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HomeDruid, Stuff Celtic Triple Deities


Celtic Triple Deities

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(Note from Daven:  Let me tell you a story, children…. Once upon a time I was a member of a newsgroup.  In this newsgroup, there was once a young man who asked for Celtic representation of six deities and ideas he had.  This is what the debate spawned out of that request.  I believe that I have it in order, but I may be mistaken, and have it out of whack.

Also I have tried to preserve the original format of the messages.  The lines preceding with “>” are messages that are being responded to in the current post.  The more >, the further back the originating post.  LOL  Have fun with it.)

Celtic Triple Deities

Subject: Celtic Triple Deities and the Columns of Age
Date: 02/10/2000
Author: Searles O’Dubhain

Again, the Celts would have associated the triple-goddesses (Brighid, Danu and Morrigan) with the waxing, full and waning moon. Brighid, the maiden would have been represented by the waxing moon; Danu, the mother, would have been represented by the full moon; and Morrigan, the crone, would have been represented by the waning moon.

Arianrhod would be the best for a moon goddess as her name means moon (very literary – it actually means silver wheel or disc).

In Celtic folklore and literature, goddesses are mentioned in threes generally as sisters. The same is also said for gods. In the case of Brighid, there are three sisters who are the goddesses of smithcraft, poetry and healing respectively. In the case of the Morrigan, these are sometimes listed as the daughters of Ernmas (their mother): Morrigan, Nemain and Badb (sometimes these are given as Morrigan, Macha and Badb). The three most notable triple gods are the three brothers: Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba who are the “Three Gods of Danu.” Significantly, the Morrigan is also equated with Danu in the Lebor Gaba/la and said to be the mother (through incest with her father Delbaeth – Tuirenn) of the same three deities.

Though Brighid is sometimes seen as a Mother Goddess, she is more often represented in folklore (particularly Gaelic) as being either a young maiden or an old hag. At times, she is said to have a face that is divided into hag and maiden. This division into hag and maiden is a characteristic of the Goddess of Sovereignty in many of the tales told about kings and how they gained their kingship. At this time of year is when, Brighid either turns into her younger self from being the Cailleach (Hag of Winter) or she escapes from a cave where she has been imprisoned by the Cailleach. Besides the idea that goddesses can be three sisters (which is a Celtic way of defining three aspects in goddesses), gods can also exhibit three aspects or divisions. Heroes and kings are said to have been produced by having three fathers and one mother. Lugaidh Riab nDerg is known as Lugaidh of the Red Stripes (he has three fathers and one mother and his body is divided into three sections by red rings of birthmarks, each having the characteristics of one of his three fathers). The idea in Celtic myth is to show how a triad or trinity of deities and concepts combine through birth or association to produce a new deity or concept. The use of triads is extremely Celtic in nature.

All this having been said, I know of nothing in Celtic folklore or traditional literature that supports the Wiccan concept of Mother, Maiden Crone. If we’re going to talk about divisions of life by age or classification, then the closest that we can come to this is an idea called the “Columns of Age” which divides life into six stages: na/idendacht, macdacht, gillacht, ho/clachus, sendacht and dimligdetu. Significantly, this list is given in relation to the life of men: infancy, boyhood, youth, manhood, old age (sagehood) and decrepitude (or senility). I would suppose that the equivalent for women would be infancy, girlhood, maiden, motherhood, old age (or hagdom) and decrepitude. Nowhere in the Celtic lore (to my knowledge) is there a tale of a tradition that describes a goddess as being Mother, Maiden and Crone. Such an idea is indeed a “poetical” invention by writers such as Robert Graves.

These ideas of triples and doubles go back to the beginnings of Celtic tradition and have persisted down to this day in the folklore. They are well documented and definitely not a recent invention or supposition as are some modern ideas about triple goddesses.

Searles

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Wade Baugher

Though there is evidence of tripilism in carvings and paintings going back over 11,000 years, the _maiden, mother and crone_ concept seems to be an invention of one man; Robert Graves.

Ronald Hutton sums it up fairly well in a few passages of his book _The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles._

Quote p145.

“Another major, and separate contribution to the confusion surrounding the Celts was begun in 1944 by one of the greatest English poets and historical novelists, Robert Graves. In three weeks during that year, he completed the first draft of a book which was to become_The White Goddess_, drawing upon images culled from Celtic and Graeco-Roman literature and fusing them within his own tremendous creative inspiration to provide a personal religion to accompany his poetry. The result is a sustained metaphor, a vision of the sort of past that the writer thought ought to have existed. His friends have maintained that in private he himself did not believe that his vision had existed in reality: he was expressing a state of creative longing which made what he wrote poetically, not literally, true. But nowhere in the book itself did he warn his readers that they were to take it as metaphor or myth. As a result, it was taken as history by a large number of unscholarly readers. His confident statements that ancient societies were ruled by women has made him a hero of many modern feminists. He presented those who wanted a matriarchal religion with a Celtic Great Goddess, appearing in the three aspects of maiden, mother and crone, who is still believed to be historical by many who do not worship her themselves. He devised what has become known as the ‘Celtic tree Calendar’ to people who do not realize that it was an invention of Graves, which would have amazed the Iron Age Celts even more than the Triple Mother Goddess. And he firmly associated goddesses with the moon in a way which he made to seem natural but was not so to many ancient peoples, including the Celts. His bluntest retrospective comment on the work, written to a stranger, was: ‘It’s a crazy book and I didn’t mean to write it.’ But it still has great influence in shaping the view of Celtic paganism held by unscholarly readers.”

Quote p.153

“A similar but yet more complex problem surrounds the figure of Brighid, Brig or Brid, the Christian Mother Saint of Ireland. A superficially easy case could be made for describing her as the patron of Leinster, later given national status as Danu may have been. The center of her cult was in that province, at Kildare next to the Curragh plain which had been such a centre of prehistoric ritual activity. Here, until the Reformation, a sacred fire was kept burning in her honour, a feature generally agreed almost certainly to have been a surviving pre-Christian custom. The medieval Leinstermen regarded her as their special patron, and told how at the battle of Allen in 722 she appeared above their army like an ancient war goddess, routing the forces of Tara. But the Munsterman Cormac, while stating that she was indeed once a Goddess, called her the patroness of learning and prophecy, with twin sisters of the same name, with one overseeing healing and one metalwork. He followed his statement with a passage which translates as either ‘ from whose names a goddess was called Brighid by all the Irish’, or ‘from whom all the Irish recognized Brighid as a goddess’. The former sense was accepted by Graves, and upon it he founded his myth of the Triple Mother Goddess, although he remodeled her as maiden, mother and crone rather than as teacher, doctor and craftswoman.”

PS Tips hat to Kevin (and many others) from the dreaded _historicists_ section.

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Steven & Julie Akins of that Ilk

Taliesin of Earthstar wrote in message … >On Thu, 10 Feb 2000 00:20:23 -0000, “Muiris Mag Ualghairg” ><muiris.m@virgin.net> wrote: > >> >>Steven & Julie Akins of that Ilk <sjakins@sonet.net> wrote in message >>news:UKql4.418$vu1.3030@newsfeed.slurp.net…

>>Again, the Celts would have associated the triple-goddesses (Brighid, Danu
>>and Morrigan) with the waxing, full and waning moon. Brighid, the maiden
>>would have been represented by the waxing moon; Danu, the mother, would have
>>been represented by the full moon; and Morrigan, the crone, would have been
>>represented by the waning moon.

>Um, the usage there is modern, not Celtic — the first “approximation”
>of a Triple Goddess is from Sir James Frazier’s “The Golden Bough.”
>There is no equivalent known — nor even hinted at — in Celtic
>practice.

Don’t be ridiculous, haven’t you ever read any scholarly works on Celtic religious symbolism. Who do you think the three goddesses called “Dea Matres” in Gaulish religious sculpture are? Like the Nordic Norns, the mother-goddess of the Celts (indeed, nearly all Celtic deities) appear in triadic form. They are even represented on the Paris altar accompanying the horned-god in his death aspect of the dark bull, Donn, in the relief which is labeled “Tarous Trigaranus” (the Bull with three Cranes”) as the goddess accompanied Donn to the underworld in the form of three birds of death (cranes in Gaulish symbolism, ravens in Irish), in her death aspect she was Morrigan, the crone, Badb, the death raven, Macha, the raven who feeds upon the flesh of slain warriors. The triple goddess is a central theme of Celtic religious symbolism. Frazier may have been aware of it, he may have even been the first modern writer to discuss it, but the Celts long ago depicted the mother-goddess in triadic form.

Steven Akins of that Ilk

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Subject: Re: Celtic equivalents for my six deities?
Date: 01/31/2000
Author: Steven & Julie Akins of that Ilk <sjakins@sonet.net>

David Dalton wrote in message <875513$f7l$1@hathaway.nfld.com
>My main question is are the five Irish names Danu, Dagda, Lugh, Medb
>and Brigit appropriate Irish names for God, Cosma, Sola, Gaia and
>Artemis, and if not, what are appropriate celtic names, preferably
>Irish names? Also is there a celtic (preferably Irish) deity
>equivalent to LOVE? Descriptions of God, LOVE, Cosma, Sola, Gaia
>and Artemis are below.

>Here’s a bit more detail.
>I would appreciate your answer to the question of
>what are celtic names, particularly Irish names, for my
>six deities, which are, in order of ranking (highest
>ranked is listed first):
>1. God=the someone who is supreme amongst u-all

The Celts did not have a single omnipotent deity. Daghda was the Irish deity who was considered all-competent and was a “father of the gods” of the Tuatha De Dannan.

>2. LOVE

This emotion might be best personified by Angus Og in the masculine form, as he was the Irish Apollo, a god of youth, strength, and amorous power. In the female it would be personified by Brighid, the maiden, or by Danu, the mother; Morrigan was the crone and so would probably not be the best personification, as she represented the wisdom that is possessed by aged females who are closer to death. She was the Irish Hecate.

>3. Cosma

This sounds a lot like Arianrhodd in Welsh mythology, but at the moment nothing comes to mind for the Irish myths

>4. Sola=the someone which is the sun

Bel was the Celtic sun-god, recognized as Beli in Welsh mythology and as Belinus in Gaulish/Britannic myth.

>5. Gaia=the someone which is the earth

Danu, the mother goddess would probably be the best representation of this deity, as the was mother-earth, mother of gods and men, and all living things.

>6. Artemis=the someone which is the moon

Again, the Celts would have associated the triple-goddesses (Brighid, Danu and Morrigan) with the waxing, full and waning moon. Brighid, the maiden would have been represented by the waxing moon; Danu, the mother, would have been represented by the full moon; and Morrigan, the crone, would have been represented by the waning moon.

>I no longer say that God=LOVE; I don’t know if God=LOVE
>or not. I do not believe that God=LOVE and I do not
>believe that God is not equal to LOVE.

>Since these six are not human and indeed are not
>DNA-based life forms they may have both genders or
>neither gender, or one gender. Right now I have
>1 as male, and 2-6 as female, but I am open to
>celtic names with different gender.

>Again, I would appreciate your comments on celtic names, especially
>Irish names, for 1-6.

>Right now I propose the Irish names Danu for God, Dagda for Cosma,
>Lugh for Sola, Medb for Gaia, and Brigit for Artemis. I don’t
>yet have a celtic name for LOVE and am inclined to leave the
>name as LOVE but I am open to a suggestion of a celtic (preferably
>Irish) deity equivalent to LOVE. I would also call Danu Goddess,
>equivalent to the Wiccan Goddess, and Dagda would be equivalent to
>the Wiccan God. LOVE might be the same as God (who I would call
>Danu or Goddess if I follow through with my proposal) but I don’t
>know for sure.

That’s okay, sounds like you are into a head-trip that no one else would want to be on anyway. If it works and makes sense to you, go with it; just don’t bother trying to explain it to other folks as they might get the wrong idea about you. (By the way, the usual pantheon is a bit different and consists of deities representing Moon, Sun, Sky, Earth, Agriculture, Technology, War, Wisdom, Fertility/Love, etc. – just for the record).

>Anyway I would appreciate comments on the Irish names I propose
>for five of my six deities and if I am off in my proposal,
>suggestions of alternate celtic names, particularly Irish names,
>and a suggestion of a celtic (particularly Irish) name for LOVE,
>who I describe above.

You’ve got it.

Steven Akins of that Ilk sjakins@sonet.net

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Subject: Re: Celtic equivalents for my six deities?
Date: 02/10/2000
Author: Taliesin of Earthstar <shukenza@earthlink.net>

On Wed, 9 Feb 2000 20:48:44 -0000, “Steven & Julie Akins of that Ilk” <sjakins@sonet.net> wrote:

> >Taliesin of Earthstar wrote in message … >>On Thu, 10 Feb 2000 00:20:23 -0000, “Muiris Mag Ualghairg” >><muiris.m@virgin.net> wrote: >> >>> >>>Steven & Julie Akins of that Ilk <sjakins@sonet.net> wrote in message >>>news:UKql4.418$vu1.3030@newsfeed.slurp.net… >

>>>Again, the Celts would have associated the triple-goddesses (Brighid, Danu
>>>and Morrigan) with the waxing, full and waning moon. Brighid, the maiden
>>>would have been represented by the waxing moon; Danu, the mother, would have
>>>been represented by the full moon; and Morrigan, the crone, would have been
>>>represented by the waning moon.

>>Um, the usage there is modern, not Celtic — the first “approximation”
>>of a Triple Goddess is from Sir James Frazier’s “The Golden Bough.”
>>There is no equivalent known — nor even hinted at — in Celtic
>>practice.

>Don’t be ridiculous, haven’t you ever read any scholarly works on Celtic
>religious symbolism.

There is a grave difference between modern scholastic interpretation and evidence. Thus far and to the best of my knowledge, *hard* evidence of the belief in or worship of a “triple goddess” (especially one associated with lunar phases) has yet to surface. And the evidence I’m looking for is historical, literary, anthropological or archaeological.

However, I had mis-remembered the source. Robert Graves (who appears in light of present knowledge to have originated the notion) was searching for what he called “POETIC truth” (emphasis mine) or, in my interpretation, that Truth which is more real than Reality.

>Who do you think the three goddesses called “Dea
>Matres” in Gaulish religious sculpture are? Like the Nordic Norns, the
>mother-goddess of the Celts (indeed, nearly all Celtic deities) appear in
>triadic form. They are even represented on the Paris altar accompanying the
>horned-god in his death aspect of the dark bull, Donn, in the relief which
>is labeled “Tarous Trigaranus” (the Bull with three Cranes”) as the goddess
>accompanied Donn to the underworld in the form of three birds of death
>(cranes in Gaulish symbolism, ravens in Irish), in her death aspect she was
>Morrigan, the crone, Badb, the death raven, Macha, the raven who feeds upon
>the flesh of slain warriors. The triple goddess is a central theme of Celtic
>religious symbolism. Frazier may have been aware of it, he may have even
>been the first modern writer to discuss it, but the Celts long ago depicted
>the mother-goddess in triadic form.

Modern interpretations are not hard evidence.

Now, this is not to say that the Celts definitely didn’t worship a “Triadic Goddess” — I’m well aware of the truism about “absence of evidence.” Hell, for the LACK of evidence, they may have been (functionally) ancient “Wiccans,” acounting for the differences in comparative moralities of the cultures and times. I highly doubt that they were — what little evidence that we have does tend to contradict this.

But evidence — hard evidence, as scant as it is — points away from the conclusions made by Graves, and held by more than a few modern scholars.

Sorry, folks. Hell, it’s a myth that Wiccans have claimed, and that I myself find a great measure of “truth” in. But it can’t be accepted as history — unless new evidence surfaces.

Taliesin of Earthstar shukenza <at> earthlink <dot> net

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Subject: Re: Celtic equivalents for my six deities?
Date: 02/10/2000
Author: Steven & Julie Akins of that Ilk <sjakins@sonet.net>

BMW wrote in message <87v91i$e4n$1@news6.svr.pol.co.uk>…

>PMFBI But what I understood Taliesin to be saying orginally was that the
>triple goddess as a maiden mother crone triad is a modern reworking of the
>Celtic triple Goddesses. The evidence there is for triple Goddess shows
>three woman of the same age/experience attributes.

>I work with the MMC triple Goddess because it works, (for me) but I’ve only
>found evidence in the history, mythology etc for three Goddess sharing
>aspects , three mothers, three war goddesses etc.

>In that sense I think you’re both right.

BMW, Please re-read the quotation that I posted below earlier from Dr. Miranda Green’s “The Gods of the Celts” which I will repost here for your convience. Please pay special attention to the reference to the Bonn depictions:

Okay, here is what Miranda Green, who is a respected Celtic scholar has to say on the subject:

The Triple Mothers

“Triplism as a basic phenomenon of Celtic religion is discussed in detail eleswhere (Chapter Seven). The mother-goddess is perhaps the commonest type of Celtic divinity treated in this way and the triadic form appears to have played an important role in her worship and cult-expression. “The three mothers or Deae Matres, as they are frequently called in inscriptions, were known also as the Matrone, especially in Cisalpine Gaul (North Italy) and Lower Germany. We know more about the cult of the triple mothers than some other cults of Celtic origin simply because they are often named and bear descriptive surnames which give clues to their identity. By far the majority of these epithets is linked to locality, thus asserting their essentially territorial character. Some are regional, embracing a large area or even a province – like Gallicae or Britannicae. A dedication from Winchester mentions the Mothers of Italy, Germany, Gaul and Britain…. The iconography of the three Mothers gives us valuable information as to how they were looked upon by their devotees. The vast majority are seated side by side, fully draped. But within this framework, there are many variations, all of which stress the maternal, nourishing and fertility role of the goddesses. The commonest attributes are baskets of fruit, cornuacopiae, loaves, fish and children. In some instances the Mothers actually suckle infants and one breast may be bared, as at Alesia. Swathing bands and baby-bathing materials are indicated at Vertillum (Cote d’Or), An Autun group depicts the Mothers with a child, patera and cornucopiae respectively. A stone from Trier depicts the deities, one with swathing band and the other two with distaffs, as if here the Mothers take on the role of Fates, spinning out men’s lives. This, and the association with Fortuna or Good Luck, is interesting and understandable in divinities whose role was es sentially concerned with well-being and prosperity….. “Some of the Rhineland groups are interesting in that, as at Bonn a young woman with long free-flowing hair is flanked by two maturer women in large circular bonnets. This apparent age-difference may symbolise different stages of womanhood and, by implication, the seasonal progression.”

– Miranda Green, “The Gods of the Celts”

One might compare the triple Mothers of the Celts to the Norns in Norse mythology, one of whom spun the span of man’s life, the other measured it on her distaff, and the thrid cut it, symbolizing birth, life and death, or youth, maturity and old age. It is thus quite easy to see how such symbolism might be transferred to the Moon, as it waxes, fulls, and wanes on a monthly cycle which is in length (28 and 1/2 days) the same as the menstral cycles of women, hence the association of the moon and its three phases with womanhood which is naturally likewise divided into maidenhood, motherhood, and old-age.

Steven Akins of that Ilk  sjakins@sonet.net

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