[Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my recent ‘The Queen of Serpents – The Serpentine Figure Of The Indo-European Earth Mother’. Given some recent inaccuracies around Tuatha De Danann that have appeared in circulation, it seemed an ideal time to present this as something of a correction. The segment of the original article immediately prior to this is discussing the Scythian Dragon as Mother Goddess, however that has been excised to focus more upon the general Indo-European typology that this is also an expression of – that of the Waters, River Goddess, as Mother To Us All. And, in so doing, hopefully burnish the image of Danu somewhat from the present misunderstanding as a mere ‘Mother of Demons’ (and/or ‘Europeans’, apparently) ]
[I]n the course of various of my previous works, we have earlier seen how Aditi is hailed as both Earth (Mother) and a Caelestial Mother figure. An ‘All-Mother’ of sorts to go with the ‘All-Father’. In this latter role, the Mother of the Skies, it would seem logical for Her to also be closely identified with The Waters that are the liminal sphere about the border of the Universe. And, indeed, there are various Vedic verses to this effect – Devi Vak in RV X 125 pointedly identifies Her Home as being in The Waters, in the same line that She is singing of ‘bringing forth’ the Father upon the Summit of the World. However it is also quite directly stated that these three elements – the Waters, Aditi, and the Earth – are One, a single Mother … a Mother to the Gods. RV X 63 2: “Ye who were born from waters, and from Aditi, and from the earth, do ye here listen to my call.”
I would also submit that what we find recorded in the Celtic mythology – where the Gods are spoken of as the Tuatha [‘Tribe’] De [Gods – like ‘Deva’/’Deus’] Danann – expresses functionally similar conceptry. There, the ‘Danann’ in question is the Mother of the Gods – in a role quite akin to how Aditi is the Mother to the Adityas [and this term is evidently intended to be understood rather more broadly than ‘just’ the Seven or Eight (or, in some cases, Twelve) Solar Deities – RV X 77 refer to the Maruts in such a manner]. [There are also some fragmentary supports for this concept to be found in other Indo-European mythological canons – the mention made in Homer of the Oceanus as a parent to Hera, for instance; or the Norse mythology having the initial generation of Gods being ‘thawed out’ from the Ice that is a strong functional correlate for The Water(s) in those frosty Northern climes].
So who is this ‘Danann’ ? Presumably a similar figure to ‘Danu’ [indeed, the nominative for ‘Danann’ is also ‘Danu’, although I have kept the genitive form for the Celtic to avoid confusion with the Vedic] – a Wife of Kashyapa in later Hindu conceptry, just as Aditi is [and I would go so far as to suggest that in archaic conception, these would have been the same figure with different ‘elemental’ associations; with Kashyapa being in the position in these later tellings of the Indo-European Sky Father. Handily, this may also assist to ‘reconcile’ the unresolved questions around the potential co-identification of Danann and Anu in Celtic mythology – the latter being “Earth’ associated, as Aditi also is, and another ‘Mother of the Gods’; Per my schema, there is no contradiction in these accounts … just the One Goddess with two names and ‘elemental’/functional associations].
Who is ‘Danu’? A term for a Water Goddess, from PIE ‘Dehnu’, that also occurs as a somewhat misunderstood figure in the Vedas . Fascinatingly, this “Danu” term is also a Scythian one – where, to the surprise of nobody by this point in the piece, it refer to a River. Indeed, the Dnieper [that river that is also labelled the Borysthenes in Herodotus] has as its ultimate etymological origin precisely this Scythian and thence Proto-Indo-European term. [There are quite a range of Rivers which bear ‘Dehnu’ derived hydronymy – the Dniester, the Don, the Danube, a Danu, and still others besides. It would therefore be rather premature to presume that there was an especial linkage of The Goddess to that particular ‘Danu’-derived River; although perhaps for the Scythian group in question whose accounts were supplied to Herodotus, the Dnieper had a similar saliency to ‘Father Tiber’ for the Romans – and they had indeed re-congealed their otherwise pan-Indo-European (non-residual) origin mythology to be aligned to this river specifically as the loka-lized embodiment of Her.]
What does this mean? That this Goddess that is linked to the Sky Father deific , this Mother Goddess , bearing the name of a River (but also the Earth) in the Classical renderings of the Scythians’ origin myth … has exactly the name underlying that we ought expect for the (ultimate) Mother Goddess of the Indo-Europeans as attested in various other, quite far-flung [all the way from India to Ireland, if not further] IE mythologies. And that we can viably ‘fill in’ the incredibly fragmentary characteristics and understandings of this Scythian figure that have come down to us, by linkaging the Goddess in question (now restored to Her true status as a Goddess) with those aforementioned parallel IE expressions from elsewhere – especially The Vedas.
This also helps to tie all together the conceptual association of this Goddess of the Waters with the fertility not only of Herself in bringing forth The Gods – or, for that matter, the first generation of Man [whether Manu or Targitaus – or Romulus and Remus borne of Rhea Silva [‘Earth Forest’, to translate somewhat directly] via the River] ; but with the land itself (we should perhaps say ‘Herself’). After all, in the absence of the essential life-giving waters, few plants nor animals shall thrive. And it is precisely the coming of the Rains from The Sky Above that bring up the ‘shoots’ of new life in a not entirely incomparable manner to the rise of sharp-pointy serpents from their holes in the wet, nurturing Earth.
However, there is a perhaps more direct reason for the comparison of this Danu / Borysthenis figure that we otherwise know as a Water Goddess , with the creature that is the colossal Serpent or Dragon – hence, assumedly, why Herodotus and Valerius Flaccus et co reported upon this Goddess as being such a sinuous specimine.
And that is due to the manner in which a river flows across a surface – which is rarely in a straight line unless the force of man or some other shaper is involved. Instead, the course of the river twists and curves, meanders in its flow – almost akin, we might surmise, to the coiling thrust of the movement of the Serpent. The River, in other words, is a Serpent, a Life-Giving Serpent, of Water(s); the ‘Quickness’ of Life [‘Saranyu’].
Just exactly that which we have come to expect from our earlier conceptual syllabry around the Indo-European Queen of Serpents deific, co-identified with this Mother of Waters and Mother of Earth, and with all three understandings engendered in the fertilization and setting the conditions for the promulgation of life and abundance in the natural (as well as human) world.
As applies Herodotus specifically, given that the account he gives which posits a God and a Demoness as being the Progenitors of the Scythian race, is apparently the tale told by Greeks of the region about their wild and ‘barbaric’ neighbours … it would seem feasible to surmise that this was not an authentic Scythian mytho-understanding (although it evidenty DID share elements drawn from at least one), but rather the semi-metaphorical cognizance of those Greeks – who viewed the Scythians around them with a mixture of awe and fear, somewhere between ‘men’ (and therefore in a certain sense ‘related’ to them) and (‘outsider’) demons.
Legends do so often tell us more about the tellers than they do about the subjects ostensiably being mythologized.