I) The Divinisation of Water

Before considering in detail the various river-goddesses honoured in Irish and Gallo-British tradition, this part explores the concept of water as a divine entity in Celtic times. Archaeological, hydronomic and literary data evidence such a belief. The numerous hoards of objects discovered in rivers, lakes and bogs from the Bronze Age onwards are clearly to be understood as votive offerings belonging to a whole complex of rites aiming at honouring the deities residing in those watery places. In Gaul, Britain and Ireland, the divinisation of water is besides attested by the significant number of rivers, springs and fountains bearing names, such as deva, divona and banna, meaning ‘divine’ or ‘goddess’. Finally, Irish mythology recalls the faith in a goddess inhabiting and protecting the waters. A very old text, dating from the beginning of the 7th century, describes the waves of the sea as the locks of a goddess, while other texts tell of subaquatic realms inhabited by beautiful divine ladies or recount how a maiden is transformed into the waters after being drowned. This pattern – as already mentioned - is well-known in Irish medieval literature and particularly applied to river-goddesses, as will be analyzed in the second part of this chapter.