Celtic Myth & legend

Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pantheon - Part I

Celtic Pantheon

Celtic Mythology is a foundation stone supporting, along with the language, music and dance, our collective Celtic identity. Celtic Mythology is rooted in the Oral traditions of the six Celtic nations and in surviving manuscripts. Too few texts have survived the savagery and wanton destruction directed at the Celts over the centuries during the emergence of the modern nation states of England and France. The surviving written Celtic source documents are due to accidents of history and geography, mainly Irish and Welsh in origin. The Folkloric traditions of the Six Nations often amplify and sometimes deviate from the written record and provide an important source of our knowledge of the Celtic pantheon. This article is the first part of our survey of the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Pantheon.

Tuatha Dé Danann

Tuatha Dé Danann

The Tuatha Dé Danann form a significant feature in Irish, Scottish and Manx mythology. They are Celtic pre-Christian gods with supernatural ability and were of great importance to Gaelic people. They belong to the Otherworld (Aos Si) community whose world was reached through mists, hills, lakes, ponds, wetland areas, caves, ancient burial sites, cairns and mounds. Their association with ancient Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds is probably linked to the importance these sites had for the people of pre-history. They were places of communal interment for the ancestors of the Celts of northwest Europe who are descended from the native Neolithic peoples of these lands. Their story was passed on for many centuries in oral tradition. Many of these legends were recorded in a collection of poems and texts, some dating from the third century AD, and compiled in the eleventh century by Christian scholars in such works as the Leabhar Gabhála Éireann known in English as The Book of Invasions.

Faeries, Fraud and Frenzies: The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by Dr James MacKillop

Book of Kells

Celtic Mythology is a foundation stone supporting, along with the language, music and dance, our collective Celtic identity.  “The Oxford “Dictionary of Celtic Mythology” by Dr. James MacKillop can be considered one of our primary reference texts. The author is a former Professor of English at Syracuse University, former visiting Fellow in Celtic Languages at Harvard University and is past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies.

Published by Oxford University Press in 1998, this work boasts over 4,000 alphabetised entries on deities, sacred places and the personalities associated with the Celtic revival and ancient texts. The entries are presented in a range from succinct definitions to comprehensive narratives. Included is a brief and lucid “Pronunciation Guide” to the modern Celtic languages. The modern Celtic tongues have branched  over the millennia in to two language groups.  This guide sets apart the Goidelic pronunciations of Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Irish versus that of the Brythonic pronunciations of Cornish, Breton and Welsh.

Celtic Mythology is rooted in the Oral traditions of the six Celtic nations and in surviving manuscripts.  Too few texts have survived the savagery and wanton destruction directed at the Celts over the centuries during the emergence of the modern nation states of England and France. The surviving written Celtic source documents are due to accidents of history and geography, mainly Irish and Welsh in origin.  The reasons for this are deftly placed into context by MacKillop in the introduction: “The phrase ‘Celtic texts’ in this volume refers primarily to those written in the Irish and Welsh languages.  Irish is the oldest written vernacular in Europe, with a literary tradition possibly beginning in the sixth century, with the coming of the Christian scribes, that has produced hundreds of narratives. Written Irish-language literary traditions survived the coming of the Anglo-Normans (1169), the flight of the native aristocracy (1607), Cromwellian pogroms (the 1650s) and in to the eighteenth century. Welsh literary traditions, for all its artistic splendour begins several centuries later, long after Christianity was well established and exists in much smaller volume.  A third, much more modest written tradition exists in Gaelic Scotland, related to old Irish...and continued by distinguished seventeenth and eighteenth century bards.”

Korrigans - Sirens of Breton Mythology


In the rich Celtic mythological tales of Brittany, the Korrigans form a group of female entities who are associated with rivers and wells. Sometimes they are described as fairy like creatures with beautiful golden hair. They are seen in some tales as changelings who can alter their shape. 

In the 1911 seminal work “The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries” by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, the author describes the origins of the Korrigan myth: “In lower Brittany, which is the genuinely Celtic part of Amorica (Breton Peninsula) instead of finding a widespread folk-belief in fairies of the kind existing in Wales, Ireland and Scotland we find a widespread belief in the existence of the dead, and to a less extent in that of the Korrigan tribes. It is the Korrigan race, more than fairies, (which) forms a large part of the invisible inhabitants of Brittany”.

From a folklore tale cited by Evans-Wentz, we have a window into the rich oral tradition of Celtic myth in Brittany:

Towards midnight I was awakened by a terrible uproar; there were a hundred Korrigans dancing around the fountain. I overheard one of them say to the others; I have news to report to you , I have cast an evil spell upon the daughter of the King and no mortal will ever be able to cure her, and yet in order to cure her, nothing more would be needed than a drop of water form this fountain.

The Lost German on the Isle of Man TT Course: A Ghost Story from the Isle of Man

Isle of Man TT logo

One of the world's great sporting events and the ultimate motorcycle race, The Isle of Man TT 2015 Practices and Races Schedule runs from 30th May to 12th June.

Cascading down the steep slopes of Snaefell Mountain, the bank of dark fog shrouded everything in its path. At first an advanced guard of wispy light grey cloud trailed over the Mountain TT circuit and rolled down towards the Laxey Valley below.  A sombre damp blanket of darkness soon followed.  These mountain fogs could arrive quickly and sometimes without warning. They were a feature of the famous Manx motorcycle road course, the best and most challenging motorbike race in the world. When the mountain mists descended visibility was reduced to zero and all racing came to a halt until it lifted, at times almost as soon as it had arrived.

Jim Quayle had been stationed as a Marshall on the ‘Verandah’ section of the course. He had volunteered as a Marshall every year for 10 years. The 37¾ mile course needed just over a minimum of 500 Marshals stationed around the course in various sectors. At its highest point the course rose to 1,385ft (422 metres) above sea level. Jim liked to be stationed on the mountain section of the course. Although it could be frustrating at times; like today, when the fog descended and you just had to wait until ‘Manannan’ decided he would be prepared to lift his cloak of mist. ‘Manannan’ was the Celtic sea god from where the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin) derived its name. The legend being that he would use the rolling mists to hide the island from its enemies and protect it.

The Fairy Flag And The Chiefs Of Clan MacLeod

Fairy flag

The Fairy Flag (Am Bratach Sìth) is a flag which is said to have magical properties; it belongs to the chiefs of the Clan MacLeod. It is located in Dunvegan Castle, which is close to the town of Dunvegan (Dùn Bheagain) on the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The fragile silk flag is about 18 inches squared. The origins of the flag are not clear and there are a number of legends which say that the flag was a gift from the fairies.

One such story was that a young chief of the Clan MacLeod fell in love with a fairy princess and proposed marriage. The King of the Fairies initially forbade his daughter’s betrothal to a mortal, but relented on seeing her distress. However, he stipulated that the marriage should last no more than a year and one day, at which time she should return to the Fairy Kingdom with no human possessions. The couple were much in love and had a son. On the day that the marriage was ordered to end the sad couple were rendered apart. One version of the story is that she presented her husband with the fairy flag for protection at the nearby “Fairy Bridge” from where she re-entered the Fairy Kingdom. Another version is that the fairy princess told her husband to look after their son well and not to let him cry as she would hear and it would break her heart.

Beauty and the Beast - The Legend of the Loch Ness Monster and Beautiful Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Loch Ness (Scottish Gaelic: Loch Nis) is a freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands (Scottish Gaelic: A' Ghàidhealtachd). Renowned for its great beauty the Loch is a maximum of  twenty two and a half miles (36.2km) long with a maximum width of just over one and a half miles (2.7km).

The rivers Tarff, Coiltie, Moriston, Farigaig, Enrich, Foyers and Oich along with a number of burns flow into the loch which at its deepest is over 754 feet (230m). It holds about 16 million 430 thousand gallons of water and has just one outlet, the River Ness (Scottish Gaelic: Abhainn Nis), which flows down through the city of Inverness (Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Nis) in the northeast of Scotland and out into the Moray Firth which is an inlet of the North Sea.

Manannán Mac Lir, Son of the Sea, Celtic Sea God and Protector of Mannin

Manannan Sculpture

Manannán is a Celtic sea god and associated with the Tuatha de Danaan (thoo'a-hay-day-danawn). They are the Gaelic pre-Christian pantheon that are known in Ireland, Scotland and Isle of Man. His legend is widespread throughout the Celtic lands.

His father was Lir, God of the Sea. Both Lir and his son Manannán are mentioned in the work of ‘Sanas Cormaic’ by Cormac mac Cuilennáin, King of Munster. In Cormac's 9th century glossary, he links both to the sea.

In many Celtic stories, we are told of Manannán's wife, the Fairy Queen Fand, his sons Ilbhreac (Fairy King), Fiachna and Gaidiar, and daughters Áine, Aoife and Griane. Manannán also had a foster son named Lugh; the Great Warrior, on whom he bestowed his magical belongings. Manannán, above all, is heavily associated with the Isle of Man (Mannin).

The Island’s name is derived from his and he was Mannin’s first ruler and protector. It is said he could bring down a cloak of mist that would hide the island from foreign threat. Using his magic powers he controls the wind and the waves and bring forces to defend the island.

Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey as yn Moddey Doo - Peel Castle and the Moddey Doo: A Manx Story of the Supernatural

Peel Castle

‘Ta scanjoon 'sy cashtal shen! Drogh - cur twoaie da (That castle is haunted! Evil - beware of it)!’ Jimmy, looked down at the old woman who was clasping his arm with her cold, boney, white purple veined hands. Bright blue intense eyes stared into his, piercing like shards of Nordic ice. Her warning in Manx Gaelic was clear and there could be no mistaking that the message was meant to be taken seriously. Not sure about how to respond, he watched as she walked away from the entrance of the castle and across the narrow breakwater that separates St Patrick's Isle (Manx: Ellan Noo Perick) on which Peel Castle (Manx: Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey) stood from the town of Peel (Manx: Purt ny h-Inshey) on the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin). 

Oh well! That was one thing about the Manx, superstition ran deep within them and always had. After all, he was a born and bred Manxman so he should know. This castle did have stories of ghosts attached to it. But then so did many of the sites they had visited in all of the Celtic lands. Manx views of supernatural entities should not have surprised him really. However, he had been off the Island for many years now and forgotten how deep they were embedded in peoples psyche here. Work had taken him abroad and he had spent the last ten years living in New Zealand. A place of outstanding beauty and perfect for his passion for photography. Mannin always drew him back though. It is the same with all Manx people; a connection to their homeland that could never be broken. Just like with all of the Celtic peoples he had met around the world; a sense of belonging to these ancient lands on the very edge of northwest Europe.

Mysterious Stones under a Celtic Dome of Darkness


Ruined castles and ancient monuments can be mysterious places. Often their remote locations contribute to the sense of being in the presence of something beyond modern comprehension. Perhaps a feeling of something special, magical and unearthly, as if the stones themselves are trying to communicate with us. It is something as a Celt that touches you; that drags a memory from deep within. A secret message passed on to us by our ancient ancestors that remains in the hidden depths of our mind, struggling to emerge from our subconscious.

Around the Celtic world there are many cairns, stone circles, standing stones and carvings in rock from times of prehistory. Anyone visiting megaliths such as, to mention just a few, those found in Carnac in Brittany, Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, Newgrange in Ireland, Cashtal yn Ard in Isle of Man, Bry Celli Ddu in Wales, Hurlers Stone Circles/An Hurlysi in Cornwall, can feel the spiritual importance passed down through the centuries. Made by our ancestors in the dark Celtic lands of north-west Europe, we are their direct descendants. No surprise really then that the monuments that they created with such effort, care, skill and reverence should reach out to us from beyond the grave of their original creators, for we carry within us their genes.

Mysterious Halloween in Ballantrae - A Scottish ghost story

Ardstinchar Castle

Ballantrae (Scottish Gaelic: Baile na Tràgha) is a village on the south-west coast of Scotland. It is in South Ayrshire (Scottish Gaelic: Siorrachd Inbhir Àir a Deas). Ballantrae is famous as the setting for the novel The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson published in 1889. In the distance can be seen the magnificent uninhabited island of Ailsa Craig. Formed from volcanic remains it is some ten miles from the Scottish coast and rises to a height of 1,110 feet (338m).

As Robbie walked from his home in the village he looked out across the sea towards the Ailsa Craig, but the mist had shrouded the small island. It felt strange not to see it looming in the distance so dominant is it on this part of the Scottish coastline. Robbie had finished work early today the 31st October. He had arranged to meet up with some friends in the evening to celebrate the night of Halloween. However, with time on his hands until then, he decided to use this opportunity to take some exercise and wander around the many paths that made this area such a ramblers paradise. Ballantrae is sometimes referred to as the gateway to Carrick. Carrick is a name derived from the Scottish Gaelic word Carraig meaning rock or rocky place. It is a district that was part of the old Kingdom of Galloway. This Kingdom is associated with the same Norse-Gael world of Isle of Man, Hebrides and Dublin. These old Norse colonies and the Vikings that had settled there had been subject to Gaelicisation. They had integrated into Gaelic society and adopted the language and customs of the Gaelic people who lived in these lands.


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