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Author Topic: Question about Flame Tenders  (Read 4721 times)
Aster Breo
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« Topic Start: April 01, 2007, 10:16:44 pm »

During this evening's Cill chat, Sparrow asked if anyone knew anything about the women who tended Brighid's flame in pre-Christian times, specifically if they were virgins.  I offered to check my resources.

In my not-completely-exhaustive search, I've found numerous references to the Christian practice of nuns (presumably virgin) tending St. Brigit's flame in Kildare, including several references to the supposition that this practice was a carry-over from a pagan practice.

However, the closest I've gotten to anything specifying a pagan practice of tending a flame to honor the goddess Brighid is in The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint, by Sean O Duinn.  On page 65, the author quotes De Vries in discussing Brighid's likenesses to Minerva, and posits that Brighid and Sul (aka Sulis) are the same goddess.

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In this regard, it must be remembered that the goddess "Sul" worshipped at Bath is assimilated to Minerva by Solinus who says that she is a goddess of springs, that is of thermal wells.  In her temple a perpetual fire burned.  This brings to mind Vesta the Roman goddess of the hearth, but also the Irish goddess Brigit.  The name "Sul" must mean "sun".

Tenuous, I know.  But that's the closest reference I've found so far of a perpetual flame linked in any way with the pagan goddess Brighid, rather than the Christian St. Brigit.

Does anyone have any other sources?

Thanks.
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« Reply #1: April 02, 2007, 02:04:52 pm »

During this evening's Cill chat, Sparrow asked if anyone knew anything about the women who tended Brighid's flame in pre-Christian times, specifically if they were virgins.  I offered to check my resources.

In my not-completely-exhaustive search, I've found numerous references to the Christian practice of nuns (presumably virgin) tending St. Brigit's flame in Kildare, including several references to the supposition that this practice was a carry-over from a pagan practice.

However, the closest I've gotten to anything specifying a pagan practice of tending a flame to honor the goddess Brighid is in The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint, by Sean O Duinn.  On page 65, the author quotes De Vries in discussing Brighid's likenesses to Minerva, and posits that Brighid and Sul (aka Sulis) are the same goddess.

Tenuous, I know.  But that's the closest reference I've found so far of a perpetual flame linked in any way with the pagan goddess Brighid, rather than the Christian St. Brigit.

Does anyone have any other sources?

Thanks.

Celtic Gods and Goddesses by R.J. Stewart goes into that in the chapter Brighid/Minerva on pages 93-97.

Page 99 of the same book mentioning virgins and Brighid says 
Quote
originally this festival of a goddess at spring and in the procession of virgins would have led to a ritual mating ceremony, to bring new souls into the community. Even today certain folk ceremonies have a powerful undercurrent of sexualityand fertility.
Not specifically about flamekeeping and doesn't say that the practice was pre-christian.

I was just curious to know if the practice of only "pure" women tending the flame came from pre christian sources. I haven't come across anything that indicated that it did, but I haven't read the volume of material you have.

For some of us pure of heart will have to do  Cheesy
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dragonfaerie
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« Reply #2: April 02, 2007, 07:58:35 pm »

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the original idea of virgin priestesses meant unmarried, which is not necessarily virginal. But like most things I recall reading, I can't remember where I read it.  Undecided

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« Reply #3: April 02, 2007, 08:04:32 pm »

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the original idea of virgin priestesses meant unmarried, which is not necessarily virginal. But like most things I recall reading, I can't remember where I read it.  Undecided

Karen

I have no idea where I read this, but at sometime in the last 30 years I read something (probably a pagan resource) that maiden meant never having had a child (not virgin, necessarily) and that virgin meant not yet sexually active. Again, this factoid has popped up and I have NO idea where I read it. But it does make sense to me. Which is why I probably rememered it.

Also, I don't remember reading that Brighit's priestesses (this is definitely pagan) were 'virgin', just priestesses. Now Saint Brighit's were ALWAYS nuns. So, virginal fer sure!

Phouka

edited to remove an extra Phouka
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Aster Breo
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« Reply #4: April 02, 2007, 08:06:19 pm »

But like most things I recall reading, I can't remember where I read it.  Undecided

Yeah, this whole thing is making me think I need to undertake the massive project of going back through all my materials and indexing them somehow, so I can find all this stuff.

Or maybe write a book...or at least a long essay Wink
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« Reply #5: April 02, 2007, 08:27:10 pm »

LOL... at least I have the cojones to actually admit I don't remember the source of something, rather than just making something up to sound smart and totally blowing smoke out my butt...  Grin

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« Reply #6: April 02, 2007, 11:23:08 pm »

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the original idea of virgin priestesses meant unmarried, which is not necessarily virginal. But like most things I recall reading, I can't remember where I read it.  Undecided

Karen

I also have no idea where I came across this idea, but I've heard the idea of "virgin" = "whole and complete unto oneself".
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« Reply #7: April 03, 2007, 12:44:40 am »

I also have no idea where I came across this idea, but I've heard the idea of "virgin" = "whole and complete unto oneself".
Most of my direct sources for that (in its various phrasings) were oral - that is, individuals of my acquaintance.  Well, to be exact, women (sometimes, "womyn") of my acquaintance.  I can guess, but don't know specifically, that their sources were probably folks like Merlin Stone, Mary Daly, and the like.

Now, just because the feminist Goddess-spirituality contingent was all over that one, doesn't mean that no academically-sound source has never presented a case for "virgin" having had such a meaning at one time.  Certainly there were cultures in which women could, in fact, belong to themselves rather than having to belong to some man - I'm reminded of what the Briton "tribal queen" said to the Roman matron (something about Briton women being free to consort with the best men in public, while Roman women consorted with the worst ones in secret) which I think comes from contemporary Roman sources - but for the word "virgin" itself, one should look only to cultures where that word was part of the language (i.e. Latin [IIRC], and later languages that inherited it from Latin).  Other words in other languages apply only to their own cultures, and can't be identically equivalent; something is always lost in translation.

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