Ruadh Rofhessa – Red One Great in Knowledge
I don’t remember where I first heard of the Dagda.
It seemed fitting to start with a confession, just dive straight to the start of it. I don’t have a grand story about how he revealed himself to me, or my first time reading his name and being enraptured. I had been reading myths and legends since I was very small and I simply cannot pinpoint the exact moment of discovery.
Was it the first reading of the Second Battle of Mag Tuired? Where the Dagda says:
“I will fight for the men of Ireland with mutual smiting and destruction and wizardry. Their bones under my club will soon be as many as hailstones under the feet of herds of horses, where the double enemy meets on the battlefield of Mag Tuired.” That is certainly something that would get my attention. The cadence and imagery of destruction makes my blood rush.
Was it when I read “How the Dagda got his Magic Staff” and his use of trickery and wit to gain the item of power? He was roguish, he was entreated to compassion, these were all things that would have endeared him to me.
Was it when I was reading of the Morrigan, and learned of their meeting by the river? There is something primal and complete in that story. No matter the translation it calls out to me. I may have met Him through Her, it is not impossible.
It is unknowable at this point. One thing I can tell you, is that my first connections with him were while learning.
We will pause here to unpack that particular turn of phrase, “my connections”, as it is one I hear often, and one that seemed to kick off this particular request from the Good God to myself. They question you will hear often is:
“How do I connect to him?”
“Connect” is the root there and the “how?” is the mystery, at first glance. But let us look again. “Connect” is one of those wispy magical words that can mean many different things depending on context and who you are talking to.
When I say “connect”, I mean the feeling of being in alignment with the energy or spirit. Connecting with the Dagda for me, brings about particular physical and emotional feelings that I have come to identify as his presence. It also means being in the presence of subjects, things, symbols, and actions that are things he enjoys or takes notice of.
This entire multi-part blog series is about the various ways I, personally “connect” to the Dagda.
That being said, my impression is that when some people say “connect” they may mean, a ritual/incantation/process that puts them into a trance/meditative state where the Dagda comes to them and gives them a message or speaks to them.
If that is what you are looking for you will not find it here. It just has not been my experience with him, or any of the Gods, and not what I mean when I say “connect”.
Instead, I will direct you over to Lora O’Brien and her amazing Journey to the Irish Otherworld and foundational Journeying techniques. She often gives the class, online and in person, even away from her beloved island, while she is traveling which is much to the world’s benefit. That is the method that I recommend and would trust for that type of “connection,” and it would be in the Irish Otherworld that you may be able to meet the Dagda in that manner. Lora is a wonderful teacher, she will give you excellent tools and her audio journey’s have actually worked for me. I have a history of not being able to meditate or journey, so that was super impressive to me. And even if you do not have that particular type of connection while journeying, you will still gain a lot of personal insight.
For those of you that are ok with perhaps a little less glamorous form of “connection”, thanks for sticking around lol, and I will continue my tale of connecting through learning.
One of the Dagda’s many titles is Ruadh Rofhessa, which Mary Jones’s Celtic Encyclopedia has as meaning “Red One Great in Knowledge”, which as far as everything I have read seems legit. It shouldn’t be surprising then that he encourages, enjoys, and facilitates the quest of knowledge.
When I first discovered that particular title of his, whenever that was, it was one of those “ah ha!” moments. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place, another treasure chest opened. For me at least, a large part of my spiritual path and growth has also been one of self analysis and discovery. Part of feeling able to connect to the divine is being able to see parts of the divine within my own mortal self and recognize it in the world around me. When I first started to feel the affinity and draw to the Dagda, much like when I felt the affinity with the Morrigan, I spent a goodly amount of time trying to decipher what was my own confirmation bias of wanting to be in alignment with the powerful generous mighty Good God and how much just seemed true.
This was the first correlation that made the whole affinity seem more than just the desires of my heart. Yes, I want to be strong, and so may want an affinity with a strong deity. Yes, I enjoy food and pleasure, (who doesn’t?) that hardly seemed substantial enough. But! I am a nerd. Always have been. A book worm, as well as a bit of jock. Following that thread and the fabric it wove with all the other aspects of the Good God, devoting time and worship to him felt more than personal inclination. That being said, at this specific time in my life when I was looking for more than just personal inclination to my spiritual practice, I also learned that it was a silly and somewhat vain notion that I no longer hold with. Respecting the Gods and the culture they are from is a more important foundation, for me the most important. But I digress.
Now, if you are here and have had a passing interest in Gaelic Polytheism, or Polytheism at all really, you will have no doubt already come across the concept of this being a spirituality with homework. I won’t belabor that point any more, in fact what I will say is that I don’t actually think you have to get a degree in Celtic or Irish studies and read dry academic papers all the time to have a wonderful living spirituality with the Dagda or most of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
I do think you’ll need to learn however. I just happen to enjoy learning by looking over thesis and papers on archaeological finds and the breakdown of Medieval Irish bathing customs. I have several Google Scholar Alerts that are set up for when new things say “Ancient Ireland” and a few other keywords, because I’m a nerd and even though I didn’t pursue higher education I was privileged with a decent enough education to make those dry academic writings more accessible to me.
Learning however is a process that doesn’t have to happen in the clinical academic way and certainly not when it comes to learning that will bring you closer to the Good God.
You will rather quickly run out of articles about the Dagda specifically (unless you are fluent in reading French, then there is a tasty but expensive academic book that would likely give you much more time to chew through). Learning about his people, about Ireland, about the real people living there now and their history and struggles, will all bring about his energy. He is a deity of the people. A Chieftain. You don’t have to be specifically learning about him to learn about him.
You don’t have to read articles to learn either. The stories are far more important. They have been to me.
Stories, and especially the Irish myths, have so much to teach us and in such a deep way. You can read a story once and learn a certain detail, or catch a specific theme, then when you read it again you will learn completely new things. They are that rich with information and have a way of exposing pieces of ourselves that changes with our understanding. As you learn more about cultural context, history, and even as you just learn more about life, you will get more out of the stories. Which is why I read them often. I try to read multiple translations (unless I know they are bad translations). Revisiting them often has proven to be on the centering and rejuvenating parts of my practice. A type of coming home.
Learning the stories also helps to recognize and feel his presence. As you are reading about the great feats and the battles where he is present, you might start to take note of emotional and physical effects that regularly occur and signal his presence, his energy. Once I recognize it in the lore, I am able to identify it out and about in the world. Learning his stories and his people stories also means that I am able to tell them to other people and keep the names and deeds of the Gods alive and in glory.
It doesn’t just end with the old myths however. He is alive and present in new stories being told today, which are also amazing ways to connect and learn about him. There is going to be a resource section down below, however, this particular resource just needs more highlighting. You can get a lot from the old myths. Personally, every time the Dagda makes an appearance in them, he leaps from the page. A mountain of vitality, humour, loyalty, wisdom, strength, and more. That being said, there aren’t a lot of them and I found myself thirsty for more. More that depicted those things that many people didn’t seem to notice about him. At the time, and frankly until recently, his name was not known in the broader pagan circles that I had started communing with. To them he was a byline in bigger stories with shinier deities, or was the oafish male god no one really knew what to make of. I threw myself into making a case for him beyond this shallow understanding. I did it without conscious effort. He was ever present in my home, in my actions of hospitality, in my service to my community and speaking of him and his deeds would inevitably bring out the enthusiastic impassioned side of me. Yet, while several people came to understand him through my serving him, but that never seemed…enough? I couldn’t possible do it justice. An introduction sure, but I felt there had to be one story to show them the breadth of what made the Dagda, the Dagda, and why one would want to be devoted or honor him. But I could never decide which that was, frequently deciding it didn’t exist… and then, like magic, there was.
One of the side effects of always learning, is that it takes you beyond your comfort zone and you are introduces to new ideas, new people, new things. In the continued quest for learning of Ireland, my dear sister Victoria, introduced me to Lora O’Brien’s work, who in turn then brought the work of Jon O’Sullivan, aka An Scealai Beag, into my world. A modern Bard of the Dagda, forging new tales of the Good God. I highly recommend you read all of his stories on his blog. They all have an amazing depth and insight, and really from the old myths and these there is plenty for a starter kit to build a connection to the Dagda. All that being said, there is one story that I feel, encapsulates the depth and breadth of the Red One Great in Knowledge and his realness. It is a story that if I had an inclination to make priesthood to the Dagda would be one of the required readings. The story is “The Dagda’s Work”. We got to hear it told by Jon at PCon 2016 in ritual and I think I can safely say that was one of my favorite most cherished rituals to date. Go read it. Leave a comment for Jon. Come back and gush with me about it. I could talk about that story for hours.
All that being said, learning and connecting through learning, doesn’t just start and end with articles and stories. That might be evident in the above mentioned story 😉 One of the big things that I have learned in being devoted to the Dagda, is that it is important opening up your mind to the process of learning in all parts of your life. I try and remember that in my life. Learning is good. I can always learn more, really I know very little in the scheme of things. Learn things from people with different experiences than me. Learn from the daily acts of being a human being and having duties and obligations. Learn from nature and it’s capacity to thrive and the wisdom in it’s machinations. Learn from the skills that I already know and the ones that I’m still trying. Learn from the stories and media that permeate our culture. Learn from the art I create and is created around me. In all things learn.
I try and support educational measures and be supportive of those around me in learning as well. We as a society need to get into a mindset of encouraging learning, nurturing it, making it thrive. That change and attitude has to start with me in order for the change to start anywhere.
That’s where he comes in. A warm hand at your back supporting and encouraging you. The hearty pleasure at seeing others enjoyment in expanded their knowledge and being open to learning. The heavy weighted pressure in those situations where your beliefs and knowledge is being questioned and it is a moment to brace and gain more wisdom by opening up or be battered by my own close mindedness.
The first step on my path of connection with the Dagda was in learning. Learning his names, his stories, the people who were dear to him, his enemies. In learning of his culture, and of the history of the island that is his home. Learning of the troubles and triumphs of the people who still live in Ireland and are keeping it alive. Learning the language that is native to Ireland, and the words that shaped the stories. Continuing outwards and learning of the land I live on and the colonialism and history here. Learning of the people around me and our struggles and victories. Learning of the values and virtues that I hold dear, and why, and where do I find them in my life. Learning skills and facts and knowledge, and the happiness and strength it brings. It started with learning. It continues with learning, always learning.
In that vein, I will end this long rambling tale with resources you might be interested in. This is in no way an exhaustive list, or even that long of a list, (because eventually I realized I just need to post this blog). Think of it as a starter pack.
Articles specifically about the Dagda:
Myths and Stories:
Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective – Online translations of many of the Myth cycles.
Other Resources/ People whose writing you should read:
Lora O’Brien – If you can take any of her classes, take them. Become a Patron if you can, it’s worth it. I recommend all of her books, especially the Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality. If you are totally new to Irish Mythology, Lora has a great post on where to start.
Living Liminally – Morgan Daimler’s blog. Lots of wonderful translations and footnotes with bibliographies. A treasure trove.
Coru Cathubodua’s Reading and Resources – This page has soooo many good articles and reading sources. Yes it is heavily focused on the Morrigan but there is a lot of amazing cultural, mythological, and historical pieces. Super inspiring, I should get my resources in such fine order.