Warrior Archetypes IV: Brigid - The Work Of War
War isn’t something that you just get up and do. It’s an enormous operation, requiring patience and attention to detail. First of all, an army has to be fed; the Romans were the first to say that an army travels on its stomach. Second, there must be some kind of medical help, if you are to save any warriors for later usefulness. Third, they must have proper clothing, armor, and weapons, and the ability to fix them should they break. Even shoes - for both soldiers and their mounts - can make or break a forced march. The better prepared and equipped your warriors are, the more likely they are to be victorious - and the less likely they are to mutiny.
Brigid understands work all too well. Unlike some other warrior deities who seem to spend all their time fighting, she has plenty of other jobs to take up her time. Warriors who follow the Brigid archetype are often the ones who get up in the middle of the heated debate on ethics and morals and right and wrong and ask hard questions like: How much work is this all going to take? Who is going to be expected to do it? What if they don’t show up? What is this going to cost? How will we feed, arm, and fix everyone? What if this breaks us?
Brigid warriors like details and lists. These are the editors and correctors of life’s faults, the ones who go through thousands of possible errors in order to make a project as fault-free and perfect as possible. Lest this be disparaged, please recall that sometimes an error can be a hole in a HazMat suit or a couple of loose tiles on the side of a space shuttle. In order to get through this kind of mind-numbing work, you need fire behind it.
The Irish goddess Brigid was the Maiden of Fire, but not wildfire. She was warrior, smith, healer, and poet. This job description reads like the four directions, and Brigid is a versatile goddess. In her smith guise, she is where fire meets iron, forging metal from the ground. She also has patronage of other crafts such as fiber arts and jewelry. For Brigid, it is not just about competence - although one can certainly ask her for that - so much as it is about how a craftsman puts a piece of soul into his work. Soul into Work.....Fire into Earth. The hammer and the anvil. True competence is more than just making something properly. Things made by true craftsmen draw the eye, invite the touch, make you want to admire their elegance, even if they are just simple tools. There is something about them, you tell yourself as you explore them with your Earth sense - touch - that is hard to explain. It makes them more than inanimate objects. It gives them something that could be called a Soul, and it can be recognized even by someone who does not understand their use.
Brigid is a warrior, and she is quite capable of fighting just as hard as any other warrior archetype, and with more skill than many. However, she is rarely shown in battle, preferring to find another way to solve the problems if possible. Her emphasis on Work shows that she will only take up the sword as a last resort, when everything else has failed. To find her weapon, we must look to her gift of poetry. She supposedly invented all the Celtic alphabets, including the Ogham writing, and inspires bards and writers. The Brigid warrior will may choose to fight with words, writing or speaking inspirationally in order to aid her allies and win her war. It’s turning the warrior energy to the place where Fire meets Air - energy and imagination that create the heat to stimulate change.
Brigid is also a healer, skilled in the arts of earthly herbs and their use, and the Brigid warrior can have a drive towards the active, practical processes of healing, whether that is herbalism or allopathic medicine or apothecary work or the medical and scientific research that creates new treatments. It is an area where the careful observation of detail can make the difference between life and death, and also where she can pit herself against a real, unmistakable enemy, disease of the body. A good doctor needs to be partly a warrior, because it’s the only way to keep from giving up when all seems hopeless and ugly, as disease can often be. If she has a flaw here, it’s that her enthusiasm can allow her to run rampant over the patient, forgetting that the “battle ground” here is a living human being with their own needs and opinions. Compassion is fairly foreign to an archetype of Fire, and she may need some reminding of the humanity of those she seeks to heal. They may not, in fact, actually want to be healed, and having to accept that opinion even when she thinks it ridiculous is an important trial for her. Sometimes people are just going to resist your help, and you can’t run after them.
This is where Brigid’s other symbol - the Holy Well - comes into play. She is the keeper of the Holy Well of Glastonbury, where the healthy iron-rich red waters flow forth. A true healer-warrior will learn to be conscious both of the physical mechanics and of the psychological well-being of the patient. They will learn to be a flowing source of health that does not cut itself off when faced with someone supposedly “unworthy”. Brigid’s Well shows the warrior as patient Water, which can wear away stone.
The bravery of the Brigid warrior manifests itself in humble but still courageous ways. This is the placement that will keep going quietly when other warriors give up and scream in frustration. In a sense, Brigid expects to meet difficulty, and so is not surprised when she does. Often, she uses her gift for detail and ingenuity to solve the problem rather than flinging herself at it repeatedly until it moves or she is defeated. She is a patient untier of knots, as shown by the legend of her Christianized form, St. Brigid.
St. Brigid is an abbess, and though some people may be jarred by the transition of pagan goddess to nun, it is important to remember that abbesses often had more power, both socially and over their own groups, than any other women in medieval society. To this day, in Kildare, there is a shrine to Brigid where women (monastic and otherwise) keep a flame burning at all times in her honor. This sacred discipline has the feel of the Roman vestal virgins, related to Hestia. There is also a definite monastic feel to Brigid, both in her concentration on work as a sacred discipline, and her ability to be one-in-herself without being lonely. This is not to say that no Brigid warrior ever gets lonely, but they tend to be much more innately skilled at aloneness, and even require it periodically for their own spiritual development.
At any rate, St. Brigid asked the local lord for some land to build an abbey. He wasn’t keen on giving any up, and so told her rather derisively that she could have as much land as she could surround with the edges of her black woolen nun’s cloak. She took him literally. All day she unraveled the threads of her cloak and tied them together into one long string, and all night she unrolled it until it surrounded many acres of land. The next morning, the embarrassed lord grudgingly granted her petition, as his colleagues were applauding Brigid’s ingenuity, determination, and persistence. Those are the hallmarks of the Brigid warrior....never the one first to charge, but often the one who do the final clean-up afterwards.