A concise guide to the Gods and Goddesses of pagan Ireland, their history, mythology, and symbols. Rooted in the past but still active in the world today, the Gods and Goddesses of Ireland have always been powerful forces that can bless or challenge, but often the most difficult thing is to simply find information about them. This short introductory text looks at a variety of different Irish deities, common and more obscure, from their ancient roots to the modern practices associated with honoring them in, an encyclopedia-style book with entries in easy-to-use sections.
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Pagan Portals - Gods and Goddesses of Ireland
A Guide to Irish Deities
By Morgan Daimler
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2016 Morgan Daimler
All rights reserved.
The Tuatha Dé Danann: Gods
Also called Aongus, Aonghus, or Angus, and Oengus in Old Irish, and given the epithet of Mac ind Og (the young son), Mac in Dá Oc (son of the two young ones), or Aonghus an Bhroga (Angus of the Brugh). In old Irish his name breaks down to óen, 'unique, without equal', and gus, 'force or vigor' giving us a meaning of 'unique force' or 'unequaled vigor'.
His father is the Dagda, and his mother is the Goddess Bóinn, eponymous deity of the Boyne river; he was the product of an affair between the two, which the Dagda hid from Bóinn's husband, Elcmar, by causing a single day and night to last for nine months. Because of this Aengus was, technically, conceived and born on the same day, which is considered the source of his epithet 'the young son'. Through his father's side he has many siblings including the Goddess Brighid. He is said to have at least one daughter, Maga, and through her to be connected to the ancestry of the royal house of Ulster.
Smyth conjectures that Aengus was conceived at Samhain, and because his birth was hidden and that he was also born on Samhain. Samhain is a holiday that has other associations for Aengus as well, as it is also the day that he is finally able to obtain the one woman he most desires. This occurs in the Aislinge Oenguso, which tells of how Aengus began dreaming of a mysterious woman, Caer Iobharmheith (Caer Ibormeith in Old Irish), and fell into a wasting sickness; after help from his mother and father finally revealed the woman's identity he found her on Samhain, wooed her, and the two flew off in the form of swans.
His home is possibly the most famous of all the fairy mounds, the Brugh na Bóinne, which he won through trickery. There are different versions of the story of how he managed this, one being that he tricked the Brugh away from Elcmar with the help of his father, the Dagda, while in another the Dagda is the owner of the Brugh and it is from him that Aengus obtains the Brugh, either through his own cleverness or with the help of one of his foster fathers. The basis of the story remains the same, however, in that Aengus arrives at the Brugh and asks its owner to be given the place for a day and night. This is granted, but when the original owner asks for the Brugh back 24 hours later Aengus responds that since all time is divided by day and night the Brugh is now his. In this way he successfully wins the place that is best known as his.
Aengus is generally viewed as a God of youth, beauty, and love, and is known in the myths and folklore to aid lovers, most famously Dairmait and Grainne in the Fenian Cycle. He is also known as a clever God, as evidenced by his winning of the Brugh, and an incident in the Cath Maige Tuired where he advises his father, the Dagda, on how to trick the unfair king Bres into paying him what he is justly owed for his work.
He has several important possessions, including a magical horse so large it can carry an entire household, and who created Lough Neagh when it urinated, and a multicolored cloak that appears to be of a single color to the eyes of someone about to die. It is said that four white birds circle his head, which are either swans or his own kisses shape-changed.
Modern practitioners may choose to connect to Aengus for a variety of reasons, but he is often appealed to as a deity of love. Offerings to him might include milk, beer, or good food, as well as anything else the practitioner feels most appropriate.
1. eDIL, n.d.
2. Smyth, 1988
3. MacKillop, 1998
4. Smyth, 1988
5. Shaw, 1934
6. MacKillop, 1998
7. O hOgain, 2006
Called Credne or Creidne in Old Irish and Creidhne in modern Irish. He is given the epithet 'Cerd' meaning craftsman or artisan and was known to work with bronze, brass, and gold. He is described as the 'wright' of the Gods and is often listed with his two brothers, Goibniu the blacksmith and Luchta the carpenter; the three together are called the three Gods of skill of the Tuatha Dé Danann. After Nuada, High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, lost his arm in the first battle of Maige Tuired it was Credne who helped the physician God Dian Cécht fashion a replacement arm of silver for him. During the battle with the Fomorians Credne aided the TDD along with his brothers by furnishing the Gods with weapons, his particular contribution being the spear rivets, sword hilts, and shield bosses and rims.
His symbols might include the tools of metalsmithing: a small hammer, awl, or a center punch, for example. Offerings to Credne may include water, ale, or any precious or semi-precious metal.
1. MacKillop, 1998
2. Macalister, R., 1941
3. MacKillop, 1998
One of the most well known Gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann is the Dagda. He can be found under many variations of the name and under many by-names, such as Daghdae, Dagdai, Daghdo, Daghdou, Dagdae, Dagdhua, Dagdhae, Dagda Mor, Dagda Donn and Eochaid Ollathair, Ruad Rofessa, Aedh Alainn, Aodh Ruadh Ro-fessa; usually the definitive article 'the' is added before Dagda. The name Dagda itself is an epithet that means 'Good God', implying a God good at all things. This name is gained during the second battle of Maige Tuired when he promises to do as much as all the other Tuatha Dé have said they will do in the fight. His by-names tell us a great deal about him as well: Eochaid Ollathair 'Father of Many', Ruad Rofessa 'Red man of Knowledge' (specifically Druidic or Occult), Aedh Alainn 'Fiery Lustrous One'. People inclined to look at the Dagda as a more neopagan type Father God should bear in mind the actual connotations of 'Good God' as well as the more restricted translation of Ollathair, as there is no direct evidence that he was previously seen as the literal father of the Gods, but rather as prolific. In fairness to that view, however, O hOgain does suggest that the Dagda can be connected to the 'Dis Pater' father deity that Caesar claims the Gauls believed they descended from. Additionally the text of the Cath Maige Tuired provides a long list of names for the Dagda, after he is challenged to give a ride to a Fomorian princess and replies that he has a geas preventing him doing so unless she knows his full name. She asks him three times for his name and on the third request he replies: 'Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe'. O hOgain suggests the name Dagda comes from the root Dago-Dewios, a cognate with other Indo-European sky Gods such as Zeus, and also through this and his imagery to the Gaulish Secullos.
In some sources the Dagda is said to be the son of Elatha and married to the Morrigan, although he is also known to have fathered at least one child with Boinn. His children vary by source, but are usually given as Aengus mac Og, Cearmait, Aodh Caomh, Conan, Midir, Bodhbh Dearg, Ainge, and Brighid; in one later example Dian Cécht is also said to be his son. His sons often die after trying to obtain a woman who is not available; only Aengus successfully marries the literal woman of his dreams, Caer Iobharmheith. This may connect the Dagda to the concept of passion or of sexual envy, as he himself fathered Aengus on another man's wife. He is also sometimes said to be the brother of Nuada and Ogma.
The Dagda is generally described as being a large man, sometimes comically so, with a tremendous appetite and immense capacity. It was said that to make his porridge he needed 80 gallons of milk as well as several whole sheep, pigs, and goats, and that he ate this meal with a ladle large enough to hold two people lying down. Some modern sources describe him as red-haired, possibly relating to the name Ruad Rofessa, and describe his clothing as a short tunic, sometimes obscenely short. He is considered to be generous, wise, and bigger-than-life in his appetites. He is often described as immensely strong and able to complete great feats such building a fort single-handedly or clearing 12 plains in a single night.
The Book of Lecan states that the Dagda ruled for 80 years as King of the Gods after the death of Lugh, but other sources state that he was killed fighting Ceithlinn at the second battle of Maige Tuired. This is later explained with a story saying that he took a wound in the battle that took 80 years to kill him, but that is clearly an attempt to unify the varying tales into a coherent whole. He was said to be a master of Druidic magic and to possesses several magical objects. It was the Dagda who held the cauldron of abundance brought from Murias, one of the four treasures. He also owned a great club that was so large it had to be dragged on wheels behind him; it is said that one end of the club could kill nine men with one blow, while the other could heal. His horse was Acein (ocean) and the Dagda possessed a harp whose playing changed the seasons. This harp was stolen by the Fomorians, and the Dagda along with Nuada and Ogma had to journey to recover it, possibly indicating its importance to maintaining the order of time and the seasons.
The Dagda is associated with Brugh na Boynne and also with a site in Donegal called Grianan Ailigh as well as Leighead Lachtmhaighe in Clare, Cnoc Baine in Tyrone and O Chualann in Wicklow. It is said that it was the Dagda who delegated each of the sidhe to the Tuatha Dé after their defeat by the Milesians, possibly at Manannán mac Lir's suggestion. The Dagda originally lived at Newgrange (Burgh na Boynne), but was tricked out of the site by his son Angus. He is also particularly associated with Samhain, when he was said to unite with the Morrigan to gain her assistance for the Tuatha Dé Danann in the coming battle of Maige Tuired; this is also the time that he united with the Fomorian princess, gaining her assistance against her own people in the battle.
In general terms we can associate the Dagda with a variety of things including Druidic magic, wisdom, leadership, fertility, generosity, abundance, and all-around skill. O hOgain relates to him as a God related to the sun and solar imagery, and suggests that we may deduce from descriptions of the Dagda as 'swift' that he was seen as a God who responded quickly to those who prayed to him. Some modern practitioners and scholars see him as a cognate of either the Norse Thor or Odin, with strong arguments for either view; others suggest an association with the Roman Dis Pater or Gaulish Secullos. Many modern Druids may choose to see the Dagda as a God of Druids, and he certainly has a strong connection to Druidic magic.
Offerings to the Dagda might include dark beers or ales as well as porridge, especially mixed with butter and with items like bacon added in. His symbols could be the club or staff and the cauldron.
1. Gray, 1983; O hOgain, 2006
2. Gray, 1983
3. O hOgain, 2006
5. Gray, 1983
6. O hOgain, 2006
9. Berresford Ellis, 1987
10. O hOgain, 2006
11. Smyth, 1988
12. O hOgain, 2006
13. Berresford Ellis, 1987; O hOgain, 2006
14. Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006
15. O hOgain, 2006
Also spelled Dían Cécht, Diancécht, Dian Céacht, and later appearing as Mac Cécht. He is an Irish God associated with physicians, healing, and restoring the body. His name seems to mean 'swift traveler' and he is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann who is explicitly called a God in the surviving mythology. Dian Cécht was considered the supreme physician of the Gods and possessed a well or cauldron, the Slaine, into which the wounded could be placed and from which they would emerge restored. Throughout the Irish texts where he appears he is renowned for his healing skill and he is called 'the healing sage of Ireland' and 'God of health'.
In the Lebor Gabala Erenn we are told that he was the son of Esarg and had three brothers, the crafting Gods Goibhniu, Creidhne, and Luchtne . According to the same source he is the father of two other Irish healing deities, Miach and Airmed, as well as Cu, and Cethan, and in the mythological cycle is referred to as having two other sons who are also healers, likely Ormiach and Ochtriuil. He is also the father of Etan the poetess and Cian and the grandfather of Lugh.
He is not only a God of active healing, but also of the knowledge of healing arts and of healing magic. He is known as a superlative healer with any method. We don't have many existing myths featuring Dian Cécht, but the ones we do have generally center on his healing skill in one way or another. He created his great healing well by placing one of every healing herb into it, and in mythology he is known to heal grievous wounds, including replacing Nuada's severed arm with a fully functioning one of silver, and healing Midir's wounded eye, and to cure plagues in the guise of serpents. There is a reference in the St. Gall's incantations to a salve of Dian Cécht, which is used for healing. Dian Cécht was invoked with healing charms into the 8 century CE and even in modern folklore is associated with an herbal oatmeal preparation that has healing properties.
The cauldron or well could be used as his symbol, perhaps with herbs in it. Offerings to him might include water, herbal tea, or medicinal herbs.
1. MacKillop, 1998
2. O hOgain, 2006
4. Macalister, 1941
5. MacKillop, 1998
6. O hOgain, 2006
7. MacKillop, 1998
Goibhniu is the Irish God of smithcraft equated to the Welsh Gafannon. His name is derived from the word for smith; Old Irish gobha, Modern Irish gabha (O hOgain, 2006). According to some folklore Goibhniu needed only three blows from his hammer to forge a weapon. Goibhniu has two brothers, Credne the wright and Luchtne (or Luchtar) the carpenter, forming a trinity of crafting Gods. The three often work together to forge the weapons of the Gods, with each one making a part of the whole. According to the Lebor Gabala Erenn (LGE) Dian Cécht was also his brother and they were all sons of Esarg: 'Goibniu and Creidne and Dian Cécht and Luichtne, the four sons of Esarg'. Indeed the four are mentioned together at several points in the LGE such as: 'In his [Nuada's] company were the craftsmen, Goibniu the smith and Creidne the wright and Luichne the carpenter and Dian Cécht the leech.'
Goibniu was the pre-eminent smith of the Tuatha Dé Danann who made weapons in particular. Before the battle of Maige Tuired, Goibniu is asked what he will contribute.
And he [Lugh] asked his smith, even Goibniu, what power he wielded for them?
'Not hard to say,' quoth he. 'Though the men of Erin bide in the battle to the end of seven years, for every spear that parts from its shaft, or sword that shall break therein, I will provide a new weapon in its place. No spearpoint which my hand shall forge', saith he, 'shall make a missing cast. No skin which it pierces shall taste life afterwards. That has not been done by Dolb the smith of the Fomorians. I am now [preparing] for the battle of Magh Tuired.'
During the battle against the Fomorians he made peerless spears that never missed and killed whoever they hit, excluding only himself. We learn the latter fact after Brighid's son by Bres, Ruadan, goes to the forge, takes one of Goibhniu's spears and wounds him with it, only to have the smith turn around and kill the would-be assassin with the same spear. Goibhniu is taken to Dian Cécht's healing well and recovers.
The Tuatha Dé Danann received their immortality and perpetual youth from Goibhniu, who had a special drink called the 'fled Goibnenn', which he made for them. Although usually described as an ale or mead, this drink is sometimes also said to be a feast – another meaning of the word fled in Old Irish – and is said by some to cure disease. Besides this special drink, Goibhniu also possessed a magical cow who gave an endless supply of milk.
Goibhniu is also invoked in the St Gall's Incantations, giving him a specific association with healing; in this source he is called on to remove a thorn, which may be a metaphor for healing a battle wound: '... rogarg fiss goibnen aird goibnenn renaird goibnenn ceingeth ass' meaning, 'very fierce Goibniu's knowledge, Goibniu's attention, Goibniu's powerful attention overcomes it!' (translation M. Daimler, 2015)
There are also several early Irish charms that invoke that art of Goibhniu for protection. This may be related to the idea that a being who caused an injury or created a weapon had power of the injury itself, something we see in charms relating to the evil eye and elf-shot.
Goibniu is especially associated with Cork, and in particular with Aolbach (Crow Island) on Beara peninsula. He was said to have his forge there and to keep his magic cow in that area. Other folklore associates him with county Cavan and the Iron mountains there. In later Irish mythology Goibniu became Gobhan Saer, a smith and architect of the fairies.
A modern pagan might call on Goibniu for anything relating to smithwork or crafting with metal, as well as for healing any injuries from bladed or forged weapons. You could also call on him to bless weapons.
Offerings to him can include weapons, metal, beer, ale, or mead, as well as anything else that feels appropriate. His symbols could be the anvil or smith's hammer.
Excerpted from Pagan Portals - Gods and Goddesses of Ireland by Morgan Daimler. Copyright © 2016 Morgan Daimler. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Introduction – Who are the Irish Gods?,
Chapter 1 – The Tuatha Dé Danann: Gods,
Chapter 2 – The Tuatha Dé Danann: Goddesses,
Chapter 3 – Other Gods of Ireland,
Chapter 4 – Honoring the Irish Gods,