Aengus is the Irish god of poetry and love. Called the Young One, he is inspired and crafty, inheriting much of his guile and charm from his father, the Dagda. As a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he serves as one of their chief bards.

He dwells in Brú na Bóinne, which he briefly shared with his father.

Etymology

Aengus (Óengus or Oíngus in Old Irish) comes from the Proto-Celtic oino- and gus, meaning “one strength.” His titles largely center on his role as purveyor of youth, such as Aengus Óg (Aengus the Young) or Maccan o Mac Óg (young son).

Attributes

Aengus is the Irish god of youth, love, and poetic inspiration. These attributes largely overlap with one another, given his role over youthful love and the poetic inspiration that youth and love bring. His wit allows him to overcome his elders, masking his cunning and guile behind the use of language.

His youth in particular grants him domain over life and death, as he is able to resurrect the dead. This comes from a breath, which can either be temporary or more permanent, reminiscent of his father the Dagda’s mighty club that also grants life and death.

Aengus has the ability to shapeshift, another attribute inherited from his father, and uses this ability to help him find a woman transformed into a swan. His magic allows him to transform kisses into birds, thus associating birds of all types as his favored animal.

Aengus’ appearance is that of a young and beautiful man, with birds surrounding his head. These birds can act as messengers or tormentors. His arsenal includes four weapons, two swords and two spears. The sword Moralltach (Great Fury) was a gift from the sea god Manannan mac Lir; the other was named Beagalltach (Little Fury). His two spears were Gáe Buide and Gáe Derg.

Aengus resides in Brú na Bóinne, in County Meath near Drogheda. He also lends his name to Dun Aengus, on the Aran Islands in County Galway.

Family

Aengus’s parents are the Dagda and Boann. The Dagda is the chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann and master healer and craftsman, while Boann is the goddess of the River Boyne. His stepfather is Boann’s husband, Elcmar, a judge of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

He has many siblings, the most notable of which is Midir, who, as it happens, is also his foster-father. His other siblings include Brigid and Cermait, and he has a foster son named Diarmuid Ua Duibhe.

His wife is Caer Ibormeith, a princess quite literally of his dreams.

Mythology

Aengus appears as an important character in a number of Celtic myths.

Origins

Young is the son who was begotten at the break of day and born betwixt it and evening.

“The Wooing of Etain” Tochmarc Étaíne

Aengus’ birth was exceptional. His father, the Dagda, lusted for the wife of Elcmar, the goddess Boann. So, while Elcmar was away, they carried on an affair, and to hide the pregnancy, the Dagda held the sun in place for nine months. Thus, Boann was pregnant only for a single day. Aengus was then given to the Dagda’s son Midir as a ward, to hide him from the wrath of Elcmar.

Theft of Brú na Bóinne

When he came of age, he and his father contrived to steal Elcmar’s home, Brú na Bóinne, away from him. The father and son met with Elcmar and, given the rules of hospitality, asked him if they could stay there for a day and a night. In Old Irish, “a day and a night” could just as easily mean “all days and all nights.” Elcmar foolishly agreed, and as such, gave them permission to stay there forever, and they subsequently took occupancy.

Wooing of Étaín

Aengus and his brother Midir competed for the affections of Étaín, a mortal woman of great beauty. Aengus ultimately lost, and Midir married her, much to the fury of his first wife, Fúamnach, who separated the two using sorcery, turning Étaín into a fly and using breezes to keep her away.

Aengus, recognizing her in this form, nursed Étaín back to health, and attempted to keep up with her more agile form. Much to his dismay, she was swallowed after landing in the cup of the warrior Étar’s wife, causing Étar to become pregnant at the cost of Étaín’s life. In revenge, Aengus hunted Fúamnach down and decapitated her.

The Dreams of Aengus

A girl began to appear in Aengus’ dreams, and he fell for her. His parents assisted in his quest for the dream girl, taking a year to search all of Ireland, but to no avail. Finally, after another year of searching, King Bodg Derg of Munster found her as a favor to the Dagda, and provides a name: Caer Ibormeith.

On the shores of a lake called the Dragon’s Mouth, Aengus found 150 women bound in chains. At the conclusion of Samhain, the end of the Celtic year on October 31st, the women would be forced to spend a year as swans. A deal was struck with her captors: if Aengus could recognize her as a swan, he could marry her. Aengus agreed, and turned himself into a swan, calling out to her. They flew off together and sang a song so beautiful that the captors fell asleep for three days.

Other Tales

In another story, after returning from a long journey (likely seeking out Caer Ibormeith), Aengus arrived at home to discover that his father had given away all of his land to his children, save Aengus, to whom he gave nothing. Enraged, Aengus asked the same question, if he could stay for a day and a night. The Dagda agreed, and Aengus took sole occupancy of Brú na Bóinne. Despite this, the Dagda was laid to rest there after his death.

In The Death of the Tuatha de Dannan, Aengus ended his feud by killing Elcmar, after Elcmar slew Midir. Another tale depicts Aengus avenging dishonor against his brother Cermait after the bard of King Lugh of the Long Arm slandered his name by saying he slept with Lugh’s wife.

Aengus’ foster-son, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, fell for Gráinne, who was engaged to Finn MacCool, the head of the Fianna. Pursued by the Fianna, Aengus gave his foster-son shelter and his two swords and two spears. Ultimately, Diarmuid was slain, and his body brought back to Brú na Bóinne, where Aengus breathed life into it when he wished to speak to him.

Other Mythology

Aengus may be a form of Maponos, a Britano-Gaullish deity of youth who in Wales was Mabon ap Modron. He is also resembles the Greco-Roman Eros, more commonly known as Cupid, in his youth and association with love.

With regard to his power of poetry and tales of wooing women, he shares similarities with the Greek Apollo and Norse Odr. The name Aengus became quite popular one, and several Irish characters both mythological and historical in nature bear his name, though most have a title to differentiate themselves from the god.

Pop Culture

Aengus appears in multiple pieces of popular culture, including:

  • In the Iron Druid series, Aengus is the lead antagonist of the first book, Hounded;

  • Aengus appears with his father in Hellboy: the Wild Hunt;

  • The pair similarly appears in The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, where Aengus is the guide of the narrator through Tir na Og;

  • William Butler Yeats employed Aengus as the primary character in “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” where he searches for his love eternally;

  • Aengus appears as one of the gods of youth in The Crock of Gold by James Stephens.

References

Leahy, A.H., trans. “The Wooing of Etain.” Heroic Romances of Ireland, vol. II. London: David Nutt, 1906. Accessed 4 March, 2019, http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/etain.html.

Gantz, Jeffrey. “The Dream of Oengus.” Earth Irish Sagas. Accessed 4 March, 2019, http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/oengus.html.