The Dagda is chief of the Tuatha dé Danann, the foremost of the Irish ancestral gods. Highly skilled and wise beyond measure, he is god of life and death, of seasons and agriculture and fertility, and of magic and druidry. He wields three sacred treasures: a cauldron of plenty, a club of life and death, and a harp that controlled men and the seasons alike.
His children are plentiful, as are his lovers. His dwelling place is Brú na Bóinne.
The Dagda (Gaelic: An Dagda) is a title, meaning “the good or great god,” reflecting his mastery of many skills rather than his character. This Gaelic name is derived from the Proto-Indo-European Dhagho-deiwos, or “shining divinity,” and the later Proto-Celtic Dago-deiwos, where Dagos has two meanings: “shining” in relation to day time, or “good” as in skilled.
Beyond the Dagda, his many titles include Eochaid Ollathair (Horseman or All-Father), Fer Benn (the Horned Man), Ruad Rofhessa (Lord of Great Knowledge), Dáire (the Fertile One), and Cerrce (Striker), among others.
“From Murias was brought the Dagda's cauldron. No company ever went away from it unsatisfied.”
-Cath Maige Tuired, translated by Elizabeth A. Gray
As the “great god,” the Dagda’s skills gave him dominion over a wide range. He is the god of life and death, and of fertility and agriculture. He could set the seasons to order with a strum of his harp; he could slay or resurrect a man with his club; he was a generous lord of plenty. He is a druid, and has mastery over all things mystic and magic.
The Dagda is described as a giant of a man, oafish in demeanor and attire. His beard is long and unruly, and he wears a woolen cloak about his head. These clothes never fit right, exposing his stomach and buttocks. These faults did little to distract from his good looks. Some scholars theorize that this gruffness may come from the Christian recorders of Irish traditions, wishing to make the Dagda comedic and foolish. Even then, the Dagda is portrayed consistently as wise, witty, and wily, a druid schooled in magic, art, and military strategy.
The Dagda carried with him three sacred relics which defined his many talents.
- The coire ansic, a cauldron from which came a bountiful feast; one could never be wanting in the company of the Dagda. This particular relic was one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha dé Danann, crafted in the city Murias.
- The lorg mór, his mighty club or staff, which had two powers. From the head he had the power to slay nine men in a single swing; from the handle, he could revive the slain with but a touch.
- The uaithne, an ornate harp carved of oak, which put the seasons in the proper order and commanded the wills and emotions of men. By this, the Dagda can be seen as a god of order, putting everything in its place, every time in its season, and men to their rightful action.
In additions to these, the Dagda also has two pigs, one always growing, the other roasting, and an orchard ever bearing sweet fruit.
The Dagda's primary dwelling was at Brú na Bóinne, a series of Neolithic mounds on the banks of the River Boyne in County Meath. Historically, these mounds were constructed near 3200 BCE, older than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids. One mound, called Newgrange, lines up with the dawn of the winter solstice, paralleling the Dagda's significance as the lord of seasons and his mastery the day and night.
As chief of the Tuatha dé Danann, the Dagda has many children, chief among them being Aengus, Brigid, and Midir. His lovers are plentiful, but the most notable are his spouse, the fearful Morrigan, and the river goddess Boann.
The Dagda’s parentage varies. His parents are sometimes Elatha and Ethniu, who in some tales is the daughter of King Balor, while in others his father is Badurn. His brothers are often listed as Nuada, king of the gods, and Oghma, a great champion. They may be a triple god, sharing similar attributes as well as all three carrying contradictory titles such as chief or king at the same time. In many myths they coexist in a kind of hierarchy, with Nuada as king, the Dagda as chief and advisor, and Oghma as their champion.
The Lebor Gabála Érenn lays out the coming of the Tuatha dé Danann, the fifth group of settlers of mythical Ireland. They came from north of the Emerald Isle, hailing from four cities where they learned the sciences and arts of their time, including magic. At this time, the Dagda was chief, though not king. The Dagda was consulted and respected by all, even above their kings.
The Courting of Boann
The Dagda fell for Boann, goddess of the River Boyne and wife of Elcmar, a judge of the Tuatha dé Danann. To carry on this affair, he sent Elcmar to High King Bres, and soon Boann fell pregnant. To prevent retribution against the child, the Dagda held the sun in place for nine months, allowing Boann to carry and give birth to the child in a single day. This child was given by the Dagda to his son Midir to raise, and became, Aengus, god of love and poetry.
Brú na Bóinne
In time Aengus grew to manhood, and the Dagda helped him trick Elcmar out of his rightful home at Brú na Bóinne. Using a carefully worded ploy befitting the gods of wisdom and poetry, they asked Elcmar to allow them to dwell there for “a day and a night.” This phrasing in Old Irish has two meanings: a literal day and a night, and all days and nights, or eternity. In agreeing to this, Elcmar unwittingly gave his home to his enemies for eternity. Soon after, the Dagda and Boann assisted Aengus in his quest to search for the girl haunting his dreams.
Another myth tells that while Aengus was away, the Dagda gave out his land among his many children. Upon his return Aengus discovered his father had saved nothing for him, and using the same careful wording by which they had gained their home, the Dagda also unwittingly gave Brú na Bóinne to his son.
The Second Battle of Moytura
Upon arrival in Ireland the Tuatha dé Danann consolidated power by eliminating or conquering earlier settlers. The most powerful of these was the Fomorians, a monstrous race ruled by a cruel king named Balor. Knowing conflict was inevitable, the Dagda made careful plans, tricking the Fomorians out of key resources, chief among them being sheep. On Samhain, the end of the Celtic year, he went to his wife, the Morrigan, goddess of battle and of death, and found her bathing. After they made love, she prophesied the coming battle: they would be victorious over the Formorions, at a price.
At last, both sides met at Moytura, located in County Sligo, where they fought for control of Ireland. The fighting was fierce, laying low both Balor and the Dagda’s brother Nuada. The Dagda himself was mortally wounded by Cethlenn, wife of Balor and herself a wise woman. During the battle, his magic harp was stolen, though it was ultimately recovered. Nursing his wound, the Dagda returned to Brú na Bóinne, where he succumbed and laid to rest in the mounds. He had ruled for seventy or eighty years, depending on source.
Like many of the Tuatha dé Danann, he may still be consulted by those visiting the fairymounds, and those who drift dangerously into the Otherworld.
Outside of Ireland
While not as explicit as Brigid or Lugh in the rest of the Celtic world, the Dagda is not without counterparts. Wise gods wielding powerful clubs and cauldrons of plenty are found in both France and Great Britain. The Gaullish Sucellus carries a hammer and a cup or barrel, and rules over agriculture. Dorset’s Cerne Abbas Giant, a nameless giant wielding a club with an erection, may represent one of the Dagda’s counterparts.
He is often compared to the Germanic Odin and the Roman Dis Pater, both gods carrying aspects similar to the Dagda.
The Dagda appears in a wide range of pop culture, including:
- In most editions of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, where he is portrayed as a leader of the Celtic pantheon. Similarly, the Dagda can be found in the Scion role-playing game, as a leader of the Tuatha dé Danann.
- In Marvel Comics and Thor in particular, where he is chief of the Celtic pantheon, similar to Odin's role in the Norse pantheon.
- In the Hellboy comics in his traditional role, albeit mixed with other Celtic myths and medieval fairy lore.
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse, as a treacherous demon who works with the main character Nanashi with dark intentions.
- In [Heroes of Camelot](http://heroes-of-camelot.wikia.com/wiki/TheDagda)_ mobile video game, he appears as a Godly-level card.
- In the Shannara series, a character appears in Elfstones of Shannara bearing the name Dagda Mor, an ancient ruler of demons bearing a powerful staff of power. The character appears as the primary antagonist of the first season of the Shannara Chronicles.
- Elizabeth A. Gray, translator. “Cath Maig Tuired.” Sacred-Texts.com. https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/cmt/cmteng.htm.