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Aine: A Radiant Celtic Goddess of Love, Summer, and Sovereignty

Aine: A Radiant Celtic Goddess of Love, Summer, and Sovereignty

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Aine is often remembered as a Celtic goddess of love. But she was also a deity of wealth, sovereignty, and the summer. Her sensitive and joyful personality brought her many followers in the Celtic world. The heart of her cult was located in Limerick, Ireland, though her fame spread like the sun’s rays over many other regions.

Associations between Aine with Venus, Aphrodite, and any other love deity are vague. She was a very complex goddess. One may assume that the goddess of love would have had bright and happy myths surround her, however the legends about Aine are rather depressing. Stories often told of the goddess being raped and murdered, as well as facing many other difficult situations.

Yet these sad stories actually brought her closer to the women who lived in the tough Celtic world. It is important to remember that when the Celtic army worked for others or fought for their land, women also had to protect their homes, towns, and settlements. Therefore, death, cruelty, and sexual abuse were unfortunately quite common for the ancient women. Despite the sad tales, Aine brought women hope and reminded them about the joys of summer and more pleasant times. This may be why she was worshipped over some other deities.

A Sunny Goddess

Celtic legends say that Aine was the daughter of Eogabail, who was a member of the legendary Tuatha Dé Danann. In folklore, she was also recognized as the wife of the sea god Manannan Mac Lir – a deity who was very important for Celtic warriors. In ancient Irish myths and legends, Aine is described as a Faery Queen, a goddess of the earth and nature, and a lady of the lake. It was believed she brought luck and good magic to her worshippers. Some identify her as a brighter side of the famous goddess Morrigan.

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

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

Aine is also known as the goddess who taught humans the meaning of love. She had many human men as lovers and bore many Faerie-Human children. There are countless stories about her escapades with human lovers. Most of the stories about Aine and her lovers were happy and peaceful tales, but some were also sad or disturbing.

The Legend of Aine’s Encounter with Ailill Aulom

One of the unpleasant legends speaks of a man who didn't want to learn the meaning of love, but was only driven by his sexual desires. This lout was the King of Munster called Ailill Aulom. According to the traditional story, he raped Aine, so she bit off his ear - which made people call him ‘One-eared Aulom.’ In Old Irish law, kings needed to have a perfect appearance and a complete body. Thus, Aulom lost his authority. This story shows that Aine was also a powerful goddess of sovereignty. As a deity, she granted power to good people, but also took it away from the bad ones.

King Ailill and Aine by John Duncan.

King Ailill and Aine by John Duncan. ( levigilant)

The legendary story attributed to Cormac mac Culennain, king bishop of Cashel (d.908), published in the Leabhar Laignech c. 12th century AD explains this tale. It says:

''1. Let one of you ask me the history of the wonderful yew: why is it alone called the Yew of the Disputing Sons?
2. Of what wood is the poisonous, handsome tree – subject of such treachery? What nature of friendship originally existed before the disputing sons gave their name to it?
3. From his territory Ailill chose this meadow for the pasture of his horses: from Dun Clare to Dun Gair, from Ane to Dun Ochair.
4. The slender sidhe-folk disliked this invasion of their land; they used to destroy the grass every Samhain – no story to equal this!
5. Ailill went with Ferchess mac Comman to view the fine grass; they saw on the plain three cows and three people herding them. 
6. ’These are the thieves!’ said Ailill, haughtily. ’A woman and two men, without doubt, and their three hornless cows.’ 
7. ’It is they who have trampled the grass and consumed our property to rob us, singing the sweet music of the sidhe to put the race of Adam to sleep.’ 
8. ’If they are singing the music of the sidhe,’ said Ferchess mac Comman, ’let us go no nearer until we melt some wax for our ears!’ 
9. They could not hear the sweet music after they had thrust wax into their ears. Suddenly, each party saw the other: a surprising encounter! 
10. Furiously, Eogabul (of the sidhe) and Ailill grappled point to point; Eogabul was stricken down, and Aine (of the sidhe) was overthrown. 
11. Ailill came to Aine, overpowered her and lay upon her; he had knowledge of her then, not by consent but by force.’ 
12. Aine took her knife to Ailill, no lying testimony mine! She sliced off his right ear from the head bent over her, so that afterwards he was called Ailill Bare-ear. 
13. This enraged Ailill then; he thrust his spear into Aine; he did her no honour, he left her dead.''

Resurrecting the Ancient Goddess

Although Aine died in this story, she remained immortal in Irish mythology and in the pantheon of Irish deities. As a goddess of the moon, she also became a deity of agriculture and cared for the crops. Her celebration took place on August 1st.

Aine is also part of the Triple Goddess group with her two sisters - Fenne and Grianne. Tradition says that during the full moon they ride their horses and play in the Lough Gur, a lake dedicated to Aine in County Limerick.

Lake Lough Gur.

Lake Lough Gur. ( Public Domain )

The old deities still have a place in modern Ireland. With the rising popularity of Brigid, Morrigan, and several other ancient goddesses, the cult of Aine appears to be expanding once again. Her cult is still strong in and around Limerick, but with the continued growth of the religion called Wicca, her story is also spreading.

Top image: Illustration of Aine. Photo Source: ( © Caroline Evans )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Ellis, Peter Berresford, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford Paperback Reference), Oxford University Press, (1994)

Aine, Irish Goddess of Love and Faerie Queen, available at:
http://www.angelfire.com/journal/ofapoet/aine.html

Aine, available at:
http://www.shee-eire.com/magic&mythology/fairylore/Queens/Aine/Page1.htm

Aine, Summer Goddess of Love, Light and Fertility by Judith Shaw, available at:
https://feminismandreligion.com/2013/07/31/aine-summer-goddess-of-love-light-and-fertility-by-judith-shaw/

Comments

The simlarities between Aine and Venus are in no way vague. Please allow me to politely disagree with Natalia. The similarities are so close that I simply have to come to the conclusion that they are one and the same.  Key words: Love, Wealth, Sovereignty, Rape, Sex (as opposed to rape), death (underworld) Immortailty, Agriculture, Crops. 

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