The Celts were fascinated by the number three – triple designs, images and triadic ideas. The Goddesses and Gods who related to the mysterious rather than the mundane nature of life were always worshiped in threes. Unlike the Greek triple goddesses who represent the maiden, mother and crone, the Celtic triadic deities reveal the mysterious, unexplainable aspect of nature and human existence. These triple Goddesses are doorways into the unknown and unknowable.
Tailtiu is part of one of the Celtic primary triads. This triad of Anu, Danu, and Tailtiu is one of sovereignty reminding us of the cyclical nature of reality and the mysteries of the deep heart which transforms the ordinary into bright gold. They represent three different aspects of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Anu is the source, Danu is the movement and Tailtiu is the endurance inherent in this cycle.
Tailtiu, Celtic Earth Goddess, is one of vigor, strength and endurance. Her name means “Great One of the Earth.” It is She who cleared the trees from large areas of land so it could be tilled, planted and harvested. She is most associated with the Plain of Brega which lies between the Boyne and the Liffey rivers. This area is strewn with sacred ritual sites like Tara, Brug na Bóinne (Newgrange), and Knowth. She was associated with crabapples, the only apple found in Celtic lands in ancient times, which in the Celtic worldview were symbolic of rebirth. She is a Sovereignty Goddess associated with the harvest, especially wheat. Inherent in the harvest is the death of the growing season and the seeds of rebirth. All of this is Tailtiu.
She was the daughter of Mag Mor, which means Great Plain, making her the daughter of the Land itself. She was married to Eochaid mac Eirc, the last Fir Bolg High King of Ireland (bronze age Celts). He named his capital Tailtiu (Telltown) after her.
Though the stories of Tailtiu are lost to us today, we can safely assume that whatever Her husband was credited with doing, She did or was heavily involved with doing. During the ten year reign of Eochu mac Eirc the first system of justice in Ireland was established and the land was fruitful.
Eochaid was killed during the invasion of the Tuatha De Danann (iron age Celts) at the battle of Mag Tuired but Tailtiu the ancient goddess survived. In the aftermath of the deciding battle She arrived and created a plain, which within a year’s time was covered with clover. She brought life where destruction reigned. She brought hope after the despair of war.
She was married a second time to Eochu Garb of the Tuatha De Danann, also called Duach the Dark. Some accounts say that Lugh, Sun God of the Tuatha De Danaan, arranged her marriage to Eochu Garb. Others say that Lugh, who was the foster son of the Sea God Manannan mac Lir, was nursed by Tailtiu. But all accounts credit Tailtiu as being Lugh’s foster mother – and who better than a primeval Earth Goddess to nurture and foster a young Sun God.
During the reign of the Tuatha De Danann, Tailtiu/Telltown remained a stronghold, a seat of government and an important sanctuary.
After Lugh became king, Tailtiu cleared the plains of Ireland, creating space for agriculture. At the same time she bade her husband, Duach the Dark, to clear the wood of Cuan for her future grave. Her love of Her people and Her land propelled Her but alas She pushed beyond her endurance, strength and vigor and died of exhaustion. She sacrificed Herself to give life to Her people.
Lugh buried her in the plain of Midhe where Duach the Dark had cleared the land. He created a mound over her grave and ordered fires to be lit there. He also ordered games and sports to be played every summer in Tailtiu’s honor. This festival, held on August 1 -2 , became known as Lughnasadh.
The mound Lugh created is known as the Mound of Hostages. Situated in fields of clover, the annual Taltean Games included many skills: feats of strength, skills with weapons, bardic competitions, and of course horse racing which was by far the most popular display. The Taltean Games of Lughnasadh, a festival that is both funerary fair and harvest fest, are older than the Olympic Games, and were celebrated as late as the 18th century.
Tailtiu is of the Earth. She comes from the Earth and She returns to the Earth only to come anew. She prepared the land for tilling; Her sacrifice gave Her people the harvest they needed for survival. Tailtiu is the living being which is the Earth. She is associated with grain, apples and grapes. She is the fertility, wildness and abundance of Nature. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth endures through Tailtiu.
Tailtiu reminds us to be grateful for the sacrifices made by our mothers, our fathers, our friends and families, ourselves, our earth; sacrifices which provide us with the sustenance of life. Tailtiu reminds us to take joy in the fruits of our Earth. Tailtiu, with gratitude and joy, guides us to an understanding of the sacrifices we must make in our role to protect Mother Earth. Call on Tailtiu as you celebrate the bounty the Earth provides and work together to return Her to balance.
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and sells real estate part-time. She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.