Aengus: frightful god of spring

Spring has come at last. The sun is shining and, at least for a day, I can wear my summery trench coat instead of my heavy-duty winter coat. Is it not wondrous! One of the perks of being unemployed, is that I can go out and about today. And I could not care less about blogging at right this moment.

Aengus is the young god associated with physical love and spring time, and thus we modern Pagans often imagine him as a light-hearted god. His birds seduce us to come out and play and enjoy all that the world offers. But, as written in Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men, the young god was also known as the Frightener. He was particularly good at frightening cattle.

The birds, now, that used to be with Angus were four of his kisses that turned into birds and that used to be coming about the young men of Ireland, and crying after them. “Come, come,” two of them would say, and “I go, I go,” the other two would say, and it was hard to get free of them. But as to Angus, even when he was in his young youth, he used to be called the Frightener, or the Disturber; for the plough teams of the world, and every sort of cattle that is used by men, would make away in terror before him.

Spring is the herald of work to be done. Ploughing is hard work, for man and animal. Aengus comes to disturb the peaceful winter. Late winter was a difficult time of year with little to no fresh produce and the most sever colds (much more so that during Midwinter),  but also one of relative placidity for the farmers. Placidity and boredom. And there Aengus comes to shake things up, ploughing the earth and the minds of men.

Modern people, working behind a desk, welcome spring without reservation. The days lengthen and the amount of hours we work remains ever the same. There is literally more time. The sun wakes us naturally, and thus we start the day more refreshed. And in the evening, instead of sinking into the couch exhausted, we take an after-diner stroll. But for our ancestors, spring was a time of hard work. As the days lengthened, the work load increased. So, I can imagine people getting tired at the mere sight of poor Aengus.

And thus Aengus also had to plough people’s minds, to prepare them and make them desire spring. This is not a light-hearted story at all.

Alexei Kondratiev (2003, p.152) writes that in some Scottish Gaelic traditions, Aengus frees Brighid from imprisonment in Ben Nevis, guarded by the Cailleach. He comes in riding a big white horse and swoops her away. This story has kindled an image of lovely heroic prince, comparable with those in the Disney films. But I think such a rescue was probably a rather rough affair. And the change of scenery might be rather shocking to poor locked-up Brighid. Spring can arrive gently. The birds star to sing. We feel the first soft rays of sunshine. But in a culture dominated by cattle-herding and agriculture, spring could also be a rather rough awakening.

Aengus embodies this rough awakening. Passion is usually not gentle. And spring with all its wild possibilities, but also its heavy duties, can overwhelm us. The first scents of spring include the soft scent of the first flowers, but also the manure that smells ever more strongly when touched by the sun. Farm animals suddenly are put to hard work, but also get to breathe the fresh air as they are allowed to roam the fields for the first time after the long cold winter.

When I was a teenager I would go horse-riding, and with the sever frosts gone, the horses would finally get free rein. After months of being stabled, and the soft ground posing no danger to them, they would get very exited.

Aengus arrives on a white horse, but it is most likely a bolting horse, not a prancing pony.

Kondratiev, A. (2003). The Apple Branch. New York: Citadel Press Books
Lady Gregory. (1904). Gods and Fighting MenAt Sacred Texts.

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3 thoughts on “Aengus: frightful god of spring

  1. I like your insight into the different ways to look at the approach of spring. I’ve worked in agriculture before, so I know about the hard work of spring. But of course spring has many benefits!

    1. I adore spring. I sat in the sun for all of the afternoon, listening to the birds. But then, I am not a cow or a farmer 😉 In some respects, our experience of the seasons will be similar to our ancestors, but not in every way I think.

      I am also happy to stumble on more information on Aengus … a figure who was and still is relatively unfamiliar to me. I have read stories in which he is featured and read The Apple Branch some years ago, but I did not really apply the information I found. Furthermore, Aengus does not seem to get much attention in the wider blogosphere and he is often characterised as a fairy-tale prince or a gentle god of love and poetry, perhaps somewhat akin to Baldr. The nickname/ title of The Frightener shows that there is more to him, or to springtime.

  2. I love how in my mind you’ve painted this picture of Aengus as a loud cattle rustler: “ITS SPRINGTIME! GET YER ARSES MOVING!” I loathe when people write of the gods being fluffy, Disney-like ethereal beings. Well done for keeping them raw!

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