Ogma, or Oghma, is one of the Tuatha De Dannan. His name means “To Cut” or “Cutting One” in reference to his pioneering the early Celtic writing system Ogam – named for him. Ogam involved cutting lines into wood or stone to create its alphabet. As the creator of writing, Ogma is considered not only the god of writing, but oration, speechcraft and poetry as well. Poetry in the ancient Celtic sense included the memorization and recitation of vast bodies of knowledge and lore, specific to genealogy, geography and language – it was quite an undertaking! Poets were also skilled in lampooning and had a broad knowledge of politics.
Ogma’s titles included Grianainech (“Sun-Faced”) and Trenfher (“Strongman”). He is the warrior god of athleticism, battle poetry, and is called “The Father of Ogam” for the reasons described above. Ogma is often depicted in a triad with his brothers, Dagda and Lugh, forming a trinity called the Tri Dee Dana, the “Three Gods of Skill.” He is attested to in the X, Y, Z and the Ogam Tract, where he declares he is the father of the alphabet and his carving knife, its mother.
In the Irish texts Ogma’s father is Elatha, a Fomorian king. His mother is Ethliu (also known as Eriu) the Formorian goddess who gives her name to Ireland. Ogma is the brother of Bres, who marries Brigid to help unite the Tuatha and Fomorian tribes, and takes the throne after Nuada. Ogma is the father of Dalbaeth and Tuireann. He is also the father of Taranis, a thunder god associated with Dagda and very similar to Thor. Ogma is depicted as a mighty, heavily muscled older man wielding a club and bow and arrows.
When King Nuada loses his arm – and thus his right to the throne – King Bres demotes his brother from the role of Champion to the King and giving him the menial labor of carrying firewood. During his time of indentured servitude, Ogma impresses Bres with his display of athleticism and combat prowess in competitions.
When Bres is overthrown and Nuada is reinstated as king of the Tuatha, Ogma is reinstated as the king’s Champion. However, with Lugh on the scene, Ogma must defend this position. He does so by challenging Lugh to a boulder-hefting competition, shot-putting rocks which otherwise would take eighty oxen to drag. Lugh wins the contest by hurling the rocks back to the position Ogma lifted them from. When Lugh is given command of Nuada’s armies, Ogma is honored to become Lugh’s Champion. In the final battle against the Fomorians, Ogma wins the sword of the Fomorian king, the Orna, which proclaims the victories of its wielder when drawn. In the Irish tales, Ogma and Indech, champion of the Formorians, defeat each other in combat.
Scholars have linked Ogma to the Gallic deity Ogmios, god of eloquence, who is associated with rousing and inspiring his warriors with impassioned speeches. In the archeological record, Ogmios is depicted as a massive warrior with chained warrior bands in tow. The chains extend from Ogmios’ mouth or tongue, and are attached to the ears of his band. These “prisoners” are described as happily enslaved, following their war chief’s inspiring words, inciting them to victory.
In the Mabinogi, Ogma has been identified as Eufydd fab, son of the mother goddess Don. He is described as a magician and assists his brothers just as Ogma aids his brothers in the Irish lore.
The Roman sources syncretized him with Hercules, and he is thus often referred to as Gaullish Hercules.
Ogma excels in body and in mind: there is no academic nerd and rugby jock dichotomy here. In Celtic culture, eloquence is one of the gifts of old age. Elderdom was not denigrated as it is now, and it bestowed many gifts. Ogma is depicted as a swole, jacked granddaddy – an elderly man who has lived a full life and has a tale to tell. Alongside the wise old wizard motif perhaps suggested by the likes of Óðin, Merlin, or Manawydan, perhaps Ogma provides a template for aging men in staying in robust shape and virile health. His incredible shape – he is compared to Hercules – gives us a vision of becoming an old man that is healthy and robust. In this regard, old age is something to look forward to.
He is similar to a modern-day sports coach. His inspirational speeches and cheering his team along – pumping up his players. Even Ogma’s sword proclaimed his exploits, not unlike a sports announcer.
It’s easy to draw a comparison between Ogma and Óðin, who is a fellow warrior-poet, and god of might in battle and in knowledge. Like Ogma he is depicted as an old man who is virile and strong. Like Ogmios, Óðin is depicted with a retinue of warriors whom he is collecting to march into battle. Ogma’s descendance from the Formorian gods parallels the Æsir gods, who descend from an older generation of deities – the Jötnar – and of the Vanir hostage exchange, whereby gods of one tribe join the other in diplomacy.
“God of Poetry” doesn’t have quite the same connotation in modern English as it did in ancient Irish. The poet, or filidh (“fee-lee”) did much more than rhyme about ex-girlfriends in coffee shops. In addition to essentially functioning as community journalist, Celtic poets had the important political role of roasting and lampooning their political enemies, inflicting the “poet’s curse” which could destroy a person’s reputation. Devastating in a smaller, tribal society. In such a culture, reputation was everything. Ogma was thus a god who won battles not only with strength, but also with words.
Warrior poets were, among other things, entertainers who sang and storied the heroic exploits of great heroes. They served a function in society that today is filled by action movies, from Die Hard, to John Wick, to the MCU. Ogma and his trinity of brothers were all-around superheroes, awesome at pretty much everything, and because of Ogma their stories live on to inspire us.
In Gaelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx) myth, the Cailleach (Irish: [kɪˈl̠ʲax, ˈkal̠ʲəx], Scottish Gaelic: [ˈkʰaʎəx]) is a divine hag and ancestor, associated with the creation of the landscape and with the weather, especially storms and winter. The word literally means 'old woman, hag', and is found with this meaning in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and has been applied to numerous mythological and folkloric figures in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.In modern Irish folklore studies she is also known as The Hag of Beara, while in Scotland she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter.
The Cailleach, also known as the Cailleach Bheirre or Bhéara, and the Cailleach Bheur, or Bhuerra. On the Isle of Man she is called the Caillagh, or Caillagh ny Groamagh. She appears in various Irish poems as Digdi/Digde, Biróg, Buí or Bua/ch. Her name means Veiled or Cloaked One.
She is a hag, or what might sometimes be known as a crone goddess. She is a goddess of Winter, stones and mountains, the wilderness, and is the protectress of wild beasts – specifically red deer who are referred to as her cattle. She is associated with the stone carvings of Sheela na gig, the grinning gargoyle woman stretching wide her enormous vagina who adorns various stone buildings throughout the British Isles.
She is related to pre-Celtic Irish goddess Mor Mormain. Scholars have also equated her with the Jötunn goddesses of Germanic tradition, notably Jörð the earth giantess and mother of Thor, and Skaði the mountain etin-bride of Winter. In her various stories, she is at odds with the forces of Summer.
She is depicted as crotchety and at times sinister, but not truly villainous. The Cailleach is described as having lived seven lives, and in each of these lifetimes she had many husbands, giving birth to many tribes and clans. She laments her lost loves, having outlived them all. In the stories, she mourns her youth and laments being particularly wise (ignorance is apparently bliss).
In Scottish lore, she is also called Beira, Queen of Winter and is the mother of the gods; or alternatively as Duan na Muileartaich, the Water Hag. Her name is related to Gaelic words for owl, nun and witch. She is described as a giantess by the Scots, and as having dark blue skin, white hair, teeth as red as rust, and only one working eye.
In Scottish folklore she also wields a hammer, and travels the land carrying a basket of rocks, which cause thunder as they tumble down from inside. Her banging about the land created many land formations throughout Scotland and Ireland.
There are many place names throughout the Scottish highlands and the Hebrides named for her. Many standing stones are also named for her, usually a result of her turning to stone, turning her family to stone, or dropping a stone from her basket of rocks. She is particularly associated with Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain peak. Tiring of her lazy maid Nessa, the Cailleach has her transformed into Loch Ness, creating another famous landmark.
She is associated with many place names in Ireland, such as the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. The megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in County Meath are also hers, where the rising sun’s rays illuminate an inner chamber filled with megalithic stone carvings.
The commencement of Winter is signaled when the Cailleach washes her plaid dress in “her cauldron” the Corryreckan whirlpool (which is the third largest in the world). Her swirling and swooshing it around stirs the atmosphere. She washes for three days, after which her blue and green plaid is washed out, and now white, as snow gently covers the land.
The Cailleach can take on a plural form of eight sisters called the Cailleachan, or Storm Hags. The worst weather of the season, sleet in particular, are attributed to them. If one Cailleach is cranky – imagine what eight are like!
In the Scottish legends, the Cailleach alternates power with Brigid the goddess of fire, and the two sometimes battle for control of the seasons. Cailleach ruled the land between Samhain and Beltaine, Brigid from Beltaine to Samhain. Some versions depict Cailleach as turning to stone during Brigid’s rule, and Cailleach kidnapping and imprisoning Brigid during her season, beneath Ben Nevis. Aengus, a son of the Cailleach, must rescue Brigid from his mother, and the often turbulent weather during the month of March is said to represent this struggle between the three.
In yet another version, the Cailleach is Brigid, and changes form with the turning of the seasons. She comes into full crone-dom and power on the Winter Solstice, where she generates all of the foul weather. Her power wanes after this apex and she drinks from the Well of Youth. As she does, she becomes young and beautiful again and with her transformation comes the spring. In time, the power of the Well beings to wear off and she begins to age once more.
In Ireland, the Cailleach is associated with craggy, prominent mountains and outcroppings, such as Hag's Head (Irish: Ceann Caillí, meaning 'hag's head') the southernmost tip of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
The megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in County Meath are situated atop Slieve na Calliagh (Irish: Sliabh na Caillí, meaning 'the hag's mountain') and include a kerbstone known as "the hag's chair".Cairn T on Slieve na Calliagh is a classic passage tomb, in which the rays of the equinox sunrise shine down the passageway and illuminate an inner chamber filled with megalithic stone carvings.
The summit of Slieve Gullion in County Armagh features a passage tomb known locally as the 'Calliagh Beara's House'. There is also a lake, where the Calliagh is said to have played a trick on the mythical warrior, Fionn mac Cumhaill, when he took on the physical appearance of an old man after diving into the lake to retrieve a ring that the Calliagh fooled him into thinking was lost.
Aillenacally (Aill na Caillí, "Hag Cliff") is a cliff in County Galway.
The Carrowmore passage tombs on the Cúil Iorra Peninsula in County Sligo, are associated with the Cailleach. One is called the Cailleach a Bhéara's House. William Butler Yeats refers to the Sligo Cailleach as the 'Clooth na Bare'. In County Sligo she is also called the Garavogue Cailleach.
She is often not shown in a favorable light – and yet great lengths are taken to appease and honor her. The times she is revealed as a benefactor are often the times when she decides to reward mortals for their work or their deeds.
In the Scottish tradition Caillech is a deer-herder, and the deer who get away and escape from hunters are said to have been led from harm by the goddess.
Although compassionate to the deer, these acts are associated with curmudgeonly Cailleach keeping food from the people during the lean Winter months. Her walking stick causes the ground to freeze, so not only is she responsible for hiding the deer, she causes the cold in the first place!
In both Scotland and Ireland, the Cailleach was venerated in the making of Carline, a corn dolly (“corn” in Europe referred to wheat prior to Christopher Columbus) from the last sheaves of the season. Carline would be made in the likeness of a maiden for a good harvest … and a hag for a poor one, which would be tossed into whichever field in the community had not finished bringing in that year’s crop. The farmer was then required to care for the corn dolly, keeping her in a little bed and “feeding” her throughout the Winter, presumably making little food offerings. It was fierce competition to not be stuck with little Carline all Winter! The properly cared for Carline would be buried with the first seedlings of Spring or fed to the horses who would do the first plowing.
In Irish tradition she is the sister of Áine, the Summer goddess. On Imbolg in Ireland, or Là Fhèill Brìghde in Scotland, the Cailleach goes out to gather firewood to last the rest of Winter. If she’s feeling extra crabby and decides to make Winter last longer, she will ensure that on Imbolg the weather is bright and sunny, so that she can gather more than enough wood to last her through the longer season. If the weather is poor on Imbolg, it’s a good sign indicating that Cailleach will spend the day napping, won’t procure enough firewood, and so will concede when it is time to hand over the season. Birds seen carrying sticks in their mouths on Imbolg are thought to be helping the Cailleach, or sometimes are the hag goddess in bird form.
She appears in later Arthurian legend as the Loathly Lady, in which a hideous hag is sought to help break a curse that has befallen the land, causing King Arthur to weaken to the point of death. She agrees to Sir Gawain’s request to break the curse, provided he take her as his wife.
Heavy-hearted young Gawain agrees and on their wedding night she transforms, revealing herself to be the beautiful dame Ragnell. She tells Gawain she can appear as a hag by day and beauty by night, or in reverse, and that he must choose. Gawain tells her that he would like for to choose for herself. For his respectful answer, she rewards him by choosing to take her fair form at all times that she is with him.
At Beltane in Scotland, a figure from the community would dress up as the Cailleach, and would have eggs thrown at her, being mocked and ridiculed by the community before she would take a ritual bath of purification, becoming the maiden goddess once more. On the Isle of Man, mock battles would be held between the May Queen and an actress depicting the Cailleach and the May Queen.
The folk tales and observances are nearly endless – a testament to the greatness of the goddess, her influence on mortal affairs, and her position amongst the other gods.