The winter wind roars and splatters ice against the windows. In contrast, I am pondering — in my flannel pajamas, comfortable with furnace-warmth — the god associated with spring: Aonghus Og, Oengus mac ind-Og, or however you want to spell it. It’s been spelled various ways.
I’m planning to write about Aonghus in the next issue of Henge Happenings. While I don’t want to go too much into specifics in this post — I’ll likely post the article or extracts from it at some point — I did want to explore some of my thoughts and motivations.
I think the tendency is to interpret Aonghus as some sort of Cupid — the winged youth who shoots arrows of love, and is associated with frivolity, desire and a peculiar or even paradoxical innocence. And some of his imagery does play into that. He’s associated with swans; four fly around his head, bringing joy. He plays a harp of gold.
But there are darker aspects, too. He’s not depicted as a warrior, but does lend his sword to his foster-son, Diarmiud of the Love-Spot. He beheads Midhir‘s first wife Fuamnach — presumably with a sword — after she continues to harass her rival, Etain. He tells his father, Dagda, how to slay the satirist Cridenbel through trickery, and later tricks Dad out of his sweet pad by using the subtlety of words. For all the singing birds and harp, he is associated with clever solutions, last-minute rescues (Diarmiud and Grainne) and transgression that favors the truth of the heart over custom. He’s apparently no fan of arranged marriages.
In short, he’s not the Victorian Cupid. He has similarities to the ancient Greek deity Eros: a winged youth in some images, but far older than most of the Gods and one of the ultimate powers in the Cosmos. I tend to see him as equal parts Eros, Apollo and Hermes: the lover and the trickster. His is the primeval force that shatters the arbitrary chains of tradition — a bit like sex itself. Love may have swan wings and a harp, but he also carries a sword. And he’s not blind; in fact, he’s sharp-sighted and pretty darn smart.
Interestingly, he himself has one wife — Caer Ibormeith — who was first revealed to him in a dream. He finds her after a long search involving multiple deities and picks her out from a lake of 150 swans. He also asks her consent to the match, which she grants, provided that she is permitted to return to the lake. While the assumption is that Aonghus has other lovers (he is the father of Maga, and thus the forefather of a number of heroes), they don’t appear in the lore that I could find, at least prominently. He’s not a two-timer, like his brother Midhir. This story is somewhat reminiscent of the Greek Eros and Psyche, except that the roles are reversed: Eros pursues, and Psyche sets the terms of the agreement.
In a way, though, this is not contradictory. He’s not just sex, but the “one choice” (an interpretation of his name) of the heart. You make that choice once, yes, but you make the same one every day — just as one day and one night are equal to all days and all nights, in the riddle that wins him his brugh.