Billy To Buxenus (Celtic mythology and folklore)


Blind British folkloric figure. In northern England, this name was sometimes given to a male form of the banshee, the fairy who predicts death; he also sometimes helped around the house like a brownie.


Symbolic plant. One of the Celtic sacred trees, the birch (species betula) stands for the second letter of the tree alphabet. A shortlived but graceful white-barked tree, the birch provided wood for the maypoles used in beltane dances.


Symbolic animal. Birds are found as emblems or escorts of Celtic goddesses, especially the carrion-eaters, such as crows or ravens, that accompanied goddesses of war and death. Birds sometimes represented souls leaving the body, as their connection with warrior goddesses would suggest, but they also were seen as oracular. The designs formed by birds in flight were the basis of a now-lost system of divination.

Not all Celtic bird imagery was gloomy or foreboding. Sweetly singing birds surround goddesses such as rhiannon, whose presence was always indicated by their joy-giving song, or clidna, whose bright-feathered companions eased the pain of the sick with their songs. Individual bird species had specific associated traditions.


Irish heroine. In the Irish story of the conception of the hero lugh, this woman druid helped Lugh’s father, a human named cian, disguise himself in women’s attire to gain entry to the prison of the fair eithne, daughter of balor of the Evil Eye.


Mythic theme. fertility, whether of the fields, of the herds, or of humans, was not taken for granted by the Celts. The number of recorded invocations and rituals that were offered to increase fertility suggest that it was a matter of serious concern. Birth itself was not without its dangers, and so protective rituals for a safe childbirth included drinking waters of holy wells or wearing clothing dipped in them. As many wells had oracular functions, it is likely that parents-to-be also consulted them about the expected child.


Irish hero or god. Son of the biblical Noah and father of cesair, the original settler of Ireland who fled the flood in her own ark. According to the book of invasions, Bith came along, landing with Cesair in munster in the southwestern part of the island, then moved with 17 of Cesair’s 50 handmaidens to ulster. There he died on Slieve Beagh, where he is said to have been buried under the now-destroyed Great Cairn (Carn Mor). As the Irish word bith means cosmos, this shadowy god may have originally had greater significance than his fragmentary myth implies.

Black Annis

British mythological figure. Outside Leicester rise the Dane Hills, named after the ancestral goddess danu and said to be haunted by the fearsome blue-faced Black Annis, a degraded goddess figure who may derive from Danu. In a cave known as Black Annis’s Bower, she was said to ambush children and eat them. She was sometimes pictured as a hare (spring ritual hare-hunting is known in the area) or a cat (dragging a dead cat in front of hounds was another spring ritual of the area). In other stories, she is said to have been a nun who turned cannibal. She may be a form of the weather-controlling ancient goddess, the cailleach.

Black Chanter

Scottish mythological instrument. An enchanted musical instrument, part of a bagpipe, of which many tales are told in Scotland. Given to the leader of the Chisholms of Strath Glas by a foreign magician, it permitted one to travel through the air if played by a Cameron, the traditional pipers of the area. The Black Chanter served as a kind of banshee, predicting death by cracking the evening before a death in the family. Each time this occurred, a ring of silver was placed around the chanter to repair it, until the whole instrument was covered with silver rings.

Black Dog

Irish, Scottish, and British mythological figure. This spectral creature, usually shaggy and as big as a calf, was familiar throughout the insular Celtic world as an indication of great change and probable death. Occasionally Black Dogs could be helpful, but it was necessary to be wary of them, for one glance of their eyes could kill.

In northern England this beast was sometimes called a barguest and thought to be a portent of death; the barguest led all the dogs of a district on a rampage through an area where death was about to occur, all howling and creating a memorable disturbance. In East Anglia the dog is called Black Shuck, while in Cumbria it was Shriker. In Westmoreland the dog was called the Capelthwaite and performed doggy services, like rounding up herds, for the locals, while the same creature on the Isle of Man was called the Mauthe Doog. The Black Dog is also familiar to Irish folklore and has been sighted at Irish sacred sites as recently as the 1990s. It is likely that lore about this ghostly creature inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

Black Vaughan

British folkloric figure. In Lancastershire this savage ghost was said to have been so vile in life that he remained on earth to torment his neighbors after his death, even resorting to shape-shifting into a fly to drive their horses wild. The ghost was finally exorcised by a woman with a newborn baby, whose purity and innocence Black Vaughan could not tolerate.


British hero or god. This king was said by Geoffrey of Monmouth to have founded the great spa at bath, shrine to the Celtic goddess sul, lighting the unquenchable fire of the goddess there; some argue that Bladud was not a human king at all but the spirit of the place, or genius loci.


Irish heroine. Mother of oisin, the poet of the band of heroes called the fianna, she was turned into a deer by a magical enemy and conceived her son while in that form. fionn mac cumhaill was the father. Oism was born in human form, and BM was warned not to touch him. But she could not resist and stroked him gently with her tongue, leaving a small furry patch forever on Oism’s forehead. Often this heroine is given the name of sadb.


Arthurian hero. Blaise, an otherwise obscure figure, taught magic to the great merlin.

Blanchefleur (Blancheflor)

Arthurian heroine. When the round table knight percival entered the domain of the wounded fisher king, he met and wooed the beautiful Blanchefleur ("white flower"); in some texts, the name is given as belonging to Percival’s sister, otherwise known as dindraine.

Blarney Stone

Irish folkloric site. In Co. Cork, in the 15th-century Blarney Castle, is a stone that is said to convey eloquence (without the requirement of honesty) upon those who kiss it. The stone was blessed by clidna, the region’s fairy queen, after the local ruler Cormac MacCarthy had asked for help in winning a lawsuit. Kissing the stone at dawn as Chdna instructed, MacCarthy was instantly gifted with glibness and talked his way out of trouble. To prevent others from having the same advantage, MacCarthy had the stone installed in an inaccessible part of the castle wall, where it remains to this day, attracting tourists who hang upside down to plant a kiss on the stone and win Chdna’s gift.

Blathnat (Blanaid, Blathait, Blaithine)

Irish goddess. This goddess, whose name means "little flower," was daughter either of midir, king of the Irish fairies, or of the human king of ulster, concobar mac nessa. In Irish legend, she was brought from the otherworld by the hero cuchulainn, who also brought forth her magical cattle and cauldron. But his companion in that raid, cu ro^ then stole them all. To make matters worse, Cu Ro^ buried Cuchulainn in sand and shaved off his hair, subjecting him to humiliation by all passersby.

Blathnat did not live happily with Cu Ro as is evidenced by the fact that she plotted his assassination only a year later with Cuchulainn, who became her lover. She is thus the Irish version of the Welsh blodeuwedd, for she revealed to Cuchulainn the secret way to kill her husband. The story does not end with that bloodshed, for Cu Rofs poet ferchertne pushed Blathnat over a cliff, killing himself in the process. Despite her enslavement by Cu Ro^ Blathnat is often characterized as deceitful and traitorous for plotting his death. In Christian legend she is described as converting and entering the convent rather than being killed.

Blemished king

Mythic theme. Among the Celts, a king could only claim the goddess of the land as his wife—and through her, the sovereignty of the country—if he were whole and without blemish. If injured, he was forced to abdicate the throne, as was nuada, who lost his arm at the first Battle of mag tuired and who had to give up leadership of the tuatha de danann until he was provided with a magical prosthesis. The motif also forms the basis of the legends of the fisher king that are so important in the Arthurian cycle.

Blodeuwedd (Bloduwith, Blodeuedd)

Welsh goddess. When the presumably virginal arian-rhod was tricked into giving birth to a son of questionable parentage, she laid a curse on him that he would never have a name, weapons, or a wife. But her brother gwydion tricked her again, so that she provided the first two items for the newly named lleu llaw gyffes. Then with the help of his magician uncle math, Gwydion created a wife for the young man, who may have been his son.

In the fourth branch of the Welsh collection of myths, the mabinogion, we hear how the two magicians constructed the aptly named Blodeuwedd ("flower-face") from nine kinds of wildflowers, including meadowsweet, oak, broom, primrose, and cockle. But this creature of no earthy race was unhappy with her lot. She grew restless as Lleu’s wife and conceived a lust for a handsome hunter, gronw pebyr, whom she convinced to kill Lleu. Knowing that her husband could only be killed when bathing by the side of a river, under a thatched roof over a cauldron, while standing with one foot on a deer, she dared Lleu to assume that unlikely posture, whereupon her lover dispatched him with ease. For her part in the murder, she was turned into an owl by her creators. It has been argued that this apparently treacherous woman is the shadow of an ancient goddess of death; Robert Graves finds in her an ancient queen whose ritual marriage to the king lasted but a year before his sacrifice.

Blondine (Velandinenn, Princess Velandinnen)

Breton heroine. A folktale of Brittany tells of a lovely princess whose story is replete with mythological motifs, suggesting that she may be a degraded goddess. When the young man cado insulted a mysterious fairy, she put a curse on him that could only be lifted by the unknown princess Blondine. No human could tell Cado the way to Blondine’s land, but he overheard some crows talking about her and, hitching a ride on the back of one, found Blondine beneath a tree (see bile) beside a mirror-bright well. Convincing her to marry him, Cado stole Blondine away from her magician father, who cast unsuccessful spells at the couple as they fled. Once on earth, however, Cado proved false to Blondine by losing the ring she had given him, whereupon his mind was wiped clean of any memory of her. He was betrothed to another woman, but when Blondine arrived at his wedding, wearing her matching ring, he regained his memory and his senses; his brother married the other bride, while Cado and Blondine were finally wed.


Mythic theme. Roman writers contended that blood was sacred to the Celts and was used in grisly rituals such as drinking the blood of slain enemies. But whether such writers can be credited is difficult to say, for their audience consisted of people afraid of the Celts, whose warriors had almost conquered Rome itself; thus Roman authors must always be read with some suspicion when they paint the Celts as barbarians—in this case, bloodthirsty ones. Yet other indications support the picture of blood rituals among the Celts. Blood brotherhood, for instance, remained a tradition in the Scottish isles until historical times. And there seems little question that the blood of animal sacrifices was smeared on trees in the sacred groves or neme-tons. Blood may have been interpreted as bearing the essence or life force; thus drinking blood would restore the warrior.


Men of the Minch (Fir Gorm, Fir Ghorma) Scottish folkloric figures. Scotland’s coastal waters between the inner and outer Hebrides, known as the Minch, are haunted by blue-skinned beings who may descend from seals or who may be fallen angels. The Blue Men control the weather in that region and, therefore, ship traffic as well. Even on calm days, it is said, the Minch can be turbulent because the Blue Men are swimming about, stirring the waters. The Minch is sometimes called the Blue Men’s Stream or the Current of Destruction because its waters are so unpredictable and dangerous. Skippers who are not fast-witted are not encouraged to traverse the passage, for the Blue Men call out rhymes to them, and if another good couplet is not sung back to them, they capsize the boat.

Boand (Boann, Bonn, Boinn, Boinn, Boadan; possibly Bouvinda)

Irish goddess. Boand’s name means "woman of white cows" or "shining cow," although the cow does not appear in her legend, unless this goddess is the same as the similarly named bo find, the ancestor of all Ireland’s cows. She may also be identical to the goddess referred to by the great Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as Bouvinda, a name that connects Boand with other Indo-European cow goddesses.

Boand gave her name to the River Boyne, along which Ireland’s greatest ancient monuments stand. Of her, the story common to Ireland’s river goddesses is told: that she visited a forbidden well, where she lifted the stone that protected it. The waters of the well rose and drowned her,forming the river as it did so. The well is called the well of segais, which was Boand’s name in the otherworld. An alternative name for the Boyne is Sruth Segsa, "river of Segais," further showing the identity of the two names.

Boand is also a goddess of wisdom, for one root of her name meant both "white" and "wisdom"; in some stories, she was blinded by the rising river, reflecting a common connection of inner vision and outer blindness, as well as connecting her through the motif of the single eye with the famous resident of the river source, the one-eyed salmon sometimes called fintan. Irish folklore claimed that if you drank from Boand’s river in June, you would become a seer and poet. Finally, Boand has associations of abundance and prosperity, for Celtic rivers were seen as sources of the fertility of their watersheds.

Boand is connected to the solar year, as goddess of the great tumulus of Newgrange—bru na boinne or "palace of Boand" in Irish—which is Ireland’s most famous winter solstice site. There she was seduced by the good god dagda away from her husband nechtan (a name for nuada; in some stories, elcmar). To hide their affair, Dagda caused the sun to stand still for nine months, so that Boand could bear their child, aonghus Og, without Nechtan’s knowing that more than a day had passed. In some versions of the story, Boand is given the name eithne.


Symbolic animal. The male pig or wild boar, pictured in art and on coins from both insular and continental sources, was the most savage animal that the ancient Celts were likely to encounter. As a consequence, the boar came to represent strength and tenacity and sexual potency; its meat was often part of the champion’s portion lauded in song and story, while its skin was used for warriors’ cloaks. (The word boar in several Gaelic languages is torc, also the word for the warrior’s neckpiece). Because its meat was so favored, the boar represented prosperity as well; on the Isle of Man, the Arkan Sonney or "lucky piggy" was a beautiful white fairy pig that brought good luck. The boar appears in several important cycles of Irish legend, most importantly the death of the romantic hero diarmait Ua Duibine, who killed a boar that was terrorizing a region, only to die when he stepped on one of its poisonous bristles as he tried to measure its great size; there are also frequent mentions of an otherworld pig that could be carved up and devoured but that would endlessly replenish its own flesh. In the Welsh mabinogion, boars originate in the Otherworld, which is perhaps the source of their fierce strength in the surface world.


Symbolic object. An important image connected with the Celtic goddess of waters, found in sculptures from the Roman period; the unnamed goddess from Nuits-Saint-Georges in France holds a cornucopia while standing on the prow and rudder of a boat. As all these symbols are also associated with the Roman goddess Fortuna, the boat may link the ideas of fertility (seen by the Celts as connected with the waters that fed the land) and abundance (seen by the Romans as the goddess of fortune).


Irish heroine. In Ireland this fairy woman saved people from drowning by awakening them if they fell asleep on the shore as the tide rose. When visible, usually in rough weather, Bochtog was a beautiful woman with waist-length blonde hair.

Bodach (carle)

Scottish folkloric figure. In the Highlands the bodach could appear either as a relatively harmless trickster or, as the Bodach Glas or Dark Gray Man, as a male banshee who was seen just before a death. Its name refers to its appearance as an old man, who made beckoning motions or stared into windows after dark. He was, however, more frightening than truly dangerous. The Bodach a Chipein, or "Old Man with the Peg," was a friendly and approachable Highland fairy who watched humans at their ordinary tasks and wept whenever funerals went by. The word is sometimes found in Ireland, referring to the same figure.

Bodb Derg (Bove Derg, Bodhb, Bodhbh)

Irish god or hero. The most powerful magician of the tuatha de danann, the wise Bodb Derg was the son of the good god dagda and brother of aonghus Og, god of poetry. He reigned from a great palace on the shores of lough derg. Bodb Derg was elected king of the Tuatha De, much to the annoyance of lir, who stormed from the meeting in protest. But upon his return home, he found his wife (whose name is not recorded) taken ill; she died after three days and Bodb Derg, in a gesture of sympathy and solidarity, sent his three handsome foster daughters to minister to Lir at shee finnaha, his palace.

Eldest of the three was aeb, with whom Lir quickly fell in love. But, after giving birth to fion-nuala and her brothers, Aeb died. Lir married yet again, this time his wife’s foster sister, aife, who grew insanely envious of her stepchildren and enchanted them into swans. Although he could not undo her powerful spell, Bodb Derg punished Aife by turning her into a demon or a crane.

Bodhmall (Boghmin)

Irish heroine. A druid, she was the foster mother of the great hero fionn mac cumhaill and instructed him in the occult arts.

Bo Find

Irish goddess. When Ireland was a barren, empty island, this magical white cow appeared with her sisters, the red cow Bo Ruadh and the black cow Bo Dhu, and rose from the western sea. The red cow headed north, the black south, and Bo Find went to the island’s center, all three creating life behind them as they traveled. When she reached the island’s center, Bo Find gave birth to twin calves, one male and one female; from them descended all Ireland’s cattle. Sites along her route often still bear names that incorporate the word "Bo," the most famous being her sacred island, Inis Bo Find, now known as Inisbofin, off the Galway coast. See boand.


Symbolic site. Formed of centuries of sphagnum moss and other plants compacted in water, bogs were a prominent feature of the Irish and Scottish landscape until recent times. Peat, harvested from the bogs, is still dried into turf and burned as fuel in both countries. Until the middle of the 20th century, turf-harvesting was a labor-intensive process, but mechanical harvesting has meant the destruction of vast ancient bogs in both countries. With that destruction, folkloric sites have also been lost, for bogs are typically liminal zones (see liminality), neither dry nor wet, inhospitable for building roads or homes—and thus, perfect entrances to the oth-erworld. Bogs are also important archaeologi-cally, for the lack of oxygen and the excess of tannic acid in bog water mean that objects lost or sacrificed in bogs (see bog people) are astonishingly well preserved. Many of the archaeological riches viewable today in the National Museum of Ireland consist of bog discoveries.

Bog of Allen Irish mythological site. One of Ireland’s most extensive bogs, it covers much of the southeastern midlands and surrounds almu, ancient capital of leinster; the bog and hill are both named for an obscure goddess or heroine named alend.

Bog people (bog men)

Archaeological artifact. Throughout Europe, those harvesting burnable peat from bogs occasionally encounter bodies of people who were lost and drowned in bog lakes—or sacrificed in ancient times. Because of the preservative power of bog water, the bodies of these people are well preserved, although the tannic acid dyes their skin brown. Archaeologists have examined these bog bodies to determine if they died accidentally or, as is sometimes clear, were killed as part of a sacrificial rite. Most sacrificed bodies come from European bogs, especially from Denmark, but there are also finds in Celtic lands. Found in 1984 at Lindow near Liverpool, the lindow man was garroted or strangled after being fed pollen of the sacred plant mistletoe; his body has been analyzed as evidence of human sacrifice and of the threefold death.

bogan (buckawn, bocan, bauchan)

Scottish (occasionally Irish) folkloric figure. This shape-shifting night sprite was a trickster, occasionally helpful but usually malicious. Found frequently in the Highlands and less often in Ireland, the bogan also appeared in America, having immigrated to the New World with those he served—or haunted. The MacDonald family of Morar lived with a bogan named Coluinn gun Cheann who was cheerful to the family but tended to murder visitors and leave their mutilated bodies near the river. Finally he killed a man whose friend, a strong man named John Macleod, took revenge on the bogan, wrestling it to the ground and threatening to drag it into the dangerous daylight. But the bogan promised that, if freed, he would leave the land—and kept his promise.

Bogie (bogle, bug, bug-a-boo)

Scottish mythological figure. A class of trickster figures found in the Scottish Highlands, where March 29 was Bogle Day, as well as in England, where bogies could go about in troops (see trooping fairies) or alone (see solitary fairies). Bogies tended to settle in trees, attics, lofts, and other high places. There are many categories of bogie, depending upon attire and attitude; these included the helpful brownie, the tormenting boggart, and the destructive nuckelavee, as well as various goblins who appeared in devilish skeletal form.


Continental Celtic god. Little is known of this god from Gaul whom the Romans identified with their warrior god mars.

Boobrie (tarbh boibhre)

Scottish folkloric figure. The shape-shifting specter of Highland tradition sometimes appeared as a cow or as a water horse. Occasionally it was seen in the form of a huge insect with long tentacles, which sucked horses’ blood. It haunted lakes, crying like a strange bird; indeed, it commonly assumed the form of a waterbird, but one vastly larger than any duck or swan ever seen. Its footprint on land was said to be the size of a large deer’s antlers. The boobrie preyed upon calves and lambs and thus was a danger to subsistence farmers; when cattle were not handy, he ate otters.

Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabala Erenn)

Literary text. Its Irish title, Lebor Gabala Erenn, literally means "the book of the takings of Ireland" or "the book of Irish conquests," but it is usually translated as the Book of Invasions or the Book of Conquests. It was compiled in a dozen separate manuscripts in approximately the 12th century, but portions date to much earlier; the poetic text describes the six invasions of Ireland from the time of the biblical flood to the arrival of the final settlers. Although the text is interrupted at times by recitations of biblical material, it is nonetheless an invaluable source for students of Celtic mythology.

First came cesair, granddaughter of Noah, escaping the flood in her own ark but not leaving many descendants; then the Partholonians (see partholon), also from the east and descendants of the giant magog, who were destroyed by plague; and then the Nemedians, people from the Caspian Sea who followed their leader nemed and who fought the monstrous fomorians.

The Fomorians apparently never invaded Ireland, although they appear over and over as the story progresses, to be beaten back time and again by new arrivals; they seem to be always resident on the island rather than coming from elsewhere. The Fomorians drove out the Nemedians, who were forced to return to their earlier lands, where they were enslaved for many centuries. But finally, under the new name of fir bolg, the Nemedians returned to Ireland; nothing is mentioned of the Fomorians at this point, suggesting that either they left the Fir Bolg alone or the two groups made an alliance. When the final immortal race arrived, the tuatha de danann or people of the goddess danu, they defeated both the Fir Bolg and the remnant Fomorians to become the rulers of Ireland for many centuries.

But even immortals have limits to their terms, and so the Tuatha De Danann too were forced to yield Ireland, this time to a mortal race, the Sons of Mil or the MILESIANS. The descendants and followers of a Scythian man who married a noble Irishwoman, they won Ireland from the Tuatha De—who did not depart but disappeared under the ground, where they became the FAIRY people.

Having been composed after Christianization, the Book of Invasions attempts to bring Ireland’s history into Judeo-Christian tradition, with such obvious interpolations as Noah. But from this melange of fact and myth, scholars construct connections with archaeologically proven migrations to Ireland. Thus the text is a useful tool for discovering Ireland’s past, as well as a significant resource for study of Irish mythology.

Borrowed days

Mythic theme. The stormy days of late spring, when winter seems to have suddenly come back to life, were until recently called the Borrowed (or Borrowing) Days or the Skinning Days in the west of Ireland. Legend had it that the GLAS GHAIBHLEANN, the cow of abundance—also called the Old Brindled Cow or the Gray Cow—defied winter by claiming it could not kill her, but winter stole several days from spring and skinned the cow in retaliation.

Borrowing fire

Scottish and Irish ritual. It was vital, in ancient times, to keep the hearth fire alight, for the making of a new fire was an arduous procedure. Only once each year, on BELTANE Eve, was the fire allowed to die; the next day it was relit from one of the festival blazes. Should the fire die out at any other time, the householder would likely have to relight it using a fire-drill, a tool in which the whirling of a wooden stick in a small hole in a wooden plank creates sufficient friction for sparks to be born. Borrowing fire from the neighbors was unlikely, as it was believed that this gave the borrower power over the CAT-TLE—and thus, the wealth—of the lender.

Bors de Ganis

Arthurian hero. Only three knights of the ROUND TABLE were pure enough of heart to gain the magical chalice called the GRAIL: PERCIVAL, GALAHAD, and the least-known of the three, LANCELOT’s cousin Bors de Ganis.

Borvo (Bormanus, Bormo)

Continental Celtic god. Among the Gauls, Borvo was the god of healing SPRINGS, a male version of the goddess known in the singular as SUL, in the plural as the SULEVIAE. Depicted as a warrior seated beneath a horned SERPENT, he was son of SIRONA and consort of DAMONA, also called Bormana. To the Romans, Borvo was identical with the healing APOLLO. His name may mean "boiling," an appropriate name for a god of hot springs.

Boudicca (Boudica, Boadicea)

British heroine. This historical Celtic queen achieved almost mythic status with her war against the invading Romans, which she launched shortly after the horrific destruction of the important DRUID sanctuary on the island of ANGLESEY. Her people, the Iceni of the southeastern part of Britain, had borne the earliest brunt of the Roman invasion. When her daughters were raped and her husband killed, Boudicca rallied her people and their allies to wage a strong, if ultimately unsuccessful, campaign. Having seen the treatment meted out to captive queens, Boudicca took her own life when defeated, calling out to the war goddess ANDRASTE as she died.


Continental Celtic god. This obscure Gaulish god was equated by the Romans with their warrior god mars. His name may derive from a Gaulish or Welsh word for "malt," suggesting a connection between drunkenness and aggression and recalling traditions that Celtic leaders gave their warriors alcoholic beverages before battle.


Irish mythological beast. One of the primary hunting hounds of fionn mac cumhaill, whose name means "crow," Bran was born a dog because Fionn’s sister, uirne, was cursed by a jealous rival and turned into a bitch. After whelping Bran and sceolan, Uirne was restored to human form, but her twin children (variously described as daughters or sons), remained trapped in canine bodies. Yellow-footed and red-eared, Bran became Fionn’s favorite dog, so fast she could overtake flying birds. Bran had one offspring, a black female pup who was fed on milk. The woman who tended her was instructed to feed her all the cow’s daily output, but she secretly held back some for herself. The hungry pup attacked a flock of wild swans and was killed when she could not be stopped.

Bran met her own death because of such exuberant hunting. She had almost caught a fawn— the enchanted poet ois^n—and was about to close her jaws around him when Fionn opened his legs wide. The fawn ran between, followed closely by Bran, but Fionn snapped his legs shut on her, breaking her neck. Sadly, for he loved his hunting companion, Fionn buried her at Carnawaddy near Omeath in Co. Louth.

Bran Meaning "crow" or "carrion eater," this name is common in heroic literature in several Celtic lands, applied to figures including:

• Bran, the Breton hero who was reincarnated as a crow after dying in prison for his war against the Vikings.

• Bran Galed, a Welsh hero who owned an endlessly full drinking horn.

• Bran mac Febail, an Irish hero who in the Imram Brain or Voyage of Bran, fell asleep after hearing fairy music and, upon awakening, set out to find its source and the fairy lover who came to him in dreams. He found her in the otherworld, an island in the western sea, where they lived happily for years that seemed but moments in fairy time. When Bran returned to this world, his years caught up with him, but he was able to speak the story of his adventures before he turned to dust.

Brangien (Braignwen, Brangaine, Golwg)

Arthurian heroine. In the great romance of tristan and iseult, the maidservant Brangien accidentally gave a love-potion—designed to be shared by Iseult with her husband king mark on their wedding night—to the heroine and her escort Tristan as they were traveling by sea to Mark’s court. The two fell into fated love, and, to ease her mistress’s pain, Brangien took Iseult’s place in the bed of Mark on their wedding night.

Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran, Bran Fendigeid, Bendigeid Fran, Bendigeit Vran, Bran Llyr)

Welsh hero or god. One of the great heroes of the Welsh epic cycle, the mabinogion, Bran was the son of llyr and brother of the fair branwen. He was so huge that not a single building could house him, so he lived happily in the open air. When Branwen was lured away to Ireland, where she was virtually imprisoned, Bran led an expedition to retrieve her, during which he suffered a fatal wound from a poisoned spear. Dying, he instructed his warriors to cut off his head and carry it back to Wales. They did so, discovering along the way that Bran’s head (called Urdawl Ben, "the noble head") was quite entertaining, singing and telling stories for 87 years before its burial, in an ongoing party called the Assembly of the Wondrous Head.

Bran is one of those hard-to-categorize figures over which scholarly debate rages, some contending that he is a literary figure while others find him an ancient god. Among those who contend the latter, Bran is variously a Celtic sea deity or a pre-Celtic divinity merged with a later god, a form of the British god belatucadros, or an early version of the fisher king.

Branwen (Branwen ferch Llyr)

Welsh heroine or goddess. In the second branch of the mabinogion, Branwen ("white raven") was the daughter of llyr and sister of the great hero bran the blessed. She was given in marriage to king matholwch of Ireland, but when her half-brother efnisien insulted the Irish people by mutilating their horses, Branwen was put to work as a scullery maid in punishment. From her kitchen prison she trained a starling to carry messages back to Wales, describing her plight. Her brother Bran led an expedition to rescue her, but he was killed in the attempt, and Branwen died of her sorrow and was buried, according to tradition, in the barrow called Bedd Branwen. Branwen has many similarities to the Welsh goddess rhiannon; both were exiled by marriage and enslaved by their husbands’ people. The interpretation of this heroine as an ancient goddess is strengthened by her connection with a nipple-cairned mountain peak in the Berwyn range of Wales called Branwen’s Seat.


Arthurian hero. Although he served gorlois, duke of Cornwall, this knight helped the bewitched uther pendragon enter the bedroom of igraine, the duke’s wife. No one else realized the treachery, for the great magician merlin had altered Uther’s appearance so that he seemed to be Gorlois, home from battle to spend a night with his wife. Brastias, in league with Merlin, welcomed the disguised Uther, who conceived the future king arthur with Igraine that night. When Arthur ascended the throne, Brastias became one of his strongest supporters.

Brega (Bregia)

Irish mythological site. This great central plain, described in several ancient texts, is believed to be the rich agricultural region that is now Co. Meath and parts of Co. Westmeath.


Irish hero. In the Irish mythological history, the book of invasions, this man was an ancestor of the milesians, who were the final conquerors of the island.


Irish judge. A member of the class of druids, the ancient Irish brehon (from the Irish brithemain, "judge") did not evaluate cases or enforce the law as today’s lawyers and judges do, for both were prerogatives of the king. Rather, the brehons used precognitive skill and drew on the history and poetry they had memorized in their many years of training to guide their people. They were also bound by spiritual powers to be just in their actions; the great judge Sencha was said to have broken out in blotches when he pronounced a biased judgment regarding women. Some brehons wore special garments or jewelry that kept them just: morann wore a chain around his neck that, if he attempted to speak a false judgment, tightened and choked him, while it grew loose and comfortable when he spoke truly.

There are many historically renowned women brehons, and women were not barred from druidic training, yet many scholars contend that women were not permitted to function in this capacity. Many sources refer to the great Brig (or brigit), an honored woman brehon; she healed Sencha’s blotched face by correcting his biased judgment against women. Thus there is some evidence for women, perhaps the daughters of jurists, serving in this capacity, which some scholars have taken to indicate equity of opportunity between the sexes, while others argue that it was the exception rather than the norm. There is perhaps no other area of Celtic studies that draws such controversy, for where the evidence is slight, even scholars project their own desires and fears upon the past. The question of women brehons is far from settled.

The brehon laws, developed in ancient times and passed on through the oral tradition, were first codified in the fifth or sixth century. The brehons continued to practice until the 17th century; the Case of Tanistry in 1608 brought Ireland under British common law, on the grounds that the brehon laws caused "barbarism and desolation."

Breifne (Breffni)

Irish goddess or heroine. One of the most famous territories of Ireland is named for this obscure figure, who may have been the goddess of the region’s sovereignty. According to the dindshenchas, the place-poetry of Ireland, Breifne was a warrior woman who died defending her land and its people from evil invaders.


Welsh goddess. Ancient and obscure Welsh sky goddess and maternal force, ancestral mother of humanity.

Bres (Breaseal)

Irish god. There are several figures of this name in Irish mythology.

• Bres mac Elatha, the most important figure of this name. Originally named Eochu, he was nicknamed Bres ("the beautiful one") because of the fairness of his appearance, but the actions of this crossbreed son of the tuatha de danann princess eriu (or eithne) and the fomorian king elatha did not match the splendor of his countenance. As king of tara, he was so stingy that he would not light a fire in the great hall nor feed visitors anything but unbuttered crackers.

Bres even refused beer to a bard. That poet, cairbre mac Eadoine, paid him back in kind, leveling a (literally) blistering satire at the king: "Without food upon a dish, without a cow’s milk on which calves grow, without a house in the gloomy night, without storytellers to entertain him, let this be Bres’s future." Stung by the satire, Bres felt his face break out in boils. As a blemished king could not rule, Bres was driven from the throne, whereupon he turned traitor and joined the forces of his father, fighting against his former people but losing in the second battle of mag tuired.

In some accounts Bres’s consort was the goddess brigit; their son, ruadan, was killed at Mag Tuired.

• Bres, a member of the Tuatha De Danann who was killed in the first battle of Mag Tuired.

• Bres (Breseal), lord of hy-brazil, an island of the otherworld that floats in the western ocean; whether he is the same as the half-Fomorian Bres is difficult to determine.

Breuse (Breuse sans Pitie)

Arthurian hero. An evil knight whose nickname means "without pity," Breuse was one of the great enemies of king arthur of camelot.


Irish heroine. The mythologically important fairy mound of bri leith was named in part for this obscure heroine, who was loved by a warrior named liath. Daughter of midir and resident in his s^dhe or palace, Brf went to visit Liath in tara, where both were killed, although the source is unclear as to how or why. Midir’s great palace was named after the lovers, who were never united in the flesh but whose names were thereafter wedded.


Irish god. This still-popular Irish name derives from an ancient god of the tuatha de danann, one of the tragic sons of tuireann. Son of the great goddess danu and the otherwise obscure human hero tuireann, Brian was one of three brothers who ambushed cian, father of the great hero lugh and an enemy of their father. To avoid a confrontation, Cian metamorphosed into a pig, but not soon enough: Brian turned his brothers into dogs who set out after their prey and showed mercy only by allowing Cian to turn back into a man as he died. Lugh then demanded, as recompense for the murder, that Brian and his brothers perform eight impossible feats; they completed seven but failed at the last one and were killed by Lugh and his companions.

The name was also borne by one of the most famous of Ireland’s high kings, Brian Boru (Boroma), whose historical reality has become enshrouded with legend. Hailing from Clare, near the mouth of the Shannon, Brian was originally ruler of a tiny kingdom, but taking on both foreign and Irish foes, he rose to be high king. He ruled for many years and finally died while mustering the Irish forces against the Vikings at Clontarf.

Briccriu (Bricriu, Bricriu Nemhthenga, Bricriu of the Poisonous Tongue)

Irish hero. The bitter-tongued poet of the ulster cycle appears most notably in the epic Briccriu’sFeast, in which he set great champions against each other for the champion’s portion, causing much bloodshed.

He acted similarly in the story of mac datho’s pig. The texts commemorate the power of Irish poets, whose words were believed to have magical powers over men. Briccriu is said to have been killed near the Ulster lake that bears his name, Loughbrickland, where he made a slighting remark about the sexual appetite of queen medb and was brained by her lover fergus mac Roich.


Symbolic object. A puppet said to represent St. Bridget, the Christian figure who assumed many of the traits of the earlier Celtic goddess brigit, the brideog was constructed of two long clusters of green rushes plaited together to form a small square; the unplaited rushes were then drawn together and bound to form the body of the doll, while a second cluster of rushes, bound near each end to suggest hands, was attached crosswise to the body, the whole thing then being dressed in rags. Sometimes the figure was formed of a broom or churn-dash, again dressed in rags and with a turnip for a head. In Ireland until recent times, this effigy was carried on the eve of Brigit’s day—the ancient Celtic feast of imbolc—from house to house by children demanding pennies "for poor biddy." In many villages, only unmarried girls could carry the brideog (which means "little Brigit"), although in other places both boys and girls participated in the procession.


Continental Celtic and British goddess. The northern half of the island of Britain—the northern six counties of today’s nation—was occupied in the early historical period by the Brigantes, a Brythonic Celtic people who worshiped this ancestral goddess, memorialized in the names of the rivers Braint in Anglesey and Brent in Middlesex. Sculptures of and inscriptions to her from Roman times conflate her with Victoria, Roman goddess of victory, and Caelestis, a Syrian sky goddess. Her name ("high one") may connect her to the Irish goddess brigit; she has also been connected with the Gaulish goddess brigindo. In Ireland, Brigit is not generally known as a river goddess, but her connection there to holy wells may indicate that the Celts saw her as a divinity of water and the fertility it brings.


Celtic goddess. Obscure Continental Celtic protector goddess invoked to assure abundance of crops.

Brigit (Bride, Brigid, Brighid, Brid, Bridget, Briid)

Irish goddess. There are two important figures of this name: Brigit the goddess, and Brigit of Kildare, an early Christian saint who died ca. 525 c.e. Whether the latter is a Christianized version of the former is the subject of some contention, although even the most devout admit the accretion of implausible legends around a woman of dubious historicity. While there is all likelihood that a brilliant abbess who bore the name of a Celtic goddess lived in Kildare, it is not likely that she time-traveled back to Bethlehem to serve as midwife at the birth of Jesus, nor that she pulled out her eyes to avoid marriage and then replaced them with no damage to her sight, nor that she used sunbeams to hang up her wet mantle. Accidentally made a bishop by a god-intoxicated cleric, Brigit the saint has much of the power and magic of the earlier goddess.

As goddess, Brigit is a rarity among the Celts: a divinity who appears in many sites. Her name has numerous variants (Brig, Bride, Brixia, Brigindo). As Celtic divinities tended to be intensely place-bound, the apparently pan-Celtic nature of this figure is remarkable—sufficiently so that some argue that the variants of the name refer to the same figure. The Irish Brigit ruled transformation of all sorts: through poetry, through smithcraft, through healing. Associated with fire and cattle, she was the daughter of the god of fertility, the dagda; as mother of ruadan, she invented keening when he was killed. Some texts call Brigit a triple goddess or say that there were three goddesses with the same name, who ruled smithcraft, healing, and poetry, respectively. This triplication, a frequent occurrence among the Celts, typically emphasized or intensified a figure’s divine power.

It is not clear whether the Brigit mentioned in the great compilation of ancient Irish law called the senchas mor as Brigh Ambui was the goddess; parallel male figures in that section of the text such as cai and niall are mythological or quasi-historical. From Brigh Ambui, "female author of the men of Ireland," the renowned brehon or judge Briathra Brighi got her name; the text implies that it was common for women judges to be called Brigit. The question of women’s rights in the law and as lawyers is unsettled; however, Brigh Ambui is mentioned third in the Senchas Mor’s list of important figures in the lineage of Irish law.

Many scholars hypothesize an all-female priesthood of Brigit, even suggesting that men were excluded from her sanctuary. She may have been seen as a bringer of civilization, rather like other Indo-European hearth goddesses (Vesta, Hestia) who ruled the social contract from their position in the heart and hearth of each home. In Ireland the mythological Brigit was not imagined to be virginal; indeed, she was the consort of one of the prominent early kings of Ireland, the unfortunate bres mac Elatha, and bore him a son, Ruadan.

Brigit’s feast day was imbolc, February 1, still celebrated in Ireland today. Her special region was the southeast corner of Ireland, leinster, also the historical home of the saint who bears her name. St. Brigit is still honored in kildare,ancient seat of her abbey. Little can be verified about her life, but legend has filled in the blanks. Brigit is said to have been born of a Christian slave mother and a pagan Celtic king, at dawn as her mother stood on the threshold of their home; miracles attended upon her birth, with light pouring from the child, who was named by the druids of the court after the pan-Celtic goddess described above. When grown, she refused marriage, pulling her eyes from their sockets to make herself so ugly no one would have her; but then she healed herself and set out in search of a place for her convent. Tricking a local king out of land, she established one of ancient Ireland’s great religious centers at Kildare, whose name includes both kil-(church) and dar-(oak, sacred to the druids), signifiers of two spiritual traditions of Ireland. There she was both abbess and bishop, for she was made a priest when St. Mel, overcome with the excitement of blessing the abbess, accidentally conferred holy orders on her.

The historian Giraldus Cambrensis reported in 1184 that nuns had for five hundred years kept an undying flame burning to St. Brigit, a tradition that recalls the fire rituals of sul and bath and may have had a basis in Celtic religion. The miraculous flame, which never produced any ash, was doused not long after Giraldus wrote, and the nuns dispersed; but in 1994, the Brigidine sisters returned to Kildare and relit Brigit’s flame. An annual gathering on Imbolc brings pilgrims from around the world to see the fire returned to the ancient fire-temple, discovered on the grounds of the Protestant cathedral during restoration in the 1980s. Vigils at the well dedicated to Brigit and other ceremonial, artistic, and social-justice events make up the remainder of the celebration of La Feile Bhride, the feast of Bridget, in Kildare today.

The Irish conflation of goddess and saint seems even stronger outside Kildare, where various traditions of greeting the rising spring at Imbolc were sustained through the late years of the 20th century. February 1, ancient festival of Brigit the goddess, continues even today to be celebrated as the feast of Brigit the saint. Old folkways, some with clear pre-Christian roots, have died away in most lands, although only within recent memory. However, some traditions, like the biddy Boy processions in Co. Kerry and the crios bridghe ("Brigit girdle") in Co. Galway, have been recently revived. Workshops are now offered in many places in constructing the four-armed rush Brigit cross and the rush poppet called the brideog (little Brigit). Meanwhile, around the world, neopagans and Christians alike bring honor to Brigit in various ways, including on-line societies of Brigit.

Bri Leith

Irish mythological site. A famous fairy mound in the center of Ireland, Bri Leith was the palace of the greatest of fairy kings, midir. Several mythic tales are set at Brf Leith, most notably that of etain, the reborn heroine who was Midir’s lover through several lifetimes. It is said to have been named for an obscure heroine named bri, which may be another name for Etain.


Arthurian heroine. The friend of elaine—not the Lady of Shalott, but Elaine of Corbenic—Brisen was a magician who found a way to help her friend, who was infatuated with the splendid knight lancelot. Knowing that Lancelot was in love with queen guinevere, Brisen got him drunk and whispered that the queen was waiting in a secret chamber. When he arrived there, Lancelot found a beautiful woman with whom he spent a blissful night, awaking to Brisen’s trickery.


British goddess. There is some evidence that the ancient Celtic residents of the island of Britain saw their land as a goddess of sovereignty, like eriu of Ireland. This controversial view has detractors as well as supporters. A very early Roman coin (161 c.e.) from Britain shows a female figure mounted on a globe and bearing a shield and spear; she has been interpreted as Britannia, a name also used of England during its imperial period in the 18th and 19th centuries. The name may derive from the tribal name Pritani.


Continental Celtic god. Little is known about this god of the region near Nimes in France, whom the Romans saw as similar to their own warrior god mars.

Brixia (Bricta)

Continental Celtic goddess. Known from only one site, the thermal spring of Luxeuil in southern France, this goddess has been linked to brigit in her healing aspect.

Broceliande (Broceliande)

Arthurian site. This legendary forest in eastern Brittany is said to have been the site where the great magician merlin was imprisoned by his mistress, the fair but ambitious viviane, in an attempt to trick his magical knowledge from him; legend claims that he lives forever within a great tree there. Also within the forest is a piercingly cold fountain that brews storms at the behest of its lady guardian (see owein and barenton). As the Celts were known to believe in the sacredness of trees, this still-standing primeval forest near Rennes (now called the Forest of Paimpont) may be Europe’s last remaining nemeton.


Irish heroine or goddess. In the west of Ireland, a famous line of cliffs mark the edge of the Co. Clare coast. The highest of them is Ceann na Cailighe, "hag’s head," named for this mythological hag, also called the "hag of Black Head" for another nearby rocky place. Some researchers claim the cailleach of the area is not Bronach but mal.


Welsh goddess. Several writers have connected this obscure ancestral goddess of Wales with the later epic heroine branwen, but others warn against such conflation. Her name, which may mean "white-bosomed one," is found as the name of a mountain in north Wales.


British mythological figure. This British spirit, said to haunt the island’s east coast and to levy a tax of fish upon fisherfolk, may have descended from a Celtic thunder god.


Scottish and British folkloric figure. In naming the youngest branch of her Girl Scouts, feminist Juliette Gordon Low recalled the cheery, helpful household spirits of Scotland and the English midlands. Usually seen as a housebound and friendly member of the fairy race, there is some evidence that the brownie may in fact be a late mythological development with no roots in the Celtic or pre-Celtic world-view, arising from a kind of disguised ancestor worship in which the forebears are imagined as hanging about to help the living. But because of the brownie’s close connection to the fairies, the little household sprite may have such an exalted past as well. The specialized brownie called the gruagach in the Hebrides indeed seems to have been divine at some point, for until recently milk offerings were poured over its sacred stones to convince the gruagach to guard the herds.

Just as controversial as its origin is the matter of the brownie’s appearance. Most observers claimed the brownie was a stout hairy man, while others said that although short, the brownie was not necessarily rotund, and his hair was fair and flowing. In either case, he usually wore ragged brown clothes. Despite Low’s application of the term of little girls, the brownie was typically male.

The brownie specialized in doing barn work at night: threshing, tidying, currying horses, and the like. Outdoor work was not beyond his domain, for he would also help with sheepherding, mowing, and running errands. Obviously, a household with a brownie was a happy one; the brownie was not always invisible but could serve as a confidante and adviser if necessary. Sometimes the brownie was offered a libation of milk, left in a special pitcher or bowl, but as with other resident aliens, it was important not to make a fuss over his needs. It was especially crucial never to notice his raggedy clothing, for to offer him a suit of human clothes would result in the offended brownie leaving to seek employment elsewhere.

Often found in Cornwall, the boggart was a trickster version of the brownie, who caused destruction, tossing things about the house at whim; any brownie could become a boggart if mistreated by his family. Equivalent creatures in other Celtic areas include the bucca of Wales, the Highland bodach, and the Manx fenodyree

Bru na Boinne (Brug na Boinne)

Irish mythological site. Three great mounds of rock rise on the banks of the River Boyne, between the towns of Slane and Drogheda in east central Ireland: knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange. The huge tumuli are each built around an interior passageway of standing stones, many carved with exuberant spirals, sunbursts, and stars. Additional massive boulders hold in place the base of the mounds, and standing stones circle the central mound, Newgrange.

These sites were not built by the Celts, who came into the land almost three millennia after their construction by unknown people approximately 5,000 years ago. The so-called mega-lithic civilization also gave us the avebury and stonehenge sites much later than the Irish structures. The engineering and astronomical genius of these people remains unsurpassed; the central mound, Newgrange, is carefully oriented to the winter solstice sunrise, incorporating awareness of the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic (the earth’s wobble), which was only rediscovered in the last century. In addition, the great buildings are constructed so that 6,000 years of rain has fallen on them without penetrating their interiors, for a system of gutters draws the water away from the inner chambers.

Although the Celts did not build the mounds, they soon wove stories around the sites, which they may also have used for ritual or burials. Newgrange was the palace (Bru) of boand, goddess of the river beneath the mound. It was Boand (sometimes called eithne) who first lived there with elcmar (sometimes nechtan). When she decided to take the dagda as her lover, she asked him to hold the sun steady in the sky for nine months, so that her pregnancy could pass in what seemed to be a single day. This subterfuge worked, and aonghus og was safely born. He later tricked his father into leaving the Bru so that he could make it his home.

The other two mounds on the site, Knowth and Dowth, do not figure so largely in Celtic myth, nor is much known about their astronomical orientation, although there are suggestions that they are oriented toward significant moments in the solar and lunar years. Dowth, whose name means "darkness" or "darkening," is slightly smaller than the other mounds; it contains two highly ornate inner chambers. Knowth, whose rock art is unsurpassed anywhere in Europe, has recently been opened to the public.

Brunissen Continental

Celtic heroine or goddess. In Provence, France, we find tales of a fairy queen of this name, which means "the brown one" or "the brown queen"—tales whose motifs recall such Celtic bird goddesses as rhiannon. Bereft of her family and left an orphan in the magical forest of broceliande, Brunissen wept constantly for seven years. Only the song of magical birds could ease her until a knight of the round table, Giflet (or Jaufre), who had passed through several tests as he traveled through the forest and who had then fallen into an enchanted sleep, drew Brunissen’s attention away from her grief. Some have called Brunissen a legendary form of the dark side of an ancient sun goddess, the "black sun" of the otherworld.

Bruno (Bruno le Noir, La Cote Male-Taile)

Arthurian hero. The only rags-to-riches tale in the Arthurian canon is that of Bruno, who worked cleaning pots when he first came to camelot but finally, after he married maledis-ant, rose to become a landowner and knight.

Buada (buadha)

Irish ritual. The king, in ancient Ireland, was subjected after inauguration to a series of mystic regulations. He was forbidden to do some things (see geis), while required to do others, called buada: eating certain foods, behaving in certain ways. The king at tara, for instance, had to eat the meat of the hares of Naas, a food apparently taboo to others. Breaking these rules would result in the land’s ceasing to bear food, which in turn would lead to the king’s removal from office.


Irish heroine. When the hero mac datho was killed, his severed head was brought home to his wife Buan. She asked questions of it, and, like the famous head of bran the blessed, it spoke back to her, revealing the treachery that had led to his death. Buan wept herself into her grave, from which the magical hazel Coll Buana grew; rods of such hazel bushes were used as divination tools. Buan may descend from the early goddess buanann.


Irish heroine or goddess. Mentioned by the early Irish scholar Cormac as the mother of heroes, a common epithet for a goddess, Buanann is an obscure figure whom some have connected with deities of the land’s abundance.

Her name is sometimes translated as "good mother," a phrase that may be impersonal rather than specific. Some texts contrast her with anu, mother of the gods. Some stories from the fenian cycle name her as a warrior woman who trained the great hero, fionn mac cumhaill.

Bucca (bwca, bucca-boo, pwca, bwci, coblyn, bwbach, bwciod)

Welsh mythological being. This household sprite of Wales was very like a brownie; he would work for food, but if a householder failed to leave out a bowl of milk or other treat, mischief was likely to result. Similarly, it was important not to ask the bucca its name, for the question would cause it to leave the farm in disgust. Some folklorists and storytellers distinguish between the helpful bucca gwidden and the evil bucca dhu. The name is sometimes used as a generic term for fairy.


Celtic folkloric figure. Variations of this syllable are found in the names of many sprites, especially meddlesome ones, in Celtic countries: bug-a-boo, bugbear, bullbeggar, bogle, bogie, bogan, boggart, boogyman. As boge is a word found in other Indo-European languages meaning "god," the frequency of this syllable’s appearance in the names of spirits in Celtic countries has been used to support the argument that such creatures are diminished deities, although other scholars utterly reject this connection. Yet others have connected this word to bog, often seen as a liminal location or opening to the otherworld.

On the Isle of Man, a bug or buggane haunted a church reputed to have been built in the 12th century by St. Ninian, which was called by a variant of his name, St. Trinian’s. The church was never roofed, because every time roofers ascended to do so, a coarse-haired apparition destroyed their work. A tailor attempted to undo the buggane’s magic by sewing the roof to the rafters, but even he was chased away by the buggane, who threw his own head at the tailor. The buggane was never seen after that, but the roofing project was also abandoned.

Building to the west

Mythic theme. In traditional Celtic countries, it was ill-advised to build an addition to your house on the west side, for you might be inadvertently building on fairy property. Places built on "gentle land" where fairies lived would find themselves the site of endless trouble. A youth building a cowhouse on one such place—to spite the old folks who warned him against it—found his cattle mysteriously dying, and darts (see fairy darts) thrown at him while he slept in his bed. He took the roof off the cowhouse to expose it to the elements, and all was well again.

Buitch (Fir as Mraane Obbee, or "man of enchantment"; Fir as Fysseree, or "man of knowledge")

Manx witch. The generic Manx word for witch probably derives from that English word, just as buitcheragh probably comes from "witchcraft." The craft was considered generally harmful among residents of the Isle of Man, although some practitioners could use their skills for good.


Symbolic animal. Found iconographically in Europe before the rise of the Celts, the bull may derive from the pre-Celtic past. Both in image and story, the bull was embraced by the Celts, who associated it with ferocity on the one hand and agricultural abundance on the other. Some Continental sanctuaries show evidence of bull sacrifices; entrances to shrines were sometimes guarded by bull skulls. An important Continental god connected to the bull was esus, who also appeared as a woodsman cutting down trees in the presence of bulls; some scholars have seen the tree and bull as parallel images of sacrifice.

The bull as emblem of strength and ferocity appears in significant Irish texts, most importantly in the tain bo cuailnge, where the great cattle raid on ulster is launched because of the residence in that province of a bull, donn cuailnge (actually a transformed swineherd), the only equal on the island of the great white-horned bull of ailill mac Mata, finnbennach (also a transformed swineherd). The bull as emblem of abundance connects to the general importance of cattle among the herd-owning Celtic people, as does the reiteration of the image of the food-beasts in the reincarnated swineherds.


Symbolic object. Round stones with holes in them, found at holy wells and other sacred sites in Ireland, bullauns have been described as feminine symbols like the yoni stones of India. They were held to have healing power, especially helping women to conceive or to survive difficult pregnancies. Some bullauns were large flat boulders with basins, either natural or artificial, from which women would drink water ritually. Bullauns were also used as receptacles for libations or fluid offerings.

Bull-sleep (bull feast, tarbhfleis)

Irish and Scottish ritual. One of the great divination rituals of ancient Ireland was the tarbhfleis or bull-sleep, used to determine who was the rightful king of tara. A poet, who had been trained as a seer, gorged on the flesh of a just-killed bull, then slept wrapped in its bloody hide in an attempt to divine through dreams the identity of the next king. Should the poet fail, the punishment was death. Sometimes the poet’s vision was cryptic, as when the king conaire appeared as a naked man surrounded by birds, approaching Tara. At that moment Conaire, whose mother was a bird, dreamed that he should approach Tara naked, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

A similar ritual was known among the Scottish Highlanders, who bound up a diviner in bulls’ hides and left him to dream of the future. The ritual was apparently long-lasting; a literary tourist in 1769 described a ritual of "horrible solemnity" practiced in the Trotternish district in which a man was sewn up in an oxhide and slept under a high waterfall to gain precogni-tive knowledge.


Mythic object. Butter was connected in folklore to fairies and witchcraft. Irish and Scottish rural life revolved around cattle, which provided food in the form of milk, butter, and cheese, as well as meat. Churning butter from cows’ milk was an important part of women’s work in these lands: Milk was beaten until the butterfat congealed into a yellow mass. The leftover liquid, buttermilk, was consumed as a nourishing drink, while the butter itself was shaped and stored until use. At any point in the proceedings, the process could fail and the butter be spoiled, leaving only a half-congealed, half-liquid mess. The most common complaint was that, no matter how hard the woman churned, the butter did not "come" or thicken from the liquid milk. At such a time, it was alleged that someone was "stealing" the butter, which was indeed forming within the churn but was being spirited away. As fairies were thought to have a great hunger for butter, they were a common culprit, but witches were also blamed.

Buttery spirits

British and Scottish mythological beings. Fairies loved rich food, so this was a generic name given to fairies who stole away butter.


Continental Celtic god. This Gaulish divinity, known only from a single inscription, was described by the occupying Romans as similar to their warrior god mars.

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