Tag Archives: Ireland

Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice, or Midwinter, is celebrated around the world by a variety of cultures.  It marks the shortest day of the year (the longest night), and when the sun is at its lowest on the horizon.  This usually occurs around December 21-22 in the Northern Hemisphere.  From that point onwards, the days continue to grow longer until Midsummer in June.  In Celtic countries, the Winter Solstice was seen as a time of rebirth and renewal, as signified by the return of the light.

The Celtic Midwinter is also known as Meán Geimhridh or Grianstad an Gheimhridh in Irish.  Solstices and equinoxes were thought to be very important to the pre- and early-Celtic people, as seen through the construction of several tombs whose passages align with the solstice sun, such as Newgrange.  These solstices were seen as occurring at the midpoint of each season, hence the name ‘Midwinter’ for the Winter Solstice.

In Druidic traditions, this day is known as Alban Arthan, which means ‘Light of Winter’ in Welsh.  Some also call it Alban Arthuan, or ‘Light of Arthur’, which pays homage to the Welsh legends of King Arthur.  Alban Arthan signifies the time when the archetypal Holly King (who rules from Midsummer to Midwinter) is defeated by the Oak King (who rules from Midwinter to Midsummer) in a great battle.  The Holly King, also seen as a wren bird, signifies the old year and the shortened sun, while the Oak King, also seen as a robin, signifies the new year and growing sun.  Mistletoe is also a symbol of the Winter Solstice, as it was thought that Druids revered the plant as ‘ever green’, which signified continued life over the cold dark winter.  Since mistletoe is thought to be an aphrodisiac, this is where the holiday tradition of ‘kissing under the mistletoe’ could have originated.

In Ireland, Wales, and the Isle of Man, a festival called Lá an Dreoilín, or Wren Day, is celebrated on December 26.  It involves boys dressed in masks or straw suits, called Wrenboys, parading around town accompanied by musicians.  Originally they would hunt and kill a wren, in tribute to the light overcoming the dark, and carry the bird from house to house, stopping for food and good cheer.  Thankfully this tradition now involves using a fake bird.

In Scotland, winter festivities are held on the eve of the New Year, when there is a great celebration called Hogmanay.  It is thought that the Christian church was trying to suppress the pagan solstice celebrations in the 17th century, therefore the festivities moved to the coincide with the new year.  The name Hogmanay could have derived from the Scottish Gaelic word for ‘Yule gifts’.  Hogmanay customs include ‘first-footing’ (trying to get your foot first in a doorway of neighbours houses after midnight), ‘redding’ (spring cleaning), torchlight processions, fireball swinging, as well as giving gifts of coal, shortbread, whisky, or a black bun (fruit pudding).

Wiki – Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan

© The Celtic Journey (2013)



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The World of Stonehenge

Neil Oliver, archaeologist and presenter of several BBC documentaries, has created a wonderful series that is highly entertaining and informative.  (It doesn’t hurt that he has a cute Scottish accent!) Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of Great Britain, particularly Celtic history.

A History of Ancient Britain, Series 1, BBC 2 (2011)
aka The World of Stonehenge, Knowledge Network, USA

Image: A-History-of-Ancient-Britain-Series-1-Cover.jpg

Tapping into the latest scientific detective work and experimental archaeology, Neil Oliver uncovers the story of prehistoric Britain in this fascinating four-part series. Investigating famous sites, as well as little known ones (which hold some of the biggest secrets), Neil travels to Brittany to discover Carnac, where farmers and hunter-gathers clashed 7,000 years ago, to Ireland, where he finds the world’s most extensive Stone Age system of fields and walls, and to Stonehenge, the sacred stone circle where the living could commune with the dead.

  • Age of Ice – Neil Oliver travels back to ice age Britain as he begins the epic story of how our land and its people came to be over thousands of years of ancient history. This week sees a struggle for survival in a brutal world of climate change and environmental catastrophe.
  • Age of Ancestors – Neil Oliver continues the story of how today’s Britain and its people were forged over thousands of years of ancient history. It’s 4,000 BC and the first farmers arrive from Europe, with seismic consequences for the local hunter-gatherers.
  • Age of Cosmology – Neil Oliver continues his journey through the world of Ancient Britain as he encounters an age of cosmological priests and some of the greatest monuments of the Stone Age, including Stonehenge itself. This is a time of elite travellers, who were inventing the very idea of Heaven itself.
  • Age of Bronze – Neil Oliver reaches the end of his epic tour of our most distant past with the arrival of metals and the social revolution that ushered in a new age of social mobility, international trade, and village life.

A History of Celtic Britain, Series 2, BBC 2 (2011)
aka The World After Stonehenge, Knowledge Network, USA

Image: A-History-of-Celtic-Britain-Cover.jpg

Neil continues his landmark investigation of how Britain and its peoples came to be. Over the course of four episodes, he tells the story of a developing nation, from a population of self-sufficient farmers in 500 BC through the Iron Age and the Roman conquest. He also addresses one of the greatest mysteries of history: who, what and where were the Celts? They may never have existed as a genetic people, but as a culture the Celts generated extraordinary riches – warriors, druids and the first kings.

  • Age of Iron – Diving for 3,000-year-old treasure and pot-holing through an ancient copper mine he discovers how a golden age of bronze collapsed into social and economic crisis set against a period of sharp climate change… eventually to be replaced by a new era, of iron.
  • Age of Warriors – Neil Oliver explores the age of Celtic Britain – a time of warriors, druids, and kings of unimaginable wealth. Neil encounters a celebrated warrior from 300 BC, owner of the finest Iron Age sword ever discovered. He tries his hand at divination in an effort to discover the power of Celtic priests and searches into his own DNA for clues to Celtic identity.
  • Age of Invasion – Neil Oliver explores the remains of brutal Iron Age battles and Celtic rebellion as he reaches the moment when Celtic Britain was ripped apart by the world’s great empire – the Roman army.
  • Age of Romans – Neil Oliver completes his epic journey through thousands of years of ancient history with the modern marvels of Rome. Digging beneath a London tower block, discovering building work from a massive stadium, and encountering the remains of an African woman who lived in York 1800 years ago – all evidence of the extraordinary multicultural modern world of Rome.

DocuWiki – A History of Ancient Britain Series 1, A History of Celtic Britain
Knowledge Network – The World of Stonehenge, The World After Stonehenge

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The triskele, or triskelion, is an ancient symbol consisting of three interlocking spirals, or sometimes three bent human legs.  The name is Greek for ‘three legged’ or ‘three times’.  The triskele can be found at several Megalithic and Neolithic sites around Europe, and has strong connections to the pre-Celtic art of the La Tène culture.

File:Celtic Bronze Disc, Longban Island, Derry.jpg

The triskele can be found on a number of pre-Celtic megalithic sites, including Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne), the ancient astrological passage tomb dated to around 3,200 BCE.  Here, the triple spiral motif is found carved on the passage and entrance stones as well as several of its surrounding curbstones.


Later, the triple spiral was incorporated into the Insular art of illuminated manuscripts from Ireland, such as the Book of Kells, resulting in a connection with Celtic culture that still is still seen today.

The triskelion appears in many other cultures and regions, such as Sicily (called ‘trinacria’), the Isle of Man, Brittany, and some parts of Germany.  It is also found on Mycenaean vessels, Lycaean coins, and on warrior’s shields on Greek pottery.

File:Flag of Sicily.svg File:Flag of the Isle of Man.svg

The spiral triskele is also a symbol of several polytheistic reconstructionist and Neopagan groups.  Celtic Reconstructionists use the triskele to represent the triplicities in their cosmology and theology, such as the connection between Land, Sea and Sky.  The triskele is also associated with the Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir and the triple goddess Brigid.


The triple spiral is also called the ‘spiral of life’, symbolizing life, death and afterlife.  The Celts believed that all things moved in eternal cycles, and the triskele reminds us of the cycle of life.

Wiki – Triskelion, Triple Spiral

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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Pangur Bán

Pangur Bán is a 9th century poem written in Old Irish.  In the poem, the Irish monk compares his work with the antics of his white cat Pangur Bán, ‘white fuller’.  The poem can be found in the Reichenau Primer, which is kept at St. Paul’s Abbey in the Lavanttal in Austria.  The Secret of Kells also features a white cat named Pangur Bán who fled the island of Iona with his owner, a white haired monk, during the Viking invasions.

Several translations of the poem exist, with one such translation below.

I and Pangur Bán, my cat
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.


‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.


Wiki – Pangur Bán


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Ogham (OH-am) is an ancient alphabet used to write Old Irish and other Brythonic/Brittonic languages (such as Pictish, Welsh) from about the 3rd century CE.  The Ogham alphabet is sometimes called the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet’ as each letter is assigned a tree or plant name.  However, this was probably done after the initial creation of the Ogham script.

After about the 6th century CE, the Roman alphabet was used to write Old Irish, therefore the Ogham alphabet declined in popularity.  However, the 14th century Book of Ballymote (Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta) contains genealogies, mythologies, and histories of Ireland written in Ogham script.

File:Book of Ballymote 170r.jpg

The Book of Ballymote also contains older manuscripts which contain Ogham script, such as the 11th century Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) and the 7th century Auraicept na n-Éces (The Scholars’ Primer).  Another important document that contains detailed descriptions of Ogham is the 14th century In Lebor Ogaim (The Book of Ogams, The Ogam Tract), which is mentioned in Auraicept na n-Éces.

Several of these manuscripts describe how the Ogham alphabet was invented soon after the Tower of Babel (along with the Gaelic language) by the Scythian king Fenius.  However The Ogam Tract states that the alphabet was created by the Irish god of communication and writing, Ogma/Oghma (Ogmios in Gaul).

File:Kilmalkedar Ogham Stone.JPG

Ogham inscriptions have been found throughout Ireland and western Britain.  Most ancient inscriptions are found along the edges of large stone slabs and consist of personal names, such as ‘X son of Y’, probably as territorial markers or memorials.  It is thought that Ogham letters would have also been inscribed on sticks, stakes and trees.  Bilingual inscriptions have been found which aid in translation, such as Ogham and Latin, or Ogham and Old Norse (written in the Runic alphabet).

Originally there were 20 Ogham characters (feda), divided into four groups (aicmí) of five.  Each aicme was named after its first letter:

Aicme Beithe – “the B Group”
Aicme hÚatha – “the H Group”
Aicme Muine – “the M Group”
Aicme Ailme – “the A Group”

A fifth group, forfeda, was added after the 6th century, probably due to changes in the Irish language.

The Ogham alphabet (vertical)

The alphabet is generally written vertically from bottom to top, mostly found inscribed on stone slabs.  However horizontal script is also found, written from left to right, mostly in manuscripts.  The letters are linked together by a solid line.

In his book The White Goddess, Robert Graves discusses the Ogham alphabet in reference to Celtic religious beliefs and ceremonies.  He proposes that the order of Ogham letters form a calendar of tree magic, with each letter corresponding to a Celtic month.

  1. Beith (Birch)        December 24 to January 20
  2. Luis (Rowan)      January 21 to February 17
  3. Nion (Ash)           February 18 to March 17
  4. Fearn (Alder)      March 18 to April 14
  5. Saille (Willow)    April 15 to May 12
  6. Uath (Hawthorn) May 13 to June 9
  7. Duir (Oak)           June 10 to July 7
  8. Tinne (Holly)      July 8 to August 4
  9. Coll (Hazel)         August 5 to September 1
  10. Muin (Vine)        September 2 to September 29
  11. Gort (Ivy)            September 30 to October 27
  12. Ngetal (Reed)     October 28 to November 24
  13. Ruis (Elder)         November 25 to December 22

December 23 is not ruled by any tree, it is the traditional day in the “Year and a Day” in early courts of law. 

Robert Graves followed the older interpretation of ‘Beith-Luis-Nion’ as the first three Ogham letters.  However most modern scholars place the order of Ogham letters as ‘Beith-Luis-Fearn’.

Oghams are also used by Neopagans as divination tools, as mentioned in the Tochmarc Étaíne, from the Irish Mythological Cycle.  Ogham symbols are written on sticks or other pieces of wood and thrown on the ground, studying the symbolism of where they fell.

Witch of Forest Grove

Witch of Forest Grove

Wiki – Ogham
Omniglot – Ogham
Ancient Scripts – Ogham
Celtic Tree Calendar

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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Nuada of the Silver Arm

Nuada Airgetlám, Nuadu, Nodens (Gaulish), Nudd / Ludd / Lludd Llaw Eraint (Welsh)

Nuada was the first king the Tuatha Dé Danann, equivalent to the Gaulish Nodens and Welsh Nudd/Ludd.  He was also called Nuada Airgetlám (Nuada of the Silver Hand/Arm) or Lludd Llaw Eraint (Lludd of the Silver Hand).

Nuada was the god of the sea, healing, and warfare, linked to the Roman gods Mars and Neptune, and also the Norse god Týr/Tir.  He is also associated with the sun, youth, beauty, writing, sorcery and magic.

Nuada is associated with the Invincible Sword, the Sword of Light, one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  It was crafted by the poet (fili) and wizard Uiscias/Uscias in Findias, one of the ancient great cities of the Tuatha Dé.  The sword was thought to only inflict mortal blows when drawn, cleaving its enemies in half.

Nuada was king of the Tuatha Dé Danann before they arrived in Ireland.  Upon reaching the emerald isle, they met the Fir Bolg, and challenged them to battle after unsuccessfully bargaining half the land for themselves.  This was the First Battle of Mag Tuired, in which Nuada lost his hand/arm to the Fir Bolg champion Sreng.  The Tuatha Dé Danann won the battle, and Sreng and the Fir Bolg were granted a quarter of the island, of which he chose Connacht.

Since Nuada lost an arm in battle, he was no longer allowed to rule, as Tuatha Dé Danann kings must be physically perfect and ‘unblemished’.  He was replaced by the half-Formorian Bres, who was quickly found unfit by rule by the Tuatha Dé people for his tyranny.

Nuada’s brother Dian Cecht and the wright Creidhne crafted a beautiful silver arm for Nuada that would allow him to once again be king.  Bres was removed from the throne, which led to the Second Battle of Mag Tuired.  By this time, Lugh had joined Nuada’s court, and was a fierce opponent to the Formorians.  During the battle, Nuada was killed by the Formorian Balor of the Evil Eye, however was avenged by Lugh who then killed Balor.  Lugh then took over as king of the Tuatha Dé Danann and reigned for many years.

Wiki – Nuada
Wiki – Tuatha De Danann
Wiki – Four Treasures
Pantheon – Nuada

© The Celtic Journey (2013)



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Ireland – The Mythology

Although much of pre-Christian mythology in pagan Ireland did not survive the conversion to Christianity, manuscripts written in medieval times attempted to preserve this important history.  Books such as the 12th century Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow) and the Book of Leinster helped scholars identify several cycles of Irish history; the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle and the Historical Cycle.


The Mythological Cycle, also known as the ‘Golden Age’ of Irish mythology, is one of the least preserved of the cycles, but I see as one of the most interesting.  The Book of Invasions, Lebor Gabála Érenn, written in the 11th century, tells the story of the ‘taking of Ireland’ with a combination of history, mythology, folklore, and Christian-inspired flair.  It tells of the six successful cycles of invasions in Ireland starting with the Irish creation myth.  The first three invaders were the Cessair, Partholón, and Nemed people.  A group of exiled Nemesians from Greece, called the Fir Bolg, were next to invade.


After only a short time, a group of exiled Nemesians from the North came to Ireland and challenged the authority of the Fir Bolg.  These fair-haired people were known as the Tuatha Dé Danann, or “children of the Goddess Danu”.  They were known to have great magical knowledge and a priestly class of people called Druids.  They carried with them four magical treasures; the Sword of Nuada, the Spear of Lugh, the Cauldron of Dagda, and the Stone of Fal (Lia Fáil), or the Stone of Destiny.

The Tuatha Dé Danann battled the Fir Bolg, eventually pushing them into exile.  However the Tuatha Dé Danann King, Nuada, lost an arm in battle, deeming him unfit for the throne.  A half Formorian King, Balor the Evil Eye, took the throne, leading to a battle between the Formorians and the Tuatha Dé Danann.  This resulted in the death of Nuada by Balor, with Lugh the Long Arm taking the throne.  The Tuatha Dé Danann enjoyed a prosperous reign, which is thought to correspond to the Bronze Age in Ireland.

The Book of Invasions ends with the Milesians, or Sons of Míl Espáine, the first Gaelic speakers and probably the earliest “Celtic” people.  They are thought to have brought iron to Ireland, representing the beginning of the Iron Age.  During their invasion, the wives of the Irish High Kings, and matron Goddesses of Ireland, Banba, Fodla and Ériu, asked that the new land be named in their honour.  The name Éire remains a poetic name for Ireland today.  The Tuatha Dé Danann were exiled underground, where they represent the sidhe, or faery folk, of Ireland.

The next literary cycle, the Ulster Cycle, takes place around the time of Christ in the Ulster and Connacht regions of Ireland.  This is also called the ‘Heroic Age’, as many tales are devoted to the heroic actions of Conchobar mac Nessa and the great hero Cú Chulainn, the son of Lugh.  The main story of the Ulster Cycle is the epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley or The Táin.  The Táin tells of the story of Queen Medb (Maeve) and King Ailill of Connacht attempting to steal the prized bull Donn Cuailnge, with the Ulster hero Cú Chulainn saving the day.


The Fenian Cycle takes place around the 3rd century CE in the Leinster and Munster regions of Ireland.  Mainly from the manuscript Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Old Men), the Fenian Cycle contains stories about the famous Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) and his enemy Goll mac Morna.  Two famous stories from the Fenian Cycle include Oisín in Tír na nÓg and Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne, most likely the source of the story of Tristan and Iseult).

The Historical Cycle, or the Cycles of the Kings, records the history of High Kings of Ireland, from the mythical Labraid Loingsech around 431 BC, to the historically accurate High King Brian Boru in the 11th century.

File:Tara stone.jpg

The Hill of Tara, Cnoc na Teamhrach, was noted in the Book of Invasions as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.  Although it is uncertain whether the hill held the same significance throughout the ages, archaeological evidence prove that the area had been used since Neolithic times.  The Hill of Tara is also the site of the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, one of the treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

Although the legendary capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann and seat of high-kingship over the ages is not used as a seat of power today, the Irish still seek to preserve this important site.

Pagan’s Path – Celtic History
Pagan’s Path – Lebhar Gabhála Éireann
Wiki – Lebhar Gabhála Éireann
Wiki – Irish Mythology
Wiki – Hill of Tara

© A Year And A Day (2013)


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Ireland – The History

While Ireland today is dominantly Roman Catholic, its ancient history lies in pagan roots which gave rise to an interesting mythology of powerful Deities, invasions, and magic.

File:Wenceslas Hollar - Ireland (State 2).jpg

Irish settlement began after 8,000 BCE with post-Ice Age Mesolithic people settling much of the land. These hunter-gatherers later adopted agriculture, farming and cattle raising, which led to an increased dependence on the seasons and calendar year.


The Neolithic Stone Age saw a great number of megaliths built across much of the British Isles, some of them astronomically aligned such as the Brú na Bóinne complex of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth (ca. 3,200 BCE). Cairns and dolmens were also built around this time to house the remains of their dead.

The Bronze Age saw Ireland flourish with wealth by means of industry and trade, with the first tools and weapons being forged from this new metal.  Hill forts and ring forts started to appear, including ‘crannogs’ surrounded by water.


From about 600 BCE, the first Celtic/Gaelic people came to Ireland from central Europe.  They brought with them tools of iron, marking the beginning of the Iron Age.  This was a time of small war-like kingdoms called ‘tuaths’, which saw Irish society divided into aristocrats, farmers and slaves.  A priestly class of people, the Druids, were seen as the leaders of society, presiding in matters such as law, agriculture, medicine, and war.


By about 50 CE, the Romans had conquered much of England, and although they never full conquered Ireland, the island was heavily affected by Roman influence.  The Romans provided the first written account of Celtic people, society and religion.  However due to their bias on the Celtic ‘barbarians’, it is not known how accurate these descriptions are.  Comments were made on the war-like savagery of the native people, as well as the Druids dealing in human and animal sacrifice.

In 432 CE, the famous Patrick was taken from western England and enslaved in Ireland.  Patrick eventually escaped years later, however after he had a vision, he returned to Ireland to preach the word of God.  By the Middle Ages, Ireland was dominantly Roman Catholic.  This was a time of monks and scholars, who created illuminated manuscripts, like the Book of Kells.

The golden age of Irish scholarship ended with the Vikings, who began raiding the Irish coast by 795 CE.  They started by raiding monasteries, however soon began settling the land, founding towns such as Dublin, Cork, and Limerick.  It is said the modern name ‘Ireland’ came from the ancient patron Goddess of Ireland, Eire, and the Norse word ‘land’.  The famous High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, led his army into battle in 1014, which ultimately ended the Viking rule in Ireland.

ireland, national heritage park, viking village

In medieval times, many manuscripts recording the ancient mythology of Ireland were written, such as the Book of Invasions, Lebor Gabála Érenn.  Although written hundreds of years later, and written by Christian authors, these manuscripts are some of our only ties to pre-Christian paganism in Ireland.

Irish History
Ireland History
Wiki – History of Ireland

© A Year And A Day (2013)


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The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells (DVD, 2009)

Magic, fantasy, and Celtic mythology come together in a riot of color and detail that dazzle the eyes in a sweeping story about the power of imagination and faith to carry humanity through dark times.


Young Brendan lives in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids. But a new life of adventure beckons when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from the isle of Iona carrying an ancient but unfinished book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide. It is here that he meets the fairy Aisling, a mysterious young wolf-girl, who helps him along the way. But with the barbarians closing in, will Brendan’s determination and artistic vision illuminate the darkness and show that enlightenment is the best fortification against evil?


I had heard of this movie a while ago, but only got around to watching it recently.  It takes place at the Abbey of Kells during the 9th century, fortified against the ‘Northmen’ invasions which are sweeping the country.  The curious young Brendan, nephew of the Abbot of Kells, gets caught up in all sorts of mischief by exploring outside the fortified walls, frolicking with the faery Aisling, and learning how to produce intricate illustrations in the Book of Iona, recently brought to the Abbey by Brother Aidan after fleeing the Vikings.

The Secret of Kells contains a lot of references to history.  Brendan meets a woodland faery called Aisling (Ash-lin), which is thought to reference the Aislings, or prophetic seeress.  Brendan also battles the evil Crom Cruach, a pre-Christian Irish deity.  Also, Brother Aidan of Iona brought his cat, Pangur Bán, named after an Old Irish poem written by a monk about his cat.

Some critics say that The Secret of Kells glosses over the religious aspect of history, noting that the Book of Kells is really a Bible, containing the Gospels.  However the movie avoids mentioning religion specifically, instead focusing on the Celtic mythology and legends prevalent at that time.  Plus the timing of the movie is wrong, in terms of the Book of Iona/Kells being written and the Viking invasions.

I think despite the historical accuracy, The Secret of Kells is a wonderful movie.  The vibrant hand-drawn animation is fabulous, and the whole movie has a 2D effect that makes it appear like the movie is taking place within the Book of Kells as illustrations.  Definitely recommended.

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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Danu, Great Mother

Dana, Anu, Ana, Anann, Danand, Dôn (Wales), Danuvius (Roman), Duna (Hungarian), Donau (German)

  • Danu is an ancient Irish triple goddess who is considered the “Great Mother” of Ireland.
  • She is the Mother of the Irish gods and faery people, the Tuatha Dé Danann , which literally means the “People of the Goddess Danu”.
  • Danu means knowledge, wisdom, wealth and abundance.  However her name is also connected to water, and could mean ‘the flowing one’.
  • Danu is thought to have married Bilé and was the mother of the Dagda, the chief leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  In other myths, she is known as the daughter or lover of the Dagda.
  • Her other children included Nuada, Dian Cécht, Ogma, Airmid, Etan, Miach, Cian/Kian, Sawan and Goibhniu.
  • Because of the similarities in correspondences, Danu has been associated with other goddesses, including Anu, the Universal Mother, and the Morrigan, the goddess of war.
  • Danu is also very similar to the Welsh goddess Dôn, who is the mother figure of the medieval tales in the Mabinogion.
  • Danu was also sometimes associated with Brigid, the daughter of the Dagda.


  • It is thought through her association with water, the River Danube was named after her.
  • Also, there are two round-topped hills in County Kerry, Ireland, called Da Chich Anu/Anann (the Paps of Anu), thought to represent the two breasts of Danu/Anu.


  • Danu has a strong connection to the land and water.  She is a goddess of fertility, bounty, plenty, prosperity, wind, rivers, water, wells, wisdom, and inspiration.
  • Some of Danu’s symbols include holy stones, horses, seagulls, fish, amber, gold, flowing water, air, wind, earth, moon, keys and crowns.
  • Danu reminds us that we are capable of realizing our own dreams, empowering us to create our own destiny.

Wiki Danu
Goddess Danu
Timeless Myths – Danu
Celtic Deities
Thalia Took – Danu

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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Faery, Fairy, Fay, Fey, Fae

Faeries are otherworldly creatures or spirits that appear in folklore.  They are often thought of as human in appearance and having magical powers, however are sometimes unpredictable and dangerous.  In modern cultures they are often depicted as cute tiny winged creatures, however originally faeries were depicted anywhere from tall, angelic beings to short, hideous trolls.


Faeries are known by many different names and variations:  Adhene, Asrai, Banshee, Bogle, Brownie, Bucca, Corrigan, Changeling, Dryad, Dwarf, Elemental, Elf, Fair Folk, Fates, Fir Darrig/Fear Deang, the Gentry, Gnome, Goblin, Good Folk, Gremlin, Gwyllion, Hobgoblin, Imp, Jinni, Kappa, Kelpie, Leprechaun, Naiad, Nature Spirit, Nymph, People of Peace, Peri,  Pixie, Pooka, Puck, Redcap, Selkie, Sidhe, Sprite, Spriggan, Sylph, Seelies and Unseelies, Troll, Urisk, Undine, Wee Folk, Wichtlein and others!

Common themes among the Celtic nations describe faeries as a mythical race of people who have been driven into hiding by some sort of invader.  One such race is the Tuatha Dé Danann following their defeat from the Milesians (Celts), forced to live underground in the hills and mounds of the Otherworld.  These alternate realms have been described as Mag Mell (the Pleasant Plain), Emain Ablach (the Fortress of Apples, the Land of Promise, the Isle of Women, Avalon), or the Tir na nÓg (the Land of Youth).


Faeries are known for their mischief and malice, however some faeries were known for giving protection, healing or passing their skills to mortals.  In Scottish folklore, fairies were divided into the Seelie Court, the fairies who would play harmless pranks on mortals but were generally kind hearted, and the Unseelie Court, the malicious fairies who would try to bring harm to mortals for fun.

  • Faeries were prone to kidnapping humans, particularly babies, and leaving changelings in their place.
  • Faeries were also known to use magic to disguise appearance, such as ‘fairy gold’, which would quickly reveal itself to be leaves, gingerbread or another worthless item after the debt had been paid.
  • It is thought that if you travel to the world of faery, if you eat any of the faery food, you will be trapped in the otherworld forever.
  • Also time is thought to pass by at a much quicker rate in the faery world, with tales of humans escaping the faery realm after what appears to be a few hours, finding that decades had past.

Many trees, mounds and other natural features are considered property of the faeries, and any mortal who damages them would be cursed.  In many parts of the British Isles, people would avoid building or disturbing known faery mounds or faery paths as to avoid such curses.


Some people would leave offerings around their home to appease the faeries and prevent them from causing mischief, including milk, sweet desserts like cake or chocolate, shiny or pretty objects like glass, gemstones, or shells.  Faeries are thought to dislike iron, charms of rowan and herbs, running water, bells, St John’s wort, and four leaf clovers among other things.

Faeries appeare in folklore from ancient tales of medieval chivalry, to romantic Victorian literature and more modern tales.  Faeries gained popularity during the Romanticism of the Victorian era, inspiring the image of beautiful, tiny, winged creatures, helping mortals they meet.

Types of Faeries

Faeries Wiki – Fairies

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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The Dagda, Father of All

  • The Dagda is a powerful Irish god, also known as Eochaid Ollathair (“All Father”), Ruad Rofhessa(“Lord of Great Knowledge”), or Lord of the Heavens.
  • His name means “good”, and is known as the god of protection, warriors, knowledge, the arts, magic, music, initiation, prophecy, weather, reincarnation, death, fire, the sun, healing, regeneration, prosperity and plenty.
  • Sources vary in terms of his family members.  In some sources, his father is Elatha and his mother is Ethniu/ Eithne.  Also Danu is either seen as his mother or his daughter, probably due to his association with Brigid.
  • The Dagda is thought to be the father of Bodb Dearg, Aed Minbhrec/Aed Cáem, Cermait Milbél, Midir, and daughters Áine, and Brigid.  He was also the father or brother of Oghma.
  • Through his affair with Bóand/ Bóann, he fathered a daughter Breg and son Óengus/Aengus /Angus Óg.

  • He was High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, after his predecessors Nuada and Lugh.
  • The Tuatha Dé Danann conquered Ireland from the Fir Bolg and Fomorians, prior to the coming of the Milesians (Celts).
  • Prior to the battle with the Fomorians, he mates with the goddess of war, the Mórrígan, onSamhain, in exchange for a plan of battle.


  • The Dagda was described as a huge and stocky man, with superhuman strength as well as superhuman appetite.  He possessed several magical objects.
  • One of them was a great treasure of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the magic cauldron from a magical city of Murias.  Known as the Cauldron of Dagda, the Cauldron of Plenty, or Undry, it was thought to be bottomless and left no man unsatisfied.
  • Another was a giant club or hammer that could kill several men at once with its head, and bring them back to life with its handle.
  • The Dagda also possessed a magic oak harp called Uaithne, or “the Four Angled Music”, used to change the seasons and weather, or to command the order of battle.  This is also the harp that is seen on many Irish flags (and Guinness beer!) symbolizing Ireland to this day.
  • He is sometimes likened to the Gaulish god Sucellus, the striker, who is depicted with a hammer and cup.

  • He is credited with a long reign as High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann before dying at the Brú na Bóinne, succumbing to a wound inflicted by Cethlenn/Caitlin during the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh years prior in retribution for the death of Balor.
  • He was replaced as King by his grandson, Delbáeth, who fathered the famous matron goddesses of Ireland, Ériu, Banba and Fodla.

Wiki – The Dagda
Timeless Myths – Dagda
Celtic Deities

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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Brigit, Brigid, Brighid, Bríde, Brìd, Brìg, Brigantia, Breo-Saighead, Breo Aigit (Gaelic), Ffraid (Welsh), Mary of the Gael, Saint Brigid (Catholic)

  • Brigid is a very important Triple Goddess in Celtic mythology.
  • Her three aspects include the Fire of Inspiration as patroness of poetry, Fire of the Hearth as patroness of healing and fertility, and Fire of the Forge as patroness of smithcraft.
  • She is also linked to prophecy, divination, agriculture and livestock, feminine arts and crafts.
  • She can be thought of as the Celtic equivalent of Roman Minerva and Greek Athena.

  • The Celtic word Brig means “exalted one”, and her Gaelic name of Breo-Saighead or Breo Aigitmeans “fiery arrow” or “fiery power”.


  • She is the daughter of the Dagda, and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Morrigan, another triple goddess, is also thought to be Brigid’s mother.
  • Brigid was the wife of Bres of the Fomorians with whom she had three sons, including the warrior Ruadán, killed in battle.
  • Brigid is associated with the festival Imbolc/Candlemas, which is known as St Brigid’s Day to Catholics.
  • Brigid is associated with fire, including candles, heat, warmth, and sunrises.
  • Her association with fire is so strong that a perpetual sacred flame is kept burning by the nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland.
  • Brigid is also connected to holy wells, including the one at Kildare. Wells were ‘dressed’ as a way to honour Brigid or ask for her help and assistance.

  • Crafts that honour her role as the protector of the hearth include Brigid corn/grain dollies and Brigid’s crosses.
  • Other symbols tied to Brigid includes arrows, bells, thresholds and doorways.
  • Animal correspondences include ewes, dairy cows, bees, owls, and serpents.
  • It is thought that the love and respect for her brought unity to the Celts.

Wiki Brigid
Goddess Myths – Brigit
Brigid’s Flame
Pantheon – Brigid

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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Tuatha De Danann

The Tuatha Dé Danann, or “people of the goddess Danu”, were an ancient race of supernatural beings in Ireland.  They were said to have arrived from four great cities to the North, Failias, Gorias, Findias, and Murias, with several treasures.

The first was the Stone of Fal (Lia Fail) from Failias, which would scream whenever a true king of Ireland would place his foot on it. This was eventually placed on the mound at Tara, the mythical seat of the High Kings of Ireland. The next was the Sword of Nuada from Findias, a weapon that only inflicted mortal blows when drawn. The third was the Spear of Lugh from Gorias, which never missed its target. The last was the Cauldron of Dagda from Murias, from which a constant supply of food came forth.  These treasures also correspond to the four elements, with Lugh’s Spear representing Fire, Nuada’s Sword representing Air, Dagda’s Cauldron representing Water, and the Stone of Fal representing Earth.

With their King Nuada, they fought and defeated the Fir Bolg, the inhabitants of Ireland at the time.  Nuada lost an arm in battle, and was no longer allowed to be king because of it.  The half-Formorian Bres was chosen to be king instead, whose tyranny led to a battle against the Formorians.  In this second battle, King Nuada was killed by the Formorian King Balor.  However Lugh killed King Balor, defeating the Formorians, becoming High King of the Tuatha people.

They were eventually defeated at Teltown by the mighty Milesians (thought of as the first Celts).  Legend states that the Tuatha Dé Danann were allowed to stay in Ireland, but were forced underground.  They became known as the Faery People, or people of the Sidhe, and can be found in the faery mounds that still exist in Ireland today (such as the Brú na Bóinne, Newgrange).

The Milesians chose the name of the Tuatha Dé Danann goddess, Eriu, as the name of their new kingdom. Eriu (or Eire) is still used as the name of Ireland.  Eriu’s sisters, Banba and Fódla, are still sometimes used as poetic names for Ireland.

The Tuatha Dé Danann people are surrounded by myth and legend.  Ancient manuscripts depict the Tuatha people as real-life kings and queens, however they exhibit many ties to pre-Christian deities of Ireland.  The Tuatha Dé Danann included great heroes and deities, including Lugh, Danu, the Dagda,Brigid, Áine, Oghma, and the Morrígan.

And although defeated, they still exist in legends today.

Magick and Mythology
Tuatha De Danann

© A Year And A Day (2012)


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Standing With Stones

Standing With Stones: A Journey Through Megalithic Britain
(DVD, 2008)

I watched a very interesting movie on the ‘standing stones’ of Britain, the megaliths, henges, stone circles, cairns and other neolithic structures built thousands of years ago across the British Isles.  Everybody knows about Stonehenge and Newgrange, but what about the other ones?  How many different megalithic sites are there?  What are their significance?

Types of Megalithic Sites (wiki)

Standing Stones – (aka megaliths) solitary stones set vertically in the ground
Stone Circle – a monument of standing stones arranged in a circle
Stone Row – (aka stone alignment) a linear arrangement of upright, parallel standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes
Dolmen – (aka portal tomb, portal grave, or quoit) a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table).  Usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow.
Cromlech (Welsh) – usually refers to dolmens, however it is widely used in French and Spanish to describe stone circles
Cairn – a man-made pile (or stack) of stones, often erected as landmarks
Barrow – (aka tumulus, burial mound, kurgan) a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves.  A cairn might also be originally a tumulus.
Henge – features a ring bank and internal ditch surrounding a central flat area.  May contain ritual structures such as stone circles, timber circles and coves.
Cist – a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow
Cursus – (Latin for “course”) large parallel lengths of banks with external ditches, thought to be early Roman athletic courses

We journey through the UK and Ireland, staring in Southern England, making our way through Wales, Ireland, Northern England, Scotland, and the remote northern Scottish Isles.  One thing is abundantly clear – nobody really knows why these megalithic structures were built and what their exact purposes were.  Theories abound, however these ancient structures are still shrouded in mystery.

Here is a list of sites discussed in the DVD:

Western England
Ballowall Barrow
Rocky Valley
Nine Stones (Dartmoor)

Southern England
Knowlton Henge
Chestnuts Long Barrow (Medway Megaliths)
London Stone
Stanton Drew The second largest stone circle in Britain
Rollright Stones
Stonehenge (Winterbourne Stoke, Barrows, North Kith, Cursus, Normanton Down Barrows, Darlington Walls, Woodhenge, West Kenet, Long Barrow, Silbury Hill)
Avebury – The largest stone circle in Britain
Priddy Nine Barrows
Stoney Littleton
Wayland’s Smithy
Belas Knap
Also: Uffington White Horse, Long Man of Wilmingdon

Gors Fawr
Ysbyty Cynfyn
Bryn Celi Ddu
Druid’s Circle (Anglesey)
Rocking Stone
Tinkins Wood
Cerrig Duon / Maen Mawr
Pentre Ifan

Maeve’s Cairn
Browne’s Hill Dolmen
Newgrange / Knowth / Dowth (Brú na Bóinne)

Northern England
Arbor Low
Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor
Bleasdale Circle
Rudston Monolith, Cursus
Long Meg and her Daughters
Formby Point
The Chasms
Mull Circle
Devil’s Elbow
Cashtal yn Ard
King Orry’s Grave
Langdale Axe Quarry
Druid’s Circle

Clava Cairns
Twelve Apostles
Kilmartin Glen
Leys of Marlee
The Recumbents

Scottish Isles
Callanish (Calanais)
Ring of Brodgar, Stenness – The third largest stone circle in Britain.
Grey Cairns of Camster
Skara Brae
Tomb of Eagles

© The Celtic Journey (2013)


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