Dfl To Dyfr (Dynwir) (Celtic mythology and folklore)


Irish heroine. This obscure figure is known only from the book of invasions, which says that she was the wife of the equally mysterious DONN; she drowned as her people, the MILESIANS, arrived in Ireland.

Dinadan (Dinaden)

Arthurian hero. The satirist of the ROUND TABLE, Dinadan is a relatively obscure figure who appears as a prankster in several Arthurian tales. He fought a tournament with LANCELOT, who wore a dress for the occasion; when Dinadan lost, he had to don women’s attire.


Arthurian heroine. The sister of PERCIVAL, this minor character in Arthurian legend was a generous woman who gave her blood to heal a woman of leprosy.

Dindshenchas (Dinnshenchas, Dinsheanchas)

Irish mythological text. Usually translated as "poetry of place," these ancient Irish texts describe the myths associated with various places in the landscape. The date of their composition is unknown; the Dindshenchas may have been recited orally before being written down in the 12th-century Book of Leinster and in other medieval manuscripts.

Each of these place-poems gives the myths related to a site, which often explain the place-name. Many ancient Irish stories come down to us through the Dindshenchas. Often the poems do not actually tell the story but allude to it, so although they represent a major source of information on Celtic mythology, it must sometimes be supplemented by other texts. Given the late and post-Christian date of transcription, it is unclear whether the poems are reliable, but in many cases, the Dindshenchas is the only source for a myth or mythological figure.


Continental Celtic god. Only one inscription exists naming this Gaulish god, whom the Romans identified with their warrior divinity MARS.

Directions (aiats, deosil, tuathal)

Cosmological concept. The Celts did not have four directions, but five: NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST, and center. The fifth direction makes clear the relativity of the rest, which are judged from the position of the speaker. The center is not only a directional marker but a spiritual or philosophical conception, for as the speaker moves, so does the center from which all directions are measured. The radically place-based nature of Celtic religion seems linked to this concept of direction.

This elusive fifth direction appears in the mythological division of Ireland into five PROVINCES. Four provinces existed on the earthly plane: LEINSTER in the east, MUNSTER in the southwest, CONNACHT in the west, and ULSTER in the north. The fifth province, the center, could not be limited to a single place. Although a central province called MIDE or Meath was designated in medieval times, the original fifth province was a moveable, even multiple, site. Each province had a center (cru-ACHAN, KNOCKAULIN, EMAIN MACHA, KNOCK-ainy), and the island as a whole had two centers, the hills of UISNEACH and TARA. Upon Uisneach, an even more central center was found: the STONE OF DIVISIONS, a huge boulder that was said to show the map of Ireland. Thus the center is, in Irish mythological thought, both many places and no place.

In addition to the directions of the compass, another set of directions was important to the Celtic worldview. This was the difference between deosil and tuathal—the first meaning to move southward in a circle, the second to move northward. Today we would say clockwise and anticlockwise or counterclockwise, but these Irish words come from a time when the Sun, the Moon, and the stars were the only timepieces known. Clocks rotate as they do because the sun moves in that direction around the horizon, always moving toward the south; indeed, south is defined as the direction of the sun at noon from the Northern Hemisphere, for despite our perception that the sun stands overhead, it is in fact always to the south. Thus to move deosil (deiseal, desiul) is to move in the direction of natural order, while to move tuathal is the opposite, to go against nature. This belief continues among contemporary NEO-PAGANS who believe that to go widdershins, or counterclockwise, in a ritual circle brings bad luck.

Dis Pater (Dispater, Dis)

Continental Celtic god. This Latin name, given by Julius Caesar to an unknown god he believed was the primary divinity of his Gaulish enemies, means "Father of Hell." The Celts had no conception of an underworld in an afterlife or in a place of torment, so Caesar may have gotten it wrong. This would not be the only time he did so, as he also imagined that his Celtic foes had a pantheon resembling that of Rome, with a centralized administration and an order of precedence, although in fact the Celts had no such bureaucratic organization of their divinities.

What god Caesar and his legions renamed Dis Pater is impossible to know, although three gods have been nominated: the one sculpted with a hammer who goes variously by the names of SUCELLUS and TARANIS, the horned god CER-NUNNOS, and the woodland god ESUS (called by the Romans by the name of their parallel divinity, SILVANUS). This god may have been a divinity of the OTHERWORLD, the Celtic domain of the gods and later of FAIRIES, which faintly resembles the Roman underworld. But far from being a distressing place, the Celtic Otherworld was beautiful beyond measure, timeless, and populated by gifted immortals.


Irish hero. In the tale of MACHA Mong Rua (Red-Haired Macha), Dfthorba was the name of an allegedly historical king of ULSTER with whom Macha’s father, AED RUAD, shared rulership in seven-year cycles; the third king in the team was CIMBAETH. Magical NUMBERS appear consistently in this tale, for in addition to the three kings with their seven-year reigns, we find the arrangement sustained by seven DRUIDS, seven BARDS, and seven nobles, suggesting that the story is not historical but mythological.

Duhorba opposed Macha—sometimes described as his niece—when, after her father’s death, she took his place in the kingly cycle. She went to war for her rights and killed Dfthorba, whose sons escaped to the Burren, the rocky lands of Co. Clare. Macha hunted them down there and, disguised as a HAG, approached them. Each in turn attempted to rape her; each in turn she overpowered. When all were tied together, she led them back to EMAIN MACHA, the Ulster capital, where she forced them to dig the impressive HILLFORT still visible today.


Continental Celtic god. This obscure god was identified by the Romans with their warrior divinity MARS.


Celtic ritual. Attempting to see into the future was an important duty of the DRUIDS among both the insular and the continental Celts. Early documents, all written by their Mediterranean enemies, depict the Celts as superstitious to the extreme. Tactitus claimed the Celts regularly read the still-pulsing entrails of sacrificed men, and Strabo agreed, but both were Romans who had reason to paint their enemies as barbarians, so this evidence for HUMAN SACRIFICE is arguable. Other comments are less controversial, including the use of ANIMALS in divination rites and the reading of auguries in the flight of BIRDS.

A great deal of evidence from Ireland, untainted by Roman influence but possibly affected by the Christian faith of transcribers, shows that the druids, and especially the BARDS, used divination often. They had several elaborate and complex mechanisms for entering the altered states necessary to speak prophecies: chanting of incantations (see dfchetal do chen-naib), psychometry or reading the auras of objects (see teinm laeda), trance (see imbas forosnai), and use of letters (see ogham). Plants too had their uses in divination; the wands carried by druids have been interpreted as divining rods. Some texts suggest that a kind of yoga was practiced by druids who, holding themselves in specific postures, spoke their prognostications. The most elaborate and complex ritual of divination was that used to determine a new king; after devouring raw meat, a poet was wrapped in a recently slaughtered BULL-hide to dream of the new king (see BULL-SLEEP).

Although specialists were required for the most complex issues, divination was also practiced by ordinary Celtic people who, like people before and after them, desired to know what life held in store for them. On several pivotal days during the year, especially SAMHAIN on November 1, the future could be read in OMENS and dreams even by ordinary folk.

Dobharchu (Dorraghow, Dobharchu, Otter-King)

Irish folkloric figure. The unsleeping black-and-white striped king of the OTTERS was, in Irish legend, a supernatural being who hunted and killed humans. The king was difficult to kill, for he was vulnerable only to silver bullets. Not only that, but hunting him was dangerous, even fatal, for a successful hunter was likely to die within a day. Even such an extreme penalty might be worth risking to obtain the hide of the Dobharchu, for even the smallest piece of the hide of the king otter protected its holder from drowning. Into historical times, bits of non-kingly otter fur were sold by unscrupulous merchants to sailors, who had great need of protection from death by water. Several families claimed descent from otters, most significantly the McMurrows.

Dobie (dobbin)

British folkloric figure. A kind of BROWNIE, the dobie was known for being rather simple, if well-meaning; thus its name became slang for a dim-witted person. Some dobies were ghosts rather than FAIRIES; both kinds haunted houses and could be sent away (see LAYING THE FAIRIES) by giving them gifts. The name is also applied to RIVER spirits with the power of SHAPE-SHIFTING, as well as to HOLED STONES found on riverbanks, which were believed to be excellent protective AMULETS.


Symbolic animal. Dogs appear frequently in the myth and folklore of Celtic lands: as the ANIMAL form of a divinity, usually a goddess; as a companion to heroes, usually male; and as spirit-beings associated with the OTHERWORLD. The connection of dogs with religion may be very ancient in Celtic lands, because remains of their bones, found in early sites, appear to indicate they were killed sacrificially. The disgust that even contemporary people in the ancient Celtic lands feel toward eating dog meat, not shared by people of many lands, may be a long-lasting memory of a taboo against consuming the flesh of a sacrificial victim.

The first category of dog imagery is exemplified in the sculpted altars dedicated to the goddess NEHALENNIA, who was invariably shown with a small lapdog gazing up worshipfully from beside her feet. Like other Celtic goddesses, she had no more frequent animal companion. Fruit and eggs also appear on such altars, suggesting that the dog symbolized FERTILITY and abundance. Or dogs may have been seen as healers, for they accompany such goddesses as the continental HEALING goddess SIRONA. Dogs lick their wounds until they heal; this may have led to the common (if mistaken) belief in Celtic countries that dogs can heal human wounds through licking. It is also possible that Roman visions of the dog as healer found their way into Celtic iconography, for the sculptures of healing goddesses with dogs date from the period when Celtic lands were occupied by the legions of imperial Rome.

Not all dogs are healing companions; the dog who accompanies the massive goddess on the GUNDESTRUP CAULDRON, found in Denmark but apparently illustrating Celtic myth and ritual, seems connected with death, an association found as well in the folkloric BLACK DOG. But death, in the Celtic worldview, led to rebirth, so the dog images buried in graves may have represented the promise of future life. Similarly dog and corn appear together on statues of the goddess, suggesting that the Celts connected the death of the seed with new growth, and both with the dog as healer and psychopomp or leader of the souls of the newly dead. Connections of dogs with the Otherworld appear in the stories of the Irish goddess BOAND, drowned with her little lap-dog Dabilla, and L^ BAN, who was turned into a MERMAID together with her unnamed pet dog.

Several gods are associated with dogs, notably NODENS. But more commonly the male figures associated with the dog are heroic warriors; indeed, the Irish word for "hound," cu, becomes the first syllable in the name of the great heroes cuchulainn and cu rol Just as goddesses had lapdogs, heroes had hunting hounds, many of whose names come down to us in legend: adhnuall, bran, and sceolan, dogs of fionn MAC CUMHAILL; the Welsh Drudwyn, hunting dog to the hero KULHWCH; and Failinis, hound of the god LUGH. These dogs appear merely to intensify the masculine strength of their owners and rarely—with the exception of Fionn’s Bran— had personalities of their own. Yet through their hunting, they embodied the life-and-death cycle, bringing food to the human table that entailed the death of birds and other animals; thus these hunting hounds may have associations similar to those of the companions of goddesses.

Also straddling the line between life and death was the ambiguous FAIRY dog or Black Dog, a fearsome apparition with burning eyes and a terrifying howl. Seen in Germany and Britain as well as Ireland, the Black Dog warned of death and war; at the outbreak of World War II, there were many sightings in Europe of this mythological beast. Irish superstition connects such dogs with the BANSHEE or death-warning fairy woman; dogs howling near the home of a sick person were believed to predict death, while the first note of the traditional funeral dirge was said to replicate the howling of the Black Dog.

The cu sith or fairy dog was distinguished from the Black Dog by the color of its coat, which was dark green. It moved soundlessly, always in a straight line, so it was easy to tell from other dogs that followed scent-trails in big loping circles. The Cu Sith could bark, and loudly, but only three times. On the third, it sprang forward and devoured anyone nearby. On the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, it was believed that a survivor of such an attack was able to extract a tooth from the Cu Sith, which served as a local ORACLE until it emigrated, with its owner, to Canada, where it is presumably still to be found.

In Scotland even dogs entirely of this world were credited with having some supernatural powers. When they howled at the moon or growled at nothing in particular, it was believed that they were alerting their human keepers to the presence of supernatural or fairy powers. Dogs were also believed to see ghosts of the dead, witches, or other persons only visible to people with SECOND SIGHT.


Scottish heroine. This allegedly historical WITCH of the Isle of Mull off Scotland was blamed—or given credit, depending on the politics of the speaker—for the destruction of the Spanish Armada when it invaded England. Such control over the weather is typically attributed to the HAG named the CAILLEACH, on whom Doideag seems to be patterned.


Symbolic structure. Doorways of stone leading nowhere stand in fields and pastures, on rocky hills and in verdant valleys, throughout Celtic lands. The Breton word for these structures is dolmen, meaning "table of stone," although one would have to be a GIANT to eat off most dolmens; contemporary archaeologists prefer the term portal tomb, while in Wales the same structures are called cromlechs (from words meaning "bent" and "flat stone"). These distinctive and memorable structures are also called DRUID altars, but they were built thousands of years before the Celts and their priests arrived in the land.

Perhaps as many as 6,000 years have passed since the stone uprights were capped with their huge crossbeams, yet the engineering of these mysterious prehistoric people was so exact that hundreds of these structures are still standing today. Indications of burials have been found in recesses under dolmens, leading archaeologists to call them tombs, but burials were few in comparison to the population. Those whose remains (sometimes cremated elsewhere) rest beneath the dolmens may have been victims of HUMAN SACRIFICE, or they may have been people of high status who were considered worthy of a distinguished burial. But this does not mean that the placement and building of dolmens may not have had purposes other than the funereal; similar structures found in the Canadian arctic serve both as geographical markers and as shamanic doorways to another world.

The Celts, arriving long after the dolmens were built, created many tales about them. In Ireland the stone structures are called "beds of DIARMAIT and GRAINNE," for the eloping couple were said to have slept together on a different one each night, as they fled her furious intended husband, FIONN MAC CUMHAILL. This legend connects the dolmens to FERTILITY and sexuality, as does the frequent folklore that claims the stones either cause sterility and barrenness, or that they increase the likelihood of conception. Such lore may encode pre-Celtic understandings of these pre-Celtic monuments, may be Celtic in origin, or may represent Christian interpolations into Celtic legend.

Dolorous blow

Arthurian motif. In stories of the FISHER KING, this is the name of the accidental blow struck to his groin by his brother BALIN, which caused the land to become barren.

Domnall (Donal, Domnal, Donal, Donald, sometimes Daniel)

Irish or Scottish hero. Popular in both Irish and Scottish tradition, this name was carried by a number of minor heroes and kings, most significantly Domnall of TARA, who succeeded the mad king SUIBHNE; and Domnal Mildemail, the Scottish king to whose lands the hero CUCHULAINN was sent by the father of his intended bride, EMER, who feared for his daughter’s virtue.

Domnu (Dea Dumnu)

Irish goddess. This obscure Irish goddess is mentioned in the book of invasions as the ancestral mother of the monstrous FOMORIANS, who were defeated by the magical TUATHA DE DANANN. As the Tuatha De have been often interpreted as gods of the arriving Celts, while the Fomorians represent an earlier people, Domnu may have been an ancestral goddess of the early Celtic or pre-Celtic Irish. Domnu’s name has been translated as "deep," which suggests that she is a goddess of the ocean depths or the misty depths of the OTHERWORLD. Inver Domnann (Broadhaven) in Co. Sligo may derive its name from her.


Welsh goddess. Just as the Irish divinities are called the TUATHA DE DANANN, the tribe of the goddess DANU, so the gods of Wales were called the Children of Don after this otherwise little-known goddess. Among Don’s many children, several figure prominently in the Welsh legends transcribed in the mabinogion. Her daughter was the virgin mother ARIANRHOD, who was nominated to serve as footstool to Don’s brother, king MATH. Of Don’s four sons, three represented important social roles, while the last was a trickster who eludes definition: GWYDION the BARD, GOVANNON the SMITH, the farmer AMAETHEON, and the troublemaking GILFAETHWY.

Don herself played little role in Welsh mythology. Her name, however, connects her to a number of other divinities connected with the land’s FERTILITY. In Ireland both Danu and the related ANU encouraged prosperity; on the Continent, a hypothesized Danu was a goddess of the watercourses whose name was reflected in the important river system, the Danube. Support for this theory comes from the occurrence of Welsh rivers with names similar to Don’s: Trydonwy and Dyfrdonwy, the latter also being the name in the TRIADS of one of the THREE WELLS in the ocean.

Alternatively, Don may be another form of the name DOMNU, believed to be the goddess of the ocean and ancestral mother of the FOMORI-ANS, whom some describe as early Celtic settlers in Ireland. Finally, some texts show Danu’s children as children of the goddess BRIGIT, leaving open the possibilities that they may represent the same divine force, that they may originally have been the same, or that they were confused by the storyteller.

Like the Tuatha De Danann, the Children of Don bear the name of their mother, while no father is mentioned. Their inheritance was thus matrilineal, or traced through the maternal line (see MATRILINY). Not only that, but Don’s children continue the tradition, for her brother Math was succeeded not by his own son but by his nephew, Don’s son Gwydion; then Gwydion was succeeded by his sister Arianrhod’s son, LLEU LLAW GYFFES. These matrilineal successions have given rise to the theory that the deities derived from a time when humans, too, traced ancestry through the mother-line. Those who argue this interpretation of the myths also suggest that matriliny may have been a pre-Celtic tradition carried over into Celtic times when indigenous women bore children to the invaders; the myths would then describe the "inheritance" by half-Celtic children of their mothers’ lands. Others point to the consistency of matrilineal descent in Celtic myth from various lands as providing evidence that the Celts themselves once traced lineage in this fashion.


Irish folkloric character. In the far southwest of Ireland, folklore tells of a married couple—Donagha, a lazy man, and his carping wife VARIA—who fought constantly and viciously. Granted two wishes by the FAIRY folk, Donagha was so lazy that he wasted one of them asking that the load of wood he was carrying should walk home by itself; it grew legs and did so. When her lazy husband arrived home with his strange companion, Varia upbraided him for the waste of a good wish. Thereupon Donagha wished her far away. Her cabin instantly flew off to Teach na Vauria in Co. Kerry, while he himself flew off to Teach an Donagha— Donaghadee, near Belfast, in Co. Down—on the other end of the island.


Irish goddess. This obscure Irish goddess is noted in the book of invasions as the mother of the three heroes BRIAN, IUCHAIR, and IUCHARBA (see SONS of TUIREANN). She is usually considered to be identical to DANU, although she may originally have been a separate goddess.


Irish god. The shadowy Irish god of the dead, whose name puns on "brown" and "king," appears in few myths and is often confused with or absorbed into other mythological characters. Donn lived at Tech Duinn, the House of Donn, a rocky island off the southwest coast of Ireland; he is also connected with Donn Well in Co. Donegal. He was often conflated with the DAGDA, the benevolent god of abundance and fecundity, but they in fact had little in common aside from residence in the OTHERWORLD. Donn represented isolation and death, especially death by drowning, for from his seaside home he brewed up storms to cause shipwrecks, the better to draw more souls to his realm.

Donn Bo

Irish hero. Famous for his sweet singing, this young Irish warrior was slain and, as was customary, decapitated by his killer. But when his HEAD was taken to the victory banquet and displayed on a pillar, it began to sing such a piercingly beautiful melody that everyone in the hall was reduced to tears.

Donn Cuailnge (Don Cooley, Donn Tarb)

Irish mythological beast. The great Brown BULL of Cuailnge was the only animal in Ireland that matched FINNBENNACH, the great White Bull. One lived in ULSTER, in the fields of the minor king DAIRE; the other in CON-NACHT, in the fields of the provincial queen MEDB’s consort AILILL mac Mata. When Medb and Ailill argued over who owned more, the queen was discouraged to discover that her herds had no equal to Finnbennach. Sending her warriors to Daire, Medb asked for a year’s loan of Donn Cuailnge, offering a fortune and her own "friendly thighs" to cap the deal; she hoped that during his stay in Connacht the Donn would impregnate one of her cows with a splendid calf, thus making her the equal of Ailill in possessions.

At first Daire was quite willing, especially given the rental fee, but when he heard some of Medb’s men boasting that they would take the Donn whether his owner approved or not, he became enraged and refused Medb’s offer. Thus began the cattle raid that makes up the greatest of Irish epics, the tain bo cuailnge.

It was, in fact, not a mere bull that Medb sought. Donn Cuailnge was the reincarnation of a man named FRIUCH, who had once worked as a swineherd for the magician BODB DERG. Another man, RUCHT, worked nearby for a man named Ochall. The two fought over everything and, after they died, continued as they reincarnated in many forms (see REINCARNATION). They fought WORMS, STAGES, RAVENS, warriors, and phantoms before reincarnating as the splendid bulls, a SHAPE-SHIFTING that is otherwise only seen in gods and BARDS. Medb had her way and brought the Brown Bull to Connacht, but as soon as Finnbennach and the Donn were in the same pasture, their aeons-long combat began again. Donn Cuailnge killed Finnbennach, but died of his wounds shortly thereafter.


Frnnne Irish fairy king. Within the mountain of KNOCKFIERNA (Cnoc Frnnne, the hill of Frnnne) in Co. Limerick was the S^DHE or FAIRY palace of this king of Ireland’s magical race, the TUATHA DE DANANN. Donn Firinne, one of the best-known fairy kings of the land, sometimes kidnapped mortal women to join him in his fairy dances. Because they would never be seen again in the surface world, this figure may be connected to the obscure OTHERWORLD king of the dead, DONN.

Donn Ua Duibne (Donn O’Duin, Donn O Duibhne)

Irish mythological beast. This wild BOAR killed the romantic hero DIARMAIT Ua Duibne, but it really was not a boar at all but a SHAPE-SHIFTING human. The boar was Diarmait’s half brother, borne by his mother COCHRANN to her lover, a shepherd. When Diarmait’s father, also named Donn, discovered that his wife had given birth to another man’s child, he killed the infant by crushing it. The child’s father, however, knew magic: He waved a HAZEL wand over the mangled body, and the child came back to life but transformed into a wild PIG. The unfortunate Donn lived only to wreak vengeance and, when Diarmait came upon him on the legendary hill of BEN BULBEN, knew that his chance had come. Although Donn lost his life to Diarmait, he was able to prick the hero with one of his needle-sharp whiskers, and Diarmait bled to death.

Dooinney-oie (night-man)

Manx folkloric figure. This kindly Manx water spirit warned sailors and farmers of storms by calling, howling, or sounding a horn.

Dornoll (Dornolla)

Irish heroine. The powerful but unattractive daughter of Domnall Mfldemail, king of Scotland, Dornoll was a DRUID and WARRIOR WOMAN who fell in love with the hero cuchulainn. But he spurned her to study with another Scottish amazon, SCATHACH.


Symbolic bird. Among the continental and British Celts, the dove was associated with HEALING and with ORACLES, a connection that may have arisen because the ill are often eager for insight into the future.


Scottish folkloric figure. The dracae are evil water FAIRIES who attempt to lure passersby by SHAPE-SHIFTING into the forms of desirable golden objects that appear to be floating just out of reach in LAKES and RIVERS. When the traveler reaches, the GOLD cup drifts slightly away until the victim falls into the water and drowns. One captive of the dracae found herself beneath the waves in a beautiful land where she was enslaved as a MIDWIFE to the FAIRIES. At last released, she discovered that because she had touched her eye with FAIRY OINTMENT, she perceived the dracae pretending to be normal men and women, walking unnoticed among us.


Mythological beast. Breathing fire, eating maidens, scorching villages—the dragon of medieval legend was an enormous scaly monster, sometimes winged, often snaky, that demanded a hero. In Britain, ST. GEORGE or ST. MICHAEL rescued the land by slaying the evil being, who was sometimes said to be the DEVIL himself. In Ireland, ST. PATRICK was the favorite dragon-killer of storytellers, for he fought and killed the monstrous CORRA, CAO-RANACH, and OILLIPHEIST, all described as monstrous beings. Indeed, despite the fact that snakes never existed in Ireland, these fearsome creatures were described as serpentine. A number of interpreters have found in these images a coded message about the extirpation of pagan beliefs by the new Christian religion, an interpretation that has been applied as well to the George/Michael motifs.

In Britain, however, saints were not required; regular heroes could step in when necessary to fight WORMS—called that not because they were small or insignificant, but because worm was the Norse and Saxon word for "dragon." Famous English dragons included those of Unsworth and Wantley, the latter having seven heads and three times that many sets of eyes. In the 12th century the famous Linton Worm ravished Roxburghshire with its poisonous breath; it was killed when a local hero shoved a blazing brand down its throat. Even as late as 1614, a dragon was allegedly sighted in West Sussex. While some reports touched on standard characteristics such as breathing fire, eating sheep and maidens, and the like, others described dragons as beautiful, especially when curled up to sleep, their scales looking like shining jewels.

Killing dragons was not easy, for those shining scales protected them. One Scottish dragon had to be lured out of her lair, where she was nursing several dragonets between destructive forays around the countryside. Finally one Charles the Skipper hit on the clever stratagem of building a bridge of empty barrels, covered with iron spikes. When the dragon ventured onto the bridge, the spikes impaled her. Meanwhile, back at the cave, her children were being smoked to death by her erstwhile prey. In despair at losing her brood, the dragon flailed herself with her massive tail until she died, on a rock still called Dragon Rock.

Although often described as based in Celtic belief, dragon tales are in fact of unknown origin. They occur most frequently in Wales, a nation symbolized by a red dragon; the Welsh hero who became king ARTHUR’s father bears the provocative name of UTHER PENDRAGON, which may mean "dragon’s head." Some writers have imaginatively linked dragons with underground RIVERS, others with earth energy; their most famous contemporary appearance is in the work of American-born Irish writer Anne McCaffery, whose fantasy civilization of Perth is described in Dragonhold, Dragonflight, The White Dragon, and many other works.


Cosmological concept. In addition to the AISLING, a traditional form of Irish poetry in which supernatural encounters occurred while the poet was in a dreaming state, the dream had significance in Celtic religion as a place that could provide access to the OTHERWORLD. Myths emphasize this connection, for FAIRY people are able to visit human dreamers, as the fairy queen FAND did when she seduced the hero CUCHULAINN and as the unnamed fairy of the western isle did when she lured BRAN mac Febail away to her realm. Such beliefs are also reflected in the form of DIVINATION called the tarbhfleis or BULL-SLEEP, in which a BARD, glutted with the meat of a newly slaughtered bull, slept wrapped in the bloody hide in order to dream the identity of the new king.


Irish heroine. A sorceress of the FOMO-RIANS, the mysterious people described as monstrous in the book of invasions, Ireland’s mythological history, Dreco used a poison draught to kill 20 warriors sent against her. The exact site of the slaughter, Nephin (Nemthend) overlooking Lough Conn in Co. Mayo, is known from Irish place-name poetry, which describes Dreco as a BARD as well as a magician.


Celtic social role. Members of the priestly class among the Celts were called druids, from a word interpreted variously as meaning "oak" or "wise." Although the druids did not write down their beliefs, which were transmitted orally to the chosen initiates, we have some textual documentation from other sources. Early Roman writers including Caesar described a priesthood of magicians and poets, philosophers and lawyers—for the druids played all of these roles in Celtic society. Caesar reported that an elected chief druid presided over an annual meeting at the center of the Celtic territories in Europe, where they discussed and disputed and settled difficulties.

Both men and women served as druids, although possibly in different ways; the Irish word bandrui, woman druid, emphasizes the fact that the priesthood was not limited to one gender. Whether male or female, the druid went through an extensive period of training before assuming the office’s authority and responsibility. It is not clear whether the role was hereditary or whether, like Asiatic shamans, Celtic druids were called to their vocation by an inward leaning.

Once the period of training had passed, the druid served as a seer who used various means of altering consciousness in order to forecast and advise the people. Oracular traditions including incantation (dichetal do chennaib), psychome-try (teinm laeda), writing (ogham), or trance (imbas forosnai) were employed to discern the correct path for an individual or a tribe; in this sense, druids served as political advisers as well as counselors. They also conducted SACRIFICE, both seasonally and when their divinations showed it necessary; because they foresaw the future, they were important adjuncts to the work of all members of the society, from herdsman to king.

Finally, druids were educators; many young people studied with them for a time, learning the history of their people, religious concepts, mathematics, astronomy, writing, and other subjects before returning to life in the other classes of society. Since all education was through memorization, the training that future kings, warriors, and craftsmen received was instantly accessible to them in later life.

Druids and BARDS were connected, although there is scholarly contention as to whether they formed a single order or separate orders. Certainly their duties overlapped, for poets entered an altered state of consciousness to compose verses and were expected to have SATIRES ready should a king prove ungenerous. Both druid and bard relied upon magic, for the magic of words was an important part of Celtic belief; although poets specialized in verbal magic, they also took part in other magical rites such as the tarbhfleis, the BULL-SLEEP, in which they attempted to dream the identity of the new king. The duties of both bard and druid so overlapped with those of the BREHONS, the legal experts, that it is difficult to discern clear lines of distinction between these groups.

Several writers have suggested a connection between druidical practice and shamanism, an arctic religion based in the belief that other worlds above and below the visible world can be accessed through altered consciousness (see CELTIC SHAMANISM). The druids indeed practiced ways of entrancing themselves; they ate acorns before prophesying, confined themselves to darkened rooms, chanted incantations, and otherwise attempted to strain their senses to see visions. This view of the druid as shaman has gained advocates in recent years, although some scholars limit the term to religions derived from the spiritual practices of Siberian magicians.

The religious ceremonies conducted by the druids are all but lost to our knowledge. They were apparently conducted in the open air, probably in sacred groves called nemetons; as OAKS were especially sacred, it is highly likely that oak groves were favored locations for ritual. Whether HUMAN SACRIFICE was part of these rites is fiercely debated; Caesar spoke of men and animals being burned in wicker cages, but Caesar was an enemy of the Celts and might have consciously or unconsciously painted them as cruel barbarians.

With the coming of Christianity, the druids disappeared. In some cases their power had already been broken, for when the Romans invaded, they put to the torch the druids’ sacred groves on the Continent and, in a slaughter still remembered by history, on the sacred isle of ANGLESEY in the Irish Sea. With their sanctuaries destroyed, the druids’ power waned. Some druids may have become Christian monks or otherwise adapted to the new religion, but it is certain that many died with their memorized knowledge still sealed in their minds. A number of druidical revivals have been seen in the last few centuries, ranging from the Gorsedd poetic competition in Wales, established in 1792, to the various Celtic shamanic societies functioning today.

Druid’s fog (feth fiada, ceo druidecta)

Symbolic object. One of the powers that DRUIDS were said to possess was the ability to wrap themselves in mist and thus to pass by their enemies (or even their friends) undetected. This invisibility may have actually been a form of SHAPE-SHIFTING— the passing druid might become a veil of mist, just as he or she could become an animal or a bird—rather than a fog conjured by and separate from the druid. As possessors of this magical fog, druids were like gods or FAIRIES, who were also said to have such power; the TUATHA DE DANANN received the druid’s fog as a consolation prize after losing Ireland to the MILESIANS. ST. PATRICK was similarly believed to have made himself invisible to the eyes of those who would harm him; in the famous poem "St. Patrick’s Breastplate," he and a companion passed by dangerous druids, who saw only a fawn and a deer.


Scottish folkloric figure. Not frequently encountered by humans, this Highland spirit appears in spring to beat upon the ground, an activity that brings forth the first green growth.


Irish hero. The hero FIONN MAC CUMHAILL and his warrior band, the FIANNA, killed Dryantore’s three sons as well as the husband of his sister AILNA. This GIANT then set out to punish the murderers. After snaring them in a DRUID’S FOG that Ailna created, Dryantore captured Fionn and his harper, the sweet-singing DAIRE, and imprisoned them in his OTHERWORLD palace. The rest of the warriors found and freed them, and Dryantore was killed in the ensuing battle.


Cosmological concept. The concept of duality can be understood in two different ways. Some writers use it as a synonym for dualism, the philosophical division of the world into two opposing sets of categories: black and white, light and dark, male and female. One of the most prominent philosophical dualists was the Christian bishop Augustine of Hippo, who was a fervent follower of the Persian sage Mani in his youth and continued to espouse an either/or philosophy after his conversion. Augustine waged an ardent and ultimately successful campaign against a competing philosophy, that of the presumably Celtic monk Pelagius (see PELAGIANISM), founder of the "happy heresy" that the natural world was created just as God wished. Augustine, by contrast, rejected the physical and especially sexual world as a hindrance to gaining admittance to heaven, a view that lasted long after the teachings of Pelagius were forgotten. Later Church Fathers, heavily influenced by neo-Platonic ideas that the "ideal" world is better than the "real," continued to support a dualistic vision of sin and salvation.

The double vision of the Celts was not dual-istic in this sense. From its earliest period, Celtic art showed a fascination with forms that were both one thing and another (the RAM-HEADED SNAKE, for instance), or that were meant to be seen from two different angles. Divinities were often double or even multiple, or could change forms at will. Celtic dualism suggests a vision of the world as filled with complementary dyads, so that rather than light and darkness, or male and female, as opposing each other, they can be seen as part of a great whole.

Dub (Dubh, Dubhlinn, Dublind)

Irish heroine or goddess. The capital city of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin, is named after this famous BARD and DRUID woman, for it was originally Dubh-linn or "the pool of Dub," a deep pool in the mouth of the River Liffey, into which dub fell after being killed by a slingshot. The shot was cast in revenge after Dub drowned a woman with whom her husband was consorting, making the tale a tangle of betrayals and vengeance. Because dubh also means "dark" and the name of the city is often translated as "dark pool," this heroine may have been invented to explain Dublin’s name. The town was originally founded by Norsemen, who called it Dyflinasrski; in Irish, the town is called Baile Atha Cliath, the town on the wicker ford, in remembrance of the wicker bridge built by the bitter-tongued BARD named AITHIRNE.


Irish goddess. This obscure goddess is known through her descendent, DIARMAIT Ua Duibne, Ireland’s most romantic hero.

Dubthach (Dugall Donn)

Irish hero. Christian legend provides this as the name of the pagan chieftain father of St. BRIGIT who consorted with her Christian mother, one of the slaves in his court. Several significant anecdotes in the life of St. Brigit revolve around disputes with her father: when she gave away his bejew-eled sword to a beggar; when, to prevent him from finding her a husband, she caused her EYES to pop out of her head and dangle down her cheeks on bloody threads. In Scotland, Brigit’s father was Dugall Donn.


Symbolic bird. The animal of SEQUANA, goddess of the source of France’s river Seine, who was often depicted sailing in a boat whose prow was shaped into a duck’s head. BIRDS are often symbols of Celtic divinity, especially of goddesses.

Dullahan (dulachan, dulachan)

Irish folkloric figure. The headless horseman of Irish tradition, the dullahan was sometimes described as the driver of the DEATH COACH; elsewhere he was a phantom who rode a horse that had lost its own head. A masculine and lesser-known form of the BANSHEE, the wailing FAIRY that predicted death, the dullahan carried news of impending death to anyone who saw him riding past—though they may have seen nothing after he struck out their eyes with a flick of his whip.


Continental Celtic god. An obscure god from Gaul, identified by the invading Romans with their god MERCURY, Dumaitis is known only from a single inscription.


Scottish mythological site. One of the most significant historical sites of Scotland is a huge two-peaked basalt rock northwest of Glasgow, a reminder of ancient glacial action. Given its prominence and ease of defense, the rock of Dumbarton has been a fortress since prehistory.Such stories of landscape creation through rock-casting are typically told of the CAILLEACH, an ancient goddess who could easily be imagined as wishing the departure of the arriving Christians.


Mythic location. In Irish and Scottish

Gaelic, this word means "fortress." It is used of many mythological sites, including:

• Dun Ailinne, a great HILLFORT in Co. Kildare established in Neolithic times but taken over as a provincial capital by the Celts around the seventh century C.E.; eastern corollary to CRUACHAN in CONNACHT and EMAIN MACHA in ULSTER. It is now called KNOCKAULIN Hill. Recent excavations at Dun Ailinne have revealed several banks—among the largest earthworks in the land—and a wide causeway; foundations of ancient structures have also been uncovered at the site. The site is named for ALEND, an obscure goddess.

• Dun Aonghusa (Dun Angus), a fort on the Aran Islands that uses a sheer cliff as protection on one side, while the rest is stone. Legend has it that the FIR BOLG, the second mythological race to arrive in Ireland, built the fort and named it after Angus, their chief.

• Dun Bolg, legendary place of battle where the warriors of LEINSTER showed their objection to the borama or COW-tribute they were forced to pay to the king of TARA. The story, reminiscent of that of the Trojan Horse, tells how disguised warriors erupted from baskets hanging from the cow-tribute’s backs and battled the king’s men into submission.

• Dun Delgan, named for the FOMORIAN chief DELGA, this fortress became CUCHULAINN’s home; the modern Irish town of Dundalk is named after it.

• Dun Scaith, the fortress of the warrior woman SCATHACH, on the Isle of Skye near Isleornsay. The same name appears on the Isle of Man as a portal through which Cuchulainn’s warriors invaded the OTHERWORLD to gain possession of its magical CAULDRON of abundance.

Dun Cow (Y Fuwch Frech, Y Fuwch Laethwen Lefrith)

British and Welsh folkloric figure. Like the GLAS GHAIBHLEANN in Ireland, the great Dun Cow wandered the British and Welsh land, giving milk to anyone who asked. Unable to respect their good fortune, some evildoers killed the cow to make stew, or attempted to milk her into a sieve, which killed the ever-giving cow. In Lancashire she is said to have died at a farm called "The Old Rib," where her whale-sized rib bone was long displayed. In Wales she was called Y Fuwch Frech, "the freckled cow," and Y Fuwch Laethwen Lefrith, "the milk-white milch cow"; she was said to have borne two long-horned OXEN called the Ychen Bannog, who killed the monstrous afanc.

Another Dun Cow was a magical ever-fruitful beast that belonged to an Irish SAINT who, upon the cow’s death, had it tanned and made into vellum so that it could become a book. In the Book of the Dun Cow many of Ireland’s great myths were recorded, including the epic tain bo cuailnge, the story of a great cattle raid.

Dunnie (doonie)

British folkloric figure. In Northumbria this mischievous sprite disguised itself as a midwife’s horse when a woman was in labor, then disappeared, leaving the midwife stranded; it did the same to plowmen who went to hitch up the team, only to find themselves alone in the barn. In Scotland the same creature, called a doonie, often appeared in the shape of a horse but could also seem to be an old woman or man; the same wicked and sometimes dangerous teasing was attributed to the doonie as to its southern relative.


Irish heroine. This unfortunate Irishwoman was destroyed by her own truth-telling. Herccad, Durgan’s mother, was sleeping with one of her slaves, and Durgan reported this to her father. Herccad then arranged to have her daughter killed, to cover her disgrace.


Folkloric figure. Dwarfs or little people found in most Celtic lands were immigrants from Scandinavia or Germany, where they were common folkloric characters resembling trolls. In Irish lore dwarfs were either FAIRIES or simply short people like the harpist of FIONN MAC CUMHAILL, Cnu Deireil; the creatures in the former case were not true dwarfs but shapely small versions of normal-sized humans. Legends of pint-sized people inspired one of the great SATIRES of the English language, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, whose human hero was a GIANT among the diminutive Lilliputians.

Dyfed (Dyved)

Welsh region. Much of the action of the mabinogion is located in this region of southwest Wales; Dyfed is thought to take its name from the tribal name of the Demetae, a Celtic tribe that dwelled there. Dyfed’s king was PWYLL, husband of the goddess or heroine RHIANNON; it was in Dyfed that she bore his child PRYDERI and was punished for her perceived betrayal. There, too, ARAWN, lord of the OTHERWORLD, reigned for a year, having exchanged rulerships with Pwyll so that the human lord could rid ANNWN of the king’s most resolute opponent. Historically, the region gave rise to the first codification of Celtic law in Wales, called the laws of HYWEL DDA after the king who encoded them.

Dylan (Dylan Son-of-Wave, Dylan Eil Ton)

Welsh hero or god. In order to become the ceremonial footholder to king MATH of Wales, ARI-ANRHOD was asked to submit to a test to ensure that she possessed the requisite virginity. But when she stepped over Math’s wand, a baby dropped from her womb (despite the fact that she was unaware she was pregnant) and fled immediately to the sea. He is sometimes called Dylan Ail Ton, "son of wave" or Ail Mor, "son of the sea," and so he has been interpreted as being Arianrhod’s child with a sea god or MERMAN. (Arianrhod second child, born on the same occasion, was LLEU LLAW GYFFES.) Certainly the sea was Dylan’s element, for he swam like a fish and took great pleasure in feeling the waves under his body. But he was killed by his uncle, the rapist GILFAETHWY, whose assault on Math’s previous footholder had set in motion the entire story.

Dyfr (Dynwir)

British heroine. At king Arthur’s court at camelot, we find three figures known as the THREE SPLENDID WOMEN: Dyfr the golden-haired, the challenging ENID, and the virtuous TEGAU EURFRON. Dyfr is the only one with little legend connected with her, except the acknowledgment of Glewelwyd Gafaefawr, a knight, as her lover.

Next post:

Previous post: