6 Pagan Gods and Goddesses that were worshipped by the Irish

By Katie Boland / November 25, 2020
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Before Christianity reached the shores of Ireland, Paganism was the main religion that was practised. The Irish people worshipped more than just one God and, to be honest, it seemed like a better time all around, not thinking you are going to hell for any minor infraction. Here is a list of 6 Pagan gods and goddesses that were worshipped in Ireland pre Christianity.

 Brighid (Hearth Goddess of Ireland)

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Classic triple goddess of the Celtic pantheon. The goddess of divination and prophecy. Brighid was the patron of poets and bards, as well as healers and magicians. She was especially honoured when it came to matters of prophecy and divination.

In contrast to the brooding aspects of Morrigan, Brighid, in pre-Christianity Ireland, was regarded as the Celtic goddess of healing, spring season, and even smithcraft. In the mythical narrative, she is the daughter of the Dagda and thus a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Curiously enough, in Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland – a collection of poems compiled in the 11th century AD), she is mentioned to have a quite a few domesticated animals, ranging from oxen, the king of boars, to sheep – and these critters used to cry out as a warning to the goddess.

Cailleach (Ruler of winter)

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Cailleach is known in parts of the Celtic world as the hag, the bringer of storms, the Dark Mother of the winter months. However, she features prominently in mythology and is not just a destroyer, but also a creator goddess. The word Cailleach itself means “veiled one” or “old woman”, or more commonly, witch, in Irish. In some stories, she appears to a hero as a hideous old woman, and when he is kind to her, she turns into a lovely young woman who rewards him for his good deeds. In other stories, she turns into a giant grey boulder at the end of winter and remains this way until Beltane, when she springs back to life.

The Dagda (Father of Ireland)

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The Dagda was a father god of the Celtic pantheon and plays an important role in the stories of the Irish invasions. He was the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan and a god of fertility and knowledge. His name means “the good god.” In addition to his mighty club, the Dagda also possessed a large cauldron. The cauldron was magical in that it had an endless supply of food in it — the ladle itself was said to be so large that two men could lie in it. The Dagda is typically portrayed as a plump man with a large phallus, representative of his status as a god of abundance.

Lugh (Master of skills)

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Lugh is a Celtic god honoured for his skills and gifts as a craftsman. He is the god of blacksmiths, metal-workers, and artisans. In his aspect as a harvest god, he is honoured on August 1st, on the festival known as Lughnasa or Lammas. Lugh is associated with craftsmanship and skill, particularly in endeavours involving creativity. Although not specifically a war god, Lugh was known as a skilled warrior. His weapons included a mighty magic spear, which was so bloodthirsty that it often tried to fight without its owner. According to Irish myth, in battle, the spear flashed fire and tore through the enemy ranks unchecked. Cu Chulainn is said to be a reincarnation of him.

The Morrigan (Goddess of war and Sovereignty)

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The Morrigan is known as a Celtic war goddess, but there’s a lot more to her than that. She’s associated with rightful kingship and the sovereignty of the land. The Morrigan often appears in the form of a crow or raven or is seen accompanied by a group of them. In the stories of the Ulster cycle, she is shown as a cow and a wolf as well. The connection with these two animals suggests that in some areas, she may have been connected to fertility and land.

The Morrigan was perceived as a mysterious and rather ominous female deity among the Irish Celtic gods and goddesses, associated with both war and fate. In modern Irish, her name Mór-Ríoghain roughly translates to the ‘phantom queen’. Befitting this cryptic epithet, in the mythical narrative, Morrigan was capable of shapeshifting (who usually transformed into a crow) and foretelling doom, while also inciting men into a war frenzy. On the other hand, in contrast to these seemingly chaotic and ‘war-mongering’ attributes, Morrigan was possibly also venerated as a Celtic goddess of sovereignty who acted as the symbolic guardian of the land and its people.

Tuatha Dé Danann

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The Tuatha Dé Danann also known by the earlier name Tuath Dé (“tribe of the gods”) are a supernatural race in Irish mythology. They are thought to represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland. The Tuatha Dé Danann constitute a pantheon whose attributes appeared in several forms throughout the Celtic world.

The Tuath Dé dwell in the Otherworld but interact with humans and the human world. They are associated with ancient passage tombs, such as Brú na Bóinne, which were seen as portals to the Otherworld. Their traditional rivals are the Fomorians (Fomoire) who seem to represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature, and who the Tuath Dé defeat in the Battle of Mag Tuired. Each member of the Tuath Dé has associations with a particular feature of life or nature, but many appear to have more than one association. Many also have bynames, some representing different aspects of the deity and others being regional names or epithets.

These, of course, are only a few of the gods and goddesses that were worshipped in Ireland. Let us know if you know of any more in the comments!

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Katie Boland

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