The Coming of Bride by John Duncan.
Most people associate the Goddess movement with the 1970s and 80s, yet this impulse actually began a hundred years earlier, when spiritually oriented Victorians – noticeably in England and Northern Europe, the Protestant countries – became aware of a growing need within the collective psyche for the feminine aspect of the divine. They felt more than ready for her presence in a world that had been in a sorry state of imbalance for centuries in terms of religion and culture, particularly in the last two hundred years of arid scientific materialism and soulless industrial development.

Dr. John Goodchild, a medical doctor with a practice in the South of France, was one of those who staunchly believed that the sacred feminine should be restored to Western religion and culture. He expressed his beliefs in a book, The Light of the West, published in 1898, where he set out to show that the Celtic peoples were originally matrifocal and that ancient Ireland was the centre of a religion that venerated a Great Goddess. The leader of this cult was the Mor Rigan, or Great Queen, whom he viewed as a historical person rather than a mythological figure, as she is usually portrayed.[1]  Goodchild believed that from this goddess stemmed all the wisdom teachings of the druids and bards, and that her cult later became attached to the figure of Bride, the personification of the Gaelic folk-soul, who integrated the ancient pagan ways with the new religion of Christianity.[2] 

Since one of Bride’s cult centers was Glastonbury, this proved to Goodchild that the deepest roots of Western spiritual life were in the West rather than in the East, a concept that was in part a reaction to the recent fashion for all things Eastern cherished by the Theosophists and their offshoots. In The Light of the West he explains why the sacred feminine is so crucial to the world:

The Light of the West is the beauty of womanhood. It inculcates the hatred of warfare, and of empires established by the greed of nations or rulers. It preaches woman’s desire for the empire of love.[3]

The Scottish writer and visionary, William Sharp, was another believer in the redemptive power of the Goddess. Coming from Scotland, where Bride was still loved and revered by many of the country people, (especially in the Roman Catholic communities of the Highlands and Islands,) it was natural enough that he should regard her as the supreme embodiment of the divine feminine. He was well aware of Bride’s ancient lineage which predates the saint of popular Scottish tradition. In his view, her legend:

. . . goes further back than the days of the monkish chroniclers who first attempted to put the guise of verbal Christian raiment on the most widely-loved and revered beings of the ancient Celtic pantheon. Long before . . . ever the first bell of Christ was heard by startled Druids . . .the Gaels worshipped a Brighde or Bride, goddess of women, of fire, of poetry . . . one whom the Druids held in honour as a torch bearer of the eternal light . . .[4]

Writing in the persona of Fiona Macleod in The Winged Destiny, Sharp described this longed-for event as likely to happen on the Scottish island of Iona, with which Glastonbury is said to have strong psychic and spiritual links:[5]

I believe that though the Reign of Peace may be yet a long way off, it is drawing near; and that Who shall save us anew shall come divinely as a Woman – but whether through mortal birth, or as an immortal breathing upon our souls, none can yet know. Sometimes I dream of the old prophecy that Christ shall come again upon Iona; and of that later prophecy which foretells, now as, the Bride of Christ, now as the Daughter of God, now as the Divine Spirit embodied through mortal birth – the coming of a new Presence and Power; and dream that this may be upon Iona, so that the little Gaelic island may become as the little Syrian Bethlehem. But more wise is it to dream, not of hallowed ground, but of the hallowed gardens of the soul, wherein She shall appear white and radiant. Or that, upon the hills, where we are wandered, the Shepherdess shall call us home.[6]

The pun on Bride’s name, which suggests she is the Bride of Christ, occurs frequently in Sharp/Macleod’s work. She is also called the ‘Shepherdess of the Flocks,’ the complement of Christ as the Good Shepherd. One of the most powerful invocations of Brigit appears in the same book:

I am older than Brigit of the Mantle, I put songs and music on the wind before ever the bells of the chapels were rung in the West or heard in the East. I am Brighid-nam-Bratta, but I am also Brighid-Muirghin-na-tuinne, and Brighid-sluagh, Brighid-nan-sitheach seang, Brighid-Binne-Bheule-lhuchd-nan-trusganan-uaine, and I am older than Aone,and as old as Luan. And in Tir-na-h'oige my name is Suibhal-bheann, and in Tir-fo-thuinn, it is Cú-gorm; and in Tir-na-h'oise it is Sireadh-thall. And I have been a breath in your heart, and the day has its feet to it that will see me coming into the hearts of men and women like a flame upon dry grass, like a flame of wind in a great wood. [7]

This extraordinary incantation of Brigit’s names reveals how deeply Sharp/Macleod was able to penetrate into the essence of this goddess and saint, tracing her origins to a time long before Christian era. Brighid-nam-Bratta means Brigit of the Mantle, a traditional reference to her cloak, which is sometimes described as golden, sometimes as green. As can be seen in the folk-tales, the golden mantle refers to her identity as goddess of the sun and fire, bringing warmth and life to all; while the green mantle identifies her as the Earth Goddess who created the fertile, grassy meadows and hills.  Brighid-Muirghin-na-tuinne, ‘Conception of the Waves,’ Brighid-sluagh, ‘Brighid of the Faery Host,’ and Brighid-Binne-Bheule-lhuchd-nan-trusganan-uaine, ‘Brigid the Melodious Mouthed of the Tribe of the Green Mantles’all point to her origins in the faery world, lore which Sharp claimed he got from his old Highland nurse. He goes on to recite a further litany of evocative names from the Scottish Otherworld, known as Tir-na-h'oige, ‘Land of Youth’ and Tir-fo-thuinn, ‘Country of the Waves’ and Tir-na-h'oise:  Country of Ancient Years. In these inner planes, she is called Suibhal-bheann, ‘Mountain Traveler,’ Cú-gorm, Grey hound, and Sireadh-thall, ‘Seek Beyond,’ this last being an invitation to seek her beyond the material world. This is the ever-changing face of the Great Goddess that William Sharp, John Goodchild and the rest of those hopeful seekers saw as setting the West on fire with her beauty, love and wisdom.

[1] Benham, Patrick, The Avalonians,  (Glastonbury: Gothic Image Publications; 2nd ed., 2006),  p. 17. This was Goodchild’s spelling; the correct name is Mórrígan.

[2] Benham, ibid, p. 17

[3] Benham, ibid, p. 21

[4] Blamires, Steve. The Little Book of the Great Enchantment, Arcata, CA: RJ Stewart Books,p. 307

[5] Wellesley Tudor Pole and others believed in a sacred triangle of three holy places: Glastonbury, Iona, and Devenish Island in Ireland.

[6] Macleod, Fiona. The Winged Destiny: Studies in the Spiritual History of the Gael. London, William Heineman, 1913. p. 213

[7] Macleod, ibid, p. 209

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