Celtic Gods and Goddesses: Exploring the Pantheon and Mythology of the Ancient Celts

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You’ve always wanted to stroll across the beautiful landscape of Ireland. To make sure that you don’t miss out on the best spots, you decide to make use of a local touring company. 

Suddenly one appears before you. How strange that you didn’t notice this building before, but heck, the banner outside claims it’s five-star and that you’ll meet Celtic deities in person. They are probably just actors in costume — a little cheesy — but you don’t see any other places that are open at the moment.

To your surprise, you realize that your hiking companions are the actual Celtic gods and goddesses. While you fight off the sudden faint feeling, you remember that the ridiculously steep deposit is only refundable at the end of the trip. There’s no turning back now. 

A big guy claps his hand on your shoulder and says, “Fear not, tiny mortal. You’re going to have a fun time learning all about the Celtic pantheon and the people who worshipped us.”

You just want your deposit back. So when the group picks up their backpacks and heads out, you follow.

The Leader Is Bizarrely Jolly for a Chief God

Name: The Dagda
Realms: Father god of Ireland; knowledge, weather, fertility, druids, warriors
Family: Father of Aengus, Brigid, and Danu
Fun Fact: In Dorsetshire is an enormous drawing of a man. Some believe that the chalk creation is meant to show this deity

Everybody walks single-file behind the large man who had, only minutes before, bruised your shoulder into next year. This gives you a quick moment to Google his name tag and, oh horror, the search results show that the Dagda is the leader of the Celtic gods.

If mythology is anything to go by, this doesn’t bode well. Roman and Greek tales are full of leaders who are violent, a little too lusty, and some that even eat their own kids. Oh man, you don’t want to be a fruit salad.

But soon enough, it becomes clear that the Dagda is different. He’s actually super friendly and the life of the party. A task of his is to ensure that the weather is perfect for hiking by playing an enormous harp that controls the seasons. And, unlike other sacred kings who all sport six-packs, he is as pot-bellied as the giant cauldron he carries. As the group’s cook, he feeds everyone from the endless food that bubbles from the pot.

But the grocery-saving vessel isn’t his only big utensil. He’s also the group’s security detail, and so is armed with a giant club that can pulverize muggers — and bring them back to life to face charges.  

The Celtic people viewed him as their protector and the ultimate father figure. Thank goodness he has a sunny nature because, in mythology, this guy controlled stunning power over the realms of both mortals and the Celtic deities.

Across all his fans, perhaps the druids — a high-ranking member of Celtic societies that fulfilled important religious and legal roles — adored the Dagda the most. But not because he was portly and adorable. They believed that this powerful god gave them the magic and wisdom they desired.

There’s a Goddess With a Label Maker Obsession

Name: Ériu
Realms: Patron goddess of Ireland
Family: Daughter of Ernmas and Fiachna Mac Delbáeth; has two sisters called Banba and Fódla; mother of Bres
Fun Fact: Her sisters’ names are sometimes used as poetic titles for Ireland

You guessed it — this goddess is the one who taped the name tags on everyone else’s chests.

Ériu loves doing this because of her own history. Sometime, in the yonder past, she and her two sisters visited a Milesian bard called Amergin.

All three Celtic goddesses wanted his people to call the land after them and he agreed. While the names of Banba and Fódla are sometimes used, the one that won out in the end with the Celtic nation is Ériu — Ireland. That’s right, this goddess labeled an entire country.

Due to this, Ériu became the patron goddess of Ireland and also a queen. Indeed, she represents Irish sovereignty. To prove the royal element even more, her own son Bres was crowned as the High King of Ireland.

The honor didn’t last long, though. Some thought him such an incompetent goof that he was eventually replaced with another god. By way of marriage, Ériu’s royalty also extends to the Celtic pantheon. Her husband is thought to be Mac Gréine — a grandson of the Dagda.

Ériu catches you staring at her own name tag. She’d gone a little overboard by adding a sticker for each of the meanings attached to her name, including, “earth” and “plentiful” and the rather insulting “fat land” (which actually refers to abundance). She winks and tells you that even today, the Irish people proudly view her as the personification of their country.

The Camp Gofer Is an Irish Hero

Name: Lugh
Realms: God of crafts, light, and Sun
Family: Son of Eithne and Cian; father of Cú Chulainn
Fun Fact: His full name is a little strange — Lugh of the Long Arms

According to some sources, Lugh is the most powerful god. But you decide not to ask the Dagda if he knows this because it might trigger an ugly contest between the two. Lugh has a rather formidable spear, said to never miss its mark. Then again, though… the Dagda looks like he can wield that giant pot with skill and probably squash any Celtic gods trying to usurp him as the strongest.

The tour group stops to make camp for the night. Within minutes, their leader is happily occupied with spaghetti sputtering in the pot. If he’s making dinner, chances are that he’s not planning Lugh’s demise. Yay to that. 

Speaking of which, Lugh, has been tasked with setting up the camp. Darkness is falling and as the god of the Sun, he’s got all the fire he needs to manifest a few lamps and stoke the Dagda’s cooking fire. As the god of all crafts, he also cares for the horses, pitches the tents, and sets up the high-voltage perimeter fence capable of frying any intruders to a crisp during the night.

That last one shouldn’t be too surprising. This Celtic god is an avid warrior and it made him a great hero in Irish folklore. By the way, he’s the one who replaced Bres as High King, but other legends give a different version — Lugh took the throne after his ally and previous monarch, King Nuada, passed away.

His name still echoes in real places today, which gladdens the heart of the label-addicted Ériu. Indeed, Lugh’s name was used to christen the French and Dutch cities of Lyon and Leiden. Carlisle in England was also originally called Luguvalium.

Epona’s Horses Aren’t Fond of Mortals (Don’t Get Too Close)

Name: Epona
Realms: Patron goddess of horses, mules, fertility, and cavalry
Family: ???
Fun Fact: In the Gaulish tradition, Epona was never shown in human form; only as a mule or a horse. The Romans showed her as a woman on a throne, standing between horses or driving a chariot

You get bored with all the campfire songs and the Dagda playing harp tunes. As your eyes wander, they settle on the makeshift stable. What on earth are horses doing on a hike when nobody’s riding them? You slip over (and feel slightly miffed because the Celtic deities clearly haven’t noticed your absence). 

Once at the stable, you find labels on the horses. Seriously, Ériu needs help, but in this case, her obsession solves the riddle. The stickers proclaim the animals as belonging to Epona, the protector of horses. The small print says that she guards mules and military horsemen, too.

Oh look, there are more labels giving away free information. What a bargain. You go closer; they tell a remarkable story.

Epona is the only Celtic goddess who was fully adopted by the Roman civilization. Normally, any deities they grafted from other cultures had their names and stories changed to a degree. Not Epona. She resonated so strongly with the army, especially the Roman cavalry, that her worship spread like wildfire from the first to third centuries A.D.

During all that time, her name and mythology remained Celtic. How interesting! You go even closer to the horse and fail to notice the mean twist that flattens the mare’s ears. The other horses snicker. 

While still reading about Roman civilians — like stable boys and horse breeders who also adopted this goddess with all her Gaulish attributes — the horse chooses her moment and lets fly with a kick.

Before you pass out, a worrying thought pops up. That last bit of text also mentioned that Epona might’ve ferried souls into the afterlife. Great — probably after her ponies kicked them straight from people’s bodies.

The Group’s Healer Is Kind of a Reaper

Name: Brigid
Realms: Goddess of poetry, fertility, motherhood, passion, dawn, healing, smithing, fire, invention, and life
Family: Married to Bres; mother of Ruadán; daughter of the Dagda
Fun Fact: She inspired a goddess in Haiti, called Maman Brigitte

Luckily for you, there are two healers among the Celtic gods. The one that sewed your head and consciousness back together is called Brigid. She gives you a thumbs up.

Thank goodness, that means you still have your soul. Indeed, the flame-haired goddess has a strong deciding vote when it comes to life and death. This is probably the reason why she meanders about in cemeteries and protects newborns and their mothers. 

In the olden days, everybody wanted the blessing of this goddess. Artists and writers drew inspiration from Brigid; families sought protection for their loved ones and animals; craftsmen of all trades claimed she inspired their work.

This was due to her high status, her educated mind, and the fact that she was an inventor herself. Alright, so she invented keening for the dead but who’s nitpicking?

Brigid also brought plenty of garnish to the weird table of the Celtic pantheon. Firstly, she was known as the Triple Goddess. Her three sides were allowed to have different lives, husbands, and children.

Her realms also reached into the extreme opposites at times, like the aforementioned life and death situation. Another paradox is that Brigid is both a fire and a water deity… Which probably explains why the brochure tried to sell you a muscle-relaxing, wallet-emptying session inside Brigid’s Steam Lodge after the hike.

Danu Knows All About Death and Daffodils

Name: Danu
Realms: A mother goddess; the earth, nature, wind, fertility, death, wisdom, cattle, regeneration, wealth
Family: She was the consort of both the Sun god, Belenos, and the sea god, Beli; daughter of the Dagda
Fun Fact: Danu is another geographical smash hit. Among the places named after this goddess is the River Danube, the Paps of Anu, a region in Ireland’s County Kerry, and possibly the Dane Hills in Leicestershire

Walk with the Celtic Gods and Goddesses Day 2: Follow the flower child Danu to see the best nature trails in Ireland!

You lower the brochure and start looking around for a hippy. The goddess looking back at you is anything but.

She appears slightly combat-ready. Okay, a lot combat-ready. Her name tag confirms that this woman, who keeps morphing into a raven, is called Danu.

Another discreet peek at the leaflet reveals much — she’s one of three goddesses who are important to war in Celtic mythology; and to the soldiers who ran screaming into these battles. The black bird is also symbolic of some of her realms, including death and wisdom.

The Dagda nods with a smile and falls back in line, allowing his daughter to lead the group. Everybody ambles after Danu. What the heck—there are labels on her back, claiming that her name is also Annan or Anu. (Seriously, you’re going to have to confiscate that label maker when no one’s looking. This is getting weird.)

But at least one thing is starting to make sense — the flower mentioned in today’s activities had nothing to do with Woodstock. Danu plays her father’s harp (the one that brings the seasons) and when she runs her fingers over the strings, spring unfurls everywhere.

Interestingly, this mother goddess was revered across Ireland, Britain, and parts of mainland Europe. She was also a nature goddess with a specialty. Danu — or whatever name you choose — was the Celtic deity that identified most with the spiritual side of nature.

In the past, people also added a rather bloody angle to her worship. They believed that the sacrifice of a white bull would make Danu so happy that she’d reward them with an exceptionally productive harvest.

The God of Love Has Daddy Issues (Rightfully So)

Name: Aengus
Realms: God of love and youth
Family: Son of Boann and the Dagda
Fun Fact: Four birds surround him at all times and, according to mythology, they symbolize his smooches (Yep. His kisses)

The Dagda’s love child is also with you, on your hike. Unsurprisingly, this handsome young man is the god of love. Aengus can thank his father’s embarrassment for his looks — when the Dagda realized that his mistress was pregnant, he tried to conceal it. The king cast a spell that sped things up and the boy was born the same day that he was conceived. For this reason, he has eternal youth.  

The Dagda’s poor relationship with this son doesn’t end with denying him at birth. When Aengus reached adulthood, his father gave lands to his other three sons but nothing to the god of love.

Not to be cheated out of his inheritance, he cleverly phrased a request to his father that tricked the Dagda into making Aengus the owner of Brú na Bóinne — his home in the Boyne Valley in the north of Ireland. 

When Aengus fell in love but couldn’t find the girl who visited him in his dreams, his father didn’t care that Aengus was falling ill. In the end, it was several Celtic gods that swayed their leader to help search the lands. The girl was found and Aengus had his true love. 

This story highlights the good nature of the Celtic god, Aengus. As the deity of love, he had the power to make others fall in love, but more importantly, he could sway any woman to adore him forever. But he didn’t abuse his powers with the girl, Cáer Ibormeith.

Instead, he won her affection with honesty and tenderness. She returned with him to Brú na Bóinne, both beating the traffic by flying as a pair of swans. Once they arrived, the lovers sang for a long time and everyone fell asleep. 

You glance over your shoulder, hoping that the two waddling birds behind you (when did he transform into a goose?) won’t start singing in Gaelic. Human nerves can only take so much.

There’s a Confused God Looking for Some Guy Called “Asterix”

Name: Toutatis
Realms: Possibly the guardian god of the Gauls
Family: ???
Fun Fact: Ancient writers suggested that he was the equivalent of the Roman god, Mars

When you turn back around, you realize that the god in front of you is also looking over his shoulder. His bloodshot eyes look wild, as if he’d seen too many horror movies. Worse, even. It looks like he might consider re-enacting his favourite scenes.

“Have you seen him?” the god whispers to you.

Before you can answer him, the entire Celtic pantheon erupts with frustrated remarks about how there isn’t a real person called Asterix.

The god Toutatis bellows back, “This Asterix exists! He keeps yelling like a crazy man ‘By Toutatis!’ every five minutes! This mortal can thank his stars that I cannot find him!” Suddenly, he glares at you with scrutiny, wondering whether you might be the infamous character.

The fact that you’re not tiny, butter-blond, and sporting a huge mustache saves your life. 

While you aren’t his main quarry, you’re not a fresh vegetable that fell off the turnip truck either. You know how things work — angry gods smite the humans around them. Deciding to play it safe, you search the pamphlet for a way to appease this god.

The news is not good. Some sources claim that sacrifices to Toutatis included a person being drowned in a vat. A white bull was bloody enough, but holding somebody’s head under until the bubbles stop? That’s just icky.

Few things are known about this Celtic god. But archaeologists have found evidence that the Gauls and Britons worshipped Toutatis as their chief tribal deity, who would’ve protected them during good times and bad.  

Toutatis was honoured in an unusual way — some of his followers wore a specific ring. The jewelry pieces, which were recovered in Eastern Britain, were each inscribed with the word “TOT.”

At first, the only certainty surrounding the rings was that most had been worn by the Corieltauvi tribe, a group originating from central England. Nobody knew for sure whether the bling honored this deity, until a silver ring was found with the words “DEO TOTA,” meaning To the god Toutatis.

There’s a Wolf Wearing Bloody Armor

Name: The Morrigan.
Realms: Goddess of fate, war, death, and destiny
Family: Great-granddaughter of King Nuada
Fun Fact: In some versions of Celtic mythology, Ireland was named for this goddess

The Morrigan is one of the darkest and most mysterious of the Celtic goddesses. Apart from being a sacred being, she also has the enviable combination of being both a queen and a shape-shifter. Her very name means “phantom queen.”

You know this factoid because of the irritating stickers. You just hope that Ériu doesn’t find out it was you who stole and hid her label maker inside the Dagda’s pot. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea because she looks more ticked off than that god, Asterix.

The Morrigan herself isn’t honey on the nerves, either. In mythology, she transformed into a wolf to bite livestock, and she’s doing the same thing right now by hunting the two swans.

The lovebirds aren’t too worried though, because the Morrigan is blind in one eye and her depth-perception is out of whack. Interestingly, her other forms include a crow, an old woman, and an eel. The crow, in particular, was a bad omen for warriors. Like, your doom is nigh bad. 

She used all these forms to battle the hero Cú Chulainn when he defended Ulster from Queen Maeve’s army. Indeed, he is the one who blinded her. In the end, she tricked him into healing her, but was she thankful? Of course, not. Instead, she creeped him out by washing bloody armor in front of him.

Back in the day, it was believed that when a warrior saw a woman scrubbing blood-splattered gear, he would soon die. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Cú Chulainn was fatally defeated. 

As she walks in line with the other Celtic gods, the Morrigan is heralding somebody’s doom. The wolf is wearing gory armor and you don’t have to guess for whom the bloody breastplate tolls.

Ériu is staring into the Dagda’s pot and her face is turning red. He doesn’t notice because he’s demanding of Lugh, “What do you mean Celtic mythology says you’re the strongest god?!”

Oh, snap. Act innocent.

READ MORE: Gods of Death and the Underworld

You Don’t Mess With This Healer — He’ll Knock You Out (Then Put an Ice Pack on It)

Name: Belenus
Realms: God of the Sun, spring festivals, healing, medicine, and guardianship
Family: ???
Fun Fact: According to Roman sources, Belenus was the popular kid in the Celtic pantheon during the 3rd century

Ancient images of Belenus often depict him riding a horse and hurling thunderbolts. And this is basically how he separates the brawl that erupts. 

While the two gods and red-faced goddess try to get a good swipe at him, they only bruise their knuckles against the chariot wheel he uses as a shield. Hey, it might be weird, but it’s effective.

Once everybody has calmed down, it becomes clear why the Gaulish nation revered Belenus as a healer. His knowledge of medicine is flawless — Ériu, the Dagda, and Lugh are patched up in no time. But this Celtic god is also a protector spirit and he warns them to cool down. Otherwise, he’ll protect them right into unconsciousness.

What a stand up guy. You make a mental note to get his number and go pay that bully from eighth grade a visit.

While the rest of the Celtic deities get ready to head out again, Belenus glances at you. He puts his finger to his lips. Shhh. He’d noticed that you’re the only one reading the leaflet and, curious, you skim through the information.

He was an Irish high god… no secret there… He was worshipped throughout Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, England, and Spain. Impressive, but still nothing to get shushed over. Ah, there it is — Belenus is a guardian god. But he can only protect crops and livestock, not the gods from each other. Oh well, he can still do a pretty decent job of scaring the bully. 

This God Adores Wheels and Human Sacrifices

Name: Taranis
Realms: Wheels, thunder, weather, the sky
Family: ???
Fun Fact: Archaeologists have discovered thousands of votive wheels in Gaul. They were popular offerings to Taranis

Remember Toutatis? He’s that god who was honored by drowning some poor shmo in a vat.

Well, turns out Toutatis is a sweetheart compared to Taranis. The latter had followers that, according to Roman scribes, were downright cruel. They sacrificed people for every occasion — even wives and children fell victim to the cult members’ need to overcome sickness, win a battle, to receive a blessing, or even just for thanking Taranis for something.

The worst thing the scribes recorded were the giant figures made of wicker. The Gauls filled these effigies with living humans and set them on fire. 

Taranis is certainly one of the bloodiest Celtic deities, but he was also lord of the wheel. Being a wheel god sounds mundane but during ancient times, the wheel was an important Celtic symbol. It represented a chariot, and, as the vehicles of most Celtic gods and goddesses, it was given sacred agency. 

But Taranis hasn’t paid you much attention. He’s too busy picking up anything that resembles a tiny wheel and muttering about the good old days. 

Cernunnos Refuses to Show Himself, Because No One Remembers Him

Name: Cernunnos
Realms: Forests, wildlife, wealth, fertility, and possibly the underworld
Family: ???
Fun Fact: This god is more of an entity today, in modern Wiccan traditions, than during the past

One of the Celtic gods doesn’t walk in line with the rest. The whole trip he’s been running alongside everyone through the woods.

You catch fleeting glimpses of Cernunnos, sometimes as a horned man, sometimes as a stag. He appears so wild and free, full of vitality, and in touch of nature. He must be the pinnacle of Celtic godhood. The pride of the patch. The flagship of the Celtic pantheon… Hold on, why does his name end with a question mark in the leaflet?

Oh, fish sticks. Cernunnos might not be a Celtic god at all. Apparently, there’s so little information about this guy that, if not for ancient art, we might never have known that he existed.

There are enigmatic statues of horned figures and some pre-date the Celtic era, but Cernunnos joined the Celtic pantheon during the end, as testified by a pillar from the first century A.D. showing several Celtic and Roman deities together.

Some believed that Cernunnos was a god in his own right. He was the master of nature, which earned him the title “Lord of the Wild Things.” Others feel that Cernunnos was a blanket term for all the horned deities that once galloped through ancient mythology, both humanoid and animal. Sadly, no myths about Cernunnos of the Celts survive today.

Thank You for Supporting a Local Business!

Two days with the Celtic gods and goddesses had its moments. But honestly, your feet hurt and you just want your deposit back. As soon as the Dagda hands it over, he gives a jolly wave good-bye and the entire touring company disappears.

Sure, why not? After meeting shape-shifting queens, lovers-turned-swans, and more sacrifices than you can ever talk to your therapist about, why shouldn’t the touring agency disappear into thin air? 

But you have to admit, meeting them was a memorable experience. The Celtic pantheon’s focus on nature, Irish history, and magic is unique. So soak your tired toes and rest for a few days. After that, why not explore some more Celtic legends? 

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