Also known as The Dagda, his name means “The Good God” as in “Great” or “Good at all things.” He is also depicted as a benevolent and generous deity. In the Irish mythological texts, he sides with humanity against the Fomorians, a rival tribe of gods who represent chaos and parallel the Germanic Jötnar of Norse Mythology.
Dagda is one of the chieftains of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Irish gods of civilisation, and is one of the three great champions of his tribe, along with Lugh and Oghma. His brothers are Nuada and Oghma, and the latter may be his twin. His wife is the goddess Morrigan, and Boann is his mistress. He is the father of several deities, most notably Aegnus with whom he seems to have a close relationship.
He has many titles and names, including Eochu and Eochiad Ollathair meaning “Horse Father” and “All-Father.” Other titles include “The Fertile One,” “Mighty Lord” and “Lord of Knowledge”. His various names speak to his role as an ancestral deity of many Irish human tribes. Among the Brythonic Celts in Wales he referred to as Dagda-Don, or simply Don. He is thought to have lived on in Irish Christian lore as the figure of Crom Dubh.
The Romans associated Dagda with Dispater (Hades), as Dagda was a god of prosperity, the Otherworld, and an ancestral deity of the barrow mound. Like Dispater, the dead live on with Dagda in the Underworld under the burial mounds of Celtic lands in a mythical land of riches. Archeological finds attributed to Dispater in Celtic lands in the Roman period may actually be of significance to Dagda, and historians sometimes refer to him as ‘Gaulish Dispater.’ Like fellow Dispater-ised deity Cernunnos, one of Dagda’s titles is “The Horned Man” or Fer Benn.
Although Celtic deities have overlapping, non-exclusive domains (most Celtic deities are associated with healing, for instance) several of Dagda’s domains are quite clear and distinct: he is a Father Earth figure and tribal chieftain. Dagda is a god of agriculture, strength, masculine sexuality, and fertility. As a god of growing things he is also a weather deity – a god of both earth and sky, much like his Germanic parallel, Thor. He is a god of the seasons, associated with the cycle of the year and of time. Depicted as middle-aged, bearded, burly giant of a man, Dagda is a mature god of wisdom, Druid lore and magic. He is a god who can both grant life and take it away.
The Dagda wields one of the four sacred treasures of the Tuatha, the Coire Ansic, a cauldron which produces a never-ending supply of food. His many other treasures include his prodigious club, the Lorg Mor which can end nine lives in a single blow, or with a tap, it can restore the dead to life. His oaken harp, Uaithne has the power to sway human emotions, to turn the seasons and keep natural harmony and order. Dagda also has two magic pigs which returned to life, continually providing food. His sacred trees never cease producing fruit.
Dagda is sometimes depicted with a large phallus and/or club. His ‘club’ was said to be so large that he had to drag them along the ground, dredging ditches and creating property lines and land markers. The picture we get of the Dagda is often humorous. Celtic deities, like other polytheistic gods are not beyond reproach, and humorous depictions do not equate denigration; At the same time, Christian scholars played up his oafishness to discredit his significance as a wise and chiefly god.
He is associated with many places in Ireland. His spirit is said to dwell in the sidh (fairy mound) of Brú na Bóinne in Newgrange, as well as Uisneach – the spiritual centre of Ireland. Brú na Bóinne predates the Celts, having been built by an earlier people, however they revered this site a as a sacred place, sometimes described in lore as the central point of their known universe. Dagda’s descriptions have drawn contemporary comparison with the Cerne Abbas Giant earthwork in Dorset England, whose origin and age remains a mystery. Out of other contenders for this figure, Ogma stands out – Dagda’s brother god, with whom Dadga and Nuada may form a trinity.
When they came to Ireland, the Tuatha Dé Danann overthrew the Fomorians, the chaos gods. In this conflict, Dagda strategized to deprive the Fomorians of resources, including their sheep, and he united with the Morrigan, the goddess of death. On Samhain, the sacred time between Summer and Winter, the god of life and the goddess of death made love. Afterwards, the goddess prophesied the victory of the Tuatha. The battle left many casualties in both tribes, with the Fomorian chieftain Balor and the Tuatha king Nuada both slain. Dagda was gravely wounded and was laid to rest in the sidh of Brú na Bóinne. After his death, his spirit lived on within the mound and was consulted by those visiting the site.
Thoughts on Dagda
The Dagda is depicted as something of an unruly wild man and is identified with earlier Gaulish deities Cernunnos and hammer-wielding weather and agriculture god Sucellus, who’s name means “Good Striker” (also one of the Dagda’s many names). In addition to his big club, Sucellus is depicted with a drinking cask or beer barrel. The Romans syncretised Sucellus with Silvanus, along with Cernunnos. This is a round-about way of suggesting associations between the mysterious Cernunnos and the better-attested Dagda.
Dagda has striking parallels with the Norse thunderer. Both Dagda and Thor wield powerful clubs, which are also their phallic symbols, both are slayers of chaos forces (Fomorian/Jötunn) and are associated with the mighty oak. Both gods define and divide property boundaries. Both are associated with storms and weather and are petitioned to for good farming.
Both Dagda and Thor have animals who can eternally be eaten and restored to life – Dagda his pigs and Thor his goats. Dagda possesses a magical cauldron, and Thor wins a magical cauldron from the giant Hymir. Like Thor, Dagda has an enormous appetite and is tricked by giants into taking part in a bogus feast meant to deceive the god. Like Thor he is larger than life, jolly and vivacious. Distinct from what we currently know of Thor, The Dagda was a god of what would be considered ‘Druidic’ lore. As such he had mastery over magical arts, various sciences including astronomy, meteorology, medicine, herbology, genealogy, law, philosophy, politics, and military stratagems.
Dagda also bears a resemblance to another Germanic deity – Freyr. Both Freyr and Dagda are associated with fair weather, pregnancy, animal husbandry, and fertility of the land. Like Freyr, Dagda is barrow-mound king, and consults his people from the mounds. Like Freyr, Dagda is associated with the turning of the seasons, the ploughing of the fields, and both gods are proclaimed chieftain/king of the fairies/elves.
It is probable that they are all convergent evolution, descendants from an earlier Indo-European deity. Dagda is wed to the Morrigan, the goddess of death; their union at Samhain symbolises the coming together of the god of life with the goddess of death at the seasonal shift. Similarly, Thor is a life god and his wife Sif is thought to be the goddess of Autumn, her golden cut hair the falling of the leaves of the trees. Also similarly, Freyr courts the Winter goddess Gerð, a frost giant who symbolises the chasteness of Winter, with Freyr the impregnating warmth of the spring sun. Since most of the Æsir have assembled from separate regions, all three of these gods – Dagda, Freyr, and Thor – may all be regional variations of the same god from earlier times.
Dagda is connected with Samhain, the day suspended between the Summer and Winter, when the dead can roam the earth freely. This day commemorates Dagda’s union with three wives: the Morrigan, Boann, and an unnamed Fomorian – and it is Irish lore that Samhain is a lucky time to become pregnant.
In his role of divine husband, attention has been given to Dagda’s relationship with Boann, and the place deemed sacred to them both Brú na Bóinne (“the Palace of Boann”) a megalith in North Eastern Ireland. Like fellow divine husband Freyr, Dagda is often associated with the sun, while not directly named a sun god per se. The Brú na Bóinne cave is aligned with the Earth’s movements around the sun, and very accurately predicts the Winter Solstice. On this day, the sun’s beams penetrate into the narrow passage of the Brú. It has been remarked by observers that the sight is evocative of sexual penetration. The shafts of sunlight possibly relate to the Dagda’s phallus, and the cave of Boann her womb, the Solstice perhaps represents the union of sky father and earth mother. It is from their union that the god of love is born, who is also associated with the Bru, Aegnus.
Although there is debate around the origins of the Cern Abbas Giant in England, many see in the chalk figure associations with various deities, including Dagda.
Signs and Symbols
Clubs, staves, maces, and phallic symbols and motifs. Oak trees and acorns. Feasts and large quantities of food, as well as cauldrons. Chieftains and kings. Paternal and father motifs (perhaps Father’s Day for the modern practitioner?). Samhain, burial mounds and barrows. The Cerne Abbas Giant. Harps.
Eochu, Echuid, Eochaid Ollathair (Horseman, Great Father, or Horseman All-Father), Ruad Rofhessa (Mighty one, Lord of Great Knowledge), Daire (Fertile One), Aed (Firey One), Deirgderc (Red Eye, as in the sun), Fer Benn (Horned Man), Cera (Creator), Cerrce (Striker), Easal, Eogbal, Don, Dagda Donn.