The Dagda: the good god with a killer harp

Welcome to another instalment of Mythology Mondays!

The winner of our poll was The Dagda, a member of the Tuatha De Danann. (Runner-up was Manannan Mac Lir.)

I actually put him on the poll because I saw a post about him on Folklore Thursday a while back, and the picture shared of him made him look a lot like my husband. Or my husband looks like him. Anyway, it inspired me to read up more on him. (I’ve since discovered the picture is from Heroes of Camelot.)

Anyway, the Dagda — High King of the Tuatha De Danann for about 80 years.

The Tuatha De Danann is, in short form, the main family of gods from pre-Christian Ireland. They’re somewhat analogous to the Olympians of Greece — not the only supernatural beings there, of course, but some of the heavy-hitters, with a massive family tree that takes years to understand.

The Dagda is one of the “big guys” within the Tuatha De. He’s a chieftain, a druid, and a father-figure. (One of his epithets is “all-father,” though that might have more to do with his prolificness than a fatherly attitude — he sired a lot of kids.) He’s considered a very powerful god, especially as he’s said to have control over the weather, the seasons, and life and death itself.

The Dagda is well-versed in Druidic magic, and he has several magical items in his possession. One is his cauldron, which is so big it’s said the ladle can hold two grown people in it. This cauldron is known as the “cauldron of plenty” — it’s bottomless and apparently leaves no one unsatisfied (except cowards and oath-breakers).

Another item is his massive club, so big he apparently had to drag it in a wagon behind him, or across the ground. The hammer/head end of his club can kill many people at once (probably because of its massive size; I don’t know, just spitballing here), but the handle can bring people back to life. See: power over life and death.

Dagda also possesses a magic harp made from oak wood. This harp could change the seasons or the emotions of people. It also straight-up murdered some folks. Yes, the harp did. A harp.

Ok, some context: Dagda had bound the music of the harp so it would only play when he called for it to do so. When the harp was stolen during a battle, he found it in a feasting-house and then called to it.

The harp sprang from the wall and went to the Dagda, casually killing nine people on its way.

I don’t know how it killed them because my research hasn’t told me. I just know his harp can kill. So like. Don’t steal it.

After the Dagda's harp got stolen, it straight up killed some people. So don't steal that harp, whatever you do. Click To Tweet

You may be wondering if the Dagda’s harp has anything to do with the harp that is seen on many Irish flags today, symbolizing the country. Short answer: probably yes. I only say “probably” because I haven’t found anything that says it definitively is, but it seems very likely.

Aside from the magic items, the Dagda is also physically powerful and large. He’s said to be able to build a fort single-handedly, and his appetite is so big he needs 80 gallons of milk to make his porridge.

Honestly, between Heroes of Camelot depicting him as looking a lot like Mr. Katje and the stuff I’m learning about the Dagda, I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t a little Tuatha De Danann in my fairly Celtic husband. 80 gallons of milk? Sounds about right.

Sure, you've been hungry. But have you ever been Dagda-hungry? Click To Tweet

The Dagda has relations with several different goddesses, and has sired many children including Brighid and Aengus Og. Aengus Og was the child of an affair with Boann, so to hide the affair Dagda made the sun stand still for 9 months — thus, Aengus was conceived and born in a single day.

I’m not sure how the other gods didn’t notice the sun hadn’t set in 9 months, but it’s mythology, so it doesn’t have to make logical sense. Just cosmic.

(Aengus later used the vagueness of the term “a day and a night” in Irish to steal his dad’s home away from him — the term can either mean “a day and a night” or “all eternity.” Aengus asked to have the place for day and night, and got it forever.)

The Dagda also got busy with the Morrigan on Samhain in exchange for a battle plan against invaders of Ireland. Seems legit.

Dagda’s name means “good,” but be careful about assuming how this word is used. It’s generally thought that it actually refers to him being good at a lot of things, not that he’s actually, you know, good. Not to say he isn’t — just urging caution, especially considering how the Irish sometimes describe things. (The Good Folk, anyone?)

That said, he does seem like an overall gregarious god, and one who is said to respond quickly to his followers. Just because gods are big and powerful doesn’t mean they aren’t also nice! …for definitions of that word that can apply to deities, that is.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the Dagda! I sure did. Below I’ve linked to some things for further reading, and below that there’s another poll. Please vote and let me know who you’d like to hear about next!


Further Reading (links to Amazon use my affiliate code; you don’t get charged extra if you make a purchase, but I make a small commission):

The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis — I haven’t read this book, but it mentions the Dagda, and Ellis generally comes recommended when it comes to Celtic studies.

The Dagda by Morgan Daimler — Daimler’s books on the gods are highly respected by many pagans. This book is currently on preorder and will be released this October.

This article on the Dagda from Daimler’s blog.

This article from the ADF is from a Neopagan perspective more than a scholarly one.

Here’s the poll for my next article! Please let me know which mythological figure you’d like to hear about next. The poll closes Monday, June 18, at midnight.

2 thoughts on “The Dagda: the good god with a killer harp

  1. Eva van Loon

    Dagda, my son in law…okay, now I’m a bit worried about grandkids like that cunning Aengus.

  2. Pingback: Manannán: god of endless bacon | dispatches from the loony bin

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