As we approach Imbolg & Brigid’s sacred festival, I’m reflecting on what it means to tend Brigid’s eternal flame as a spiritual practice, and how this simple ritual can enrich our lives as modern women.
(If you don’t know anything about flame keeping and/or goddess Brigid, you’ll definitely want to keep reading!)
We live in a unique and extraordinary time where we’re seeing a revival of the sacred feminine in her many forms, and a deep longing to place feminine values at the center of our lives.
In Ireland, the honoring of Saint Brigid’s Day as a national holiday (which started last year in 2022) is a tangible example of this revival.
Siobhán McSweeney, an Irish actress known for her role in Derry Girls, recently shared in an article in The Guardian: “I do think a feminine spirit has finally come back to Ireland. We’ve thrown out the dour masculine authority of the church and patriarchal amendments to our constitution. A wave of feminine energy is wiping away all these manmade things to reveal the country I recognise: partly pagan, matriarchal, intelligent and powerful.”
This observation resonates so deeply for me, and echoes what I’ve experienced on my journeys to Ireland over the past four years.
So what does this revival of the feminine spirit mean for us in our modern lives, and how do we embody it? This is a question that I continuously spiral back to, again and again, as I create meaningful pathways of connection for women.
Tending a devotional flame in honor of Brigid is one way that we as modern women can feel a feminine connection that is ancient, rooted and real, threading us into the ancestral traditions of the past.
Video filmed at Brigid’s well at Faughart, Co. Louth, Ireland
Song: my cover of “Welcome Brigid: A Sacred Imbolc Chant” by James Stone
What is Flame Keeping?
To begin this conversation about flame keeping, it feels important to set the context for where this tradition comes from.
There are two stories about the tradition of flame keeping in the cultural traditions of Ireland and Britain, where an eternal flame was kept burning in honor of Brigid and Brigantia, respectively.
I will briefly share these stories as a way of connecting you to the ancient nature of this tradition.
Saint Brigid’s Eternal Flame
There is a story about a perpetual flame being kept at Kildare in Ireland, where St. Brigid established her church in the 5th century. The story goes that nineteen nuns (who were part of Saint Brigid’s spiritual community) watched over the flame, tending the fire in 19-day intervals.
On the nineteenth day, one of the nuns would say “Brigid guard your fire, this is your night”, and Brigid herself was said to watch over the flame on the 20th day. It is thought that these sacred fire keepers later became known as Daughters of the Flame.
There is some speculation that this tradition actually goes back into pre-Christian Ireland, and that a ritual fire might have been burned on the hill of Kildare in honor of goddess Brigid.
The credibility of this story, about St. Brigid’s perpetual flame at Kildare, is a bit questionable, but nonetheless this story has become an important part of her mythos. In 1993, Brigid’s perpetual flame was re-lighted in Kildare, where the eternal flame is still tended today by the Brigidine Sisters.
Interestingly, in a text called The Triads of Ireland, Kildare is called “the heart of Ireland”, and this symbolism speaks to me of Brigid’s fire and her love burning at the heart of Ireland eternally.
Statue of Brigid at her sacred well in Kildare, Ireland
Brigantia’s Eternal Flame
Northern England, centered around what is now known as Yorkshire, was once home to a tribe called the Brigantes. Their patron goddess was Brigantia, who is the British counterpart of the more well-known Brigid from Ireland.
Interestingly, it has been suggested by a notable Irish scholar, Dáithí O hOgain, that it was the immigration of some of the Brigantes tribe to south-eastern Ireland in the 1st century that brought the goddess there.
The reason that we know about Brigantia at all is because of something called “interpretatio Romano” which was a practice of taking indigenous deities in the places the Romans conquered, and then syncretizing those gods and goddesses to their own.
When the Romans did this to Brigantia, they felt that Minerva , Fortuna and Victoria were the most suitable goddess from their own tradition to synthesize with her.
There was a temple in Northern England dedicated to Brigantia/Minerva, where a perpetual flame was kept in honor of her. Although people tend to be more familiar with Brigid’s perpetual flame at Kildare, we actually know with more certainty that there was a perpetual flame kept for Brigantia, and with less certainty that there was ever a perpetual flame kept at Kildare.
You can read more about Brigantia in my blog post Brigantia: Lost Goddess of Northern England.
Ancient statue of Brigantia, a Gallo-Roman and Romano-British goddess
The Revival of Flame Keeping as a Spiritual Practice
Carl Jung says that when the dominant narrative of a culture begins to fail, people revert to older ways of relating to the world at large. Our dominant cultural narrative of hyper individualism, competition and predatory notions of “success” have created violent systems of supremacy; systems which are beginning to crumble around us.
It therefore feels natural that we might look to the distant past to reimagine a different kind of narrative for ourselves, especially as we look towards an uncertain future.
For me personally, the spiritual practice of flame keeping as a devotional practice to honor Brigid / Brigantia creates a visceral and direct connection to the heart, and to values such as compassion, community, and care; values that we often lose sight of in the “rat race” of the modern world.
Flame keeping places the nurturing of self and others at the heart of life, and brings me back to the importance of hearth and home. Yet there’s also a power in keeping the flame, a sense of divine will and personal will weaving together as one. When connecting with Brigantia in particular, I often feel a fierceness, like a mama bear who protects her cubs.
Having guided hundreds of women to connect with the eternal flame over the years, I’ve found that there’s a simplicity to the practice that provides an easy pathway of connection.
There’s nothing complex about keeping a flame; it’s truly a return to basics, which is such good medicine in the midst of modern complexity.
Tending a hearth, which is one expression of tending a flame, is something that so many of our women ancestors would have done, generation after generation. While I feel great inspiration and affinity for the nuns and priestesses of antiquity who tended Brigid and Brigantia’s eternal flames, it’s also important to remember the everyday women—our ancestors—who tended hearth and home. These fire keepers of our lineages have so much ancestral wisdom to share with us, and tending the flame helps to create meaningful connections with them.
From running Daughters of the Flame, I’m also acutely aware that the spiritual practice of flame keeping is most impactful when done in community. This is one of my deepest intentions with Daughters of the Flame; to provide women with a supportive, community space to connect with themselves and each other in meaningful ways, with feminine values burning bright at the center.
Tending the flame provides us with an opportunity to bring a deep sense of intentionality to our lives, and a refocusing of feminine values and what truly matters.
Join me for Daughters of the Flame 2023
Enrollment is now open for this year’s Daughters of the Flame 20-day devotional journey with Goddess Brigid. You can join this heartfelt journey here.
If you’d like to learn more about this offering and have an introductory experience of becoming a fire keeper, I lovingly invite you to join my free event on February 1st called Ancient Feminine.
This is a heartfelt journey designed to awaken your ancient feminine power through the wisdom of Celtic Goddess Brigid.
At the event you will:
🔥 LEARN About Different Aspects Of Brigid As A Pan-Celtic Goddess, And Her Sacred Mysteries That Hold Powerful Activations Of The Sacred Feminine
🔥 CONNECT With Brigid Through An Embodied Journey With Powerful Remembrances & Activations
🔥 RECLAIM An Aspect Of Your Ancient Feminine Power Through A Powerful Fire Ritual
Beloved sister, this is an opportunity to connect with the wisdom of goddess Brigid and awaken the mysteries of the ancient feminine within you. You can register and learn more about this offering here:
Sacred & wild blessings,