Irish Myths is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission.
Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe setting the stage for the imminent arrival of the Celtic gods, a.k.a. the “Tuatha de Danaan” (i.e., the Tuatha Dé Danann), a.k.a. the Marvel Comics’ version of the gods of Irish mythology? Or am I just a 35-year-old Irish mythology / comic book nerd who’s been stricken with a serious case of wishful thinking?
Don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical.
Yes, just over a year ago I wrote about how the gods of Celtic mythology might show up in the MCU. Back then, I considered Captain Britain to be the most likely entry point, as the British superhero—who traditionally receives his/her powers from the druid Merlin, a resident of Avalon (part of the Celtic Otherworld realm)—had been slated to appear in Marvel’s What If…? streaming series.
But a lot has happened in the MCU since then. The two most important events, for our purposes, being A) the introduction of the Greek gods, via the Thor: Love and Thunder trailer, and B) the introduction of the Egyptian gods, via the streaming series Moon Knight.
The Greek Gods (a.k.a. Olympians) in the MCU
We’ve known for a while now that Russell Crowe will be appearing as Zeus in the upcoming Thor movie. Zeus, of course, is the god of the sky and thunder, as well as the king of the Greek gods. He rules from Mount Olympus, which we also caught a glimpse of in the recent Thor trailer.
Speculation abounds as to which other Greek gods and/or demi-gods will appear alongside Zeus, with Zeus’s son Hercules (a.k.a. Heracles) being a fan favorite choice. Athena, on the other hand, is less likely to appear. Or rather, the goddess of warfare and wisdom’s appearance would require some serious explaining, as it was already established in the 2021 film Eternals that Angelina Jolie’s non-divine but still incredibly skillful and powerful character, Thena, inspired the invention of the goddess Athena in ancient times. The implication being that Greek deities—or at least Athena in particular—do not really exist in the MCU the same way the Egyptian gods do (as seen in Moon Knight).
At this point I should definitely pause and say: Spoilers ahead for Moon Knight.
The Egyptian Gods in the MCU
They’re real. They’re anthropomorphic animals. They can take human avatars. They can get kaiju-sized. You can trap them in jars. That’s just a taste of what Moon Knight taught us about the MCU’s version of the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt.
The Ennead—a council of Egyptian deities including Osiris, Horus, Isis, Tefnut, and Hathor—is a crucial component of the show’s plot. And while human avatars of gods and goddesses get most of the screen time, viewers are able to get up close and personal with Khonshu (giant bird-skeleton-man and god of the moon), Tawaret (bipedal hippopotamus and goddess of childbirth and fertility), and Ammit (pretty much the crocodile taxidermy from Hook come to life and goddess of death / “devourer of the dead”).
These divine characters are not revealed to be aliens or voyagers from alternate realms or dimensions, as was the case with the MCU’s Thor, Loki, Odin, and other deities from Norse mythology. Instead, the Egyptian gods and goddesses are portrayed as actual, terrestrial gods and goddesses.
This, of course, was a deliberate choice on Marvel’s part. To quote Moon Knight writer Beau DeMayo:
“We talked a lot in the room about where the Egyptian Gods sat alongside other Gods in the Marvel Universe, and ultimately we kind of came to this conclusion that part of what’s fun about Moon Knight, and I think something I’ve been seeing people really like, is it really does feel like it sits in this very scary corner of the MCU that no one wants to look at…So we kind of always pulled back from getting too into our heads. I think about, you know, has Bast and Odin and Khonshu ever thrown back pints on Titan, and been like, ‘That Thanos!’ It was always just really focusing on how to make the Egyptian Gods work in Marc Spector’s story, and then making sure that they were never in a place where we were really upending any continuity issues with the MCU.”source: The Direct
That reminds me: Bast, the panther diety introduced in the 2018 movie Black Panther, is based on an Egyptian goddess who the ancient Egyptians worshiped as a lioness and, later, as a cat. In Moon Knight, a reference is made to the Ancestral Plane, the afterlife reserved for Wakandan royalty, which is overseen by Bast. The implication being that Bast is a “real” goddess in the MCU in the same way the other Egyptian deities are “real”.
The Stage Has Been Set: Here Comes the God Butcher
Alien supervillain Gorr the God Butcher is set to make his MCU debut in Thor: Love and Thunder. Gorr’s mission is a simple one (at least in theory): kill all gods.
Considering that Thor will be a target, it apparently doesn’t matter to Gorr whether a deity is “real”, like the Egyptian gods, or *merely* a super-powerful entity from a different realm. If you go around calling yourself a god, you best watch your back.
And now we reach the crux of my theory for how the Celtic gods will enter the MCU. With a celestial showdown with Gorr imminent, Thor must recruit other deities—hence, his visit to Olympus. But will his recruitment efforts really stop there?
It seems likely Thor will enlist the help of other pantheons. The Egyptian pantheon is a shoe-in, having just been introduced in Moon Knight. And my theory, which is rooted in comic book lore, is that Thor will also be heading to the Celtic Otherworld to recruit the Celtic pantheon to his cause.
Precedent for Celtic Gods in the Comics
In my earlier post, I wrote about the first time(s) Celtic and Irish gods appeared or were mentioned in the comics. Re: Dagda and Dian Cecht in issue four of Savage Tales Featuring Conan the Barbarian, 1974; Nuada of the Silver Hand in The Mighty Thor #300, 1980.
But in those early appearances, the Celtic gods were one-off characters. There was no exploration of their homeland/homeworld or their connections to other gods in their pantheon.
In 1987, that began to change. The Mighty Thor #386 introduced Lir, who should have been depicted as a sea-god, à la Poseidon. Instead, Marvel made Lir the Celtic Lord of Lightning, which, look, I get it. It makes him a better foil for the Norse thunder god. But if you want a lightning vs. thunder battle, why not just have Thor face off against an actual “Lord of Lightning”, like…Zeus. Which is exactly what I suspect will happen in the new movie. Before the diplomacy there’ll be an inter-pantheonal clash of two statically charged gods.
But I digress…
To make a loooong story short (this is a multi-year comic book run we’re talking about here), in The Mighty Thor #390, the *Egyptian* god (and in this case, supervillain) Seth, who’s intent on exterminating all life (because of course he is), sends Grog the God Crusher to kill Thor.
Yes, go on and read that name again. Grog the God Crusher.
Thor ultimately defeats and imprisons Grog (because of course he does), but, interestingly, he gets some assistance from the Black Knight, a character introduced in Eternals. Grog eventually escapes and brings the battle to Asgard. That’s when the Celtic gods show up on the scene.
In The Mighty Thor issue #398, the lightning-god-should-be-sea-god Lir (a.k.a. Leir) and his Celtic compatriots the Dagda (a.k.a Eochaidh Ollathair, the father of the gods in Irish mythology) and Caber (a.k.a. Cairbre, a bard and son of the Irish god of eloquence, Ogma) come to Asgard’s rescue and kick some butt. It’s a small moment in the overarching Seth/Grog narrative, as most of the action is reserved for our titular hero, Thor. But that’s exactly the type of scene in which the Celtic gods would appear in Thor: Love and Thunder. Just a small, introductory moment.
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention that when it’s all said and done, Moon Knight plays a pivotal role in ending Seth’s killing spree. Perhaps he’ll have a similar role to play in Thor: Love and Thunder (assuming he makes appearance).
So…What’s Going to Happen in the Movie?
No, Grog the God Crusher is not the same as Gorr the God Butcher. These are different characters, and Thor: Love and Thunder will no doubt be telling a significant different story than the one told in the Thor comics of the late ’80s.
And yet…the potential is still there for the introduction of the Celtic gods. Here’s how I see it going down:
When Thor becomes aware of Gorr the God Butcher’s plan to…well…butcher all the gods, he begins his recruitment efforts, going world to world and realm to realm. I anticipate he will meet similar resistance from all the pantheons. Zeus will turn him down, saying the Olympians will be just fine. Ditto the Egyptian gods comprising the Ennead. And yes, in Avalon/the Celtic Otherworld, the Dagda—played by Brendan Gleeson, I should hope—will effectively say the same thing. “Sorry, Thor. We Celtic gods aren’t going to get involved.”
Flash forward to the third act, and, wouldn’t you know it, all the gods from the various pantheons have a change of heart. They arrive on the scene to help Thor defeat Gorr and his minions. (There are always minions.)
I can see it now. The Dagda, wielding his great staff, Lorg Mór, which can kill nine enemies with a single blow. And there’s the sun-god Lugh Lamhfada (“of the long arm” or “of the long throw”) with his Gae Assail (a.k.a. Lightning Spear—how apropos).
What’s so special about the Lightning Spear? Nothing. Only it never misses, and, like Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, it always returns to its thrower. Imagine a scene where Lugh’s spear and Thor’s hammer whiz past each other midair and/or crash into each other, creating an explosion of thunder and lightning.
And wait…who are those three women with giant black wings descending from the heavens, surrounded by a murder of crows? It’s the Morrígan, the Irish triune (i.e., triple) goddess of war, death, and slaughter.
Okay, that already feels like a worthy introduction to the Celtic pantheon. However, if Hercules is going to make an appearance from the Greek side, it seems only fitting that Thor: Love and Thunder also introduce one (or both) of Ireland’s greatest heroes: Cú Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill. (<< You can read up on all their magical weapons and “superpowers” on your own time.)
Sure, Lir could show up too, in keeping with the comics lore. But ideally he’d be depicted as a sea-god. Better still, Lir’s son Manannán mac Lir could take that spot, as the latter has a verifiable arsenal of legendary weapons he could bring with him. In Irish mythology, Manannán mac Lir is the owner of the swords Fragarach (The Answerer), Fraoch Mór (Great Fury), Fraoch Beag (Little Fury), and Díoltach (Retaliator), as well as the spears Gae-Ruadh (Red Spear) and Gáe Buide (Yellow Spear).
I could go on and on adding more gods and goddesses to the roster—and figuring out which actors and actresses should play them—but I’ll save that for another time (re: in my article about casting the Celtic gods in the MCU).
The Mighty Thor: War Of The Pantheons by Tom DeFalco, Stan Lee, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, Ron Frenz, Erik Larsen, Bob Hall, & Charles Vess
Thor and Hercules: Encyclopaedia Mythologic by Anthony Flamini, Fred Van Lenten, Paul Cornell, & Greg Pak
Moon Knight Omnibus Vol. 1 by by David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, Doug Moench, Don Perlin, Keith Giffen, Mike Zeck, & Jim Mooney
Norse Mythology: Volume One by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Jerry Ordway, Mike Mignola, & Jill Thompson
P.S. Looking for some comic books and graphic novels that are a little more faithful to the source material? Check out this list of 10 graphic novels based on Irish and Celtic mythology.
Explore the gods and creatures of Celtic mythology in all their colorful glory in these comic book interpretations of the classic tales.
P.P.S. If you love Irish and Celtic mythology, I have a hunch you’ll enjoy the short story anthology Neon Druid.
The hardcover Collector’s Edition of the short story collection Pyles of Books called “a thrilling romp through pubs, mythology, and alleyways. NEON DRUID is such a fun, pulpy anthology of stories that embody Celtic fantasy and myth.” Cross over into a world where the mischievous gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes of Celtic mythology live among us, intermingling with unsuspecting mortals and stirring up mayhem in cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, from Limerick and Edinburgh to Montreal and Boston. Learn more…
Oh, right, and I’m also writing a series of pocket guides about Irish mythology. The first one, Irish Myths in Your Pocket, is sort of like a “Greatest Hits” of Irishmyths.com.
40+ images, hundreds of fascinating facts about Irish mythology, and one Celtic Otherworld-shattering showdown between Ireland’s two greatest legendary heroes. That’s just a tantalizing taste of what you’ll find crammed into the nooks and crannies of this pocket-sized guide to Irish mythology. And when I say pocket-sized, I mean literally pocket-sized. The paperback version of Irish Myths in Your Pocket: A Tiny Little Book About Irish Legends, Folklore, & Fairytales for Impressing Friends & Family on St. Patrick’s Day and Other Special Occasions is 4 inches by 6 inches, the same size as a photograph. Learn more…
More of the listenin’ type? For a limited time you can use this link to snag 3 free months of Audible Premium Plus.