Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Today's mythic figure was probably one of the original deities of the ancient Celts.  The stories that have come down to us about him are mostly from the Irish branch of that Western European clan, where the Dagda is known as a father god among the much revered group of deities known as the Children of Danu; the Tuatha de Danaan.

The Dagda (also spelled Dagdha or Daghdha) is usually referred to as a god of wisdom.  He is particularly linked with Druidism and with the bardic tradition through one of his later symbols, the harp.  This harp was sometimes imagined as having the body of a blindfolded woman – much like the harp in the fairytale “Jack in the Bean stock” – and it was tuned to the Dagda’s voice.

In Celtic Gods/Celtic Goddesses, R.J. Stewart says that the Dagda’s name meant “Good God” and that he was also known as the “Great Father” and “Mighty One of Knowledge”.  In this he is similar to the Norse god Odin, known as “All Father” and “Bringer of Knowledge”. 

Probably before the Druids tacked on the harp, the Dagda’s symbols were the cauldron and the club.  The cauldron, which was also linked to the mother/destroyer goddess known as the Cailleach in Ireland and Cerridwen in Wales, provided an unending flow of nourishment and satisfaction, both physical and spiritual.  The club in particular to the Dagda was both an instrument of creation and of death.  One end brought forth life; the other end snuffed it out.  A god of the Gauls, Sucullus, also carried a club and was known as the “Good Striker”.  His relation to the Dagda, if any, is lost in large part due to the systematic genocide carried out on his worshippers by Julius Caesar.

The Dagda was envisioned as a giant.  Due to his large size, he was often imagined as wearing tunics that were too short for him; he wandered the land with his buttocks and genitals humorously exposed.  Because of his enormous size he was a particular concern of the enemies of the Tuatha de Danaan, the Fomhoireans.  These giants would lay traps for the Dagda before their battles with the sons and daughters of Danu.  With these traps, the Fomhoireans hoped to remove their most powerful enemy from the field. 

One story tells of the Fomhoireans leaving a giant pit full of delicious, meat-spiked porridge where the Dagda could easily find it.  Always hungry, the Dagda ate the entire pit-full and then fell into a stupor.  The plan appeared to work perfectly until the Dagda was awakened from his sleep by a curious and beautiful Fomhoirean maiden.  The two took a liking to each other and made love.  So impressed was the giantess by the Dagda’s abilities that she agreed to turn her Fomhoirean magick on her own people.  The Tuatha won the ensuing battle handily.

The Dagda’s most important role, ensuring the fertility of the land, was played out every Samhain.  This ancient New Years Eve of the Celts, which has come down to us as Halloween thanks to the refusal of the Irish to give up their old ways, was their most important festival.  On the night of October 31st, when the veil between the worlds was very thin, the Dagda made love to the fertility/battle goddess known as the Morrigan at the Unius River in Connaught.  In this way the Dagda turned the battle goddess away from her summer/fall focus on war and toward her winter/spring task of germination and rebirth.  Without this coming together of two great spirits, the land would wither and the Celtic people would die.  Speculation has been made repeatedly that this myth sparked the enduring story of Arthur, Guinevere and their relationship’s effect on their land.

Header: The Dagda by The Unknown via


Timmy! said...

Very interesting post, Pauline. So, it sounds like the Dagda was a pre-cursor to a lot of other myths. Pretty cool (and pretty amusing as well).

Pauline said...

I just like that he wandered around with his aft parts hanging out. Cold in an Irish winter, you have to think...