Long before Christianity arrived in Ireland, the ancient Celts worshipped hundreds of Celtic gods and goddesses. These deities were believed to have magical powers that enabled them to influence all aspects of daily life, from love and war to the weather and seas.
The Celts recognized between 300 and 400 Celtic gods and goddesses. Some of these were revered across Ireland, while others were worshipped only in specific regions or locations.
The Major Celtic Deities of the Celtic Pantheon
The major Celtic gods featured heavily in many myths and legends, symbolizing different aspects of life in ancient Ireland. They were given all-embracing powers that made them more difficult to categorize than Roman gods.
#1 The Dagda
The Dagda was arguably the most important and powerful of all the Celtic gods. As the warrior leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he belonged to a magical race known for its supernatural powers.
Also known as the “good god,” the Dagda was the god of the earth, agriculture, time, weather, and seasons. He is also said to be the ruler of life and death and wields a club that can restore or destroy lives with a single blow.
This ancient Celtic god also carried a magical cauldron that was so powerful that no matter how many people sat down to eat, it would feed them all. Dagda also carried a magical harp with which he could call in the seasons and evoke any mood.
The Dagda played a critical role in the festival of Samhain, which takes place on November 1st each year.
This festival signified the end of the old year, and if Dagda had sex with the war goddess the Morrigan during Samhain, their sexual union was believed to “guarantee the fertility and prosperity of the tribe.”
Danu is an ancient Celtic goddess from whom the Tuatha Dé Danann got their name. The “People of the Goddess Danu” worshipped Danu long before the Dagda came along, making her one of the “oldest mythical beings in Ireland.”
Believed to be the Celtic mother goddess of all gods and Celtic people, Danu was associated with fertility, wisdom, waters, and Earth. She is said to have breastfed all the gods, including the Dagda, bestowing on them her knowledge and wisdom.
In the southwestern province of Munster lies two hills known as the Paps of Anu. These are believed to symbolize the breasts of the mother goddess, reinforcing the idea of Earth as a womanly body.
Despite her importance, Danu features in very few Celtic myths and stories, although there is one that has stood the test of time. Danu was believed to have fed and nurtured a sacred oak tree known as Bile.
Her union with the tree led to the birth of the Dagda whose strength and stability complemented Danu’s nurturing nature, enabling the land to flourish.
The god Lugh, or Lug, was a warrior and king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His impressive ability with a spear earnt him the name Lugh Lámhfhada, which means Lugh of the long arm. His spear was so powerful and blood-thirsty that “it would often try to fight without anyone wielding it.”
In addition to being an impressive warrior, this Celtic god was also celebrated for his superior craftsmanship and “his skills as a poet, judge, and ruler.” At the same time, god Lugh was something of a trickster who is said to have “tricked his father’s killers into bringing him magical items that would help the Tuatha Dé Dannan win their war.”
Lugh was the sun god and master of all skills and was often associated with the Roman God Mercury. He was also the divine father of Cú Chulainn, a famous warrior hero in Celtic mythology.
Of all the Celtic gods and goddesses, god Lugh stands out for his victory over the Fomorians. Lugh managed to defeat King Balor by driving his magical spear through his opponent’s evil eye.
According to Irish mythology, Aengus was the illegitimate son of the Dagda and was born after just one day.
His mother, Boann, the goddess of the River Boyne, was married to another god of Tuatha Dé Danann when the Dagda seduced her, leaving her pregnant with Aengus. He tried to hide the pregnancy by slowing time, a move that resulted in Aengus being born on the same day he was conceived.
Aengus was known for his beauty and youth and was often depicted surrounded by a flock of birds, which were “said to be physical manifestations of the love god’s kisses.”
As a Celtic deity, Aengus was a formidable warrior who wielded a magical sword known as Moralltach or the Great Fury.
#5 The Morrigan
The goddess Morrigan was primarily known as the goddess of war but had strong associations with both sovereignty and fertility. She’s known by many different names, including the Phantom Queen.
Like many Celtic gods, the Morrigan was a shapeshifter and often appeared over a battlefield in the form of a crow. As she flew, it was believed she could inspire great courage in her warriors while instilling fear in the hearts of their enemies.
The Morrigan is both a single goddess and one of Celtic mythology’s many triple deities. With her sisters, she forms a trio of war goddesses associated with “inciting war, then stirring up the fury and frenzy of battle.”
The Morrigan was believed to have the power to predict the outcome of any battle.
According to Celtic mythology, the Morrigan was a beautiful woman who seduced the Dagda, even though her attempts at attracting the great warrior hero, Cú Chulainn, failed.
Although she failed to exact her revenge against the warrior hero, she later prophesied his death in battle and settled on his corpse’s shoulder in the form of a crow, proving to the world who was the greater god.
The goddess Brigid is a powerful figure in Celtic mythology and another of its many triple deities. Together with her two sisters, she was the goddess of healing, the goddess of smithcraft, and the goddess of poetry.
Her influence was so strong that the Catholic Church adopted the Celtic goddess Brigid into their teachings, transforming her into the catholic Saint Brigid of Kildare.
Unlike Saint Brigid, however, the goddess Brigid was complex, combining both creative and destructive traits. She was both the goddess of healing and motherhood, while simultaneously being the goddess of fire and passion.
In Irish folklore, Ériu is the goddess of Ireland and provides the nation with its modern Irish name of Éire. Alongside her sisters, Banba and Fódla, Ériu is one of the triple goddesses of the Celtic world.
Ériu stood against the Milesians who invaded Ireland in 1,000 BC, and although they subsequently defeated her and the Tuatha Dé Danann, agreed that “the land bear her name after their tribe disappeared.”
After the defeat, the Tuatha Dé Danann moved into the Celtic Otherworld – a supernatural realm where, if legends are to be believed, they remain to this day.
#8 Dian Cécht
Many Celtic gods were perceived to have healing powers, but Dian Cécht, or Diancecht, is widely regarded as the main Celtic healing god and god of medicine.
Dian Cécht ministered to members of the Tuatha Dé Danann, healing their wounds by bathing them in a magical “well of healing.” He was also a master craftsman and fashioned a silver arm for King Nuada, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
As godly as he was, Dian Cécht was still capable of professional envy, and when his son Miach fashioned a new arm of flesh and blood for the king, Dian Cécht killed him.
#9 Queen Medb of Connaught
Queen Medb was both a warrior queen and a Celtic goddess. Her name derives from the Irish word “Meadhbh,” meaning “she who intoxicates.”
Also known as Maeve, the Queen of Connacht was cunning and promiscuous. She is also said to have been “stronger than many of her suitors and consorts, both physically and mentally.”
However, like Dian Cécht, she still had some typical human flaws and killed her sister in a fit of jealousy.
Queen Medb also instigated the Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúailnge), in which she was defeated by the youthful demigod, Cú Chulainn.
#10 Cú Chulainn
Cú Chulainn’s status as one of the main Celtic gods is somewhat controversial, but he was a central character of the Ulster cycle of Celtic mythology and remains a hero in Irish folklore.
Born to a mortal mother but sired by the great Lugh, Cú Chulainn was a demi-god and ferocious warrior.
In the epic text, Táin Bó Cúailnge, Cú Chulainn is described as having the power to turn himself into “a terrible, many-shaped, wonderful, unheard of thing.” His fury in battle was such that it caused his hair to stand on end “like branches of a red thorn.”
Cú Chulainn was the only member of the Ulster army not to fall victim to a curse that caused them to suffer from labor pains and, as such, defeated Queen Medb’s army single-handedly.
Minor Deities of the Celtic Pantheon
Alongside the major Celtic gods and goddesses were hundreds of lesser deities, some of which were more established outside of Ireland and others that were worshipped only in specific regions or locations.
The horned god Cernunnos was a powerful Celtic god who was worshipped as the “lord of wild things.” He was most strongly associated with wild animals like bulls and stags.
Although he was later demonized by the Catholic Church, Cernunnos was believed to be a “peaceful god of nature and fruitfulness,” and was often depicted in a cross-legged position, surrounded by animals.
Cernunnos was worshipped in both France and England, as well as Ireland, but some historians suspect “that he may not be a divinity at all but rather a shaman-like priest with antlers affixed to his head.”
Áine is the Celtic sun goddess and goddess of wealth, sovereignty, and summer. In Irish mythology, she is also a fairy queen and goddess of the moon, earth, and nature, and could shapeshift into a red horse.
The most famous story involving Áine focuses on her biting off the ear of her enemy. According to the late medieval text, Cóir Anmann, the Celtic goddess did this to avenge her father’s death, but others claim it was to stop King Ailill Aulom from raping her.
Áine is predominantly associated with County Limerick, although her influence spread further afield over time.
According to Irish mythology, Manannán was an influential sea god who inherited his position from his father, Lir.
Like many Celtic gods and goddesses, Manannán had magical tools and animals at his disposal, including a powerful chariot known as the scuabtuinne, and a horse that could travel on either Earth or in thesea.
He is said to have been the first ruler of the Isle of Man, which is where he acquired his name.
Neit was the Celtic god of war and was said to be married to one or more members of the triple goddess, the Morrigan.
Although he was related to the Fomorians, he joined the Tuatha Dé Danann, fighting against his own people.
In early Irish literature, Neit was described as a dangerous man with a surly temper.
The Cailleach, or hag, is a strange choice for an Irish goddess, but she’s been feared and revered for hundreds of years. The goddess of winter, the Cailleach is depicted as a bow-legged old crone with pale skin and only one eye.
According to Celtic myth, the Cailleach can “control the weather and the winds as well as the length and harshness of winter.”
Legend has it that the Cailleach finishes her winter stock of wood on February 1st each year. If the day is fine, she’ll collect enough firewood to prolong the winter months, but if it rains, she has no choice but to allow spring to sneak in.
It’s believed this legend helped fuel the superstition that form the basis for Groundhog Day in the US.
Bionn, or Boann, was both a river goddess and the mother of Aengus. She’s said to have sacrificed her own life “to form the river Boyne, which created fertility by bringing water needed to grow crops in the area.”
In the most famous tale involving Bionn, she visits the sacred Well of Segais and circles it counter-clockwise, causing water to surge from the well and rush down towards the sea, creating the river Boyne.
Bionn was either killed in the rush of water or so badly injured that she fled into the sea “to escape her blemish so that none might see her mutilation.”
#7 Caer Ibormeith
This Celtic goddess was worshipped throughout Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and was revered as the goddess of dreams and prophesy.
Her primary role in Irish mythology is as the lover of the Celtic god Aengus. Caer Ibormeith appeared to Aengus in his dreams, but she took on a human form for just one day a year.
To secure the love of his dream woman, Aengus had to pick her out from a group of 150 swans. When he succeeded, he promptly transformed into a swan and flew away with his future wife, installing her at his palace on the River Boyne.
Despite being a minor player in the Celtic pantheon, Caer Ibormeith was a powerful goddess who made her own way in the world by choosing her husband and setting out the terms for their marriage.
Swans are a recurring theme in Celtic mythology, symbolizing light and purity and connecting the Celtic otherworld to the human realm.
Clíodhna was the Celtic goddess of love and beauty and is invariably pictured surrounded by three birds whose songs have the power to heal the sick and injured.
According to some, he was one of the minor deities worshipped in Cork, while others revered her as the “mythical Queen of the Banshees, the female spirits of the Tuatha Dé Danannan.”
Clíodhna was killed when Manannán, god of the sea, sent a huge wave that swept her out to sea.
This story is so captivating that, even today, people refer to the incoming tide in Glandore, County Cork as Clíodhna’s Wave. Some even believe that one day, Clíodhna will “summon a huge wave” that will swallow the whole province of Munster.
Question and Answer
Who is the Most Powerful Irish God(dess)?
There are many contenders for the title of the most powerful Celtic god, but it’s the Dagda that generally comes out on top. The Dagda was the leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann, “making him the head of the pantheon of Celtic gods.”
The title of the most powerful Celtic goddess goes to the Morrigan, whose status as a triple deity gives her greater powers than even Danu.
Who is the Main Celtic God?
As the god of Earth and the main father figure in Irish mythology, the Dagda is the main Celtic god worshipped across western Europe. Of all the Celtic gods and goddesses, only the Dagda and Lugh enjoyed such widespread popularity.
How many Celtic Gods and Goddesses are there?
There were over 400 Celtic gods and goddesses in pre-Christian Ireland, representing everything from warfare to poetic inspiration. Some of the lesser gods were worshipped only in specific places. For instance, the river goddess Bionn was a minor deity in much of Ireland but was “very precious to the people of Leinster.”
Celtic mythology is full of ancient gods and goddesses, the most famous of which are the Dagda and the Morrigan.
The characteristics of these Celtic deities embodied the traits most prized by the people of Ireland, while the tales and myths surrounding them offered useful life lessons designed to inspire courage and fortitude.
Even today, the Celtic gods and goddesses of yesteryear continue to “shape the Irish identity of the present.”
"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.