The Ace of Hearts
There is no more iconic or pervasive symbol of Celtic culture than the cauldron. In Gaelic mythology, the cauldron of the Dagdae was a cauldron of plenty from which no host or company went unsatisfied. It was brought from the city of Muirias, a name most likely derived from the word muir meaning the sea, where the poet-sage Seimias presided. His name seems related to the word seimh, meaning something riveted as cauldrons were riveted and the bronze-smith of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Creidne Ceard, was said to have worked in seimheann, riveted goods. In the wider mythology, the cauldron of plenty was also a cauldron of testing that could give supernatural knowledge, as in the stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Taliesin. It is mentioned in the Welsh poem Peiddeu Annwfyn as the goal of a raid led by King Arthur himself, and an echo of it survives in the cauldron in Llassar Llaes in the Mabinogion, the basis for Lloyd Alexander’s eponymous Black Cauldron.
The King of Hearts
The King of Hearts shows Eochu Ollathair opposite Manannán mac Lír. These two figures are perhaps the most mysterious of the Tuatha Dé Danann, despite the fact that they seem to be the most transparent. Known as the ‘Good God’ (Dagdae ), Eochu was also called Ruadh Rofheassa, meaning 'the Ruddy one of Great Knowledge.' Both terms seem to indicate the benefits of his cauldron in terms of abundance and inspiration, so this card shows the animals associated with the Gaelic domestic landscape: the boar, hound, horse and bull, along with the swan and wren. The sea-going swan is particularly appropriate for Manannán, as is the cauldron which factors centrally in one of the many tales about the sea-god who enticed the king, Cormac Ua Cuinn, into the world of the Tuatha Dé to teach him a lesson in good kingship.
The Queen of Hearts
This card presents four of the most well-known figures in early Irish mythology. Brighid, who was translated into St. Brigit (Anglicized as St. Bride), enjoyed one of the most widespread cults of any ladies of the Tuatha Dé Danann and is presumed to be related to the British and Gaulish goddess Brigantia. Brighid is continually associated with fire and water, the two combining in the image of the cauldron as the otherworldly source of divine, poetic inspiration. This association with the cauldron also extends to the three sovereignty goddesses — Fodla, Banbha, and Ériu — who each represented the land itself and would offer the cup of kingship to the High King when he entered into a sacred marriage with them. The last of these gave her name to Ireland as the Land of Ériu (Ériu-land).
The Jack of Hearts
Cormac mac Airt and Fionn Mac Cumhaill were two of the most beloved figures of early Gaelic mythology during the medieval period. Cormac, as the grandson of Conn Céadchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles) was thus also the ancestor of Niall Noígeallach and many powerful Gaelic lords during the Middle Ages. Even the Lords of the Isles in Scotland traced their lineage to him. Fionn still survives in Scotland as a kind of Gaelic Arthur, sleeping under the earth to be awakened in its hour of need. Both represent idealized kingship as a heroic leadership inspired by the divine character of the Wild, fíadh in Old Irish, which in the Middle Ages also carried connotations of honour, abundance, and the guest-host relationship.