Tracing The Origins Of The Tuatha Dé Danann To Greece

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The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in John Duncan's Riders of the Sidhe (1911) (Public Domain)

Tracing The Origins Of The Tuatha Dé Danann To Greece

The Tuatha Dé Danann is one of the most mysterious peoples of the British Isles. Fascinatingly enough, some Celtic traditions place the prehistory of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the Greek islands in ages past. Although scholars often disregard this information as later interpolations, authors like Robert Graves in his well-known book, The White Goddess, did take it seriously, writing: “According to an archaeologically plausible Irish tradition in the ‘Book of Invasions’, the Tuatha de Danaan had been driven northward from Greece… and eventually reached Ireland by way of Denmark…. The date of their arrival in Britain is recorded as 1472 BC, for what that is worth.”

If there is any truth to this tradition, it would perhaps not pertain to classical Greek times but rather involve early Celtic and pre-Homeric traditions. None of these are available any longer, except for what remains of those Celtic traditions mostly in Christianised versions, and what is preserved of pre-Homeric traditions in later Greek traditions. This makes the task at hand all the more difficult and warrants a deeper look into the migration traditions about the Tuatha Dé Danann.  

Migration Legends

Who was the Tuatha Dé Danann? Scholars usually take the name to mean “people/folk of the goddess Danu”, with Danu referring to an ancient Mother Goddess. The Welsh called them ‘Children of Don’. They were regarded as having been of supernatural or divine descent. Among the members of this ancient people count many Celtic gods, some of whom having been worshipped across the Celtic world. They were remembered for having brought civilisation to the Celts.

According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, or The Book of Invasions, which recounts the different settlements on the British Isles that took place through the ages, the Tuatha Dé Danann once resided in the eastern Mediterranean, in cities like Athens, where they were the teachers of the Greeks. In this role they were portrayed as especially skilled in the crafts and magic arts (druidism). Among those early ancestors counted mighty kings, different clans and great poets. In fact, the earliest Druids, namely Partholón and his companions, were also said to have come from Greece. There can be little doubt that this tradition is strikingly similar to the Greek tradition about the Pelasgians who once resided in Athens and were the teachers of the Greeks in matters concerning their mystery cults.

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