A Beginner’S Guide To Banba, The Irish Goddess

Though she’s not one of the more popular Irish goddesses, Banba (also known as Anbha or Banbha) has a well-deserved following. The granddaughter of Delbeth and Ernmas (the deified ancestors of the people of Ireland), Banba was the first person to set foot in Ireland before the flood, in a variation of the legend of Cessair. If youre interested in Irish mythology, but dont know where to start, you can learn all about this goddess below!

1) Who is Banba?
As one of Irelands many deities, Banba is a patron of Ireland. Her name is derived from Banbha, which means woman of Tara or mighty woman. Not much is known about her in modern times aside from being identified as one of The Daughters of Delbeth and Ernmas who helped defeat Fomorian giants during The Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. However, she does play an important role in two main myths: Cessair (the first person to set foot on Ireland before it was flooded) and her own role in The First Battle of Magh Tuireadh. While details vary slightly between sources, here are some things we do know for sure.

2) Meaning and spelling
The name Banbha means ‘white lady’ or ‘bright woman’. Her name is spelled Banba in Old Irish and may be related to the Proto-Celtic word ‘bando’, meaning ‘true’. The similarity of Banbha and Bandio suggests they may both represent a single goddess whose nature has been merged into one due to syncretism. Alternatively, Banbha could mean ‘first woman’, from Proto-Celtic.
Banbha was probably an early divine figure whose cult evolved into that of Boann. In later times she is conflated with riu as a consort of Angus g, and also with Abb or Mebd who may have been a goddess from southern Ireland similar to Danu. According to a legendary account in Cormac’s Glossary, she founded Emain Macha (now Navan Fort near Armagh) with her son, Conchobar mac Nessa after being promised as wife and queen by High King Lugaid Riab nDerg.

3) What does she look like?
In medieval Ireland, as well as among Celtic tribes in Scotland and Wales, a woman could be called a banbha if she was strikingly beautiful. Her name comes from her striking eyes her name translates to fair-eyed. In addition to possessing beauty and wisdom, Banbha is a skilled warrior one of six women who fought at The Battle of Moytura. Its said that both sides took a pause to watch these amazing warriors fight. She is also attributed with creating Grinne Mhaol (pronounced Grain-ya Molly) whose tale has become part of modern Irish folklore. According to legend, Banbha provided Oisin with nine enchanted arrows which he used to win his love Grainne Mhol away from Fionn Mac Cumhails chief druid Fer Doirich. Unlike Cer Ibormeith and ine, both of whom are known as having fiery red hair, there is no set description regarding what Banbha looked like. That said, we do know how great her beauty was; by extension, we also know that beauty takes many forms.

4) How can I honour her?
One way you can honour her is by playing her namesake during a session of your favourite role-playing game. Alternatively, decorate your home with items that reflect who she was, or go out into nature and meditate on her blessing. When you feel ready to take things further still, consider following in one of her many guises and taking on specific powers for yourself. If you have an interest in magic, divination, or prophecy, honouring Banbha through these methods might be a wonderful use of your time and effort. You may also wish to search around town for shrines or temples; though its always best if theyre homegrown! It seems likely she had built her own megalithic shrine at least once when visiting Tara (the Hill of Tara). If all else fails, pay tribute with poetry! Whatever feels right. 

5) What did she do?
She was one of three daughters of Delbeth and Ernmas. In a variation of her legend, she led a group, called Banba’s Three Daughters, to Ireland from Scythia in Eastern Europe. This is known as Cessair’s Tale, where Cessair is another name for Banbha herself. The Three Daughters are seen as harbingers of doom. When they arrive on Ireland’s shores, they are forced to live with Partholns people. However, because their hair has never been cut or combedwhich symbolizes their virginityPartholns people become terrified that they will take over his tribe so he forces them to die horrible deaths by drowning them in coracle rafts on what would later be Lough Corrib. Their bodies become entwined around an ancient oak tree until Christ rips their souls free and turns them into trees whose branches intertwine like those bodies. It’s believed that if you go near Saint Kevins Church on Loughcrew, Co Meath on Samhain Eve, you can hear their lamentation. After Banbhas death, Aengus g falls deeply in love with her at first sight when he sees her dancing around near Tara Hill during Beltane festivities. He pursues her relentlessly across Ireland but despite being extremely clever, skillful, and beautiful, she refuses him numerous times before finally caving in. Her father tries to separate them out of jealousy but no matter what world they try to live in together, life there seems impossible without one another. Eventually, however, Aengus marries someone else because while Banbha loves him above all else even achieving everlasting youth she cannot betray her husband who wants only honor and glory for himself. That eventually drives Aengus mad and since Banbha could not give up either of these two things (for different reasons), both were unhappy to leave each other alone. While all gods must die, that rule does not apply to goddesses; after he dies, she waits 1,000 years for him in Emain Macha then drifts away slowly. Its assumed that, upon disappearing, Banbha made her way to Tr na ng to find Aengus again. Legends surrounding Banbha, especially in Scotland, said she became Cailleach Bheur. Cailleach Bheur is usually portrayed as having one eye missing due to having fought endlessly to survive along Scotland’s craggy coasts. A picture of Cailleach Bar hanging on a cliff is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevensons The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Of course, she also gives her name to many Scottish villages including Balquhidder, Stirling, and Callander which are often associated with witchcraft.

Linda Green

Linda Green

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