“I am Aed Abaid of Es Ruad, also called Ruad Rofhessa and Eochaid Ollathair. These are my names. I am the Good God, a druid of the Tuatha Dé Danann. An Dagda.”
And there he was, An Dagda, with Cermait Milbél, one of his sons, on his back. Cermait had fallen in combat to the frenzy of Lugh, High King of the Tuatha Dé, for the sake of a woman’s embrace. The woman was Buach, the wife of Lugh. As it often happens with the wives of great men, she endured much loneliness and often turned in the dark hours to her husband’s pillow, only to find it cold and bare.
So Cermait, the Dagda’s son, lay with her, because of which Cermait was slain by Lugh. The Dagda considered his vast horde of mystical knowledge, then he surrounded Cermait’s body with herbs and began chanting such spells as he knew.
This done, he lifted Cermait and, bearing the lifeless body of his son upon his back, he searched the world until he came to the far eastern realms of the Earth.
In that strange and distant land, he met three men going along the road carrying three treasures. The Dagda conversed with them, and they said;
“We three are the sons of one father and mother, and we are sharing our father’s treasures, as is right for sons to do.”
”What treasures have ye?” asked the Dagda.
“A great shirt and a staff and a cloak,” said they.
“What virtues have these to be considered treasures?” said the Dagda.
“This great staff here,” said the eldest of them, “has a smooth end and a rough end. The rough slays the living, and the smooth revives the dead.”
“What of the shirt and the cloak?” said the Dagda, “What are their virtues?”
“He who wears the cloak may take on any shape, form, figure, or color that he chooses. As for the one who wears the shirt, grief or sickness could never touch the skin that it covers.”
“Truly?” said he.
“Very truly,” said they.
“Put the staff in my hand,” said the Dagda.
Then the youngest of them lent him the staff, for the Dagda had been good company as he almost always was. Then, with great speed, he put the rough end upon them thrice, and they fell dead in the road.
After this, he pressed the smooth end upon his son’s breast, and the lad arose in the fullness of his strength and health. Cermait put his hands on his face like one waking early from a dream, then rose and looked at the three dead men that lay before him.
“Who are these three dead men in our path?” said Cermait to his father.
“Three men that I met,” said the Dagda, “sharing their father’s treasures. They lent me this staff. I slew them with one end and brought yourself to life with the other end.”
“It would be a sad story to tell at a feast,” said Cermait, “if they should not be given back their lives by that which caused me to live.”
The Dagda agreed and put the smooth end of the staff upon them, and the three brothers arose in the fullness of their health and strength.
“Do ye know that ye had been slain,” said the Dagda, “with your father’s staff?”
“We know it,” said they, “and you have taken an unfair advantage of us.”
“I have knowledge of your staff and its virtues,” said the Dagda, “and I have given you your three lives when I might have kept them. Now lend me the staff to take to my home far to the west of this land.”
“What bond have we that our father’s staff will ever come back to us?”
“The sun and moon, land and sea, provided that I might slay foes and give life to friends with its magic.”
Under that condition, a loan of the staff was given to him.
“How shall we share the treasures we have?” said they. “For we are three sons, but only two treasures remain to us.”
“Two of you must bear the treasures and one without any until his turn come round at some predetermined interval until the staff is returned to you.”
Then he brought that staff away and went home with his son. With it, he gave death to his foes and life to his friends.
In time, he took the kingship of his people by means of that staff.
However, the days of the Dagda’s kingship were numbered, as are the days of all things, and the time would come where the Dagda’s kingship would be ended and new kings would take his place.
Indeed time has been so cruel to the Dagda and his sons and all of that fair Tribe that those of us now living would hardly ever know that they lived at all were it not for the old tales that we tell.
I originally posted this little tale to my old blog, Unchaining The Titan, while it was still active.
This is my interpretation of an obscure story titled “How The Dagda Got His Staff” from the Yellow Book Of Lecan manuscript. It was written in Old Irish, and like all Old Irish literature, it rarely gets much attention.
But something in it spoke to people.
It was very well received, and people told me how much they enjoyed reading it, even though many of them had no prior knowledge of Irish myth and some had never heard of An Dagda or his son Cermait.
I’ve always been fascinated by the character of Dagda because of his many parallels to the Indo-European figure of The Striker.
The Striker is a character who appears in many Indo-European mythologies and usually bears similar characteristics.
The Striker wields a fiersome club or hammer with the power of life and death and upon which oaths are sworn. He also goes out beyond the borders of his people and slays his enemies. One of his primary foes is often a great sea beast like a dragon or sea-snake or, in Dagda’s case, a kind of octopus. In the Indo-European worldview, The Striker is typically either a son or an ally of the Sky Father character.
The Striker, in his many aspects, has always appealed to me for obvious reasons.
Linguists have reconstructed the Proto-Indo-European root word per-, which means “to strike,” and also perkus, which means “the oak tree.” Many Striker figures in Western Indo-European cultures have names that contain versions of this root word per-, such as the Slavic God Perun, Belarusian Piarun, Lithuanian Perkunas, Norse Fjorgyn, who was the mother of Thor, and possibly Erc Mac Cairpri in Irish (though this last connection is tenuous).
However, the most well-known personification of The Striker in modern culture is Thor, the Norse God who was a son of Odin. Thor wielded a hammer with which he slew his people’s enemies and which also had the power to bring the dead back to life, as he did with his own goats. The hammer was used to bless marriages and funerals and possibly to seal oaths and agreements. With his hammer, Thor fought and eventually slew the great sea-serpent Jormungand. All of this is a clear parallel to other Striker figures from different cultures.
Strikers are usually associated with lightning and mountains and sometimes oak trees, for obvious reasons. Lightning strikes mountaintops and tall oak trees more often, and so these can be said to be the domain of The Striker.
So the root words per and perkus gave rise to various European deities whose names were probably derived from some pre-existing Striker, and so too is the name of the Dagda. One of his names is Cercce. Old Irish had no letter P, so the word was likely adapted into a local variant with a C instead of a P. But even despite these many apparent connections to The Striker, there’s more to old Dagda than meets the eye.
You see, the Dagda is also a parallel for the Indo-European Sky Father as well as his son, The Striker. Dagda’s name means both Good God and Shining or Bright God. The Indo-European Sky Father figure is always associated with the bright daylight sky. His name has been reconstructed by linguists as Dyaus Phter, meaning “Father God of The Daylight Sky.”
Another of Dagda’s names is Ollathair, which means Great Father and is cognate with the Norse God Odin’s name of Allfather. There are other tales that better illustrate Dagda in his role of father, king, and leader of his people than the story of how he got his staff, but it’s still fascinating that this one figure can have so many connections to prehistoric deities.
It’s important to note that we don’t know much for sure about the Proto-Indo-European peoples. They wrote nothing down, left little archaeological evidence, and weren’t written about by any contemporaries. But yet we know from linguistic and genetic evidence that their culture spread out from the Eastern steppes into Europe and down into Iran and India. Wherever they went, they carried their culture and established themselves as the dominant people across a vast territory, which stills carries on evolved forms of their legacy to this day. Just as the Indo-Europeans can be easily recognized in Indian culture, they can also be identified in Irish culture and myth.
So in this jovial character called Dagda by the Irish, we have two men, one young and one old.
A Striker and a Father.
The Striker is a young man, a warrior with explosive and expansive energy. He goes out beyond the boundaries of the known world into unfamiliar and hostile territory, risks his neck, slays foes and monsters, and he returns with great treasures that are a blessing to his people.
The Sky Father is an older man, wise and stern and judgmental. He is harsh and holds his people to high standards as he looks down from heaven. He rules over and establishes order in his domain so that his people are protected from chaos. When necessary, he sends his sons out to confront that chaos before it takes root in his kingdom.
These ancient and ethereal archetypes are embodied, however imperfectly, in the Irish Dagda. It’s unclear to what extent the pre-Christian Irish knew about or revered the Dagda or if they even worshipped him at all.
But there has to be something to these stories. They can’t be complete fabrications of Christian scribes and secular poets. There are too many parallels, too many connections to stories from across the European mythosphere, which carry echoes of older tales and older gods.
Upon these stories lie the fingerprints of our ancestors, our great fathers and mothers who preceded us by many thousands of years. We can never know what they thought or who they worshipped and how, but we can find traces. Those remnants of their identity and their worldview can shine a light upon who we are today.
Who are we, those of us who have inherited the cultures passed down from our Indo-European forefathers from out of time immemorial?
We are Strikers and Fathers.
We are the ones who go out beyond the borders of safety to confront chaos at its source. We protect what is ours, and we establish order for the ones we love while also nurturing a new generation of Strikers and Fathers.
That is the ideal we have to live up to. It isn’t easy, but it’s a noble goal.
How can we embody The Striker and The Sky Father in our daily lives?
Seek out the chaos in your life and impose order upon it, then maintain that order so that future generations can grow and prosper. Teach your children to be strong and wise and kind. Destroy anything that threatens the security of your ordered domain. Seek out monsters and demons and foes to crush, not because you hate them, but because your job is to protect what is yours.
That all sounds great on paper, of course, but how are we modern men who live soft lives of comfort to live up to this brutal and, perhaps, archaic ideal?
Well, chaos embodies itself in many forms, not just in monsters and sea demons. We’ve all got a little chaos in our lives, a little doubt and stress and vulnerability. Identify where the cracks are in your life. Is your marriage secure? Are your children protected? Will they grow up to be strong and wise?
Are you financially stable? Are you fat or sick? Do you need more training or experience?
Small daily acts which promote order and reduce the chaos in your life can add up over time to great things. Even little things like fixing that leaky pipe in your house before it becomes a major problem is an act of establishing order. That leak could become, in time, a flood that destroys your home and puts your family on the street in the night, where more sinister monsters lurk.
So look for the chaos, the uncertainty in your life. Wrestle with that chaos and impose your will upon it. Then nurture your people and family so that they too will grow to grapple with chaos.
Learn to love the struggle and hardship of daily life because in those struggles lie the opportunity to embody Striker and Father energy which will be a blessing on you and those you love.
This is the legacy you have inherited from your Indo-European forefathers and foremothers, and this is just one of the many lessons we can learn from studying old myths like the seemingly innocuous story of how The Dagda got his staff.