Tuatha Dé Danann

The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in John Duncan's "Riders of the Sidhe" (1911)

The Tuath(a) Dé Danann (Irish: [t̪ˠuəhə dʲeː d̪ˠan̪ˠən̪ˠ], meaning "the folk of the goddess Danu"), also known by the earlier name Tuath Dé ("tribe of the gods"),[1] are a supernatural race in Irish mythology. They are thought to represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland.[1] The Tuatha Dé Danann constitute a pantheon whose attributes appeared in a number of forms throughout the Celtic world.[2]

The Tuath Dé dwell in the Otherworld but interact with humans and the human world. They are associated with ancient passage tombs, such as Brú na Bóinne, which were seen as portals to the Otherworld. Their traditional rivals are the Fomorians (Fomoire),[3] who seem to represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature,[4][5] and who the Tuath Dé defeat in the Battle of Mag Tuired. Each member of the Tuath Dé has associations with a particular feature of life or nature, but many appear to have more than one association. Many also have bynames, some representing different aspects of the deity and others being regional names or epithets.[6]

Much of Irish mythology was recorded by Christian monks, who modified it to an extent. They often depicted the Tuath Dé as kings, queens and heroes of the distant past who had supernatural powers.[7] Other times they were explained as fallen angels who were neither good nor evil.[8] However, some medieval writers acknowledged that they were gods. They also appear in tales set centuries apart, showing them to be immortal. Prominent members of the Tuath Dé include The Dagda, who seems to have been a chief god; The Morrígan; Lugh; Nuada; Aengus; Brigid; Manannán, a god of the sea; Dian Cecht, a god of healing; and Goibniu, a god of metalsmithing and one of the Trí Dé Dána ("three gods of craftsmanship").[9] They have parallels in the pantheons of other Celtic peoples: for example Lugh is cognate with the pan-Celtic god Lugus, Nuada with the British god Nodens, Brigid with Brigantia; Tuirenn with Taranis; Ogma with Ogmios; and the Badb with Cathubodua.

The Tuath Dé eventually became the Aos Sí or "fairies" of later folklore.[10][11][12][13]

Name

The Old Irish word tuath (plural tuatha) means "people, tribe, nation"; is the genitive case of día and, depending on context, can mean "god, gods, goddess" or more broadly "supernatural being, object of worship".[14] In the earliest writings, the mythical race are referred to as the Tuath Dé (plural Tuatha Dé).[1] However, Irish monks also began using the term Tuath Dé to refer to the Israelites,[1] with the meaning "People of God".[15] Apparently to avoid confusion with the Israelites,[1] writers began to refer to the mythical race as the Tuath Dé Danann (plural Tuatha Dé Danann).[16] The Old Irish pronunciation is [t̪uaθa d̪ʲeː d̪anan̪] and the Modern Irish pronunciation is [t̪ˠuə(hi) dʲeː d̪ˠan̪ˠən̪ˠ] in the West and North, and [t̪ˠuəhə dʲeː d̪ˠan̪ˠən̪ˠ] in the South. In Latin they are referred to as the Plebes Deorum or "folks of gods."[17]

Danann is generally believed to be the genitive of a female name, for which the nominative case is not attested. It has been reconstructed as Danu, of which Anu (genitive Anann) may be an alternative form.[1] Anu is called "mother of the Irish gods" by Cormac mac Cuilennáin.[1] This may be linked to the Welsh mythical figure Dôn.[1] Hindu mythology also has a goddess called Danu, who may be an Indo-European parallel. However, this reconstruction is not universally accepted.[18] It has also been suggested that Danann is a conflation of dán ("skill, craft") and the goddess name Anann.[1] The name is also found as Donann and Domnann,[19] which may point to the origin being proto-Celtic *don, meaning "earth"[1] (compare the Old Irish word for earth, doman). There may be a link with the mythical Fir Domnann[20] and the British Dumnonii.[21]