Lesson 8, part 1: Mythology
All right, in this segment, we will look at some basics of Mythology, Gods and Goddesses.
Mostly, what one needs to understand when looking into mythology to any extent is that all mythology, from Christianity and the Bible, to Islamic and the Koran to the Druids and the Tain Bo and the Mabinogion, is that these are stories. That’s all. They are representations of a lesson to be learned, or a character to be explained, qualities to be pontificated on and so forth.
Our current mythology, in contemporary Western society, can be seen in the fables of Aesop, the books of our times, and also the movies that are popular. Epic stories about people that may or may not have existed, who are held up as models of behavior and honor.
An example of this: In one set of Irish myths, CuCulainn is a young boy and he kills a dog on a dare. It turns out it is the dog of a smith who raised this dog from a pup to guard him and his assets. Now without the dog, he has no protection. So CuCulainn (and the spelling differs) voluntarily takes on the job of guarding this man. The smith’s name is Culann and that is why CuCulainn is called what he is (his name means, literally, “hound of Culann”).
However, it is not the name that is being praised in this story, but the willingness of him to take responsibility for his actions. Instead of going “oh well, I guess you are outta luck” as most in our society would, CuCulainn says “Okay, I killed your means of protecting yourself, and I need to make up for that. I will guard you instead. And my father will provide another guard and I will pay for it.”
Now, he didn’t have to do this. In fact, since he was the son of “royalty” and the smith in question was beholden to his father. He could have passed it off, and by the societal laws in the time this story was supposed to happen, he could have gotten away with it.
But he had honor enough at 6-9 years old to see that he harmed someone and to take responsibility for it. It’s this honor that is being praised in this story, rather than the event itself.
Given that perspective, many of the other stores common in mythology can be seen in a different light, and certain archetypes come out when one starts reading and studying these myths.
Okay, here is my disclaimer: I have never read Joseph Campbell, however, I did see his PBS series on his books. I agree with his conclusions and his theories presented that every culture, if they have the ability to communicate (note, communicate, not talk) will make a mythology symbolic to them for transmission of ideals and archetypes to others. Herein, I present some of the archetypes that I have seen recurring, not necessarily what a student of mythology would see in the same light. I’m self-taught in this so give me a break. One day if you are really bored, you may want to do some research into mythology and look more at what I present here as a starting point of your own researches.
And in here I will be saying “God” a lot. Please bear in mind that this means “God or Goddess” in my lexicon. It’s easier to write God or Gods than to type God or Goddess and Gods and Goddesses over and over….
I will also be drawing heavily on the Mabinogion for this segment. Celts are what we are looking at in Tara, and Welsh mythology seems to have more immediate impact on the lessons presented here. I am somewhat familiar with Irish myths, but not comfortable enough to quote it out of memory. However, all that I present here is applicable to any mythology out there. And I consider the Christian Bible and the original Hebrew writings to be mythology. If this offends, I apologize, but I still see them as mythology.
|Man-God||This is a character or figure who is to all intents and purposes as powerful as the Gods, but he is mortal.||Math, son of Mathonwy|
|Trickster||God who teaches through jokes and practical jokes. Lessons learned are usually those that teach humility.||Loki and Coyote|
|Elemental||This is a God or Goddess of the Land/Sea/Sky or some other element. This includes the elementals.||Mananuan of the Waves|
|Sympathetic to Man||This is the God who “takes care” of either his creation or another God’s creation.||Prometheus or Gwydion|
|Life/Death||A God who takes care of the natural cycles of life and death, usually nurturing the newly dead back to life again in another incarnation.||Arawyn/The Grey Men|
|Seasons||God that is over one time of the year, and responsible for what happens in that time.||Llew Llaw Gyffes/Goronwy Pevr|
|Fertility||God or Goddess who is responsible for the fertility of the crops, earth or herds. Usually female.||Rhiannon and Herne|
|Judgment||Typically this is a deity who has the job of passing sentence of newly dead souls as to their “worth”||The Wild Hunt|
|Deity of Celestial bodies||Typically this is a god/ess of the Sun/Moon or similar celestial bodies.||Lugh and Arianhrod|
Okay, as you can see from this, there is quite a bit of diversity in there. Normally when speaking on Archetypes, you don’t focus on individuals and their area of responsibility, but rather on a “type” of god. Thus, there is a God of Death, but not a God of the Elves or the Fairey, since one is an archetype and the other is an area of responsibility.
Each of these can be found in any mythology out there. And there are probably more that I am not thinking of. Here’s where Joseph Campbell comes in really handy. He does a better job of describing these archetypes than I do, and he gives the whole list. These are just the ones that are most typical from my experience.
You will see cults of one type or another springing up in different cultures at different times. Even to today. It’s not that they worship the God that is represented so much as that they are worshiping the idea the God represents. So a Cult of Kali may call upon the Goddess of Death and Destruction in their ceremonies and rites, but it’s the idea of Death and annihilation that they are worshiping.
A great many cultures had their deities taken from them by this resemblance. A missionary would come into the area and look at the deities in the area, compare them to their own mythology that he believed, draw inaccurate and sometimes ludicrous conclusions. He would begin talking to the locals, convincing them that his pantheon (a group of deities belonging to one culture) was the same as theirs, and then convince them to start praying to the new names.
For example: Here’s a nice new Christian missionary. He knows Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, God the Father, and so forth. He wanders into Wales and starts hearing about Pwyll, Rhiannon, Arawyn, Bran and Bronwyn, Mananuan and so forth. He compares what he knows about HIS pantheon to what he can learn about the local pantheon, compares things around and decides that God the Father= Bran, Rhiannon=Mary, Pwyll=Joseph, Pryderi=Jesus, Wise men=The Druids, Arawyn=Lucifer. From that, he says “Hey, my God is just like your Bran. It wouldn’t be too bad if you came and participated in my ritual, and called Him God instead of Bran. I’ll even invoke Bran too.” He does that and follows through for a while, but gradually Bran gets dropped from the list of those invoked. And now it’s too late to change it, and Celtic Christianity is born….
Over simplified, but you get the idea.
This is also why the same deities keep popping up in multiple cultures. Not only is there drift from the root belief system which fragments, but there is also culture conquering by other groups, who steal a deity lock, stock and barrel and change their name.
Okay, there’s the bell and it’s time to go. I’ll see you all here next week for another lesson, where we will discuss in greater depth the archetypes.
Here’s some online mythology references for you.
Lesson 8 Part 2 Mythology
In this lesson we will explore the common myth types. The stories and the tales that make up a culture, and common themes involved in them. I will try to pull examples from Celtic Mythology, but I will be giving examples from common Western culture to give everyone a reference point. When I cite a story in Celtic Myth, I shall give a VERY abbreviated version of the story, with any links to the actual story, if I can find them.
In many ways, mythology defines the culture. If you know the myths of the culture, you can make some inferences as to what the culture was like. For example, if I, as a paeloanthropologist (scientist that studies the culture of prehistoric societies) heard the story of CuChulainn, I may infer from that myth that the culture it belonged to (in this case, prehistoric Irish culture) valued personal responsibility and honor to a great extent. As such, I could look in other myths of that culture and begin to piece together a snapshot of the way the culture was.
By cross referencing things like the Tain Bo, the Mabinogion, the Brehon Laws, and other common sources, I would probably be correct in my assumption. In fact, this is how we got a majority of our information on previous cultures. Archeologists and anthropologists worked together to construct how the culture lived day to day, but it’s through intensive investigation of the stories that we find out what qualities that were valued.
Some common themes appear when one begins to study mythology, and I will only hit the highlights here. There are as many different themes to myths as there are Gods and Goddesses in the myths. I still recommend Joseph Campbell to those who are interested in an in depth study of mythology.
Theme one: The Conquering Hero
This is one of the more common types of archetypes for mythology. Basically, the hero of the story goes through many different trials and tribulations to fulfill his mission or to regain himself. Usually there is a definite reward at the end of the quest, and usually side benefits that the Hero has not contemplated.
One example of this from Welsh Mythology is the story of Pwyll. Here is a king of Dyfed who is beloved by his people. He gets a wild hair one day and decides to go hunting, against the advice of his counselors. During the hunt, he meets Arawn of Annwvyn. Oops. For a “crime” that the king committed against Arawn, he agrees to take the place of Arawn in his kingdom and fight an opponent that Arawn can’t beat. Pwyll agrees and goes to Annwvyn where he will be acclaimed as the king, and have access to everything that Arawn has, including his Queen. Not a bad looking lady.
Pwyll is single and needs a Queen. He falls for Arawn’s Queen, but that night refuses to act upon his impulses and make love to her. This is despite the peas of the Queen. And it took enormous self control to do so.
The new day dawns and it is time for the armies of Annwvyn and the armies of the West to engage in battle. Havgan is the king of the Armies from the west, and a very dangerous man. Two powers are his, his strength grows as the day moves to midday, and wanes from there, and the ability to be cured instantly of any blow, no matter how severe if he is struck a second time. Arawn warned Pwyll of this, and advised him to hit Havgan once, and to leave him.
In the version I read, there was an epic battle in which Pwyll is badly hurt by the combat. He finally strikes a mortal blow to Havgan. Havgan concedes defeat and begs the king to put him out of his misery. Three times Havgan begs to be put to death by another blow, but Pwyll remembers Arawn’s injunction and refuses. This also took intestinal fortitude to do so, for he was called a coward, unhonorable, cruel and so forth. But he did not and Havgan’s troops removed him from the field. The armies of Annwvyn go home and celebrate, and Pwyll slips away.
The next morning he meets up with Arawn in the same spot he started from, and because of his honor regarding Arawn’s wife, Arawn gives Pwyll the unprecedented gift of becoming his Chancellor in Arawn as well as picking how and when he will die. The World is saved, and everyone is happy.
The best example I can think of from current Western culture is Star Wars and Luke Skywalker. In there, Luke saves the day, as well as gaining the confidence of the Rebellion and Han Solo. This is a classic myth, and has been reviewed as such for a long time. But the base story is the same. This is the kind of thing that we look for when studying mythology.
For some more information, I recommend reading the original version of Pwyll’s story in the Mabinogion. Here’s a link to an excellent translation by Lady Charlotte Guest. The Story of Pwyll This is the actual version that appears in the classic mythology, but for a really good version that I highly recommend is The Prince of Annwvyn by Evangeline Walton. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but you can find copies. I have all four in the series, and it took some doing. But, this is the single best series that deals with the Mabinogion that I have seen, although you will want to keep a copy of the Lady Charlotte translation close.
Okay, get up and walk around. Break time. There is a lot more, but I can’t go into all of them now. We only have time for one more of the standard types of stories and the rest of what I am going to teach you in this lesson. So, if you are recovered now, let’s continue.
Theme two: The Redeemed Hero
In this type of story, so common to the American and Western mythology, we find a hero who is ready to sacrifice everything, including himself, to save someone. This person can be anyone, including themselves, but most commonly it is someone close to the hero in question. Usually it is a close relative, such as a father, brother, wife or so on. I could sit here and rattle off about thirty or forty examples, but I think only a few need be brought to your attention to illustrate my point.
The Return of the Jedi (Hero redeeming father), Pippin (hero redeeming himself), Galaxy Quest (heroes redeeming themselves), American Beauty (Hero redeeming his life), Ransom (hero redeeming his son) and so on. You get the point at this juncture. Don’t be fooled into thinking that stories like Braveheart is this kind of tale, it’s not. Braveheart is the Grand Epic, rather than the Redeeming Hero. The New Testament is a good example of a Grand Epic, so too is something like Die Hard (all of them) or the Lethal Weapon series. The scale is different in a Grand Epic and a Redeeming Hero. The first deals with entire societies or cultures or worlds, and the Redeeming Hero is more personal, he is someone we can identify with, rather than Patton.
An example of this in Welsh Myth (again) would be the story of Manawyddan. Here is a guy who loves his brother, Bran the Blessed. He goes to war with his brother to rescue his sister from the Irish king and Bran winds up killed. Miracles happen, all the Irish on the island are killed in an explosion and poisoned fumes, seven heroes escape. Manawyddan is one of them, along with Pryderi.
Remember Pryderi? Pwyll’s son. Son of Rhiannon of the Birds. Well, they all get back to England, and Pryderi convinces Manawyddan to marry his widowed mother. Manawyddan falls in love with her and does so. They all wind up home and one night, the entire populace of the country disappears. Only Pryderi, Manawyddan, Rhiannon and Pryderi’s wife Kicva were left. They stayed there months, and went crazy. They left and went to find people.
They found people and wanted to look like peasants, since Pryderi was king of Dyfed, and they didn’t want it known the king was here. So they took on various trades to support themselves. Once saddle-makers, once shield-makers and once cobblers. Each time, while their goods were not the best, they used Druidic Magick and craft tricks to make them beautiful. The local craftsmen didn’t make any money, and plotted to kill them. Each time, they were warned and escaped.
Now, sick of people, they made their way back to Dyfed. And first Pryderi and then Rhiannon fell under a spell which removed them from the “living”. So only Manawyddan and Kicva are left in the whole of Dyfed. Time passes, they despair, and eventually plant crops. They grow and are razed by something during the night. So, on the night before the last crop is destroyed, Manawyddan stays up to see.
What he sees is an army of mice coming and taking everything edible from the field, and he can’t save it. But he catches a pregnant mouse before she got away. So he decides to hang a thief (the mouse for those of you not paying attention). He sets up a gallows and starts to do so when several travelers come by and offer to take the mouse from him, and even offer to purchase the mouse. One of the travelers is the High Druid of Britain and Manawyddan refuses.
Finally, the mouse’s husband, an enchanter, appears and begs for his wife’s release along with their child. Manawyddan gets back the people of Dyfed, a promise of non-retribution, a pledge of no ill will, and Rhiannon and Pryderi. The Enchanter goes his way and everything is normal again.
Okay, from this, we see that one man is responsible for saving all of Dyfed. Grand Epoch? No, he’s redeeming himself from the war. If you read the myth in depth, you can see the soul-sickness in him, which he sheds in his love of Rhiannon. Only to loose her to misadventure, so he still goes into despondency. So he goes to great lengths to save himself, shed everything not necessary in his “new” incarnation, and succeeds. To give a bit of perspective, Manawyddan was trained by the Druids, and would have been a Druid had he not been the King’s brother. So to refuse his superior is unthinkable. And in triumphing over himself, he also triumphs over the external problems and saves everyone.
Here is the references, and once again they are the actual text and the embellishment by an author. Here’s the text: Manawyddan of Llyr and the link to the book: The Song of Rhiannon : The Third Branch of the Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton.
There are many other kinds of myths like this, such as Creation, Natural world explanation, Natural feature explanation, teaching, historical, Trait emulation, and so on. Start looking around for the stories of your local area, the myths and the tales, and I bet you find all kinds of correlations to mythology.
Okay. End of this section. Here’s your assignment. I want each of you to pick a myth, from Classical Greek, Celtic or Modern Western culture and to analyze it as though you were listening to a myth of another culture for the first time. Look for Hero or God figures from the last lesson, and try to fit it into a story archetype. That’s it for now. Post the results here, and if you choose a movie, please pick one I have already seen. Ask me and I will tell you if I have seen it or not. Then we will discuss the results and what is what.
Next lesson will be what this one was supposed to be, a study of the Gods and Goddesses of the Celts. A brief Introduction to them, which should be interesting.
Until next time!
Message: The Hero Redeemed- An Archetypical Myth
Author: Posting for a lurker – Daven Iceni
Date: Dec 4, 2000 09:59
(Daven’s Note: I received this via email today. Apparently there is a group of Non-AS residents who follow this class, and email me their assignments. So, we have auditors in the classroom, be on your best behavior. I have their permission to post this, but I was asked to keep their identity to myself.)
In the story I will be examining I have found a modern retelling of the classic myth of personal redemption. In the true Grecian style, a Deus Ex Machina is employed to resolve the conflict.
(Daven’s Comment: For those of you not familiar with the device of Deus Ex Machina [Okay, I had to look it up too.] I will explain it in brief here. It’s the device used where a benevolent Power intervenes in the story to make it “all better”. It’s “and the little boy fell out of bed and woke up, it was all a dream” cheat that drives me out of my mind.)
Our protagonist is embittered, isolated, hurt and an outcast. What caused him to become an outcast? There are vague hints, allusions to pain in the past, to loss, but the reason why are really not important to the author of the myth. This again parallels the Ancient Greek Myth patterns.
What is important is what his pain drives him to do. Revenge! He decides to strike back. Again, we are not told if the people he has chosen for his plan are those who caused his pain, yet it can be inferred that they are.
Obviously, at this point the protagonist is an anti-hero.
Carefully, thoroughly, he plots his revenge on a small, isolated village, the only habitation near his hideout. He prepares camouflage, transportation and insures that all of his plans are in order before he starts out. He chooses to strike the night before the villagers most sacred religious festival. His journey to the village is long and arduous, yet he perseveres.
Finally, he reaches his goad and in short order completes the first phase of his plan.
He runs into a near disaster when he is stopped by a villager who closely questions his identity and presence in the town.
Courtesy of his intense planning (and, to his belief, the naiveté of the villagers) he bluffs his way through the encounter. His escape is a riveting exposition of his plan and sets the stage for phase two of his plot, the destruction of the ritual implements as well as the town’s wealth.
Joyously he retires to his hideout, eager for dawn to arrive s that he can witness the town’s anguish and despair his actions will cause.
The festival day dawns and the anti-hero is ready.
Ready for the Deus Ex Machina?
The rubes still celebrate! Without their sacred artifacts, robbed of all he would count valuable, they still carry on.
He is outraged, infuriated, thwarted. He is baffled by their actions and broods about Why– Why are they behaving in this way?
Then (here it is) his heart is opened. Suddenly he is redeemed, transformed by the villagers’ actions. Understanding floods him and he finds forgiveness in himself, not only for their actions, but his own. Against all reason, this happens.
Logically, his actions should have succeeded; the village should have been destroyed emotionally. They were ruined financially; their holy objects of veneration are gone. Yet, they still celebrate their sacred day.
Given their response, he should have stepped up his attack, but he does not. Only the intervention of a higher power can cause this.
He forgives them, forgives himself, but will the villagers forgive him?
Of course they will! This is a redemption myth after all! He only stole their holy religious objects, their wealth, and their food, after all.
The village will forgive him because, collectively, they embody, not the fools the antihero believes them to be, but the wise fool of many myths in many cultures.
These actions combine to redeem our anti-hero, and make him a hero. They teach him the eternal lesson of spirit triumphing over the material.
Frantic to atone for his misdeeds, he rescues the sacred objects, the village’s wealth- everything he has taken and restores it to the village, again enduring a perilous and harrowing trip.
The villagers unquestioningly open their hears and homes to him and all is well.
And that, my friends, is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.
As tongue in cheek as this appears at first glance, this is an excellent analysis, and a very true one. These kinds of stories abound in Western Culture, and in many Mediterranean cultures as well. From Sumerarian, to Greek to Roman, all these and many more have this kind of story type in them.
One may even go further and say that the Grinch employs a Zeusian or YEVHian attitude of taking away that, which appears to define some when they cease to appreciate what they have. (For an example of this, see Job or Lot as well as the entire trip back from Troy by Odysseus and his crew.)
So one can see the Grinch as a benevolent God making sure that the creatures under his care and/or protection truly appreciate all they have, for it can be taken from them at any time. And making sure that they don’t confuse the object with self-worth.
He can also be seen as a trickster model. In this interpretation, the God takes what he wishes to take from the protagonist (in this case the entire village of Hoos) to teach an object lesson. Coyote is a good example of this. So too, is Loki.
Okay, enough of this. Read this for it’s worth, and don’t treat it lightly simply because it takes a child’s myth and interprets it. How many times have you been moved by the power of a movie or story? That is the Power of Myth working. Get to work and get your analysis done and post them. I look forward to reading them all.
Message: My mythology assignment
Author: much more serious today, – Fleury CuChulainn
Date: Dec 7, 2000 11:27
Well its no grinch story (I loved that one by the way) but here goes…
A kingly couple, much in love, had been married for a number of years yet remained childless. The people of the land became worried that an heir would never come and called upon the man to take another wife. Not wanting to give up his wife, he asked the people for one more year. This was granted and he was well rewarded with a son by his beautiful wife.
On the night the heir was born, six women were stationed in the new mother’s room to tend to her needs and keep her and the babe safe, but all six fell asleep. Upon their awakening they discovered that the babe was gone.
Not wanting to have their guilt known, for fear of losing their lives as punishment, the women accused the sleeping mother of killing her own child. They killed a newly born litter of puppies, smeared the blood on the woman’s face and hands and placed bones nearby. They wakened the poor woman with screams and shrieks and told wild tales of her devouring her own child. The druids were unable to prove otherwise and condemned her on the evidence of the six women.
Even with this condemnation and false evidence, the man could not forsake his bride so she was given a penance. For seven years she was to sit on a block outside the palace gate and carry any visitors, who would allow her to do so, inside on her back.
The whereabouts of the child was never truly discovered but it did coincide with the Beltane disappearances of colts foaled by a exceptional horse owned by one of the king’s vassals. Every Beltane, the mare gave birth but the foal was never to be found. One year, while fending off an offender’s attempt to steal the foal, a babe was found on the doorstep. The man brought it inside to his wife and they raised the child as their own.
As the boy child grew, he began to resemble their king more and more with each passing year. Deciding that the boy must be the disappeared child of their King, they made the journey to the palace.
At the gate they found the poor child’s mother, who offered to carry them in to the palace. Adamantly refusing to allow her to carry them on her back they entered the palace, and that evening presented their story to the king and explained his appearance at their home.
As they presented the boy to the woman, it was beyond doubt to everyone that this was the king’s lost child. He was welcomed back into the royal family with joy and given the name Pryderi which means trouble, for when his mother first laid eyes on him, she uttered “Trouble is, indeed, at an end for me, if this be true.”
This tale of Rhiannon and Pwyll has always been one of my favorites. Interestingly I have found a number of parallels in my examination of it… Perusing the chart in Lesson 8, Part I there is the hint of trickster in it, simply because Rhiannon and even Pwyll learned quite a lesson in humility by her sentence of penance, although it was not wrought by a joke or prank but by guilty deceit by the six women. There is also the element of judgment, especially since Pwyll intervened on behalf of Rhiannon and gave her penance rather than death.
The other thing I could not help but notice, is the similarity to the Romulus and Remus story of ancient Rome. Although the origins are different (married couple’s child stolen versus pregnant Vestal Virgin’s twins being set adrift in the river) the children are raised by country folk as their own and their noble birth was discovered later.
I guess ultimately, I would have to place this in the “Hero Redeemed” category since our beloved Rhiannon was accused of the heinous crime of killing her own child. She fulfilled her penance with honor and dignity, only to be proven innocent and reunited with her husband and son. But in my humble opinion, there is more than one hero in this tale… Rhiannon is a hero for withstanding great humiliation whilst innocent, Pwyll is a hero for believing in the innocence of his wife despite the Druids’ condemnation, and Teirnyon (the man who found and returned Pryderi) is a hero for both fostering, recognizing and then returning Pryderi to his rightful place.
I hope this is what you were looking for Daven…
My source was:
Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire published in 1975 by Newcastle Publishing Company. Yes, its a book… sorry for the lack of links! *grin*
Lesson 8 Part 3, Specific Gods
Okay, in this section we will look at some of the attributes of the Gods/Goddesses in the Celtic mythos. This WILL NOT be a comprehensive list, nor is this to be used as a primary guide in your studies. This is only to familiarize you with some of the Gods/Goddesses you will be reading about in your further studies.
Also as I type I will be dividing these by sex now. Where I typed Gods before, I will type Goddesses if I mean the female divine beings.
Okay, here we go….
The Celtic Gods and Goddesses are an interesting bunch. Mostly they are Mortals who seem to have been “promoted” to divine status somewhere along the line. While those who play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons know what it takes to become a Deity, us mortals have a harder time of that coming about.
Some of this may be due to songs and tales being told about the Gods and Goddesses, centuries and millenneia after they died. That could be part of it, but certainly not all. And generally, those deities who are divine now started out as more than just normal human beings.
For example, let us look at Lugh. Here is a god that came from out of the mists and had skills in everything. There are poems told about him saying that he had skill in weaponsmithing, fighting, sailing, poetry, shipbuilding, tactics, painting, storytelling and many other skills. He was turned away from the gates of the Tuatha De’ Dannan because they already had members of the host that could do everything he could do, but he persisted and was accepted into their ranks, because no other was so accomplished in every skill. He is, in fact, responsible for the killing of Balor, one eyed, his grandfather, of the Fomorians, a race of giants that inhabited Ireland before the Tuatha De’ Dannan landed.
But the crux of this myth is that he was mortal. He could be killed, and he had all the same attibutes of us mortals. He loved, hated, cared, wept, sang, danced, and so on. He was not a remote god, nor was he a one-attribute god either. In fact, all through out the Celtic myths, there is the implication that if we, as mortals and human, did a good enough job, we could become Gods ourselves.
And Lugh is not the only God or Goddess to become divine from mortal origins. Rhiannon of the Birds came back from a Heaven called the Bright World to teach us here on this realm some of the wisdom that she knew. To try to help us with our lives. And because in the Celtic Cycle of death, when one dies and goes to the Other planes, and progresses from there to another realm after Annwyn, she can be seen as a Goddess, but in order to be there, she had to first be mortal.
With this in mind, let us look at some of the Gods and Goddesses of the Celts. Keep in mind that we are really dealing with three separate sets of mythology here, Irish, Celtic and Gaulish. The Tain Bo’ describes parts of the Irish myth, the Mabinogion parts of the Celtic myth, but other references also describe sections that don’t appear in either of these books (a fact I didn’t know until I started researching this post.) Some of the people and places are the same, but mixed and confused.
Lugh is the Celtic lord of every skill. He was patron of Lugodunum (Lyons) in Gaul. He and his nature goddess consort (Rosmerta) were worshipped during the 30 day Lugnasad midsummer feast in Ireland. Fertility magic during this festival ensured ripening of the crops and good harvest. He was called Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his great spear and sling. His animal attributes were the raven and the lynx.
Llew Llaw Gyffes, “the Bright Lion with the Sure Hand”, son of the virgin Arianrhod. He could only be killed neither by day nor night, indoors nor out of doors, riding nor walking, clothed nor naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made. Because his mother had cursed him to have no human wife, he married a made woman, created of flowers, Blodeuwedd.
Math the Ancient – son of Mathonwy and King of Gwynedd. Brother of Don. He is a High Druid pre-eminent in wizardry. Legend told that the wind was his servant and carried the words of other men to him. Most long-lived of any of the Island of the Mighty.
Gwydion, one of the nephews of Math ap Mathonwy, and brother of Arianrhod. He contrived Gilfaethwy’s rape of the maiden Goewin, Math’s foot holder. He did this by starting a war with Pryderi of Dyfed, stealing his pigs, and thus taking Math away on campaign. But he and Gilfaethwy doubled back and Gwydion forced the other women to leave Goewin with Gilfaethwy, who raped her.
Ogma In Irish-Celtic myth, Ogma is the god of eloquence and learning. He is the son of the goddess Danu and the god Dagda, and one of the foremost members of the Tuatha Dé Danann. He is the reputed inventor of the ancient Ogham alphabet which is used in the earliest Irish writings.
Arawn The Welsh god of the underworld. The god Amaethon stole from him a dog, lapwing and roebuck with led to the Battle of the Trees, in which his forces were defeated.
Herne and the Wild Hunt – The leader of the Hunt also varies. In Celtic Britain it is usually led by Cernunnos, the horned god. In Wales it is led by Gwyn ap Nudd, and sometimes Bran. After the Anglo-Saxons had settled in England, Cernunnos became Herne the Hunter.
Branwen – The Celtic goddess of love and beauty. Also of Manx and Wales. She is the sister of Bran the Blessed and Manannan mac Lir, daughter of Lir, and wife of the Irish king Matholwch. She is similar to the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus. After the death of her brother Bran, due to a war caused by Matholwch, Branwen died of a broken heart.
Arianrhod (“silver wheel”, thus, the moon), is one of the descendants of Don. She had two brothers, Gilfaethwy and Gwydion the sister of Math ap Mathonwy, whose quality was that he required a virgin’s lap to place his feet in, unless he was at war. When this virgin was raped, Math asked for a replacement, and Arianrhod volunteered. But when she stepped over his rod, she immediately gave birth to two children: a young boy and a blob.
The Morrigan is a goddess of battle, strife, and fertility. Her name translates as either “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen,” and both epithets are entirely appropriate for her. The Morrigan appears as both a single goddess and a trio of goddesses. The other deities who form the trio are Badb (“Crow”), and either Macha (also connotes “Crow”) or Nemain (“Frenzy”). The Morrigan frequently appears in the ornithological guise of a hooded crow.
Rhiannon (her name is either “Maid of Annwn” or a variant of Rigatona, “Great Queen”), a version of the horse-goddess Epona and of sovereignity. She was mistress of the Singing Birds. She appeared to Pwyll, lord of Dyfed, as a beautiful woman in dazzling gold on a white horse.
Ceridwen is a magician who features in the mythical version of the life of the genuine bard Taliesin. Ceridwen had an ugly son, Afagddu (“ugly”), whom she wished to make wise. She brewed a magical liquid and had her kitchen boy Gwion tend it. Three drops scalded his hand and he licked them off, instantly acquiring all the knowledge. In an ancient, ancient hunt she pursued him: first she became a greyhound and he a hare, then she an otter and he a fish, then she a hawk and he a rabbit.
Blodeuwedd was created out of flowers by Gwydion to wed Llew Llaw Gyffes. She betrayed Llew, either because she had no soul, being non-human, or because she resented being his chattel, or because the triplet of one woman and two men must play itself out in Welsh myth, and Llew Llaw Gyffes must die. At any rate, she fell in love with Goronwy and, wishing to be rid of Llew, she tricked out of him the clearly supernatural and ritual manner in which only he could be killed.
Brigid – Breo Saighead, or the “Fiery Arrow or Power,” is a Celtic three-fold goddess, the daughter of The Dagda, and the wife of Bres. Known by many names, Brighid’s three aspects are (1) Fire of Inspiration as patroness of poetry, (2) Fire of the Hearth, as patroness of healing and fertility, and (3) Fire of the Forge, as patroness of smithcraft and martial arts. She is mother to the craftsmen. Sons of Tuireann: Creidhne, Luchtaine and Giobhniu.
…and there is so much more on each of these deities, as well as having more than just a few Gods and Goddesses. By my count, and this is by no means official, there are over 138 deities in the Celtic Pantheon.
Now, there are some references in this to family units, and here is where I tell you about them.
The Tuatha Dé Danann: In Irish-Celtic mythology, the Tuatha Dé Danann (“People of the goddess Danu”) are the Irish race of gods, founded by the goddess Danu. These gods, who originally lived on ‘the islands in the west’, had perfected the use of magic. The traveled on a big cloud to the land that later would be called Ireland and settled there.
Shortly after their arrival they defeated the Firbolg at the first battle of Mag Tuireadh. In the second battle of Mag Tuireadh they fought and conquered the Fomorians, a race of giants who were the primordial inhabitants of Ireland. The Tuatha Dé dealt more subtly with the Fomorians than with the Firbolg, and gave them the province of Connacht. There was also some marrying between the two races.
The Tuatha Dé themselves were later driven to the underworld by the Milesians, the people of the fabulous spanish king Milesius. There they still live as invisible beings and are known as the Aes sidhe. In a just battle, they will fight beside mortals. When they fight, they go armed with lances of blue flame and shields of pure white.
The Children of Don: As Danu is to the Tuatha Dé, so Don is to the Welsh Gods/esses. She is the mother of everyone directly or indirectly, and from her came Math and many others who eventually went on to create their own dynasties. Such as Llyr.
Interestingly enough, as happens in most mythology, Danu and Don are the same person if you go back far enough. At least, in some myths.
Okay, here is the references you need to start getting an inkling of the Gods/esses out there.
I pulled some of the information directly from these three sites, so go and look at them anyhow, because I tended to pull some of the information, but not all of it.
Message: A myth of my own creation
Author: in a creative mode – Fleury CuChulainn
Date: Dec 15, 2000 15:38
But not the creation of myself in particular… *grin* Just a quick note before I begin, this is something I did on my own. It is an amalgamation of tales I’ve heard from different cultures and of my own beliefs and it is not meant to represent anything. It is merely a tale I’ve written and wanted to share. *S* That being said, please enjoy! 🙂
Long ago, in the days of our ancestors, there lived a young woman. She was tall and slender and considered beautiful by everyone in the village, yet she lived alone. She had been of marriageable age for a number of seasons, yet she had not chosen a mate. Her parents had passed two winters previous and ever since then she had tended the family lands alone.
Many in the village thought she was a strange girl, for when she was not working she spent her days wandering alone through the fields and forests. To further the villagers curiosity, ever since her parents passed away she would often sit for hours staring up into the night sky. Even on the coldest nights she could be seen wrapped in her warmest blanket and peacefully gazing up at the night sky.
The young woman was a kind soul, even if she was strange in the eyes of the villagers. She was known to seek out women of the village and see if they needed any assistance following the birth of their babies. But the villagers always found it odd since the new mother had yet to announce the birth, the girl just always knew the baby had arrived.
As seasons flew by, the young woman grew more beautiful yet still she remained alone. “She is too picky” some would say. “She is waiting for the right man” others would whisper. Rumors had spread and gossip abounded yet no one bothered to find out why the young woman remained alone. Only one very old woman would ever point out that she did not seem unhappy being alone, but everyone dismissed her, assuming it was just the ramblings of an old woman.
One crisp evening, the old woman approached the girl as she sat outside her home. She happily offered the old woman a seat and cup of tea. The old woman sat and gazed up where the girl was just staring, seeing nothing but the stars above. “What do see when you look up there every night?” she asked. The young woman smiled and said quietly, “I see our ancestors”. The old woman was startled by such a quick but unexpected answer and with a whirl of thoughts running through her head, she returned to her home to ponder what the girl had said.
The next night she returned to the young woman’s home and was once again offered a comfortable seat and a cup of tea. This night the old woman came with many more questions and the girl answered each one simply and without hesitation. She went home again with a whole new respect for the honest and amiable character of the young woman.
On the third night, she returned to the young woman’s home to find a comfortable seat and a cup of freshly brewed tea waiting for her. This night the girl finally told the old woman why she sat outside every evening, and how she knew of the newborn babies. She revealed that her knowledge was in the stars themselves. Each star was the spirit fire of someone in the Otherworld. When a new star appeared, someone else had passed into the Otherworld and a fire was kindled when they joined their ancestors. Whenever she saw a new star above, the young woman would sing a mourning song for those left behind but would then sing a welcoming song to the new spirit star. She took solace in the stars above, for she knew that as long as she could see their beauty and feel their presence, that she was surrounded by her ancestors and would never be truly alone.
She went on to explain that whenever a star is seen streaking across the sky and disappearing, it is a fire being extinguished as the spirit of an ancestor returns to the earth to be reborn. Whenever she saw a falling star, she would make a wish for health and happiness of the newborn child, knowing it would be guided by a spirit who had been here before.
When the old woman left that night, she walked slowly home with an overwhelming sense of peace. She found herself gazing up into the heavens with a feeling of awe and oneness with the stars above, and felt grateful for having finally befriended the young woman.
The next night as the young woman gazed up at the sky, she noticed a new star directly above. It shone brightly and seemed to dance for her. In that moment, the girl realized that her elderly friend would not be joining her again but she knew that the old woman had gone peacefully into the otherworld knowing that someone was watching and would remember her always. The girl sang her songs to mourn the old woman and to welcome her to the heavens, and she looked forward to the day when she could wish upon the falling star that would bring the kind old woman’s spirit back one day…
Stars light your path.
Originally posted 2009-11-03 16:38:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter