Celtic Myths: Manannan mac Lir

In Irish, Scottish, Manx, and Welsh legends, the sea deity Manannan mac Lir was mentioned in some of the tales that dealt with the “Otherworld.” Often associated with the weather and the mists between the worlds, the god is also recognized as one of the oldest races of deities. In this article, you will learn more about the myths and folklore surrounding Manannan mac Lir.

Myths and Folklore

Appearing in many Celtic myths and stories, Manannan can take on many different forms. In “His Three Calls to Cormac,” it is the deity that tempts the Irish king Cormac mac Airt with riches in exchange for his family. In this storyline, the deity appears at the battlements of Cormec , taking the form of a warrior who tells him that he has traveled from a land where old age, sickness, death, decay, and lies do not exist. Led into the Otherworld, Manannan teaches Cormec a strong lesson. However, the tale ends with Cormac receiving his wife and children back. Manannan also gifts a magic cup to the king, which breaks if three lies are spoken over it and is restored when three truths are spoken over it.

Mannanan sometimes takes on the role of a trickster. In “Manannan at Play,” the god appears as a beggar and clown, who turns out to be a harper. He plays numerous pranks in the tale , some of which cause a great deal of mischief. In the end of the story, the god makes good on all of the pranks that he committed.

In “The Voyage of Bran,” Mannanan is the one who makes a prophecy that Bran would have offspring that would become a great warrior.

In “The Sickbed of Cúchulainn,” Fand (Mannanan’s wife) is involved in an affair with the Irish warrior Cuchulainn. Fand returns to her husband only after she realizes that her lover’s wife is full of jealousy and worthy of him. When she reaches Mannanan, he shakes his magic cloak of mists between his wife and the warrior so that they will never see one another again.
There is a traditional ballad that connects Mannanan with the Isle of Man , an important island in Celtic history. He was referred to as the first ruler of the nation. A Midsummer tradition of the Manx people was to offer bundles of reeds, yellow flowers, and meadow grasses to Mannanan as part of a ritual they saw as ‘paying of the rent.’ Prayers were said in hopes of gaining his assistance and protection when fishing. He was also thought to possess powers of a magician that could create the illusion of a fleet that could ward off any invaders.

The Magic of Manannan mac Lir

The role that Mannanan plays in the cycle of life and death is also seen through his possession of magic swine. The flesh of the animal gives food to the gods during their feasts, which is said to regenerate for the next day. Other magical objects that were in Manannan’s possession includes a ship that moved without the help of sails, cloak of mists that made him invisible, a helmet with flames, and a sword that never missed its target.