Wondering about some of the major deities of the ancient Celtic world? Although the Celts consisted of societies all over the British Isles and parts of Europe, some of their gods and goddesses have become a part of modern Pagan practice. Here are some of the deities honored by the ancient Celtic peoples.
A daughter of the Dagda, Brighid is one of the classic triple goddesses of the Celtic pantheon. Many Paganshonor her today as a goddess of the hearth and home, and of divination and prophecy. She's often associated with the Imbolc sabbat, as well as with fire, domesticity, and family life. Brighid was the patron of poets and bards, as well as healers and magicians. She was especially honored when it came to matters of prophecy and divination.
Cailleach is known in parts of the Celtic world as the hag, the bringer of storms, the Dark Mother of the winter months. However, she features prominently in mythology and is not just a destroyer, but also a creator goddess. According to The Etymological Dictionary Of Scottish-Gaelic the word cailleach itself means "veiled one" or "old woman". In some stories, she appears to a hero as a hideous old woman, and when he is kind to her, she turns into a lovely young woman who rewards him for his good deeds. In other stories, she turns into a giant gray boulder at the end of winter, and remains this way until Beltane, when she springs back to life.
Cernunnos is the horned god found in many traditions of modern Paganism and Wicca. He is an archetype found predominantly in Celtic regions, and symbolizes fertility and masculine energy. Often celebrated around the Beltane sabbat, Cernunnos is associated with the forest, the greening of the earth, and wild stags. He is a god of vegetation and trees in his aspect as the Green Man, and a god of lust and fertility when connected with Pan, the Greek satyr. In some traditions, he is seen as a god of death and dying, and takes time to comfort the dead by singing to them on their way to the spirit world.
Cerridwen is known in Welsh mythology as the keeper of the Cauldron of the Underworld in which knowledge and inspiration are brewed. She is considered a goddess of prophetic powers, and because her symbol is the Cauldron, she is an honored goddess in many Wiccan and Pagan traditions. The legend of Cerridwen is heavy with instances of transformation: when she is chasing Gwion, the two of them change into any number of animal and plant shapes. Following the birth of Taliesen, Cerridwen contemplates killing the infant but changes her mind; instead she throws him into the sea, where he is rescued by a Celtic prince, Elffin. Because of these stories, change and rebirth and transformation are all under the control of this powerful Celtic goddess.
The Dagda was a father god of the Celtic pantheon, and plays an important role in the stories of the Irish invasions. He was the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, and a god of fertility and knowledge. His name means "the good god." In addition to his mighty club, the Dagda also possessed a large cauldron. The cauldron was magical in that it had an endless supply of food in it -- the ladle itself was said to be so large that two men could lie in it. The Dagda is typically portrayed as a plump man with a large phallus, representative of his status as a god of abundance.
In British lore, Herne the Hunter is a god of vegetation, vine, and the wild hunt. Similar in many aspects to Cernunnos, Herne is celebrated in the autumn months, when the deer go into rut. He is seen as a god of the common folk, and is typically recognized only around the Windsor Forest area of Berkshire, England. Herne was considered a divine hunter, and was seen on his wild hunts carrying a great horn and a wooden bow, riding a mighty black horse and accompanied by a pack of baying hounds. Mortals who get in the way of the Wild Hunt are swept up in it, and often taken away by Herne, destined to ride with him for eternity. He's seen as a harbinger of bad omen, especially to the royal family.
Lugh is the Celtic god honored for his skills and gifts as a craftsman. He is the god of blacksmiths, metal-workers and artisans. In his aspect as a harvest god, he is honored on August 1, on the festival known as Lughnasadh or Lammas. Lugh is associated with craftsmanship and skill, particularly in endeavors involving creativity. Although not specifically a war god, Lugh was known as a skilled warrior. His weapons included a mighty magic spear, which was so bloodthirsty that it often tried to fight without its owner. According to Irish myth, in battle, the spear flashed fire and tore through the enemy ranks unchecked.
The Morrighan is known as a Celtic war goddess, but there's a lot more to her than that. She's associated with rightful kingship, and the sovereignty of the land. The Morrighan often appears in the form of a crow or raven, or is seen accompanied by a group of them. In the stories of the Ulster cycle, she is shown as a cow and a wolf as well. The connection with these two animals suggest that in some areas, she may have been connected to fertility and land.
In the Welsh mythological cycle, the Mabinogion, Rhiannon is known as a goddess of the horse. However, she also plays a crucial role in the kingship of Wales. The horse appears prominently in much of Welsh and Irish mythology. Many parts of the Celtic world -- Gaul in particular -- used horses in warfare, and so it is no surprise that these animals turn up in the myths and legends or Ireland and Wales.
Although Taliesin is a documented historical figure in Welsh history, he has managed to become elevated to the status of a minor god. His mythologized story has elevated him to the status of a minor deity, and he appears in the tales of everyone from King Arthur to Bran the Blessed. Today, many modern Pagans honor Taliesin as a patron of bards and poets, since he is known as the greatest poet of all.