This week we are talking about another one of my fave gods.
Manannán Mac Lir is the Irish god of rain, mist, the sea, and the Otherworld.
He first came into my life several years ago, and he’s been a huge part of it since. I’m going to try to talk about him a bit more neutrally in this post than I usually do at my religious blogs, but it’ll be hard, because I really love this dude.
Ok, so. Manannán.
Manannán is a psychopomp god — that means he’s a guardian deity between the realms of life and death. A word that can be used to describe this type of deity is “liminal” — it means “of or pertaining to a threshold,” from the Latin limen.
You can see this liminality in the things associated with him. Mist, of course, is very much associated with the idea of things being “in-between” — but so is rain, being a common weather pattern with both fall and spring, the seasons in between the extremes of winter and summer. (Mind you, depending on where you live, your rainy times of year might last a loooooot longer than seems normal. *Glances at both Ireland and BC*)
The ocean is also a liminal space — we take journeys across it, and going deep into it is still a difficulty. The vast depths of the ocean are largely unexplored and contain no small amount of mystery for us.
And then there’s the fact that water is used in sensory deprivation chambers, which are basically tools for getting into liminal states.
All this — and the fact that he ferries souls to the afterlife — might make Manannán seem kinda spooky, but he’s actually not. Manannán loves to laugh. He is a fun-loving god, and yes, a bit of a trickster — but he deeply cares for those he considers family.
He’s also the god of endless bacon. Manannán has in his possession many magical pigs that could be slaughtered one night and eaten for a feast, and then would reappear in their pens the next day, unharmed. So, yeah, endless supply of bacon at Manannán’s house. Be right back, I’m moving in.It's always bacon time at Manannán's house! #MythMondays Click To Tweet
He’s also said to have many magical items in his possession. He has a boat that can self-navigate across the waves, called Scuabtuinne, or “Wave Sweeper.” His horse, Enbarr, can traverse both land and sea and draws Manannán’s sea-borne chariot across the waters. Manannan’s powerful sword is called Fragarach, “The Answerer,” and he’s also in possession of a cloak of invisibility.
The cloak of invisibility is made from the mists — mists, of course, hide things from view, so this makes sense. In one legend, his wife Fand has an affair with the famous hero Cúchulainn. Fand realizes that Cúchulainn deserves to be with his wife (who has an army, which might have factored into Fand’s decision), so Manannán’s wife returns to him. The god of the sea draws his cloak between Fand and Cúchulainn so they may never see each other again.
Manannán is traditionally seen in the role of foster-father, raising many children not his own, including Lugh, the Irish god of skill, crafts, arts, and associated with the sun. (Also, yes, Lughnasadh is said to be Lugh’s holiday.)
Manannán also has connections to the Isle of Man. This is where deity individuation gets a little wobbly. I’ve been talking about Manannán, the Irish god of the sea, for this post. But he’s also seen as a Manx god, and connected to the Welsh figure Manawydan fab Llyr.
(When I first started interacting with Manannán, I wanted to know if he was Manannán or Manawydan. So I asked him which one he was. He said “Yes.” A god’s sense of individuality can be a lot more fluid than a mortal human’s.)
The Isle of Man is said to take its name from Manannán, who saved the Isle from invasion using his magic skills. He conjured up illusions from mist to make the invaders think there was a really big army about to kick their asses. It worked. They ran.
He also was said to give Lugh several items when Lugh left the Isle of Man to aid the people of Dana in battle against the Fomorians: a coat which prevented the wearer from being wounded; a breastplate no weapon could pierce; a helmet with precious stones in it that flashed as the wearer moved; and Answerer, the sword that causes wounds that never heal. Lugh also took Enbarr, Manannán’s horse, and Manannán wished victory and blessing upon his foster-son as Lugh left.
Manannán is #FosterDadGoals.Manannán: patron god of dads (and probably dad jokes). #MythMondays Click To Tweet
In Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory, we get to see more of Manannán’s trickster side. In one story, entitled “Manannán at Play”, we see him as a clown and beggar, who later turns out to be a harper. He plays a number of pranks, some of which have serious consequences. By the end of the story, he compensates for the pranks he pulled.
(April Fool’s Day as sacred to Manannán? I think so! Also dad jokes.)
In another story, he tempts the Irish king Cormac mac Airt with treasure in exchange for his family. (The treasure in question was a shining branch with nine apples of red gold upon it — this is where the connection between Manannán and apples comes in, no doubt.) He ends up leading the king into the Otherworld to teach him a harsh lesson, but then restores Cormac’s family to him, and gives him a magic cup that will break if three lies are spoken over it, and repair itself if three truths are spoken over it.
Manannán apparently has a huge closet just full of magical items.
Finally, of special note right now, on the Isle of Man a day sacred to Manannán is the summer solstice, which just happened here in the Northern Hemisphere. On this day the Manx people “pay the rent” to Manannán in the form of an offering of rushes, in thanks for his protection and blessing of their island, and seek his help in all aspects of life.
Of course, anyone with a relationship with Manannán can celebrate on the summer solstice in a similar way — you don’t need to live on the Isle of Man.
If you want to read more about Manannán, Gods and Fighting Men mentioned above has several stories where he features prominently. You can get it in paperback or download a free ebook, as it’s in the public domain.
There is also a site dedicated to him from a NeoPagan view — that is, more about getting to know the god in a personal way, not a scholarly way. It’s here, and it’s one of my main resources on him.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Manannán mac Lir today! If you want to see my more personal accounts of working with him, you can read them on my religious blog.
Be sure to vote in the poll below, and I’ll see you again in two weeks!
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