This story is adapted from a ritual that I wrote for our Grove’s Imbolc celebration.
When the time came for Brighid to take her place amongst the gods, she went to her father, the Dagda, to see what skills were needed in the world. After looking at his daughter and considering for a long moment, he said, “I think you would do well in the realm of poets. Go visit the Hawk of the East, who trained your brother Ogma in the way of words. Seek what learning you may from him.”
So Brighid traveled into the rising sun, climbing up and up rocky slopes showered with spring petals, until she reached the nest of the Hawk of the East. The Hawk was singing the Song of Dawn to her young, coaxing them to open their eyes and beaks to greet the day. With tears in her eyes, Brigid knelt and said, “Never have I heard such sweet music. Will you teach me your song?”
The Hawk trilled softly. “The Song is a gift to be given freely. But know this: once you know this Song and have sung it, you must be prepared to teach—for once you make its words, its rhythm your own, it is not something you will be able to hide away from the world. The brightness of this Song will radiate from you, and many will seek you for inspiration and guidance. Do you still wish to learn?”
“Yes. Teach me and I will become the patron of all poets and musicians, that this beautiful Song will never be forgotten in all the time of the world.”
Thus Brighid came to teach mankind the way of poetry and song. But one task was not enough for her. Soon her heart cried out that she could do more, be more. When summer came, she set off to the south, where she knew her brother Dian Cecht had gained great healing knowledge from the proud red Stag that dwelled in the tangled woods. Though he led her a merry chase, the young goddess was swift and fleet of foot.
After many miles, the Stag still was not able to outdistance her (though she was not able to catch him, either!) As the sun rose to its zenith, he bowed his great rack of horns to her, saying, “I know what it is that you would seek from me. And if you had given up the chase, I would not even consider teaching you the arts of the physician. You will need the same tenacity to battle illness as you would to war against the Fomorians.”
Out of breath, Brighid panted, “I have fire in my heart, in my limbs, and I will not falter in my care.”
“Then you shall be goddess of the healers, the physicians. Inspire their craft, remind them of the heart that resides at the core of their vocation. For without the human spirit, the healer can heal no one.”
Now Brighid tended both poet and doctor. Yet soon she was restless again. She wanted to learn more, her thirst for knowledge driven by the fires of her spirit. She decided to travel west to the Salmon, who Brighid knew had helped her mother Danu give birth to the Dagda’s numerous children. Perhaps there she could quench the fires that burned in her heart.
Brighid journeyed through the autumn woods, so intent on finding the Salmon’s pool that she was all but oblivious to the flaming beauty around her. Eventually she found the great hazel tree, and the spring that flowed up from beneath its roots. She looked into the waters, momentarily startled as a large fish broke through her reflection.
“Brighid, daughter of Dagda, what do you seek here in my pool? What has brought you so far from hearth and home to this wild place?”
Kneeling, Brighid replied, “Wise Salmon, I know not what I seek. But I do know that my heart is restless and discontent with the knowledge I have gained from Hawk and Stag. Is there something I might learn from you that will calm my soul?”
The fish waggled her head back and forth. “Child of Plenty, Daughter of the Deep Earth, all that I know will be but a drop in the great cauldron of your spirit. But I shall teach you. You will become the greatest of midwives, tending not only the children of man, but those of cow, horse, sheep, and all others who would seek your care. Your touch will sooth the labor pangs of the mothers, and your sigh will bring comfort to the fathers. But you will be unable to turn any away—your days and nights will no longer be your own, for new life waits for no one. Do you still wish to learn?”
Brighid exclaimed, “Oh yes, Salmon, please! I’m sure I will be so busy that my heart will be full at last!”
The Salmon looked shrewdly at the young goddess, but taught her all that she knew. Before Brighid departed, the old fish told her that if her heart still yearned come winter, to visit the Bear far to the north.
Brighid was actually content for a time—a whole year, in fact! But eventually, she became restless again. Her charges flourished—the poets sang like never before, doctors made new strides in medicine, and rarely did a creature perish under her hands. Yet the emptiness was growing again in Brighid’s heart. So remembering the Salmon’s words, and being a responsible goddess, she packed a satchel and asked her brothers Dian Cecht and Ogma to look after her duties until she returned.
Following the stars, Brighid traveled for many days until she came upon a great snow- crusted cave. Teeth chattering, she called, “Mighty Bear, guardian of the North Star, Salmon has sent me to you. My name is—”
“I know who you are, Brighid, daughter of Dagda, son of Elatha,” the Bear interrupted gruffly. “Salmon mentioned you might make your way to my home. Still not satisfied, eh?” Brighid stammered. “Ah…”
Bear snorted. “I should think not. You inspire others, heal others, deliver others’ children. But you don’t save anything for yourself. Come with me. I gave these secrets to Goibniu the Smith long ago, and he used them to wage war. I give them now to you. You may choose to use them as he did…or you may choose to make things of beauty and light. Or perhaps your tastes run more to the practical. Whatever. This is your choice, to be made out of joy and wonder and love, not duty.”
And so Brighid became the patron of smiths and craftsmen. In shaping the molten heart of the earth, she found her own core. Her time in the smithy filled her heart to bursting, and that pleasure spread throughout all of her other callings as well. And so her nature was complete, a guide and mentor to poets, healers, and artisans until the end of all things.