A concise guide to the Gods and Goddesses of pagan Ireland, their history, mythology, and symbols. Rooted in the past but still active in the world today, the Gods and Goddesses of Ireland have always been powerful forces that can bless or challenge, but often the most difficult thing is to simply find information about them. This short introductory text looks at a variety of different Irish deities, common and more obscure, from their ancient roots to the modern practices associated with honoring them in, an encyclopedia-style book with entries in easy-to-use sections.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
THE IRISH PANTHEON
Morgan Daimler. Gods and Goddesses of Ireland—A Guide to Irish Deities. Moon Books, 2016.
Here's a question to test your general knowledge: How many Gods and Goddesses of Ireland could you name? I asked myself this question on being presented with this book and had to admit I knew none of them for certain. Any educated person could name at least a few Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, such as Osiris, Anubis, Isis, Hathor etc., and those of Ancient Greece such as Zeus, Hermes, Aphrodite and Athena.
Obviously, Ireland's pantheon has been somewhat obscured down through the ages for various reasons. Now, as Christianity, in particular the Catholic Church, has lost a great deal of its power and control of the population, interest in Paganism and the old ways is increasing. There have, of course, always been Pagans amongst us preserving and honouring ancient lore.
As Morgan Daimler, a practising Pagan, says in her introductory notes to this slim paperback publication, "...the Gods of Ireland have always been powerful forces that can bless or challenge, but often the most difficult thing is to simply find information about them". Moreover, "...many books freely blend fact with fiction in a way that can be very confusing to readers." Here is the difficulty with a subject such as this. Some would argue that all information about ancient Gods is in the realm of fiction and imagination.
A case in point is the description of 'the Dagda', one of the foremost Irish Gods and the only one, apparently, given a definite article as well as a name. His name itself is an epithet that means 'Good God', a God who is good at all things. He is described as "being a large man, sometimes comically so, with a tremendous appetite and immense capacity. It was said that to make his porridge he needed 80 gallons of milk as well as several whole sheep, pigs and goats, and that he ate this meal with a ladle large enough to hold two people lying down". In addition, he was said to have been red-haired, immensely strong and capable of prodigious building feats. Your typical Irishman of popular imagination, in fact. That's the great thing about the Irish Gods and Goddesses. They are human characters writ large. Their modern-day descendants can be encountered occasionally in Wetherspoons, and other pubs, performing prodigious drinking and talking feats. I believe they are now known as the 'Magonians'!
The Dagda had a daughter called Brighid, although it's not recorded who her mother was. Brighid is a major Goddess of Ireland, appearing with many variants of her name, such as Brigit and Brigid, all familiar names often used for Irish girls. Her Old Irish name Brig has a variety of meanings, such as authority, strength, vigour and power. As the author says, with some understatement, she is a complicated deity, seen as an individual and as three sisters sharing the same name. One wonders if perhaps an Irishman of olden days married a set of identical triplets and could only be seen with one at a time. Well, why not? Those old Gods got up to all kinds of shenanigans.
According to a 9th Century source, among the Irish any Goddess was called a "Brigit". To add further confusion, in later times Brighid was syncretized with the Catholic Saint Brigid..."making it hard in many places to distinguish the mythology of one from the other". It is noteworthy that the sacred day dedicated to Brighid is Imbolc, usually celebrated on 1st February, is often called Brigid's Day, and marks the beginning of spring, being mid-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Imbolc is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, the others being Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. Lughnasadh corresponds to the harvest festival in late summer, and is dedicated to the God Lugh, another of the major Irish deities, and one of the best known. He was one of the High Kings of the 'Tuatha de Danann' ('People of the Goddess Danu'), a supernatural race in Irish mythology. They dwell in the Otherworld, yet interact with humans in many and various ways. Their enemies are the Fomorians, who represent the destructive forces of nature. So, in general, the Irish deities are seen as representing the multiple nurturing aspects of nature through their myriad identities. They gradually morphed into the 'Aos Si' or the Fairies of popular folklore. Ireland is particularly noted and loved for this culture, as well as the famous 'gift of the gab' propensity for telling stories, often embellished in the re-telling.
Much of Irish mythology was recorded by Christian monks, who recorded the legends of ancient kings, warriors and heroes from the distant past but sometimes modified the material. In the earliest writings these Gods were referred to simply as 'Tuatha De', meaning 'People of God', but later on that phrase was used by monks to refer to the Israelites as the Biblical 'People of God'. The phrase 'Tuatha de Danann' was therefore introduced to refer specifically to the ancient Irish tribe of Gods and Goddesses. Danann or Danu may have the meaning of 'Earth Mother' and has similarities to the names of deities in other ancient cultures and religions. The etymology of the name has been much debated by scholars, and her identity remains a mystery.
As can easily be seen from this brief review, the more one reads about Irish mythology, the more confusing and complex it becomes. There are so many different sources and versions of names, attributes, and stories about these ancient entities. Were they great humans who were later deified? Were they extra-terrestrials or 'fallen angels'. Are they natural forces of nature? Or are they complete fabrications of the collective imagination? Probably all of those, but nonetheless entertaining and instructive.
What Daimler presumably means by 'fact' in her introduction is 'authentic' with regard to sources for information presented and collated. This book shows she has done extensive research into the ancient texts and scholarly analysis. She certainly knows her stuff as a prolific author of many books pertaining to the related subjects of Paganism, Fairy Witchcraft, and Irish Mythology generally. Yet she is more than a specialist author. She has hands-on experience as a priestess of the Goddess Macha, tutelary deity of Ulster. Over more than 25 years of honouring the Irish Gods she has found great spiritual value and experience in learning how to connect to them in a modern context. Practical tips are given for those wishing to do likewise.
In Gods and Goddesses of Ireland Morgan Daimler provides a concise guide to the Irish deities that is approachable and accessible, rather like a mini-encyclopedia, with names arranged by category and alphabetical order. Her motivation to do so was born out of a long search over many years for "this exact book: a text that would let me quickly look up basic information about Irish deities". I would say she has succeeded in that aim. This book does that, and more. It is worth reading for the knowledge alone, for as the author says, "...something valuable can be gained here. Ultimately no knowledge is ever wasted". The bonus is that you will also be entertained. – Kevin Murphy
~ Kevin Murphy, Magonia Online
Morgan Daimler’s latest entry to the Moon Books Pagan Portals series presents us with a reference to all the major deities in Irish mythology, written in an encyclopedia format. As is her normal method, Morgan gives solid information in a way that is understandable, engaging, and approachable, but never lacks for scholarly support. Her book is at once well-footnoted and yet practical, academic yet easily usable by average people to enrich their spiritual lives. The essential information need to approach and worship each deity is there, accessible, and ready. Because it is more in the nature of a reference work, the book could stand alone, for, say, the Celtic Wiccan practitioner wishing to enrich his or her spiritual experience. But it would also make an excellent companion to Morgan’s other offerings including Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism and By, Land, Sea, and Sky. Just with those books, even the rawest beginner could develop a very excellent Irish spiritual practice, well grounded in traditional lore, and including prayers and charms for most purposes. This has been a needed goal in Irish Reconstructionism for decades. Finally, someone has written the set to introduce newcomers to the religion!
The book is divided into an introduction, conclusion, and four chapters. The first chapter is an alphabetical listing of the male figures of the Tuatha De Danann, the major tribe of ancient Irish deities. Each God is covered thoroughly, including alternate forms of their names, the major lore about them, and something of how they are approached today, including their favorite offerings. Morgan presents alternate scholarly theories about them clearly and succinctly, making it obvious these are diverse hypotheses, and letting the reader make up their own mind. Correct information is supplied in place of misinformation, clearing up various misconceptions gently and without stridency. Lesser-known deities like Midhir are covered as well as better known ones like Lugh, making this book a rare source of information about such deities. The second chapter gives the female Tuatha De Danann the same treatment. Again, there are entries for less-well-known deities like Flidais, alongside entries for the expected Morrigan, Brigid, or Macha. The third chapter does the same for non-Tuatha De Danann figures in Irish mythology, giving the same treatment to lesser-known figures like Crom Cruaich and Donn, as well as the well-known Manannan mac Lir. Such information made available on even obscure, but nonetheless important, figures in Irish myth makes the book a treasure. The fourth chapter gives excellent and practical advice on worshiping these deities or beginning a devotional practice.
In general, this book is a needed reference work, giving essential information on their pantheon to the Irish Pagan Community. It will no doubt be treasured by generations of readers.
~ Segomâros Widugeni, formerly Aedh Rua, author of Celtic Flame
First of all, one book that covers a plethora of Irish deities and doesn't just focus on the 'celebrities' such as Lugh and the Morrígan, is a fantastic idea. So as soon as I heard of this volume, I was excited and intrigued. Then there's the fact that it's written by an author whose passion for Irish myth is, in my opinion, second to none.
Morgan manages that most difficult of feats; placing each God and Goddess within their historical or mythological context, whilst simultaneously making them accessible and relevant for our modern age.
Celtic mythology is one of my great loves, and this book teaches me more than a few things I didn't know, such as the connection between Goibhniu and Gafannon, or that Cliodhna is associated with the wren.
A fascinating, endlessly useful book both for reference and to read for pure pleasure.
Mabh Savage, author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. ~
Morgan Daimler is my ‘go to’ guide for anything in regard to Irish Paganism and this book will be added to my growing collection of her wonderful works that I use regularly for reference. It covers any and every Irish deity you could think of and some that you may not have heard about, this book details them all. Fascinating stories and histories for each deity including correspondences, symbols and sources of reference give comprehensive and ‘all you need to know’ information. Highly recommended.
~ Rachel Patterson, author of Pagan Portals - The Cailleach, Arc of the Goddess, The Art of Ritual and other Witchcraft titles
Daimler’s book is a perfect resource for anyone beginning to research and honour Irish deities. She includes information, not only about the more familiar goddesses and gods but also the less well known, such as Medb and Crom Cruach.
Written in the style of an encyclopedia, the book is accessible to readers who want basic information and for those who wish to delve deeper, there is an excellent section offering suggestions for further reading.
As always Morgan Daimler’s writing is clear, concise, thoroughly researched and a pleasure to read. This is the book that I was looking for twenty years ago!
~ Jane Brideson, artist and blogger at 'The Ever-Living Ones - Irish Goddesses & Gods in landscape, myth & custom'
Morgan Daimler has written an excellent brief introduction to the deities of Ireland in an accessible encyclopedic format. She offers a compilation of information about many deities, and includes scholarly sources for each one, as well as brief suggestions for offerings and interacting with the deities for those who are just beginning their journey into Irish spirituality. Highly recommended.
~ Erynn Rowan Laurie, author Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom and The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism
This book is a needed reference work, giving essential information on their pantheon to the Irish Pagan Community. It will no doubt be treasured by generations of readers.
~ Segomâros Widugeni, formerly Aedh Rua, author of Celtic Flame
In Pagan Portals: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland, Morgan Daimler has provided a comprehensive study of the pagan deities of Ireland and put them in their proper context – rather than merely a collection of ‘Celtic’ gods. The gods of Ireland are a complex bunch and the detail she has condensed into this little book offers valuable access for those who are daunted by more academic offerings when what they are looking for is concise information. The wild scenery of Ireland hints at highly magical places and the author has managed to convey this air of mysticism with these tantalising glimpses of the deities who ruled, fought and loved their way across the mountains, glens and lakes of the landscape. Highly recommended for all who would follow in their footsteps.
~ Melusine Draco, author of the Traditional Witchcraft series and The Secret People