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At Samhain, Meet Bilé, God of the Dead of Ireland and the Danu, the All -Mother

Author: Alfred Willowhawk, DMsc, MS, Shamanic Practitioner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: October 13th. 2013
Times Viewed: 6,450

Samhain, ( SOW-an) is one of the four major Sabbats of Wicca. It is a time for contemplation on the year past and connection with those who have gone before. In some traditions, there are conversations with the ancestors, dearly departed and others who have had impact on the lives of those who are still on the physical plain. In many cultures, there are particular deities that people connect to during the Samhain celebration. Samhain has components that are both physical and spiritual. On the physical level, it is a time to recall the period when people gathered all the harvest to be utilized during the winter months. On the spiritual side, it is a time to reflect on what has happened during the year: what worked and did not work, changes that were made -- and still need to be made -- in order to move forward into the new year. As the “veil between the worlds” is very thin, it is a great time to see the timelessness of the past, present and future for yourself.

Many traditions celebrate a Feast for the Dead or Dumb Feast either on Samhain eve or during the Samhain ritual to honor those who have come before. There are other festivals that came after Samhain, such as Lemuria, a Roman feast of the Dead, All Hallow's Eve (also known as Halloween) and there is even a Christian holiday called all Saint's Day. All are different ways to celebrate and communicate with our inner selves, our ancestors, and our deities. It is also a time when we show respect to those who have gone before us and impacted our lives. These remembrances assist us as Wiccans and Pagans to maintain the balance and harmony between the light and dark parts of ourselves, our relationships and our world.

Wicca is a religion and spirituality of balance and harmony. In the Celtic mythology, we can see this balance and harmony very clearly. One particular Irish deity that best demonstrates this balance is Bilé ( Bee-LEH) . His is the realm is the underworld. According to myth, this God arrived on the Emerald Isle at Beltaine where he met the Goddess Danu. Previous to his coming, the spirits of those who had left their physical bodies were roaming the countryside sometimes causing havoc with their wailing. Some of them had become banshees and their collective voices kept many an Irishman up with their wailing. Some of the spirits even bothered their living relatives by sitting in their houses and making a nuisance of themselves, preventing their relatives from sleeping by crying, walking around, and moving furniture.

The living leaders came to the Goddess Danu and asked her to find a way to help their deceased relatives pass over to another place where they would not disturb their living relatives. Once the Goddess Danu met and spent time with Bilé, she asked him to lead those people who were ready to “pass through the veil to the other side”. Bilé was not very pleased with the idea of going to the underworld permanently but he agreed as his service to the Goddess in exchange for being able to return to be re-united with her once a year. This became the Celebration of Beltaine in Ireland. She turned him into the representation of a tree which is what his name means. This tree is the World Tree at the center of the Western Sea. It is the doorway or stairway that is utilized by people after they are ready to leave the physical realm and go to the Otherworld or Underworld.

The Irish myth states that he shares his throne with the three goddesses Eire, Banba and Fodla, the three sisters of Ireland, all members of the Tuatha De Dannan. When Bilé went to the underworld with the first group of individuals, they held a conclave and by consensus chose Eire as the Goddess of the physical land we now call Ireland.

Bilé himself returns to the surface to unite with the Goddess Danu only on Beltaine each year. After Beltaine he returns to the underworld where he is the watcher of the Dead. While humans are on the physical plane, he helps people take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences.

The Danu (who is also known as Dana, Ana, Anu) and Don are all considered as mother-goddesses. Danu and Don are the mother of the Tuatha dé Danann and in her aspect as Don married Beli, the god of death. They had several children who were Amathon, Arianrhod, Gilvaethwy, Govannon, Gwydyon and Nudd. These children represent the deities of light. Arianrhod had two children one of the light (Dylan) and one of the dark (Llyr) who is featured in the Mabinogion, the Welsh compendium of myths.

In a similar fashion, the Danu is considered a mother-goddess and was the mother of the race of Tuatha Dé Danann. She was widely worshiped as the mother goddess of fertility and the earth throughout Europe. Her consort there was Bilé (Bile) , god of the dead and She was the mother of the Dagda, who was the chief leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann. They would later become regarded as Celtic deities by the pagan Irish, and as fairies to the Christians. According to the Irish Book of Invasions, the Tuatha Dé Danann were descendants of Nemedians. The Nemedian survivors who followed Iobath, son of Beothach, son of Iarbonel, to the Northern Isles became known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. Iarbanel was the son of Nemed and a prophet.

During the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann, there were four great magical cities located in he northern isles: Manannán Falias, Gorias, Findias and Murias, each one ruled by a druid. Each city gifted the Irish people with a particular magical item. These magical gifts were the talking stone of truth (Lia Fail) , the “stone of destiny” (the stone that the King of Ireland would sit) , from Manannán Falias, the great magical sword, called Freagarthach (the "Answerer") used later by Lugh to defeat the enemies of Ireland, and the Cauldron of Dagda from Murias which could feed everyone in Ireland without emptying.

In Pagan circles:

“…a vivid sense of the character and personality of this goddess has emerged, so that some people can now describe themselves publicly as "ardent devotees of Danu". Also widespread is the notion that Danu's consort is Bile, and that he is either the first male ancestor of both gods and mortals and therefore a kind of Lord of the Dead, or that, because of his name (which means "tree") , he represents the World Tree that is the axis of the universe and of any ritually consecrated area. In the case of "Danu" one particular element should hold our attention: her relation to a specific feature of the Irish landscape, the Dhá Chíoch Anann, two hills in Luachair in West Munster whose shape suggests the breasts of a vast supine woman whose body is the Land itself." -- from: An Tríbhís Mhór: The IMBAS Journal of Celtic Reconstructionism, Vol. 1, No. 4, Bealtaine 1998. 1998 Alexei Kondratiev (Copyright Notice- May be reposted as long as the above attribution and copyright notice are retained)

In all accounts Danu is the great mother goddess and the protector of all of the Tuatha De Dannan. She was closely associated with all the elements and WISDOM was what she bestowed on those who were devoted to her. She was also worshiped as their protectress. Her primary symbols were holy stones, horses – particularly mares -- seagulls, fish, amber, gold, rivers, sea, flowing water, air, wind, earth, moon, keys, crowns. Her tarot card is the Empress.

She "created" the western sea to allow her devotees to travel to the Underworld/Otherworld where they rested until reincarnation. She brings the power of versatility, teaches us to honor and respect diversity within ourselves and within others and reminds us to honor each stage of our physical life. She is the mediator between humans and those of the underworld/otherworld. She instructs her people in their physical lives and calls them to account as they travel to the underworld. She uses the flowing water to wield her magic by clearing stagnant energy and to remove blockages to assist her people in manifestation. As all water flows into the western sea, eventually all must go to the underworld. She has the ability to shape-shift from Crone, sometimes called the Hag, to Mother, Dark Mother, and Maiden. To understand the difference between Dark Mother and Crone, one can look at The Death Carol by Walt Whitman:

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate death.

Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love -- But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?

Then I chant it for thee - I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so - when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee -- adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil'd Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves -- over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack'd cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!

As the Dark Mother she is the guide of those who would pass through the veil notice these lines above -
Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?

Then I chant it for thee - I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so - when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

As Wiccans, we do not fear death. We embrace this aspect within ourselves as a form of transformation. We celebrate this aspect of death during our Samhain celebration. The Dark Mother treads softly as a mother-goddess and when we fail to honor her as light-mother, it is to our own detriment. Wicca is about balance and harmony with all things. How can we ignore this critical aspect of motherhood?

We know that one of the most difficult things in the physical realm is when a mother must bury her child. How much more so is it for the mother-goddess as DARK mother to watch every year as the God grows old, dies and travels to the Underworld to take up his throne for her? It is the promise of rebirth that allows for the forward motion of the individual when a child or loved one dies. So too, I feel the Dark Mother gains her strength as she becomes first Crone then Maiden, at the turning of the wheel.

The Danu reminds us that the power to create our own destinies resides within us. She reminds us that we are innately attuned with the wisdom of our higher self and, through listening to our higher self, we can manifest our own reality. She is there when an individual dies to comfort and guide them to the Underworld, where they will meet her consort, Bile.

In examining this Celtic deity, we turn to the Druidic understanding of Bile as the Sacred Tree. In Druidic circles, this tree is divided into three sections, much like the Wiccan concept of the three “worlds”: Upper, Middle and Lower (or Underworld) . It is also divided into to “columns”; the right hand column is the physical aspect of the tree, and the left hand column is the spiritual aspect of the tree.

The two columns show the relationship between each of the aspects. For example, the sky is connected to the Gods, the people are connected with the land, and the ancestors are connected with the sea. These correspondences help to understand the worldview and frame of reference for the Celtic peoples.

The top of the tree, which is in the realm of the gods or the sky, includes all the aspects of the divine (gods and goddesses) of the Celtic worldview. The overarching all-mother is the Danu in Irish Gaelic and the Don in Welsh Gaelic. The outer ring of deities is made of the grandchildren of the Danu and represents gods and goddesses who are children of the Dagda and the goddesses of the inner ring. Each of the outer ring deities is one aspect that is passed to the Dagda from the Danu. This is why the Danu is considered by many as the All Mother and has all the aspects of the divine female within. She has aspects of the Dark Mother, Mother, Maiden, and Crone that can be accessed by individuals who have a relationship with her.

Her consort, Bilé, traverses the entire breadth of the cosmic spheres from the Underworld to the Upper world as the tree is the overarching God of Life and Death. Here is a chant by Eala Clark, ( Damiara Pysell) to this God:

Bilé, Bilé, God Of Life And God Of Death
Rise Up From Your Darkest Dwelling
Light To Bring, The Land To Bless
Rise Up From Your Darkest Dwelling
Light To Bring, The Land To Bless

As we examine the chant, we see that Bile, as the myth explains, rises from the Underworld to bring light to the new season by his union with his consort Danu. The two of them are the grandparents of the entire Irish and Welsh pantheon.

It is for this reason I encourage individuals who come to seek an opportunity to meet Bilé and the Danu. The Bile stands ever ready to assist each individual in making good choices by illuminating the consequences for their actions. This allows each individual to maintain and re-establish the balance and harmony that is so important for everyone in Wicca.

The Danu, in her Dark Mother aspect, assists us on the road of transformation by releasing into death those things that no longer serve us. As one travels down to the underworld to meet the King, he stands as the loving father who watches and assists individuals to determine when, where and how they might return to the physical world. His throne is Onyx with rainbow colors and striations and he wears a silver tunic and black kilt.

Be not afraid to face the King of the Underworld, for truly he is (as we stated above) the watcher over the dead. He only shows individuals what they need to see to be the totally balanced individuals. He shows what obstacles are to be removed while allowing free choice to do so or not.

Bile Correspondences

Colors: Black and Silver
Stones: Onyx, and any river stone
Chakra: 2nd
Ritual Energies: protection, spiritual guidance and transformation
Symbol: The World Tree

Danu Correspondences

Color: green, blue, silver, and black
Stones: any river stone
Chakra: 2nd
Ritual Energies: matriarchal strength, transformation, manifestation, compassion, spiritual guidance
Symbol: black cauldron filled with water
Animals: snake, fish


"Bilé." Encyclopedia Mythica. 2013. Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
05 Jul. 2013é.jpg

An Tríbhís Mhór: The IMBAS Journal of Celtic Reconstructionism Vol. 1, No. 4, Bealtaine 1998. 1998 Alexei Kondratiev

Copyright: All rights reserved. You may post this article on your site in its entirety and crediting of the author.


Alfred Willowhawk, DMsc, MS, Shamanic Practitioner

Location: West Plains, Missouri


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