The Tuatha Dé Danann came out of the four great cities, bearing their wondrous treasures and gathered as one people. Prophesied as ‘a host of a thousand heroes’ they set out to return to their ancient homeland, the island of Ireland. One of the wondrous treasures was a cauldron ‘from which no company went unsatisfied’, the cauldron of The Dagda.
But who is the Dagda and why does he stand out among this tribe of heroes?
To know the Dagda it’s best to learn his stories and consider the reason why these tales remain to us all these thousands of years later.
The Dagda’s Names
The Dagda is known by many names throughout Irish lore. From Eochaid Olathair, to Aedh Alainn, and of course Ruad Ro-fessa the names by which he goes seem to speak to his multifaceted nature as a God of Ireland. Looking at the etymology of the Dagda’s names is a worthwhile, if complex endeavour as the language of Ireland has changed much in the centuries of its use.
- Eochaid Olathair – Horse Lord Ample Father.
- Aedh Alainn – Fiery Lustrous One.
- Ruadh Rofhessa – Red man of Knowledge.
While these names give us some insights into The Dagda’s form, from the ‘ample’ shape of his body, to the ‘fiery’ ‘Red’ of his hair colour, there is also a glimpse into his position, power and role within the function of the tribe. The lordly nature of the God is apparent, but so too is the fatherhood aspects and of course the ‘knowledge’ being specifically linked with the occult or druidic arts.
What is most interesting is how, when pressed by a thrice asked question, the God names himself.
Rosc of Many Names
In exploring the literary history of Ireland through all of the ancient manuscripts one can almost tell the age of the content, not just by when it was written down or the age of the language used. One can also look at the format of the words, their structure, rhyming, and rhythm. It’s readily accepted that amongst the oldest formatting recorded in the Irish texts, the poetic format known as Rosc, is not just very old, but very fascinating for its complexity of composition and descriptive structure.
So what else would this powerful and knowledgeable God use to name himself if not this most ancient and interesting form of poetry.
“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)
These are the words used by the Dagda and though one can translate each of them in many ways, the rosc nature of the composition means that the meaning of any particular world shifts and changes based on the words that precede and follow it. It is from this that we get further descriptions of this “Man of the peaks” with “great a lap full of farting” and “cutting every large oak” playing the “meaningless sounds of the hen bird” with his musical talent. We are also given to know him as “talkative or boastful” yet it is also implied that he is one who “knows, recognises, or perceives the world”.
There is a whole depth of exploration into just these few words as you might already have glimpsed but for a good resource we recommend the book Harp Club and Cauldron; A Harvest of Knowledge.
Who is The Dagda in Celtic Mythology?
We often come across the question “What is the Dagda the God of?” but the more one gets to know this deity the more it becomes clear that he is a God that is not linked to any one aspect, but is instead a master of all of them.
In fact the name “The Dagda” can be translated as “The Goodly One” which is a title pleased upon him by Nuada when he offers to take on to himself the labours of ever service offered by the druids, sorcerers, and other powerful groups at the meeting of the men of the Goddess in preparation of the coming Fomorian invasion. This “Goodly one” was not a comment on his morality, more an acknowledgment of his ability to be “good” at everything, from moving mountains, hiding lakes and rivers, to raining fire from the sky.
In fact in a later tale involving his magic staff, the Dagda himself swears an oath and binds himself by the listing of his power and authority (Which would be forfeit if he broke his vow). He states;
“Sun, moon, sea, and land, only that it kills my enemies and brings life to my friends.”
When we take in the story of the conception and birth of his son Oengus with his lover Boann, we can see that the words are not just a boast as he stops the sun in the sky so that nine months would pass as a day. That way Boann could be recovered before her husband could return from a journey.
So if this hasn’t already given us a good insight into this deity there is yet more to consider when we talk about this goodly God.
During the first battle at the plains of Moytura, the Tuatha Dé Danann newly returned to Ireland faced weeks of battle against the Fir Bolg. This war was to decide the ascendancy of the tribe and dictate who would rule in Ireland.
Not only was The Dagda given command of the left flank of his tribes forces, a position or responsibility not just honour, but he personally charged the enemy lines and alone broke a gap wide enough for one hundred and fifty warriors to follow him.
In that same war, when Nuada was struck down, losing his arm to Shreng the champion of the Fir Bolg, it was the Dagda alone who broke through to his fallen friend and stood over him denying all attempts to finish the fallen King and claim total victory.
All said, this God is no stranger to war.
The Dagda is a deity that is quite familiar to the strain of physical activity in service to his tribe. After the first war of Moytura the Dagda was set to dig the trenches of Rath Bres, what would later become known as the Hill of Tara. Though he did this under some duress, for Bres the then king favoured his Fomorian ancestry, the Dagda still laboured to complete this effort and provide security.
In later tales he is said to clear an entire forest in one night and then dig out and irrigate the newly formed plan with rivers the following night. He was so well known for his labours that it was said that the track of his massive club, dragging behind him is what defined the very borders of the land as we know it today.
Yet for all of his great physicality, the Dagda is not solely a God of battle and earth moving. It was also said that he could ‘perform the three things by which a harper is known’. Those three things are the most powerful strains of music. The Goltrai, the geantrai and the suaintrai, also known as the Wailing strain, which would make any hearing it weep and mourn. The joyful strain which would move a person to revel and dance uncontrollably. Lastly the sleeping strain, the music of such soft subtlety that it would move anyone into a magically sleep.
His harp is known as Daur Da Bla or the ‘oak of two meadows’ and his craft with it was such that he would set the very seasons to their turning by the strumming of his fingers upon its strings.
By now we no doubt have a better understanding of this Dagda, but there is an additional role to consider and that is the role of the king. It was said that to be king in Ireland one needed to be unblemished, a state of both physical, mental and emotional completeness, but also carrying no marks of shame or dishonour against your name or character.
This too describes the Dagda for in the aftermath of the Second war at Moytura against the invading Fomorians brought by the deposed Bres, Lugh reigned as King for forty years. After Lugh came the Dagda and the rule of all Ireland was his for eighty years. Such was the Dagda’s just and honourable kingship that Ireland became an abundant paradise and it was to his grandson that the rule of Ireland came after him.
What Does the Dagda Look Like?
Maybe by this point you have developed an image in your mind of the Dagda yet there is something to consider when we talk about the Dagda’s appearance.
In the same tale where the Dagda names himself in rosc poetry, we also find a description of him.
“It was not easy for the warrior to move along on account of the size of his belly. His appearance was unsightly: he had a cape to the hollow of his elbows, and a grey-brown tunic around him as far as the swelling of his rump. He trailed behind him a wheeled fork which was the work of eight men to move, and its track was enough for the boundary ditch of a province. It is called ‘The Track of the Dagda’s Club’ for that reason. His long penis was uncovered. He had on two shoes of horse-hide with the hair outside.” Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired Elizabeth A. Gray
The above extract comes from a section of the story where the Dagda is sent to spy upon the newly arrived Fomorian host. Taken out of context this description informs a rather incorrect view of this deity. It is of a lowly person wearing rough ill fitting clothes and presenting as slovenly lecherous and oafish. Hardly the bearing of one to whom all other Gods defer or who will one day rule as king. When we apply the context of the tale though, we actually have a person so intelligent and wise as to appear before his enemies in a state that would lead them to underestimate him. We know that the distended belly comes from the horrific amount of porridge he was forced to consume, and the attire that he wears is that of a disguise more so than his regular wardrobe, but even here we still have descriptions of his large full figured powerfully built form.
When we include the red from his naming, the nature of his physicality, yet also the power of his intellect and passion for music we begin to get a broader view of this God who is good at everything.
He is red haired, in hair and beard. His body is the build of a strong man, one who fells trees, moves earth and lifts and labours for others. He has the stamina to carry out the heaviest of tasks in the shortest of times, yet also the agility to work his way through a battle line and defend those who fall from harm.
His hands no doubt bear the calluses of his many efforts, yet his fingers are still deft and nimble enough to weave the most amazing music from the strings of his harp.
He has the large lap that his many children have no doubt sat in when they come to sit with their ample father and he has all the deep knowledge of the whole world with which to teach them.
Who is The Dagda Today?
The Dagda today is as the Dagda as he has always been, the powerful wise, kingly father who does all he can to serve and support his Tuath.
Though the landscape of spirituality continues to change there are some absolutes that should be seen, acknowledged for their teachings and honoured.
From the Dagda’s cauldron with its message of safety, food and warm hospitality for everyone, not just those who can pay a price to a store, landlord or lending institute.
To the Club from which Death and life flow, speaking to each of us not just of the power we wield in our own hands, but of the responsibility that must come with that power.
Last but no less as crucial to our world today is the harp, with its message of healthy emotion and rest. Weep when there is a need to weep. Let your joy move you to revel when it comes, and invest in your rest for it is as powerful in our healing as health emotional awareness is.
Who is the Dagda today? Well that’s an easy one to answer. He is someone you should know, and now hopefully you have a better knowing of him now.
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: