Celtic Mythology – Is There a Celtic Pantheon?

History and Mystery, Mythology

In different kinds of mythology, there are gods of war, the gods of the sea, gods and goddesses of fertility, and so on. Many mystical deities rule and are in charge of various elements of the earth and the cosmos. 

There are also names for different pantheons of gods and goddesses. For example, the Greeks have the Olympians; the Norse have the Aesir & Vanir. Both of these are pretty well known – but what about the Celts? To be clear Celtic myths are not limited strictly to the people of Ireland. Celtic is a term that many people assume relates solely to Ireland. Celtic describes people and ancient tribes across Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany, and the Isle of Man. In Celtic mythology, you have the Tuatha De Danann (pronounced Thoo-a day Du-non). The Tuatha De Danann are the most well-known pantheon in Celtic mythology despite not being as popular across the world as Norse or Greek mythology.

The title Tuatha de Danann means: People/Tribe of Danu. 

Danu was one of the most notable Goddesses of Celtic Mythology. She is often known as a divine creator goddess or a mother goddess. However, the issue with Celtic mythology is that much of the legends and stories were lost over time. There is not one single creation or cosmogony myth that is widely accepted in Celtic mythology. 

Art by Maxine Miller Studios

Some of the legends say that the Tuatha De Danann were not the first people to inhabit Ireland. Some say that there were several generations before the magical Tuatha De Danann fully occupied Ireland. From what folklore tells us, the Tuatha De Danann almost had a war with a group of entities called the Fomorians. Like the Tuatha De Danann, the Fomorians were also a supernatural race of people in Irish mythology. Fomorians were usually hideous, monstrous, and sometimes even giant-like. 

After avoiding and escaping wars with the Fomorians, the Celts migrated farther north of Ireland to some empty islands and populated four mythical cities – each city had druids who were knowledgeable in different types of magic and lore. The druids taught the Tuatha De Danann the secrets they knew of magic and tradition. Once the Tuatha De Danann had learned everything the druids offered to teach them concerning the art of sorcery and magic, they returned to Ireland.

Art by John Duncan

When the Tuatha De’ Danann returned to Ireland, they did not go home empty-handed. They brought treasures back with them from those mystical cities that included:  The Sword of Light (once drawn from its sheath, no one can escape this sword),  The Spear of Lugh( a powerful weapon of the sun god which offered the ability of protection during battles, and whoever carried this spear would remain undefeated),  The Stone of Destiny also referred to as the Coronation Stone (the stone would scream out a joyous cry whenever the rightful King of Ireland would step upon it. AND, the stone can be found at the Inauguration Mound on the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland today), and last – but not least, there was the Cauldron of the Dagda, which was able to provide the Tuatha de Danann an endless amount of nourishment.

When the Tuatha de Danann arrived on the shores of Ireland, they intended to stay put this time and not leave. They burned all of their ships as a way to remove any chance of leaving; led by their King whose name was King Nuada. King Nuada was a righteous and honorable first King of the Tuatha de Danann. The only problem they faced when returning to Ireland was that the Firbolg inhabited the land. The Firbolg were another race of mystical and supernatural beings. The Tuatha de Danann told the Firbolg to give up at least half of Ireland – if not, there would be a war.

The Firbolg did not take lightly this threat, and there ended up being a battle between the two. After four days of bloodshed, the Tuatha de Danann won and took back their Ireland. The Firbolg were eventually offered a single region or province after the wars. During that great battle, King Nuada lost his right hand as it was mercilessly cut off by one of the Firbolg. This resulted in King Nuada losing his throne and being replaced by Bres. King Nuada had a new hand made of silver, which then gave him the name King Nuada of the Silver Hand.

King Bres was half Fomorian, so it was only natural for him to side more with monstrous beings than that of Tuatha De’Danann. Fomorians can be compared as similar to Jotuns (Giants) of Norse Mythology. Once Bres became the King he turned the Tuatha de Danann into his slaves. Bres ruled over the Tuatha de Danann for seven long years, and eventually, King Nuada reclaimed his throne. Bres was very displeased with being usurped from his reign and he asked Balor – King of the Fomorians for assistance in fighting against the Tuathade’Danann as retaliation. Balor agreed to help Bres and offered a large army as help. Unfortunately, King Nuada, the first King of the Tuatha de Danann; was killed during the battle by Balor.

It is said in the folklore that his death would be avenged by the mighty sun god Lugh. Lugh also came across Bres during this battle and offered to spare his life only on the condition that Bres would share his knowledge about agriculture with the Tuatha de Danann. Lugh became the new King, and the Fomorians were forced to go back to the undersea civilizations. As with many stories of mythology, it seems that some battles are never-ending. The Tuatha de Danann faced another challenge by battling against a group called the Milesians. 

The Milesians tried to invade Ireland and a battle broke out between the two groups. This resulted in the Tuatha De’Danann making a peace treaty with the Milesians. It was agreed that the Milesians would rule the land above, and the Tuatha De’Danann would rule the land below – which was the spirit world also known in Celtic mythology as the Otherworld. This is another huge reason why the Tuatha De’Danann as a pantheon is associated with magic and spiritual beings and entities. Throughout history, the Milesians would later become known as the Irish, and the Tuatha de Danann were referred to as Sìth or aos sí (pronounced “she”) which means people of the mounds.

The aos sí is the ancestors of spirits of nature, gods, and goddesses. Some believe that they still walk the earth among us. The Otherworld was often described as a place of everlasting youth and was the main home of the gods & goddesses. In many tales of Celtic mythology and folklore, some heroes have visited the Otherworld and have been lucky enough to do so and it is said to have changed their lives forever. The Otherworld was and is a very important and magical place in Celtic lore. Although most of the information of Celtic & Irish mythology has been lost due to the spread of Christianity and the Roman Empire,

Many efforts have been made throughout history to preserve this information. As with other parts of European mythologies, most of it was written by Christians years after the ancient stories and myths originated.

Celtic & Irish folklore are rich in different tales of heroes, villains, and creatures alike. Many famous stories include tales of Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill), Leprechauns, Faeries, Banshees, Dagda’s Harp, Changelings, The Pooka, The Hound of Culann, Blodeuwedd, and more!





2 thoughts on “Celtic Mythology – Is There a Celtic Pantheon?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s