Deities in Welsh Druid Traditions
While many books currently available discuss the old Irish pantheon, most accounts of the deities revered by Welsh and English Druids in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are long out of print. Since these gods and goddesses are central to the Druid Revival tradition and play a major role in Druid magic, an account of them may be useful to Druids interested in the magical as well as the religious dimensions of Druidry.
It probably needs to be said that no solid evidence ties most of these divinities or their worship back to the ancient Celtic Druids. Modern Druidry traces its roots back only as far as the eighteenth century; the Druid movement in Wales, though it drew substantially on surviving fragments of medieval Welsh lore, also relied, like every other living spiritual tradition, on its own experiences and insights. Still, historical authenticity is as irrelevant in matters of religion as it is in magic. The consensus of many hundreds of modern Druids is that the gods and goddesses of the Welsh Druid tradition respond when they are invoked, and this is ultimately the only thing that matters.
Many Neopagan traditions nowadays consider the members of the three great families of Welsh myth—the Plant Don, Plant Annwn, and Plant Llyr—to be gods and goddesses. In the traditions discussed here, however, these beings belong to a second order, superhuman but less mighty than the gods, and subject to time and fate. Students of Platonism, a philosophy much studied by nineteenth century Druids, may recall the difference Plato notes in the Timaeus between the eternal gods and the created gods; a similar concept seems to have shaped the theology of the Druid Revival.
The goddess of the planet Earth itself, as distinct from its biosphere, Ana is the mother of Ced and the grandmother of most of the other gods and goddesses; she rules the deep places of the Earth. Imagine her as an ancient woman with long white hair, dressed in dark robes of archaic design, with a long staff in her hands and ornate rings on her fingers.
The year god who dies and is reborn at the winter solstice, Beli traces out the cycle of the seasons as he passes through the stages of his journey from pale infant to strong young god, to lover and mate of the living Earth, to king, to sacrifice, to pale corpse laid out on the bier of the sky. Imagine him at any of these stages, or more generally as a strong and virile man with golden hair and beard, wearing a red tunic and cloak ornamented with gold, and carrying a long spear and a golden shield.
Another name of Beli, chosen because its seven letters in their Greek form, βηλενδζ, add to 365—the number of days in a year—in Greek gematria.
The goddess of the Earth's biosphere, Ced is the primary female expression of the divine in Welsh Druid lore. Her name means “bounty” or “assistance” in Welsh. She is the spouse and equal of Celi the sky god, and also by turns the mother, mate, and layer-out of Belinus at the various stages of his yearly journey. Imagine her as a beautiful mature woman with long flowing brown hair, wearing a green gown and a cloak made of every kind of leaves.
The god of infinite space, Celi is the primary male expression of the divine in Welsh Druid lore. His name means “heaven,” and he is also called Hen Ddihenydd, the Ancient of Days. According to Welsh Druid tradition he is hidden from human sight and only reveals himself as pure light. Imagine him in the form of the three rays of light, , streaming down from the heavens onto the Earth.
The goddess of the Moon, Ceridwen—the name means “bent woman,” and refers to the shape Americans call “the man in the Moon” and Welsh tradition pictures as an old bent woman bending over a cauldron—is the mistress of the lunar current and the keeper of the secrets of Druid initiation. Imagine her as an old woman with gray hair, clad in garments of red, white, and black, stirring a steaming cauldron.
The god of the life force, Coel is the earthly manifestation of Celi, and has the additional role of god of wild animals and all wilderness places. The fragmentary nursery rhyme about “Old King Cole” seems to be a last dim scrap of folk memory of this god, possibly filtered through stories of a sixth-century British king named for him. Imagine him as a massively built man with wild hair and beard, dressed as a huntsman in russet and dark brown, with stag's antlers rising from his forehead.
The young goddess of dawn and springtime, Elen is also associated with the dragon currents that flow through the Earth and the old straight tracks that channel them. Her legends appear to be filtered through stories about a British princess of the fourth century. She is also known as Niwalen in her role as goddess of springtime greenery. Imagine her as a maiden with golden hair, clad in a short white tunic, her arms and legs bare, dancing in the forest.
The chief of tree spirits and guardian of the forests, Esus derives his name (“lord” in Old Brythonic) from an old Gaulish god, but his role in Druidry seems to have been a result of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Druid visionaries. He sits in the first fork of the sacred oak and teaches the lore of trees to those who seek him out. Imagine him as a man of indeterminate age seated in a tree, dressed in brown and green garments that look like bark and leaves. His hands are long, brown, and strong as roots, and his eyes are very bright.
Another name for Esus, containing the initial H of Hu and representing Esus as the protector and teacher of Druids.
The firstborn of Ced and Celi, Hu Gadarn (Hu the Mighty) is the great Druid god, the master of the element of spirit in all its forms. He is the owner of two even mightier oxen, the “two calves of the Spotted Cow”; the “spotted cow” is the night sky spotted with stars, and the two calves are the two equinoxes that trudge implacably around the circle of heaven, driving the turning mill of time. Imagine him as a mature man of immense strength with the horns of an ox curving up from his broad forehead. His hair and beard are black, he wears a robe of sky blue and a cloak as black as midnight, and light streams from him.
Another name for Elen as goddess of springtime greenery.
Another name for Beli as god of the year.
The daughter of the Sun god Beli, Sul is the goddess of the threefold fire—the solar fire, the Sun; the telluric fire, the heat within the Earth that warms healing hot springs; and the common fire that blazes on every hearth. She is the mistress of healing and of all domestic crafts. See her as an adult woman with golden hair, wearing a white gown, red cloak, and ornaments of gold.