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The Celtic / Irish Gods and Goddesses [Part 2]
May 13, 2011
Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, apparently the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. Among Celts in close contact with Ancient Rome, such as the Gauls and Celtiberians, their mythology did not survive the Roman empire, their subsequent conversion to Christianity, and the loss of their Celtic languages. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved. The Celtic peoples who maintained either their political or linguistic identities (such as the Gaels, Picts, and Brythonic tribes of Great Britain and Ireland) left vestigial remnants of their forebears' mythologies, put into written form during the Middle Ages.
The leader of the gods for the Irish pantheon appears to have been the Dagda. The Dagda was the figure after which male humans and other gods were based due to his embodiment of the ideal Irish traits. Celtic gods were also considered to be a clan due to their lack of specialization and unknown origins. The particular character of the Dagda describes him as a figure of burlesque lampoonery in Irish mythology, and some authors even conclude that he was trusted to be benevolent enough to tolerate jokes at his own expense.
Irish tales depict the Dagda as a figure of power, armed with a spear. In Dorset there is a famous outline of an ithyphallic giant known as the Cerne Abbas Giant with a club cut into the chalky soil. While this was probably produced in relatively modern times (English Civil War era), it was long thought to be a representation of the Dagda. This has been called into question by recent studies which show that there may have been a representation of what looks like a large drapery hanging from the horizontal arm of the figure, leading to suspicion that this figure actually represents Hercules (Heracles), with the skin of the Nemean Lion over his arm and carrying the club he used to kill it. In Gaul, it is speculated that the Dagda is associated with Sucellos, the striker, equipped with a hammer and cup.
The Morrígan was a tripartite battle goddess of the Celts of Ancient Ireland. She was known as the Morrígan, but the different sections she was divided into were also referred to as Nemhain, Macha, and Badb (among other, less common names), with each representing different aspects of combat. She is most commonly known for her involvement in the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
The god appearing most frequently in the tales is Lugh. He is evidently a residual of the earlier, more widespread god Lugus, whose diffusion in Celtic religion is apparent from the number of place names in which his name appears, occurring across the Celtic world. The most famous of these are the cities of Lugdunum (the modern French city of Lyon), Lugdunum Batavorum (the modern city of Katwijk, 10 kilometers to the west of Leiden) and Lucus Augusti or Λοuκος Λuγούστον (the modern Galician city of Lugo). Lug is described in the Celtic myths as the last to be added to the list of deities. In Ireland a festival called the Lughnasa (Modern Irish lúnasa) was held in his honour.
Other important goddesses include Brigid (or Brigit), the Dagda's daughter; Aibell, Áine, Macha, and the sovereign goddess, Ériu. Notable is Epona, the horse goddess, celebrated with horse races at the summer festival. Significant Irish gods include Nuada Airgetlám, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann; Goibniu, the smith and brewer; Dian Cecht, the patron of healing; and the sea god Manannán mac Lir.