Celtic Mythology in the Harry Potter World
As with Greek and Norse mythology there are a few characters in the Harry Potter books named directly for Celtic gods, goddesses, or heroes.
In Harry Potter she is on one of the Chocolate Frog Wizard cards. On the card she was a druidess, an animagus who took the form of a bird, and discovered the properties of moondew.
In Celtic mythology (Irish) she is known as “Cliodna of the Fair Hair.” In one account she was the daughter of a Druid and in another the granddaughter of one of the Tuatha De Danann.
In one story a young man Tadg (Teeg) landed on the island where Cliodna lived. It was a magical, enchanted island and Tadg and his men were there for a year, even though it felt like just one day to them. They did not need to eat or drink while they lived there either. Cliodna gave Tadg a magical green cup that would turn water into wine. However, if Tadg lost the cup it meant that his death would not be far off. Cliodna told him where he would die, that a wild deer would give him his fatal wound, and that she would be the one to bury him. She then led Tadg back to his ship and bid him farewell.
Mythology Connection! In The Odyssey, Odysseus and his men landed on Circe’s island. It was enchanted by the sorceress and they stayed there for a year. Circe, like Cliodna with Tadg, gave Odysseus advice about his life and further adventures.
In Harry Potter Morfin is Tom Riddle’s uncle and Merope’s brother. Morfin is very nasty and can speak Parseltongue.
In Celtic mythology Morfin (or Morfran) was a Welsh hero, the son of Ceridwen (Ker-rid-wen), a witch who brewed a potion that gave great wisdom to the bard Taliesin. The name Morfran means “great raven” and ravens are associated with the battlefield in Celtic mythology.
Morfin was also a part of the King Arthur tales and took part in the battle of Camlan. Morfin was so ugly that no one attacked him because they all thought he was a demon. Now that’s ugly!
MORGAN LE FAY
In Harry Potter Morgan is one of the Chocolate Frog Wizard trading cards.
In Celtic mythology Morgan is sometimes considered the equivalent of the Morrigan. She is the raven goddess who flies over battlefields searching for the dead. She can transform into a cow, raven, hag, or beautiful young maiden. Her name is actually Morgan le Fay, Fay meaning “fairy.” She is magical—an enchantress and sorceress.
In Harry Potter Rosmerta is the owner of the Three Broomsticks, a pub in Hogsmeade. In The Half Blood Prince she falls under the Imperius Curse and gives Katie Bell the cursed necklace meant for Dumbledore. She also informs the Death Eaters when Dumbledore leaves the castle to go to the cave.
In Celtic mythology Rosmerta is a goddess from Gaul. She is a goddess of healing and plenty. Her name means “great provider” and she is often depicted holding a cornucopia, a purse, or a patera (a vessel for holding water). Rosmerta is associated with the Roman god Mercury and there are many carvings in which she is either standing next to him or wearing his winged helm. It is fitting that Rosmerta, the owner of a pub, would be named after a goddess associated with a cornucopia and water jug!
The “Veil” Between Worlds
The Celtic people believed in an Otherworld. Gods, goddesses, and other mythological beings (e.g. fairies) lived in this Otherworld, but they could travel between that world and our world. This is a little different than what the Greeks and the Norse believed. They believed that their gods and goddesses lived in another world like Mt. Olympus or in Asgard, but it was not that closely linked to the human world. The gods could come and go as they pleased, but mortals could not cross over into the worlds of the gods. If they did cross over (like into the realm of Hades), it was very difficult and sometimes the mortals had to pay a huge price. In the Celtic world the Otherworld was more permeable, although mostly it ran one-way. Certain times of the year were better for traveling between the worlds, like Samhain (November 1st) which gave rise to our celebrations of Halloween and All Soul’s; and Beltane (May 1st) which we still sometimes celebrate as May Day. All of the rituals such as burning fires and displaying skeletons were developed to protect people from those coming from the Otherworld.
This is a connection to the Harry Potter books in that Rowling created this entire “other world” of witchcraft of which we Muggles are not aware.
In the Harry Potter books, the “veil” between the world of the Muggles and the “otherworld” of magic and witchcraft could be very permeable, just like in Celtic mythology. This permeability first appeared at the beginning of The Sorcerer’s Stone. When one-year-old Harry Potter vanquishes Lord Voldemort, the witches and wizards come out of the wizarding world and are seen in large numbers in the Muggle world. They breach the barrier. Vernon Dursley sees witches and wizards and owls and all sorts of strange things that day. In The Half Blood Prince, Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters breach the barrier between worlds several times. Death Eaters destroy Muggle bridges and kill Muggle people. Muggles do not realize wizards are causing the mayhem, but the two worlds collide at this point.
This barrier between worlds is symbolized by the portrait hanging in the Muggle Minister’s office. When the Minister of Magic wants to talk with the “other Minister” the portrait talks and Cornelius Fudge enters the office through the fireplace. Fudge is a physical manifestation of an otherworldly person entering the Muggle world.
This barrier is also seen at Privet Drive. Privet Drive represents our normal world and it is breached by the “other,” magical world in every book.
- In The Sorcerer’s Stone magic breaches the barrier for the very first time when Harry receives his letter to Hogwarts in the mail. It also happens (most dramatically) when Hagrid breaks down the door to the cabin and tells Harry he’s a wizard. You can’t have a more literal ‘breaching the barrier’ than the door crashing in!
- In The Chamber of Secrets Ron, Fred, and George literally break down the barrier between the Muggle world and the magical world when they rip the bars off of Harry’s bedroom window.
- In The Prisoner of Azkaban, the barrier is breached by the arrival of The Knight Bus. It literally pops out of nowhere into the Muggle world.
- In The Goblet of Fire the Weasley’s bust the barrier down again when they all arrive at Privet Drive through the fireplace. However, they cannot enter the house because the fireplace is bricked up. Mr. Weasley has to blow a hole through the wall that is dividing the magical world from the Muggle world.
- In The Order of the Phoenix the advanced guard of Aurors break into Privet Drive and take Harry to the Burrow.
- In The Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore breaches the barrier. The difference with Dumbledore is that he politely shows up at the front door and knocks!
- In The Deathly Hallows the breach is planned and prepared. There is no blowing up a walled off fireplace or tearing down bars. Harry and the Dursleys expect the magical world to enter the house. However, even though planned, the breach is no more welcome to the Dursley’s than any other visit by wizards.
The problem today is that we Muggles no longer believe in this Otherworld and so have no protections in place against the beings who would travel in between the worlds. In the ancient world they believed in the comings and goings of gods and fairies and creatures like boggarts. The ancient Celts came up with rituals and festivals in which to honor or to protect themselves from those in the Otherworld. Of course, Harry wants the magical world to intrude on the Muggle world, but for people like the Dursleys and the “other Minister” it is not quite so welcome.
When gods or fairies or any other being from the Otherworld passed into our world, or any being from our world passed into the Otherworld, it was said that they passed through the “veil” between worlds. In The Order of the Phoenix, Sirius dies because he passes through the veil in the Department of Mysteries. Harry and his friends come across the room with the archway and veil while looking for Sirius. There is something strange and eerie about the veil, which was “fluttering very slightly as though it had just been touched” (OOTP, 773). Harry and Luna could hear voices coming from the mysterious veil, “there were faint whispering, murmuring noises coming from the other side of the veil” (OOTP, 774), thus showing that the world behind the veil was inhabited by someone, somewhere. Harry “had the strangest feeling that there was someone standing right behind the veil on the other side of the archway” (OOTP, 774). When Luna says that she can hear voices “in there,” Hermione tells her “there isn’t any ‘in there,’ it’s just an archway, there’s no room for anybody to be there…” (OOTP, 774). Harry and Luna can hear and sense the Otherworld but Hermione is right, there is no “in there” because the veil is an entryway into the Otherworld of spirits, not a place itself. Harry and Luna, because they have been seen death, are more attuned to the Otherworld.
Animagus in Celtic Mythology
All mythologies have sorcerers who can transform themselves into animals, or people who are transformed into animals against their will, usually by the gods. Celtic mythology is no exception. Here are a few:
Blodeuwedd (Blod-ay-weth) (Welsh)
Blodeuwedd was a woman created by magicians out of flowers of the broom, the oak, and the meadowsweet and considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. The magicians created her to be the wife of the hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes (thlay-thlou-guh-fes), a man almost impossible to kill. Unfortunately, Blodeuwedd had an affair with another man and decided she wanted to kill Lleu. Although it was very complicated, she discovered how to kill him, and she tried but was unsuccessful. One of the magicians who had created her turned Lleu into an eagle, so he could fly away. The magician then tracked down Blodeuwedd and transformed her into an owl and cursed her to only live at night and to be hated by all the other birds.
Ceridwen (ker-id-wen) (Welsh)
Ceridwen was a witch and sorceress. She had two children, a beautiful daughter and a son who was very “ill favored.” She loved her son very much, and since he was ugly she decided to make him wise with knowledge of the future. To do this she brewed a magic potion in her Cauldron of Inspiration. Three drops from the potion was all it took for wisdom, and any more would be fatal. Ceridwen hired a young boy, Gwin, to stir the potion, since it took a year and a day to brew. Three drops splashed on his finger and burned him, and he instinctively put his finger in his mouth to cool it. Gwin tasted the potion and so gained the wisdom Ceridwen wanted for her son. He also gained the knowledge that Ceridwen wanted to kill him!
Mythology Connection! In the Norse story of Sigurd, Sigurd burned his finger while roasting the dragon’s heart and gained knowledge from it. He heard the birds talking and one of them warned him that the dwarf Regin wanted to kill him.
Ceridwen did try to kill Gwin and in the process they both transformed into many different animals.
- Gwin turned into a hare to escape and Ceridwen turned into a greyhound to chase him.
- He transformed into a fish, she an otter.
- He was a bird, and she turned into a hawk.
- Finally, he transformed into a grain of seed. Ceridwen transformed into a hen and pecked up all the seeds, including Gwin.
Later Ceridwen became pregnant and knew it was Gwin. She planned to kill him when he was born, but he turned out so beautiful she couldn’t do it. So, she put him in a leather bag and threw him into the sea. Gwin was rescued and became the famous Welsh bard, Taliesin.
Sound Familiar? In the Greek story of Perseus, he and his mother were cast out to sea to die. They were rescued and Perseus grew up to be the famous hero. In the Roman story of Aeneas, he was left to die, but then rescued and raised by wolves. Both heroes went on to be famous.
Morrigan can transform into many things, but most often she’s a raven, hag, or a beautiful young woman. In the story of Cuchulain she is all of those things, plus can turn into a cow, an eel, and a wolf.
Tuan mac Cairill (Irish)
Tuan was a member of the Partholonians and the sole survivor of a plague that wiped out his people. When he was an old man he retired to a cave and woke up the next morning as a stag! This kept happening—he’d grow old, retire to a cave, and then wake up as a different animal. After the stag, he became a boar and then an eagle. One time he was reborn as a salmon and eaten by the wife of Cairill. Tuan’s final rebirth is as a human because he has to tell his story. Tuan’s story is the story of Irish mythology.