You may have heard this one.
“He has the body of a God.”
I have told this joke, usually in reference to myself and the weight that I carry. Not as a reference to an uplifting and jovial figure of spiritual teachings. Oh No. This was definitely self deprecating humour. It’s a weird thing when you really take a moment to objectively think about it. An interaction specifically designed to diminish oneself in front of others. Now in my personal opinion it’s one step better than targeting others with damaging ‘jokes’ or comments, but even then why do we do it at all?
Of course there are many reasons why folk engage in this kind of humour. I could point at my past to being the overweight kid who ‘became funny’ so that folk would laugh at him and not punch him. I could point at the hurtful relationships and how seeking approval or compliments by denigrating myself was among the standard interactions. The thing is, it goes a lot bigger than either of these facets of my existence. The question I want to look at today is about these ‘body standards’ that community, society and humanity sets for itself.
See, I told you it was a big one.
First a brief comment on choice. A person is born as a unique cocktail of genetic influence carried along from the DNA of their parents, their parents parents, and so on back through their ancestral lineage. For the most part people choose the traits they find appealing in a mate and evolution dictates that the best traits are passed along down the line. For me folk have the right to choose what they do with their own body. It’s their story, their life.
The thing I am wrangling with today is the influences that each person is exposed to as they progress in their story. Consider the imagery we are bombarded with in this age of information. Consider the millions spent on advertising and how mainstream fashion is form specific. Again, everyone is entitled to choose, but what kind of informed choice can any person make when the mainstream representation they are exposed to is so carefully curated towards a particular aesthetic.
I think that’s the crux of what I’m driving at. The ‘curated aesthetic’. The preconceived ideal that is presented as ‘standard’. It’s why we end up with stuff like teenagers modelling towards ‘size zero’ expectations, or images of models photo shopped outside of any regularly achievable proportions. At no point does the advertising claim to be selling anything more than an ideal, but in the same vein at no point do they inform a person that what they are selling is a fiction. Of course the male side of the paradigm is not as sexually exploitative but there are issues here as well when a person does not conform to an ‘Adonis’ physique.
Of course you can claim that humanity has always been doing this to itself. It’s not just a product of our ‘modern era’. We have all of these great works of art stretching back through antiquity like Michaelangelo’s David with his flat stomach and shapely pectorals from the 1500’s or the defined ‘6 pack’ abs of Herakles sculpted over 2000 years earlier in ancient Greece. Again let’s try not to fall into any obvious stumbles here. I think the artistic expression and craft involved in these pieces are fantastic, but I choose my words with careful intent here as though these forms are more readily achievable, they are still the product of a fantasy. An imagined ideal perspective. Especially when applied to the topic of deity.
Maybe you can see where I am going with this now. Maybe you have been around in my social media circles or caught a rather impassioned rant in public.
I would hope it’s readily apparent that a chief focus of my literary work to date has centred around one particular ancient Irish deity. The Dagda is listed as one of the chieftains among the Tuatha Dé Danánn. In some translations they refer to him directly as their ‘Good God’ of druidic practice given all of the powers he has command over. I take to challenge many of the reported aspects of this deity given that they were first recorded in print by early christian monks, filling space in their tomes by picking up the ‘ local stories’ of the native people. I am of course grateful to have these records because so much of Ireland’s rich and wonderful history would have been completely lost with the various waves of invasion and oppressive colonisation our little island has experienced in its existence to date. The thing is, even these documents, lovingly illustrated by careful scribes, are not without bias. Anything that could be twisted or diminished so that it did not interfere with ‘the glory of the one true god’ was quickly done so. Even as bluntly as a post script denigrating the story that the scribe just spent ages recording on their vellum pages with slowly scratched ink marks. At least that guy didn’t change the narrative mid story like some others.
Now lets not get off topic here shall we? The Dagda is described as a big man in almost all aspects of his physical form. Of course I would like to get on to the deeds which this deity accomplishes by virtue of his skill and his size, but I guess we should deal with the whole penis thing right? Yep I said ‘penis thing’. The Dagda is linked with fertility, sexaulity and procreation. Of course in a human male there are certain biological frameworks to support these activities. Thing is, the Dagda is not strictly human is he. The Tuatha De Danann are listed as descended from one of the sons of Nemed and among some of the first peoples to come to Ireland. Even among these supremely capable and talented folk there very few directly referred to as a God. When you have a long list of powers including such notables as authority over the sun, the moon, the land, the sea and in later stories life and death itself with thanks to his trusty club/staff, well a thing like having a penis, regardless of its proportions, seems rather irrelevant. Or is that just me?
I mentioned that famous staff or club with which the Dagda is linked. In Irish the word used is Lorg and yes one of the other translations of lorg is indeed penis. Where things take on that oh so frustrating body shape cliché is when the boundaries of Ireland are carved by the Dagda dragging his club around the island. It’s mentioned in the stories as the track of the Dagda’s club and of course these ‘worldy christian monks’ were well above a childish snicker at the image afforded by the alternate translation right? Of course the Dagda carving up the land by dragging his big penis around seems very apt.
Now once again I feel it’s important to address my own bias. Of course the world has changed a heck of a lot since the early neolithic period of ancient history, or at least I would hope it has. We all look back at these tales through the lens of our personal perspective and the manner in which that perspective is formed is as varied as each person’s genetic cocktail, served on the rocks of societal expectation, in the vessel of their cultural upbringing (don’t worry, I think the cocktail metaphor has gone as far as it can…)
From my perspective we are dealing with a deity with power over all of creation and though he is not above some low brow humour, I don’t see him as the kind of character who puts much store in what’s between a person’s legs. Maybe more interest in what’s between their ears, or how well they use their heart, but I don’t see him being overly invested in the rest of the packaging. As long as it’s fit for purpose right? Like, his mated partner, The Morrigan, is a shapeshifter for Dagda sake! Do I have to say much more?!? Come on now!
Fit for purpose. See that’s a Dagda thing if ever there was one. It doesn’t matter what, where, and how it is, as long as its fit for purpose. Now he is the kind of deity who will look after matters to ensure things stay, or indeed become, ‘fit for purpose’. Whatever that shape is, it’s what it should be, and that’s enough.
I have written a lot of Dagda stories in my years exploring this larger than life deity. In so many of them I describe him as I see him but in almost all he is a broad heavy set man carrying the weight of comfort about his midriff. The thing is, there is only really one story where his belly size come into things. That is in the run up to the second Battle of Moytura where this chieftain goes to the Fomorian encampment. He is presented an excessive amount of porridge served in a ditch dug in the ground. They expect him to turn from the meal and give them cause to do him harm by shaming their ‘hospitality’. The Dagda consumes it all and in doing so his body is grossly distorted by the deed. It’s here that we have reference to his form. ‘Bigger than a house-caldron was his belly, so that the Fomorians laughed at it’ and ‘Not easy was it for the hero to move along owing to the bigness of his belly.’ To my study these are the only times that the Dagda’s belly are mentioned directly in the texts. Maybe you can see some of my frustration here. The big distended overhanging belly does not come from a life of plentiful abundant consumption. It comes from suffering physical disfigurement in order to prevent war coming upon his people. Still it has become part of the highlighted cliché, the big belly, the large penis, the tight peasant garb that doesn't fit, turning the Dagda into some sort of caricature of particular features.
There are so many other stories of the Dagda’s deeds all through out the lore but thought they don't describe him they give us an insight into his form. Why get hung up on the image of a distended bloated belly and a penis that drags on the ground? What about the tales of him digging the fortifications of Rath Bres? The story of him clearing an entire forest of trees in one night for his son Aengus? What about the defeat of the sea monster with his terrible storm staff and driving it and the sea off of the land to form the plain of Mag Muirthemne? All of these are very physical activities and require not just strength but also stamina.
Now I’m not taking some hard line stance around body shape here. Honestly I’m driving for the opposite. The Dagda is known for his feasting and as much as his labouring. When we look at the labours on Rath Bres, the Dagda is said to consume a large meal every night. The three best bits of this meal are stolen from him by Creidinbhéal the fomorian lampooner. Its said that the fomorian took a portion that was ‘the size of a good pig’ but that those ‘three bits were the third of the Dagdae's ration.’ This means that the Dagda is left with a meal the size of two 'good pigs' right? Well that is not enough and this God gets ill from expending so much effort and not getting a meal in balance to his labours. Work hard and eat hearty right? I risk going too far off topic here but I feel that it’s important to have that context for me to draw some form or worthwhile conclusion to this thought.
The Dagda is a God and a big one at that, both in power and in stature. Now there is a difference in the type of training and indeed diet that goes into body building towards a prominent set of abs and strength building towards felling trees and digging trenches. If Dagda where to be classified in either of these body types I feel, acknowledging my personal perspectives and bias here, it would the latter rather than the former. I know I’m not the only one who finds it tricky to find an image that encapsulates the form of this Good God. Maybe that’s part of seeking Him and trying to gain some understanding of him. What I would suggest is that deity is not bound to any ‘body standards’ of ‘curated aesthetic’. For me even preconceptions of gender and sexuality are somewhat irrelevant when certain perspectives are considered.
I am not and may never be of bodybuilding proportions. I carry some comfort weight about my midriff that I may never be without. The thing I am learning to embrace and accept about myself, through exploring the Dagda in Ireland's lore, is that I can choose what form I want within the bounds set by my personal genetic cocktail (ok it wasn’t completely done). No body is the same as the next. No personal purpose is the same either. I work to love the form I am in and change what I feel I want to in keeping with my purpose. I may never be free of the ‘body standards’ or the ‘curated aesthetic’, but at least I can see them for what they are. A fantasy of an imagined ideal perspective.
I think I will choose to model myself off a God that can dig a ditch, fell a tree and enjoy a hearty meal at the end of it all.
No matter what I choose though, I guess all that really matters in the end is that it’s fit for purpose. In whatever manner that is required and to whatever purpose is needed.
Read: The Fomorian Supper HERE
Read: Just reward for labours given HERE
If you enjoy this along with my other work, and would consider buying me a coffee or a pint for the purposes of a chat, maybe pop over to the Patreon.com/Dagda
An Scéalaí Beag
We all have thoughts and perspectives and opinions. Its simply part of the human condition as a socialized species. So In the interest of insight, this is where I will share my perspective and opinions.