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Speaking to the Irish Gods: OIr Lesson 2

Welcome to the second tutorial in Old Irish, in service to the Celtic Pagan / Druidic community!

Note: You may wish to print out the lessons so you can read and follow along with the sound file at the same time. Do read through the lesson first though, and then follow along with the sound file.
In this lesson, we are going to learn how to pronounce the names of Irish deities, a very important aspect of spiritual practice, whether one is speaking about a deity, invoking them, or chanting their name(s). The first pronunciation I will be providing below pertains to pronouncing the deities’ names correctly... say for example, if we were speaking about them in English but want to pronounce their name properly in Old Irish, or if we are chanting deity names (outside of any grammatical context) to explore the resonance of a holy name. 
However, once we attempt to address or invoke a deity, or use their name in an Old Irish phrase or sentence, then grammar comes into play...and there will be changes to the spelling and pronunciation of their name.
This is because in Old Irish there are ten versions of any given noun, depending upon the grammatical situation and context:
1) Nominative - when the noun is the subject of a sentence [The king rides the horse... king is the subject]... and there are different singular and plural forms. 
2) Accusative - when the noun is the object of the sentence [the woman weaves the cloth... cloth is the object]... with singular and plural forms. This form is also used after certain prepositions, which we can learn about later. 
3) Genitive - when in English we would use the word ‘of’ in relation to a noun [‘light of day’... or, ‘the silence of the forest’... in Old Irish, ‘of + noun’ results in a different form of the noun, which expresses both words (with singular and plural forms)
4) Dative - when the noun is preceded by certain prepositions (something we can explore later)
5) Vocative - when we address somebody (singular and plural forms)
So if we wish to address or invoke a deity, we will need to use the vocative form. Generally this involves changing the sound of the first letter of their name. This sound change is called ‘lenition’ (sometimes referred to as ‘aspiration’). Those of you who have studied a modern Celtic language will already be familiar with this.
In actuality, we observed lenition in the first tutorial... for example when a B takes on a /v/ sound in the middle or end of a word. That was lenition. 
Keep in mind that in Old Irish (and this is different from Middle Irish and the modern languages) most lenition is not seen or notated as such; we simply have to memorize the situations in which it occurs (even though it’s largely invisible on the page).
 For example, in Old Irish if I want to say ‘my dog,’ the word ‘mo’ meaning ‘my’ lenites the following word. Cú is the nominative, but if I say ‘my dog’ it’s ‘mo chú’; we can see the lenition by the addition of the ‘h’. 
But only C, P and T show the lenition in writing in this way. So, if I want to say  ‘my mother’ it is written ‘mo mathair’ but the second word is pronounced ‘VAH-ther.’ The M is lenited (but not seen in writing).
In Middle Irish, the orthography of the language changed to show the ‘h’, so we would actually see on the page: ‘mo mhathair.’ The spellings sometimes changed again in Classical Gaelic and then in the modern Q-Celtic languages. 
This is why we see different spellings and why there is confusion about that:
Old Irish spelling Lug, but Middle Irish spelling Lugh. Both pronounced /Loogh/.
Old Irish spelling Medb, but Middle Irish spelling Medhbh. Both pronounced /MEDDuv/. The ‘dd’ is the ‘th’ sound in ‘the,’ and although there is a slight ‘uh’ sound between consonants dd and v, it is actually one syllable. 
So here’s a quick and easy guide to the sound change of lenition in Old Irish, noting the difference between how a Lenited letter is written and how it sounds. 
Lenited B > /v/ sound, but still just written as B
Lenited C > /ch/ sound (as in loch), written CH
Lenited D > /dd/ sound (the ‘th’ sound in ‘the’), written D
Lenited F > silent, no sound; written F (sometimes with a small dot over the F to show it has a sound change). 
[This dot - the punctum delens - was originally used by scribes when they made a mistake, to show that they wanted to delete a letter, rather than scratching it out, which looked messy]
Lenited G > soft /gh/ in the back of the throat, written G
Lenited M > /vv/, a more emphatic ‘v’ sound as explained in lesson one; written M
Lenited P > /f/ sound, written PH
Lenited S > /h/ sound, written S (sometimes with a dot over it to denote the sound change)
Lenited T > /th/ sound as in ‘think,’ written TH
L, N and R experience a very slight and subtle sound change when lenited, but its easiest just to pronounce them regularly. (No change in spelling either)
Vowels don’t lenite, but in some cases an h- may precede them (we won’t get into that now). 
Also, in between certain consonant clusters, a tiny ‘uh’ sound is inserted. We saw this above with the name Medb. This tiny sound is not a separate or additional syllable... So Medb is actually one syllable. 
This little sound is sometimes inserted between the following (and sometimes others): BL, GN, LG, LM, MN, NM, RB, RCH, RG, RM, RN and THN. There’s not full agreement on the use of this, but I’ll notate it below. 
So... in the list below, the first pronunciation of the deity name is the Nominative form (abbreviated Nom.), when we are speaking about the deity in English, or chanting deity name(s) outside of a phrase or sentence. 
The second form is the Vocative form (abbreviated Voc.) used to address or invoke the deity. 
And, when we address somebody, the name is preceded by something called the ‘Vocative particle’ - a separate word ‘A’ (pronounced like short a). 
So if I’m speaking to a woman named Mugain, it would be written “A Mugain,’ but pronounced “A VU-ghen.” If I was addressing Cú Chulainn informally I might say “A Chú.” 
But with male names, in the Vocative there is sometimes an ‘i’ inserted near the end of the male name. For example, if I’m speaking to Cormac, it would be “A Chormaic.” We won’t get into the particulars of that right now, but it will be shown below on a ‘need to know’ basis. 
Old Irish: Female Divine Names
Airmed: Daughter of the physician god Dian Cécht. Pronounced (Nom.) /AHR[uh]-medd/... remember ‘dd’ is the ‘th’ sound in ‘the’. (Voc.) written: A h-Airmed. Pronounced /A HAHRuh-medd/

Banba: One of the three eponymous goddesses of the land of Ireland. (Nom.) /BAHN-vuh/. (Voc.) A Banba - pronounced /A VAHN-vuh/
Bé Chuille: A divine female magician from the Battle of Moytura. (Nom) /BAY CHU-luh/ with a slight ‘I’ sound before the L. (Voc) A Bé Chuille; /A VAY CHU-luh/
Boand: Goddess of the River Boyne. (Later spelled Boann). (Nom.) /BO-und/. (Voc.) A Boand; /A VO-und/
Bríg: Original spelling of name of the goddess Brigid. Goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. (Nom.) /Breegh/. (Voc.) A Bríg; /A Vreegh/
Cailleach: Literally ‘The veiled one.’ Used of old women, nuns. Earliest forms of the folklore character. (Nom.) /CAH-lech/. (Voc.) A Chailleach; /A CHAH-lech/
Clidna: Woman after whom the Wave of Clidna (later Cliodna) was named. (Nom.) /CLIDD-nuh/. (Voc.) A Chlidna; /A CHLIDD-nuh/
Ériu: Goddess of the land of Ireland, for whom it was named. (Nom.) /AYR-yoo/ with a slight short ‘I’ sound before the second syllable. (Voc.) A h-Ériu; /A HAYR-yoo/
Ernmas: ‘Iron-Death’; Mother of the Mórrígan, Macha and Nemain. (Nom.) /EHRN(uh)-vahss/. (Voc). A h-Ernmas; /A HERN(uh)-vass/ 
Étain: Divine woman who features in  ‘The Wooing of Étain.’ (Nom.) /AY-duhn / with a slight short ‘i’ sound inserted before the final N. (Voc.) A h-Étain; /A HAY-duhn/
Flidais: Independent goddess associated with woodlands, deer, fertility and sovereignty. (Nom) /FLIH-ddish/. (Voc.) A Flidais; /A LIH-ddish) [Note: There is a wee error in the sound file; the Nominative form of Flidais should be pronounced with a Lenited D sound]
Fótla: The third eponymous goddess of the land of Ireland. (Nom) /FŌD-luh/. (Voc) A Fótla; /A ŌD-luh/
Macha: Goddess associated with horses, sovereignty, fertility and prophecy. Epithets: Mong-ruad (Red Mane) and Badb (Scaldcrow). (Nom.) /MAH-chuh/. (Voc) A Macha; /A VAH-chuh/. Mongruad: (Nom) /MONG-Roo-udd/. (Voc) A Mongruad; /A VONG-Roo-udd/
Mongfind: Supernatural female figure associated with Samain, kingship and prophecy. (Nom) /MONG-ind/. (Voc) A Mongfind; /A VONG-ind/
Mórrígan (‘Great Queen’) or Morrígan (‘Phantom / Nightmare Queen). Multi aspected goddess of life and death, sovereignty, battle, magic, etc. Epithets / Names included: Anu, Danu, Badb. 
[We are not certain which first syllable is correct - Mór with the fada, or Mor without. Mor is the earliest attested spelling, but since we know there are many earlier manuscripts - some of which were lost - we can’t be certain. In ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld’ I lean towards ‘Mor’ as part of her persona, but ‘Mór’ as more accurate because of the extremely wide range of her attributes and her prominence and importance in the god-tribe, the Túatha Dé Danann]
(Nom) /MŌR-Ree-gun/ with most emphasis on the first syllable, and more emphasis on ‘ree’ than ‘gun’ since it’s a compound epithet. (Voc) A Mórrígan; /A VŌR-Ree-gun/
Other names: (Nom) Anu: (Nom) /AH-nuh / or perhaps /AH-noo /; (Voc) A h-Anu; /A HAH-nuh/. 
Danu: (Nom) /DAH-nuh/ or perhaps /DAH-noo/. (Voc) A Danu; /A DDAH-nuh/. 
Badb: (Nom) /BAH-dd(uh)v/. (Voc) A Badb; /A VAH-dd(uh)v/
Nemain: Third daughter of Ernmas; sister of Macha and Mórrígan. Epithets: Badb; Bé Néit (either wife of Nét, or Woman of War) (Nom) /NEH-vunn/. (Voc) A Nemain; /A NEH-vunn/.  Bé Néit: (Nom) /BAY Nayd/, with a slight ‘i’ inserted before the D sound. (Voc) A Bé Néit; /A VAY Nayd/
Sadb: Divine woman and mother of Oisín with Finn Mac Cumhall. (Nom) /SAH-dd(uh)v/. (Voc) A Sadb; /A HAH-dd(uh)v/
Sinand: Goddess of the River Shannon (Later spelled Sinann). (Nom) /SHIN-und/, later /SHIN-unn/. (Voc) A Sinand; /A HIN-und/
Tlachtga: Daughter of the arch-Druid Mug Roith. Associated with magic and Samain assemblies. (Nom) /TLACHT-guh/. (Voc) A Thlachtga; /A THLACHT-guh/
Old Irish: Male Divine Names
Bodb Derg: A son of the Dagda. (Nom) /BAH-dd(uh)v + Derg or DER-(uh)g/. (Voc) A Bodb Derg; /A VAH-dd(uh)v Derg/
Cían: Father of the god Lug. (Nom) /CEE-uhn/. (Voc) A Chían; /A CHEE-uhn/
Crédne: Craftsman deity, brother of Goibniu and Luchta. (Nom) /CRAYDD-nuh/. (Voc) A Chrédne; /A CHRAYDD-nuh/
Dagda: Multi aspected deity associated with life and death, druidic wisdom, fertility, music, etc. Epithets: Echu Ollathir (‘Great Father of (many?) Horses’) and Ruad Rofessa (‘Red / Noble One of Great Knowledge’)
Dagda: (Nom) /DAHG-duh/ or perhaps /DAHGH-dduh/. (Voc) A Dagda; /A DDAGH-duh/ or /A DDAGH-dduh/
Echu Ollathair: (Nom) /ECH-uh or ECH-oo + OLL-ah-ther/. (Voc). A h-Echu Ollathair; /A HECH-oo OLL-ah-ther/
Ruad Rofessa: (Nom) /ROO-udd Ro-ESS-uh/; (Voc) A Ruad Rofessa; /A ROO-udd Ro-ESS-uh/
Dian Cécht: Divine Physician. (Nom) /DEE-uhn CAYCHT/. (Voc) A Dian Cécht; /A DDEE-uhn CAYCHT/
Goibniu: Divine Smith. (Nom) /GOV-nyoo/. (Voc) A Goibniu; /A GHOV-nyoo/
Luchta: Craftsman deity, brother of Goibniu and Crédne. (Nom) /LUCH-tuh/. (Voc) A Luchta; /A LUCH-tuh/
Lug: Many skilled deity, associated with Lugnasad. Epithets included: Samildánach (‘Of Many Skills’) and Lámfada (‘Of the Long Arm’)
Lug: (Nom) /LOOGH/; (Voc) A Lug; /A LOOGH/
Samildánach: (Nom) /SAH-vull + DAW-nuch/. (Voc) A Samildánach; /A HAW-vull + DAW-nuch/
Lámfada: (Nom) /LAWV-ah-dduh/; (Voc) A Lámfada; /A LAWV-ah-dduh/
Mac Cecht (Son of Plough); Mac Cuill (Son of Hazel) and Mac Gréne (Son of Sun): Three kings of the Túatha Dé Danann; consorts of Ériu, Banba and Fotla 
Mac Cecht: (Nom) /MAHK Cecht/
Mac Gréne: (Nom) /MAHK GRAY-nuh/
Mac Cuill: (Nom) /MAHK CU-ill/
For Voc, A Mac (+ name) = /A VAHK)/
Manannán Mac Lir: God associated with the ocean, journeys and magic. (Nom). /MAH-nuh-NAWN mahk LEER/
(Voc) A Mannanán; /A VAH-nuh-NAWN/
Míach: Son of the physician deity. (Nom) /MEE-uch/. (Voc) A Míach; /A VEE-uch/
Midir: Deity whose name may come from the old Irish verb ‘midither’ meaning ‘to judge’. (Nom) /MIDD-er/. (Voc) A Midir; /A VIDD-er/
Núadu: A king of the Túatha Dé Danann. Epithet: Argatlám (‘of the Silver Hand’). (Nom) /NOO-uh-ddoo AHR-gut-lawv/. (Voc). A Nuadu; /A NOO-uh-ddoo/
Nét: Possible War deity and consort of Nemain. (Nom) /NAYD/. (Voc) A Néit; /A NAYD/ with slight ‘i’ sound inserted before the D sound 
Oengus: Son of the Dagda and Boand. Epithet: Mac Óc (‘Young Son’). This word starts with the diphthong discussed previously that occurs in Táin - ah+ee all in one syllable. (Nom) /AHEENG-guss/ + /MAHK Ōg/. (Voc) A H-Oengus; /A HAHEENG-guss/
Ogma: Brother of the Dagda; Strongman and Warrior. Epithet: Grian-enech (later Grian-ainech), ‘Sun Face.’ (Nom) /OGH-muh/. (Voc) A h-Ogma; /A HOGH-muh/
Grian-ainech: (Nom) /GREE-unn AH-nuch. (Voc) A Grianainech; /A GHREE-unn AH-nuch/
Copyright 2018 Sharon Paice MacLeod; For personal use only. 

Please do not copy, share, or distribute without permission.
Interested parties may be directed to The Three Cauldrons blog. 

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Born on the eve of Lugnasad, your guide and ban-fili/ban-druí is a published author, teacher, and Celtic singer and musician. She trained in Celtic Studies through Harvard University, and has taught Celtic mythology and folklore at the university level. Her research in Celtic myth and religion has been presented at the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork, the International Celtic Congress, the Harvard Graduate Study Group for Ancient Magic and Religion, and the Ford Foundation Lecture Series.

She has served as Faculty at the Celtic Institute of North America and the Omega Institute, and her books include: ‘Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief' (McFarland), ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality’ (McFarland), 'The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe' (McFarland), ‘'Queen of the Night' (Weiser), ‘Early Celtic Poetry and Wisdom Texts: The Three Cauldrons, The Songs of Amairgen, and other Cultural Studies’ (forthcoming) and a chapter in the academic collection ‘Celtic Mythology in the 21st Century’ (University of Wales Press).

Currently she is Director of the Eolas ar Senchais research project, which received international grant funding to research and restore authentic ancient Celtic instrumental music and vocal art forms, and historically attested Celtic ritual in socio-religious context.

She sings in many of the modern and medieval Celtic languages and is a multi-instrumentalist. Her previous musical group, The Moors, has cult status in the pagan world. She leads workshops and distance training programs, with new books, CD's and research on the way.


  • Gillian Van Dien
    Gillian Van Dien Wednesday, 23 October 2019

    Just ran across this again. Thanks so much, Sharon, for sharing this work.

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