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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 35

Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba, who give a title to the whole {74} group, are called tri dee Donand, "the three gods (sons of) Danu," or, again, "gods of dán" (knowledge), perhaps as the result of a folk-etymology, associating dân with their mother's name Danu. Various attributes are personified as their descendants, Wisdom being son of all three. Though some of these attributes may have been actual gods, especially Ecne or Wisdom, yet it is more probable that the personification is the result of the subtleties of bardic science, of which similar examples occur. On the other hand, the fact that Ecne is the son of three brothers, may recall some early practice of polyandry of which instances are met with in the sagas. M. D'Arbois has suggested that Iuchar and Iucharba are mere duplicates of Brian, who usually takes the leading place, and he identifies them with three kings of the Tuatha Déa reigning at the time of the Milesian invasion—MacCuill, MacCecht, and MacGrainne, so called, according to Keating, because the hazel (coll), the plough (cecht), and the sun (grian) were "gods of worship" to them. Both groups are grandsons of Dagda, and M. D'Arbois regards this second group as also triplicates of one god, because their wives Fotla, Banba, and Eriu all bear names of Ireland itself, are personifications of the land, and thus may be "reduced to unity." While this reasoning is ingenious, it should be remembered that we must not lay too much stress upon Irish divine genealogies, while each group of three may have been similar local gods associated at a later time as brothers. Their separate personality is suggested by the fact that the Tuatha Dé Danann are called after them "the Men of the Three Gods," and their supremacy appears in the incident of Dagda, Lug, and Ogma consulting them before the fight at Mag-tured—a natural proceeding if they {75} were gods of knowledge or destiny. The brothers are said to have slain the god Cian, and to have been themselves slain by Lug, and on this seems to have been based the story of The Children of Tuirenn, in which they perish through their exertions in obtaining the eric demanded by Lug.254 Here they are sons of Tuirenn, but more usually their mother Danu or Brigit is mentioned.

Another son of Brigit's was Ogma, master of poetry and inventor of ogham writing, the word being derived from his name.255 It is more probable that Ogma's name is a derivative from some word signifying "speech" or "writing," and that the connection with "ogham" may be a mere folk-etymology. Ogma appears as the champion of the gods,256 a position given him perhaps from the primitive custom of rousing the warriors' emotions by eloquent speeches before a battle. Similarly the Babylonian Marduk, "seer of the gods," was also their champion in fight. Ogma fought and died at Mag-tured; but in other accounts he survives, captures Tethra's sword, goes on the quest for Dagda's harp, and is given a síd after the Milesian victory. Ogma's counterpart in Gaul is Ogmíos, a Herakles and a god of eloquence, thus bearing the dual character of Ogma, while Ogma's epithet grianainech, "of the smiling countenance," recalls Lucian's account of the "smiling face" of Ogmíos.257 Ogma's high position is the result of the admiration of bardic eloquence among the Celts, whose loquacity was proverbial, and to him its origin was doubtless ascribed, as well as that of poetry. The genealogists explain his relationship to the other divinities in different ways, but these confusions may result from the fact that gods had more than one name, of which the annalists made separate personalities. {76} Most usually Ogma is called Brigit's son. Her functions were like his own, but in spite of the increasing supremacy of gods over goddesses, he never really eclipsed her.


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