Celtic Myth & legend

Giants Causeway - the stepping-stones created by an Irish giant

Giants Causeway (Irish: Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach) is a remarkable and beautiful place that is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a nature reserve. Located on the northern coast of County Antrim (Irish: Contae Aontroma) in the northeast of Ireland (Irish: Éire). The area is made up of about 40,000 interlocked basalt columns resulting from a volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago. The majority of the columns are hexagonal, but others have a different number of sides.

Sgáthach the legendary Scottish warrior queen

Scottish warrior

In Gaelic legend, Sgáthach, or Scáthach, is a Scottish warrior. She features in the Ulster Cycle (Irish: an Rúraíocht) one of the four cycles in Irish mythology along with the Mythological Cycle, Fenian Cycle and the Historical Cycle (also known as the Cycles of the Kings). Sgáthach was said to be a warrior queen whose fortress, Dún Scáith or Dùn Sgàthaich (Fortress of Shadows) is named after her and is on the Isle of Skye (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach). The remains of  Dunscaith Castle now stand on the site where her fortress was once said to be located.

Sgáthach trained the legendary Irish hero Cú Chulainn, who also appears in Scottish and Manx folklore. He is said to be the son of Lugh, a god in Irish mythology and member of the pre-Christian Gaelic pantheon the Tuatha Dé Danann. In the Ulster Cycle, Lugh fathered Cú Chulainn with the mortal maiden Deichtine who was the sister of Conchobar mac Nessa the king of Ulster. The instruction of Cú Chulainn by Sgáthach is described  in Tochmarc Emire (The Wooing of Emer), one of the stories in the Ulster Cycle. Cú Chulainn had fallen in love with Emer, daughter of Forgall Monach, who opposed to the match. He suggested that Cú Chulainn should complete his training as a warrior with Sqáthach in the land of Alba (Scotland) before marrying Emer. Forgall’s expectation was that Cú Chulainn would be killed in the process.

Interview with Dr. Jenny Butler: The Celtic Folklore Traditions of Halloween

Dr. Jenny Butler

By popular demand, we are re-featuring this exclusive interview with Dr. Jenny Butler, originally published in October 2013.

The ancestry of modern Halloween, which needs no introduction here, leads on a straight line back to Samhain, the Celtic feast day of the Dead. One of the four annual feast days of the Celtic world, Samhain was such an important feast day that it did not escape the notice of Julius Caesar as he ravaged Celtic Gaul who remarked that the Celtic god of death and winter was worshipped on this day.

Samhain was the principal feast day of Celtic Ireland prior to the arrival of Christianity. Over time, the Christianisation of Celtic religious belief re-made Samhain into All Saints Day, a principal Holy Day of the Catholic Church, which as the name of the Holy Day suggests, gives a nod to its roots as the Celtic feast of the dead. The smooth transition from Celtic Samhain to the Christian holiday honouring dead Christian Saints is just another example of how expert were St. Patrick’s missionaries in weaving Celtic myth into Christian belief making it seem as if the new religion was really an extension of the existing faith in the Gods of the Celtic Pantheon.

Transceltic are honoured to have had the opportunity to interview Dr Jenny Butler on her insights into the origins of Halloween. Dr Butler is a folklorist based at University College Cork's Folklore and Ethnology Department with a PhD thesis on the topic of Irish Neo-Paganism. Dr Butler’s principal interests are in the areas of mythology, belief narratives, folk religion, ritual and festival. A member of The Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR), she has numerous articles to her credit. Dr Butler is currently working on a book about Irish contemporary Paganism.

Ankou: Breton Halloween Story


The night's celebration of Kala Goany (the Celtic festival of Halloween) had been good. A walk home on this crisp autumn night on the outskirts of Belle Isle en Terre, Brittany gave the opportunity for Morgyn to clear her head. The wine had flowed freely all night and everyone had entered into the spirit of things, dressing in costumes and of course, it being Halloween, the more gaudy and macabre the outfit the better. Midnight had arrived; people had listened attentively to the ghost stories being told around the crackling log fire, alternately frightened and amused. That was the way of things on Kala Goany, a traditional celebration with an undercurrent of respect for the supernatural. Morgyn loved Halloween; there was a special magical atmosphere on this night that gave her a feeling of closeness to her Breton ancestry and Celtic identity.

Celtic Harvest Festival of Lughnasa

Celtic cross

The Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasa, traditionally celebrated on the first of August, is the fourth and last of the Feast days of the Celtic year. Although these four feast days are usually referred to as festivals of the pre-Christian Irish Celts, there is evidence that each of the four feast days have more ancient roots and that they were at one time  celebrated throughout the Celtic world.

The connection between the four feast days and ancient Celtic religious practices is illustrated by the famed Coligny Calendar. The Coligny calendar records the important dates in the Celtic year. This artifact, unearthed in France in the late 1897, and which dates from about 200 AD, was created by the Celts of Roman Gaul. There is speculation that the calendar was created by Gaulish Druids to preserve the Celtic religious calendar at a time when Gaulish Celtic culture began to be submerged into the Roman way of life, three centuries after the rape and subjugation of Celtic Gaul by Gaius Julius Caesar.

Kannerezed noz – The Washerwomen of the Night in the Celtic mythology of Brittany

In the Celtic folklore of Brittany there are many creatures of the Otherworld, that mystical land occupied by spirits and deities who are rarely seen by humans. Many of these supernatural beings are benevolent and only deem to appear when and if absolutely necessary. Others simply want to be left alone to exist in the way that they have for thousands of years, long before the time of humankind. For some their role is to protect the environment and try and control the most damaging excesses of man. There are those who will deliberately seek out and help humans who care for the land of Brittany, cherish its ancient borders and protect its ancient traditions. However, amongst all of these creatures there are some who will, if encountered, be a harbinger of doom. They are to be avoided at all costs.

Amongst these darker entities of Breton mythology is the tall, skeletal, foreboding figure of Ankou. Dressed in black, carrying a scythe, he is accompanied by a cart pulled by black horses. Ankou is a night traveller that gathers the soles of the newly dead. Then there is the Nain who guard the ancient megaliths, stone circles and cairns that are found all over Brittany. Their faces are demon like with horns upon their head and their eyes are a glowing red. Dancing around the ancient stones and monoliths of Brittany they chant out the days of the week ‘dilun, dimerzh, dimerc'her, diyaou, digwener', but not the days of ‘disadorn and disul’ for these two days are held as sacred to the fairies. The night of ‘dimerc'her’ is their special night though, particularly the first one of the month of May. Ill fortune will befall those humans that should chance across and interrupt their ceremonies.

Scottish Legend Of The Blue Men Of Minch

The minch

The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Siar) is an island chain made up of 200 islands in a 130 mile archipelago off the north west coast of mainland Scotland. They form part of the Hebrides, separated from the Scottish mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the waters of the Minch, the Little Minch and the Sea of the Hebrides. The Minch (Scottish Gaelic: An Cuan Sgitheanach, An Cuan Sgìth, Cuan na Hearadh, An Cuan Leòdhasach), also called North Minch. The Lower Minch (an Cuan Canach), also known as the Little Minch, is the Minch's southern extension.

Legend also tells that the Minch is home to a clan of mythical blue men. Most of the time “The Blue Men Of Minch” swim the seas, but sometimes sleep in underwater caves. While the Blue Men slept the weather could be fine and the seas calm. However, when awake they could conjure up storms whenever they wanted. These creatures, that are the size and shape of humans, are very strong and can be seen swimming and diving with pleasure when the seas are rough. Following the boats that are navigating the waters of the area they can be friendly towards humans, but this can be dependant upon their mood and if they are treated with respect.

The Swan In Celtic Mythology

Ler and swans

The Swan, which is called "Eala" in Scots Gaelic, "Eala" in Irish, "Alarch" in Welsh, "Alarc’h" in Breton, "Olla" in Manx and "Alargh" Cornish, is known for its majestic grace and gliding mystical beauty. Little wonder then that these birds of the family Anatidae within the genus Cygnus are associated with the gods and goddesses of the pre-Christian Celtic peoples. They are seen as having links to the Otherworld (Aos Si) community whose world was reached through mists, hills, lakes, ponds, wetland areas, caves, ancient burial sites, cairns and mounds. Within these realms dwelt the Celtic gods with all of their supernatural ability. Association with these deities gave the swan an exalted status linked to the Celtic festivals such as those of Beltane and Samhain.

Swan species are: Whooper, Trumpeter, Tundra, Mute, Black-necked, Black, and Berwick. A male swan is called a cob; a female is a pen, and the young are called cygnets. The Northern Hemisphere species of swan have a plumage of pure white. The Southern Hemisphere species are mixed black and white. The Australian black swan is black except for the white flight feathers on its wings. However, the white Mute Swan was also introduced to Australia and New Zealand. The South American black-necked swan has a white body with a black neck. Largest of the waterfowl family Anatidae, the swan is one of the biggest of the flying birds. The larger of the species, including the mute swan, trumpeter swan, and whooper swan, can be over 59 in (1.5 m) with a weight of over 33 Ib (15 kg). Wingspans can extend to over 10 ft (3.1 m). Swans are noted as usually choosing a mate that lasts for life.

Corineus - mythological descendent of Troy, great warrior and founder of Cornwall.


Corineus, in medieval British legend, was a prodigious warrior, a fighter of giants, and the eponymous founder of Cornwall.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (1136), he led the descendants of the Trojans who fled with Antenor after the Trojan War and settled on the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea. After Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan prince Aeneas, had been exiled from Italy and liberated the enslaved Trojans in Greece, he encountered Corineus and his people, who joined him in his travels. In Gaul, Corineus provoked a war with Goffarius Pictus, king of Aquitania, by hunting in his forests without permission, and killed thousands single-handedly with his battle-axe. After defeating Goffarius, the Trojans crossed to the island of Albion, which Brutus renamed Britain after himself. Corineus settled in Cornwall, which was then inhabited by giants. Brutus and his army killed most of them, but their leader, Gogmagog, was kept alive for a wrestling match with Corineus. The fight took place near Plymouth, and Corineus killed him by throwing him over a cliff.

Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pantheon - Part II

The Druids were the caretakers of Celtic culture.  When he came into contact with the Druids during his conquest of Celtic Gaul, Julius Caesar confirmed their religious role:

The Druids officiate at the worship of the gods, regulate public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions.  Large numbers of young men flock to them for instruction, and are held in great honour by the people.

Portrayal of an Arch-Druid.

Had it not been for the Celtic religious ban on committing the wisdom and learning of the Druids to the written word, our understanding of the Celtic Pantheon would be much greater today than it is.

Alas too few texts have survived the savagery and wanton destruction directed at the Celts over the centuries especially during the emergence of the modern nation states of England and France and the wholesale destruction in Ireland during its occupation. The surviving written Celtic source documents are due to accidents of history and geography, mainly Irish and Welsh in origin. The Folkloric traditions of all the Six Nations augment the written record and provide an important source of our knowledge of the Celtic pantheon.

This article is the second part of our survey of the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pantheon. Read Part I here.


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