Marvel Comics’ Thor series has incorporated gods from pantheons other than the Norse, although the degree to which they adhere to the original mythology varies quite a bit. The writers have added some of their own deities to the mix, and it can be difficult from context to tell which are which. The inhabitants of Asgard include characters who have no basis in Norse mythology, most famously Thor’s companions the Warriors Three, who are sort of like the Three Musketeers as gods.
Most recently, I read the collected Dark Galaxy Saga, by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, which featured Hercules and a few Celtic gods visiting Asgard.
Leir, generally spelled Ler for his Irish name and Llyr in Welsh, is a sea god who seeks Sif‘s hand in marriage. He’s accompanied by Caber, an original creation for the Marvel Universe, who is known for his speed. Briefly appearing in the story was the Dagda, who is sometimes identified as the leader of the Tuatha De Danann. That said, he’s not a king (that would be Nuada, at least in some myths) so much as a patriarch and high priest.
Gods needing their own priests seems a bit odd, but many of these ancient pantheons were known to acknowledge powers greater than themselves. The Dagda was regarded as an agricultural deity who protected crops, as well as a musician who controlled the weather and seasons.
Picture by Howard David Johnson
His harp Uaithne, made of green oak, was used to keep the seasons in order, as well as to rally warriors before a battle and lift their spirits afterwards.
One story recounts that it was stolen by the Fomorians, the traditional enemies of the Tuatha De Danann, but they were unable to use it due to an enchantment Dagda had placed on it. When the god found it, he had simply to call to it for it to return to him. Other accessories carried by the Dagda include a club that can kill five people at one stroke, but bring them back to life with the other side; and a cauldron that could hold an infinite amount of food.
The latter must have come in handy, as the Dagda was often regarded as a glutton. He also had two pigs, one of which was always growing while the other was being roasted, putting me in mind of Thor‘s goats that could be eaten and then resurrected.
A brief look at some tales of the Dagda reveals that people had a rather ambivalent view of him, sometimes seeing him as a respected elder and other times as a slovenly old fool. I guess that reflects the general societal take on the elderly, but I’ve seen it proposed that the more comical portrayal of the Dagda was introduced by people opposed to the old religion.
This is probably also why there’s an account of the Dagda being killed in battle after ruling Ireland for eighty years. On the other hand, it appears that some of his children genuinely did die. The Dagda is often portrayed as a guy with wild hair and a beard, wearing a tunic that doesn’t cover his entire body, so that his penis is visible. In addition to being an insatiable eater, he had quite the sexual appetite. When he had an affair with Boand, the wife of his steward Elcmar, he made the sun stand still for nine months so that she could give birth to their child within a single day. He also had sex with the Morrigan in order to ensure victory against the Fomorians in battle. This union was said to have taken place on Samhain, making it appropriate for this time of year.
Picture by Valerie Herron