Danu (Irish goddess)

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In Irish mythology, *Danu ([ˈdanu]) is the reconstructed mother goddess of the Tuatha dé Danann (Old Irish: "The peoples of the goddess Danu"). Though primarily seen as an ancestral figure, some Victorian sources also associate her with the land.[1][a]


The hypothetical nominative form of the name, *Danu, is not found in any medieval Irish text, but is rather a reconstruction by modern scholars based on the genitive Danann (also spelled Donand or Danand), which is the only form attested in the primary sources (e.g. in the collective name of the Irish gods, Tuatha dé Danann "Tribe of the Gods of Danu"). In Irish mythology, Anu (sometimes written as Anann or Anand) is a goddess. She may be a distinct goddess in her own right[2] or an alternative name for Danu, in which case Danu could be a contraction of *di[a] Anu ("goddess Anu").

The etymology of the name has been a matter of much debate since the 19th century, with some earlier scholars favoring a link with the Vedic water goddess Danu, whose name is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *dʰenh₂- "to run, to flow", which may also lie behind the ancient name for the river Danube, Danuuius – perhaps of Celtic origin, though it is also possible that it is an early Scythian loanword in Celtic.[3]

Linguist Eric Hamp rejects the traditional etymologies in his 2002 examination of the name Danu, and proposes instead that *Danu is derived from the same root as Latin bonus (Old Latin duenos) from Proto-Indo-European *dueno- "good", via a Proto-Celtic nominative singular n-stem *Duonū ("aristocrat").[4]

In mythology[edit]

Danu has no surviving myths or legends associated with her in any of the medieval Irish texts.

Approximate matches Anu and Danand in Irish texts[edit]

Cormac's Glossary, a text that predates the Lebor Gabala Erenn (below), names the goddess Anu as the mother of the gods.[citation needed][b]

The closest figure in Irish texts to a Danu would then be Danand, daughter of Delbáeth. In the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), it is noted the Tuatha dé Danann get their name from Danand's three sons: Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba. These three are called the "Gods of Dannan".[5]

Welsh parallels[edit]

She has possible parallels with the Welsh legendary figure Dôn in the medieval tales of the Mabinogion, whom most modern scholars consider to be a mythological mother goddess.[6]

However, Dôn's gender is not specified in the Mabinogion, and some medieval Welsh antiquarians presumed Dôn to be male.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Danu herself probably represented the earth and its fruitfulness, and one might compare her with the Greek Demeter. All the other gods are, at least by title, her children." — Squire (1905)[1](p 34)
  2. ^ If the reconstructed name *Danu refers to the goddess Anu, then Danu might be a contracted form of the Old Irish phrase *d[ia] Anu ("god Anu") or *[ban]d[ia] Anu ("goddess Anu").


  1. ^ a b Squire, Charles (November 2007) [1905]. Celtic Myth and Legend, Poetry and Romance (pub. domain reprint ed.). Forgotten Books. p. 34. ISBN 978-137500959-1 – via google books.
  2. ^ MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 10, 16, 128. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.
  3. ^ Koch, John, ed. (2006). Celtic Culture: A historical encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 569.
  4. ^ Hamp, Eric (2002). "The Dag(h)d(h)ae and his relatives". In Sawicki, L.; Shalev, D. (eds.). Donum Grammaticum: Studies in Latin and Celtic linguistics in honour of Hannah Rosen. Peeters. pp. 163–169.
  5. ^ Macalister, R.A. Stewart, ed. (1941). Lebor Gabála Érenn [The Book of the Taking of Ireland] (in Old Irish and English). Dublin, IE: Irish Texts Society / Educational Company of Ireland.
  6. ^ O'hOgain, Dáithí (1999). The Sacred Isle: Belief and religion in pre-Christian Ireland (1. publ. ed.). Woodbridge: Boydell [u.a.] p. 65. ISBN 9780-8511-5747-4.
  7. ^ Bartrum, Peter C. (1993). A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in history and legend up to about A.D. 1000. Aberystwyth, Wales: National Library of Wales. p. 230-231.

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