This is the story of Tlachtga. Her name means “Earth Spear.” Her story gives us the name for a famous place in Ireland where to this day, the rites of Samhain are held in her honor. This location is called the “Hill of Ward” and it is near Tara. At this gathering Druids lit the bonfire on Samhain, from which embers were carried far and wide and were used to light the new fires for the new year. The location of the celebration was critical because they believed it to the place where this world and the Otherworld were the closest together.
Tlachtga is mentioned in two pieces of Irish literature, the Banshenchas, “the Lore of Women” and in the Dindsenchas, “the Lore of Places.” In translations by Christian monks, her story has been confused with biblical characters and Tlachtga has been all but forgotten.
From all of these stories of Tlachtga, the earliest we can find reveals her as a goddess (druid) who arrived with the Firbolgs, long before the Tuatha De Dannan and Milesians. She was the daughter of the Chief Druid, Mogh Ruith of Munster. His name means devotee of the wheel, which relates to the sun. Mogh Ruith, a blind man, taught his daughter Tlachtga all his skills. Together they worked with all the best masters of magical knowledge in Ireland and Scotland. from this we know she was a highly trained Druid in her own right.
In one story Mogh Ruith and Tlachtga constructed a fabulous flying wheel named Roath Ramach, a machine they used for sailing through the air. It was said to be made from two pillars of stone. She made the Rolling Wheel for Trian, the Stone in Forcathu and the Pillar in Cnamchaill (Cnamchaill means bone damage). These devices were feared by all and stories were told that any who touched them died, any who saw them were blinded, and any who heard them were deafened. The pillars themselves, represent lightning, which does tie in with the meaning of her name, Earth Spear. Lightning certainly could be seen as a spear thrown to the ground and it could also kill, deafen and blind those touched by it.
Tlachtga can be seen as a goddess of death and rebirth as well as the sun and lightning. Hers is a tragic story, for as she gave birth to three boys, her subsequent death gave power to the land in the process. Her sons, Doirb, Cumma and Muach became the rulers of Munster, Leinster and Connaught. It was said that as long as they were remembered, no one could claim the land. (spoken of in the poem below) However, as we know, that did not last forever. And who knows, it may well be because they were all but forgotten. So, it is that Tlachtga is intimately linked with the symbolic death and rebirth of the land at Samhain.
For Trian – no honour -Tlachtga
Created the red mobile wheel,
With the great Mogh, and Simon she brought
Her wisdom, thus leaving the moving wheel.
Finished stone of Forcarthus she left and pillar of Cnamchaill.
Whoever sees it becomes blind.
Whoever hears it becomes deaf.
Anyone taking from the wheel will die.
[Missing lines in text…]
After the woman came from the east,
She gave birth to three sons in hard labour.
She died, the light & wise one.
This urgent unconceivable news was to be heard by all.
The son’s names were of great import…
Muach and Cumma and Doirb
Others [text missing again]
As long as Banba remembers the names of the
Three sons as the truthful story tells ………….
No catastrophe will befall its inhabitants.
The hill where Tlachtga is buried,
Surpasses all other women,
Remember the name it was given..
The Hill of Tlachtga.
Irish Manuscript Text
Translated by S. Geoghegan.
Tlachtga’s story is tragic. It is possible that she was once a Sun Goddess, highly revered for her fertility and the land. Tragically her story changed so thta now it is her tragic death that is remembered. For this reason, she is a goddess of birth and death, “The Hill of Ward” has been regarded by Druids for eons as the “Temple of Tlachtga.” It is here where the old fires of the Celtic Year are ritually smothered out and a new pure flame is lit for the year ahead.
May Tlachtga be remembered as brave, courageous, and wise, her brightness dimmed by the new patriarchal powers that had invaded the land. May her light of the new year carry you bravely into the dark months ahead and may her light stay kindled until we great the rising sun at its new birth.
Deanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of the Goddess. She is the author of five books. She is the founder of the Apple Branch where she teaches courses in Feminist Dianic Witchcraft, Northern European Witchcraft and Druidism. She mentors those who wish to serve others in their communities. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College and is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine.
14 thoughts on “Tlachtga, a Light for the New Year (Samhain) by Deanne Quarrie”
Interesting story. I am struck by the mythical theme of the goddess who rules the earth until she gives birth to sons who then become its heirs while the goddess dies…This archetype crops up repeatedly as patriarchy is developing its power to dominate.
you are absolutely correct. We always need to keep in mind that these myths – stories were translated by Christian Monks! That is the problem with the written word – it is translated and understood according to the values of the time!
Thanks always for your informative and sensitive writing here, Deanne. It’s so important for FAR to work with and endorse earth-based spirituality. And I love that name you introduce here— Tlachtga — a beautiful image in English too: “earth-spear.”
I thought to include at first the story that came from very Christian sources which say she died after “being raped by the three sons of Simon Magus, her father’s mentor, and returned to Ireland where she gave birth to triplets called Cumma, Doirb et Muach issued from 3 different fathers.” The story that information comes from is very “Christianized” and I just decided to not go there. But clearly her story shows the take over by the patriarchy.
She was one of the original Tuatha De Dannan and so yes, a supreme Goddess of the land. These “characters” were often named after natural forces.
Hi Deanne, thanks for both responses — very interesting and I enjoyed them much. I love that phrase, “natural forces” — so empowering too.
Very interesting. And, yes, tragic. But how is her name pronounced?
tlax-uh is from one source. I listened to some audio sites but this is the only phonetic spelling I could find.
Thanks, Deanne, for introducing us to Tlachtga. It’s always interesting to me to discover pre-patriarchal goddesses, and Tlachtga’s story indicates in many ways that She was one. You mention several. One I’d like to point out is that she arrived with the Firbolgs, before the Tuatha de Danann. The pronunciation of Her name sounds like a lightning strike; tlax-uh! How wonderful!
Call that a momentary lapse – I did say Firbolgs in my article – ye gads!
Oh, and I wonder if originally the fires of the New Year were restarted from lightning strikes, since She’s a lightning goddess?!
Reblogged this on GrannyMoon's Morning Feast.
how cool would that be??
Deanne, it seems that no matter how deep I dig there is always another ancient Celtic Goddess to be discovered. Since their stories were never written down until Christianity had taken over the land, uncovering the truth of their stories can be a real task Thanks for introducing me to Tlachtga. It seems that with many of the ancient Celtic Earth Goddesses there is an element of sacrifice involved, the She dies in giving life to Her people.