When the Roman poet Lucan wanted to show the savagery of Gaulish religion, he used the bloodthirsty cults of three Gaulish gods to make his point: Taranis, Toutatis and Esus. While the first two had well-established cults in Gaul and Britain, Esus is more elusive.
The Dagda is the head of the Irish pantheon, whose name means the “Good God”. He is head of the Tuatha de Danann, and was king of Ireland between Nuada and Lugh, but he can also take on the appearance and manners of a peasant farmer. He has been compared to his fellow Celts Sucellos and Cernunnos, but he also resembles the Norse god Odin, being changeable and tricky as well as a great magician.
One of the things everyone knows about Irish mythology is that the deities we all know (Brigit, the Dagda, Boand, Ogma, etc.) are all members of the Tuatha de Danann, the people or tribe of the goddess Danu.
However, none of the Irish sources mention this goddess, who was an important enough ancestor that her name identified all of her descendants. (Imagine if the Olympian gods of Greece were known as the Gaians, for example.) Some Celtic scholars have gone so far as to doubt the existence of any such deity. Why?
(Photo by Robert Verzo, from Flickr.)
The Irish goddess Boand is famous for two things: she is the mother of the young god Aengus, whom she carried to term in a single (nine-month-long) day, and the river Boyne is named for her, after she caused it to gush forth from a magical well.
Nantosuelta was a Gaulish goddess, although traces of her worship have turned up in Germany, Luxembourg and Britain. She can be identified by the little house that she often carries, which looks like a birdhouse on the end of a long pole.
No other deity carries it, so we always know it’s her when we see it. No one really knows what it is supposed to represent – perhaps she was a goddess of home and hearth?
Although the name Damona means something like “Divine/ Great Cow”, the only image we have of her is in human form, and it has only survived in fragments: a stone head, crowned with corn-ears, and a hand with a serpent’s coils around it. It turned up in a votive pit at Alise-Sainte-Reine, ancient Alesia, the centre of her cult. It was originally painted, Roman-style, with the body painted white, the hair red, with a green diadem and yellow grain.