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Who are the Celtic Gods and Celtic Goddesses?
Celtic pagan gods and goddesses were thought to have special influential powers over aspects of daily life and the natural world.
The ancient Celts were polytheistic and are thought to have worshiped over 400 Celtic gods and goddesses, although it is difficult to pinpoint an exact figure.
Some of these gods and goddesses of Celtic mythology were revered across the Celtic world, whereas others seemed to have been less well known and worshiped only in certain regions or specific locations.
Celtic Deities vs Roman Deities
In comparison to Roman gods, many Celtic deities often represent multiple different aspects and had more all-encompassing powers. The Dagda, god of agriculture, weather, the seasons and time is one such example.
Given the overlapping focus of the major Celtic deities, it has been suggested that some of the Celtic deities equate to the Roman ones.
One such example is the Celtic god Nordens, who was god of hunting and the Roman god Mars, who acted as the god of war and protector of agriculture.
There is much scholarly debate on this topic and no clear conclusions.
Who are the main Celtic Gods and Goddesses?
The names of Celtic gods and the names of Celtic goddesses that occur often in Celtic mythology are listed below.
List of Celtic Gods
- Lugh – Celtic God of Justice and Mischief
- The Dagda – Celtic God of Agriculture, Fertility and Seasons and King of the Gods
- Aengus – Celtic God of Love, Youth, Summer and poetry
- Manannan – Celtic God of the Sea
- Cú Chullain – Demigod and Warrior Hero
- Belenus – Celtic God of Fire
- Donn – Celtic God of Death
- Neit – Celtic God of War
List of Celtic Goddesses
- Danu – Celtic Mother Goddess
- The Morrigan – Celtic Goddess of War
- Áine – Celtic Goddess of Love, Wealth and Sovereignty
- Brigid – Celtic Goddess of Healing, Poetry and Blacksmithing
- Flidas – Celtic Goddess of Cattle and Fertility
- Bébinn – Celtic Goddess of Birth
- Airmed – Celtic Goddess of Herbalism
Celtic Gods and Goddesses in Irish Mythology
Irish mythology is rich in tales gods and goddesses and their rituals, battles, revenge and sexual encounters. Given all their relationships, the Celtic gods family tree is a complex one!
There are four Cycles or groupings in Irish mythology:
- Mythological Cycle: Stories of the main gods of Celtic mythology and the early battles and invasions on the the Island of Ireland
- Ulster Cycle: Deals with the adventures and challenges of the warriors, kings and queens around the 1st century C.E. Some of the figures from the Mythological Cycle are again present in this cycle.
- Fenian Cycle: Retells the famous tales about Fionn mac Cumhail (or Finn McCool) and the band of Irish warriors known as the Fianna. Set around the 3rd century C.E. and also known as the Ossianic Cycle.
- Historical Cycle: A mix of stories from ancient history and mythology merged together by bards or the kings poets to record important family history of kings.
Most of the legends of the deities come from the Mythological Cycles and the later Ulster Cycles (ca. 1st century C.E.) to a lesser degree.
Lugh – God of Justice and Oaths and Master of Crafts
The god Lugh, (also spelled Lug or Luga) is one of the most notable of all the Irish deities and equates to the pan-Celtic god of Lugus.
Lugh was the god associated with justice and held power over oaths and law. He was also connected with rightfulness, especially in terms of kingship.
He was king of the glorified race of the Tuatha dé Danann, who were known for their superior skills and knowledge, particularly on the battlefield. The inscriptions on some early texts suggest that the Tuath dé Danann were deities, while others allude more to them having magical powers, including shapeshifting.
Lugh was a master craftsman and skilled warrior, known for his ability to throw a spear a very long distance and hence his other name Lugh Lámhfhada. This name means Lugh of the long arm in Irish.
He is believed to have led the Tuatha dé Danann to victory over the invading army of Fomorians as depicted in the Battle of Mag Tuired.
It is said that Lugh initiated a special games event, known as the Tailteann Games or Assembly of Tailti that focused on horse racing and martial arts that ran over the last two weeks in July and culminated with the start of the harvest celebration of Lughnasadh on 1 August. It is said that the games were founded in memory of Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, who was also thought to be a goddess.
Legend states that Lugh was also a bit of a trickster and is sometimes known as the Celtic god of mischief.
Lugh is thought to have been the father of demi god and famous Irish warrior, Cú Chulainn.
Are Celtic gods immortal? Seemingly not all of them, Lugh is said to have been speared and drowned in Loch Lugborta (or Loch Lugh) in County Westmeath, by the sons of Cermait after he killed their father.
Both the gods of Lugh and the Dagda are supposedly buried in the sacred center of the island of Ireland, Uisneach.
The Dagda – God of Agriculture, Fertility, Seasons and Weather
Who is the king of the gods in Celtic mythology?
The Dagda Celtic god is believed to be the father of the gods and is thought of as a strong, manly figure with the knowledge and wisdom of the druids.
As a god he had immense power and influence. The Dagda is the Celtic god of agriculture, fertility of the land and animals, weather, time and seasons.
He is also connected with life and death. Donn, the Irish god of death may have been an aspect of the Dagda.
Good, fruitful harvests were critical for the survival of Celtic people and animals, so it is easy to see how central a role this god played in the Celtic pantheon.
The fertility and health of cattle was also of primary importance as a person’s wealth was often counted in terms of cattle. Retribution payments for certain crimes were also paid in cattle according to the old Irish Brehon laws.
One ritual to ensure a fruitful harvest in the coming year was the annual coupling of the Dagda with his wife, the Morrigan goddess at the feast of the Samhain (on 1 November).
Some of the Dagda’s most prized possessions included an enchanted harp and a magical staff, with which he could kill 9 men at once with or restore their lives at will. He also had a bottomless cauldron to ensure that no man left his table feeling hungry.
The Dagda was the supposed father of several other important figures in Irish mythology including the goddess Brigid and Bodb Derg who featured a key role in the tale of the Children of Lir.
The river goddess Boann was his lover and mother of his child, and fellow god, Aengus.
Aengus – God of Love, Youth, Summer and Poetry
The Dagda is not thought to have welcomed the news of the arrival of Aengus.
It is said that upon hearing the news that Boann was pregnant, the Dagda attempted to hide the pregnancy by keeping the sun still in the sky for 9 months so that the gestation would take place in the space of a day.
It is possibly fitting then that Aengus, the Irish god of love, youth, summer and poetry, was in fact a love child himself.
Aengus (or Óengus as is sometimes used) was another member of the Tuatha dé Danann with expert knowledge of weaponry. His sword, Moralltach, or the Great Fury given to him by the god of the sea, Manannan mac Lir, was one of his prized possessions.
One story exists of how the Dagda when assigning land to his children, he forgot to leave land for Aengus. At this time, the Dagda was living in Newgrange and Aengus tricked him into letting him live there permanently.
Aengus’ skill with poetry was thought to be so great that he was able to break magic spells with this gift, such as the one placed on Étain in the love story with Midir.
In a dream Aengus falls in love with a beautiful maiden, Caer Ibormeith. He searches day and night until he finds her at the Lake of the Dragon’s Mouth.
There was a catch that Caer was stuck in the form of a swan and was only able to return to a human form for one day every second year. In order to marry her, Aengus had to correctly identify her as a swan among 150 other swans, which he was able to do. Then he also transformed into a swan and flew with her to his home in the Brú na Boinne.
Manannán mac Lir – God of the Sea
Manannán mac Lir, also known as Manannán or simply Manann was the son of Lir.
It appears that Manannán took over the role of the sea god from his father, although some tales suggest that Lir was the god of the ocean and Manannán was the god of the sea.
(Just in case you were wondering, it is not completely clear whether the god Lir was the same individual named Lir in the Children of Lir.)
Manannan was well equipped with armor and weapons, some of which he supplied to the god Lugh when the Fomorians attacked the Tuatha dé Danann.
He was able to make a dramatic entrance on his horse-pulled chariot that could ride upon the waves. Alternatively, he also had a self-navigating boat called Sguaba Tuinne or wave-rider, which seems advanced even in the technology era of today!
In addition to his role as a sea god, Manannán also took care of the welfare of the Tuatha dé Danann when they were forced into the fairy mound, or sídhe, after being defeated by the Milesian invaders. He covered the mounds in mist so as to make them invisible to outsiders.
According to some stories he was the husband, or perhaps the father of the goddess Áine and foster father of the god Lugh. Other tales link him romantically to the sea goddess Fand.
Niamh of the Golden Hair, who is in the legend of Oisín and Tir na nÓg is thought to be Manannan’s daughter.
Manannan has a strong connection to Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. There is even some speculation that the Isle of Man was named after him and vice versa. Several areas in Scotland and Ireland are named after Manannan, including Mannin Lake (County Mayo), and Mannin Island (County Cork).
Cu chulainn – Warrior Hero and Demigod
Cú Chulainn or Cúchulainn features often in the Ulster Cycles of Irish mythology.
His father, Lugh, was one of the major Celtic gods and his mother, Deichtine, was a mortal making him a demi-god, although some say that he was the reincarnation of his father Lugh.
Deichtine decided that her son should be reared by seven nobles to ensure that he received a wide ranging education. They took him on as a foster son and taught him the skills of a warrior, an orator and how to defend the vulnerable.
As a child Cú Chulainn was known by the name of Sétanta. He only earned his name Cú Chulainn (Irish for Hound of Culainn) after killing the trusted guard dog of Culainn in self defense, by accurately hitting a sliotar (ball used in the Irish game of hurling) down its throat as it attacked him. Sétanta offered his services until he could retrain a new dog and so became known as Cú Chulainn.
Cú Chulainn was a skilled and dedicated warrior from an early age, and was always eager to join in the physical training sessions of the older boys.
He married Emer, the daughter of the King of Lusk, but first had to pass a series of quests set by the bride’s father. Having successfully completed the challenges, Cú Chulainn proceeded to attack the castle of Emer’s father and kill many in the process before eloping with the maiden.
Despite being married, Cú Chulainn is also known for his many affairs including with Aife, with whom he has a son and the Scandinavian Princess, Derbforgaill who turned into a swan to be with him.
In addition to his abilities as a warrior, Cú Chulainn terrified his enemies by flying into a frenzied rage in battle.
He is known for single-handedly defeating the army of Queen Medb in the Battle of Cooley, as the Ulstermen were unable to fight due to a curse previously placed on them.
It was at this point that he also first encountered another famous Irish goddess, The Morrigan. She tried unsuccessfully to seduce him and when this failed, she sought revenge for his spuned rejections by attacking Cú Chulainn in the form of an eel, a wolf and a heifer.
Ultimately the Morrigan predicted Cú Chulainn’s violent death and a crow (the most common symbol of the Morrigan goddess) signified his death on the battlefield when it landed on his shoulder.
In the General Post Office (or GPO) in Dublin, Ireland there is a sculpture by Oliver Shepard of Cú Chulainn’s final moments.
Danu Celtic Goddess Mother Figure
Danu is the mother goddess of Ireland and of the Tuatha dé Danann. The name Tuatha dé Danann can be roughly translated as “the people of the goddess Danu”.
Unfortunately there is very little information found in the surviving Medieval Irish texts about Danu. As a mother goddess figure, she is most usually associated with fertility and wisdom and is sometimes thought of as the Celtic goddess of nature.
Some scholars have argued that Danu may be associated with water and may in fact have originated from the River Danube that flows through Europe. She is also sometimes equated with the Welsh literary figure, Dôn.
Danu is occasionally referred to as Anu, although some sources may indicate that Anu was another goddess completely.
Anu is associated with the province of Munster in Ireland, where two rounded mountains near the Cork-Kerry border are known as the Paps of Anu (Breasts of Anu).
The Morrigan – Goddess of War, Fertility and Sovereignty
The Morrigan goddess is usually thought of as the Celtic goddess of war and sometimes the Celtic goddess of death, but she has strong association with fertility and sovereignty as well. Gifted with the ability to shapeshift, she has the capacity to take many forms, but commonly takes the form of a crow.
She is a complex deity known as the Phantom Queen, who is both a single goddess and also a triple goddess. The triple goddess is composed of the goddesses Badb, Macha and Nemain.
The crow symbol is thought to connect with Badb (meaning crow in Irish). As a crow, she would fly over the battlefield and either encourage or instill fear in the warriors below. She is also said to have the ability to foretell the outcome of battles and predict violent deaths.
Macha is more usually connected with the land and its fertility and is seen as a protector. There is a strong link between Macha and horses, as well as other livestock. It has been suggested that the origin of her name possibly stems from an area used to graze cattle.
The frenzy of battle is connected with the aspect of Nemian. She is said to be responsible for the rage and fury of a battle and her terrifying scream can kill or paralyze a man.
Badb and Nemain were the wives of Neit, the Irish god of war.
According to some versions, the war goddess Morrigan is the wife of the Dagda and they have a special coupling around the feast of Samhain.
She also set her sights on Cú Chulainn and tried unsuccessfully to seduce him. After a series of failed attempts to seek revenge on him, she ultimately correctly prophesied his death in battle.
Áine – Goddess of Love, Summer and Wealth
As the goddess of summer and wealth, Áine represents the abundance that the land has to offer during its most plentiful season.
Good, fruitful harvests were required to provide for the people and animals, therefore much emphasis was placed on gods and goddesses that represent fertility, such as Áine.
The goddess Áine is strongly associated with the feast of midsummer and the summer sun. She too, like the Morrigan is thought to have the ability to shapeshift and is represented by a red mare, known for its speed.
Áine is sometimes referred to as the Irish goddess of Love or as the Faery Queen.
There are several stories that connect Áine to rape, including one where she bites off the ear of the King of Munster after an unconsented encounter. By disfiguring him, the Celtic goddess of love made him ineligible to be king (only flawless, unmarred men could rule) and so he was removed from his throne.
In another story of rape, Áine exacted revenge by turned her offender, Gerald, Earl of Desmond into a goose.
The Hill of Knockainy (or Cnoc Áine) in County Limerick was an important site, where ritual blessings to this Irish goddess were carried out. Offerings to Áine have also been made at Lough Gur in County Limerick.
Brigid (or Bríg) – Goddess of Healing, Fertility, Poetry and Spring
Brigid (also sometimes known as Brighid or Brigit) is another descendant of the Tuatha dé Danann (her father being the god Dagda). Her name means the “exalted one” in old Irish.
Brigid is widely known as the Celtic goddess associated with healing, but her other attributes include poetry and smithcraft.
She is a triple goddess with two other sisters who are also confusingly also called Brigid and each of the three Brigid goddesses has one main attribute.
Additionally, the goddess Brigid associations include fire, flames and light. She is occasionally depicted as having flames coming out of her hair.
Interestingly, Brigid is thought to have been a pagan goddess in pre-Christian times and later transitioned from a goddess to a saint. It is likely that the early Christian Church decided to incorporate Brigid in the form of Saint Brigid of Kildare into their teachings to appeal to her worshippers.
Brigid was the goddess Celtic people turned to when they needed to be healed. Water is strongly associated with healing and both the Celtic goddess Brigid and Saint Brigid are connected with the healing power of wells.
There are many holy wells scattered across Ireland dedicated to Saint Brigid some of which may have previously been connected with Brigid, the Celtic goddess of healing.
In addition to the connection of the holy wells, Brigid and Catholic Saint Brigid are also connected by the feast day of February 1st. This marks Imbolc, the pagan festival that celebrates the first day of spring and now is also the feast day of the Christian Saint Brigid.
Saint Brigid founded a monastery in County Kildare on the site of a sacred place dedicated to the goddess Brigid. She acquired the land from the King of Leinster by promising to only take as much ground as her cloak covered. Her cloak is said to have extended until the plot of land was sufficiently big enough to support a monastery.
Flidas – Goddess of Cattle and Fertility
Cattle were seen as a measure of wealth by the Celts, so it could have been only natural for them to have a deity dedicated to cattle and their fertility.
The goddess Flidas (or Flidais) is this deity with her special focus on domestic cattle and milking.
For a long time she was associated as being a woodland goddess, somewhat similar to the Roman goddess Diana, scholars now deem this association with woodland to be incorrect.
She is often associated with abundance and plentifulness. It is in the Cattle Raid of Cooley that Flidias had a magical herd of cattle who produced so much milk that they could supply for the entire army every seven days.
She is the mother of Fand, the goddess of the sea and of the lover of Fergus mac Róich, who apparently needed seven women or just Flidas to satisfy his sexual appitite.
Celtic Deity Types
While there are many different Celtic deities, they can be sometimes grouped together according to certain aspects. Some of the main Celtic deity types and main gods and goddesses of each are listed below.
Celtic Sun God
Lugh, is one of the most important of all the gods of the Celts. He is primarily the god of justice and oaths.
Since Victorian times, it has been suggested that he is the god of sun and light, due to his name which means “light” or “bright” in Irish.
The accuracy of this suggestion is still debated by scholars.
Celtic Sun Goddess
Irish mythology usually depicts the sun as being feminine and interestingly there appears to have been two goddesses connected with the sun.
Áine, the goddess of the summer and summer sun and Grian (as grian means sun in Irish) was the goddess of the pale winter sun.
Celtic God of Water
Water was considered a sacred element and Manannán the sea god is one of the most notable of all the gods in Irish mythology. Manannan’s father Lir, was likely the main sea god before Mannanan came to prominence.
Celtic Goddess of Water
There are actually several Celtic goddesses connected with water. Clíodhna, was the daughter of the sea god Manannan and like him, also has a special connection to the Celtic Otherworld.
In Irish folklore, Sínann was responsible for the overflowing of a well that led to creation of the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland. Boann is thought to have done something similar and created the River Boyne. Each became the river goddess of their respective rivers.
Celtic Mother Goddesses
There are several divine mother goddess figures in ancient Celtic mythology. Their roles appear to be more all encompassing than just related to birth and children. Often they appear as wise figures who are linked with sovereignty, fertility and the ability to punish.
Examples include the goddess Danu the supposed mother figure of the mythical superhuman race called the Tuatha dé Danann and the goddess Ermas, who is said to have given birth to triple goddesses of the Morrigna.
Celtic Horned God
The horned god Cernunnos, was connected mostly with wild animals, especially the horned kind such as stags and bulls.
Most of the evidence supporting the worship of Cernunnos was found in Gaul (the name given to France by the Romans) and Britain, with less influence in Ireland.
Cernunnos is often depicted in a cross-legged seat, with antlers or horns on his head and sometimes wearing a sacred torque neck ornament.
Due to his extensive power and influence, the early Christain church tried to demonize Cernunnos. His horned appearance may have been an inspiration for the depiction of Satan with horns.
Enjoyed this post? Interested in more Irish Celtic mythology? Why not check out the Children of Lir or learn more about the Morrigan goddess?
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