Celtic Gods and Goddesses

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Portal into Celtic Mythology

The following are some of the more popular gods and goddesses. We see them regularly in stories and in art, or they are considered “pan Celtic,” meaning we see them throughout the Celtic world. Where appropriate I have given the Roman equivalent. They are in alphabetical order because no one god is the highest or leader of the gods, like the Greek Zeus or the Norse Odin.

Aengus Og—“Angus the Young.” Irish god of love.

  • Also the god of youth and beauty.
  • One of the Tuatha De Danaan (thoo’a-haw day dah’-nawn)—a group of Irish gods.
  • His father was the Dagda.
  • Possessed the sword, Moralltach, “Great Fury.”

Bel/Belinus/Belenos—“the shining god.” He is a sun god.

  • Also considered a fire god.
  • He is one of the gods known and worshiped throughout the Celtic world from Ireland all the way down to Italy!
  • His symbols are the wheel and the horse.
  • His festival is Beltane, a celebration in May of life, fertility, fire, and the sun.
  • His Roman equivalent is Apollo.

Bran—a Welsh god of battle.

  • He is associated with the raven, because ravens were found on battlefields.
  • Leads spirits of the dead to the underworld.
  • Patron of the arts.
  • Also known as a god of wisdom and leadership.
  • He is well known for his part in a story that involved a magic cauldron.
  • His sister is Branwen.

Branwen—Welsh raven goddess of battle.

  • Her name means either “white raven” or “blessed raven.”
  • Like her brother Bran, she leads dead souls to the underworld.
  • She is featured in the story of Bran’s magic cauldron.

Brigid/Brigit—she is a goddess of healing, and especially associated with healing springs and sacred waters. 

  • Goddess of fertility, childbirth and motherhood.
  • Strangely, she is also a goddess of smithcraft and martial arts.
  • Her shrine is near an oak tree, and so she was important to the Druids.
  • Brigid is sometimes considered the same goddess as Danu, the mother goddess of the Tuatha De Danaan.
  • Christians know her as St. Brigid.
  • Brigid is celebrated on February 1st, a holiday known in the Celtic world as Imbolc, a celebration of the coming spring.
  • The Romans associated Brigid with Minerva.

Cernunnos (ker-nun-os)—He is a god of nature, grain, and fertility.

  • Worshiped mostly in Gaul (Northern France) and Wales.
  • He is a horned god and his name means “the horned one.”
  • Portrayed with antlers like a stag, sitting cross legged, and wearing or holding a torc, a metal band like a neck ring.
  • His Roman equivalent is Jupiter.

Dagda—god of life and death. 

  • One of the leaders of the Tuatha De Danaan.
  • Portrayed as having an enormous appetite and extraordinary strength.
  • He has a cauldron that never runs out of food, a magical harp that will fly into his hands at his call, and a magical club.

 

Mythology Connection! The Norse god Thor once went in search of a cauldron that would never run out of ale, plus he had a magical hammer that always came back to him.

 

Danu—fertility goddess and mother of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. 

  • She and Brigit are sometimes considered the same goddess.

Epona/Rhiannon—she is a horse goddess and a fertility goddess.

  • An important goddess, worshiped all over the Celtic world.
  • Her name means “divine horse”.
  • She is known as Epona in England and Gaul, and as Rhiannon in Wales, but both names live on and are well known.
  • Usually depicted either riding a horse side-saddle or sitting with two horses on either side of her. Sometimes she is holding a dog in her lap.
  • Associated with healing.
  • Archeologists have found many small statues of Epona throughout Europe signifying that she was worshiped as one of the personal or household gods.

 

Mythology Connection! Archeologists have found many Thor hammer amulets showing that, like Epona, he was a god popular among the people.

 

Flidais (FLIH-dish)—Irish goddess of the forest and wild animals.

  • The stag is her sacred animal.
  • She is known by the nickname, Foltchain, which means “beautiful-haired.”
  • She has a magical cow that can provide milk for hundreds.
  • She travels in a chariot driven by deer.

 

Mythology Connection! Artemis is the Greek goddess of the forest and wild animals with the stag as her sacred animal. The Norse goddess Freya also travels in a chariot, hers driven by cats.

 

 Lug/Lugh (Lú/lu)—Lug is one of the most “popular” of the Celtic gods and his name is seen throughout the Celtic world.

  • His name means “shining one.”
  • Patron of travelers and commerce and patron of art and poetry and all crafts.
  • God of healing.
  • Described as tall, young, and handsome.
  • Weapons are a spear and a sling.
  • He has many skills—carpenter, smith, warrior, poet, sorcerer, and physician. He gained the surname Ildanach which means “All Craftsman” because he could do everything.
  • Many towns were even named after him.
  • He is the father of the Irish hero Cuchulainn (koo-hoo-lin).
  • Roman equivalent is Mercury.

 

Mythology Connection! Like Mercury (or Hermes in Greek mythology), Lug is a part of many stories. He gets involved with humans regularly. Like Apollo, Lug is the god of many, many aspects of human life. 

 

Mananan—god of the sea. 

  • His realm includes the island of the dead, and it is Mananan who guides the dead to that place.
  • He owns the boat “Ocean Sweeper” which can read the thoughts of those who sail it and will go wherever they want.
  • Owns a horse who can travel on land or sea.
  • Also owns the sword “Answerer” that will kill anyone it touches.

Morrigan—goddess of death, war, fertility, and sexuality.  • Her name means “phantom queen.” 

  • Often seen as a raven flying over the battlefield looking for victims.
  • Can disguise herself as a hag or a beautiful maiden.
  • She is either seen as a single goddess or a triple goddess along with her sisters, Badb (BAve or BYbe) and Macha (MAH-shah). Badb causes confusion on the battlefield.

Macha feeds off the slain. 

  • Morrigan would wash the clothes or armor of men who were about to die in battle.

Nuada (nu-uh-da)—he is a god and king of the Tuatha De Dannan who invaded Ireland. 

  • Lost his hand in a great battle.
  • Because of his injury Nuada was no longer allowed, according to the custom, to be king because he was not physically perfect.
  • A silver hand was made for him and he then earned the name, Nuada the Silver Hand.

Taranos—he is a god of thunder. 

  • His name means “thunder” or “thunderer.”
  • Associated with weather, particularly storms.
  • Taranos is another of the Celtic gods who was worshiped all over Europe.
Mythology Connection! The Norse god Thor was also called “the thunderer.”

Irish Mythology

The Irish, unlike some of the other Celtic peoples, did have a creation story. The land of Ireland was basically untouched by the Roman Empire and kept its mythology and history intact.

The Irish mythology starts with Ireland as an empty land very unlike it is today. The early mythology tells of several different races of gods who, at different times, inhabited Ireland.  They all arrived in Ireland from the “land of the west” which was either the land of the dead or some land of the gods. Each race of gods then died out—one was defeated by another, one died of pestilence, and one died of grief. These beings were all without firm characteristics and had no individual personalities. One race, though, was a race of giants. 

Eventually the land was inhabited by the Firbolgs who were not a great race of beings. The Firbolgs were petty and mean and small. They were overthrown by the coming of the Tuatha De Danann, gods and goddesses resembling what we consider gods. The Tuatha De Danann were the children of Danu, and in fact the name means “the people of the god Danu.”  The gods Nuada, Dagda and Lug were of the Tuatha De Danann as well as Brigit and the Triple Goddess of Badb, Macha, and Morrigan. 

 

The Arrival of the Tuatha De Danann

The Tuatha De Danann came from the north in a magic cloud. They came from four cities and in these cities they learned skills and wisdom from four sages. When they came to Ireland they brought with them four treasures, one from each city:

  1. The Stone of Destiny. This would become the place where the Kings of Ireland were crowned.
  2. The Sword of Invincibility. Lug wielded this sword.
  3. The Spear of Victory.
  4. A Cauldron that could feed many men and was never empty.

The Tuatha De Danann arrived in Ireland on Beltane, May 1st, which we now call “May Day.”    The Firbolgs were not happy with the arrival of these new gods and so sent out an emissary to meet with them. The Tuatha De Danann had superior weapons, but the Firbolgs started a war with them. During this war, the god Nuada lost his right hand. Not only did the Tuatha De Danann have to deal with the Firbolgs but another race of beings, the Fomors, invaded Ireland at this time. Their king, Balor, was called Balor “of the Evil Eye” because the gaze of that eye could kill. The Fomors had enough power that they demanded tribute from the Tuatha De Danann.

 

Sound Familiar? Balor had an evil eye that could kill. This is very similar to the basilisk in Harry Potter and the Greek Medusa, both creatures whose look can turn people to stone.

 

The Tuatha De Danann sent Lug to defeat the Fomorians. As he rode into battle he was described as a “young man…and the brightness of his face was like the setting sun, so that they [the Fomorians] were not able to look at him because of its brightness.” (Gods and Fighting Men, location 464-69). He had many magical items at his disposal:

  • The boat of Manannan (the sea god) that could read the thoughts of the “captain” and would go wherever he led.
  • The horse of Manannan that could travel over land or sea and no rider would be killed off her back.
  • Manannan’s breast plate that would protect the wearer from injury.
  • A helmet that would keep the wearer from getting too hot.
  • Manannan’s sword would kill any man it wounded and when it was shown in battle anyone fighting against it would lose all strength.

This was the Lug who went to battle against the Fomorians and who killed Balor of the Evil Eye. Lug became the “king” of the Tuatha De Danann, and the Danann’s ruled over Ireland until the Milesians (Men) arrived.

 

Mythology Connection! In Norse mythology, the god Frey had a magical ship; it could travel on land or water, grow big enough to fit all the gods and yet shrink small enough to fit in a pocket. In Greek mythology, Hades owned a helmet that turned the wearer invisible (he gave it to Perseus). The story of King Arthur told of his magical sword Excalibur which never lost a battle and its magical scabbard which protected the wearer from injury. Mythological stories are filled with magical items!

 

The Arrival of Men

The Milesians were men who lived on an island to the west of Ireland. One day the leader of the Milesians, Ith, caught a glimpse of part of Ireland and decided he had to visit that land. He traveled to Ireland and there met the Tuatha De Dananns. By this time Ireland was ruled by grandsons of Dagda, and they were fighting over how to divide up the land between them. Ith got involved in their argument and told them he couldn’t believe they would fight over such a beautiful land. He thought that surely Ireland could provide for all of them, “for the country you dwell in is a good one, it is rich in fruit and honey, in wheat and in fish; and in heat and cold it is temperate.” (Rolleston). The Tuatha De Dananns took this to mean Ith wanted their lands and so they killed him. 

Ith’s men took his body back to his people and the Milesians decided to invade Ireland to avenge Ith’s death. When they arrived they found the Danann ready for them. The Milesians, under the guidance of Amergin (a Druid) concluded that it was not sporting to attack the Danann’s by surprise and so withdrew out to sea to attack later. While at sea the Danann’s put an enchantment on the island—a great mist formed between Ireland and the Milesians’ ship— and they wandered lost at sea. One of the Milesians’ Druids ascertained that the mist was enchanted and spoke a counter spell. The Milesians landed in Ireland and met the Dananns in a great battle. The Danann were defeated.

 

Sound Familiar? Using mist to separate an island or keep a hero lost are common in stories.  In Greek mythology, the island of the Grey Women was shrouded in mist and gray skies in order to keep the old women a secret. If not for the help of Hermes, Perseus might never have found the island. In the King Arthur story, Arthur is taken to the Isle of Avalon after he is mortally wounded. The island is magical and surrounded by mist and fog.

 

Although the gods and goddesses of the Tuatha De Danann were defeated, they did not entirely leave Ireland. They lived on but with a veil of invisibility separating them from men which they can leave on or take off at will. Ireland was then divided into an earthly and a spiritual island—the men on the earthly plane and the Danann occupying the spiritual plane.  The Tuatha De Danann are not immortal but can be killed in battle, and they have to eat enchanted food in order to stay young and healthy. Lir, the god of the sea (Mananan’s father), created the Feast of Age which includes magical ale and a feast of swine and this keeps them from aging and protects them from sickness. The pigs are killed and eaten every day but then return again the next day.

 

Mythology Connection! Like the Tuatha De Danann, the Norse gods have to eat special food, the apples of immortality, to stay immortal. Aegir, the sea god (like Lir) keeps a magic cauldron in which he prepares the gods’ mead. Animals that regenerate after being eaten is also similar to Norse mythology. Thor has two goats he can eat, and as long as no bones are broken, they will come back again the next day. In Odin’s hall of warriors, Valhalla, magical goats are killed and eaten and regenerate the next day.

 

The Tuatha De Danann leave their world of invisibility occasionally to mix with men in battle or in love. Lug, especially, gets involved with the affairs of men, the most famous being Cuchulain.

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