Bernhardt-House (2018 Congress)

Dr. Phillip A. Bernhardt-House
(Skagit Valley College, Whidbey Island Campus)

“Christ and the Irish Gods:
Traces of Polytheism in Medieval Irish Magical Texts”

Abstract of Paper
To be presented at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2018)

Session on
“Celtic Magic Texts”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Societas Magica

Organized by Phillip A. Bernhardt–House
2018 Congress Program

[Published on 2 February 2018]


One of the earliest writings with a medieval Irish provenance — the Confessio of St. Patrick — contains a potentially precedent-setting instance in which a potential invocation of Helios, the Greek solar titan/deity, assists the saint in overcoming torment by Satan.  Timothy Powell calls this “inclusive monotheism,” a notion that he suggests comes from the context of late antiquity, in which a tendency toward solar monotheism amongst pagan societies then merged with Christian monotheism. One can also suggest that in Christian tradition, particularly in monasteries where the Psalter was chanted regularly, the various statements that “God is great amongst the gods” could easily be employed in the context of dealing with polytheist traditions in various cultures and subordinating their divine powers to the Trinity.  Such might be the case with several early Irish incantations and protection prayers that invoke both polytheist deities and the Christian God alongside one another.

This examination will cover two relatively straightforward cases in the St. Gall incantations that mention Goibniu (the Irish smith god) and Dian Cécht (the Irish god of healing).  It will also examine the more circumspect case of various supernatural powers invoked in “Fer Fio’s Cry.”


Note: The Abstract for another Paper by Dr. Bernhardt–House at our Congress Sessions appears here:

Bernhardt-House (2008 Congress).

We thank him for his contributions to our Sessions, both sponsored and co-sponsored.