Recently, we were asked a question pertaining to the figure of St Brigid – and, of course, the Celtic deific of the similar name (which may have further bearing for the somewhat distinct Brigantia … although we aren’t going to get into that herein).
Part of the question concerned the potential for Brigid to be an expression of the Indo-European Goddess of the Dawn. Something that has been advanced, it should seem, significantly upon a linguistic basis.
I do not think that this is a correct linkage, although I can see how it may have been arrived at.
Effectively, the idea is that because ‘Brigid’ and ‘Brhati’ ( बृहती ) are cognate terms – that the usage of the latter Sanskrit word in relation to Ushas therefore supports the idea the same deific is being spoken about.
But let’s park that to one side for a moment and instead begin right back at the relevant PIE foundation.
The root for the theonymic should be PIE *bʰerǵʰ- .
There are two major possibilities for how to interpret this.
Either it is i) ‘Noble’, ‘Exalted’;
or it is ii) ‘Mountain’
Or, as is frequently the case, both. I coined that ‘Mountain Queen’ deific complex labelling for a good reason – ref. Hittite ‘Pirwa’, after all.
Now, why have I started with this linguistic approach?
Because we are very well acquainted, here in the Hindusphere, as well as in broader Indo-European fields as well – with the notion of, as I had put it, that ‘Mountain Queen’ deific.
This deific tends to have ‘protective’ associations (and you can see this very, very clearly when we are speaking about ‘Durga’ – literally right there in the name, after all, even afore we get into the theology and liturgies! ) ; and we have also noted a certain penchant viz. ’empowerment’ – particularly around the ‘Furor’ concept, and thus, poetic inspiration [you can c.f my work pertaining to Devi in this regard, from the Vedas onward]. We also often observe a ‘Mistress of Animals’ typology may be in evidence as well.
Now, we must particularly emphasize a ‘sovereignty’ element – a ‘national persona’ of the sort that would be, to dip into Greek and with the specific regard to Athena as an example –
“In essence, then, we may speak of this also as Athena ‘Polias’ [‘Of the City’] or ‘Politis’ [‘Citizen of the City’], ‘Poliachos’ [‘Protector of the City’], etc.
Or, in Sanskrit – we would term Her the ‘Nagara Devata’, the Deific of the City.”
And, in addition to this … we have the intriguing point of a certain ‘Priestly’ competency. Perhaps ‘developed’ in other directions as has occasionally occurred (ref. my work on the ‘Solar Smith’ typology – wherein we seem to find with suspiciously similar occurrence, various Indo-European ‘Smith’ deifics that upon closer inspection are clearly ‘Priestly’ sorts – it makes sense for various reasons, as we have more capaciously examined elsewhere.)
It is my belief – in part – that we find a ‘core’ of various of these later elements in a ‘Fire’ understanding. This, after all, we observe viz. Hestia, viz. Scythian Tabiti, and of course, in the Shatapatha Brahmana etc. viz. Vak Devi. (I have .. quite an extensive suite of conceptry to draw from from the Shakta sphere to go further with).
It makes sense. The Fire at the Heart(h) of the Nation / Polis / Household / Universe Entire / Sacral Space.
And therefore, as you can see, linkaging also into various human areas and perceptions attached to same: whether this be the Nation and a ‘Mother of the Nation’ figure, or whether this be the aforementioned ‘Priestly’ positioning.
Part of the issue that we have is that people often approach all of this from kinda the … well, not so much ‘wrong’ as ‘incomplete’ perception. There is a misapprehension viz. Hestia as a ‘window in’ on the archaic / underlying IE theology, for a start (by which, in part, I mean an effective reduction of Her to a ‘Goddess of Kitchens’ – the Scythian exaltation of Tabiti should seem much closer to the mark; as we should expect for the post-Andronovo continuation they fairly directly represent, right over the Urheimat in the case of the groupings probably intended by Herodotus).
And as applies this Ushas business … I would be interested to see where exactly ‘Brihati’ is actually being used as an Ushas theonym in the sense people seem to be making out .
I went and did a very cursory google and saw a lot of books basically saying the same thing … without providing much further evidence.
I then, because i’m me, went off and just went back to the Shruti and attempted to cross-reference.
I may have missed something at 02:59 in the morning , but it would seem to me that the most logical place somebody’s gotten it from is RV I 123 2 – wherein yeah, Ushas is described as ‘brihati’ …
… because the Dawn’s coming and is indeed ‘bestowing’ (sanutri) from on high (brihati) the ‘vaja’ [we shall perhaps leave the unravelling of that term for the moment].
I mean, where else does one expect the Dawn to be bestowing morning light from .. under the sea? (well, perhaps actually but uh .. well, .. anyway more on that some other time!)
It is, of course, the case that theonymics are frequently also nouns, adjectives, qualities, and functions – of course they are.
But we are running a very serious risk when we over-read into one that might be feasibly explained in other ways, the notion that this makes for an assured deific cognate.
After all, it is exactly this kind of thing that leads to Doniger et co attempting to try and claim that the deific known today as Shiva (i.e. Rudra) is somehow Indra. A clearly nonsensical position which they buttress through, inter alia, the observation that you can use ‘Shiva’ as a more generalized adjective / quality to a deific – and yes, this does feature as a term utilized in relation to Indra in portions of the Vedas.
[it’s also, while I am up upon my pulpit, a situation that applies to ‘Indra’ – people often forget that that too is a title. Something that we can clearly demonstrate when a particular Shruti source alternates between describing Tvastr or Indra as the lord of the Chitra nakshatra … clearly Tvastr is not Indra; but Tvastr might be feasibly described by a title ‘Indra’ in-context … ]
Anyway – linguistics is, indeed, very useful.
But it must be applied with a ‘feel’ for the theology as well.
Otherwise we’re just slinging words and labelings about with little regard for that which is labeled.
And that rather incautious approach just simply won’t do.