Also spelled Gaibhne, pronounced variously as GIV-noo, GWIV-noo, or GIV-neh. His name means something akin to “Clever Smith.” Goibniu has many names in oral folklore, including Gobaun Seer, or Goban Saor (“Goban the Builder”), and Gavida Mac Samhthiann. He again pops up as Lon the Smith of the Tuatha De Danann who is described as having a prosthetic third arm that he crafted for himself, possibly an homage to Grecian Hephaestus. Although there are several smith gods among the Tuatha De Dannan, including Brigid and Dian Cecht, Goibniu seems to be designated as the official smith of the Irish gods.
He appears in the Welsh lore as Gofannon son of Don, and Glwydden Saer, who crafts the farming implements of his brother Amatheon, the Welsh deity of farming. Several place names in Wales are attributed to Gofannon. He appears as Gobannus among the Continental Celts.
Goibniu forms a trinity with the brother gods Luchta and Credna as the Three Gods of Art, the Trí Dée Dána. His wife, who remains unnamed, is said to be buried in the passage tombs around Drogheda, County Louth Ireland. Goibniu’s father is either Esarg or Tuirbe Trágmar, the Thrower of Axes, and he is the brother of Dian Cecht and Nuada. Brigid is his mother.
In later stories, Goibniu crafts arms for the Irish folk heroes, the Fianna. In addition to a smith god, he is also a cook, using fire to make wonders in the forge and also at the hearth. He is often referred to as a god of hospitality and feasting, and his magical feast, called the Fled Goibnenn, not only fed the Tuatha De Danann, but also provided immunity from sickness and old age. The Ale of Immortality, which is described as the beverage of choice for heroes such as Aengus and the Dagda, is said to be his own recipe. Instead of becoming intoxicated, the more one drinks his brew, the more youth, vitality and mental clarity are restored – truly a tonic for the ages! Brewing is also associated with Brigid, strengthening his ties to his mother.
Goibniu owned a magical giant cow, Glas Gaibhnenn, for who he had crafted a magical bridal, and who is described as having various colours – sometimes white, grey, green or even blue, depending on what story she appears in, or what storyteller is describing her. Her name was also spelled Glas Ghaibhleann, Glas Gaivlen, Gloss Gavlen, Glas Gamhain and Glas Gamhach. Old Glassy would be her modern nickname. She could produce an enormous quantity of milk, and the number of tales passed along of her rival even her milk production in abundance! Balor is often trying to capture her, and the smith endeavors to steal her back in an endless cycle before the battle of Mag Tuired. Many place names throughout Ireland are associated with her resting place and refer to her owner.
In the Lebor Gabala Erenn Goibniu died along with Dian Cecht of a plague. In another story, he is impaled by Ruadon son of Brigit (named as his brother?), but Goibniu defeats him. His name is found invoked in a healing spell in the St. Gall Incantations for help in protection or removal of “thorns”, likely referring to to slivers.
Thoughts on Goibniu
Goibniu is commonly associated with Greco-Roman Hephaestus, Saxon Wayland and Norse Völundr, all of whom likely descend from a common Indo-European origin. To ancient peoples, blacksmiths were a sort of general handyman, making hardware for homes and farm equipment, shodding horses, and producing weapons. Their importance to any thriving community was such that they had a central role in village life, and often had a strong influence on their neighbours. Smiths were magicians, using science in ways that were unknown to lay folk.
As discussed with the goddess Boann, cattle were the primary form of currency in the ancient Celtic world. Goibniu’s sacred cow would have made him a very wealthy god. Paul Bunyan of American folk tales, although thought to be derived from Norse folklore, is accompanied by his own magic cow, Babe the Blue, which brings to mind Goibniu and Old Glassy.
Signs and Symbols
Blacksmithing tools and blacksmiths. Cows and cattle. Hospitality, feasts, and ales. The Ale of Immortality.
Gaibhne, Gobaun Seer, Goban Saor, Gavida Mac Samhthiann, Lon the Smith, Gofannon, Glwydden Saer, Gobannus