Nechtan (mythology)

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In Irish mythology, Nechtan was the father and/or husband of Boann, eponymous goddess of the River Boyne.


According to Georges Dumézil the name Nechtan is perhaps cognate with that of the Romano-British god Nodens or the Roman god called Neptunus, and the Persian and Vedic gods sharing the name Apam Napat.[1]

The name could ultimately be derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *nepot- "descendant, sister's son", or, alternatively, from nebh- "damp, wet". Another etymology suggests that Nechtan is derived from Old-Irish necht "clean, pure and white", with a root -neg "to wash", from IE neigᵘ̯- "to wash" [2][3] As such, the name would be closely related mythological beings, who were dwelling near wells and springs: English neck (from Anglosaxon nicor), Swedish Näck, German Nixe and Dutch nikker, meaning "river monster, water spirit, crocodile, hippopotamus", hence Old-Norse nykr "water spirit in the form of a horse".


He inhabited the otherworldly Síd Nechtain, the mythological form of Carbury Hill.[4] In the Dindsenchas Nechtan is described as the husband of Boann and the son of Nuadu.[5] Elsewhere in the Dindsenchas Nechtan is said to be the son of Labraid or called "mac Namat".[6]

Only Nechtan and his three cup-bearers named Flesc, Lam, and Luam were permitted to visit the Tobar Segais, or "Well of Wisdom," into which nine sacred hazel trees dropped their wisdom-bearing nuts.[7] In that well swam the Salmon of Wisdom, which ate the hazelnuts. Eating one of the salmon could in turn imbue a person with knowledge of all things.[8]


Nechtan or Nectan became a common Celtic name and a number of historical or legendary figures bear it. Nechtan was a frequent name for Pictish kings.[9] Nectan of Hartland, said to have lived in the 5th century AD, is the patron saint of Hartland, Devon. Some however argue that St. Nectan never existed as a historical person, but was instead a Christianized form of the god Nechtan.[10]

St Nectan's Kieve in St Nectan's Glen near Tintagel, Cornwall is said to be named for St. Nectan - though this is a Victorian invention. The place was called Nathan's Cave in 1799.[11] and was named after a local landowner.[12]

The name MacNaughton derives from "MacNeachdainn", meaning "Son of Nechtan."[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Culture, p. 754, citing Dumézil. See also [1]
  2. ^ Peter Beresford Ellis, The Druids (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 134.
  3. ^ Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, s.v. necht.
  4. ^ Edel Bhreathnach, entry on "Bóand/Bóinn/Boyne," in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2006), p. 217.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Boand I, Boand II
  7. ^ Boand I
  8. ^ The boyhood of Fin mac Cumhal In: T. W. Rolleston (ed.) The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland, G. G. Harrap & Co., 1910, pp. 106–115.
  9. ^ Koch, entry on "Aedán mac Gabráin," in Celtic Culture, p. 16.
  10. ^ Gary R. Varner, Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells (Algora Publishing, 2009), p. 26.
  11. ^ Gray, Thomas. The Traveller’s Companion, in a Tour through England and Wales; Containing a catalogue of the antiquities, houses, parks, plantations, scenes, and situations, in England and Wales, arranged according to the alphabetical order of the several counties. London: G. Kearsley, 1799.
  12. ^ Ceri Houlbrook (2016) Saints, Poets, and Rubber Ducks: Crafting the Sacred at St Nectan’s Glen, Folklore, 127:3, 344-361, DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.2016.1197593