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Author Topic: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?  (Read 2834 times)

sionnachdearg

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I do not mean this to be a silly question but  problem I have run into while trying to understand the gods and goddesses of Ireland. The more I read of the ancient Irish tales the more difficulty I have making the distinction between gods and goddesses of the Tuatha De Danann. What we have in the Irish literature written but Irish monks, describes them as learning the arts and magic before coming to the country later to be known as Eriu. In the second battle of Mag Tured there is reference that they considered their men of learning to be gods and their husbandmen as non-gods. They are subjugated by the Fomorians whom later they defeated. Dagda known as the good god was forced to do work and later overcame the oppressors. Despite being gods and goddesses they are finally defeated by the Sons of Mil. The hero's of the descendants of the Sons of Mil use the arts and magic to defeat their enemies.

The Tuatha De Danann are then found in the Sidhe as well as other spirits which are also called the fairy mounds. Here again are they gods and goddesses or something different. It is in the sidhe where the arts and magic can be learned as Cormac sees the well which the hazelnuts fall into and the salmon eat as in the case of Cormac learns the five streams flow from the fountain of knowledge. He is told that no one will have knowledge unless they drink from the fountain itself and the five streams. The people of the many arts are those that drink from them both.
In another cycle of Irish tales Finn mac Cumall accidently tastes the salmon and gains from the supernatural salmon and nothing would remain unknown to him.
It is hard to understand the distinction between the Gods/goddess, hero's and early kings were so much different from each other. I was wondering if anyone can help me see the distinction of what makes an Irish god or goddess different than the hero's and people of the Finn, Ossian cycle?

Gilbride

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2015, 08:18:21 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;174566
The more I read of the ancient Irish tales the more difficulty I have making the distinction between gods and goddesses of the Tuatha De Danann.


The problem you're having is caused by thinking of the Book of Invasions as a book of Irish pagan mythology. It isn't. It's a medieval pseudo-history of Ireland, written by Christians for a Christian readership. Because the Irish ruling families all claimed descent from one god or another, the writers of the Book of Invasions had to find a way to re-tell the story so these gods could be reinterpreted as mortals with magical powers without anyone's genealogical claims getting messed up.

Many of the characters in the Book of Invasions were originally pre-Christian gods, but many others were just made up by the authors to fill in gaps in the new genealogies linking the characters back to the Old Testament. The Milesian invasion almost certainly never existed as a pre-Christian myth in the first place. Can you think of any other mythology in the world where the gods lose a war with human beings?

Taking the Book of Invasions literally as a source of Irish mythology just doesn't work. Instead, CR folks generally study it in comparison with other sources to try to get a clearer picture of what the original pre-Christian mythology was like. The Second Battle of Moytura, for instance, is probably a lot closer to a pre-Christian myth.

sionnachdearg

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2015, 12:18:07 am »
Quote from: Gilbride;174578
The problem you're having is caused by thinking of the Book of Invasions as a book of Irish pagan mythology. It isn't. It's a medieval pseudo-history of Ireland, written by Christians for a Christian readership. Because the Irish ruling families all claimed descent from one god or another, the writers of the Book of Invasions had to find a way to re-tell the story so these gods could be reinterpreted as mortals with magical powers without anyone's genealogical claims getting messed up.

Many of the characters in the Book of Invasions were originally pre-Christian gods, but many others were just made up by the authors to fill in gaps in the new genealogies linking the characters back to the Old Testament. The Milesian invasion almost certainly never existed as a pre-Christian myth in the first place. Can you think of any other mythology in the world where the gods lose a war with human beings?

Taking the Book of Invasions literally as a source of Irish mythology just doesn't work. Instead, CR folks generally study it in comparison with other sources to try to get a clearer picture of what the original pre-Christian mythology was like. The Second Battle of Moytura, for instance, is probably a lot closer to a pre-Christian myth.

 
I can understand that the Irish texts are corrupted but so were Norse texts. My question is how do we know who were the gods and goddesses. We have Dagda controlled by Eochu Bres who is part Fomoire and part Tuatha. In addition the Tuatha are controlled by the Fomorians until the later are defeated. What appears central to these characters is the knowledge of the arts/magic. Later Lug comes to Tara and what distinguishes him most of all is in his knowledge of all of the arts/magic. What seems to be most common about the gods/goddesses is their knowledge of the world and the arts and magic they control. These arts are also learned by the druids who use the magic as much as warrior combat to have control. These arts/magic we are told are found in the land as in the fountain, the five rivers, the hazelnuts, and the Salmon. The arts could be learned. This is the impression I have been getting from reading these tales on the whole rather than isolated sections of any one description in the tales. This to me makes the Irish gods/goddesses much different than those of the Greek/Roman and from the Jewish god. Any thoughts about these differences?

Gilbride

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2015, 08:45:15 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;174660
My question is how do we know who were the gods and goddesses. ...The arts could be learned. This is the impression I have been getting from reading these tales on the whole rather than isolated sections of any one description in the tales. This to me makes the Irish gods/goddesses much different than those of the Greek/Roman and from the Jewish god. Any thoughts about these differences?


They are mostly artifacts of the same process I described before. The authors couldn't portray these entities as gods, so they portrayed them as powerful druids. In pagan times, some of them were certainly gods, not just mortals with magic. And the Fomoire are gods too- they're just cthonic gods or anti-gods. How do you know which ones are gods? By reading lots and lots of research on the topic. But the following were definitely gods:

Dagda
Oengus
Nuada
Morrigan
Brigid
Lugh
Manannan
Boann
Ogma
Goibniu
Diancecht
The "Three Gods" (Brian, Iuchar, Iucharba)

MattyG

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2015, 01:49:36 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;174578
The problem you're having is caused by thinking of the Book of Invasions as a book of Irish pagan mythology.

I want to specify that it's not a book of ancient Irish pagan mythology. As a modern Irish-inspired pagan, I actually find the book very useful in describing my relationship with the gods and my place in the universe. That is to say, I see humans as coming to prominence in the world through our mastery of the arts (as represented by Amergin's magic) and our developing a productive relationship with the land (as represented by Eriu). The resolution of the war, in which humans form a contractual relationship with the gods, also seems appropriate from my understanding. Additionally, the fact that the motivating factor for the son's of Mil to invade was an act of inhospitality on the gods' part both describes the fact that we and the gods are both bound by the same universal laws as well as poetically describes (in my opinion) how tragedy drives growth.

So, while the ancient Irish didn't actually have many of these myths, I would argue that they can still be deeply meaningful in a Celtic worldview and, in my opinion, may even express truths that the ancient Irish may not have been aware of.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2015, 01:50:56 pm by MattyG »

Gilbride

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2015, 02:29:24 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;174686
So, while the ancient Irish didn't actually have many of these myths, I would argue that they can still be deeply meaningful in a Celtic worldview and, in my opinion, may even express truths that the ancient Irish may not have been aware of.


I can see that, sure. But personally I can't work with the idea of the humans conquering the gods.

MattyG

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2015, 01:41:21 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;174690
I can see that, sure. But personally I can't work with the idea of the humans conquering the gods.

 
I can see that. I mostly rationalize it as humans allying with the goddesses of the land (Ériu, Banba, and Fódla). I don't think that we could defeat the gods without having pretty powerful goddesses on our side. The goddesses give sovereignty to whom they will, and I doubt that it will stay with us for forever.

sionnachdearg

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2015, 11:31:17 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;174748
I can see that. I mostly rationalize it as humans allying with the goddesses of the land (Ériu, Banba, and Fódla). I don't think that we could defeat the gods without having pretty powerful goddesses on our side. The goddesses give sovereignty to whom they will, and I doubt that it will stay with us for forever.

 
Can it not be that the power comes from the land which is personified by the Female goddess? The sons of Mil had to give up their gods/goddesses and accept the female goddess to enter onto the land by acknowledging the land as Eriu.
In the book Celtic gods and Heroes the author points out that they are gods because they are sorcerers.  only the artisans who are those that share the knowledge by which the divine race enjoys its powers are then gods. There is a connection between knowledge of the arts/magic and the status of god/goddess.
This puts the true power in the land which is certainty not a concept brought in by Christianity and I do not remember it to be an aspect of Roman beliefs although my knowledge in roman or greek beliefs is limited.

MattyG

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2015, 01:10:01 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;174767
Can it not be that the power comes from the land which is personified by the Female goddess? The sons of Mil had to give up their gods/goddesses and accept the female goddess to enter onto the land by acknowledging the land as Eriu.

 
I wouldn't say that they give up their gods though. I see it as establishing a contract-based relationship with them. The gods inhabit the Otherworld and allow men the privilege of inhabiting the world (represented by Ireland), and we maintain a working relationship in which we make the appropriate offerings as a kind of rent and the gods provide fertility and social order.

sionnachdearg

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2015, 11:58:02 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;174673
They are mostly artifacts of the same process I described before. The authors couldn't portray these entities as gods, so they portrayed them as powerful druids. In pagan times, some of them were certainly gods, not just mortals with magic. And the Fomoire are gods too- they're just cthonic gods or anti-gods. How do you know which ones are gods? By reading lots and lots of research on the topic.

The more I read the more different the Celtic gods/goddesses become. The problem I had when I began trying to understand the Celtic deities came from my preconceptions of the Greek/Roman deities who had as I understand a social order and division of responsibilities. From what I have read Caesar tried to apply this to the Celtic gods/goddesses without much success or with indifference to the Celtic deities. From what I understand he ran into tribal gods/goddess without the division instead a single god/goddess could represent war, arts, fertility, knowledge.  The Celtic deities were very different with one being more important to that particular tribe. In addition the names may have been more of a title when compared to the Roman deities as in the case of Dagda. This title meaning the good god is one of many titles he was called or the different titles depending on the different tribe. This could mean the collection of gods and goddesses as represented in the Irish mythological cycles may be less of a collection of deities seen as a related family but rather a collection of deities of different tribes later presented as a cohesive group.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2015, 09:42:45 pm by SunflowerP »

sionnachdearg

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2015, 12:31:01 am »
Quote from: Gilbride;174673
They are mostly artifacts of the same process I described before. The authors couldn't portray these entities as gods, so they portrayed them as powerful druids. In pagan times, some of them were certainly gods, not just mortals with magic. And the Fomoire are gods too- they're just cthonic gods or anti-gods. How do you know which ones are gods? By reading lots and lots of research on the topic. But the following were definitely gods:

Dagda
Oengus
Nuada
Morrigan
Brigid
Lugh
Manannan
Boann
Ogma
Goibniu
Diancecht
The "Three Gods" (Brian, Iuchar, Iucharba)



I apologize about my last post. I accidently deleted the second quote which made it look confusing so here it is corrected.
 The more I read the more different the Celtic gods/goddesses become. The problem I had when I began trying to understand the Celtic deities came from my preconceptions of the Greek/Roman deities who had as I understand a social order and division of responsibilities. From what I have read Caesar tried to apply this to the Celtic gods/goddesses without much success or with indifference to the Celtic deities. From what I understand he ran into tribal gods/goddess without the division instead a single god/goddess could represent war, arts, fertility, knowledge. The Celtic deities were very different with one being more important to that particular tribe. In addition the names may have been more of a title when compared to the Roman deities as in the case of Dagda. This title meaning the good god is one of many titles he was called or the different titles depending on the different tribe. This could mean the collection of gods and goddesses as represented in the Irish mythological cycles may be less of a collection of deities seen as a related family but rather a collection of deities of different tribes later presented as a cohesive group.

Sophia C

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2015, 03:52:34 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;175185
I apologize about my last post. I accidently deleted the second quote which made it look confusing so here it is corrected.
 The more I read the more different the Celtic gods/goddesses become. The problem I had when I began trying to understand the Celtic deities came from my preconceptions of the Greek/Roman deities who had as I understand a social order and division of responsibilities. From what I have read Caesar tried to apply this to the Celtic gods/goddesses without much success or with indifference to the Celtic deities. From what I understand he ran into tribal gods/goddess without the division instead a single god/goddess could represent war, arts, fertility, knowledge. The Celtic deities were very different with one being more important to that particular tribe. In addition the names may have been more of a title when compared to the Roman deities as in the case of Dagda. This title meaning the good god is one of many titles he was called or the different titles depending on the different tribe. This could mean the collection of gods and goddesses as represented in the Irish mythological cycles may be less of a collection of deities seen as a related family but rather a collection of deities of different tribes later presented as a cohesive group.

 
I think you're probably right there. And I think that, on the whole, modern Pagans inspired by Irish myth don't go as far as they could in researching local gods and other evidence that goes beyond the myths. Not all, of course - but many don't. The myths are a relatively late rendering of what is probably a whole mix of sources from various areas. This may have been linked to the creation of Ireland as a political entity, from what I've read, whereas before it was many smaller kingdoms where local customs and stories would have varied from place to place. How many Pagans know about the gods of local areas? My area of interest is Munster - modern Cork and Kerry plus some other areas - where some of the local gods include Dovinia (probably - though she may have been a tribal ancestor of some kind) and Inghean Bhuidhe and her sisters. These weren't deities that I'd heard of at all until I started doing research into local stories and archeological evidence. In short, I don't think we can be at all sure about who the gods of the ancient Gaelic tribes were, and the myths certainly don't do more than give us some possible pointers.
"We're all stories, in the end. Make it a good one, eh?"
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Gilbride

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2015, 09:28:11 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;175185
From what I have read Caesar tried to apply this to the Celtic gods/goddesses without much success or with indifference to the Celtic deities.


Everything you've written here is correct, except that Caesar's comments on Gaulish religion are more helpful than they first appear, particularly if you apply them to one specific local area. Caesar says:

"Among the gods, they most worship Mercury. There are numerous images of him; they declare him to be the inventor of all arts, the guide for every road and journey, and they deem him to have the greatest influence for all money-making and traffic. After him they set Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva."
 
This is actually strongly supported by the archeological evidence from Gaul, if you read it this way:

"The Celts show the most reverence to deities with a wide range of talents and skills. They also worship youthful deities with power over diseases, tribal war gods, sky and thunder gods, and a class of goddesses who inspire artistic and creative endeavors."

If you apply that analysis to any given tribal area it holds up remarkably well.

sionnachdearg

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2015, 12:03:25 am »
Quote from: Gilbride;175190
Everything you've written here is correct, except that Caesar's comments on Gaulish religion are more helpful than they first appear, particularly if you apply them to one specific local area. Caesar says:

"Among the gods, they most worship Mercury. There are numerous images of him; they declare him to be the inventor of all arts, the guide for every road and journey, and they deem him to have the greatest influence for all money-making and traffic. After him they set Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva."
 
This is actually strongly supported by the archeological evidence from Gaul, if you read it this way:

"The Celts show the most reverence to deities with a wide range of talents and skills. They also worship youthful deities with power over diseases, tribal war gods, sky and thunder gods, and a class of goddesses who inspire artistic and creative endeavors."

If you apply that analysis to any given tribal area it holds up remarkably well.

 
Glidas in 540 to 547 may have also given us some insight despite written after the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. "Nor will I call out upon the mountains, fountains, or hills, or upon the rivers, which are now subservient to the use of man, but once were an abomination and destruction to them, and to which the blind people paid divine honors'," cries Gildas.  This distinguishes the relationship of nature to man as Gildas sees nature subservient to man but the local population sees man subservient to nature despite the conversion.  

In addition another monk  Kentigern rebuked the Cambrians for worshipping the elements, which God made for man's use. Again this distinguishes the nature of the relationship of man and natural elements they lived in.

Also St Patrick questions the daughters of Loegaire which shows the different relationship of the Celtic gods and nature. "Is he in heaven or on earth, in the sea, in the rivers, in the mountains, in the valleys?"  The words suggest a belief in divine beings filling heaven, earth, sea, air, hills, glens, lochs, and rivers

Like Caesars comments on the Celtic gods/goddesses, these examples also shed light in the different relationship of the Celtic gods/goddesses to the natural surroundings. They show the residual difference in the sacredness of the land and natural surroundings compared to the Christian view that god was separate from the natural surroundings and those surrounding were put there for the use of mankind. To me this shows a fundamental difference between pre-Christian Celtic view of the land and the new Christian view of the land.

Tanbrid

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Re: What makes an Irish god/goddess distiguishable as a god/goddess?
« Reply #14 on: June 12, 2015, 04:32:17 pm »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;174566
It is hard to understand the distinction between the Gods/goddess, hero's and early kings were so much different from each other. I was wondering if anyone can help me see the distinction of what makes an Irish god or goddess different than the hero's and people of the Finn, Ossian cycle?

Basically everyone kind of needs to decide these things for themselves. You can do research and find out if there is a historical record of a cult to Deity X, while plenty of other names in mythology don't have evidence of this- we can make guesses and notice similarities in other cultures, look at later folklore about saints and wonder if there are local goddesses that were syncretized with them and so forth. Some names might be literary creations. And some heroes and kings might of been historical people and some of them weren't. But say, if you decide to honor Edain as a goddess or spirit (whether she had a historical cult or not) and you have a spiritual experience- you got in contact with *something* that answered to that name and mythic imagery. Your experience is no less valid.

The Ossianic cycle by the way was claimed to be ancient by the dude who wrote it but it wasn't. So in my opinion it could still be a literary source of inspiration (like say, a Morgan Llewellyn novel)
« Last Edit: June 12, 2015, 04:33:31 pm by Tanbrid »

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