The Dagda

dagda_on_the_gundestrup_cauldron
The Dagda on the Gundestrup Cauldron

The Dagda or Dagdae, (“the good god”) is one of the most important, if not the most important, god in Irish Mythology. He replaced Lug as the king of the Tuatha De Danaan for 70 or 80 years before being succeeded by Delbaeth in the Mythological Cycle of the Irish Mythology. He is associated with fertility, druid magic, life and death, and the seasons.

He is mostly described as an ugly and comical god wearing a hooded cloak and a small tunic, although some depicts him as a handsome god. He owns three magical items namely; a magical club that can kill 9 men with the blunt side and resurrect allies with the handle, a cauldron that never empties, and a harp that has power over the seasons and emotions.

He is also described as having a great appetite for food and sex, evident by his myths.

Background

Full name:          Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce

                               Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth

                               Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe

Pantheon:          Celtic (Irish) 

                               Tuatha De Danaan, later People of the Side

Prominent in:   The Mythological Cycle

Abode:                 Bru na Boinne or Uisnech

Sacred Items:    Lorg Mor (the club), Coire Ansic (the cauldron), Uaithne (the harp)

Sacred Beasts:  Two pigs (one is always growing and one is always roasting)

Role:                     Agriculture, Magic, Life and Death

Parents:               Elatha (father) and Ethne or Danu (mother)

Consorts:            Boann, the Morrigan, and many others

Children:            Aengus, Midir, Cermait, Bodb Derg, Brigit

Equivalent:       Odin (Norse), Sucellos (Celtic)

Epithets:            See below

Epithets

  • The Dagda                – The good god
  • Eochaid Ollathair   – The all-father
  • Ruad Rofhessa        – The god of knowledge
  • Samildánach           – The god with many skills
  • Aed Alainn               – aed (“fire”), alainn (“swift, beautiful”)

 

Myths and Legends

The Second Battle of Mag Tuired

Prologue

After the First Battle of the Mag Tuired, Bres, the king of the Tuatha De Danaan and a half Formorian, favored his Formorian kin and greatly oppressed the Tuatha De Danaan. The Dagda during this time of oppression was ordered to dig trenches and make forts. He was also oppressed by the Formorian Cridenbel, who demanded a large amount of food from him each day. The Dagda later killed Cridenbel by placing three golden coins on the meal.

After seven years, the former king of the Tuatha De Danaan Nuada, who lost one of his arm and was deemed to unfit to be king after the First Battle of Mag Tuired, regained a new one out of silver. He banished Bres and became king once more. Bres, with Balor of the Evil Eye, later led the Formorians against the Tuatha De Danaan to reclaim his throne.

The Morrigan

Before the Tuatha De Danaan engaged in battle, the Dagda met with the Morrigan, the goddess of fate, and mated with her on the river Unius. This signified the triumph of the Tuatha De Danaan against the Formorians.

The Battle

Sometime during the Battle, the Dagda, ordered by Lug, went to the Formorian camp to issue a truce. This was to be granted under the condition that the Dagda finishes an impossible amount of porridge. If he fails to eat it all, he will be killed. The Dagda took his giant ladle, enough for a man and a woman to lie together in it, and easily devoured the pit of porridge without effort. He fell asleep and his stomach swelled after finishing to porridge. True to their word, the Formorians spared him.

Sometime during the Battle, Cethlenn, the wife of Balor, inflicted a wound on the Dagda so great that he will finally succumb to it after years of ruling the Tuatha De Danaan.

The Dagda’s Harp

The Tuatha De Danaan proved to be victorious thanks to the efforts of its greatest warriors such as Lug, Ogma, and the Dagda. Balor killed Nuada in battle but he was killed by Lug by destroying his deadly eye with a sling. Bres was spared in the aftermath. As a last resort, the fleeing Formorians stole the Dagda’s Harp.

The Dagda later found it in a feasting house were Bres and his father was present. He went to the feasting hall and called for the Harp and it came to him, while killing nine men as it did. The Dagda swept his fingers on the Harp and played three solemn chords.

The first hum turned the women and children violent with its sad music. The second hum made the Formorian warriors unable to control their laughter. The last hum made everyone in the hall unable to resist sleep. The Tuatha De Danaan won the Second Battle of the Mag Tuired.

The Wooing of Etain

Birth of Aengus

The story begins as the Dagda slept with Boann, the goddess of the River Boyne, while her husband, Elcmar, was away. To hide this act of infidelity, the Dagda made the sun still for nine months and the child Aengus was born. The Dagda gave the child to Midir, another of his son, for him to foster.

Aengus’ possesion of the Bru na Boinne

When Aengus was reaching adolescence, Midir revealed to him his true parents; The Dagda and Boann. Midir brought him to the Dagda so that he may recognize the boy as his son. It was also during that time that the Dagda was distributing Sides or Mounds and could not give any to Aengus.

Aengus wished to obtain the Bru na Boinne but it was under the possession of Elcmar, his step-father, and Boann, his mother. With the help of the Dagda and Midir, Aengus was able to take possesion of the Side by threatening Elcmar to be the Side’s king for “a day and a night”. (A day and a night is the same with “day and night” in Irish, making Aengus the king of the Bru na Boinne for all time.) To avoid any conflicts, the Dagda gave Elcmar the land of Cletech.

In other versions of the tale, it is the Dagda that owns the Bru na Boinne. Aengus went with the same trick and took it from the Dagda’s hands.

Labors of Aengus

Aengus was once blinded after his eyes were hit by a sprig of holly thrown by playing boys. It chanced that Midir was visiting him and was able to get his eyes healed with the help of Dian Cecht. For compensation, Midir demanded the most beautiful woman in Ireland. This woman is Etain, the daughter of Ailill, king of the Ulster region.

Ailill decreed that he can only claim Etain by completing impossible tasks such as clearing plains and diverting rivers, as well pay her weight in gold and silver. Aengus clears these tasks with the help of the Dagda.

The later parts of the tale no longer mentions the Dagda.

The Dream of Aengus

Aengus once woke up in the middle of the night when he saw a beautiful girl with unparalleled beauty in the far end of his bed. When he tried to reach her, she vanished. The apparition appeared to him for a year and he soon fell in love with her. No food entered his mouth and he soon turned ill. He soon tells Fergne, his physician, what was caused his ailments.

After learning all of these from Fergne, Boann and the Dagda searched Ireland for a whole year to no success. Finally, King Bodb Derg of Munster found the woman after another year of searching. King Bodb Derg took Aengus with him to were he might have seen the girl. When they stopped by a lake, they saw 150 girls chained in pairs. The girl that Aengus was looking for was among them. This woman is Caer Ibormeith, the daughter of Ethal Anbuail.

The two returned and told the Dagda the good news. Bodb Derg advised the Dagda to visit Ailill and Medb, now the king and queen of the Connachta region, for Caer is in their territory. They called for Ethal Anbuail but he refused to give away his daughter to Aengus.

The Dagda and Ailill’s household invaded Ethal’s Side and destroyed it until he revealed to them that he has no power over Caer. Under the Dagda’s prompting, he also reveals that every Samuin, Caer turns to a swan an goes to Loch Bel Dracon.

The Dagda told Aengus of all he discovered. At Samuin, Aengus went to the lake and saw the swans. He successfully found Caer and turned himself a swan and flew away together and became husband and wife.

How the Dagda obtained his Club/Staff

The Dagda’s son, Cermait, was killed by Lug after discovering an affair between Cermait and Buach, Lug’s own wife. The Dagda cried tears of blood as he mourned and carried his son’s corpse, traveled to the East to find a way to revive Cermait.

On the way, he met three men with treasures given to them by their father. These treasures are a shirt, a shield, and a staff/club. The staff/club has an end that can kill nine people with one touch and an end that can resurrect. The shield can turn its wielder to any shape and form its wielder desire. The shirt can make its wearer immune to any diseases.

The Dagda told the trio to give him the staff/club and they gave it to him. He put the resurrecting end on Cermait’s corpse but the trio touched the killing end, killing them instantly. The Dagda later resurrected the trio after Cermait’s own resurrection. The staff/club was later loaned to the Dagda and he used it to slay his enemies and resurrect his allies.

The Dagda expels the Sea Monster

There was once a Sea Monster, a giant Octopus, that terrorized the Boyne Estuaries. It would suck a man until it reaches the bottom. The Dagda came with his “mace of wrath” and banished the Octopus with the words:

“Turn thy hollowed head! Turn thy ravening body! Turn thy resorbent forehead! Avaunt! Begone!”

 

 

 

 

Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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