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August 28, 2020

Irish Gods and Goddesses – Recommended Books

Make sure you check out the full Beginner’s Guide to Irish Paganism Series.

Moving on from the Recommended Irish History Books, we can now focus specifically on Irish Gods and Goddesses.

As we said last time, these books can stretch a little to cover a broader ‘Celtic’ pantheon, but our focus here is quality information on deities that are specifically Irish.

There are a few good books which focus on individual deities – Morgan Daimler’s Irish Gods contributions to the Pagan Portals series are excellent starting points for the Mórrígan, the Dagda, Manannán Mac Lir, Brigid, and Lugh, for example.

This post though will cover the bigger picture on Irish Gods and Goddesses, from both historical/mythological and spiritual perspectives.

(Please Note that the links in this post are affiliate, which means if you buy through them, we get a few cents from the evil empire at no cost to you. Book descriptions are based on the Publisher’s info.)

Our Top 5 Recommended Irish Gods and Goddesses Books

We’ll start with a scholarly historical overview, which is a fairly recent publication and is highly recommended, with the proviso that the author does not seem to be working from a spiritual belief perspective at all, which obviously skews some of the information for those of us who are.

Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth, by Mark Williams (Author). Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (December 4, 2018).

This is a sweeping history of Ireland’s native gods, from Iron Age cult and medieval saga to the Celtic Revival and contemporary fiction. This is the first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation’s languages (Irish Gaeilge and English).

The book describes how Ireland’s pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era – and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams’s comprehensive history traces how these gods – known as the Túatha Dé Danann – have shifted shape across the centuries.

We meet the Morrígan, crow goddess of battle; the fire goddess Brigit, who moonlights as a Christian saint; the fairies who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves; and many others. Ireland’s Immortals illuminates why these mythical beings have loomed so large in the world’s imagination for so long.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/3iZ660j

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/3gjpRON

Celtic Gods and Heroes (Celtic, Irish), by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt (Author). Dover Publications Inc.; New edition edition (11 Jan. 2000).

A noted French scholar and linguist discusses the gods of the continental Celts, the beginnings of mythology in Ireland, heroes, and the two main categories of Irish deities: mother-goddesses ― local, rural spirits of fertility or of war ― and chieftain-gods: national deities who are magicians, nurturers, craftsmen, and protectors of the people.

This is an interesting scholarly overview, but again – seemingly not written from a spiritual belief perspective at all. This position can really limit the author’s perspective to an academic exercise in which they are working to fit the available information to prove their own thoughts and theories.

All of that being said, these types of book are still to be viewed as essential grounding for those of us approaching things from the spiritual belief side of things. You have to know what information is available and what ideas academics form about it, to give context to your own experiences with the Irish Gods and Goddesses.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/3haPUsF

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/2Q3fZ0G

Early Irish Myths and Sagas, by Jeffrey Gantz (Translator). Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (March 25, 1982).

As with anything else, it is vital that we look at the original source, and not just other people’s interpretations of it – whether they be academic or spiritual, or even both! There are many translations of the ancient Irish tales available, varying greatly in quality and accuracy… but we can start here quite happily.

First translated and published in 1981, but first written down in the 700s CE, these early Irish stories depict a far older world – part myth, part legend and part history. Rich with magic and achingly beautiful, they speak of a land of heroic battles, intense love and warrior ideals, in which the Otherworld is explored and men mingle freely with the gods. From the adventures of [the anti-hero] Cu Chulaind, to the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu – a tale of treachery, honour and romance – these Irish stories are masterpieces of passion and vitality. They have formed the foundation for the Irish literary tradition: a mythic legacy that was a powerful influence on the work of Yeats, Synge and Joyce, among many others.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/2YgItIW

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/3g5lIxG

The Tain (Bó Cuailnge), by Ciaran Carson (Translator, Introduction). Penguin Classics; Original edition (February 24, 2009).

Again, it’s incredibly valuable to see the snippets about Irish deities in their original context, and I love this translation of the Táin almost as much as my favourite by Thomas Kinsella… but this one gets bonus points for looking at the Roscada (poetry) too!

(Likewise, I recommend both of the Cath Maige Tuired – the Battles of Moytura, for original contextual information on the Tuatha Dé Danann… though the print books are difficult to get now. You can find the First Battle Here, and Gray’s Translation of the Second Battle of Moytura Here.)

The Tain tells of a great cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, Queen and King of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the great Brown Bull of Cuailnge. The Mórrígan plays a part, while Cuchulainn resists the invaders single-handed while Ulster’s warriors lie sick from a curse. In its first translation in forty years, Ciaran Carson brings this seminal work of Irish literature fully to life, capturing all of its visceral power in what acclaimed poets Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon individually called one of the best books of the year.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/3hcGHA2

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/3gcbZpk

Pagan Portals – Gods and Goddesses of Ireland: A Guide to Irish Deities, by Morgan Daimler. Moon Books (9 Dec. 2016).

This is the only modern Pagan book I can recommend which deals with this topic, unfortunately, as the rest of what’s currently available at time of writing is grossly innaccurate and/or culturally approriated shite takes. Don’t even bother.

This one though, offers a concise guide to the Irish Gods and Goddesses; their history, mythology, and symbols. Rooted in the past but still active in the world today, the Pagan Gods of Ireland have always been powerful forces that can bless or challenge, but often the most difficult thing is to simply find information about them. This short introductory text looks at a variety of different Irish deities, common and more obscure, from their ancient roots to the modern practices associated with honoring them in, an encyclopedia-style book with entries in easy-to-use sections.

Buy it from Amazon US – https://amzn.to/3kWw2M1

Buy it from Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/2DXXNU0

In some of my own Published Books, I do cover historical/mythological information and personal spiritual relationship with Irish Gods and Goddesses, but I’ll include those in a later blog post in this series, as they will fit better there.

There are of course, many fantastic books that are on my shelves that don’t appear in this list, and in many cases this is no reflection on their worth or value. Choices for my Irish Gods and Goddesses Book recommendations were made factoring in availability (at time of writing), and most general usefulness.

Coming Soon in the Beginner’s Guide to Irish Paganism Series:

  • Online Sources
  • Irish Paganism Books
  • Irish Language Resources
  • Irish Cultural Resources

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About the Author

Irish Author, Educator, and Guide to Ireland. Co-Founder of the Irish Pagan School, Eel & Otter Press, and Pagan Life Rites (Ireland).

Lora O'Brien

Join our Tuath (community, tribe) to get Course and Scholarship info, and regular (free) Irish resources on topics such as Mythology, History, Society, Spirituality, Storytelling and Travel directly from Lora O'Brien and the team at the Irish Pagan School.

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