Celtic Deities and Mythic Figures

Craig Chalquist, MS PhD

It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. -- Joseph Campbell

While training as a depth psychologist I sometimes caught myself translating the Greek deities I was learning about into their Celtic equivalents in order to understand these beings better in terms of my ethnic background. By "Celtic" I mean: of the collections of tribal pastoralists and part-time farmers who probably originated somewhere near the Caucasus and carried a common language and similar habits and beliefs across most of pre-Romanized Europe from the Atlantic to India. As Julius Caesar noted, they held a particular fondness for their equivalents of Mercury, trickster god of craft and eloquence. This document lists the Celtic deities with some of their Greek and Roman counterparts. Because there is more than one Celtic language, pronunciations vary.

The Celts emerged as a group around 3,000 BCE and fanned out west on horseback. The picture drawn by early commentators looked something like the stereotypical ancient Highlander, but neatly groomed and equipped with colorful cloaks clasped with cunningly wrought brooches. The status of women in Celtic society horrified the Romans and then the Christians: not only did women own cattle and keep their possessions when mated, they held political power, often led the men into battle, and worked as druids, satirists, and tellers of tales. For the most part they fared badly at the hands of those who wrote down the old myths.

As with Norse myth, most of what survives of the lore of the Celts passed down through monks and missionaries, many of whom looked down on the indigenous stories as superstitious nonsense. This always happens when a society that considers itself civilized conquers land-based people. It is as though someone reduced the Library of Congress to four or five old books, in this case with the gods and monsters converted into heroes and historical figures in a kind of reverse euhemerism. Imagination must fill in the gaps as we invite these evocative mythic figures to dream themselves forward.

See also my page on Nordic and Germanic myths and deities.

Dedication: to my ancestors: my foremothers and forefathers who danced like furies, lived close to Earth, and held back the night in Britain, France, Germania, Holland, Scandinavia, Spain, Ireland, and Scotland. And what a ruckus in Rome: Diwrnod i'r bren!

Abhean ("AYV-an"; Ireland): the poet and harper of the Tuath de Danaan. In one story he was killed by Aengus for saying that Ogma (Aengus's brother) was sleeping with one of Lugh's wives.

Aengus (Ireland): a god of love, youth, and beauty similar to the Greek Eros and Roman Cupid. His name means "one choice." He came from an affair between Boann and the Dagda. At the Battle of Ventry he helped the Fianna hold back the Romans. He died of grief when a woman he loved converted to Christianity. The four birds of kisses that circle his head now appear in the "xxxx"s written in love letters. His Welsh counterpart is Mabon ap Modron.

Aerten (Cornwall, Wales): goddess who decided the outcome of battles. Similar to Atropos, the Greek Fate who snipped the string of a life, or Nemesis, redresser of imbalances.

Agrona (Wales): goddess of battle and slaughter. Compare with the Greek Enyo and the Roman Ballona.

Ai (Ireland): god of poetry. Similar to Apollo.

Aife/Aoife ("AY-fah"; Ireland): Scottish warrior defeated by Cuchulain, who fathered the ill-starred Connla with her. She raised and trained Connla in the war arts, but Cuchulain killed him in a fight in which the two did not recognize each other until it was too late.

Aillil (Ireland): king of Connacht, spouse of Medb (Maeve), and father of Finabair ("Fair Eyebrows"). The king and queen were so competitive that she launched the famous cattle raid of Cuailnge ("KEL-nuh") to steal a Brown Bull as prolific as her husband's White-Horned One. In the end as armies clashed and died, the Brown Bull killed the White and then died when its heart burst, so the king's and queen's possessions were finally balanced out at a terrible price.

Aine (Ireland): sun goddess of love and fertility. Similar to the Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus, but also associated with cattle and fire and a stone that made people crazy when they sat on it.

Amaethon (Wales): an agricultural god so popular that Welsh words for "farmer" and "plow" derive from him. Compare with Saturn.

Amergin mac Míled/Aimhirghin/"White Knee" ("AYV-r-ghin"; Ireland): Milesian bard and druid who named Ireland after three goddess queens of the Tuath de Danaan: Eriu, Banba, and Fodla. During the conflict between the Milesians and the Tuath de Danaan, Amhirghin sang a magical song that allowed the Milesians to land safely. He then divided Eire between his brothers Eremon (who got the north) and Eber Finn (the south), a division that persists to this day.

Ambisagrus (Gaul, Britain): an influential weather god comparable to the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter.

Andarta: a goddess of bears and wilds; compare with the Greek Callisto.

Andraste (Britain): war goddess similar to the Greek Athena and the Roman Minerva.

Annwvyn ("an-NOO-vin"; Wales): the Otherworld. Similar to the Irish realm of the Sidhe.

Anu (Ireland): popular goddess of fertility, fecundity, plenty, cattle, and health. Compare with the Greek Demeter and the Roman Ceres.

Arawn/Arawen (Wales): god king of the underworld enriched by his exchanges with Pwyll, chieft of Dyfed. Greek: Hades. Rome: Pluto.

Arduinna (Gaul): goddess of the moon, the forest, and the hunt whose sacred animal was the boar. The Ardennes are named after her. She is the French equivalent of Artemis (Greece) and Diana (Rome).

Arianrhod ("ah-RYAN-rud"; Wales): once-virginal moon goddess who insisted she arm her son herself. Her boat carried the dead into the afterlife. Compare with the Greek Artemis and Roman Diana.

Arthur Pendragon ("Head of the Warlords"; Wales and Britain): Arthur first appears in written history in the Historia Brittonum collected by the monk Nennius around 796. He is described as the leader of kings warring on Mount Badon, presumably against the rebelling Saxons. Tales of Arthur go back earlier into Welsh myth, however. Elaborations by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, and Thomas Mallory gradually euhemerized whatever deities Arthur and his Knights started out as; Lancelot was a relatively late addition. Arthur's first name might derive from words that mean either "bear" or "ploughman."

Athirne/Athairne the Importunate (Ireland): satirist of King Conchobar and stealer of cranes from Midir until the misdeeds of himself and his sons resulted in his being burned alive in his house with his family.

Avagdu (Wales): the ugly son of Cerridwen and brother of a beautiful sister who sought wisdom and knowledge outside himself, unsuccessfully. A possible parallel with the Greek Hephaestos and Roman Vulcan.

Aveta: goddess of childbirth and breast-feeding. Compare Artemis (of Ephesus) and Diana.

Badb, The ("Bahv" - Ireland): five war goddesses similar to the three Erinyes (Greece) or Furies (Rome). Also, the raven death-predicting aspect of the Morrigan.

Banba (Ireland): triune crone of war and fertility. Compare with the Greek Hecate.

Barinthus (Wales): the driver of a chariot carrying the dead into the otherworld. Greek: Charon.

Belatucadros (Wales and Britain): god of war. Compare with the Greek Ares and Roman Mars.

Bel (Ireland): widely worshipped fire and sun god celebrated at Beltane and also associated with music, science, and healing. Similar to the Irish god Bile. Often compared with Apollo, who also kept cattle.

Beltane/Bealtaine ("bee-AL-ten-ay"): Celtic celebration of May Day.

Belisama (Gaul, Britain): goddess of fire, the forge, crafts, and illumination. Often compared to the Greek Athena and Roman Minerva.

Bladud (Wales): a flying sun god similar in some ways to the Greek Helios.

Blodenwedd ("blo-DOY-weth"; also "BLOOD-wed"; Wales): lunar goddess of wisdom and flowers. Compare Selene and Chloris. Might be the same goddess as Nemetona. Her name means "Flower Face."

Bodb ("bov") Derg (Ireland): brother who finds Aengus his lover Caer Ibormeith; king of the sidhe of Munster and eventual head of the Tuatha de Danaan.

Borvo (Britain): a hot springs healer god sometimes compared with Apollo.

Bran (Wales): "the Blessed," a solar god associated with prophecy, music, writing, the arts, and death. Compare Apollo.

Branwen (Wales): unhappily wed love and beauty goddess reminiscent of the Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus.

Bres ("BRESH"; Ireland): son of Elatha and Eriu and husband of Brigit until his incompetent kingship and oppression of the Tuatha de Danaan forced him to step down. When defeated at the second Battle of Mag Tuireadh he taught agriculture to the victorious gods. He was the target of the first satire (vocalized by Cairbre) in Ireland.

Brigit/Brigid ("Breet"; Ireland): goddess of acquiring talents such as divination, healing, prophecy, smithing, and occult knowledge; associated with the serpent. Compared by Caesar to Minerva (Athena). Also known as Sulus and Brigantia.

Brugh ("Bruh"): an underground fairy palace.

Buggane: a tunneling, territorial, black-haired ogre of Manx myth. Fairies used them to punish offensive people.

Bussumarus: a Gaulish and Galatian thunder god comparable to Zeus and Jupiter. His name means "Great of Voice."

Cailleach Bheur ("CAL-yahck" - Ireland, and Scotland, where she is Beira, the winter queen): a veiled, wintry crone turned to stone on Beltane and back to feminine form on Samhain. Her name means "veiled" or "cloaked." In one tale a knight's love converts her into a beautiful woman; in another she is connected to Brigit. A possible parallel with the Greek Medusa, who was connected to Athena. Her hammer shapes mountains, and her staff freezes the ground. Caledonia is named after her. She was particularly prominent at Samhain.

Camulos (Britain, Romania, Germany, Belgium): a sword-bearing war god similar to Ares (Greece) and Mars (Rome). Symbolized by a boar or by a male head with the horns of a ram. The name might derive from the same root as "champion" and is the basis for Camelot.

Cathbad ("CAH-bah"; Ireland): King Conchobar's head druid and husband of the fighting woman Ness. He foretold the tragedy of Dierdre.

Cerridwen ("ker-ID-wen" - Wales): an agricultural goddess also associated with war, grain, and the moon. She gave reluctant birth to the hero-poet Taliesin (Gwion). Similer to the Greek Demeter (who toasted a boy in an initiatory fire rather than tossing him into a river) and the Roman Ceres, although she is sometimes compared with Hecate.

Cernunnos ("KER-new-nose" - Gaul): a very widely worshipped horned fertility god similar to Pan.

Cet ("KET"): warrior of Connacht upstaged by Cuchulain in the satire "The Carving of Macc Datho's ("DAH-hoes") Pig."

Cian ("KEE-ahn"): the shapeshifting father of Lug and son of Dian Cecht.

Cliodhna ("klee-OH-nah" - Ireland): goddess of beauty. Greek: Aphrodite. Roman: Venus.

Cocidius (Britain): god of hunting. Compare with the Greek Pan and Roman Sylvanus. Also called Segomo.

Conchobar ("CON-hah-war"; Ireland ): king of Ulster whose lust for Dierdre precipitated eventual war between Ulster and Connacht.

Condatis (Britain): god of the place where waters mingle, as when two streams meet. He had an affinity for warm waters. The Romans thought of him as Mars.

Credenus ("KRAY-nus"): master craftsman of the Tuatha de Danaan.

Creiddylad (Wales): a love and flower goddess similar to Aphrodite/Venus; the sea god was her father. The annual May Queen emulates her. The name Cordelia derives from her.

Creidne ("CREJ-nuh"; Ireland): daughter of a King of Ireland who had three sons by her. When he exiled them, she joined the Fianna and became a war leader.

Cromlech: an ancient circular stand of tall stones, like Stonehenge.

Crunnchu ("CROON-hoo"; Ireland): wealthy widower who slept with Macha and bragged about her fleetness of foot. When the king of Ulster forced pregnant Macha to run a race against his horses, she won but cursed them to feel the pangs of childbirth for nine generations.

Cuchulain ("coo-CHOOL-in," with the "ch" like that of the German "Ich"; Ireland): powerful, heroic son of Lugh. A 17-year-old Irish Hercules who died on Samhain. Famous for his strength, arrogance, and salmon leap.

Cyhiraeth: stream goddess whose banshee cries anticipated death. Similar to the Greek Sirens.

Cythrawl (Wales): a masculine destructive entity similar to the Greek god Chaos.

Dagda, The ("DOY-dah"; Ireland): chief father god (also called Allfather) and spouse of the Morrigan. He was pot-bellied, dressed like a peasant, carried a huge club that could kill or restore life, and dispensed bounty from an enormous cauldron similar to Zeus's horn of plenty. Similar to Zeus and the Roman Jupiter. His harp helped the seasons cycle, and on it he could play melodies that made people grieve, laugh, or sleep.

Dahud-Ahes/Dahut (Britain): a coastal goddess of pleasure and sensuality sometimes compared to Aphrodite/Venus. She was said to have been reviled by Christian monks.

Dian Cecht ("DIE-an Ket"; Ireland): god of healing and regeneration similar to Asclepius.

Danu (Ireland): the great mother earth goddess who gave birth to the other gods (the Tuath de Danaan); similar to the Welsh goddess Don, the Russian Dennitsa, the Greek Danae, the Roman Cybele.

Dewi (Wales): dragon god whose crimson form was said to have appeared in King Arthur's dreams and, later, on his battle standards.

Dian Cecht ("DYE-ann-ket" - Ireland): god of healing similar to the Greek Asclepius.

Dienw'r Anffodion (D'YENN'-oorr An-FOD-yon)(Wales): "The Nameless One of Misfortune," due to his bearing thirteen years of homeless, wandering suffering and poverty with no memory of who he was until meeting harp-playing Goreu, cousin of Arthur and ally to Culhwch. Heaping abuse on him, Goreu led him to grouchy Cerridwen, who gave him a drink from her cauldron, whereupon the wanderer realized he was Manawyddan. Goreu turned out to be Gwydion.

Dispater (Gaul): a father god, but similar to Pan in his earthy reach.

Druantia (Britain): druid queen and tree deity similar to a Greek dryad or the goddess Dentritus.

Dubthach ("DOOV-tah"; Ireland) Dóeltenga: Trouble-making ally of Fergus and killer of Conchobar's son and grandson. His name means "beetle-tongue."

Dubh Ruis ("Duv Rush"; Ireland): harpist husband of Mis, whose madness he cured with music and love.

Eadon ("OH-wen"; Ireland): inspirerer of poets; similar to the Muse Calliope.

Eire ("AIR-uh"; Ireland): Ireland, named after Eriu, goddess of the island and mother of Bres.

Elphane (Scotland): a crone and witch queen sometimes associated with illness and death but also with arcane knowledge. Compare Hecate.

Eochaid ("YEO-hay"; Ireland) mac Eirc: king of the Fir Bolgs. He established laws and oversaw the yearly harvest (compare Saturn and Freyr).

Eochu ("YEO-hoo") Airem ("Plowman"; Ireland): high king of Ireland. He married Étaín, the most beautiful woman in Ireland, but his brother Ailill Angubae pines away for her to the point of death. She agrees to be with him three times while Eochu is traveling, but only to discover she has actually been with Midir. He was burned to death by Sigmall Sithienta.

Éogan ("YEO-gan") mac Durthacht ("DOO-hah"): henchman of his former enemy Conchobar and killer of Dierdre's husband Naoise.

Epona: goddess of horses (hence "pony"). Called Bubona in Scotland. Might have prefigured Lady Godiva. Her earliest manifestations as a divine mother recall Rhea. See Rhiannon.

Erc: king of Leinster, ally of Connacht, and enemy of Cuchulain. He was on hand for Cuchulain's death after killing his horse (Cuchulain had killed Erc's father).

Esus (Britain): a sea god similar to the Greek Poseidon and the Roman Neptune. In Gaul he was worshiped as a forest and nature god.

Etain ("et-OYN"; Ireland): an aphroditic woman who was daughter of Aillil and victim of the spells of Fuamnach, wife of Midir, the god who fell in love with Etain. Turned into a fly and reborn 1012 years later from the woman who swallowed the fly in a glass of wine, Etain married Eochaid Airem but is carried off to Brí Léith, the sidhe of Midir. When Airem begins digging it out, Midir has him choose Etain from fifty women who look like her; Airem inadvertently chooses his own daughter instead.

Fand: Irish name for Rhiannon; wife of Manannan mac Lir.

Fianna (Ireland) : roving, independent poet-warriors who fought to protect the high kings of Ireland. Many fian were small groups of aristocratic young men not yet come into an inheritance and living off the land.

Fidchell ("fickle"; Ireland): a Celtic board game of strategy and moving pieces. It involves one player moving his king from the center to the side of the board while avoiding an opponent's attacks. Often played in Irish myths and folklore, often as a metaphor for plotting going on secretly.

Fionn mac Cumhaill ("FINN mac COOL"; Ireland): last head of the Fianna, he was raised by his foster mother Liath Luachra, who also trained him to fight. Feats attributed to him include slaying a fire-breathing fairy and fashioning many of the geographical features of Ireland.

Fir Bolg ("FEAR-bolg"): early gods related to the Tuatha de Danaan and led to Ireland by King Eochaid mac Eire. They held Ulster, Munster, and Meath. After the Battle of Mag Tuiredh ("moytura"), where their treaty-refusing king was killed by the Morrigan, they were confined to Connacht.

Flidais (Ireland): a goddess of forests and wildernesses; she rode in a chariot drawn by deer. Greek: Artemis. Roman: Diana.

Fomorians (Ireland): the race of gods who displaced the Nemedians and were displace by the Tuatha de Danann. Similar to the Greek Titans. Their name means "Sea Giants," and they each had one leg, one hand, one eye in the forehead, and three rows of teeth like daggers. When the Tuatha had built their capital at Tara, their King Bres, successor to Nuatha, forged an alliance with the Formorians (his father had been one) by marrying the Dagda's daughter Brigit. Bres having disgraced himself, the alliance ended until the Second Battle of Mag Tuiredh, when a projectile from Lugh's sling caught mighty Balor in the eye and made his head explode. The Dagda got back the magic harp Bres had stolen from him, the seasons resumed their turnings, and Formorian power was broken.

Fuamnach ("FOOM-nah"): spell-casting wife of Midir.

Goewin (Wales): the maiden who held Math's feet. Compare with the Greek Hebe.

Goibniu ("GOY-neeoo" - Ireland): a blacksmith god who armored his fellow immortals. Similar to the Welsh Govannon, the Greek Hephaestos, and the Roman Vulcan.

Gwenhwyvar ("GWIN-hwee-var"; Wales): wife of King Arthur. Named Guanhumara by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Gwyddion ("GWID-yawn"; Wales): a cunning enchanter and patron of the arts and education; somewhat similar to the Greek Hermes and the Roman Mercury. Thought by many to be a forerunner of Arthur of Camelot.

Gwyddno (Wales): a sea god ruling from an underwater kingdom; compare Poseidon/Neptune.

Gwyn ap Nuad: an underworld god of the hunt and fallen warriors. Three dogs accompanied his horse. Similar to Hades/Pluto.

Gwri Gwallt Euryn (GOOR-ee Gwalht EYE-reen; Wales): Pryderi. In Arthurian legend he appears as Sir Gaheris.

Gwythur ap Gwreidwyl (Wales): opponent of Gwyn ap Nuad, who made off with Gwythur's intended bride Creiddylad. He is a solar/summer deity.

Imbolc: the early spring festival (February 1). Associated with milk, the first lambs, and lactating ewes before missionaries turned it into the Feast of St. Brigid and then Candlemas.

Laeg ("LAYG"; Ireland): charioteer of Cuchulain.

Laegaire ("LEERY"; Ireland): warrior companion of Cuchulain and the uncouth Conan.

Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny; Ireland): a standing stone brought to Ireland by the Tuatha de Danaan. It sits on an Forrad (Inauguration Mound) on the Hill of Tara. According to legend it cries out when the rightful king of Ireland places his foot upon it.

Llyr (Ireland): a sea and underworld god similar to the Greek Poseidon and the Roman Neptune.

Lludd ("LOOTH"; Ireland): another name for Nuada.

Lugh ("loo" - Ireland; Lleu in Wales): Shining One: a bright-faced solar god of endless talents, arts, crafts, healing abilities, prophecy; similar to Apollo even though Julius Caesar took him for Mercury. Also known as Lamfhada ("Long Arm") because of his skill with sling and spear. His many talents gained him admittance into the Tuatha. He was the father of Cuchulain.

Lugnasadh: the end of harvest celebration (August 1). Associated with games and contests before being Christianized as Lammas. The Fir Bolg came to Ireland on this day and their Queen Tailtiu died of weariness after clearing the land for planting. The holiday is named after her adopted son Lugh.

Mabon (Wales): a generally youthful harvest and wine god similar to Dionysus.

Mac Cecht ("mak-ket"; Ireland): one of three brothers who murdered Lugh in retaliation for the death of their father Cermait. They shared the rulership of Ireland before the coming of the Milesians.

Macha ("MAH-hah"; Ireland): muscular war queen similar to the Greek Artemis (Roman Diana). Often associated with horses and other animals. She once made the men of Ulster suffer the pangs of childbirth.

Maponos (Britain): poetry and music god reminiscent of Apollo.

Manawyddan ap Llyr ("Man-ah-WEE'-than ap Leer"; Wales): a shapeshifting sea and storm god known in Ireland as Manannan mac Lir. Compare with Proteus. Irish counterpart: Manannan mac Lir, after whom the Isle of Man is named. His pigs kept the gods from growing old.

Marcia Proba (Britain): a lawgiver and warrior queen similar to Athena/Minerva.

Math ap Mathonwy (Wales): a god of prosperity, coinage, acute hearing, and magic. Compare Hermes/Mercury.

Medb/Mauve (Ireland): queen of Connaught and spouse to King Aillil. Her attempt to own more than her husband led to many deaths--including Cuchulain's--as the men of Connaught and Ulster fought a bloody battle during the cattle raid of Cuailnge ("KEL-nuh").

Melusine (Britain): a two-tailed mermaidlike water spirit similar to a siren.

Midir (Ireland): god of the underworld, lover of Étaín, husband of angry Fuamnach. His three magical cranes denied entry into his house until Athirne stole them. Greek: Hades. Roman: Pluto.

Milesians: the first inhabitants of Ireland; probably Goidelic Celts. According to the Book of Invasions they were all descended from Goídel Glas, a Scythian who saw the fall of the Tower of Babel, and Scota, a pharaoh's daughter. They were the human invaders who displaced the Tuatha de Danaan.

Modron (Wales): a powerful harvest goddess similar to Demeter/Ceres.

Morias ("MARE-ish"; Ireland): druid of Falias, from where came the Stone of Virtue.

Muireartach (Ireland): a one-eyed battle goddess whose name means "eastern sea." Compare with Enyo/Ballona.

Morrigen, The ("moh-REE-gan"; also "mohr-IG-nah"; Ireland): queen of the pantheon and war goddess married to the Dagda. She led him to victory over the Fomorians at the second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. Sometimes takes the form of a raven or crow. She gave the Heraclean hero Cuchulainn a lethally bad time after he rejected her appearance as a young, lovely woman. Compare with the Irish Murigen, Morgan le Fey, the Greek Hera, and the Roman Juno.

Muirne ("Mwir-nuh"; Ireland): mother of Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Muirthemne ("MOOR-temmee"; Ireland): the plain where tired Cuchulain fought his last battle.

Naisi ("NA-SEE"; Ireland): unfortunate lover of Dierdre.

Nehalennai (Britain): coastal protector of travelers and sailors. Similar to the Greek Fortuna and especially Brizo, protector of mariners.

Neit ("NYIT"; Ireland): war god husband of the battle-frenzied fairy Nermain.

Niamh ("NEE-ev"; Ireland): the fairy princess who took Fionn's son Oisin to Tir Na N'Og.

Nicevenn (Scotland): a witch goddess associated with Samhain and the moon. Possibly a parallel with Artemis/Diana.

Nuada ("NEW-ah"; Ireland): Tuatha king who stepped down when he lost a hand fighting the Firbolg at the First Battle of Mag Tuiredh. He earned the nickname Airgedlamh ("Silver Hand") from the artificial limb he wore and which enabled him to be king again after Bres. He eventually passed the kingship to Lugh.

Nudons (Wales): a god of the sea, sometimes beardless or driving a chariot, thought to resemble Poseidon/Neptune.

Nwyvre: possibly a sky god similar to Uranos. Little is known of him.

Ogham (OH-wam): the original Celtic alphabet. According to legend, Creirwyn daughter of Cerridwen solved the riddle they presented when brought by Ogma and thereby made them available to everyone else as a form of writing.

Ogma ("UG-m"; Ireland): god of letters and learning who invented an alphabet. A son of the Dagda. Greek: Hermes. Roman: Mercury.

Pryderi ("pree-dairy"; Wales): the kidnapped son of Pwyll and Rhiannon. His name means "worry." His strength and skill are comparable in some ways to those of Heracles. (Note: some lists of Celtic dieties nominate Pwyll as a god, but he is more of a heroic king who learns important lessons from the Otherworld. At most he is a highly differentiated byform of Arawn and, through an involved genealogy, possibly the father of the British god Maponos, from whom the Welsh word mabinogi might derive in its meaning as a collection of ancient stories.)

Pwyll ("pooeel"; Wales): Lord of Dyfed, first husband of Rhiannon, and father of Pryderi. Pwyll traded places with Arawn, Lord of Annwn, for a year, to the enrichment of both their kingdoms. During this period he defeated Arawan's enemy Hafgan and lived with Arawn's wife without taking advantage of his disguised position.

Ratis (Britain): god of fortified boundaries and walls. Somewhat similar to Enodia, guardian of gates, and Cardea, Roman goddess of doors and thresholds.

Rhiannon: strong, outspoken queen goddess associated with a magical pale horse. Known to the Romans as Epona, she married Pwyll and mothered Pryderi. Compare with the Greek Persephone.

Rosmerta (Gaul): a provider goddess who carried a caduceus and a cornucopia. Similar to the Greek Protogenia. The Romans married her to Mercury.

Sadb ("Save"; Ireland): a woman of the sidhe turned into a fawn by Fear Doirche ("fair door-uh"), a druid who wanted her and who abducted her after Fionn mac Cumhaill married her and sailed off to fight the Vikings. Upon his return Finn found a son she had bore him in the woods: Oisen ("Little Fawn").

Samhain ("SAH-wain"): the Celtic origin of All Soul's Day. The word means "November" and refers to the time when this world and the Otherworld are in maximum conjunction as the metaphysical doorways of the sidh stand open. It was also the day that the Dagda mated with the Morrigan as she stood astride the River Unius washing the armor of men about to die in battle and with Boanne (from whom the River Boyne is named) on the eve of the Second Battle of Mag Tuiredh.

Scathach ("SKAH-tah"; Ireland): the battle strategist goddess who trained the Irish hero Cuchulainn, lover of her daughter Uathach. Compare with the Greek Athena and the Roman Minerva.

Selkie (Ireland, Scotland, Iceland): magical seals who can temporarily assume human form, often long enough to love and break the heart of a human lover.

Senias ("SHE-nas"): a druid and teacher of Murias, where the Dagda's magical cauldron originated.

Sidhe ("SHE"; Ireland): a burial mound thought to lead down into the underworld. Also, the underworld or Otherworld itself (the realm of the Sidhe).

Silvertree and Goldtree (Scotland): a jealous mother and a beautiful daughter. The mother had a habit of asking a magical trout, "Who is the most beautiful woman in the world?" When the trout replied "Your daughter" one day, Silvertree plotted to have her killed; instead, she was forced to drink poisoned wine, ridding Goldtree of her influence. Moral of the story: Never flaunt a fancy parasol during a trout.

Smertrios (Gaul): a bearded war god often compared to Ares/Mars.

Sreng ("share-EN"): the Fir Bolg warrior who cut off Nuada's hand.

Sucellos (Gaul, Britain): a hammer-wielding sky god comparable to Zeus/Jupiter. His wife was Nantosvelta. Sometimes accompanied by a three-headed dog.

Taillte ("DAYL-tya"): foster mother of Lugh and wife of Eochaid mac Eirc, last Fir Bolg to rule Ireland.

Taliesin ("tal-YES-in"; Wales): earliest known Welsh poet. Some of his poems were written down in the 10th century. In myth he was a servant to Cerridwen who accidentally drank some of her brew of wisdom.

Tannus/Taranis: a thunder god similar to the Roman Jupiter and the Greek Zeus. He carried a spoked wheel and was associated with the oak and the eagle.

Tarvis Trigaraunos (Gaul): a bull god similar to the Roman god Mithras.

Teulu ("TIGH-lee"; Wales): a king's bodyguard sworn to die to protect him.

Teutates (Britain, Gaul): a god of war and wealth often compared to Mars.

Tir Na N'Og (Ireland): the Land of Youth; a timeless Otherworld realm.

Tuatha de Danann ("TOO-ha-day-DAHN-en"; Ireland): the Children of Danu-Ana (Great Mother); the Irish equivalent of Olympians. They overthrew the Fomorians (similar to the Titans).

Tuiren ("TOOR-un"; Ireland): homely aunt of Fionn mac Cumhaill and wife of Fianna chief Eachtach Iollan. His jealous lover tapped her with a druid wand and turned her into an Irish wolfhound. As such she gave birth to Fionn's dogs Bran and Sceolan before reassuming human form. Iollan wound up with the wand-wielding woman of the sidhe.

Uathach ("OO-ha"): daughter of Scathach and lover of Cuchulain.

Uchtdealb ("OOKT-jelb"; Ireland): jealous lover of Iollan.

Ulaid: another word for Ulster.

Uroica (Britain): goddess of heather and of heather wine; compare with the Greek Amphictyonis, byform of Demeter.

Vindos: later became Gwynn ap Nudd, the king of the underground kingdom of Annwn and the leader of the Wild Hunt. He rides forth at night accompanied by the pale Cwn Annwn, a pack of Otherworld hunting dogs, and bears the dying souls away to Tor at Glastonbury.

Wachilt: goddess of the sea and mother of Wayland. Greek: Amphitrite, consort of Poseidon.

Wayland: a smith god who pined for a swan goddess and could not refuse a commission. He escaped capture by his enemies on wings he made himself. Compare Hephaestos/Vulcan.

Y Draigh Goch: for more about Arthur's dragon emblem, see Dewi.

Local Versus Nonlocal Gods

In the cultural sense, all gods are local. Athena, for example, belongs in Athens. Nevertheless, the qualities and principles they embody vary widely in terms of their universality. Culturally, Aphrodite is Greek, but she can also be thought of nonlocally as the power of attraction that binds together the cosmos two particles at a time.

The Celtic pantheons are rich in highly localized earth deities like Sequana, goddess of the Seine, and Tamesis, goddess of the Thames, whose influences remain within fixed geographical bounds. The list above excludes most of these because its purpose is one of comparative mythology whose focus is on beings recognizable across cultures, times, and places: in other words, nonlocal gods. (It would be interesting to explore how the Celtic emphasis on earthly places corresponds to their belief in relatively easy passages into and out of the Otherworld. The worlds stood in much closer proximity than in more formalized religious systems. Does prioritizing heaven above earth somehow make it more necessary to keep them separate?)

Consider Aphrodite, known to the Romans as Venus....and to the Norse as Freya, the Irish as Branwen and Deirdre, the Chinese as Kwan Yin. Or consider Arduinna, goddess of the moon and the hunt. She is often compared to the Greek Artemis (Diana to the Romans). The question suggests itself: are these different beings (in Jungian: different archetypes), or the same beings showing up in different cultural guises? Although the compiler of this comparative mythology list tends toward the latter view, the comparisons below are offered not as reductions or simple equivalences that blur important qualities, but as bridges for understanding. Anything more, and I am covered by the proverb: Fear sam bith a loisgeas a mhàs, ‘s e fhèin a dh’fheumas suidhe air (roughly: "Burn your rump, and you're the one who must sit on it").

A Brief List of Theisms:

Atheism: there is no god or gods. However, prominent atheists have been caught worshipping Science or Progress on the sly now and then.

Monotheism: one god only. The first monotheist on record was Akhenaton of Egypt. Monotheism more or less correlates with organized religion. Current monotheisms include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Polytheism: many gods, whether considered separate ("hard" polytheism) or aspects of one deity ("soft"). The term "pan-polytheist" circulating in neo-Pagan circles is a bit redundant: polytheism does not preclude the concept of an underlying divine Presence wearing many different faces. Example of a polytheist in the "soft" sense: Joseph Campbell (see the quotation below).

Henotheism: many gods, but one in charge. Polytheism with a commander-in-chief. Some of the later Celtic and Viking peoples believed in a godhead (the Dagda; Odin) ruling over a pantheon.

Pantheism: no god outside of the universe. Stated positively: God and the universe coexist. There is no other world. Candidates include Spinoza and Einstein.

Panentheism: similar to pantheism in its emphasis on divine immanence, but the god came first to manifest the universe in a kind of engaged monotheism. Unlike pantheists, panentheists believe in the supernatural. Example of a panentheist: Thoreau.

Paganism: from "rural," "country people," "rooted," "peace," and similar to "peasant": a derogatory term for a non-monotheist, usually indigenous, who believes the natural world to be adorned with sacred presences. Most pre-Christian pagans were either polytheists (the majority) or henotheists (more typical of strongly stratified societies).

Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference. No matter how attractive or impressive they may seem, they remain but convenient means, accommodated to the understanding. Hence the personality or personalities of God--whether represented in trinitarian, dualistic, or unitarian terms, in polytheistic, monotheistic, or henotheistic terms, pictorially or verbally, as documented fact or as apocalyptic vision--no one should attempt to read or interpret as the final thing. -- Joseph Campbell