Old and Deep – The nature of Manannan as I have experienced it.

Old and deep.

That is the first thing that comes to mind when I consider the nature of the god known as Manannan Mac Lir.  I first met him in August of 1994 when my 1st marriage ended.  I wrote about it shortly after it occurred and while not a well written piece, it was near 20 years ago, it conveys the experience well enough:

It was around 7:00pm when I drove through the gate to Andrews AFB.  I was feeling rather tired having just finished meeting with my then wife to discuss our separation.   The temperature was mild for the year, around 75 degrees, and the sky was clear but I noticed wisps of fog along the ground and was reminded of Mananan.  I traveled down Perimeter Road to my neighborhood and went home.

I am not sure when the compulsion began but by the time it was dark I was having odd feelings and thoughts about discarding one of my pieces of jewelry.  I tried to ignore it by watching television but I could not shake the nagging feeling that I should do something.  So I began to analyze the feelings and maybe pinpoint what it was I was needing to do.  At the time I wore 4 rings, my wedding band, a claddagh, a triskel and a ring given to me by a former Wiccan mentor.  The impression I was getting was that I had to dispose of one of these rings, my claddagh.  I spent about 20 minutes arguing with myself as to why this ring would be chosen when the other rings had more obvious personal value than the claddagh.  In the end I gave up the argument. I knew I had to throw the ring into a body of water and so ran to the first one I could think of.

My first attempt to meet the need was to run out my back door to a creek behind my home.   As I approached the creek two things struck me, one was the fog and second the filth.  The fog was very heavy which is not common in Maryland in August but I figured it was just a fluke.  As for the filth in the creek, well I knew I was not to ‘sacrifice’ my ring to that.  So the next body of water to come to mind was the lake located on the base.  I got into my car and proceeded to drive to the lake through a ‘pea soup’ fog that did not seem to move as I passed through it.  I pulled up to the lake and the oddest thing struck me and if I had any  doubts as to what it was I was doing, they were gone.  The fog I had been driving through surrounded the lake and all land beyond it, but NO fog was on the lake itself.  I could see the other bank clearly.  At this point I took off my claddagh, said a short prayer to Mananan and threw it.

I did hear the splash but I never saw it.  What I was focused on at this point was the immense relief I was feeling.  It was as if some great thing was lifted off of me, I could breath, I could feel and I could see much more clearly than before.  Erynn and I talked about this a few times and while the reasons for this may still escape my, the results are obvious.  At that moment I became devoted as a polytheist and believer in the gods of Ireland and the spirits.

Since then I have spent a lot of time getting to know him via the material left to us by the scribes and through acts of worship and devotion.  Through prayer I have asked for aid at times and by all appearances that aid was given, so I know he is responsive even when the request may  not necessarily be something he would do in the the stories of him.  Such a instance would be when my grandmother passed away, I documented that event as well:

My maternal grandmother was very ill and very far away.  It was during the week of finals that she reached the point at which the family expected her to die and everyone rushed to Texas, except for me.  Because it was finals week and I was active duty Air Force getting to her was difficult.  My mother told me that that she thought my grandmother was holding on until I got there, but I kept saying it just wasn’t going to happen.  Late one evening I decided that if she was holding on then I had to at least do something so that she could let go.  So I took my concern to Manannan, told him my situation and asked if he could let her know that I loved her and it was alright for her to let go.  I got the call the next day, she died peacefully in her sleep.  Maybe it was a coincidence but I like to think it wasn’t and she got the message.

Most simplify Manannan by calling him a gatekeeper and asking for his aid in parting the mists between the worlds.  Being one who can pass and cause others to pass from one world to another is well attested in the stories but it is an over-simplification.  In reality he is a god of transitions, the movement from one state or place to another.  This is a consistent feature of his actions in most stories in which he is involved.

  • He oversees the division of Ireland between the Milesians and the TDD.
  • He aids in the passage between the mortal realm and the Otherworld.
  • He is involved in conversion of Ireland from Paganism to Christianity by speaking on behalf of the one God.
  • As Trefuilngid Tre-eochair he aids in the division of Ireland among the Milesians.
  • He is called upon for aid in sea travel.
According to MacQuarrie the epithet “Manannan Mac Lir” cannot be any older than the 5th century. Based on his research the use of the diminutive suffix “-an” was an import from the British and could not pre-date Christianity.   Removing the diminutive leaves Manann which is a genitive form of the name Manu, the Irish name for the Isle of Man after which he is named.  MacQuarrie goes on to suggest that Manannan Mac Lir may be an alternative designation for a native sea deity such as Oirbsen or Nodens (MacQuarrie 341-344).None of this really speaks to who he is, mainly because HE is so elusive.  I believe this is the result of him being one of the more important deities of the islands, so much so the scribes of the Christian era couldn’t remove him completely but gave him many attributes in the re-telling of the tales and finally made him an envoy of the Christian god, while still a god in his own right.

To me he is the Father god, a titan, a giant.  Not one of the Tuatha de Danaan but of an older tribe of gods even before the coming of the Celts.  He mixed the ocean and brought up the land.  He made the first sacrifice and created the worlds.  However you envision it, he was there.  This is what I know of him and how he has presented himself to me.

3 thoughts on “Old and Deep – The nature of Manannan as I have experienced it.

  1. Lovely post! I see him as an ancient figure too – supported by the folklore from the Beara peninsula that says Bhearra is married to him, symbolising the union of the ancient gods of land and sea.

  2. It’s great to find so much resonance with my own understanding from someone else who reveres Manannan. I also consider him one of Britain’s elder gods, who predate the Celtic and Nordic pantheons. The other is the god whom we now call ‘Herne’ although I think we’ve long lost his original name.

    I was lucky enough to grow up in Western Cumbria. On a clear day we could see Mann from the hills around my village and I have spent many hours meditating at the edge of Manannan’s sea. ‘Old and Deep’ indeed and filled with immense patience and calm. On the right kind of day there is a light mist and the sea is like a gently rippling pool of liquid silver. You could go out on a short jetty I knew and be surrounded by a luminous greyness with nothing but the gentle lapping of the sea to accompany you. That was certainly one of those ‘thin’ places and I was very lucky to have Manannan to whisper his teachings in my ears back then.

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