February starts with Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of the returning light and the feast day of Brighid. She is, of course, the goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. It is said her name is derived from “high or exalted one,” but it is sometimes put forth that the name Brighid is derived from brio-aigit, “fiery arrow,” which is certainly a fitting name for a goddess associated with three fires: the hearth, the forge, and the flame of poetic inspiration. In Irish tradition, poetry and seership are interwoven, so Brighid is often seen as the imbas (or divine inspiration) behind divination and prophecy as well.
However, the month of February also brings Valentine’s Day, the origins of which may reach back into the mists of a time before the goodly saint’s name was attached to it. Be that as it may, there must always be balance, and along with our beloved Brighid, some with Irish ancestry also honor a Celtic God in February (at Imbolc) who is less known in the popular lexicon: Aengus Og (Angus the Young). Aengus is the Celtic God of love, youth, and poetic inspiration (that last bit coinciding with the attributes of Brighid). As February is deep within the Dark Half of the Year (from Samhain to Beltaine), and is traditionally a time to go within, reflect, and incubate our futures, it makes sense that Brighid and Aengus both inspire that kind of insight.
Of course, like all the Tuatha de Danaan (Children of Danu), Aengus is complex. He is the son of the Dagda (the Good God, or allfather) and the river goddess Boann, who had an affair. To hide her pregnancy (because she was already married to Nechtan and he to the Morrigan!), the Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months so that Aengus was conceived, gestated and born in one day. (In classic Irish irony, a “love child” becomes a love god.) Later, when he came of age, he took the Dagda’s home at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) from his father by a trick of the language. He asked his father if he could stay there for “a night and a day.” The Irish language has no indefinite article, so the asking was for “night and day” – in other words, eternity.
Aengus was very popular with the ladies. From one story in particular, The Dream of Aengus, we learn that Aengus sees a particular woman in his dreams for a year, and he falls in love with her. His mother and father both search for this woman, and she is found after the third year at the Lake of the Dragon’s Mouth. Aengus goes there and finds 150 girls chained in pairs; the woman from his dreams, Caer, is one of them. Every other year at Samhain, the girls all turn into swans and remain so until Samhain of the next year. Aengus is told he can marry Caer if he can identify her in her swan form. Aengus turns himself into a swan and they fly away, singing beautiful music that put all listeners asleep for three days and nights. (This is one of the reasons swans are sacred to the Irish and protected in Ireland to this day, along with the Children of Lir — but that’s another story for another time.) How interesting that swans are known to mate for life! We often see a pair of swans depicted face-to-face with their necks creating a heart shape, symbolic of love.
In other legends, Aengus was able to repair broken bodies and return life to them — at least, temporarily. He loved his foster-son Diarmuid so much that when Diarmuid was killed, Aengus took the lifeless body home to Brú na Bóinne where he “breathed life into it” whenever he wished to speak with Diarmuid. Perhaps we might call on Aengus to help us converse in the deepest dark of the year with those loved ones who have crossed over.
If you enjoyed reading this bit about Aengus Og, Irish God of Love, Youth, and Poetic Inspiration, you may want to join us for the Celtic Wheel of the Year Series, where you will learn much more about the traditions, tales, god/desses, heroes, and animals associated with the Irish Feast Days throughout the year.