Abarta (Abartach, Abhartach)
Irish god. This minor figure in Irish mythology—one of the fomorians, an ancient and monstrous race— appears in texts devoted to the band of heroes called the fianna. Ambitious to join the warrior elite, Abarta came to them pretending to be a lazy man in search of a job. fionn mac cumhaill, leader of the Fianna, inexplicably agreed to take him into service, calling him Gialla Deacair, or "lazy servant." Abarta tricked Fianna into mounting his apparently frail old horse and carried them away to the other-world. There he held them hostage until Fionn, after many magical adventures and battles, located and freed them. After this crime, Fionn did not offer Abarta membership in his band.
British folkloric figure. The Abbey Lubber haunted the wine cellar of any British abbey where lazy monks were overfond of drink. The best known was a spectral horse who dressed in a monkish robe and lived in a monastery under the name of Friar Rush. The wealthy and dissolute prior attempted to chastise the alleged friar for behavior more alcoholic than was welcome in that liberal establishment, but the Abbey Lubber assumed his real form and vanished, leaving the monks both frightened and chastened. Tales about this creature may derive not from actual mythology but from satirists of the Middle Ages, when corruption in monasteries caused public dismay.
British folkloric site. A vestige of the worship of the horned god cernun-nos may survive in the small English town of Abbots Bromley, which is located in the area where the Celtic tribe called the Curnovii or "horned ones" once lived. There, early each September, men wearing antlers are "hunted" through the town streets, after which the Horn Dance is performed, a luck-bringing performance said to lose efficacy if performed outside the town limits. As Celtic beliefs often continue under folkloric disguises, the community festival may have ancient antecedents.
Irish god. The tuatha de danann, the early Celtic divinities of Ireland, had a dwarf poet by this name who figures in the story of ruad, a maiden goddess after whom the famous waterfall of assaroe may have been named. It was in Abcan’s boat, with its bronze hull and tin sail, that Ruad traveled to this world from the otherworld. But she did not live long in Ireland, for she died at the waterfall, lured by the singing of mermaids from Abcan’s boat into the swirling waters. In another text, Abcan was captured by the great hero of ulster, cuchu-lainn, but freed himself by playing lullabies so irresistible that the warrior fell sound asleep. The figure of Abcan had much in common with, and may be related to, the dwarf musician fer l
Celtic goddess. Known in both Britain and on the Continent, Abnoba gave her name to the many rivers named Avon, including the famous one in England that flows through the town where playwright William Shakespeare was born; she also ruled the source of the Danube River in central Europe and was associated with the Black Forest, perhaps because of its numerous rivers. Sometimes this goddess was called Dea Abnoba, which means simply "the goddess Abnoba." Inscriptions to Abnoba from the Black Forest suggest that the Romans identified her with their woodland goddess diana. She is sometimes depicted as a huntress accompanied by a hunting dog and a stag.
Arthurian hero. The lover of morgan, Accalon was said to hail from Gaul and to have been one of king Arthur’s last opponents in battle. After Morgan stole the scabbard from excalibur, thus removing Arthur’s magical protection against any fatal wound, Accalon hoped to be victorious over the king. But the magician merlin strengthened Arthur’s hand, and Accalon fell beneath his blows.
Irish heroine. A hill just east of tara, Ireland’s ancient center of royal power, bears the name of this ulster princess who died of sorrow when conall cernach killed her brother, erc. She was considered one of the six noblest women in Ireland because of her sisterly love.
Irish heroine. Mother of the Irish hero cormac mac airt, she conceived and bore him under unusual circumstances. The king of tara, art mac cuinn, was traveling to a battle in which he expected to die, for a vision had warned him of his fate. He stopped overnight in Achtan’s home, where her father, the smith Olc Acha, revealed to Art a prophecy that sleeping with Achtan would ensure everlasting fame to her lover. Art went eagerly to Achtan’s bed. In order to assure fosterage for any offspring resulting from the tryst, Art told Achtan that his friend Lugna would be responsible should she conceive. And conceive she did, though Achtan never saw her child’s father again, for Art died in battle soon after.
Near her term, Achtan started for Lugna’s home in connacht, making it to the border of the province before going into labor under a thundering sky. A mother wolf protected and suckled the child when Achtan stumbled away looking for aid, and the new mother was unable to find her child when she returned. Some years later a hunter found the robust young man who had been raised by that wolf-mother. Reunited, human mother and son went to Tara to claim the throne, and there he reigned as Cormac mac Airt. Achtan married the hunter and lived thereafter near her son.
Irish god. The husband of the Irish woodland goddess flidais is obscure in comparison to his consort and has few known myths.
Arthurian heroine. This obscure figure is named in some texts as the second wife of the knight of the round table, lancelot, after an unnamed first wife. In such texts, Lancelot does not become the lover of queen guinevere.
Manx spirits. As in other Celtic lands, the residents of the Isle of Man called their neighbors in the ghostly otherworld by euphemisms such as this one, which means simply "Themselves." See names for the fairies.
Irish mythological animal. One of the hunting dogs of the Irish hero fionn mac cumhaill, Adhnuall accompanied his master less frequently than Fionn’s primary companion hounds, bran and sceolan.
Irish hero. In the book of invasions, the mythic history of Ireland, Adra "the ancient" was the husband of cesair, the land’s first settler. Theirs was an incestuous marriage, for bith was the father of both. The multiple and sometimes contradictory texts make it difficult to determine if Adra is the same character as ladra, otherwise said to be Cesair’s mate.
Adsagsona Continental Celtic goddess. Adsagsona was invoked as "weaver of spells," for she was a divinity of magic and the other-world, and as "she who seeks out," for she could find the object of any curse or blessing.
Irish literary form. One class of ancient Irish texts that often includes mythological material is the Adventure (echtra); often, an Adventure includes a journey to the other-world, although the class of stories called voyages (imram) also describe Otherworldly visitations. The most famous texts of this genre are: the Adventure of art Son of Conn, which tells of the desire of the fairy woman be chuma for the king of tara’s son Art; the Adventure of the Sons of eochaid (Mugmedon), which relates the birth of niall, another king of Tara; the Adventure of nera, in which a warrior enters the Otherworld through the cave of cruachan; the Adventure of connla, in which a fairy woman lures Connla to the Otherworld; the Adventure of cormac, in which that king is lured by fairy music to seek an Otherworld lover; and the Adventure of laoghaire (Mac Crimthann), in which the titular king helps an Otherworldly peer gain the release of his wife from captivity in the surface world.
Aeb (Aebh, Aobh)
Irish heroine. In the famous Irish story of the children of lir, this unfortunate woman was the birth mother of the fated children of the title. The daughter of bodb derg, a great magician, Aeb died giving birth to her second set of twins; Aeb’s only daughter, the loyal fionnuala, is the heroine of the tale, for she replaced her mother after the children were bereaved. Aeb’s death brought her evil foster-sister, childless aife, into Lir’s household and led to the curse that turned Aeb’s children into singing swans.
Aed (Aedh, Aodh)
Irish hero and divinity. Anglicized as Hugh, this common ancient Irish name gives rise to contemporary surnames including Hay, Hayes, Hughes, McHugh, and MacKay. Among the many legendary figures bearing this name are:
• Aed Abrat, a fairy king and father of the renowned fairy queens fand and li ban; little legend remains to define him.
• Aed, son of Eochaid Lethderg of Leinster, who was held captive by two fairy women for three years; unlike most such captives (see fairy kidnapping), he sought to escape the beautiful if sterile land in which he was held. After successfully doing so, Aed traveled to see st. patrick, who freed him from the vestigial bonds of fairyland. While the former part of the tale is consistent with Irish mythology (see fairy lover), the latter seems to have been added after Christianization of the land.
• Aed, son of LIR, one of the enchanted princes of the tale of the children of lir, turned into a swan for 900 years by his jealous stepmother.
• Aed, king of TARA. A sixth-century king who owned a magical cow that he thought would keep him safe in battle; this assumption may have been correct, but Aed left the cow at home when he went to war and was killed.
• Aed Minbhrec, son of the dagda, seduced the wife of the hero coincheann who killed Aed Minbhrec in retaliation. The Dagda condemned Coincheann to carry Aed’s corpse until he found a boulder big enough to cover it. This story is connected with grianan aileach, where Coincheann died of exhaustion from bearing boulder and body. But some variations have Aed alive still and ruling from his fairy mound at Mullaghnasee, near Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal.
• Aed, husband of Aibell, a queen of con-nacht; the powerful and lusty king mongan shape-shifted into Aed’s form to sleep with Aibell, putting a transfigured crone into Aed’s bed to cover the deception.
• Aed Alain, husband of the birth goddess bebinn, sister of boand.
• Aed Ruad (Rua, Ruadh), father of the goddess and queen machaMong Rua, who ruled jointly with two other ulster kings, cimbaeth and dithorba, in periods of seven years each. When Aed Ruad drowned in the famous waterfall assaroe in Co. Donegal, Macha went to war for the right to succeed him. This Aed has been considered an Otherworldly figure, sometimes identified with goll mac morna, rather than a mere human king.
• Aed, son of Miodhchaoin, killer of (and killed by) the sons of tuireann, the most tragic of Irish heroes.
• Aed Eangach, long-awaited king of Ireland who was to be born miraculously from the side of a pillar on tara. This "red-handed" king was never born, but the expectation of his imminent arrival was a staple of Irish poetic lore for centuries.
• Aed Sronmar. Human lover of the goddess or fairy ruad, he plays little part in myth except to inspire his beloved’s fatal trip from the otherworld to join him on earth; Ruad died before reaching him.
Aef (Plain of Aei)
Irish mythological site. In the greatest Irish epic, the tain bo cuailnge, which tells the story of the cattle raid of con-nacht against ulster, the two great bulls of the opposing peoples fight a final battle on the plain of Aei. Actually reborn human enemies destined to fight in every lifetime, the bulls fought for three days and three nights, tearing each other apart so that at the end of the battle, both lay dead. The plain of Aei has been variously located in the actual Irish landscape.
Aeracura (Aericura, Heracura)
Celtic goddess. Known in Switzerland and Germany as partner to dis pater, Aeracura is believed to have been similar to Greek Hecate, whose name resembles hers, for she was depicted holding a cornucopia or basket of fruit, common emblems of goddesses of fecundity and the oth-erworld. See also deae matres.
Aes dana (aos dana, aes dana)
Irish hero, heroine. This phrase, which today in Ireland designates a group of nationally acclaimed artists, derives from the Old Irish term for poets; the term was also sometimes applied to druids, brehons, or lawyers. To gain the gift of inspiration, one had to drink from the well of wisdom, eat the hazel nuts floating there, or taste the flesh of the salmon who swam in it.
Aeval (Eevell, Aoibheall, Aibell, Aebill, Aoibhell, Aoibhil, Aibhinn)
Irish spirit. Ireland has many ancient goddesses who come into literature and folklore as fairy queens. Among the most famous is Aeval, connected with the southwestern region of munster and specifically with a fairy mound at Killaloe in east Co. Clare, near which a well called Tobereevul ("well of Aeval") gushes from beneath the crag Craganeevul ("rock of Aeval"); she is also associated with the mountain Slieve Bernaugh, where she was said to have lived.
Her name means "beautiful" or "the lovely one," but her behavior was more threatening than loving. Queen of the two-dozen banshees of the region whose appearance predicted death, she appeared as a washer at the ford before disasters like the defeat of the historical hero Brian Boru; she was especially connected with the O’Brien family. Aeval judged the famous Midnight Court of the poet Brian Merriman, in which prudish Irishmen were found guilty of not being satisfactory lovers. Her rival was the sea fairy clidna, who turned Aeval into a white cat.
Afagddu (Avagddu, Morfran)
Welsh god. Afagddu ("utter darkness") was a boy so ugly that his mother, the hag-goddess ceridwen, feared he would never attract a mate. Thinking that poetry might draw maidens even to an uncomely man, Ceridwen mixed herbs of inspiration for her son in her magical cauldron— but the young servant boy gwion sipped the brew prematurely, thus draining its magic and becoming the great poet taliesin as a result. (In Irish myth, inspiration is gained from drinking from a sacred water-source, apparently a corollary of Ceridwen’s cauldron.) After this theft, we hear nothing more in myth of Afagddu. It is unclear whether morfran was an equally ugly brother or another name for Afagddu.
Welsh monster. The afanc haunted a whirlpool in the River Conwy in north Wales in the form of a massive beaver—or sometimes a crocodile, though that tropical reptile is otherwise rare in the vicinity. The monstrous size of the afanc clashes with its name, which means "dwarf’ or "water-dwarf." The afanc could be tamed, but only if lured (like a unicorn) to the lap of a maiden, where it could be harnessed by chains. One maiden, however, who tried to do so lost her life as the monster fled back to the safety of its lake home.
Arthurian hero. This minor figure in Arthurian legend was killed by lancelot as that great knight was rescuing his beloved guinevere from death at the stake.
Irish hero. He never reached Ireland, but this mythological figure nonetheless figures in the Irish mythic history, the book of invasions. Agnoman’s son was nemed, founder of the vaguely described race called the Nemedians who followed him from the family home in scythia to migrate to Ireland. Some scholars believe that such myths are vestiges of otherwise lost history; Elizabethan English poet and political apologist Edmund Spenser took the story literally and argued vehemently that the Irish were originally Scythian savages.
Arthurian hero. This minor figure in the legends of king arthur and his knights of the round table was a member of that renowned assembly, as were his brothers gawain, gaheris, and gareth. He was killed by lancelot for plotting with the evil mordred.
Although the Celts enter history as migratory herding tribes, they soon developed agriculture, perhaps as a result of contact with settled people; new religious rites developed to reflect and support the new lifestyle. Whether the rites were Celtic inventions or adaptations from rituals of pre-Celtic cultures is a matter of debate. In Ireland, we find rituals connected both with herding (as in the driving of animals between the beltane fires) and with agriculture (as in the offering of fruits to the god crom dubh on samhain), suggesting a mixed economy and the need to sustain both herds and fields through ritual. More clearly agricultural are the Irish myths and rituals that reflect the belief that the king was married to the goddess of the region, its fertility being reliant upon the rectitude of his actions (see sovereignty, inauguration). In Wales the god amaethon, who appears in the epic poem kul-hwch and olwen, was a human farmer able to make even the most unlikely wastelands bloom; although he was a god of agricultural fertility, the rituals offered to him were not recorded.
Arthurian hero. Long before king arthur took the throne of camelot, Agretes reigned there. Because he refused to assist a pilgrim from the Holy Land who bore a great chalice called the grail, he was stricken mad and died.
British goddess. An obscure goddess of war found in Britain and perhaps in Wales, she has been described as cognate with the mor-rigan, the Irish death queen.
Arthurian hero. A minor figure in legends of the great round table knights, he was their enemy who was finally vanquished by the pure percival.
Ai (Aoi, Aoi mac Ollamain)
Irish god. This minor Irish divinity was a poet of the magical race of Ireland, the tuatha de danann; at his birth a prophet predicted that he would wield great power. This prompted a king to try to murder the babe, but his father saved A so that his destiny could be fulfilled; however, the specifics of that destined greatness are lost.
Irish heroine. In some texts, this otherwise-unknown heroine is the daughter of the doomed lovers, deirdre and no^siu.
Irish divinity or fairy. This fairy queen or goddess of Donegal was worshiped at a "well of fire" whose waters were held to be an effective treatment for toothache; the petitioner was to leave a white stone as a substitute for the afflicted tooth. Connection of wells with toothache was less common than with healing of eye diseases; see brigit.
Irish heroine. A minor figure in Irish lore, Aidin was the wife of oscar, a warrior of the elite fianna, and she died of grief at her husband’s death. The bard, oisin, buried her with high honors under a cairn on the hill called benn etair.
Afe (Eefa, Eva, Aoife, Aife, Aeife)
Irish heroine. Several legendary Irish figures bear this name, which means "radiant" or "beautiful." These include:
• Aife of Scotland, a great warrior who trained Irish heroes. She was the daughter, sister, and/or double of the fearsome, scathach, one of the great warrior women. After the ulster hero cuchulainn showed his virile strength by besting her in battle, Aife bore his child, connla. The hero later unwittingly killed the young man, finding—too late—the ring he had given Aife as a memento for their child. This tragedy has been the inspiration for several literary works, notably W. B. Yeats’s play On Baile’s Strand. In some myths, Aife was Scathach’s rival rather than her sister.
• Aife, stepmother of the CHILDREN OF LIR, a jealous woman who took the place of her unfortunate foster sister aeb as wife of Lir after Aeb died giving birth to her second set of twins. But the children did not fare well in Affe’s care: she turned fionnuala and her brothers into swans for 900 years.
• Aife of the crane bag, a woman magically transformed into a crane (sometimes, heron) by a jealous rival, Iuchra; after spending a lifetime on the sea, she was again transformed by the sea god manannan mac lir, who created the mythological crane bag from her skin to carry all his mythic treasures, including the letters of the alphabet. Sometimes described as a muse figure, she is occasionally conflated with the stepmother of Fionnuala.
Irish heroine. This obscure figure is named in the book of invasions as one of the five wives of the hero partholon, along with Elgnad or dealgnaid, Cerbnat, Cichban, and Nerbgen. She is otherwise unknown.
Irish heroine. A malicious fairy, urged on by neighbors envious of Aige’s grace and charm, turned this woman into a wild doe. In that form she wandered the island, fleeing from hunters, until the warrior Meilge killed her while he was hunting. Aige’s brother faifne, a satirist, tried to avenge her death but lost his own life instead.
Irish hero. This connacht prince was slain by his uncle, Cromderg, in retaliation for Aigle’s own murder of a woman named Cliara who was under Cromderg’s care. For a time Aigle’s name was given to one of Connacht’s most important mountains. First called Cruachan Garbrois, the pyramidal peak then became Cruachan Aigle; now the mountain, called croagh patrick for the last 1,600 years, is honored as the site of the final conflict between the Christian missionary and Ireland’s ancient pagan powers.
Irish mythological beast. A famous hunting dog owned by the warrior mac datho, Ailbe was desired by two powerful provincial kings, each of whom his owner wished to satisfy. Promising the dog to both concobar mac nessa and ailill mac mata, kings of ulster and connacht respectively, Mac Datho set in motion an argument in which the dog was killed.
Ailill (Aleel, Aileel, Allil)
Irish hero. Ancient Irish literature boasts many heroes and kings by this name, which means "elf" or "sprite" and is similar to the goddess name ele; it is often anglicized into Oliver. Mythic figures of this name include:
• Ailill mac Mata (mac Matach), the most famous bearer of the name, was consort of queen medb of connacht. In the Irish epic, tain bo cuailnge, an argument between Ailill and Medb (the famous "pillow-talk") set off a murderous cattle raid on ulster. Medb announced that she had married Ailill for his generosity, bravery, and lack of jealousy; Ailill showed the latter by ignoring Medb’s flagrant affair with the well-endowed fergus. Ailill claimed the right to rule Connacht because his mother Mata—after whom he is called mac ("son of’) Mata—was the province’s queen, although in some stories he was a mere man-at-arms raised to consort status by Medb’s desire; in either case, his claim to power comes through relationship to a woman. In addition to the Tain bo Cuailnge, Ailill also appears in the Tain bo Fraech, the Cattle Raid of Fraech, in which he set obstacles in the way of the hero fraech who wished to wed finnabair, Ailill and Medb’s daughter.
Ailill also makes a significant appearance in Echtra Nerai, the Adventure of nera, for it was at Ailill’s instigation that the hero nera descended into the otherworld on samhain, the day when the veils between worlds were thinnest. Despite his forbearance about her many lovers, Medb did not return the favor; Ailill met his death when she found him unfaithful and convinced the hero conall cernach to kill him. That Ailill was not without fault is emphasized by the derogatory reference in the senchas mor, a compilation of ancient legal texts, which censures him for "sudden judgements," apparently meaning hasty and ill-conceived opinions.
• Ailill, a MILESIAN king of leinster and father of the romantic heroine etain. When the god of beauty, aonghus Og, asked for Etain’s hand for his foster-father, the fairy king midir, Ailill exploited the situation by demanding the clearing of 12 vast agricultural plains—a task that the sturdy dagda, Aonghus’s father, performed. Not yet satisfied, Ailill demanded that 12 rivers be created to irrigate the new fields; again the Dagda complied. Then Ailill asked for his daughter’s weight in silver and again in gold, and once again the Dagda did as asked. And so finally Ailill agreed to grant Midir permission to court his daughter, setting in motion events that affected Etain for several lifetimes. The name Ailill also appears later in Etain’s story, the result either of poetic doubling or of the derivation of both figures from a lost original.
• Ailill Anglonnach (Anguba), who seduced Etain, queen of tara, wife of his brother eochaid Airem. Ailill feigned illness to attract Etain. Not wishing to betray her marriage bed but convinced that only making love to him would save Ailill’s life, Etain agreed to meet him on a nearby hill. A man looking exactly like Ailill approached, and she made love with him—but the man was, in fact, her fairy husband from a former lifetime, midir, who thus spared her honor.
• Ailill Olom (Ailill Aulomm, Ailill Olom), mythological king of ancient munster and ancestor of that province’s historical Eoganacht dynasty. He was said to have lived for nearly a century as the mate of the land goddess aine, but alternative stories say that he raped her on the feast of samhain and that, in defending herself, she ripped off his ear—hence his nickname, "bare-eared Ailill." Ailill was foster father of the hero lugaidh mac Conn, who despite that relationship turned against Ailill and his ally art mac cuinn. After defeating them at the battle of mag mucramhan, Lugaidh gave Tara’s kingship to Art’s son, cor-mac mac airt, and traveled south to make amends to Ailill. But the Munster king, unwilling to accept Lugaidh’s apology, poisoned his son with his breath.
• Ailill of Aran, father of two wives of king lir: aeb, who gave birth to his children, including the heroic fionnaula; and the envious aife, who bewitched the children into swans, according to the story of the children of lir, one of the three sorrows of ireland.
• Ailill Aine, mythological ancestral father of the historical Lagin people of ancient leinster.
Ailinn (Aillinn, Aillin)
Irish heroine. One of Ireland’s greatest romances revolves around this princess of the southeastern province of leinster and her lover Baile Binnbhearlach ("sweet-spoken Baile"), prince of ulster in the northeast. As each traveled separately to a trysting place midway between their realms, a maleficent fairy told the prince—falsely—that his lover was dead, whereupon he died of grief at Baile’s Strand, a seashore near today’s Dundalk; the spiteful sprite then carried the same story (sadly true this time) to Ailinn, who also fell down dead of grief. From their adjacent graves grew two entwined trees: a yew from his, an apple from hers. Seven years later, poets cut down the trees and carved them into magical tablets, engraving all of Ulster’s tragic love songs on the yew, while those of Leinster were recorded on the apple-wood; thus their provinces were joined as closely as the lovers had once been. When the king of tara, cormac mac airt, held the two tablets near each other, they clapped together and could never again be separated. A variant holds that Ailinn was abducted and raped, dying of shame over her treatment; an apple tree grew from her grave, while nearby a yew ascended from the grave of her beloved pet dog Baile.
Aillen (Ellen, Aillene)
Irish hero, heroine, or spirit. A number of legendary Irish figures bear this name, which is related to words for "sprite" and "monster." Several are sufficiently similar that they may be the same or derivatives of the same original.
• Aillen mac Midgna (Midna, Midhna) The most famous Aillen, he was called "the burner." This destructive musician of the magical tribe called the tuatha de danann burned down the great halls of tara for 23 consecutive years, each time lulling its defenders to sleep with fairy music so rapturously soporific that no one could resist. After each year’s success, Aillen crept back to his fairy mound at Finnachaid (the tragic king lir was sometimes said to live there as well); each year after his departure, Tara was rebuilt. Finally the hero fionn mac cumhaill killed Aillen, using a poisoned spear whose fumes were so noxious that no one could sleep after breathing them, not even those lulled by Aillen’s magical music.
• Aillen Trechenn (Trechend) "Triple-headed Aillen" regularly attacked Ireland’s great capital tara, as well as the regional capital of emain macha in ulster; described as sometimes male, sometimes female, this fiend lived in the cave called oweynagat at the con-nacht capital of cruachan. The poet amair-gin finally dispatched the monster and freed Tara from its stranglehold. As Oweynagat’s usual resident is the morrigan, this figure may be associated with her. The distinction between this murderous monster and Aillen mac Midgna is difficult to discern.
• Aillen, brother of AINE, goddess of fairy queen of munster, he fell in love with the wife of the sea god manannan mac lir.
Irish heroine. When the bold warriors of the fianna killed her husband Mergah, this woman set out to gain vengeance. Transforming herself into a deer (see shape-shifting), she led the Fianna leader fionn mac cumhaill and his musician pal daire on a desperate chase until they were exhausted. Then she surrounded them with a druid’s fog so that they could not find their way home. When the Fianna heard Daire’s music and attempted a rescue, they too got lost in the thick fog. Wandering, Fionn and Daire met another lost traveler, Glanlua, who asked them for aid. Then fairy music arose from within the fog, and all fell asleep.
When the fog cleared, Fionn found himself on the shores of a lake, from which there arose a giant and a beautiful woman: Ailna and her brother, dryantore, demanding recompense for the murder of Mergah in battle and for the deaths of his nephews, Dryantore’s sons, as well. The pair imprisoned the heroes in a dungeon, but Glanlua became Ailna’s companion and from her learned of a magical drinking horn that would restore health and strength. When the Fianna were finally able to locate Fionn, the wily Conan slipped the vessel to Fionn so that, strengthened, he was able to break his bonds and escape.
Aimend Irish goddess. This obscure goddess appears to have been an early solar divinity.
Irish goddess, heroine or spirit. Irish legend offers several figures of this name, which means "brightness" or "splendor." Historical figures of this name tend to be male and are connected with the Limerick/north Kerry area of the southwestern province of munster; mythological figures are female and are typically connected to the same area, although the name is found as far away as ulster. The most prominent Aines of myth may be ultimately the same or may derive from the same original.
• Aine of KNOCKAINY [Cnoc Aine], usually described as a fairy queen although she is probably a diminished goddess, who inhabits a hill near storied lough gur in east Co. Limerick. Several scholars connect her with anu (danu), the great goddess of munster who gave her name to the tuatha de danann, the tribe of the goddess Danu.
There are indications that she was a sun goddess, for she was connected with solar wells like Tobar Aine near Lissan in Ulster as well as being linked with the sun goddess grian, her sister; but at other times she is described as related to finnen, "white," an obscure goddess of the Lough Gur region. As sun goddess, Aine could assume the form of an unbeatable horse, Lair Derg ("red mare").
Aine’s special feast was held on either midsummer night, the summer solstice on June 21, or on lughnasa, the Celtic feast on August 1. At that time, straw torches were waved over animals that were then driven up the slopes of Knockainy to solicit Aine’s protection. She is sometimes called Aine Chlair, either from the connection with the "cliars" or torches used in such ceremonies, or from Cliu/Cliach, the ancient name for the territory. "The best-hearted woman that ever lived," as she was locally called, was reported to have been seen on the slopes of her mountain even into recent times, offering help to those in need.
The long list of Aine’s lovers includes both gods and mortals. Among the former was the sea god manannan mac lir. Aine’s brother aillen fell in love with Manannan’s wife, and Manannan with Aine, so Manannan gave his wife to Aillen in exchange for the charms of Aine. (A variant has Aine as daughter rather than lover to Manannan.) Although a lustful goddess, she also has a matronly aspect, for her "birth chair" (see suideachan) can be seen on the mountain Knockadoon.
Aine was the lover of Maurice (Muiris), the human Earl of Desmond, who stole her cloak in order to capture her (see swan maiden); once captured, she bore him a son, geroid iarla or Gerald the waterbird. Warned against showing any surprise at their magical son’s behavior, Maurice remained composed at all times—until Geroid was fully grown and showed himself able to shrink almost into invisibility at will. When his father called out in astonishment, Geroid disappeared; he is said to live still in Lough Gur and to ride around it every seven years on a white horse. The descendants of Aine’s son—the Geraldines or Fitzgeralds—long claimed sovereignty in western Munster through this descent from the goddess of the land.
Aine did not always go willingly to prospective lovers; she was responsible for the death of the hero etar, who expired of a broken heart when she rejected him. She was also said to have resisted ailill Olom, who took her against her will and whose ear she ripped off in her unsuccessful fight against him; the child of the rape was Eogan, a story that some scholars describe as an invention of his descendants, the Eoganacht rulers, to affirm control of the lands under Aine’s sovereignty.
Some legends connect Aine with madness, for those who sat on her stone chair went mad, and if they sat there three times, they would never recover their wits. Those who were already mad, however, could regain their sanity through the same process.
• Aine of Donegal, from the parish of Teelin in the townland of Cruachlann, near another mountain called Cnoc Aine; there Aine was said to have been a human woman who disappeared into the mountain to escape a savage father. She now spends her time spinning sunbeams, this story says, suggesting that the folkloric figure disguises an ancient sun goddess. A folk verse from the area has Aine telling discontented wives how to weaken their husbands with "corn warm from the kiln and sheep’s milk on the boil."
• Aine of the FENIAN CYCLE, daughter of either the fairy king cuilenn or a Scottish king, was the lover of fionn mac cumhail, by whom she had two sons. Aine and her sister milucra fought for Fionn’s affections; Milucra turned him into a graybearded ancient who would be uncompelled by lust, but Aine restored him to youth with a magical drink. Fionn, however, married neither of the sisters.
Irish goddess. This daughter of the dagda magically defended against the theft of the logs she was gathering by transforming them into living trees. She owned a tub or cauldron in which water would ebb and flow as though it were the tide.
Irish hero. The foster son of the great bard of the milesians, amairgin, Airech plays little part in Irish mythology except as the man who steered the ship of the mysterious donn. As Donn is sometimes interpreted as ruler of death, Airech may be the steersman of the death barge.
Airmid (Airmed, Airmedh)
Irish goddess. A member of the tuatha de danann, the tribe of the goddess danu, Airmid was an herbalist, daughter of the divine physician dian cecht. With her beloved brother miach, Airmid healed the wounded hand of king nuada so that he could continue to reign, for a blemished king could not lead the people. Her father had already tried, but Dian Cecht was only able to craft a hand of silver, while his children made a far superior replacement: They made flesh grow around their father’s prosthesis, creating a lifelike limb. Furious with envy, Dian Cecht killed Miach. As Airmid tended the flowers on her brother’s grave, she observed hundreds of healing plants among them, and she sat down to classify the herbs, failing to notice her father creeping up on her. He allowed Airmid to finish her task, then scattered all the herbs. Airmid’s order has never been restored, and the ancient Irish said that the loss of her medical knowledge greatly increased the pain that humans must endure.
Aisling (ashling, aislinge)
Irish literary form. A traditional form of Irish poetry, this word means "vision" or "dream." The most famous such poem is the Aislinge Oenguso, or The Vision of aonghus, which tells of the love of that god for a swan maiden named caer; another renowned poem in the genre is the Aislinge Meic Con Glinne or The Vision of mac conglinne, a satirical poem about a wise scholar who travels around an Ireland burdened by the corruption of its clergy and poets. Many later (17th-19th century) aislings were patriotic poems that described the poet encountering the goddess of sovereignty, now betrayed and alone, walking the roads of Ireland searching for a hero.
Aithirne (Aitherne, Athairne)
Irish hero. A poet who appears in a number of medieval texts, Airthirne "the Importunate" represents a degraded form of the magical bard of ancient times. He lived by taking advantage of the Irish custom that it was wrong to refuse the request of a poet. He was so greedy that even before birth his in utero noises caused ale barrels to burst; later he used his poetic gift to satirize anyone— or anything, for he even satirized a river—that did not give him food. It was because of Aithirne that a bridge of bundled saplings was built over the River Liffey where the city of Dublin now lies (in Irish, the city is Baile Atha Cliath, the town on the wicker ford); when he wanted to drive some stolen sheep across the river, the men of the region, frightened of his merciless reputation, built the bridge for him. He then repaid them—by stealing their wives.
Aithirne traveled to the fairy mound of bri leith to steal the herons of inhospitality,which he intended to install in his own house, in direct defiance of the requirement that householders be generous and hospitable. His greed extended to the sexual realm; he demanded to sleep with one queen immediately after she gave birth. Finally he went too far, demanding access to the bed of Luaine, the bride of ulster’s king concobar mac nessa. When she refused, Aithirne composed a satire that caused her to break out in blisters so virulent that they killed her. In retaliation, the Ulster warriors set fire to Aithirne’s house, and the greedy poet was devoured by greedy flames.
British warrior or healing god. His name, which appears to mean "he who rears and nourishes his people," is found in several British sites, and versions of it appear in Ireland as well. Alator was associated by the Romans with mars, which suggests that he ruled war or healing.
Continental Celtic goddess. Alauna was a river divinity found in Brittany (in the river Alaunus) and in Wales (in the river Alun in Pembrokeshire), and possibly in England’s Alun, a tributary of the Dee, from which fish reputedly came ashore to stare at human men and to wink suggestively at women.
Albinal (Albu, Alba)
British goddess. According to the Roman author Pliny, this was the name of the chief goddess of the island of Britain, sometimes called Albion after her; some authors refer to her as Alba, although that name is also used to refer to Scotland. The early medieval British historian Holinshed mentioned a figure of this name, a princess who landed on the British shore in ships with 50 fugitive women who had killed their husbands; a parallel figure in Irish mythology, cesair, similarly landed with boatloads of women, although in that case several men were permitted aboard. Albina’s name may mean "white," suggesting a connection to the chalky soil of southeast Britain, although others have derived the word from an ancient term for "height" (as in "Alps").
British hero. According to the medieval writer Geoffrey of Monmouth, there was once a giant of this name whose father was a sea god. The name has been seen as cognate with that of the continental Celtic god albiorix.
Continental Celtic god. This name may mean "king of the world" and is found in several inscriptions from Gaul; the Romans identified this deity with their own god of war, mars.
Celtic sacred tree. On slender, graceful branches, the alder (genus Alnus) carries tiny cones and dangling catkins at the same time; perhaps it was this evidence of the simultaneity of seasons past with those to come that led the Celts to connect alder with divination and prognostication, a connection that lasted into the early modern period in Scotland. When cut, the wood turns from white to red as though bleeding, which may have suggested that the trees sustain a humanlike spirit; in ancient times, the felling of alder trees was forbidden as a kind of murder. The sacredness of alders is emphasized in tales that the fairy folk used it to cover their theft of cattle from humans, leaving enchanted boughs of alder in place of the cattle they spirited away. In Wales the alder was associated with the hero bran, the blessed for the poet gwydion was able to ascertain Bran’s identity because of the alder branch he carried.
Ritual object. This hearty drink of hops and malt—a favorite of the ancient Irish, who also fermented honey into mead— had a ritual significance as the symbol of the goddess of sovereignty, who offered a cup of dergfhlaith ("red ale") to the new king at his inauguration. The legendary but little-known partholonians were said to have brought the beverage to Ireland, but it was a later mythological race, the tuatha de danann, who refined the art of brewing until the ale of their smith and brewer goibniu was strong enough to endow the drinker with immortality. Irish epics such as The Drunkenness of the Ulstermen and the Adventure of Nera connect ale with the festival of samhain, when the boundaries between this world and the otherworld were blurred. Archaeology has revealed ancient brewing cauldrons but no indication of storage vessels; thus drinking may have been a seasonal event in ancient Ireland.
Aleine Arthurian heroine. A minor figure in legends of king arthur, Aleine was the niece of gawain and lover of percival.
Irish goddess. The great ancient capital of the eastern Irish province of leinster, Almu, was named for this otherwise obscure goddess or heroine, who was described as royal and heroic, but with little narrative to reveal why. The hill where the capital once stood is now known as the Hill of Allen, in Co. Kildare; this goddess also gave her name to the bog of allen.
Arthurian hero. One of the blemished kings of Arthurian legend, he attempted to gaze at the grail before his soul was pure enough for him to do so. As a result he was stricken in his reproductive organs and remained wounded until the Grail quest was completed.
Beale Pilgrim Arthurian heroine. A minor character of Arthurian legend, Alice kept her face always veiled; she was a cousin of the fair knight lancelot and the lover of alisander le orphelin.
Orphelin (Alixandre l’Orphelin) Arthurian hero. This minor figure in Arthurian legend was held prisoner by morgan, who appears in this story as a fairy queen who unsuccessfully attempted to seduce the pure knight. The same story is told of lancelot, leading some to believe they are the same or parallel figures.
Continental Celtic god. An obscure Gaulish god whose name may have been given to the important settlement of Alesia, variously believed to mean stone, alder, or rowan.
Irish goddess. Almu was honored in the eastern province of Ireland, leinster, on the Hill of Allen—once the sacred capital of the province from which the regional kings reigned. Surrounded by the immense bog of allen, the hill was personified as Almu, "all-white," a term also used to describe the royal citadel on the hill’s crest. An invisible entrance to the otherworld was reputed to exist on the hill, and the Otherworldly king nuada was described as its original possessor, until the hero fionn mac cumhaill won it from him by strength of arms. The hill was often named as the birthplace of Fionn, whose "chair"—a small mound—was atop its summit. Almu has been frequently confused with Dun Ailinne or knockaulin, near Kilcullen, the former residence of the kings of Leinster.
Irish folkloric figure. A water sprite who could be accidentally swallowed, the alp-luachra was no end of trouble, causing stomach ailments until it was lured back out of the mouth. Some contended that the problems arose when a person accidentally swallowed a newt, a small amphibian that turned into an alp-luachra within the body. To get rid of one, the sufferer had to eat salty food without washing it down with liquids, then sleep next to a stream; dying of thirst, the alp-luachra leapt from the afflicted one’s mouth and into the water.
Celtic ritual object. Although a number of stone altars engraved with dedications to Celtic divinities have been found in Britain and on the Continent, such altars represented Roman rather than Celtic custom. Several authors, including the Roman Cicero and the Irish Cormac, speak of Celtic altars used for sacrifice, but these seem to have been rather different than the stone imitations of dining tables that arrived in Celtic lands with the Roman legions. In keeping with Celtic custom of worshiping out of doors rather than inside a building, the original altars of the Celts were probably unshaped boulders or piles of large rock. See sacrifice.
Amadan (Amadain, Amadain Mhoir)
Irish hero or spirit. Just as every fairy mound had its queen, so also did it have a fool, the Amadan,who served the queen loyally, even blindly, unaware of the difficulties he caused. It was the Amadan who could cause a stroke by the mere touch of his hand over human flesh (see fairy stroke). While some describe the Amadan as malicious—and certainly his behavior caused difficulties for his victims—he is more often depicted as too dim-witted to understand the (sometimes dire) consequences he wrought.
The fool also appears in oral folklore and in written texts as a hapless human simpleton, as in the story of "Shawn an Omadawn," recorded by several early collectors, wherein a somewhat stupid boy winds up outwitting his more intelligent siblings or companions. In a tale from the fenian cycle called the Adventure of the Great Amadan (Eachtra an Amadain Mhoir), the fool was really the son of a king, dispossessed of his lands by invasion. Hiding in the wildwood, he grew into a hairy giant who, despite his unattractive features, married into the usurping family, only to kill his in-laws in retribution for their crimes. After many adventures and battles, the Amadan was restored to his own family and went forth to battle other giants.
Welsh god. Amaethon’s name means "ploughman," suggesting that he was a spirit of earthly fertility. Despite his name, he was associated with wild animals such as the deer, and thus seems connected not strictly with agriculture but with fruitfulness of all kinds. In the Welsh triads, Amaethon owned a dog, a deer, and a lapwing that he stole from the king of annwn, the otherworld, suggesting that the source of this world’s abundance rests in the mysterious realm beyond. This relatively obscure god was one of the children of the mother goddess don.
Amairgin (Amargen, Amhairghin, Amairgin,Amairgein, Amorgin)
Irish hero. This name,which means "wondrously born" or "song-conception" is borne by two legendary poets:
• Amairgin, son of Mfl and the first great poet of Ireland, was reputed to have lived in the sixth century c.e. When the tuatha de danann, who then had control of Ireland, blew up a magical storm to keep the invading milesians from landing, Amairgin’s magical words calmed the storm and allowed his people to land, with Amairgin himself becoming the first of his race to set foot on Irish soil. As he did so, he recited his most famous poem, the "Song of Amairgin," in which he describes himself shape-shifting into a salmon, a sunbeam, a flower, a spear; similar poems ascribed to the Irish poet tuan mac cairill and to the Welsh bard taliesin show the connection in the Celtic mind between magical transformation and poetry. As the Milesians traveled through Ireland, they encountered three goddesses of the land, each of whom demanded that they name the island after her (see fodla and banba); it was Amairgin’s decision to call it after eriu. As chief poet of the Milesians, Amairgin was simultaneously judge and seer, so his decision was unchangeable.
• Amairgin of Ulster, whose wife Findchoem was the sister of king concobar mac nessa; this Amairgin saved tara by killing the monster aillen trechenn who raided the capital at destructive intervals. He fostered the hero cuchulainn, who thus became foster-brother to Amairgin’s own son, conall cer-nach. Amairgin was once visited by the bitter poet aithirne, but Amairgin’s words were too slippery to provide Aithirne a foothold for satirizing him. Amairgin was a warrior as well as a poet; in the epic tain bo cuailnge, Amairgin was so powerful that the dead piled up around him.
Arthurian hero. This evil king set the quest for the grail in motion when he and his warriors raped the maidens who protected the sacred wells deep in Britain’s forests.
Arthurian hero. This obscure figure was said to have been the son of king arthur and slain accidentally by him. His grave in Wales cannot be measured (see countless stones), since it continually gives a new measurement to those who try.
Ritual object. Some people distinguish a talisman, an object worn or carried to bring good luck, from an amulet, typically an object of warding power, used for protection against some force or entity. The distinction is not always observed, however, so that we read of amulets dedicated to certain gods but intended to attract rather than to keep their powers at bay. Celtic peoples wore amulets of various sorts. Some were made of precious metal such as gold and embossed with the symbol of a divinity: A wheel for the solar deity, for instance, was common. Other amulets included coral, which was worn as both a decorative jewel and, as Pliny attests, an amulet of protection. Amber and quartz were graven into balls, and tiny animal figures (boars, horses, bulls) were shaped from stone or bone, both to be worn on thongs around the neck. In Scotland nuts were hung around the necks of children as amulets against the evil eye. For the most famous Celtic amulet, see serpent stone.
Ana Life (Ana Liffey)
Irish heroine. James Joyce called her "Anna Livia Plurabelle" in his great modernist novel Finnegans Wake; she is invoked in the invented word that begins the book, "riverrun," and is implied in its ending, which circles back to the beginning like water from the River Liffey running to the sea and then returning to the source through rain. Although Anna Livia Plurabelle is Joyce’s invention, there is precedent for personifying the river in this way, for Ana Life is the name given to the only female visage among the sculpted river divinities on Dublin’s bridges, apparently joining the early Irish land-goddess name anu with the Irish name of the river, Life. Despite being a sculptural invention, Ana Life is the most mythically accurate of the bridge sculptures, for Irish rivers are almost invariably goddesses rather than gods; the correct name of the goddess of the Liffey is life. In his flowing and abundant archetypal feminine figure, Joyce similarly reflected ancient Celtic beliefs. The Liffey is an especially archetypal river, rising from the bog of allen (not in the Devil’s Glen in Wicklow, as Joyce says) and flowing south, west, north, and finally east, forming a great "c" shape before disgorging itself in the sea.
Continental Celtic goddess. Consort of mars (a Roman name given to Celtic war gods; not her mate’s original name), Ancamna appears to have been a maternal goddess of prosperity and healing.
To the Celts, ancestral spirits always remained close to their families, often still cohabiting their dwelling places by remaining around the hearth. Generally these spirits were seen to be neutral or even protective, though in need of regular attention to keep their energies positive. Ancestor-honoring may have been ancestor-worship in early Celtic society, where goddesses and gods were addressed as "mother" and "father" of the tribe; in Christian times, veneration for a family’s special saint may be a vestigial form of such devotion.
In Brittany and other parts of France, it was common to water graves with milk, as though the dead needed its nourishment. In Ireland the dead were said to come back and visit—have a drink, smoke a pipe, sit by the fire in their usual chair—on samhain, the day when the veils between this world and the otherworld grew thinnest. Food and tobacco were often left out for them. Implicit in such rituals is the idea that, if unattended to, the dead may grow angry and cause disruptions in the earthly world.
Continental Celtic goddess. Goddess of a continental Celtic tribe, the Voconces, Andarta’s name is similar to that of the war goddess andraste, which has given rise to an identification of the two; she has also been interpreted as a goddess of wildlife because the second syllable of her name, art, is found in the names of many Celtic bear divinities.
British goddess. Andraste, whose name means "invincibility," was invoked in a sacred grove by the warrior queen boudicca of the British tribe, the Iceni, before she led her troops into battle against the Roman invaders. In her ritual to Andraste, Boudicca released a hare, found in Ireland as an occasional symbol of the warrior queen medb; although at first the hare seems a timid beast for a war divinity, it can grow fierce when threatened and is thus an appropriate image of defense. Boudicca came near to succeeding in her quest to drive the Romans from her land, but when the tides of war turned against her, she committed suicide rather than submit to the ignominies the Romans heaped upon their conquered enemies.
Arthurian hero. This cousin of the romantic hero tristan served as a spy for king mark, husband of Tristan’s lover iseult. Some texts claim that he murdered Tristan to curry favor with the king.
Angharad (Angharad Law Eurawc, Angharad of the Golden Hand)
Arthurian heroine. The knight peredur courted this otherwise obscure maiden, who may have originated as a goddess of the land’s sovereignty.
British and Welsh sacred site. Location of Druidic college. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, this island off Wales was the site of a druid sanctuary destroyed in a fierce attack by Roman soldiers in ca. 59-64 c.e. Celtic women or priestesses, robed in black, screamed like the raven-goddess morrigan as their fellow priests fought fiercely against the invaders. As the Romans had ruthlessly cut down the nemetons or sacred groves of other Celtic peoples and massacred the clergy, the druids of Anglesey knew what fate held in store for them and their honored trees. And indeed, the druids were killed in battle or executed, and the great forests burned. But evidence of the wealth and glory of Anglesey survived. The bogs and lakes of Anglesey have yielded up great troves of goods in Celtic design, suggesting that the Druids hid them during or before the invasion.
The island may have been sacred to pre-Celtic people, as attested by an ancient cairn atop the hill of Bryn-Celli-Dhu. Celts typically absorbed the holy sites of their predecessors, so Anglesey would be typical. The destruction of Anglesey has been depicted in several works of contemporary fantasy, most notably Diana Paxon’s Arthurian trilogy.