Danu (Irish goddess)

In Irish mythology, Danu ([ˈdanu]; modern Irish Dana [ˈd̪ˠanˠə]) is a hypothetical mother goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann (Old Irish: "The peoples of the goddess Danu"). Though primarily seen as an ancestral figure, some Victorian sources also associate her with the land.[1]


The hypothetical nominative form of the name, *Danu, is not found in any medieval Irish text, but is rather a reconstruction by modern scholars based on the genitive Danann (also spelled Donand or Danand), which is the only form attested in the primary sources (e.g. in the collective name of the Irish gods, Tuatha De Danann "Tribe of the Gods of Danu").

The etymology of the name has been a matter of much debate since the 19th century, with some earlier scholars favoring a link with the Vedic water goddess Danu, whose name is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *dhenh2- "to run, to flow", which may also lie behind the ancient name for the river Danube, Danuuius (perhaps of Celtic origin, though it is also possible that it is an early Scythian loanword in Celtic).[2]

In one of the more recent examinations of the name Danu, renowned linguist Eric Hamp rejects the traditional etymologies as fantasy, proposing instead that *Danu is rather derived from the same root as Latin bonus (Old Latin duenos), from Proto-Indo-European *dueno- "good", via a Proto-Celtic nominative singular n-stem *Duonū meaning "Aristocrat".[3]

In mythology

Danu has no myths or legends associated with her in any surviving medieval Irish texts, but she has possible parallels with the Welsh literary figure (or goddess) Dôn, who is the mother figure of the medieval tales in the Mabinogion.[4]


  1. Squire, Charles Celtic Myth and Legend, p. 34: "Danu herself probably represented the earth and its fruitfulness, and one might compare her with the Greek Demeter. All the other gods are, at least by title, her children."
  2. Koch, John (ed.), Celtic Culture: a Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 569
  3. Hamp, Eric, "The Dag(h)d(h)ae and his relatives", in: Sawicki, L. and Shalev, D. (eds.), Donum grammaticum: Studies in Latin and Celtic Linguistics in Honour of Hannah Rosen, Peeters, 2002, p. 163-169.
  4. O hOgain, Dáithí (1999). The Sacred Isle : Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland (1. publ. ed.). Woodbridge: Boydell [u.a.] p. 65. ISBN 9780851157474.

External links

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