The Dagda, Father God of Ireland

Copper Coast, Ireland
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In Irish legend, the Dagda is an important father figure deity. He is a powerful figure who wields a giant club that can both kill and resurrect men. The Dagda was the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, and a god of fertility and knowledge. His name means "the good god."

Did You Know?

  • The Dagda is associated with the magic and wisdom of the druids, as well as the manliness and strength of the warrior.
  • His role as a father god and king gives the Dagda immense power over the supernatural world, in addition to the realm of mortals.
  • He is sometimes portrayed with an absurdly large phallus that drags the ground; some scholars think this was added later by Christian authors who wanted to turn him into a less serious figure.

History and Origins of the Dagda

The Dagda is one of the most powerful deities in Irish mythology. He is a father god, and associated with not only the wisdom and magic of the druids, but also the strength and manliness of the warrior. As an extension, he also is connected with agriculture and the fertility of the fields, in addition to the weather which makes for a plentiful harvest.

The Dagda was called Eochaid Ollathair the "All-Father," not because he was the father of all the people, but rather because he acted as a father, a protector of all. This makes it tempting to compare him to the Norse god Odin, but the Dagda is more like warrior Thor, the Thunderer, with his mighty weapon. 

Although his name generally is understood to mean "the good god," scholars are not entirely sure where it came from. It could have origins in the Proto-Indo European Dhagho-deiwos, or possibly the Celtic Dagodeiwos. He carries a giant club called the lorg mór and owns a massive cauldron known as the Cauldron of Plenty. He also possesses a huge harp, Uaithne, which brings about the change of seasons when played.

Symbolism and Myths

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. Some scholars believe that the Dagda's permanently erect phallus—so big it often dragged the ground—was added later by Christian chroniclers who wished to turn him into a comical figure.

The Dagda held a position as a god of knowledge as well. He was revered by many Druid priests, because he bestowed wisdom upon those who wished to learn. He had an affair with the wife of Nechtan, a minor Irish god. When his lover, Boann, became pregnant Dagda made the sun stop setting for nine entire months. In this way, their son Aonghus was conceived and born in just one day.

When the Tuatha were forced into hiding during the invasions of Ireland, the Dagda chose to divide their land among the gods. Dagda refused to give a section to his son, Aonghus, because he wanted Aonghus' lands for himself. When Aonghus saw what his father had done, he tricked the Dagda into surrendering the land, leaving Dagda with no land or power at all.

Honoring the Dagda Today

Cerne Abbas giant
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It is believed that the giant chalk outline of a man at Cerne Abbas, Dorsetshire, represents the Dagda. If you'd like to honor this father god, there are a number of things you can do to celebrate him.

Make offerings to the Dagda of "oat bannocks or porridge, ale in quantity and butter offered to the fire" during ritual. Place symbols of abundance and bounty on your altar, filled with things you have made or grown—loading up a large cauldron with vegetables from your garden or home baked food is a great way to show gratitude for the plentiful things in your life.

You can also make donations to a local food bank in the Dagda's honor, or find other ways to demonstrate hospitality and generosity to others.

Sources

  • Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends. Running Press Book Publishers, 2008.
  • Hutton, Ronald. Pagan Britain. Yale University Press, 2015.
  • Rolleston, T. W. Myths and Legends the Celtic Race. Nickerson.