Monthly Columns

Excerpt from A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors

Dagda: Good God of the Club and Cauldron

There was a famous king of Ireland of the race of the Tuatha Dé, Eochaid Ollathair his name. He was also named the Dagda i.e. good god, for it was he that used to work wonders for them and control the weather and the crops. Wherefore men said he was called the Dagda. (5)

Here is a figure that has multiple faces, although the most obvious is of the fierce warrior, with his enormous club that could kill nine men in one blow. The other side of this coin is he could also revive the mortally wounded with the handle of this club. Straight away we are talking about the interconnectivity of life and death, and how in this world, one cannot exist without the other. The Dagda is, from this evidence, a metaphor for life itself; things die and things are born again, and without one the other would cease to be.

The Dagda was (is) also a musician, and closely connected with the turn of the seasons, and the onset of battle. Whoa, whoa, whoa I hear you cry! Where does it end? How can one deity encompass all this? And how can you draw upon something that has such ever changing facets? It’s like reaching into the cupboard to get the coffee only to find it has changed to tea, then the next day to sugar! Well, this is why I have already mentioned the possibility that the Tuatha Dé Danann are a people, a race of earthly beings, rather than deities in the truest sense.

Here’s an exercise to help you understand what I mean: think of anyone you know, that you are reasonably close to. Tell me three things about them. Now take each of those three points e.g. they are kind; they can have a bad temper; they like to play football. Now tell me three details about each of those points. We’ll take kindness as our first example. You know they like dogs, because they have one which they love to pieces. You know they give to a charity for homeless people. And when you were short of cash, they lent you some money, although they were keen to get it back as soon as you could afford it. So that’s three aspects of kindness right there.

With regards to their bad temper, you heard them shouting at their brother once, in a fierce argument about a wager. You heard that they took gleeful revenge upon someone who played a practical joke on them at work. They also didn’t talk to you for a week when you couldn’t give them back the money you owed them! So there we go, we have just covered kindness and temper, and already we have uncovered so many facets of this person’s personality.

Now think about a deity or spiritual being, regardless of whether or not they are a part of a mythological cycle; why should they be any different? Every deity has multiple facets. The Tuatha Dé Danann are characterised by the fact that these facets are curiously human; the Dagda’s love of music coupled with the turning points of battles; these are very specific and focused points that paint a picture of a powerful yet worldly being; the Dagda is not above the concerns of humans as some deities appear to be, because these are his concerns, his battles, and indeed, his songs.

So again, how do we draw on this? Well, if you were in a situation where you wanted to calm yourself about your own fear of mortality, perhaps you could think of the Dagda and his club which causes both life and death, and use that as a focus point for a meditation on how death is an intrinsic part of life, and death is just another turning point in the cycle you cannot help but be caught in. Hmm, that’s a bit deep perhaps for an “everyday” example; maybe you are just having a hard time dealing with a mistake that you have made; perhaps you dealt with someone rashly at work, and are reaching within yourself to find the strength to see the correct course of action.

Put the staff in my hand,’ said the Dagda. And they lent him the staff, and he put the staff upon them thrice, and they fell by him, and he pressed the smooth end upon his son, and he arose in strength and health. Cermait put his hand on his face, and rose up and looked at the three dead men that were before him.

Who are these three dead men before thee?’ said Cermait.

Three that I met,’ said the Dagda, ‘sharing their father’s treasures. They lent me the staff, and I slew them with one end, and I brought thee to life with the other end.’

That is a sad deed,’ said Cermait, ‘that they should not be brought to life by that which caused me to live.’

The Dagda put the staff upon them, and the three brothers arose in health and strength. (6)

This excerpt from “How the Dagda got his Magic Staff” shows a rash and desperate action, but rooted in the most noble of firmament- love. Yet the object of his love, his son, is honest and hard enough to tell this great warrior he has done wrong, so the Dagda corrects his mistake, even knowing the retribution for his original actions may be great.

Stories such as these reach out to us, even today, as they speak of flawed, human reactions to extraordinary situations. They help us understand our own reactions, and sometimes make us glad of the way we already are, by holding our own standards up against some less than desirable behaviours! Likewise, if we found ourselves behaving in this rash manner, we would hope that this type of story would move us to improve the situation either by action or words. I think all of us have been Cermait at some point: forced to tell a loved one that they have done wrong.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors & Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.