We are often contacted about Celtic Symbols, Symbols of the Gods or Tuatha Dé Danann, and how to incorporate these things into a living spiritual practice.
Interestingly enough I happen to have a perfect answer to all of these questions, and I carry it upon my very skin.
This is the story of Jon’s Dagda Tattoo.
The Symbols on this Dagda Tattoo and their Origins
So, where does one start such a story?
Well, I could tell you the version of the pilgrimage of a Mórrígan Priestess, her knight, and a wolf across Ireland and Wales, but though it makes for an epic saga, it doesn’t answer our questions.
Let’s look instead at the symbols that make up the God mark I wear.
- Harp – This of course refers to the Dagda’s personal instrument in which he was said to have bound the music so that none but he could call it forth. We see him perform this feat in the aftermath of the Second battle of Moytura against the Fomorians. Striding into a hall surrounded by foes, he calls the harp to his hand and performs the three great strains of music, making the enemy wail and weep, revel and dance, and eventually slip into slumber.
- Club – The Dagda has many powers, but when his son Cermait is slain he leaves Ireland to seek a power to restore his life. Here he comes across three brothers from the East carrying their inheritance, one of which is a club. The club is said to have a rough end and a gentle end. One would take life and the other would restore it. The Dagda takes the club from them, slaying them with it and uses it to restore life to his son. Cermait, seeing the three brothers with life taken from them berates his father. Eventually the Dagda restores the three brothers and swears them an oath on his many powers that he will return the club, but that until he does he will only use it to bring death to his enemies and life to his friends.
- Cauldron – The Cauldron is said to be one of the four great treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Brought from Murias, the fortress of pinnacles, it was said that no company would go from it unsatisfied. This cauldron was said never to run empty, in that it would always be ‘un-dry’. The name given to this wondrous vessel was Coiri an Dagdai or Cauldron of the Dagda.
- Triskelion – This enigmatic symbol can be dated as far back as the Neolithic period of human existence. One of the most famous occurrences being dated to 3200 BCE on the internal rocks of the Newgrange passage tomb in County Meath. This triple spiral design appears throughout Europe, and although many have suggested its meaning, none can say what it definitively means. Its existence in the Boyne valley, at a place which takes its name from Bóann – the Dagda’s lover and mother of Oengus their son who later takes up the seat of Brú na Boinne – is why I connect it with the Dagda.
The Intention Behind this Dagda Tattoo
Okay, now that we know the ‘what’, it’s time to explore the ‘why’ behind each element so that we can better understand my intention behind these markings. In Irish Paganism, Gods and Goddesses walk close with us, so the understanding is important!
- Harp – For me the tale of the harp is one of emotional intelligence. The Dagda comes upon foes who have invaded Ireland and stolen his harp from him. In the hall is the fallen King Bres who started the whole war with his injustice. The Dagda has come victorious from the battles, with Ogma his brother, the Champion of his people as well as Lugh their warrior king. Yet instead of more bloodshed he chooses to use the skill of his music to open the foe to their own emotions. In doing so he helps them feel their feelings and move them beyond the state of conflict towards peace.
- Club – The club represents power, with its ability to destroy and restore. When we see the Dagda in this tale he is bereaved by loss but resolved to take up the one power he does not already have, the power over life and death. Yet when he seizes this power his first act is unjust – using it to slay the three brothers. His restored son calls him out for this behaviour and the Dagda makes things right, but also binds himself with an oath never to misuse the power he has taken up. So the club represents power, but also the need to be responsible in the use of that power.
- Cauldron – The cauldron has not much written of it in the lore except that ‘no company goes from it unsatisfied’. For me I look to the purpose of the cauldron for my guidance and to me that purpose is hospitality. It is the intent to offer warmth, comfort and food to those I can, because this above anything else is what community is based upon. Sharing and caring for others, not just ourselves. In this way more people can find not just the satisfaction of a full belly, but that of a full heart from being part of a community, or to use the old Irish word for tribe, Tuath.
- Triskelion – There is no defined meaning for this triple spiraled symbol that is not subject to personal opinion so with that said I will offer mine. To me it represents a triple aspect to each of us and the journey we must go on for each aspect. Those are body, mind and spirit. Each arm is a winding spiraling journey of personal growth and exploration, yet each is always linked back to the central part of our being and the journey of multifaceted growth upon which each of us must embark.
What does this Dagda Tattoo mean to me?
Now that you know the what and the why maybe you have a better understanding of the Dagda tattoo and its importance to me. Yet there is one untold element to this tale which for me adds some significance that is worth considering and that starts with a question.
Why would someone get a permanent mark on their body linked to deity?
There are any number of answers to this type of question, each as unique to the person who considers it and each equally as valid given that it’s always a matter of personal sovereignty and the right to bodily autonomy.
Yet if we don’t stop to ask ourselves the ‘why’ then are we really engaging with our Gods or are we just creating cool art upon our bodies. As with every form of magical practice, it can only be as effective as the intent, or will, which defines it.
When I began to deepen my spiritual connection with the Dagda, not just as an expression of storytelling, but as a representation of healthy masculine deity influence in my life, I drew the image that would become my tattoo on a post-it note and stuck it to the wall in an office cubicle where I worked. At the time that was more than enough for me.
Years later when I had begun the serious growth that would take me from living a personal connection with the ‘Good God’ to teaching and talking about him, He asked that I bear a mark for him. Of course he had already selected what he wanted, that image from the post-it note. At the time, I said no.
So what is my why? What was it that changed my mind and caused me to offer blood, pain and permanent marking upon my skin to a God, in the form of my Dagda tattoo?
The answer is love.
Love for people close to me whom I could not help at that time. Love for people who needed the Dagda’s guidance and protection. Love and a prayer of hope that if I offered more of myself to the works of the ‘great father’ He would not see my hopes go unsatisfied.
I have no regrets for my choice and have grown ever closer to the Good God in my service to him, and to our global community members who need a bit of the Dagda in their lives.
There our tale ends, but maybe it has inspired you to consider your own ‘Why’ when it comes to deity tattoos, and how to go about exploring the lore of these ancient Irish symbols.
Where To Now?
If you think that the Dagda is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: