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Friday, November 23, 2012

An Dagda

  One of the most well known Gods of the Tuatha de Danann is the Dagda. He can be found under many variations of the name and under many by-names, such as Daghdae, Dagdai, Daghdo, Daghdou, Dagdae, Dagdhua, Dagdhae, Dagda Mor, Dagda Donn and Eochaid Ollathair, Ruad Rofessa, Aedh Alainn, Aodh Ruadh Ro-fessa; usually the definitive article "the" is added before Dagda (Gray, 1983; O hOgain, 2006). The name Dagda itself is an epithet which means "Good God", implying a God good at all things. This name is gained during the second battle of Maige Tuired when he promises to do as much as all the other Tuatha De have said they will do in the fight (Gray, 1983). His by-names tell us a great deal about him as well: Eochaid Ollathair "Horse-lord Ample Father", Ruad Rofessa "Red man of Knowledge (specifically Druidic or Occult), Aedh Alainn "Fiery Lustrous One" (O hOgain, 2006). People inclined to look at the Dagda as a more neopagan type Father God should bear in mind the actual connotations of "Good God" as well as the more restricted translation of Ollathair, as there is no direct evidence that he was previously seen as the literal father of the Gods, but rather as prolific. In fairness to that view, however, O hOgain does suggest that the Dagda can be connected to the "Dis Pater" father deity that Caesar claims the Gauls believed they descended from (O hOgain, 2006). Additionally the text of the Cath Maige Tuired provides a long list of names for the Dagda, after he is challenged to give a ride to a Fomorian princess and replies that he has a geas preventing him doing so unless she knows his full name. She asks him three times for his name and on the third request he replies: "Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe" (Gray, 1983). O hOgain suggests tha the name Dagda comes from the root Dago-Dewios, a cognate with other Indo-European sky gods such as Zeus, and also through this and  his imagery to the Gaulish Secullos (O hOgain, 2006).
    In some sources the Dagda is said to be the son of Elatha and married to the Morrigan, although he is also known to hve fathered at least one child with Boinn. His children vary by source but are usually  given as Angus mac Og, Cearmait, Aodh Caomh, Conan, Midir, Bodhbh Dearg, Ainge, and Brighid; in one later example Dian Cect is also said to be his son (O hOgain, 2006). His sons often die after trying to obtain a woman who is not available; only Angus successfully marries the literal woman of his dreams Caer Iobharmheith. This may connect the Dagda to the concept of passion or of sexual envy, as he himself fathered Angus on another man's wife. He is also sometimes said to be the brother of Nuada and Ogma (O hOgain, 2006).
   The Dagda is generally described as being a large man, sometimes comically so, with a tremendous appetite and immense capacity. It was said that to make his porridge he needed 80 gallons of milk as well as several whole sheep, pigs, and goats, and that he ate this meal with a ladle large enough to hold two people lying down (Berresford Ellis, 1987). Some modern sources describe him as red-haired, possibly relating to the name Ruad Rofessa, and describe his clothing as a short tunic, sometimes obscenely short. He is considered to be generous, wise, and bigger-than-life in his appetites (O hOgain, 2006). He is often described as immensely strong and able to complete great feats such building a fort single-handedly or clearing 12 plains in a single night.
   The Book of Lecan states that the Dagda ruled for 80 years as king of the Gods after the death of Lugh, but other sources state that he was killed fighting Ceithlinn at the second battle of Maige Turied (Smyth, 1988). This is later explained with a story saying that he took a wound in the battle that took 80 years to kill him, but that is clearly an attempt to unify the varying tales into a coherant whole (O hOgain, 2006).  He was said to be a master of Druidic magic and to possesses several magical objects. It was the Dagda who held the cauldron of abundance brought from Murias, one of the four treasures. He also owned a great club that was so large it had to be dragged on wheels behind him; it is said that one end of the club could kill 9 men with one blow, while the other could heal (Berresford Ellis, 1987; O hOgain, 2006). His horse was Acein (ocean) and the Dagda possessed a harp whose playing changed the seasons. This harp was stolen by the Fomorians and the Dagda along with Nuada and Ogma had to journey to recover it, possibly indicating its importance to maintaining the order of time and the seasons.
   The Dagda is associated with Brugh na Boynne and also with a site in Donegal called Grianan Ailigh as well as Leighead Lachtmhaighe in Clare, Cnoc Baine in Tyrone and O Chualann in Wicklow (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). It is said that it was the Dagda who delegated each of the sidhe to the Tuatha de after their defeat by the Milesians, possibly at Manannan mac Lir's suggestion (O hOgain, 2006). The Dagda originally lived at Newgrange (Burgh na Boynne) but was tricked out of the site by his son Angus. He is also particularly associated with Samhain, when he was said to unite with the Morrigan; this is also the time that he united with the Fomorian princess, also gaining her assistance against her own people in the battle.
   In general the Dagda is associated with leadership, wisdom, strength, abundance, fertility, generosity, and Druidic magic. O hOgain posits that the descriptions of him as swift may indicate that he was believed to be a God who responded quickly to his followers, and he also relates him to the sun and solar imagery (O hOgain, 2006). In some modern groups he is associated with the Norse Gods Thor or Odin, with valid arguments for both connections, and as mentioned he may also be associated with Secullos or the Roman Dis Pater. When I honor him I prefer to offer dark beers or ales, and I have also recreated a version of the porridge described as his in the Cath Maige Tuired (although in much smaller quantity). Although I dislike the modern way that authors describe him as "the God of the Druids" I do tend to associate him with Druidic magic and, tentatively, see a symbolic connection between his club and the Druidic staff. I have also come to believe that his comic appearance is a balance for his immense wisdom and power, on some symbolic level.

 Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired.
 O hOgain, D., (2006). The Lore of Ireland
 Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
 Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). A Dictionary of Irish Mythology


  1. In modern spelling, An Dea-Dia.

    In the dinnseanchas of Mag Muirthemne, he is said to destroy a sea monster (muirselche = "octopus"), smashing it on its head with his "Mace of Wrath" (Lorg Anfaidh). This is parallel to a number of other Sky Father gods who defeat a serpent or sea monster by striking it on the head with a club, mace, or hammer. The parallels between the Lorg Anfaidh and other such blunt weapons possessed by Sky Father gods (killing with one side and healing with the other, for instance) point pretty clearly to the original status of Rua Rofheasa as having been the Gaelic reflex of the Sky Father figure.

    1. Also, the literal translation of muir-selche is "sea-hunter".

  2. Great article. Also in my book, "Ogham: The Fire In The Head " (by Daniel Levie ) I posit that the Dagdas club may be the Ogham itself with the power of death at one end (yew=death) and the power of rebirth at the other end (beithe=life) with all the the Ingham between.