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tuatha de danann, goddess danu, ancient celts, irish mythology

Mother Of The Gods And The Father Of The Gael

Author: Sarah NiGhillielai/dir

Copyright 1999, Clannada na Gadelica, All Rights Reserved, used by authorization of the Clannada na Gadelica, further use requires authorization of the Clannada na Gadelica. See http://www.clannada.org

There is no surviving, or as yet translated, Creation story within Irish mythology. We learn from the Lebor Gabala Erenn, a text from the Christian Middle Ages, of the Tuatha De Danann, or "People of the Goddess Danu", who came to Ireland either from the sky or from islands to the north of the world. The Tuatha De Danann are presented as wizards who learned their skills in four cities, bringing with them four magickal treasures: the Stone of Fal, from Falias; the Spear of Lugh, from Gorias; the Sword of Nuada, from Findias; and the Cauldron of the Dagda, from Murias.(1) It is fairly well accepted amongst scholars of Irish mythology that the Tuatha De Danann are, in fact, Gods and Goddesses of the old religion of the Gaels. The monks who transcribed the myths that have come down to us undoubtedly took liberties with certain aspects of those myths; it is our challenge to determine what is a Christianization, and what is a marker to the pathway of the older religion. Perhaps the most mysterious "pathway" of all is in the name of the Gods' tribe: the People of the Goddess Danu. Who is the Goddess Danu?

To begin answering this question let us refer to the well known and respected writer, Peter Berresford Ellis. Ellis says these things about Danu and Bile in his book The Druids (2): p. 121 "...Bile/ cognate with Bel and Belinus (is) the Dispater. His feastday was on 1 May (Beltaine), which month in modern Irish still bears his name...he also appears as a 'god of the dead' and has sometimes been referred to as 'Father of Gods and Men.'... There are many places named after Bile/ throughout Europe. In London, Belenus' Gate has come down as Billingsgate (Bile/s Gate). Presumably the heads of the dead of the original Celtic settlement...were taken through this gate to the river Thames...Hundreds of skulls from the Celtic period have been discovered in the Thames, around London, with other votive offerings. One has to remember that the ancient Celts believed that the soul(*see note) reposed in the head, not in the region of the heart as Westernized Christians now have it. This is why the head was so venerated and prized in ancient Celtic society." (*actually the spirit is the component seen by the Celts to be in the head, this part of the triune nature of things.)

p. 122 "...the most famous...was the king of Britain who ruled just before the Roman invasion of AD 43 - Cunobelinus. The name means 'hound of Belinus.'...The Dagda is Danu's son by Bile/. Therefore Danu still takes precedence as the primary source of life. As the sacred 'waters from heaven', Danu watered the oak, which was Bile/, the male fertility symbol, and gave birth to The Dagda, 'the good god' who fathered the rest of the gods...Bile/ is the Old Irish word for a sacred tree which was also used to denote a 'noble warrior'. We find Biliomagus is Gaul as a place name meaning 'the clearing of the sacred tree...When the sacred tree of Medb of cannacht is mentioned in the Ta/in it is as Bile/Medb.
Bile/s role in transporting the souls of the dead Celts to the Otherworld takes on another significance. Transportation is usually via waters, rivers like the Thames, or out to sea. He is, in fact, transporting them to the 'divine waters' - his consort Danu, 'the mother goddess'. It is not accident that his main centre of veneration in early times was the Hill of Uisneach whose very name...is composed of the root word for water, uisce."

The Goddess Danu was very probably once widely known across those lands that Celts had inhabited; Her name is the source of the place name of the Danube River, as well as the Don River in Russia, the Dnieper, and multiple English rivers named "Don". Don, Dana, and Anu are all recognized as cognates of "Danu"; in the Rig Veda of Hindu mythology, there is also a Goddess Danu, whose name means "Waters of Heaven" or "Stream".(3) She is also associated with the land of Ireland itself. An early text calls Ireland "iath nAnann", the "land of Anu". In addition, the geographical features of Ireland called the "Paps of Anu" are well-known.(4) She is deemed to be the Mother of the Gods.(5) Occasionally, in some traditions She is further mentioned in passing as the mother of Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba: the Sons of Tuireann, who are also known as the Fir Tri/ nDea or Men of Three Gods or the Three Gods of Danann. Other times, though, it is Lugh, the Dagda, and Ogma; or Luchta, Goibnu and Credne who are known as the Three Gods of Danann, and most traditions maintain that the Goddess Brigit is the mother of the Sons of Tuireann.(6) It is likelier that Danu was mentioned as the Mother of the "Three Gods" of skill (Lugh, the Dagda, and Ogma) or craft (Luchta, Goibnu, and Credne), to show Her as the ultimate source of all skill and craft. The most that we can learn, from history and myth, of Danu is evidently that she is a Goddess of Rivers and the Land, and the mother of the Gods, widely venerated throughout the Indo-European lands, especially if we include her Indo-European equivalent from the Rig Vedas into our considerations. If we follow the Indo-European ideologies still in Hinduism, as a result of the Aryan invaders of the Indus Valley, then we see the "Sacred Stream" associated with awareness (which should not be confused with consciousness), flowing from the Void.(7)

In the Irish mythology, we learn nothing directly of the father of the Gods; however, if we accept that Danu and the Brythonic Don are both names for the same Goddess, then we learn that Don had a husband, the God Beli; and Beli is the cognate of Bile/, the "ancestor" of the Sons of Mil who wrested Ireland from the Tuatha De Danann.(8) Although the Sons of Mil are said by the monks to have come from "Spain", it is again fairly widely accepted by Celtic scholars that "Spain" is a euphemism for the Underworld. The Sons of Mil in Irish myth are known to actually represent the Gaels themselves, which would imply that the Gaels ancestor was the God of the Underworld. This would tend to coincide with the beliefs of the Celtic Gauls, reported by Caesar, that they "claim to be descended from Dis Pater, and say that this is the teaching of the druids. For this reason they measure the passage of time not by days but by nights." Dis Pater was the Roman god of the Underworld, of the Dead.

The conquering Romans often called the Gods of foreigners by the names of their own Gods; in this case, a very strong association was implied with their own Dis Pater, who was a relatively minor God in their own pantheon.(9) Pursuing this clue of a God of the Underworld, or cthonic* deity, we arrive at the ubiquitous representation of the antlered God that is often called "Cernunnos*, based on an inscription on only one of many icons found throughout the Celtic world, which again is so widespread as to hint at a pre-Celtic, or Indo-European, origin for this figure. This figure is consistently portrayed in a seated or squatting position, accompanied by a stag and/or a ram-headed serpent, and often surrounded by bags of coins or by coins themselves. (Please keep in mind that such iconography was largely created during the Roman era, and represents the adaptation of Celtic thought to Roman customs.) He is thought to represent a Lord of the Animals. Serpents and coins are widely used cthonic* symbols, as well as symbols of fertility and prosperity. It should be pointed out that He also holds a torque, s symbol of nobility. The Lord of the Animals is by association both the God of the hunter as well as the God of the hunted; in other words, a God of Life as well as Death. Additionally, there is iconography portraying a bull or ram-horned God in Gaul and North Britain, which the Romans associated with their own God Mercury, the protector of flocks and herds and of economic prosperity. This horned God is unusually represented with a spear, and is naked and phallic.(10) So we have evidence of a God called Beli by the Britons; hinted at in Irish mythology as Bile, the ancestor of the Sons of Mil; and probably cognate linguistically with Belonos of the Gauls. He is evidently the God that is venerated at Beltaine* or Bel Tinne, "Fire of Bel", one of the sacred cross-quarter feast days of the Gaels, celebrated around May 1st. He is evidently a God of Life and Death, of the Underworld, of fertility and prosperity and kingship, and the Father of Men; a fitting mate for the Goddess of the Rivers and the Land, and the Mother of the Gods.

Have we arrived at the Lord and Lady of the Wiccans? In the modern sense, perhaps we have; but in the way that our ancestors would have viewed such a concept as "the Lord" and "the Lady", we most certainly have not. Modern Wicca tends to reduce all Gods to One God, and all Goddesses to One Goddess. Such a primal pair as Danu and Bile can be made to fit into the Wiccan world-view quite nicely, but the Wiccan world-view cannot be made to fit into the world-view of the Celts. Danu and Bile are possibly among the most ancient of the Gods of the Indo-Europeans, but there are other Gods as well, as well as that which is indefinable beyond them (Alldai). The pre-Christian Celts were polytheistic*, animistic* and zoomorphic in their spirituality, believing that virtually every material thing had its corresponding spiritual dimension, which means that the spiritual world was infinitely more complex to them than the dualism* that modern Wicca adheres to. To anthropomorphize* the Gods is a modern, not an ancient Celtic, custom. As stated above, the widespread representation of the Celtic Gods in human form did not start until after the Romans invaded Celtic areas and introduced their own culture to the Celts. Indeed, there is evidence that the draoi prohibited the representation of the Gods in human form, for possibly two reasons: to keep the knowledge of the Gods as "hidden" and within their own caste (the intellectual caste), and because the Gods were superior to men and did not share human features.(11) Rather, Danu was most probably visualized as the Source of all Rivers or the primal spring or well. Wells, or springs, bring water deep from the depths of the Earth to the surface, and our ancestors associated this with hidden knowledge, or wisdom, that is brought into manifestation. There are many stories within Irish mythology of Goddesses associated with rivers or springs, and the Well of Segais was the forbidden well into which the Nuts of Knowledge fell from the sacred Hazel grove.

When trying to re-assemble the puzzle, some certain pieces typically get left out of the mess of pieces. One such piece comes from the art or skill of dowsing. While science has yet to explain adequately the principles by which dowsing works, there really is no doubt that it does so. One need only talk to the very many people who have used such methods to find water and other things where none was known to exist, to see the reality of this skill.
At the turn of the century Alfred Watkins took an interest in the perfect lines which existed in the layout of pre-historic sites across Britain (including Scotland, and the same phenomena is found in Ireland and the Isles). His work of plotting out these sites with a ruler and compass inspired many to take to the countryside to discover the phenomena for themselves. This phenomena Watkins called "Ley's"(12).

A few years later the well known researcher and writer, T.C. Lethbridge added a twist to the chasing down of the leys. This new twist was the application of the dowsers art. In his work he showed that the straight lines that Watkins had earlier noted followed energetic lines that followed the same courses between sites, that Watkins had established with his ruler and compass. Lethbride actually composed a great amount of written work on the subject.(13)
Interest in the subject followed cycles, yet, there became involved a dedicate group of people who wished to understand the topic further. These included the likes of the professional dowsers such as, Guy Underwood(14); and the retired agricultural researcher J. Havelock Fidler (15). The work of these last two gentleman are particularly interesting because of what they add to the materials established by Watkins and Lethbridge. Underwood established the different types of energetic lines and what their associations are, while Fidler was able to quantify the phenomena mathematically, and in repeatable ways.

What concerns this paper in particular, is the association of megalithic and other pre-historic sites with lines associated with the underground flow of water. While there are various types of lines, the type of energetic lines associated with the underground flow of water was termed by Underwood as simply "water lines". This as opposed to "track lines", &"petrostats" etc.
What has been established is that the significant sites are found where several of these water lines converge. These points of convergence have been termed "blind springs". The types of sites seem to depend, by some accounts, on the number of water lines converging upon a single point.
The places with greatest number of points seem to have the larger archeological significance. These would include such as Stone Henge in Britain, or Emain Macha in Ireland. One article from the Journal of the British Society of Dowsers (16) pegs the number of lines converging at Emain Macha as nine (yet other accounts say seven is the number found at significant sites). At other, lesser numbers, there are the likes of burial mounds, standing stones and cairns. Many times, if not oft times, there is also found at these points votive pits. Almost like the offerings deposited in them were being given directly to the most original well or spring, that of the Spirit, Danu.

The name, "Bile", literally means "a sacred tree", and each tribe in the Gaelic lands had its own "bile", usually near the center of its territory.(17) The Sacred Tree connected to all three realms of Celtic cosmology: branches reaching into the Sky of the Gods, roots reaching into the Water of the Ancestors, and the trunk connecting the Land -where mortals and nature spirits dwelt - to all. The concept of a "World Tree" is central to Norse mythology, and the Norse were very close culturally and geographically to the Celts.(18) It is not therefore inappropriate to visualize Danu as the Well of Knowledge, and Bile as the World Tree, much as Erynn Rowan Laurie has done in A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts: "Danu is the Mother of the Gods. She represents the land from which the de Danann came. This land is not a physical place, but is instead the sacred geography of the Otherworld. Danu is the principle of birth and beginnings, of generation and of fertility. She is the hidden source of the "Well of Segais, which is the abode of the Salmon of Wisdom."(19)
And:
"Beside the well is the world tree, the embodiment of the ancient ancestral deity known as Bile. His name means 'a sacred tree.' " (20)

Celtic myth and history is full of references to the especially sacred nature of certain individual trees, and the general sacred attributes of entire species of trees. This is further backed up by the Indo-European "cousins" of the Celts -- the Germanic or Norse peoples.

Oak trees were widely reported by the classical historians (Romans and Greeks) to have been especially venerated by the draoi; some authorities even believe that the word, "druid" (and it's variations), is based on root words meaning knowledge of the oak", but this is debatable.

Oak was used in funerary rites, and structures, in the La Tene culture and Hallstatt Celtic cultures. Yew, ash, hazel, and apple were also especially significant. Groves of these trees were known to be meeting places, and it was against the law to harm these groves in any manner. The words "Bile/" (a sacred tree) and "Nemeton" (a sacred grove) are root words in many European place-names, such as Bilum in Denmark, and Bilem in France, Drunemeton in Asia Minor/Galatia, Vernemeton in Britain, etc.(21) Each tribe had a sacred tree, near the center of their territory, often associated with an equally sacred spring or well . A story is told of the sacred tree of Munster, a tree growing from the bottom of Lough Gur; the lake would magickally disappear every seven years, and the tree would be revealed (22). Additionally, many Celtic family names indicate presumptive descent from an arboreal ancestor: Mac Cuill = "Son of Hazel", Mac Cuilinn = "Son of Holly", Mac Iber = "Son of Yew", the Welsh Guerngen = "Son of Alder" and Dergen = "Son of Oak".

Within Brythonic mythology we find the God, Lleu, pierced by a spear and wasting away in a symbolically-significant, huge oak tree. This immediately calls to mind the Norse God, Odin, sacrificing himself to himself on the World Tree, Yggdrasil.(23) The Gauls were said to have associated the oak with their equivalent of the Roman God Zeus(24); it is difficult to determine who this might have been within the Gaulish pantheon, as Roman writers usually just called the Gods of the people whose lands they were invading by the names of the Roman Gods that were their most obvious equivalents.

From the reports of classical writers, and some surviving iconography, it can also be speculated that wood carvings were used in ritualistic fashion. It is presumed that the variety of wood had some sacred significance. It is also speculated that certain species of tree were especially significant to the worship of particular Gods.(25) There is also the peculiar Fenian cycle story of Dercc Corra mac hUi Daighre, a man "sitting in the top of a tree, a blackbird on his right shoulder and in his left hand a white vessel of bronze, filled with water in which was a skittish trout and a stag at the foot of the tree." The association of the tree and the stag calls to mind the Bile/ or "Cernunnos" figure, and the story is thought to be based on a much older myth.(26)

The World Tree of Nordic myth, Yggdrasil, connected the depths of the underworld Nifl-heim, to Midgard (our world), and to Asgard (the Gods realm)(27).

We can view the sacred tribal, and Otherworldly, Trees in much the same manner without fear of going too far astray from the world-view of our ancestors.

The concept of the World Tree gives us an anchor for our own meditative practices; we can visualize the Sacred Tree, the Bile/, the Oak in the sacred grove of nine Hazels, next to Danu, the "Great River"; or the Well of Segeis. Those among us who find themselves drawn in a more active manner into the Otherworld or UnderWorld can find their bearings by locating the World Tree, and moving up or down along it to the Gods, or the Ancestors, or back to our own realm. The World Tree symbolizes that which is rooted in the ancient Past (roots), but reaching for the distant Future (branches), always available and immediately within the Present (trunk).

Our ancestors world-view was one in which a God of the Tribe was mated to a Goddess of the Land. The God of the Tribe was a many-skilled, protector, and warrior, God. The Goddess of the Land was a fertility Goddess, often associated with magick, and sometimes using Her magickal powers to assist with the battles of the Tribe, a more mysterious being. Under these Gods were the Gods of Skill and Craft. The relationship of the tribal God and Goddess was carried over to the relationship of the King to the land; the King was deemed a failure if the land did not prosper, and was often symbolically mated to the land in coronation rites, and stories abound of the mysterious "Sovereignty" who could appear as either a hag or a beautiful and desirable woman. Under the King, or Chieftain, were lesser leaders of more specific function and class. (28)

As far as the kingship went, there are many hints regarding this subject in the heraldic records. Having shown the Bile as an Oak Tree, we can therefore view the following as quite telling. In Ireland, we see the Oak associated with kingship. In Clans And Families Of Ireland, John Grenham states, " As in Ulster and Munster, so in Connacht the arms of the ruling family, the O'Conners, and a whole host of others connected with them - Flanagan, O'Breirne and many more - all display a common symbol, in this case the oak tree. Again, the reason lies in pre-Christian belief, in the old Celtic reverence for the oak, and it's resulting association with kingship; the medieval sources record the ruling families having at least one sacred tree outside the families ring fort."(29)

In the typically Celtic three-fold world-view, we have a mortal leader mated to the geographical lands that he oversees, a tribal God mated to the spiritual "land" that the tribe inhabits, and the Father of the Gaels and ruler of the Underworld "land" mated to the Mother of the Gods and spirit of the Otherworld, with the Tuatha De Danann as the Gods of Skill and Craft, the overlords of the specific concerns and functions of the material and spiritual realms.





Bibliography:



(repeated references listed under title of book and page number only)

1. Lebor Gabala Erenn, Irish Texts Society, Dublin.

2. The Druids, Peter Berresford Ellis, Eerdmans, 1994, Pages 121-124.

3. Celtic Heritage, Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Thames and Hudson 1961/1994. Page 52.

4. Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition, Dr. Da/ithi/ O/hO/gain, Prentice Hall Press, 1991. Page 151, 152.

5. The Pagan Celts, Anne Ross, R.J.Acfur/Chinchester, Sussex; 1986. Page 124.

6. Celtic Heritage, page 52.

7. Hinduism, edited by Louis Renou, Braziller. 1962
Consciousness The Missing Link, His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

8. Celtic Myths and Legends, Charles Squire, Random House 1994, Page 252.

9. The Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites, and Sanctuaries, Jean Louis Brunaux, B.A. Seaby, Ltd. 1988, Page 70.

10. The Pagan Celts, page 126.

11. The Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites, and Sanctuaries, page 74.

12. The Old Straight Track, Alfred Watkins, Sphere Books

13. A Step In The Dark, T.C. Lethbridge, RPK, 1967.
The Legend of the Sons of God, T.C. Lethbridge, RPK, 1972.

14. The Pattern Of The Past, Guy Underwood, Museum Press, 1969.

15. Ley Lines - Their Nature and Properties - A Dowsers Investigation, J. Havelock Fidler, turnstone Press, 1983.

16. Journal of the British Society of Dowsers, issue unknown

17. A Dictionary of Irish Mythology, Peter Berresford Ellis, Oxford University Press, 1987, Page 223.

18. The Norsemen, H.A.Guerber, Studio Editions Ltd./London, 1994, Page 12.

19. A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts, Erynn Rowan Laurie, Eschaton, 1995. Page 5.

20. A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts, page 4.

21. Pagan Celtic Britain, Anne Ross, Academy Chicago Publishers, 1996; pages 59 - 64.

22. Mythic Ireland, Michael Dames, Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1992; pages 76 - 79.

23. Pagan Celtic Britain, page 60.

24. Pagan Celtic Britain, pages 59 + 60.

25. Pagan Celtic Britain, pages 60 - 62.

26. Pagan Celtic Britain, page 421.

27. The Norsemen, H.A. Guerber, Studio Editions, Ltd., 1994; pages 12 - 13.

28. The Pagan Celts, page 125.

29. Clans And Families Of Ireland, John Grenham, Wellfleet Press, 1993; page 74.





Glossary:




animistic:
the belief that all material manifestations (human, animal, vegetable, mineral and combinations thereof) have corresponding spiritual manifestations, or that the material world is permeated by a corresponding spiritual world.

anthropomorphism:
the representation of non-human beings as having human form, emotions, and motivations, the use of human iconography to represent the divine.

Beltaine:
A sacred Gaelic feast day, one of the four cross-quarter feast days that celebrate the yearly cycle, second only to Samhain or Oiche Samhna in importance. It is a celebration of life and fertility, the lengthening of the daylight. Around May 1st.

cthonic:
pertaining to a Land of the Dead, or "Hades" - like realm. Symbolically associated with death and the Underworld; often also associated with rebirth.

dualism:
belief in the ability to reduce existence to either two expressions of substance, such as male and female, or two forces, such as good and evil.

polytheism:
belief in many Gods and Goddess, usually, at least amongst Indo-Europeans and the cultures that descended from them, as belonging to the same family or tribe.


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