Patron Deities

Brigid, Patron of Poets, Smiths and CowsLast night at the online ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year, led by Reverend Jesse,  we talked about personal religion and patron deities. The patron deity notion has been an issue for me of late. Last August when I joined ADF, I thought I belonged to Brigid. I had been praying and studying and wearing a Brigid necklace for over a year. I felt like I was in a comfortable and happy relationship there– a connection to my heritage and the Gaelic/Celtic culture that I love.  I felt simultaneously comforted and challenged to live outside my usual boundaries.

Then, on the ADF discussion lists, a lot of people began discussing Brigid, and the Goddess they described didn’t really resonate with the Brigid I thought I knew. One of the most vocal people, who claims immense relationship and authority, worships a Brigid so far removed from my understanding that my only way to rationalize it was to consider that perhaps there are many Brigids. That idea got shot down pretty firmly by people who know much more about it all than I do, and know more than I will ever know or could ever know. I realized that my relationship was shallow and weak and basically meaningless. I am not a daughter of Brigid after all. I probably never will be.

This was immensely sad for me, and for a while I stopped doing any serious work on my DP and stuck to my Lararium prayers and not much else.  I thought seriously about leaving ADF– everyone else seems to not only have a patron deity or three but also a much more direct and personal relationship with their patrons. I don’t know if my personality really allows for that. I’m slow and cautious and careful for the most part with relationships. It’s rare for me to have those blinding, transcendent experiences that seem to be the heart of ADF members’ relationship with their Gods. I’m smaller and quieter than that. Repressed, some call it, but that’s not a fair diagnosis. Not all of us are large and extroverted in our emotions. That doesn’t always mean “repressed”.

Reverend Jesse’s class last night made me feel immensely better about these issues. She pointed out that not everybody has a Patron Deity, not always immediately, sometimes not ever, and sometimes those relationships don’t last forever.  So perhaps there is hope for me yet.


20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Grey Wren
    Apr 14, 2011 @ 21:06:01

    I have several things to say, so forgive me for a super-long comment.

    How were they portraying Brigid? I’m curious, partly because I’m a lookie-loo, and partly because I go back and forth about Brigid as a possible patroness. I honor Brigid regularly as a hearth goddess, but have never felt a strong connection personally to her. She is, in fact, part of what attracted me to ADF and to a Celtic hearth culture, but I’ve never felt ready to make a commitment to her.

    Still, there’s a point that should be made about understanding deities, particularly in the incredibly intimate patronage relationship: The gods and goddesses are, just as much as WE are, individuals. Do you have the same relationship with your best friend that, say, her best coworker friend has? Do you have the same relationship with a significant other that s/he does with a best friend? We get to know people in different ways, and we all love individuals for different reasons. Maybe you know Brigid differently than someone else does, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t the same goddess. Furthermore, in Their power and wisdom, the gods and goddesses may come to us all in different ways. My patron may present himself differently to me than he does to others, but he’s still the same god. In short, I wouldn’t feel too discouraged if you relate to a goddess differently than someone else does.

    I’m sorry you’ve felt discouraged about the whole patron situation, particularly because I fear I’m one of those people who tells adoring tales of her patron and how we came together. However, please don’t give up. Maybe you don’t feel that call right now: maybe you’re just not ready in That way. I hate to make a romantic comparison, but you know how sometimes you meet someone great, but you’re just not in a relationshipy place? Maybe you’re just not in a patrony place right now. If you have a patron, maybe he or she is just waiting until you’re ready before s/he reveals the relationship.

    I’m no expert, but I’d like to offer some advice. Be patient. Listen. Talk to whatever god or goddess you feel called to on a given day or in a given moment. You say you’re small and quiet… That’s not a bad thing. Maybe your patron will approach you in small, quiet ways. I’m a pretty fiercely determined (*coughstubbornandbossycough*) person, and I hunted for my patron until I found him. I think that often the gods speak to us as we speak to them. They approach us in ways we understand. Don’t give up on yourself or on the possibility of the patron.

    That said, it IS okay not to have a patron… Just think. I have one god to whom I turn regularly, to whom I must, like I would to a jealous boyfriend, pay regular attention. You can turn to any god, any moment. You have entire pantheons to support you.


    • tlryder
      Apr 15, 2011 @ 11:30:43

      Hi there, I don’t mind long comments at all. As I was saying to Sanil above, many people have a conception of Brigid that’s very similar to the Wiccan Lord and Lady notion, a monistic idea that casts Brigid as a sort of Great Mother/All Goddess that is hearth goddess, healing goddess, patron of all arts and sciences, caretaker of cows, etc. I think that she serves as a Celtic stand-in for the (probably incorrect) notion that once upon a time, every human worshiped a Magna Mater Terra goddess.

      I used to have very monist beliefs about the gods myself, believing not only the “one god/dess, many faces” thing, but also beyond that in some singular divine being who all the other godlike entities were simply splintered reflections of. I’ve decided that whether that’s how actual divine reality works or not, it’s not a particularly useful or good model to use for thinking of the Gods. The problem with syncretism is that it in no way honors the people and cultures from which these deities were originally found. If Isis is Astarte is Diana is Hecate is Kali, is Demeter, is Inanna, then why study any of them at all? Why study hearth cultures? Why not go the Buckland route and have Lord and Lady and leave it at that? I’ve tried this by, the way, and if it works for people, why not? It turns out it doesn’t work for me, and it depresses me that people so much want to argue that of course it *must* be this way, especially in an organisation that’s supposed to be hard polytheist and friendly to academic inquiry.

      I love reading other people’s stories about their patrons. I love the adoring tales and stuff!! My discouragement is for the most interiorly generated, as I am my own sternest critic. Despite my various complainings, I like ADF very much. I love reading about other people’s journeys. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  2. sanil
    Apr 15, 2011 @ 06:57:48

    I missed that discussion and am curious about why they would shoot down the idea of “many Brigids”. That’s not to say they’re wrong or necessarily even asking you to clarify unless you want to, it’s just that coming from a Greek context, I would think it’s a given that there are many versions of the gods. I get that Celtic culture is different, but to an extent at least I think that if we affirm the gods as real beings, we should expect some variance. I’m not the same person with my parents as I am with my friends, for example. They are both pieces of me and I as a whole person am made up of these and many more pieces/versions. I also realize not everyone compartmentalizes themselves to the extent that I do, where my parents know basically nothing about me and get the version that they want to see. But there is also the fact that when you’re in a location such as a job, where all that really needs to be known about you is how well you do it, you might not bring in everything else. And whatever Brigid (if it is her) has with you might be very different from, but no less valuable than, what she has with them. Just a thought. I know next to nothing about Celtic religion and have no idea if this applies.

    (On a more possibly rebellious note, I’ll point out that people who know more still don’t usually know everything, and you shouldn’t discount what you bring to the discussion. Every person’s experience is important, and it’s ok for you to defend that as long as you’re not being willfully ignorant and shutting down anything others tell you of their experience. I don’t mean that as a criticism of anyone, and I realize that you might not need that encouragement and came to this conclusion because of careful thought rather than elitist bullying. Again, ignore me if it doesn’t apply.)

    I stress about the patron thing too, sometimes. Not to mention I serve a goddess who not many hold that way anymore (if anyone ever did) and so I find it very difficult to determine whether what I have is gnosis or just imagination. We do the best we can. For me, what ADF offers is some great training programs, and a community provided you can get to a grove (which I can’t now but hope to in the future). A lot of times I worry that their system doesn’t fit my own understanding, but for me it’s been worth it so far to sort of bend my worldview when I’m doing ADF work, because I am excited enough about the guild training programs to want to make it to that point.

    Sorry, I get carried away. Now that I’ve left you a comment long enough to be its own blog post and probably either bored or annoyed you, I’ll shut up and go do something else. I hope you have a good day.


    • tlryder
      Apr 15, 2011 @ 10:39:05

      Hi there, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I don’t feel either bored or annoyed, I feel grateful that you took time out of your day to comment to me!

      A lot of people like the idea of “one god/dess, many faces”, they don’t like the idea of local gods/desses who are similar in form and function but who are discrete individuals. They view any Brigid-like goddess as being one and the same and while they wouldn’t deny that people have different experiences with her, they do say things like if it’s a Celtic goddess of healing, then of course it’s Brigid. There’s academic research that suggests that even in Ireland, one clan’s Brigid might not have been the same as another’s and that the people wouldn’t have thought of them as the same. I think the “one god/dess, many faces” crowd would argue that these goddesses were indeed all the same, and more primitive people just didn’t understand that. It’s a serious difference in world view.

      I think the popular understanding of the classical world muddies this further. Diana at Ephesus is not the same, exact Diana as Diana in Rome, so much so that when one conquerer stole materials from one temple to make a temple back home, when disaster struck everyone blamed it on him for mucking about with the other goddess’s temple. But the Greeks and Romans did do a lot of syncretic stuff, calling local tribal entities “the Diana of such and such tribe”, while at the same time being hard polytheists of the sort that had a temple for the unknown god thing going on.

      I gather the hard polytheism vs monism discussion comes up sporadically but repeatedly in ADF. Wicca has a Lord and a Lady, and a very plug n play system where you can take gods from any pantheon and stick them in the ritual in the place of Lord and Lady. The only reason that works is because of the “one god/dess, many faces” idea. Well that and a great deal of syncretism. I’m done with the monism. It didn’t work all that well for me. ADF claims to be hard polytheist, and that suits me just fine. There’s much I really love about ADF, even as I struggle with fitting my evolving beliefs into the Wheel of the Year and fret over my patronless status.

      Thanks again for your lovely comment!


  3. Rose
    Apr 15, 2011 @ 13:29:09

    First, I thought Brighid/Brigit/Brigantia was a goddess recognized in many cultures, and thus wouldn’t it follow that there were many interpretations of her, perhaps even many different goddesses that share commonalities and thus are all called a similar name? And then of course there’s the saint, who I’m sure is much different than the goddess despite many commonalities …

    Second, I think that deities have different relationships with different people, and this seems not too far off from how humans interact with each other. I show different sides of myself to my students, colleagues, different friends, fiancé, sister, parents, in laws, etc. They would likely describe me differently … yet I wouldn’t say they all know a different person, or that I am somehow “faking” myself through different relationships.

    Third, I would currently consider Brighid the closest thing to my patroness goddess, yet I would not say it was any big moment that made me decide this. I realized when I was into Wicca that I really liked what I heard about her, and over the years kept seeing me attracted to her again and again, and over time and prayers and such realized that I was slowly building a strong connection to her. Even now I try to be careful about the name, as I would like to do a ritual to make this more official.

    Yet I don’t think this makes me have any less of a relationship with her than others who had big lightning strike moments of realization that she was their patroness. I make friends through a slow process of familiarity, and I build relationships with deities and spiritual beings the same way. I think this makes for strong relationships with a sturdy foundation.

    Just my two (or I guess three) cents. 🙂


    • tlryder
      Apr 15, 2011 @ 15:22:02

      Hi, thanks for commenting! It is a good point that not everyone has a Saul on the road to Damascus (to use a Christian analogy) experience with their patron. My falling away point with Brigid came about because I realized that even though I had been studying and praying and wearing a symbol related to her, I didn’t feel the connection growing. And then, as I read what others who have a strong connection with Brigid had to say, I began to doubt that I understand or have a connection with her at all. That may be over-reaction on my part. It’s my personal thing that I often feel like an Outsider, even when I’m not.

      Like others, Brigid had a great deal to do with how I ended up joining ADF, so clearly even if she isn’t my first and strongest patron, she’s some sort of force in my life.

      Thanks for your pence! 🙂


  4. Kévin Silverstag
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 06:39:31

    I noticed quite early on that the folks who tend to hang out on the mailing lists like to.. well, let’s just say ‘debate’ … vigorously. It’s all well and good when they just keep it amongst themselves but it’s not for everyone and I’m sure that there are lots of great people who have been turned off ADF because their first interaction with other members came in the form of getting into an argument on the lists. For that reason I tend to scan the lists now but rarely bother to post on them. I find that inter-blog dialog is much more civil.


  5. Ursus
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 13:59:42

    I rarely have great mystical encounters with my patron deities. I simply honor them at my household altar.

    I hate to be cynical, but a lot of the people who claim intense personal relationships with deities come across as self-deluded or even mentally ill. Especially when their idea of the deity starts becoming radically different than what is known to myth and lore.


    • Rose
      Apr 16, 2011 @ 17:39:07

      I would second the bit about the mystical encounters. My experiences with deities are primarily in the form of prayer and conversations (including the perception of emotions). They have never been really “mystical.”


  6. Brynhild Tudor Fairymaid
    May 05, 2011 @ 02:14:32

    To the OP: I feel much the same as you regarding patrons. I have 3 I’m close to (Morgan Le Fay, Gwydion, Brigid) and my experiences with them are drastically different than the stories most people tell. For example: Through personal experience, I discovered that Morgan Le Fay is most definitely *not* the Morrighan, something that is greatly debated (translation: I’d be wrong and they’d be right.” The people who claim to have experiences with Brigid see her as tough, harsh, swooping down on you and saying “you’re mine” kind of person. That hasn’t been my experience at all. So like you, I wondered if my relationship was shallow or weak, simply because I was happy.

    Sometimes I even doubt if it’s really them. Maybe just wishful thinking of how I want them to be? But I met Morgan and Brigid in dreams (one each, and that was many years ago. Wish they’d show up again. Gwydion hasn’t been around yet.) The dreams confirmed my experiences with them and how I related to their personality. So I feel a little better. Brigid actually informed me that she felt funny when people were singing songs to her, telling stories in her honor, worshipping at altars. She asked me how I would feel if someone were doing that to me, and I remember thinking, “a bit awkward. Like, why would you feel the need to do that to me? I’m no higher than you are.” I had a flash of insight that that was how she felt. And from that day onward last year, I stopped trying to figure out how to honor her with ritual, and instead just went out and lived my daily life, did things I do every day, and talked out loud to her whenever I was alone in my house. That’s it. No candles, incense, nothing. Just me living a common, secular life and talking aloud to her, asking for advice, telling her about my day.

    When I relayed the experience of her telling me she doesn’t need to be honored in ritual to another Brigid devotee, this person sent me this long diatribe of things I can’t remember, but weren’t very nice. I’m no longer in contact with that person. Brigid showed me that ritual is manmade, just different words that people speak or sing, at different times, either alone or together, with different objects that people put in different places. Words, songs, stories and props. All manmade, not for the gods, at least, not for mine. I got the sense that if they never saw another ritual in their lives, they wouldn’t care. They’ve got their lives in their own realms, doing whatever they’re doing. They’re busy people.

    I’m not sure what they’re so busy exactly doing, and I wish I knew, but they’re busy.

    Anyway, I got sucked into the new-age personal/planetary-ascension, everybody’s-a-mirror, we’re-all-one, heal-yourself movement so deep for 5 years and didn’t think I’d ever get out. I joined a cult-recovery site and found no support there, and had a dream demonstrating how immersed in depersonalization and non-duality of the new-age movement I was that I woke up and nearly had an emotional breakdown and begged my deities to help me. That was one of the scariest moments in my life, and I’m not sure which one of them helped or if they all did, but they got me out of that one. (the new-age movement sees depersonalization and nonduality as signs of spiritual progress, by the way.) I’m thankful my deities are healers, and do not know how they did it, but they must be powerful.

    Now I’m finding my footing on my path and am drawn to Druidry and am looking into ADF. I also noticed that my deities were, by and large, Welsh, and am looking into that culture, though I don’t know what my ancestry is (I’m French-Canadian.) Don’t ask me how I got my Craft name either. Eight years ago, as a new Pagan, I ran into the kitchen to have dinner and when I returned, opened the book at random to which I was reading and the name Brynhild jumped out at me, and I knew it was a perfect fit though I’m not the slightest bit interested in Norse deities, and still am not, after doing my research. I love the Tudor period of England, and fairies (not the little pixies of today) also.

    So that’s been my experience with the patrons. I’m thinking of dedicating myself and am not sure how to do it, specially since ritual makes me feel funny inside. But I’d like to formalize it in some way.

    I find that the deities are practical rather than mystical. Go live your life, one said to me.

    Sorry this was so long, but I hope you find it helpful.


  7. Brynhild Tudor Fairymaid
    May 05, 2011 @ 02:18:41

    Forgot to say that my deities are heavily involved in music, and I was a serious musician for many years. I do it as a casual hobby now and am becoming more involved in physical fitness, like indoor cycling and gymnastics. But I’m still close to them, though I’ve no idea how or if they even fit into these realms! BTF


  8. Brynhild Tudor Fairymaid
    May 05, 2011 @ 15:52:49

    Glad you enjoyed it! I’m actually pretty interested to hear what other people’s experiences with Brigid have been, and how they talk about her. I’d also like to hear how the OP knows her, and what his/her experiences have been with her. Let’s trade stories! It’s one of my favorite things to do: hearing about people’s encounters with their various patrons. There seems to be more Greek, Egyptian and Norse ones and hardly any Celtic, though.
    P.S. If anyone has any insights into my name, would appreciate them. After looking into the Norse pantheon for awhile, and discovering it wasn’t for me, I somehow had a strong feeling that Brynhild and Sigrdriffa were 2 different people, and that Sigrdriffa was actually the valkyrie in the Volsung saga. But the lore says differently and even in the few bits that say they’re 2 different entities, I can find no information on who Brynhild actually is! And I got the feeling that she *was* me, so I couldn’t really ask her because that’d be like talking to yourself when you can’t remember or don’t even know your own history.


    • tlryder
      May 10, 2011 @ 14:31:33

      My attempt at a relationship with Brigid was very simple and low key. I thought I could honor her as a Goddess of my ancestors, as the goddess of the hearth and a source of feminine inspiration. As I said, I came to realize that this is not a take on Brigid that most of her followers would agree with, and it was a big disconnect for me. Being in relationship with a deity isn’t just about that deity unless no one worships them any more. There is also a relationship, however small, with that deity’s community of believers. I don’t at all fit with the Brigid crowd, and that’s okay. There are other Goddesses, other cultures and communities and paths.


  9. Brynhild Tudor Fairymaid
    May 10, 2011 @ 17:33:44

    I’m confused. Brigid *is* a goddess of the hearth and inspiration. How do the others in the “Brigid crowd” describe her in terms of personality and what have been their experiences with her? Just curious. What exactly do they say about her that did not resonate with you?


  10. Brynhild Tudor Fairymaid
    May 10, 2011 @ 17:40:01

    I don’t think you should discontinue connecting with a goddess based on what everyone else thinks. I must say that worshipping the deity *is* about the deity and has nothing to do with the community of believers. If you don’t fit into the community, it doesn’t mean you can’t honor the deity. I just think it would be really sad if you gave her up just because your experience clash with other people’s. Why don’t you ask her and see what she says? I used to think like that, and almost let Brigid go because my experience with her did not match anyone else’s. And when I found out she really liked me and when I started to cry after I told her she could leave if she wanted, I knew she was not going anywhere. One of my patrons is Morgan Le Fay, and nobody honors her, because they think she’s different than she actually is. I met her in a dream.


  11. tlryder
    May 12, 2011 @ 15:01:59

    Thanks, but I’m not discontinuing connecting with Brigid because of what everyone else things. I’m not working on a relationship with her because of what I think after listening to everyone else’s experiences with her and understanding of her. For me, community is an important part of worship. I understand that’s not true for everyone and that’s fine, but it’s true for me. 🙂

    Morgan le Fay! Malory says that she is a “mistress of magick” and of course Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s tale of her is much different than what one usually gets. Morgan le Fay would be an interesting patroness indeed.


  12. Brynhild Tudor Fairymaid
    May 25, 2011 @ 18:17:29

    Now I’m intrigued. How were they portraying Brigid? What did they say she was like?


  13. Trackback: Candle for Brigid « Dragonfly House

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