Dôn is not an earth goddess

pole star

The Plant Dôn: the Children of Dôn, are introduced in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. Who is Dôn, though? I have heard prominent people in contemporary Druidry describe Dôn as an earth goddess; I believe that they are mistaken, and that she is something quite different.

The Welsh legends, not to mention the Greek, Roman, and Gaulish sources, are generally silent about Dôn – although, there is material in the Welsh tales which has often been overlooked, and which gives us important clues to Dôn’s identity. The most widely-known material comes from the legends of Ireland.

The Irish Book of Invasions lists the various waves of people who have invaded, and settled, the Island of Ireland, also known as the Island of the Blessed. The current population, the Gaels, are the descendants of the Milesians, or the Men of Mil. The Milesians took the island from the Tuatha Dé Danaan, who had in turn taken it from the Fomorians.

Of all the waves of invaders, the Tuatha Dé Danaan are the only ones to be described by the legends as not being human. They were, in fact, a ‘shining people’, like humans but not the same, who arrived in flying boats from great cities in the north. Their name means ‘The People of Danu’, a goddess, and the overall similarity of the Irish and Welsh gods means that we can be confident in saying that Dôn is equivalent to Danu, and is thus a goddess, rather than a god.

When the Men of Mil arrived on Ireland’s shores, the Tuatha Dé Danaan struggled with them for possession of the island – and lost. By agreement, the victorious Milesians took possession of the territory above ground, while the Tuatha Dé took possession of the territory below ground. They occupied the burial mounds, and were found near lakes and rivers, and standing stones, and became known as the Sidhe… In short, it is clear from the Irish legends that the Tuatha Dé Danaan are the same people as the Tylwyth Teg in Wales, and the Jinn in the Middle East.

Since they were known as the People of Danu, and since they live beneath the ground, many people have taken Danu to be an Earth Goddess. This is a mistake, I would suggest.

How can I be so confident? Because the Tuatha Dé Danaan had their name before they came to Ireland, before their defeat at the hands of the Celts, and before they were forced underground. They are not the people of Danu because they are underground. They are the people of Danu despite being underground. There is a body of thought that suggests ‘Danu’ may derive from a “proto-Celtic word” meaning ‘earth’, but this is tenuous. Another school suggests that her name is connected to the sense of “skill” or “craft” – and, as we shall see below, this is much more credible.

For a better understanding of Dôn/Danu, we must look for their origins, not where they ended up.

Where did they come from? The Irish legends fail us here, saying only that they came from cities in the North.

The ancient culture of the Welsh tells us more on this subject, though. Barddas claims that ‘The Fortress of Dôn’ is Casseopeia, although this association is not certain. Several other constellations are named after her children. The connection of the Milky Way with Gwydion is undoubtedly historical and authentic, while Arianrhod seems to be connected with either the Corona Borealis or Andromeda. Blodeuwedd, too, is said to have been represented in the stars, though we no longer know which constellation was hers.

Quite clearly, the Plant Dôn, the Children of Dôn, are connected with the night sky. The two other great families of the Welsh myths are not. If Dôn and Danu are the same goddess, we must look for her amongst the stars, not in the earth.

This leads me to three further thoughts:

  • As I wrote in a previous post, it now seems evident that the myths of the Celtic Britons, and of the later Welsh, contain themes and elements that reflect the customs and beliefs of the pre-Celtic people of Neolithic Britain. These are the same people who observed the stars with great care over millennia, building tombs and stone circles that were at least in some cases precisely aligned to the movements of the stars. The matrilineal family of Dôn has the taste of the Neolithic about it, to me.
  • The Tylwyth Teg of Britain are known to have originated in Arabia; they came from the East, and are never linked specifically to Dôn. Their peers in Ireland, however, are specifically linked to Dôn/Danu, and they are said to have come from the North. Where in the North? We don’t know, but I have a strong sense that they themselves would have traced their origins (before the four cities of Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias) to the North Star: the Celestial Nail around which the heavens revolve – which I believe to be Caer Sidi (the Fortress of the Sidhe), the Revolving Castle of the Welsh Preiddeu Annwfn.
  • As noted above, it has been suggested that the Irish form of Dôn’s name, Danu, is associated with the sense of “skill” or “craft”. In the Welsh myths, each of the Plant Dôn, all of Dôn’s Children, all except one, represent systems: ways in which individuals and societies impose order on chaos. This is something I will explore in a future post: nevertheless, two are obvious, while another two are explained in the Fourth Branch.

Taking all of this into account, I suggest that Dôn is, in fact, the great void, the vast emptiness from which emerges order, skill, and craft – and not an earth goddess.

Image credits: Around The Pole Star by Edeuzo on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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