Ancient Romans may have venerated the cherubic bowman, but long before Virgil and Ovid promoted his charms, another god ruled over the kingdom of love. His name was Aengus Og (Celtic, meaning “Aengus the Young”) and he was millennia old.
The illegitimate son of the Dagda (the “All-Father, High King of the Tuath De Danaan) and the goddess Boann, Aengus resided in the valley of the River Boyne, about 20 miles northwest of modern day Dublin. One evening, the handsome youth dreamt of a woman so beautiful that he instantly fell in love with her. For years, he searched for this illusive maiden until finally an aide of his father’s, one Bov the Red, was able to locate the girl.
As the tale goes, the dream-enchantress was actually a princess called Caer who was imprisoned along with 150 other maidens on Dragon’s Mouth Lake. Only by identifying Caer when she was in animal form (for she was destined to transform into a swan on Samhainn) could Aengus be allowed to marry his love.
In true god-like fashion, the lovesick lad finds a way to morph himself into a swan also and joins his true love in long-awaited embrace. After this bit of affection, the lovebirds then fly back to the valley, where in their palace they sing a song so beautiful that all of Ireland slumbers for three days and three nights.
Modern lovers can still visit the site of this palace, where the 5,000 year old monument New Grange stands. It is believed that the monument is a type of solar temple at which the old Druids performed various rituals, including making appeals to Aengus Og for help in making romantic matches. Sure beats Match.com!
Some believe that by lighting a red candle and chanting a few choice words on the night of Samhainn (November 1), one might find their true soul mate.
While I do not personally subscribe to such beliefs, I do find the legend of Aengus and Caer very romantic–much more so than some of the stories ascribed to our fair-haired Roman friend–and other, more innocuous, parts of the myth have also spilled over into everyday life, such as the custom of ending affectionate letters with a line of fat X’s.
This practice is believed to mimic the four kisses, disguised as birds, who flew around Aengus Og’s head. These avians were said to be able to infect others with deeply amorous feelings. Always, helpful in wooing a sweetheart.
And while we’re on the subject of love, have a gander at the love-dovey poetry of Irishman, W.B Yeats. His poems “The Song of Wandering Angus” and “Wild Swans at Coole” actually address the subject via the legend of Aengus Og.
The church door pictured earlier is near his gravesite, and is a romantic photo opportunity should you be able to visit with your love.
So why not dump that old diaper-hugger Cupid and pour on the old Irish charm! You’ll never look at Valentine’s the same way again.
**For more on Aengus Og and other Irish myths see: