Gods and Super-heroes, or Celtic Myths and Legends for Kids
Activities for Lughnasadh
By Eva Gordon
Storytelling (or reading stories) is one of the most enjoyable activities for parents and children to share. What better way to introduce children to the gods, goddesses and heroes of our traditions? Sharing the myths and legends gives us a common frame of reference, connects the past with future generations, and can pass values on without heavy-handed moralizing or preaching. (A dogmatic approach may be more likely to provoke rebellion, especially with older children or teens!)
Listening to stories rather than watching them played out on film or television promotes active imagination. The stories themselves can spark interest and foster understanding of other worlds, other times and cultures.
Some parents might think that many of the Celtic myths and legends need “cleaning up” in order to be suitable for young children, but hearing or reading these stories can help children to face and to overcome fears in a safe setting. (The more common fairy tales, such as “Hansel and Gretel” are quite frightening, but remain popular as ever for this reason.) Parents can read the stories in advance and decide for themselves which would be appropriate for their own children, of course.
Myths and legends still have great entertainment value for today’s children, even in the face of all the electronic options available to them. Superhero movies, comics, science fiction and fantasy computer games are more popular than ever.
This may represent a sublimated tendency toward polytheism in our culture, as noted by Kelly Candaele.
"There is an optimistic gloss that can be applied to the proliferation and popularity of movie superheroes. The phenomena may indicate a subconscious desire to return to a more polytheistic religious culture. Like the ancient Greek and Roman Gods, today's cinematic superheroes have human foibles and they constantly intervene in the affairs of our world.
(The Huffington Post, May 10, 2007)
Children often learn about and take an interest in mythology and other cultures and spiritual traditions through some of these stories and games. Names of characters are often borrowed from actual myths. We see Norse mythology represented in Thor Comics and in the animé/manga Loki Ragnarok, Shintoism in films such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Heracles translated into Superman, Egyptian deities as namesakes on Stargate, and many mythical creatures and settings in role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.
There are many popular children’s books about Greek and Norse myths, and these are often taught in schools as relating to history and literature. Many of us grew up with Aesop’s Fables and with the Greek and Norse myths here in the United States, and the stories of King Arthur are familiar to us.
Where are appropriate children’s sources for our Gaelic deities and their stories to be found?
Not hard—there are several inexpensive collections of tales available in paperback, these being just a few examples:
Bairbre McCarthy, Favorite Irish Legends in Irish and English, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1997
This book contains the story of Balor Drochshúile (Balor of the Evil Eye) and of the birth of Lugh and his triumph over the Fomorians. “The Children of Lir” and “The Wooing of Etain” are also included. The stories are told very simply in Irish on one page, and in English on the facing page.
Ella Young, Celtic Wonder-Tales, Dover Publiations, Inc., New York, 1995 (Original edition Maunsel & Company, Dublin, 1910). Illustrated by Maud Gonne.
These stories are embellished quite a bit, and have a flowery, old-fashioned and romantic style, but still are good. The illustrations are beautiful.
Dover Children’s Thrift Classics:
Joseph Jacobs, Favorite Celtic Fairy Tales, Dover Publications, Inc., New York 1994.
This is a selection of stories drawn from Celtic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales collected by Mr. Jacobs and originally published in 1894. The stories are clearly told, and the illustrations by John D. Batten are wonderful. The story of “How Cormac Mac Art went to Faery” is found in More Celtic Fairy Tales.
Donald A. Mackenzie, Scottish Fairy Tales, Dover Publications, Inc., 1997, drawn from Wonder Tales From Scottish Myth and Legend, originally published 1917.
It includes tales of the Cailleach Bheur (Winter Hag), the hero Finn Mac Cool, and his band of Fianna.
Jeremiah Curtin, Myths and Folk Tales of Ireland, Dover…1975. Originally published by Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1890.
This book contains plenty of tales of Finn Mac Cool, as well as Cúchulainn. Some gory violence is involved, especially with Cúchulainn. There are no pictures.
As we read these stories, many of which have their source in Iron Age Ireland, it leads us to reflect on the qualities that we value in a god, goddess or hero still today: courage, skill, art, strength, persistence, and honor while facing the forces of chaos in the world. The heroes and the Shining Ones are vibrantly alive in the telling of the tales from one generation to the next.
Activities for Lughnasadh
· Read aloud the story of the coming of Lugh to Tara, and of the Battle of Moytura.
· Lugh is a god of many skills (Samildánach). Try out at least one new sport, craft, or activity with your child.
· Organize a picnic at the park with friends and/or family, making sure to include breads and other grain-based foods to honor the first harvest.
· The death of Lugh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu, is commemorated by the Lughnasadh Games. Play board games, egg toss, hold relay or sack races, award prizes.
· A torc (for first prize) can be made by twisting together two long pieces of modeling clay, decorating with string swirls, allowing the clay to dry, and painting with gold or silver paint.*
*For details on this and other fun Celtic craft projects, see Fiona Macdonald, Step into the Celtic World, Lorenz Books, Anness Publishing, Inc., New York, 1999.