Colours of Brigid
We recognise aes sidhe as almost ephemeral spirits of place, present but often veiled, existing in a realm parallel to ours and only sometimes accessible. They may be known as active guardians / protectors to the area and to some extent all that lives there, but they are mostly known through stories and legends passed down the generations. Imbolc sees our interest turned to Brigid, perhaps ancient goddess of the land, and certainly Christian saint, one of the three patron saints of Ireland (with Patrick and Columba). Her story is well known and her presence more tangible than the aes sidhe. Statues are erected in her name and holy relics stored in churches.
The country of Ireland is often referred to as her green mantle. In legends Brigid symbolically spreads her mantle over part of Kildare and claims the land for herself and for her church foundation. Those on the land come under her mantle, her protection and it is a blessing to be placed faoi bhrat Bhríde sinn (under Brigid's mantle).
Of course this healthy green-ness of the vegetation arises because of the superb Irish climate, where salty sea water, travelling in the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean, brings both warmth and abundant rainfall. These conditions result in many rainbows.
Bridging the land and
heaven, rainbows, multi-coloured and magical, are connected to the
spiritual manifestation of place. Treasure is found where the
rainbow touches the ground.
association is personified in Brigid's rainbow story. Caught in a
rainstorm, she hangs her mantle on a sunbeam to dry. Dripping from
its edges, colourful rainbows form in the water droplets, and her
mantle is 'bright' with colour.
Another story connects
to a similar imagery - the rainbow cloak of Manannán mac lir. His
cloak is also invoked for protection and it had the properties of
changing colour to blend with a particular time of day, blue-green to
silver in daylight and purple in the evening. It became the grey
mist or sea fog, providing a veil of invisibility and thus safety.
Colours connected to Brigid include:
White (geal) is her
colour, and symbolizes purity. White in the environment brings to
mind the pristine snowy landscape during her festival in early
It is also the colour of her sacred food – milk and milk products. As an infant she would tolerate no impure food, and was fed on the milk of a white skinned, red eared cow. This immediately infers the symbolism of an otherworldly spirit. The colours are also repeated in the red, white and black oystercatcher that is called Brigid’s bird.
According to Robert Graves, one of her symbols was the White Swan.
Black the town yonder,
Black those that are in it,
I am the White Swan,
Queen of them all.
Boinne, goddes of the River Boyne in Meath, is also anciently connected to white. Her name is interpreted as white cow, bó find. And here there is another connection to milk, as her river is likened to the Milky Way. And what constellation travels along the Milky Way? Cygnus the Swan. So many layers of symbolic meaning that come to us when we start linking to the spirit of place! Sometimes it is best to 'keep it simple' as we over interpret what we feel, and yet we do need to satisfy all realms of being, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual when sensing our environment and living / interacting with it.
Green (glas). An old
name for Brigid was Brighid of the Tribe of the Green Mantles. And
Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle.
At Imbolc, as green
shoots appear through the dark cold earth we have the promise of
Spring, of renewed life, and the spirit of place changes as the
warming sun melts the drifts of snow and ice. How we feel, sense and
experience the genus loci can indeed change with the seasons.
In Christian tradition, her mantle is blue, which is also associated
with the Virgin Mary.
If we are
familiar with the legends and myths we know that blue, along with
green, crimson, red and purple were reserved for royalty in Ireland.
Immediately we see a figure out of the corner of our eye, and notice that they are wearing these colours. We know that we are in the presence of an important essence of the environment.
Red (ruadh) is also her
colour - the colour of the flames in the hearth and of the fires in
her forge. Brigid is described variously as flame or red haired.
The green / red associations continue with the description of Bodb Derg (Red Lord) and his followers in Tain Bo Cuailgne thus:
There was no person among them that was not the son of a king or a queen. They all wore green cloaks, and they wore kilts with red inter-weavings, and borders or fringes of gold thread upon them …Read more about colours relating to genus loci here.... Colour