Celtic mythology is mainly from Britain, though not so much England. These are the tales of the druids, the Irish Otherworld, the folklore of Wales and Scotland. It’s also, in part, the basis for Arthurian legend.
Unsurprisingly for tales of gods in battle, there are plenty of crazy weapons. From swords and spears to monstrous siege engines, here are ten of the most overpowered.
10. Lorg Mor
Lorg Mór, or Lorg Anfaid, “the Staff of Wrath,” was a forked stick so big it needed a wheel—and eight men to pull it, leaving furrow-like trails in the ground. It belonged to the Dagda, the father of the gods and patron of the druids. One end killed enemies (nine in one blow), while the other revived the dead with just a touch.
To give you some idea of the Dagda’s huge size, at the Second Battle of Mag Tuired he ate porridge from a “great pit in the ground” using a spoon big enough “for a man and a woman to lie together in.”
Also in the Dagda’s possession was a magic cauldron from which he drew unlimited food, enough to supply whole armies, and a magical harp to boost or crush an army’s morale. Once, when it was stolen by the evil Fomorians, this harp leapt off the wall and killed the thieves present merely at the sound of his voice.
According to Welsh legend, an early name for Britain, when gods walked the earth, was Clas Myrddin, or “Myrddin’s Enclosure.” It’s where Myrddin was imprisoned, in a house made of air “by enchantment so strong it may never be undone” as long as “the world endureth.” Though he was later Christianized (culturally vandalized) to Merlin—the wizard of Arthurian romance—Myrddin was once such a powerful god that the Greeks considered him Kronos, i.e. the Titan and father of Zeus.
In any case, Myrddin took with him the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, among which was a sword called Dyrnwyn, or “White-Hilt”. This was once the weapon of Rhydderch Hael, the King of Strathclyde in Scotland. And its power was to burst into flames, lightsaber-like, from the hilt to the tip—but only if the wielder was worthy. If they were unworthy, they would burst into flames instead. Hence, while Rhydderch was happy to lend it to others (earning him the nickname “the Generous”), few took him up on the offer.
Moralltach, “Great Fury,” belonged to Diarmuid Ua Duibhne (pronounced Dermot O’Dyna), foster son of Aengus the sex god. He got it from his mentor Manannán, son of the sea god Lir. A reliable long sword, it left no strike unfinished and always followed through with a kill. It was therefore reserved for the most deadly fights. For lesser confrontations, Diarmuid had Beagalltach, or “Little Fury,” Moralltach’s gentler counterpart.
One night, when Diarmuid and his lover, Gráinne, were woken three times by the sound of a dog, he armed himself only with Beagalltach to investigate—despite Gráinne begging him to take Moralltach instead. “How can danger arise from such a small affair?” he said. When he arrived at the scene, he found a boar hunt in progress—but this was no ordinary boar. Years before, his foster father Aengus squeezed a wizard’s son to death for being more popular than Diarmuid; and in revenge, the wizard turned the corpse into a boar and tasked it with Diarmuid’s destruction—one day. Now realizing that day was upon him, Diarmuid realized his mistake and exclaimed: “Woe to him who does not follow the advice of a good wife!” Although he tried striking the boar on the neck with Beagalltach, it glanced off without leaving a mark. In the end Diarmuid was killed.
Had he brought Moralltach, he could have split the boar in half in one blow. In fact, he once destroyed a whole army with the sword, rushing “through them and under them and over them, like a wolf among sheep, or a hawk among sparrows, cleaving and slaughtering them, till only a few were left.”
7. Claiomh Solais
Forged for Nuada, the king of the gods, Claíomh Solais (or Chloive Solais) was a “Sword of Light.” It was also one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Dannan (i.e. the gods)—alongside the Lia Fáil (or “Stone of Destiny”), Lugh’s spear, and the cauldron of the Dagda. Once this sword was drawn, there was no escaping. No-one could resist, nor kill its wielder. And if any but the owner tried to wield it, it screamed like a magical car alarm.
Claíomh Solais appears in numerous Irish folk tales and even spread to Scotland. It may also have inspired King Arthur’s sword Excalibur.
6. Gae Bulg
Made from a sea monster’s bones, Gáe Bulg (“barbed spear”) was practically indestructible. It belonged to the hero Cú Chulainn, who got it from his teacher, the warrior goddess Scáthach. This was no casual gift; he was the only one of her students to prove capable of wielding it. For one thing, it had to be thrown by foot—launched from the toes with a kick. Also, because it always guaranteed a kill, it had to be responsibly used.
When Gáe Bulg entered an enemy’s body, it filled it with barbs. Sources vary as to how many; some say 30, others 49. Either way it made such a mess of the target that retrieval of the weapon took time. It couldn’t just be pulled from the corpse, it had to be dug out with a knife. Needless to say, it was much better suited to one-on-one duels than fighting on the battlefield. But it was a dishonorable weapon.
Cú Chulainn only used it when not doing so would lead to his death. Being such a unbeatable warrior himself, this meant he only ever used it to kill Ireland’s very best—usually after long fights, just as they were about to kill him. It looks like he used it three times, against his young son Connla (ripping up his belly), Queen Medb’s champion Loch (splitting his heart in two), and his best friend Ferdiad (filling “every limb and crevice with wounds”).
5. Luin of Celtchar
The enchanted spear of the hero Celtchar apparently had a mind of its own. When it sensed an enemy, it writhed uncontrollably until it got blood, and if it didn’t it would turn on its wielder. The only other way to “quench” the spear’s bloodlust was to immerse it in a cauldron of venom.
It could also kill targets from a distance, without touching them; you simply had to thrust it in place. If it was thrown, though, it killed nine men at once—always including a king, a royal heir, or a “plundering chieftain.”
Celtchar used the Lúin against the god who slept with his wife, and later lost his own life to the weapon. It was found abandoned on the battlefield of Mag Tuired.
4. Lugh’s Spear
Also known as Gae Assail, Lugh’s spear was, as mentioned, one of the Four Treasures of the gods, or Tuatha Dé Danann—that is, one of the four crowning achievements of their mastery of magic. Confusingly, however, it’s also said to have been stolen, on Lugh’s orders, from its original owner the King of Persia. Either way, it made Lugh unbeatable. According to the Cath Maige Tuired, an old Irish saga about the Battle of Mag Tuired, “No battle was ever won against it or him who held it in his hand.”
One of the most important of the old Celtic gods, Lugh’s name survives in place names like Lyon in France (from Lugdunum, the “fortress of Lugh”). As a sun god, he’s compared to Apollo. He was also the grandson of Balor—the Sauron-like king who tried to kill him as a baby when a prophecy warned that Lugh would destroy him. If you’re familiar with Greek or Roman mythology, you’ll notice the parallels to the story of Kronos/Saturn devouring his sons. Similar to Zeus, Lugh escaped death and was adopted by the sea god Manannán, growing up to be the god of arts and crafts. Later, as prophesied, he killed Balor—using his magical spear. Like Thor’s hammer, it always returned to its thrower. And it never missed.
Interestingly, while all the old gods are diminished today, Lugh has been diminished more than most. Over the years, this mighty warrior, sun god, and “Master of All Arts” became the simple fairy craftsman Lugh-chromain, or “little stooping Lugh”—a figure we now call the leprechaun.
Another of Lugh’s weapons was a sword called Fragarach, or “The Answerer.” Originally forged by the gods for Nuada, the High King of Ireland, it was meant to be wielded on the Lia Fáil stone (the “Stone of Destiny”) so that when the stone roared to confirm the true king, Fragarach would whisper in reply.
But it did a lot more than that. It could also draw the truth from anyone’s lips, drain their strength from a distance, and penetrate all kinds of armor—including shields and walls. It also flew from the scabbard to the hand on command. And as if that wasn’t enough, this Swiss Army knife of magic swords killed anyone it struck within seconds, even if the wound was just slight. It could also control the weather.
Not being a king himself, Lugh got the sword when Nuada lost an arm fighting the Fomorians. So equipped, he rushed to the aid of the Tuatha Dé Danann, saving them from paying tribute to Balor. Again calling to mind Apollo, it’s said that when they saw him coming, Fragarach in hand, aboard the self-steering boat of a sea god, it felt like beholding a sunrise. Immediately, Lugh killed almost all the Fomorians, sparing just nine to take a message to Balor: There wouldn’t be any more tributes.
Like all the best swords, Caladbolg passed through a number of hands—Fergus mac Róich‘s among them. This Ulster king, the greatest of all Ulster heroes, had huge genitalia, requiring seven women to satisfy him. He was also Cú Chulainn’s tutor and, in later tales, Queen Medb (Maeve)’s lover.
Swung with two hands, Caladbolg swept down whole ranks of men in a colorful arc like a rainbow. It could even alter the landscape. At the Battle of Garach, Fergus—mad with fury at his stepson Conchobar for stealing his throne—cuts down hundreds of his own men to strike at his rival. But he only manages to hit Conchobar’s shield before Cormac, Conchobar’s son, intervenes, persuading Fergus to spare his father’s life. Fergus then turns on another man present, Conall, Cú Chulainn’s twin, who grabs hold of Fergus and manages to bring him to his senses. Like a fungus-crazed berserker, however, he still had to vent his “battle-fury.” So he “smote among the hills with his rainbow-sword,” striking off the tops of three peaks—for which they became known as the maela or “flat-tops” of Meath.
The name Caladbolg literally means “hard (or crushing) lightning,” and it survives in the name of Excalibur. In fact, the two swords are thought to be one and the same. The Welsh name for Caladbolg, Caledfwlch, was Latinized to Caliburnus and later became Excalibur.
1. Balor’s Eye
Balor, king of the Fomorians, had an eye like a siege engine. It was only ever opened on the battlefield and took four men to lift up the lid. Once it was opened, not only could the eye reduce armies to ashes, it could also lay waste to whole regions. This apparently explains the islands west of Scotland, which “remain bleak and haunted to this day.”
The eye was so dangerous, in fact, that in addition to the eyelid, it was usually kept covered by seven cloaks. Removing each of these had progressively destructive effects: The first withered ferns, the second browned grass, the third heated trees, the fourth got them smoldering, the fifth got them hot, and the last two set the landscape ablaze.
Ironically, it was through this eye that Lugh killed Balor. In their fateful confrontation, the two met on the battlefield and Lugh began to speak. Balor turned to one of his men, saying “lift up mine eyelid, my lad, that I may see the babbler who is conversing with me.” Then, as soon as it was uncovered, Lugh released a stone from his sling, carrying the eye through Balor’s head and out the other side so that only his own men could see it—killing them instantly.