Danu

Danu statue by Maxine Miller

As a polytheist I recognize all gods, I honor many, and I work with and for a few.  But I have a very close relationship with two:  Cernunnos and Danu.  They claimed me as theirs and I serve them as priest.

Cernunnos is first among equals.  He spoke to me long ago when I still thought there was only one god.  He introduced himself again when I began my Druid studies.  I’ve communed with him (intimately at times), I’ve written about him, and I’ve led rituals in his honor.

Danu has been more reserved.  She doesn’t ask for much – she seems to show up when I need her, then step back again.  I honor her in my nightly prayers and I’ve included her in several rituals, including our Winter Solstice working last year (you may remember a little chatter about the Mayan calendar and it’s supposed end…).  But a local friend has asked about her and she seems to be stepping forward again.

So it’s time to write about Danu.

Danu is a very old goddess and like many old, primal deities there are few stories about her.  I haven’t found any that say anything more than listing her as the mother of the Tuatha De Danann – the Children of the Goddess Danu.  Most of what we know about her history comes from etymological studies:  her name is connected to several rivers in central Europe, most notably the Danube.

Danu is associated with the Irish Anu and Danann and the Welsh Don.  There is a Danu in the Hindu Rig-Veda – I’ve read arguments both for and against connecting her to the Celtic Danu.  Given the age of the Rig-Veda and the general migration of Indo-European peoples, it’s a plausible connection.

In this 1998 essay, Celticist Alexi Kondratiev argued that the idea of Danu as the mother of the gods of Ireland is a fairly recent concept.  He went on to say:

The association of Danann with a probably much older figure named ‘Anann’ or ‘Anna’ also suggests that she may have been superimposed on a goddess with more primeval “Mother Earth” traits.

Are these different names for the same goddess or different goddesses who do similar things in different places and times?  I don’t know and I’m not sure we can know.  If any academically inclined readers have sources that didn’t turn up in Google, I’d be interested in checking them out.

That’s about all I can tell you about the historical and mythical Danu.  What I can add to this is my own experience of Danu, my own unverified personal gnosis (UPG) and my own practice.  I went back to my private journals and searched for “Danu” (one of the advantages of keeping electronic journals).  Here are two encounters with her that were particularly important to me.  From November 2006:

I went straight into the vision.  I went up a mountain to a rocky clearing about 2/3 of the way up.  It was night, but the clearing was as bright as day.  There were torches and a full moon, but the bulk of the lighting was supernatural.

From the southwest corner came a goddess.  Tall, pale, long dark hair, 35-45 in appearance, wearing a flowing white robe.  I didn’t know her name – she may be older than any name.  She looked at me and said “be what you need to be” and I knew she meant that I need to be a priest and an exemplar.

And from a week later, this:

In doing some research, I found/remembered the name of the goddess.  She is Danu, the Great Mother of the Celts.

From April 2007:

Avebury – 2007

Avebury was awesome.  The bank, the ditch, and all the stones…  Like Stonehenge, it’s a place of natural power that still has traces of power built-up from spiritual use.

And it was in Avebury that the whole pilgrimage concept congealed.  I felt Danu speaking to me, and she said “you have seen your heritage, and you have seen what can be done.  Now go home and do it.”  It wasn’t a call to go build a Stonehenge in my back yard.  Rather, it was a call (yet again) to be a priest and to help re-create the Old Ways for our time.

In a way, I’m disappointed I didn’t feel a surge of energy or have a literal vision.  But I think it’s better (and when you think about it, far more reasonable) that my message is to honor the past and our heritage, then focus primarily on what we can accomplish here and now.

I see Danu as a mother goddess because that’s how I’ve experienced her.  Like the rivers that bear her name, she brings life to the land and the people.  Also like the rivers, she demands respect.

She is a patient and loving mother, but she is not a divine helicopter parent.  There have been more than a few times when I’ve heard/felt her say “it’s OK, you’re still loved.  Now what are you going to do to clean up this mess you made?”  She’s not unconcerned with my feelings, but she’s more concerned that I grow up and be who and what I’m meant to be.

When deities tell me to write about them it’s because they have a message they want spread.  Morrigan wants people to reclaim their sovereignty.  Cernunnos wants people to care for the forest and the animals – including our fellow humans.

(The gods are complex beings who are more than human.  I would have to be a naive fool to believe I could fully understand what they want, much less that it could be distilled into a simple sentence.  This is what they’ve told me to write.  If it sounds simplistic, it’s because their messages are being filtered through my limited understanding of them.)

Danu is a mother goddess.  She calls us to create, to give birth to new ways of living and being.  She calls us to nurture these new ways until they can mature and stand on their own.  What can you create?  Perhaps more importantly, what can you co-create with your family, your community and your gods?

At last year’s Winter Solstice ritual, our introduction of Danu ended with this call and response.  It seems like an appropriate way to end this post.

The world is changing.  The ways we have been living cannot continue for long.  That which does not serve the common good will fade away.  What will replace the institutions and infrastructure and ways of life that support us today?  Will you create them?  Will you give them birth?  Will you nourish them?  Will you be a spiritual midwife and help those who do?

Danu, Mother Goddess and Lady of the Waters, we will follow your example and become creators of the new world.

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • Ellie V McDonald

    Thank you. I needed these words today.

  • Cindy Shaw-Wilson

    The call and response chant from your last year’s Solstice ritual truly resonated with my thoughts after returning from a 10-day trip to Ireland last month. I hope to use it in this year’s Solstice ritual with my little coven. Thanks!!

  • Hilde

    Thank you for your words, John. Danu’s invocation and response is beautiful. It reminds me of my own efforts to create a new world, and to support others who do. My own Goddess is too ancient to have a name, but my experiences with her are similar to yours with Danu. Your post is confrimation and encouragement.
    Blessings on your priestly journey.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    Good question, Lilia. That needs more space than the comment box provides – I’ll address it in another post.

    • Lilia

      Thank you, John. I didn’t mean to create more work for you, but absolutely appreciate your willingness to explore my question in greater depth. Thank you! :-)

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

        It’s not more work, it’s inspiration!

        • Lilia

          Excellent – always better to inspire thought and words than pains in the posterior!

  • http://spinningofthewheel.wordpress.com/ Áine Órga

    This is a beautiful post, thank you. I’ve never given Danu a huge amount of thought, primarily because of the lack of information on her – I’m a little unsure as to what kind of goddess she might be. This clarifies a lot – but I’ve very interested that your experience with her has been extremely similar to my experiences with what I understood to be the Morrígan. A slightly different tone, perhaps, but very similar in her message and mode of appearance. Admittedly, I understood her as Morrígan simply because she is the deity I am most attached to theoretically.

  • Juan Gonzales

    All rivers ending in the Black Sea bear name of Danu. Search 4 Black sea deluge. In this area is also Aratta and Kamyana Mohyla in Ukraine.
    I think vedic supreme mother was Tara= star. From her is Istar and Ostara. Also el Hill of Tara in Ireland.
    Tara was also called Terra Mari. She was also goddes of wisdom and her symbol was flower. Wisdom=Sophia=Baphomet and symbol is rose. If they put rose on cross thats mean woman- rosicrucians.

  • Kayja Athena Tigris

    It was pretty clear for me. Though I had always assumed that Athena claimed me, I never really heard her call until Cernunnos called me recently. He was quite clear after the first 2 visits. On the 3rd visit, I felt his antlers on my head and they were heavy. At that point, Athena intervened to keep me from being overwhelmed. They are now waiting patiently for me to be ready for any requests they have of me. I’m not quite there yet. :-)

  • https://www.facebook.com/SpiralsOfDanu Martin Adil-Smith

    This may sound a bit random, but do you know where I could buy that figuerine?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I think I got mine through SacredSource.com. I’ve seen it offered by several other online shops as well.

  • Jim

    John, I came across this page, today, while I was searching for other things related to Danu. When I read your account from November ’06 a chill ran through my body. Allow me to share why:

    A few years ago, when I had become spiritually lost, I had gone on one of my favorite hikes to a remote lake in the mountains. While there, I openly questioned the existence of a god, any god, and asked for something, anything, to guide me to find peace. All I got in return was silence. Just as I had become frustrated and ready to leave, the wind blew into my face for just a brief moment, then I heard it… the rushing river in the distance. I felt calm, and let the sound wash over me as if I were in the river itself. I closed my eyes and pictured its power, and its grace. And then it happened… this vision came to me as real as the stone beneath me, and the trees around me:

    I emerge from a well trodden path into an open meadow littered with large stones. It is neither day or night, yet I see the full moon. There are stones, upon which are lit torches, lining the edges of the path I just walked.
    A young woman, clad in a white dress, fit to her form; the hems edged with colors of the Earth, dark hair flowing over her shoulders, and a calming smile, approached from the south-west, stops before me and opens her arms wide. Without a spoken word I hear her voice, “You are mine, and I am yours. Seek solace in me, and I will hold you close.”

    Thank you for allowing me to share this.

  • Edna Pixie Henrich

    thank you for sharing these inspiring words. I too am a child of Danu. I feel her presence daily. I wish there was more out there about her, but then- I know she is my Mother and I am her child and sometimes, that is all that is needed.


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