicated to Victoria Brigantia and “the Divinities of the two Emperors” (RIB 627). On an altar found at Corbridge Brigantia is given the title Caelestis meaning heavenly or celestial, that altar is also dedicated to Jupiter of Doliche and the Goddess Salus, a Roman Goddess of safety and wellbeing. That title of Caelestis is a rare one among the inscriptions found in Britain and marks Brigantia Caelestia as a powerful goddess. The Caelestis title is also given to the African goddess Tanit and I will mention more about the significance of that later.
On an altar found on Hadrian’s Wall in the neighbourhood of Brampton, Brigantia is referred to as the goddess-nymph Brigantia and the altar text also gives a significant amount of detail why it was dedicated which I find very interesting. The text reads:
“Deae Nymphae Brig(antiae) | quod [vo]verat pro | sal[ute et incolumitate] | dom(ini) nostr(i) Invic(ti) | imp(eratoris) M(arci) Aurel(i) Severi | Antonini Pii Felic[i]s | Aug(usti) totiusque do|mus divinae eius | M(arcus) Cocceius Nigrinus | [pr]oc(urator) Aug(usti) n(ostri) devo[tissim]us num[ini] | [maies]tatique eius v(otum) [s(olvit)] l(aetus) l(ibens) m(erito)”
Which is translated as:
“This offering to the goddess-nymph Brigantia, which he had vowed for the welfare and safety of our Lord the Invincible Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus and of his whole Divine House, Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus, procurator of our Emperor and most devoted to his divinity and majesty, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled.”
(RIB 2066 https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/2066)
I find this particularly interesting for two reasons. The first is that it is an inscription describing Brigantia as a nymph and nymphs were thought of as spirits associated with a particular location. It doesn’t necessarily mean a source of water however as in Roman terms there were many different types of nymph. As many of the nymph type inscriptions and imagery found in Britain are linked to water there is a strong possibility that Brigantia also was connected to water in some form and if so these may well have been considered healing waters. The second reason I find this inscription is that of all the possible deities that Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus could make a vow to for the safety of the Emperor he chose Brigantia. I think that says volumes about Her popularity and perceptions of Her power.
Of the remaining three inscriptions two are for altars dedicated solely to Brigantia with no other title and one is for a carved statuette. The two altars with no other descriptions or titles for Brigantia were dedicated by individuals bearing Celtic names so they may well have been locals, one of whom was also probably female, Cingetessa. If they were locals then they probably saw no need to add descriptors to their inscriptions. The carved statuette was found in the ruins of a building at a fort outside Birrens and it’s now housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The text is very simple but without the identification as Brigantia the statuette would almost certainly been identified as one of Minerva. The imagery shows Her with many of the symbols of Minerva. It is described as follows:
“In high relief standing in a gabled niche. The goddess Brigantia is winged, has a Gorgon’s head on her breast, and wears a plumed helmet encircled by a turreted crown. In her right hand she holds a spear, in her left a globe; to her left stands her shield, to her right an omphaloid stone. Her attributes equate her with Minerva Victrix.”
(RIB 2091 https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/2091)
The wings may be a link to the goddess Victoria as She was normally depicted with wings in Roman imagery. The omphaloid stone is a sacred conical object used to mark to mark the centre of the earth, which could be a link to Juno Caelestis, who in turn was linked with the African goddess Tanit mentioned earlier. These links to the African goddess Tanit are significant because Tanit was a very important deity to the Empress Julia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimus Severus one of the few Roman Emperors to set foot in Britain and they were in Britain for a significant part of their lives. It is thought that all the inscriptions and imagery for Brigantia found so far date from that period in history when Septimus Severus lived in Britain. This does, of course, lead to the suspicion that Brigantia was made more popular at that time for political reasons but if so I think She must have already been very important to the locals to make it worthwhile for the Romans to adopt in this way.
Most of the other imagery is very much associated with Minerva, the Roman Goddess of music, poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, wisdom and strategic warfare. Her best known attributes today probably being those of wisdom, knowledge and strategy. The turreted crown symbolises a turreted wall around a town or city and is the sign of a tutelary and protective deity.
Brigantia’s name, like that of Brigid, comes from the root -brig, meaning high or exalted. From the various Roman inscriptions and imagery preserved and discovered we can see that Brigantia was almost certainly considered to be a powerful goddess. She was almost certainly linked to a particular area, probably that of the Brigantes tribe, which would make sense. It’s possible that She had links to healing water of some kind given the nymph title, it’s also possible that She was linked to the heavens in some way given the Caelestis title. Her links to Minerva suggest attributes of knowledge and wisdom and with the links to Victoria suggest some warrior attributes.
Many of these attributes are shared with Brigit of Ireland. My current feelings are that Brigit of Ireland grew and developed out of shared Goddess of both aspects of the Brigantes tribe, Brigantia. In Ireland She was able to grow and develop and then be remembered both as part of the Tuatha de Danaan and in becoming a Saint. In Scotland and parts of England She reaches across time as Bride or Bridey. And She calls me in one of Her oldest guises, Brigantia, sovereign lady of northern England, Keeper of wisdom and knowledge, Defender and Protector of those who turn to Her.
My own relationship with Brigantia has been one of gradual growth. It began really with being aware of Her as Bridget but owing to an unfortunate memory of a particular Bridget I had known many years before I was never very comfortable with that name. I saw Her as protector of learning and it seemed fitting that I should feel Her presence as I walked around the University I both attended and later worked at for many years.
When I developed and carried out lunar devotions it was first as Brigid I honoured Her on the night before the full moon with offerings of warm milk with honey and oats or oatmeal.
In time I found Her ancient name of Brigantia and through a series of coincidences came to join the flame tending cill (or group) of Clann Bhride at Imbolc 2015. From my lunar devotions I then moved to the twenty day cycle of a flame tending cill and that remains my pattern of devotion for Brigantia. Each year I learn more and deepen my relationship with this ancient Goddess. Each year She reveals another fragment of Her beautiful and complex personality to me.
When I first started flame tending I developed a version of one of the prayers to Brighid from the Clann Bhride Book of Hours which I use with the prayer beads my mum made for me of three sets of nine beads and three starting/finishing beads. This prayer has changed a little since I first wrote it and I share it with you here.
Hail Brigantia of poetry and healing!
Hail Brigantia of the forge and of justice!
Hail Brigantia of hearth and home!
Brigantia of poetry, I praise you.
Brigantia of healing, I praise you.
Brigantia of the forge, I praise you.
Brigantia of justice, I praise you.
Brigantia of fire, I praise you.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, I praise you.
Brigantia of fire in water, I praise you.
Brigantia of the shinning stars, I praise you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I praise you.
Brigantia of poetry, I honour you.
Brigantia of healing, I honour you.
Brigantia of the forge, I honour you.
Brigantia of justice, I honour you.
Brigantia of fire, I honour you.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, I honour you.
Brigantia of fire in water, I honour you.
Brigantia of the shining stars, I honour you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I honour you.
Brigantia of poetry, please help me appreciate the poetry in the world about me.
Brigantia of healing, please fill my heart with your healing that I may radiate it out to all in need.
Brigantia of the forge, please help me to forge my way in the company of all beings.
Brigantia of justice, please let me hold the flame of justice in my heart and act with it
Brigantia of fire, please fill my heart with your fire that I may radiate your warmth.
Brigantia, Nymph of water, please cleanse my mind with your waters, that I may speak with truth
Brigantia of fire in water, please fill me with your inspiration.
Brigantia of the shining stars, as you sing with the Universe, please help me to sing in harmony with those about me.
Brigantia of the hearth, please protect my home and my family.
Brigantia of poetry and healing, I thank you.
Brigantia of the forge and of justice, I thank you.
Brigantia of hearth and home, I thank you.
https://brigantesnation.com/ (accessed 31 January 2020)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes (accessed 31 January 2020)
Daimler M (2016) Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well Moon Books
Green, M. (1995) Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers British Museum Press
McGrath, S. (2015) Brigantia: Goddess of the North Boreal Publications
Clann Bhride (2013) Book of Hours for Daily and Seasonal Practice