Book Review: Brigid by Courtney Weber

Brigid by Courtney WeberBrigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber was published in 2015 by Weiser Books. I picked it up in 2016, but only got around to reading it recently. The book is divided into ten chapters ranging from about 15-30 pages each. I picked this book up off my shelf as Imbolc loomed large over the horizon. Having already read a couple of books on the Sabbat itself, I decided to learn more about the goddess associated with it: Brigid.

On the whole my feelings about this book are positive, but I did struggle to read it at points, and for multiple reasons. I found myself getting a little bored at parts, forgetting what I had just read, or letting my eyes flit around the page. I started out really enjoying the book, but early on, the author confides that the book is part of a ‘deal’ that she made with the goddess. Forgetting the deal and not holding up her end of the bargain, the author says that Brigid became cold and vengeful, culminating in the priestess doing Weber’s dedication hitting and berating her. Finally, a friend channels Brigid who, again, vengefully leaves the newly-pregnant woman with twins who resemble the goddess as punishment for the friend’s resistance. There’s something about 1) speaking the mystical aloud, and 2) this vengeful idea of Brigid, that cooled me on the book somewhat. I’m all for warrior goddess – all for them – but the idea of Brigid as petty and cruel over what amount to human error or misunderstandings just doesn’t resonate with me. Also, as witches and pagans we all have unusual mystical experiences, but when they’re stated aloud they lose something to me. I feel like the author’s personal stories about Brigid were a roadblock to me fully appreciating the book, and the research that went into it. All that being said, there’s quite a lot of good in the book as well, so let’s get to the content of the book itself.

Chapter 1 “Who is Brigid?” covers the goddess across a variety of cultures, though the book itself focuses on her incarnations as a Celtic goddess and Catholic saint. Her Vodou Loa (or Iwa, as this book spells it) is addressed briefly as well. There are many different stories and traditions surrounding Brigid since she has endured for such a long time including Maman Brigitte, Bride, and Brigantia. The Irish Druid tradition is discussed here, and throughout the book, as well. Some traditions have her as the daughter of Lugh, which interests me since Imboc and Lughnasadh are opposites on the Wheel of the Year. This book works with Brigid, but is not specific to one pagan path, which many will appreciate. Reading an overview of Brigid’s presence in many cultures throughout time was very interesting to me; however, the section “For My Part …” is where my issues with the book (discussed above) started.

Chapter 2 “The Origins of Brigid” is rather short (12 pages) and includes various Brigid origin stories, with interpretations by the author. There is a meditation included at the end of the chapter which, like all the meditations in the book, is quite good. My only complaint about this chapter is that I wish it was longer. Chapter 3 “Brigid the Healer: Lady of Sacred Waters” is about the healing and well aspects of the goddess. This chapter gives various exercises for working with this part of the goddess that use wells and water. Chapter 4 “Brigid the Bard: Goddess of the Arts and Craftsmanship” is similar to the previous chapter, but focuses on the goddess’ bardic gifts. There are some helpful spells for creatives included here, as well as more Brigid stories with reflections.

Chapter 5 “The Forge and the Anvil: Brigid the Fire Goddess” is where the book starts to lose me again. It discusses the Celtic Wicker Man – a human effigy filled with animals and people that is burned – which felt unnecessary in a discussion of Brigid. The Wicker Man may or may not have even been real, and it makes pagans look like idiots, so I’m not sure why it comes up in pagan books. The chapter, in general, discusses her smithwork and shrine at Kildare, along with myths and several rituals. The photos in the book are primarily the author’s, and are not good quality for printing. A professional photographer would have helped the book out tremendously.

For a book about Brigid, the Druids and their traditions are discussed just as frequently, and Chapter 6 “Goddess of the Oak: The Sacrificial Brigid” is one such chapter. The chapter discusses the oak tree, which is quite interesting, and the lessons that can be gleaned from several oak myths are included as well. However, I’m distanced from the book again when the Druids are presented as participating in human sacrifice: “The best of the sacrificial offerings was man, and bloody rites in the name of pleasing the Gods were performed in the oak groves of the Druids” (103). There is no citation for this or the quotes that are included in this section, which would have been helpful, to say the least. The issue is that, since Druids had an oral tradition, nothing about them was written down by them. What we know the the Druids comes from outside sources, the most salacious of which is from the Romans, who conquered the Druids and were known for their propaganda. Later on Weber does say that all this might not be true, but she heavily implies that it is, and clearly agrees that the Wicker Man was real. Human sacrifice did happen in history, but I highly doubt that it was widespread. What Weber cites is “one account” by a “frightened writer” which makes it seem credible when it was almost certainly Roman propaganda (103). The author not properly crediting the source seems like an attempt to keep it from being undermined, and the author is not Druid, which means there’s no attachment to that tradition or sorting out fact from fiction. I asked my partner, who is Druid, about this chapter, and much of the above is from our discussion and his response. Uninformed readers or readers who are not skeptical may accept what Weber says as fact, and that’s dangerous, since the information is from the Druid’s conquerors and not the Druids themselves.

Chapter 7 “Battle Goddess: Brigid the Warrior” is an interesting chapter about this aspect of the goddess along with some reflections. This is not my favorite chapter in the book because at this point the lack of source citation is under my skin. This chapter again focuses on Druids for a large section of it, but on the whole has some good information.

Chapter 8 “Imbolc: Brigid the Springtime Goddess, the Mother, and the Midwife” is the longest section of the book weighing in at 31 pages. This chapter is where the author recounts the story of her friend being left two children by an angry Brigid, which you may remember me complaining about in the introduction. This chapter uses a lot of information from the Catholic tradition as well as the Celtic one. As much as a chapter about Brigid as a midwife is appreciate and useful, introducing the chapter by presenting an anecdote of Brigid being vengeful on a pregnant woman sets a more ominous tone. At first I couldn’t place my finger on what bothered me about the chapter, but now I realize that the way that the chapter is introduced undermines the message of it. How can the reader be expected to trust Brigid with their pregnancies if the author has just presented the goddess as vengeful against a misguided pregnant woman?

I adore animals, so Chapter 9 “Brigid and Animals” was a welcome one to me. It goes into several animals that are sacred to Brigid, why they are sacred, and how you can find your “Brigid animal,” all of which I very much enjoyed reading. Chapter 10 “Brigid Magick” is the final chapter of the book and is filled with spells, making it another very useful chapter. It touches on altars, casting a Brigid-specific space, herbs and ingredients, and goes through a variety of spells that can be done when working with the goddess. This chapter helps end the book on a high note, in my opinion.

Conclusion

Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess is good, but not great. I would recommend it for intermediate witches and pagans who want to learn more about the goddess, but who are also critical readers. However, I do not recommend if for new witches and pagans who have not already familiarized themselves with Brigid or pagan history. Some of the information in the book, appearing without sources and very little critical examination, can present ideas that can be damaging to Druids and other traditions. The idea that Weber, as a person outside of Vodou, will not write about it, but is okay perpetuating harmful ideas about Druids, left me with a wary feeling. The cover is beautiful, but the inside illustrations, on the whole, are poor. However, Chapter 1, 2, 8, and 9 are the strongest chapters in the book, and are worth a read. In the end, I’m still searching for my ‘perfect’ Brigid book.

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