In the Irish myths a mysterious phrase crops up: the gods and the non-gods (or un-gods). We all know what a god is, but what is an non-god?
Check out my piece on Cernunnos and Flidais on the Dun Brython blog.
In Irish finn means “fair, bright, white, lustrous, light-hued” (MacKillop: 226), and the Welsh gwyn is similar in meaning, with overtones of sacredness. Similarly, the Gaulish god, Vindonnus, gets his name from a root meaning either “clear light” (Green: 32) or “white, blessed” (Deo Mercurio). Coming at it from another direction, Daithai O hOgain has linked Finn/Vind with the Germanic find and Latin vid, words connected to sight and discovery (208).
From this it has been a short step to assuming a god, *Vindos, lying behind these various figures. However, like the “theoretical goddess” Rigantona, the names is a linguistic construct, and we have no evidence of a cult of Vindos.
There are many different ways to become god of the dead. You can win the job by chance (Hades/ Pluto), you can be cast into the underworld by other gods (Hel), marry into the job (Nergal), or you can be the first person to die.
Donn was one of the invaders known as the Milesians, after their father Mil. He was the warlike one, while his brother Armaigen was the poet/judge. They eventually did take Ireland, but not easily, and Donn never got to enjoy their victory.
There are many stories in which a heroic character penetrates the otherworld and is challenged by some sort of ogre or other strange being. This challenger may question the hero’s worthiness or ability.
Norse myth has two examples of a female quester who faces a challenge to her fitness and an attempt to thwart her in her aims. In Hyndluljod Freyja has to convince the far-from-agreeable Hyndla to help her protegé win a lawsuit, while in the poem Helreid Brynhildar Brynhild is challenged on her way to Hel by a giantess who questions her ethics and actions.
Although most of us think of Pluto as the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Hades, it is one of the Greek god’s titles, usually given as Pluton, Wealthy. This referred both to the earth’s fertility and the mineral riches that could be mined from it.
Thou shalt find to the left of the House of Hades a spring,
And by the side thereof standing a white cypress.
To this spring approach not near.
But thou shalt find another, from the Lake of Memory
Cold water flowing forth, and there are guardians before it.
Say, ‘I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven;
But my race is of Heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves.
But I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly
The cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.’
And of themselves they will give thee to drink of the holy spring-
And thereafter among the other heroes thou shalt have lordship.
[Plate from Petelia, South Italy, fourth-third century B.C.]