Irish Mythology: Gods & Symbols

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

In this lesson, you will be introduced to several of the major gods and goddesses of the Celtic tradition. Some of these descriptions will also include major symbols associated with those deities.

Celtic Religion at a Glance

The gods and goddess of the Celtic religion have fascinated lovers of myth young and old, yet writings about them are few and far between. Still, there are some records of these ancient gods, and even Christian settlers in Ireland were able to record some information about them. Even more fascinating, some of these gods and goddesses have lived on in Christian religion as saints and heroes. However, like most non-Classical traditions, Celtic gods and goddesses did not have a clear familial relationship or religious functions as the gods of ancient Greece or Rome. Many Celtic gods were known for having dual natures and could be interpreted as both benevolent and malevolent at the same time, depending on what myth was told about them.

These are just some of the major gods and goddesses found in the Celtic tradition.

The Gods and Goddesses

Morrigan: Sometimes called the 'Phantom Queen,' Morrigan is the goddess of war, and is not to be trifled with. She and her warrior sisters chose Ireland as their major base of operations and place to plan for their wars. She was also known to transform into a crow, and sometimes an old hag, frightening many on the battlefield. Despite her temper, Morrigan does have a softer side, and was sometimes known to try to help Irish heroes find peaceful solutions. She tried to prevent the hero, Cuchulainn, from going to war, but he would not listen. Still, Cuchulainn is depicted with a crow, or Morrigan, sitting on his shoulder.

Aengus: God of love, beauty, and poetry, Aengus was considered to be a handsome youth who was often followed by small birds. He was the son of Dagda and was believed to have been born the same day he was conceived, earning him the nickname 'the young.' Aengus once fell in love with a woman named Caer, but she was destined to turn into a swan, along with 150 other maidens. He eventually found her amongst all the other swans, and turned into a swan himself so that they could always be together.

Aengus, mid-transformation into a swan.

Danu: Given the title, 'mother of the Irish gods,' Danu is the goddess of fertility. She is the goddess of mothers, farming, and rivers, all symbols associated with fertility and abundance. But she also had another side. She was sometimes associated with a warrior personality, making her a formidable force. She also has her own people, the Tuatha De Danaan, a people once banished from Ireland. She helped raise them back to strength so that they could return to Ireland.

Dagda: Known as the ultimate father, Dagda is the father of gods and protector of humans. He was especially known for carrying a large club, which he could use to both kill and bring people back from the dead. He also had in his possession a magical cauldron which produced an endless supply of food. As such a good provider and father, he was associated with fertility. When his consort was pregnant with his son, Aengus, Dagda forced the sun to stop moving for nine months, making it so that Aengus could claim he was both conceived and born in a single day.

Brigid: Goddess of fire, the forge, and the hearth, Brigid is one of a few Celtic gods who has a lasting legacy as a Christian saint. Brigid was the daughter of Dagda and represented three different versions of fire: the fire of inspiration (craft), the fire of the hearth (home), and the fire of the forge (war), making her a trinity goddess.

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