Thanks for joining us for another Families’ Deity! We’re exploring deities that tie into families and family values, or who are important to the family unit or children in some way. This month, we are exploring the mighty God, An [The] Dagda.
Who is An Dagda?
Irish Paganism is a living tradition as well as a major influencer of other Pagan paths all around the world. An Dagda is a crucial part of that, and a key deity for many people, either as a focal point of worship or as part of a polytheistic (worshipping multiple deities) path.
An Dagda is an important figure in Irish mythology. He is called An Dagda or “The” Dagda” rather than just Dagda because Dagda is a kind of title as well as a name. It means “Good God”, where good means “skilled” or “talented”, rather than kind or altruistic. “An” is simply Irish for “the” (singular).
An Dagda is a complex character with a lot of different titles, associations, and appears numerous times throughout Irish stories. He is a member of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the race of people who came to Ireland and displaced the Fir Bolg. He is a God and a king, a musician, a warrior, and a parent with many complex relationships.
Why is An Dagda one of our family deities?
One of An Dagda’s epithets, or titles, is Olathair. Athair means father, however, Ol doesn’t mean “all”, as some people think. All Father is a title used for gods in other pantheons, but there is no Irish equivalent. Olathair actually means “great father”. However, again, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking this means he’s an awesome dad. Sadly, not always. “Great” in this context means large, as the Dagda was supposed to be huge and imposing. But, it’s crucial to note that this epithet is not “big warrior” or “big musician”; it’s “great father”, so clearly his role as a father is very important in Irish mythology and spirituality.
There’s a brilliant video explaining this in detail over at the Irish Pagan School.
An Dagda’s children include Brigid, the famous Irish Goddess of healing, smithing, and poetry, among many other things. Some of the other many children of the Dagda are:
- Cermait Milbél
- Óengus mac ind-Óg
- Aodh Caem
There is plenty of information on the Dagda’s family and relationships in Morgan Daimler’s book, Pagan Portals: The Dagda.
Music is also strongly associated with An Dagda, but particularly the three types of music that his magical harp, produces:
- Geantrai, a joyous strain of music
- Goiltrai, the “sorrow strain”, music that makes people cry
- Suantrai, a sleepy strain of music like a magical lullaby that puts everyone to sleep
As well as pointing out the inherent magic and power of music, I think these three strains are a great reminder that all lives need joy, that sorrow will come and you can overcome it, and that we all need sleep!
There are plenty of tales about An Dagda being a father, including a tale which involves his club or magic staff. When he first gets his staff, which can either kill or cure, he uses it to slay the three men he got it from before using the other end to bring his dead son, Cermait, back to life. Almost immediately, Cermait berates his father for killing the three men. An Dagda listens to his son and brings the men back to life.
What he did initially was wrong, of course, but by listening to and respecting his son’s opinion, he fixed the situation and gained a great treasure. What a wonderful reminder that being a parent or guardian doesn’t automatically make you right. (How the Dagda Got His Magic Staff via Mary Jones.)
The Dagda is also very important in that, as well as his club and harp, he holds one of the four treasures of Ireland: his cauldron. This cauldron could feed any amount of people and ensure no one went hungry. This connects An Dagda to abundance, hospitality, and that need to care for those who are important to you.
Honouring An Dagda
If you want to honour the Dagda in your own practice, you could consider creating an altar or other sacred space with his tools on. A small cauldron can be quite easy to find, or you can repurpose a small cooking pot. After all, the cauldron is a practical item for feeding folks in his mythology.
You could dedicate a wand or a staff to An Dagda, or simply have an image of one on your altar.
You could, likewise, have an image of a harp. However, you could also honour this God by playing your own music, writing a song or a poem, or learning a new skill.
To bring aspects of An Dagda into your family life, you could discuss what it means to be hospitable. This includes being welcoming and friendly, but also setting boundaries and being safe.
At Samhain, you could offer An Dagda porridge, which is something that occurs within one of his tales.
An Dagda Correspondences
Cauldron or cooking pot
Club, cudgel, or staff
Harp or other stringed instruments
A red-haired person
An oak tree
Any of the Irish sites An Dagda is connected to, such as Newgrange
Image copyright Mabh Savage 2023 produced using Canva Pro