A Selection of Celtic Deities and Heroes Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein (Synthesized from Celtic Myth & Legend: An A-Z of People and Places by Mike Dixon-Kennedy and The Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology by Philip Wilkinson) The following gods and heroes are representative of some of the figures found in the various mythologies of the Celtic tribes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it has been put together here to show some of the differences between the Celtic myths and those of the other Western European cultures we have examined. Albion (Britain)—a legendary giant who was reputed to have been the first ruler of Britain; the island itself was called Albion before the coming of Brutus. Andarta (Gaul)—a bear goddess who, like her counterpart Artio, paralleled the Greek goddess Artemis; all of these goddesses could assume the form of a bear at will. Andraste (Britain)—a goddess of victory to whom her opponents were sacrificed in a sacred grove. She is said to have been invoked by Queen Boudicca when she revolted against the Roman army in the 1st century A.D. Anu (or Danu) (Ireland)—the earth mother. Arduinna (Gaul)—a goddess, possibly of the hunt, or a protectress of animals, who is associated with the wild boar. Gives her name to the Ardennes in France Arianrhod (Wales)—a star goddess of time, space, and energy, associated with the constellation of corona borealis and with the aurora borealis, the northern lights. Her name means “silver wheel” or “queen of the wheel” or “high fruitful mother.” Possibly connected with the Greek princess/goddess Ariadne, who like Arachne, the spider goddess, is associated with weaving and with the 13th sign of the lunar zodiac, which existed before the time of the solar zodiac. Artepomaros (Gaul)—a deity whose name means “possessing great horses,” this god may originally have been a horse or solar deity that became assimilated with the classical Apollo during the Roman occupation of Gaul. Badb (Ireland)—goddess of war, her name means “scald-crow”; she is depicted as a raven or hooded crow. Balar (Ireland)—a one-eyed giant, king of the Fomorians, whose power lay in his eye; compare with the Cyclops. He was killed at the Second Battle of Mag Tured by a stone form the slingshot of Lugh. Bel (Gaul and Britain)—a solar deity, the son of the power of light, and patron of the festival of Beltane. All gods with the word “bel” (meaning “shining”) in their names suggest the idea of light. The version named Belanus was sometimes associated with the god Apollo. Belatucadros (Britain)—a horned Celtic god of war, whose name means “fair shining one”; he was often equated with the Roman god of war, Mars. Beltené (Ireland)—one of the names applied to the god of death. (Not associated with the feast of Beltane.) Bendigeid Vran (Bran the Blessed) (Wales)—a giant son of Llyr. He led the Britons to victory against the Irish and was wounded, but his severed head continued to lead and entertain the people for 80 years. Bith (Ireland)—the son of Noah, he was supposed to have been one of 53 people who came to Ireland at the time before the Great Flood, only three of whom were men. Brighid (Ireland)—a triple goddess (three sisters all with the same name and all daughters of the Dagda), who sometimes was seen as an amalgam of all three. One was the patron goddess of poetry, handicrafts, and learning; one was the goddess of smiths and metalworking; and one was the goddess of healing and fertility. Brighid later became sainted by the Roman Catholic Church as St. Brigid or Bridget. Brutus (Greece-Rome-Britain)—the founder of the British people, and great-grandson of the Trojan hero Aeneas, he took the land of Britain away from the giants and founded Troia Nova (New Troy, now the city of London). The land of Britain is supposedly named for him. Cernunnos (General)—one of the most ancient Celtic gods; known as “the Horned One,” he had the ears and antlers of a stag and was the lord of the beasts. He was portrayed in art with snakes, stags, and other animals, which he sometimes was seen feeding, indicating he was a god of fertility and plenty. He was a shape-changer, who could take the shape of a stag, snake, or wolf. Ceridwen (Wales)—a corn goddess, usually represented in the form of a crone, whose totem animal was the sow. She wanted to give her ugly son the gift of wisdom, so she set many magical herbs to boiling in her cauldron to distill the brew and left her servant Gwion to tend the cauldron. As the liquor distilled, three drops flew out and burned his finger, which he put in his mouth to soothe, and he ingested the brew. Ceridwen chased him, each of them shape- shifting until finally he became a grain of wheat and she a hen, which gobbled up the wheat. Then Ceridwen found herself to be pregnant, and she gave birth nine months later to a beautiful boy. She tied him in a sack and threw his in river, but he was pulled out and became the poet Taliesin. Cuchulainn (Ireland)—a warrior hero said to be the son of Lugh. He fought with the men of Ulster against the warriors of Connacht. He was killed by his own spear, thrown back at him; he tied himself to a stone pillar so he could die fighting. The Dagda (Ireland)—god of magic, wisdom, and fertility, he was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His cauldron could feed the multitudes and never be empty. He also had a magic club, one end of which could kill and the other bring the dead back to life. Dian Cécht (Ireland)—the god of healing, depicted as a huge leech and in later tradition associated with the god Apollo. Dian Cécht could revive the dead and replace lost eyes or cure blindness by using the eyes of cats; however, the recipient would sleep all day and lie awake all night, alert in the darkness. Druids (General)—the common priesthood of the Celtic people, who were teachers, seers, poets, judges, doctors, diviners, and magicians. Their name may come from drus, the ancient name for the oak tree. The Druids were the unifying force among the different Celtic tribes, and their efforts preserved culture, religion, history, law, scholarship, and science. They may have been associated with the megalithic monuments of Britain; they appear to have been in existence prior to 2000 B.C., and to have enjoyed a freedom of thought and action until the Roman finally destroyed their pagan rituals and eradicated them. The Romans put their nemeton, or holy groves, to the axe and slaughtered their families. Epona (Gaul)—goddess of a horse cult; there are over 300 depictions of her in Gaul, usually riding side-saddle. Because she is often also seen with snakes, she is associated also with fertility. Ériu (Ireland)—one of the three female aspects of the sovereignty of Ireland, the others being Banbha and Fódla. Esus (Gaul)—a deity connected to a lost myth concerning felling trees; his totem animals appear to be three cranes and a bull. He also seems to be connected to the gods Taranis and Teutates, with whom he forms a triad. Finn mac Cool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) (Ireland)—a hero blessed with a supernatural wisdom, usually said to have come about because he burned his thumb while cooking the Salmon of Wisdom; when he put it in his mouth, he could read the future. A hunter, prophet, and warrior, he also saved Tara, home of the Irish kings, when it was beset by a goblin. Gobniu (Ireland)—the divine smith who, along with his brothers Creidhne, god of metal-working, and Luchtaine, the divine wheelwright, make up the three-fold aspects of the Trí Dé Dána, who created the weapons for the Tuatha. Lugh (Ireland)—god of sunlight; was a warrior, craftsman, and magician, as well as poet, harper, carpenter, etc. He is the patron of the festival of Lughnasadh, and was associated by the Romans with the god Mercury. Manannan mac Lir (Ireland)—a sea god, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who was patron god of Ireland. He gave Lugh a magic boat, sword, and horse, to help him fight invaders. Merlin (Wales)—the greatest wizard of all time, as advisor to King Arthur. The original Welsh name for this character is Myrddin, and he has quite a long history in legends prior to the writing of the Arthurian cycle. Morgen (Wales)—a Druid goddess, patroness/leader of priestesses, who lived on the island of Avalon with her nine sisters. She is the prototype for Morgan Le Fay of Arthurian legend. Morrigan (Ireland)—could change from human to animal shape, and when she appeared as a raven, death was near. She was also a goddess of sexuality and seduction. Nantosuelta (Gaul)—a water and fertility goddess, who was worshipped as the patroness of hearth and home. Her name means “winding river.” She was mated with Sucellus. Oenghus Mac in Og (Ireland)—a god of wit, charm, and fatal love. (The subject of W. B.Yeats’ Poem, “The Song of the Wandering Angus.”) Oisin (Ireland)—son of Finn mac Cool who lived in the Land of Youth. He was permitted to visit Ireland only if he didn’t set foot on the soil; when he fell from his horse, he aged 300 years. Rhiannon (Wales)—a princess who appeared to King Pwyll on a wild white horse; she is often associated with the horse goddesses of other cultures. She married the king and bore him a son, but shortly after the child disappeared, and she was accused of murdering him; as a punishment, she was forced to carry visitors into the palace. Later the child reappeared, and she was released from her penance. Sucellus (Gaul)—sometimes described as the king of the gods, he was a fertility deity who carried a long-handled hammer; his name means “good striker.” He was mated with Nantosuelta. Taliesin (Wales)—the magically born child of Ceridwen, the sow goddess (see story above); he became the greatest poet of Britain and the successor to Merlin, the magician. He is also one of the seven survivors of the expedition led by Bran the Blessed to Ireland against King Matholwch. Taranis (Gaul)—a thunder god who rode across the sky in his chariot, shooting lightning sparks from his horses’ hooves. He was associated by the Romans with the god Jupiter, who threw thunderbolts, although he is probably more appropriately equated to the shadowy gods of the underworld. With Teutatis and Esus, he forms one of the holy triads of gods. Human sacrifices are said to have been made to all three gods. Teutatis (Gaul)—a tribal god, associated by the Romans with Mars, god of war; he is one of the three principle gods of Celtic Gaul, forming a triad with Esus and Taranis. For more on the Celts, see the following: Baggott, Andy. Celtic Wisdom. London: Judy Piatkus Publishers, 1999. Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York: Doubleday, Nan A. Talese, 1995. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily