Druidism Guide Page Three: Lore
by Brendan Cathbad Myers


The Celtic people believed in a variety of gods and goddesses, although not every Celtic nation believed in the same group. Ireland had different gods than Wales, who had further different gods than Gaul. Another point to consider is not only were gods known by different names, but many of the names were deemed too holy to pronounce aloud. (thus the common oath: “I swear by the god my tribe swears by”.)

It is important to remember that in the pre-Christian times, the people believed in complex and imperfect gods who, like human beings, had personalities, interests, and feelings. A religious professional would be required to know these things in order to avoid angering them, thereby risking the welfare of the tribe. Because the Gods are similar to humans in disposition and temperament, they are so much more accessible and comprehensible. The idea that the gods might be makers of morality and judges of humanity is a foreign idea to most ancient European peoples. Some of the gods are simply the beings who live in and with natural forces, landmarks, special places, weather events, animals, and so on, and who are controllers of their movements and dispositions. Others are the tribal deities of particular tribes or nations, who sponsor that tribe and support it in various ways. A tribal deity may be seen as a distant divine ancestor, who confers special benefits upon the best of his mortal descendants, especially including the benefit of access to divine knowledge and power through one¹s family lineage. As a general rule, although there are exceptions, male deities look after human tribes and communities, and female deities dwell in landforms and the forces of nature.

The Tuatha de Danann (Tribe of the Goddess Danu) was the name of the Irish pantheon, for the Gods were descended from Her. Ironically, Danu herself never makes a personal appearance in the myths, but perhaps she is already everywhere, like the land. Certainly, some European rivers are named after her like the Danube and Dneiper, and the Don river in Toronto, Canada. Stories of the Gods are found primarily in the story of the two [Readings] Battles of Mag Tuireadh (or Moytura), where they won the sovereignty of Ireland from the race of Fomorians. With the introduction of Christianity, the old Gods lost status and power and became the Sidhe, or faeries, and many Druidic ideas evolved into the Faerie Faith.

  • Lugh Lamh-fada (Long Handed), Son of the Sun, father of Cu/Chullain. He is known by many names, such as Lleu in Wales, and Lugos in Gaul, and appears to be one of the few pan-Celtic deities. He bears the epit het “Samildanach”, or “Master of Crafts” and on account of this Dagda stands down and allows him to command the armies of the Gods at the battle of Moytura. He is more commonly known as “Lamhfada”, or “God with the Large Hand”, and as such has numerous counterparts in other Indo-European cultures, including the Hindu culture.
  • Dagda the Good (good not because of his moral disposition but because of the diversity of his skills) He is King of the Tuatha de Dannans, most of the time, and is father to many of the Gods. He possesses a magical club that can heal the dead or slay the living, and also posesses a cauldron that can feed unlimited numbers of people.
  • Nuada Argat-lamh (Silver Hand) twice king of the Dannans. Nuada lost his hand in the Battle of Moytura, and had it replaced with a mechanical hand by Dian Cecht. He has a counterpart in the Norse God Tyr, who is also missing a hand, though for a different reason.
  • Morrigu, Babd, and Nemhain (a triple goddess of War, and also connected to sovereignty) A powerful Goddess. Morrigan is responsible for choosing who will die in battle. To the Iron-Age Celts, this means she chooses who will pass into the Otherworld. One of her more grisly omens is the Washer at the Ford, where she appears as a maiden wringing blood from the clothes of the hero who is destined to die that day. Her sisters are named Babd, “Frenzy”, and Nemain, “Eater of the dead”.
  • Brigid (a triple Goddess of Fire, Poetry, and the Forge). She is christianized as Saint Bridget. Perpetual fires were kept blazing for Her and never allowed to go out. Brigit’s Crosses (a cross with three or four arms, woven from reeds) were hung over the hearth of the home, and Her blessing invoked in the preparation of forged items, food, and other commodities requiring fire. She is also a fertility deity, as she assists in childbirth of animals and of people; her Christian symbolism casts her as the midwife of Christ. The festival of Imbolc is sacred t o her, and the folk would often leave bits of cloth outside their back door for her to touch and bless as she travelled abroad through the night.
  • Diancecht, god of healing. His name translates roughly as Dia- “God”, and Cecht- “of the plough”. He crafted a magical well which would ressurect to life anyone thrown into it, although the Fomorians filled it with stones. His children were great healers in their own right; Miach, his son was a better surgeon (a slight for which Diancecht killed him) and his daughter Airmud was a master herbalist.
  •  Manannan mac Lir, God of the sea and master of magic. His name survives in the Isle of Man. Manannan is also a pan-Celtic deity, at least among the British Isles. In His realm, the Sea, are found the many magical islands that populate the Celtic Otherworld. The Sea is the Sky to him. In this way his concern is not merely the sea but also of the passages to the Otherworld, of which he is the guardian. His many titles include “Lord of Mists”, “Lord of the Land of Women”, “Lord of the Land Beneath the Waves”. In the Christian period, worship of Manannan was probably transferred to Saint Michael.

    Welsh mythology tends to focus on the actions of heroes, and their interaction with gods. The primary source is the Mabinogion, a compendium of legends from Wales’ mythic time. Some scholars thin k the Mabinogion more accuratly describes medaeval Wales rather than Iron-Age Wales; nevertheless it is a valuable source for Welsh-Celtic mysticism. Your author would like to admit that since he specialises in Irish and Scottish folklore his grasp of Welsh deities is weak.

  • Arawn, lord of the Annwyn (the Otherworld).
  • Math ap Mathonwy, the quintessential wizard. Math requires a virgin to rest his feet upon, apparently to prevent him from contacting the Earth and thereby losing his power.
  • Pwyll, lord of the kingdom of Davyd, and husband of Rhiannon.
  • Arianhrod: She is the Goddess of Caer Arianhrod, which is sometimes identified with the constellation Coronea Borealis (“Northern Crown”), which is where the souls of slain heroes go. Her name means “Silver Wheel”, which may also refer to the constellation, or to the Wheel of the Year that is celebrated at each of the Fire Festivals.
  • Rhiannon, (wife of Pwyll) Goddess associated with horses and the Underworld. She is the great Goddess with whom Pwyll is joined as a sacred king.
  • Cerridwen, mother of the poet Taliesson (and perhaps therefore a patroness of poets). She possesses a cauldron in which a magical wisdom-granting brew can be concocted.
  • Lyr, god of the sea
  • Manawyddan, the Welsh counterpart to the Irish Manannan.

    Gaulish deities are the focus of Caesar’s records. He drew analogies between six of his own Roman gods and those he “discovered” in Gaul. The archeological record in Gaul reveals 374 god-names, many of which were gods of individual tribes or locales, or the many names used to describe the same deity.

  • Lugh (Roman= Mercury)
  • Belinus (Roman= Apollo)
  • Taranis (Roman= Mars) a thunder god
  • Teutatis (Roman= Jupiter)
  • Brigid (Roman= Minerva)
  • Cernunnos (Roman= Dispater) the Animal Lord or Green Man, and probably the God depicted on a panel of the Gnudstrup Cauldron. (see Symbols)
  • Esus, Hu’Hesu, the perpetually Dying God
  • Epona, the Horse Goddess, with attributes of fertility for mares and women.

    Also of note is the deity Herne the Hunter, a Saxon god popularly revered in the Mediaeval times and likely evolved from the worship of Cernunnos. Like Cernunnos, Herne is a male hunter-god, making his home in deep forests, having stag antlers on his head, and also associated with animals and with fertility. His image is likely the origin of the Horned God (see Symbols and Wicca ) worshipped by modern Wiccans. Cernunnos (and Herne) have a Hindu counterpart in Shiva, who is depicted surrounded by animals and named Pasupati, “Lord of Animals”, in a rare excavation discovered in Mohenjodaro, India.

    Not all Druids worship the gods by name. There is some (albeit historically unreliable) evidence that the Druids of old believed in a kind of universal Life Force, flowing from a central place (such as the Irish Well of Wisdom or the Welsh Spiral of Annwyn), to and from all living things. Such a force would presumably be superior to even the gods. Perhaps the best modern description is Obi-Wan’s description of “The Force”, from the famous Star Wars films by George Lucas. If this force has a name in Celtic literature, that name is Truth. A number of heroes use a declaration of Truth to work some magical change in the world, and some magical artefacts respond to the Truth around them. One classic example is Cormac’s Cup, which would shatter into three pieces of three lying words are told near it, and mend itself if three true words were told.


    There was a series of fire-festivals, occurring at approximately 12-week intervals, and spaced between the seasonal festivals of solstices and equinox (thus, a festival roughly every six weeks.) These fire-festivals would last three days, beginning at sunset on the first day, and would be the best time for sacrifices and divinations. They are:

  • Samhain (1st November: pronounced SOW-win) The word literally means “end of summer”. Traditionally, it is the Feast of the Dead, and beginning of the new year. Death came before Birth in the Druidic cycle of life, because before new growth can occur, there must be room for it. On this day it was thought that the boundary between this world and the Otherworld is weakest, and so passage between the worlds is smoother, and as they might be listening a little closer it is a time to remember and respect all those who died during the year. Games, feasts, and bonfires were held in honour of the dead, and often the Faeries would hold revels of their own, and invite mortals to join them. At Samhain, every fire in Ireland was extinguished and re-kindled from the “need fires” that were lit at the ritual centers of Uisneach and Tara, distributed by runners with torches.
  • Imbolc (1st February: pronounced IM-volk) The Return of Light. The ewes begin lactating around this time of year, and it is a sign that winter is coming to an end. In the British Isles spring flowers are already blooming at this time of year. Perhaps divinations were cast to determine when spring would come (from this practice we might have got Groundhog Day.) Imbolc celebrates the coming springtime and preparations for the planting season are begun. In Anglo-Saxon and Wiccan culture, Imbolc is sometimes called Candlemas. Imbolc was sacred to the Goddess Brigid, and the rituals on this day tended to center upon the home and hearth.
  • Beltaine (1st May: pronounced BEL-tain-yuh) The Fires of Bel. Spring has arrived, and the people give thanks. This was a day of fertility and life, often the choice day for marriages. This is the beginning of the summer half of the year, and the mid point of the seasonal cycle. Fairs, dances, and divination games to determine the identity of future marriage partners were held at this time of year, and often there would be a minor baby boom nine months later…
  • Lughnasad (1st August: pronounced LOO-na-shav) The Feast of Lugh. The essential harvest festival, to give thanks to the Earth for Her bounty. The name is a reference to the Irish god Lugh of the Long Hand, son of the Sun, who defeated Balor in the Battle of Magh Tureadh and won the knowledge of animal husbandry for His people on this day. Lugh is said to have instituted funeral games for his foster-mother Taltiu who died in the battle against Balor; accordingly, Lughnasad festivals in celtic times were characterised by atheletic competitions. In Anglo -Saxon and Wiccan culture, this festival is called Lammas, or “loaf-mass”, as it celebrates the end of last year’s harvest and the beginning of the current harvest.

    I understand that Australians, and other residents of countries in the southern hemisphere who celebrate these festivals, do it in reverse order, because these dates are for northern-hemisphere seasons. It would make sense for them to celebrate Beltaine on 1st November, for example.

    In Wales, there was an annual festival called the Eisteddfod, which was a bardic musical and poetry competition. It still exists, alternating between North and South Wales. It is against the rules of the modern Eisteddfod to speak any language but Welsh on the performance stages!

    During these ancient festivals, great bonfires were built on hilltops and kept burning throughout the whole of the fire festivals. By day, there would be carnival-like celebrations, and by night, serious rituals. Cattle were driven between bonfires to purify them, and couples would run and leap over the flames, often completely naked, also for purification (and it was fun!) Some sites were centers for the “perpetual chant”, where Druids in rotation would chant incantations without stop; during festivals the entire community would join the chant.

    Astronomical celebrations (the solstices and equinox) have only passing reference in the source literature (that is, the myths, Caesar, etc.), and so would appear to have less importance in the Celtic cosmology, but astronomical alignments are found everywhere in the archaeology, particularly in the archaeology of the neolithic pre-Celtic culture. There are hundreds of stone circles, round barrows, menhirs, etc. with solar, lunar, and stellar alignments.

  • 16. WHAT IS OGHAM?

    Ogham is the Goidelic Celtic alphabet. It has twenty letters, grouped into four “aicme” of five letters each. A fifth Aicme was invented later to account for sounds in latin that do not occur in Gaelic. On the archeological artifacts where Ogham has been found, which are mostly in Scotland and Ireland, the letters appear as horizontal strokes and slashes across a vertical base line, which is typically the corner edge of an upright standing stone. They are read from the bottom up. They do not appear as the arabic characters we use in modern Indo-european languages, such as english. Ogham is often used as an oracular divination tool, in much the same way that Norse runes are employed. Letter Name Tree First Aicme B Beth (BETH) Birch L Luis (LWEESH) Rowan F Fearn (FAIR-n) Alder S Saille (SHAL-yuh) Willow N Nionn (NEE-uhn) Ash Second Aicme H Huath (HOO-ah) Hawthorn D Duir (DOO-r) Oak T Tinne (CHIN-yuh) Holly C Coll (CULL) Hazel Q Quert (KWAIRT) Apple Third Aicme M Muin (MUHN) vine G Gort (GORT) Ivy Ng Ngetal (NYEH-tl) Reed St Straiff (STRAHF) Blackthorn R Ruis (RWEESH) Elder Fourth Aicme A Ailm (AHL-m) Silver Fir O Onn (UHN) Furze, or Gorse U Ura (OO-rah) Heather E Eadha (EH-yuh) Poplar I Idho (EE-yoh) Yew

    Ogham is often used as an oracular divination tool, in much the same way that Norse runes are employed. Virtually all the Ogham inscriptions that exist are burial monuments, property divisions, or landmarks. The University of Cork has an excellent collection of them. There is not enough evidence to claim that Ogham was used as an magical tool by ancient Druids, however, many modern Druids do use it for that purpose. We do know that each letter in the Ogham alphabet was also the name of a tree, as modern Druids also use the Ogham, but we have no way of knowing whether there was a mystical meaning associated with each tree.

    17. WHAT IS A GEAS?

    A Geas (pronounced “GESCH”) is a kind of magical obligation, prohibition, or taboo that a person may possess. Some modern Druids use the Geas as a kind of curse, a magical “binding” or “blockage of energy” (to prevent someone from doing something). But the Geas that the characters of Celtic mythology possess is much different from that. It is usually imposed on magical people such as sacred kings, Druids, and great heroes. As it is the sacred king’s duty to maintain the peace and prosperity of society, and as he is married to the local land Goddess, his life is surrounded and infused with magic. The geas upon him are there to help him avoid unbalancing that magic. Great heroes could also be bound by geasa, and so long as the hero observes his geasa he will be successful and victorious.

    There are several ways to receive a Geas. A parent can grant one to her children at birth, a king or Druid can impose one upon a criminal as a punishment, or a Druid can determine by oracular means what Geasa a person already has. In heroic mythology there is a trend in which male heroes receive their Geas from women, as in the cases of Cu Chullain and Diarmaid ua Duibhne. A hero may lose a gamble of cards or a chess game to a hag, and she imposes a geas upon him as her reward for winning. Typically a geas of that kind is a requirement to go on a quest or to perform some impossible task.

    The risk of breaking Geas is great. For some, to break a Geas would result in the loss of one¹s honour and social esteem. (Thus it is impossible to use a Geas to “curse” or “bind” someone who already has no honour.) For others, especially magical people like Druids or kings, to break a geas is to act contrary to the forces of nature, and the result is the death of the person, or some other great social catastrophe. Knowing this, many heroes met their end when their enemies discovered the heroes’ geas and plotted a situation in which it was impossible to avoid breaking them. For example, Cu Chullain was under a geas not to eat the meat of dogs, and also to always sample food being prepared at a roadside. On the day he was killed in battle, he stopped to sample some food according to his geas but it was dog meat, and so he could not avoid breaking one or the other geasa.

    Each geasa is unique and appropriate to its possessor. Cu Chullain’s prohibition against eating dog meat is related to his name, “the Hound of Cullain”, so it would seem that for him to eat dog meat would be a kind of cannibalism. This personal and intimate aspect is why the geas is so serious to those who possess them, and why they are usually kept secret.

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    Two more Cathbad pages:

    Druid Guide page 4 and page 5


    Copyright @ 2008 Brendan Myers
    Captured from Web.archive.org June 18, 2008 — http://web.archive.org/web/20080618101308/www.wildideas.net/cathbad/pagan/dr-guide3.html