The Irish Badb was one a number of terrifying goddesses of war. She could work battle magic to terrify the enemy, or just kill them with her terrifying shrieks. Badb could be one or many, and sometimes teamed up her sisters the Morrigan and Macha to wreak destruction.
The name badb comes from a Celtic root meaning “fury” or “violence”, from the Celto-Germanic *bodou, battle. The carrion crows that appeared at battlefields led to the other meaning, crow, and the idea of a crow goddess, so that Badb Catha meant “Battle Crow”. (Heijda: 12)
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.
This week’s post could easily have been called “fearsome deities“: Odin, whose name means “fury”, and the Morrigan, who steps out of the fairy realm to stir up war and slaughter. It’s not hard to see what they have in common.
Back in 1977 Patrick Ford published a paper called “Celtic Women: the Opposing Sex”. It could have been tailor-made for the Morrigan, a fearsome goddess who spends most of the Tain trying to destroy the hero Cúchulainn. By contrast, Brigid seems to be the “good girl” of Irish myth.
The other day I was browsing Tumblr and I turned up a post on Irish werewolves. I knew Irish mythology and folklore had lots of shapeshifters, but I had never heard of werewolves. Better still, it turned out that not only does Ireland have werewolves, but also its own form of Úlfhéðnar, the berserker-like wolf-warriors of Scandinavian legend.
There are no real wolves in Ireland any more, but they were once a very real menace, which would explain the large number of stories about them.
We are used to the idea that the Celts took up Roman gods and equated them with their own. (Or that the invading Romans renamed them.) However, the process could just as easily go the other way.
The best-known instance of this is the Gaulish horse-goddess Epona, who became very popular first with the cavalry units of the Roman army, then with the Roman populace, who took her into their homes and stables. She was the only Celtic deity with a holiday in the Roman calendar: December 18th. The Romans don’t seem to have had an indigenous horse-deity (except perhaps Neptune, who had other things to attend to), but the Celts were horse-mad.
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?
This post is a bit of a swizz – the name Rigantona is actually a hypothesis, a reconstruction by linguists of the origins of the name Rhiannon. There are no images, inscriptions or literary references to Rigantona.
There are, however, a few inscriptions to a goddess Rigana (whose name would be cognate to Latin Regina). Sometimes these goddesses are associated with Juno or Minerva (Jufer & Lughinbuhl: 13), other times they appear on their own.