Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams

by Alexander McCall Smith


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“Elegant . . . Spare, polished . . . Smith fluidly weaves in contemporary vignettes.” —Publishers Weekly
The latest addition to the Myths series from Canongate, now available in paperback, is a beguiling tale from the beloved author of the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Angus is one of the earliest Celtic deities and one of the most cherished to this day. Like an even more handsome combination of Apollo and Eros, he is the god of love, youth, and beauty. Just the sight of him has made people fall in love, and he has the power to reveal a person’s true love in a dream, if asked politely. Alexander McCall Smith has turned his renowned storytelling talents to crafting irresistible stories from this ancient myth. Five exquisite contemporary fables of love lost and found unfold alongside Angus’s search for the beautiful Caer, the swan maiden he met in his dreams. McCall Smith unites reality and dreams, today and the ancient past, mesmerizingly, leaving the reader to wonder: what is life but the pursuit of dreams?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847670151
Publisher: Canongate Books
Publication date: 07/27/2007
Series: Myths Series
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and of The Sunday Philosophy Club series. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana and at Edinburgh University. He lives in Scotland. In his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).


Edinburgh, Scotland

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1948

Place of Birth:


Read an Excerpt


There was water

This happened in Ireland, but the memory of it is in Scotland too. The precise location of things was not so important then, as there was just the land and the sea between them, and people came and went between the lands, and they were brothers and sisters. The land itself was beautiful, with hills that ran down to the sea, and there were cold green waves that broke on the rocks that marked the edge of the land. There were islands, too, with stretches of white sand, and behind the white sand there was the machair, which was made up of meadows on which grew yellow and blue flowers, tiny flowers.

The gods lived everywhere then, and they moved among the people. But there were some gods who had their own place, and they were sometimes very powerful, as Dagda was. He was one of the great gods, and his people lived on islands at the very edge of the world, where there is just the blue of the sea and the west beyond the blue. They came to Ireland on a cloud, and lived there. Dagda was one of them, the good one, and he had great power, with his cauldron in which there was limitless food, and his great club, with which he could slay many men with a single blow. But he was often kind to men, and he could bring them back to life with the other end of the club. He also had fecund fruit trees which never stopped bearing fruit, and two remarkable pigs, one of which was always being cooked while the other was always growing.

There are many stories of Dagda and his doings. This one is about how he came to father a boy called Angus, and how Angus delighted all who came across him. In many ways, this was Dagda's greatest achievement, that he gave us this fine boy, who brought dreams to people, and who was loved by birds and people equally and who still is. For Dream Angus still comes at night and gives you dreams. You do not see him do this, but you may spot him skipping across the heather, his bag of dreams by his side, and the sight of him, just the sight, may be enough to make you fall in love. For he is also a dispenser of love, an Eros.

How was it that Dagda, a great and powerful god, a leader of warriors, should have had such a son? One might have thought, surely, that a god like that would have a son who was skilled in military matters, rather than a dreamer who fell in love and who was a charmer of birds. For an explanation of the gentleness of Angus, we must turn to his mother. She was a water spirit called Boann. Water spirits are gentle; their sons are handsome and have a sense of fun; they sparkle and dart about, just like water, which is the most playful of the elements.

Boann lived in a river. This was one of those rivers which was both great and small. There were places where its bed grew quite broad, and at such places one might walk across the river without getting even one's ankles wet. At other places there were pools, deep and dark, with water the colour of peat, and in these pools swam trout who lived for many years and had a great wisdom of matters pertaining to water and fish. Then there were places where the river was in-between - not deep, but not shallow. These were good places for water spirits to live.

Boann lived in one of these places. She was shy, as water spirits often are, and it was possible to walk right past the place where she was and not see her at all. All that you might see would be a ripple in the surface of the water, or a splash, perhaps, of the sort made by an otter or some other small creature slipping into the water, not enough to make you turn your head or think of investigating further.

Boann was gentle, and if, after rain, the river ran high, it was still always calm when it came to the place where she lived, as she would smooth the surface with her breath, which was like a soft, warm breeze. She was kind, too, and when a holy man came to the river's edge and asked whether he could lie down in the water, she readily agreed. She brought him some honey which she had and let him suck on the comb until it was drained of sweetness and all that was left were the wax cells of the bees.

That holy man was tired; he lay back in the water after he had sucked on the honey and he soon fell asleep. His head dropped beneath the surface, but he did not drown, as it is well known that holy men can live under a river even if ordinary men cannot. She watched over him, and saw that he was breathing peacefully, even though he was underwater.

This holy man was still there when morning came. Boann looked down through the water and saw that his eyes were open, and that he was staring up at her. She called to him, and he surfaced, coming up slowly through the clear water and breaking out into the air with a great shaking of his locks. She gave him another honeycomb, which again he sucked dry. Then he sank back beneath the water once more.

Sometimes the holy man spent all day under the river; on other occasions he would emerge from the water and walk off along one of the paths. He would talk to the people who were working in the fields and give them his blessings. They would give him food in return. They all knew that he lived under the river, but they were respectful of him, and they did not come to see him there. They knew, too, that Boann was looking after him and that they did not need to do anything for him other than listen politely when he spoke to them about things that they did not really understand.

The holy man told Boann many stories. For the most part these stories were about his boyhood and about the white dog which he had. This white dog had a brave heart, and did many fine deeds. Then he went away, and the holy man never saw him again, although he sometimes heard him barking in the distance. There were many stories of this sort, which Boann listened to, and each time the holy man told them they were different in some small detail. Sometimes the dog wore a collar of gold and sometimes it was a collar of leather. Sometimes the dog caught a hare, and sometimes he would pursue and capture a deer. Boann listened patiently to all these stories and occasionally at night she dreamed about a white dog, which she was convinced was the dog of the holy man's boyhood.

Boann was pleased that the holy man had come to live under her river. She knew that the local people had seen him, and she knew that he was safe with them, but she did not want any gods to hear about him. It was not unknown for gods to become jealous of holy men, or to be possessive of them, and she did not want anybody to kill her holy man or take him away from her place in the river. So if ever any god came into that part of the country, Boann would tell the holy man to stay underwater until she called to him that it was safe to come out. She also acquired a bell which she would ring if she spotted a god. This was to be the warning signal to the holy man to get back into the water if he was sitting on the bank or walking in the fields.

Boann was, of course, very beautiful, although very few men had seen her face. Eventually word reached Dagda that there was a graceful water spirit living in that river and he decided that he would see whether her beauty was as striking as was reported. He picked up his club and set off towards the river. The sun was high in the sky and his shadow was short. Nobody would know that Dagda was coming, because he was the wind and the rain and the clouds in the sky. Dagda was Ireland, and Ireland was all about. He was Scotland too, and lands beyond that.

When he came to the river he saw Boann sitting upon a rock. She was singing to the holy man, who had come up out of the water and was drying his hair in the sun. Dagda stopped and listened to the song that Boann was singing. It was very beautiful - like the sound of running water. He was, of course, immensely jealous, and he decided that he would kill the holy man as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Boann had to go to another place to see her husband, Elcmar. She had not thought of gods who might be watching; she had not thought of Dagda.

Dagda saw Boann set off, and he puffed out his cheeks and blew a wind which would help her on her journey. Then he waited. Now there was nobody about, nobody who would see him on his murderous errand. Laying down his great club, he strode across to the edge of the river and looked down into the water. There was the holy man, staring up at him, wondering who it was who had seen fit to disturb his retreat.

Dagda laughed. A holy man was no match for him, and he reached down into the water, his great forearm making small waves, his blunt fingers snatching at the holy man below. Then he pulled him out of the water, shook him, and held him high up in the sky, as one would hold up a fish one had caught so that others might admire it. The holy man could not breathe up there. All about him was sky and more sky, and he struggled and gasped, his thin cries lost in the rushing wind that was Dagda's breath. It was to no avail; he drowned in the sky, and after he died, as a fish will die in the air, his eyes were wide, as the eyes of a fish will be, and his skin turned to scales. The light was silver on these scales - silver and gold, like the scales of a trout when it is taken from sweet water. Dagda then tossed the body of the holy man away, and it cart-wheeled across the sky before it fell.

Dagda now put on the holy man's clothes, which had slipped off him when he died. Then, entering the water, he sank below the surface, making his face and his hair look like the face and hair of the holy man. There he waited for Boann to come back from her journey.

At sunset the next day she returned. Dagda lay quite still as she settled for the night, but when the stars were out and all was quiet he called to her from under the river, and he called her in the voice of the holy man. Boann arose from her bed of reeds and crossed the river in the darkness, going to the place where the holy man lived. Dagda, now revealed, was waiting for her and he held her in his arms and she immediately conceived of a child. Boann was secretly pleased by this, as she had been in love with Dagda but had been frightened by what her husband would think if she were to be seen in the company of the powerful god. Fortunately, her husband had been sent off on an errand by Dagda, who had also made time stand still for him for a period of nine months - the time during which Boann would be bearing Dagda's child.

Dagda, however, did not intend to stay with Boann. He was already married and had to return to his own wife. He went away, laughing so loudly that people woke up and thought that there had been thunder, and were frightened.


His child grew within her

Boann was filled with anger that she had been tricked in this way by Dagda. For several days she lay in the river weeping - weeping for the humiliation which the god had visited upon her and weeping, too, for the holy man, whose fate she had heard about from a man who had seen what had happened. She had loved the holy man, and she missed his undemanding company and his often-repeated stories about his boyhood. But she knew that soon she would have a child and that this child would keep her company and make up for the loss of her friend. So she did not mourn for long.

She went to see her husband, who was in a distant part of the country. She found him standing on a rock at the entrance to a valley. He was perfectly still, one arm raised as if he were about to point at something; but the gesture never came, as Dagda had frozen him. Boann spoke to him, addressing him as her husband, but he did not respond. Even when she shouted to him that she had been taken by Dagda, he did not respond. It was as if all his senses had gone to sleep and nothing could awaken him.

Boann carried Elcmar back to her river and stood him by the side of a field. People took him offerings of food in the evening, leaving them at his perfectly immobile feet. The next day the offerings were not there. People pointed to this and said that it showed that Elcmar was eating, although he only ate late at night when there was nobody about to see him. In fact, the food was being eaten by large rats, who passed by that way each night and were delighted to find a source of good food. The only person who could have seen this happening was Elcmar, and he could see nothing, because his eyes could not move: not the pupils, not the muscles within the ball of the eyes, not the eyelids. Nothing could move.

Boann felt Dagda's child growing within her. She had not had a child before and she found the experience a strange and exciting one. As the months wore on, she became heavier and heavier, and rarely left her place in the river. The fish, who had been wary of her when she was quick in the water, now swam up to her with impunity, staring at her with their unblinking eyes, moving slowly in the current of the river, watching her. Some of the fish brought her food, which they found further down the river, gently nudging it into her hand, waiting for her to grasp it before they swam off. Boann was grateful for this, and she remembered the names of those fish who had helped her, writing them down in a book which she had with her.

When her time came, she moved slowly out of the water and lay upon the bank. From the river, the fish watched her silently; a great number of them had now assembled, and they gazed at her with wonder as she lay under the sky, looking up into the blue, the sun upon her hair and brow, like gold.

There was silence, just silence. Then she let out a great cry and Angus was born. At that moment, a great flock of birds that had alighted in the nearby trees rose up in a cloud and wheeled and dipped through the morning sky. In the river the fish swam rapidly this way and that and some leaped out of the water, describing half circles in the air before falling back again with a great splash.

Angus looked at Boann with his blue eyes. She kissed him gently and held him in her arms with all the tenderness of a mother. She knew that this was a child who would be filled with love and who would bring that love to all who saw him. She knew that. She wanted the world to see him, to share in her pride, but she knew that this was not possible. She would have to hide him, as Dagda would steal him if he heard that she had borne him a son. So she made a basket for him, a small cradle, out of the rushes that grew there. Angus slept in this cradle, which floated on the edge of the river, and was watched over while he slept by Boann, who was never far away. Her husband was still in his enchanted coma, but was beginning to show stirrings of life now - the twitching of a muscle here, the almost imperceptible movement of a limb there; small signs that he would not be asleep forever.

There were a number of remarkable things which happened now. One of these was the appearance around the infant's head of small birds, of many different colours. These birds came from the hedgerows and from the trees, and took turns in circling Angus as he lay in his basket. At first Boann tried to shoo them away, fearing that they would disturb the baby's sleep, but when she saw that they did not do this, and that Angus slept soundly even as the birds sang, she left them unmolested.

Other things happened. People began to have vivid dreams. One woman who lived not far from the place where Angus was born had for many years hoped for a child, but none had come. She and her husband were wealthy in other ways, but she had remained barren. She began to dream that she had a child, and every night this child appeared to her in her dreams, growing each time from being so tiny as to be almost invisible, until it was the same size as a normal baby. She mentioned these dreams to her husband, who smiled and said, 'That is a dream baby and it is not a real baby at all.' But she knew differently, and each night she knew that she would meet the baby in her dreams and would care for him. Then one night the dream baby said to her, 'It is time for me to be born, mother', and when she awoke there was a baby beside her, and he was the same baby who had appeared to her in her dreams.

'Do not talk about this thing,' her husband warned her. 'People will not believe you if you tell them that this is a dream baby.'

The woman remained silent and nobody knew that her baby had arrived in this way. But they knew that she was happy.

Although Boann took every care to make sure that Dagda did not hear of the birth of Angus, it was inevitable that the news should reach him. Only a few days after Angus had been born, Dagda heard from one of his men that Boann had built a cradle. This man had seen her pick the reeds for the cradle from the river bank and had immediately reported the matter. Dagda smiled. 'I have a son,' he said.

Creeping out of his house, his great club in his hand, Dagda made his way to a small hill that overlooked the river. There he hid behind a large tree, and his club appeared from a distance to be no more than an extra branch of that tree and his hair was the leaves of the tree. He stood there for a whole day, waiting until Boann should come out of the river and reveal where Angus was hidden.


Excerpted from "Dream Angus"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Alexander McCall Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 There was water,
2 His child grew within her,
3 That was then; this is now. But he is still here.,
4 The childhood of Angus,
5 My brother,
6 Angus finds out that his father is not his father,
7 Another boy finds out that his father is not his father,
8 Angus is kind to pigs,
9 Is there a place for pigs there?,
10 I dream of you,

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Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not all that familiar with Celtic mythology and had actually never heard of Angus (god of dreams and love), so I was a bit worried that some bits of the story would be lost on me¿but I need not have worried. Dream Angus is a quite a wonderful retelling of this myth. After doing a bit of research, I find that McCall Smith has kept the bones from source material and dressed them up in contemporary garments and he has, I believe, done it a very likeable and compelling way! Like a couple of others in this series, we are presented with vignettes which weave back and forth between ancient mythological settings and more contemporary ones giving us the opportunity to hear Angus tale from birth to finding his own true love while also being given a glimpse of how he is still relevant in the modern world¿for Angus, it seems still bestows upon us his precious and wonderful dreams! We find that Angus touches the lives of someone in each little story, and each is compelling and beautiful in its own way. I was particularly amused to see Angus cast as a psychotherapist using lucid dreaming to help his patients¿a nice little twist! I would definitely recommend this as a light, but amusing retelling of Angus, Celtic God of Dreams, I don¿t think you¿ll be disappointed! I¿m certainly glad to have read this and I¿m looking forward to seeing more in this series!
revslick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Celtic Dream god gets a modern makeover. If you are not careful, you'll miss the subtle connections.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A sort-of retelling of the myth of Angus, Celtic god of dreams and youth and love. The chapters alternate between the story of Angus's life and more modern vignettes that somehow incorporate Angus in various forms. Though Angus is supposedly a god of love, all the vignettes were rather sad: love lost, doubt, infidelity. I felt very disconnected from the whole thing, really. The parts about Angus's life came across more like someone was describing the myth to me, while the other stories were so vague (and dreamy, if you'll forgive me) that I never quite got into them. In short, this book was decent, but did not convince me to seek out other books by this same author.
Rhinoa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A re-telling of Angus, a Celtic figure who was the son of the Dagda and a water spirit Boann. Angus comes in the night and bestows dreams and this tale is a mixture of the original myth and stories of people set in our current time. Boann is married to another man when Dagda sees her and desires her. After she becomes pregnant he leaves her but returns to take Angus when he is born against her wishes. When he grows into manhood he tricks his father out of his Kingdom and later falls in love with a woman he sees in a dream. She is someon unattainable who turns in to a swan for alternate years. The ending of Angus' story is beautiful and has the two finding happiness together.The tale is interspersed with fragments and dreams of more modern people. The final story was my favourite and is of a woman whose husband has been having an affair. She leaves him and enters therapy. One night she dreams that she stands up to her husband who then reaches out to her saying he had long hoped she would come but was too afraid to ask her. Soon after she drives past their old house and he comes over to her and reaches for her through the car window. It was a beautiful tale and a lovely way to finish this enchanting short novel.This is one of my favourites so far in the series and I am definitely interested in reading more of McCall Smith's writing. Recommended for anyone with a passion for mythology or a damn good story.
vpfluke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, I did read [Dream Angus]. It was in the "ok" area for me until I got to the last chapter. This book has Smith interspersing the mythic story of Angus wih modern tales of people affected by dreams.This tenth chapter I found very affecting with a lucid dream that resolves the mess a couple have gotten into. It brought up memories of dreams I've had and dreamwork I've done.I might mention that dreams in this book function as an agent of change and not as a pyschological analysis of your life already lived, particularly the detritus from the previous day.
Prop2gether on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
[Dream Angus] by Alexander McCall Smith is his addition to the myth stories retold by modern authors. Angus is a Celtic God who brings dreams which are prophetic, and who is an active character in these stories. They are all bound together because of Angus, and some are set in ancient times and some are modern. I enjoy McCall Smith¿s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency stories, but I liked his writing better in this book. It¿s sharper, deeper, and more interesting.
MikeFarquhar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dream Angus is the fifth in Canongateâ¿¿s Myths series, where leading contemporary authors take a variety of mythological stories, and retell them however they choose.McAll Smith chooses the myth of Angus, a Celtic god of dream and love, of youth and beauty, a trickster with a benevolent heart, who brings love to others, but is fated himself to only ever love one woman, Caer, whom he has seen only in his own dreams.McAll Smith takes a two-pronged approach, alternating between chapters retelling the basic story of Angus with five fables set in modern times, each in their own way touching on an aspect of Angusâ¿¿ life and story. Angus may â¿¿ or may not â¿¿ be seen in these chapters, but his touch is in them all. The effect works well, and while itâ¿¿s less ambitious than some of the books in this series so far, itâ¿¿s a gently done reworking that is full of McAll Smithâ¿¿s typical charm.I have to confess Iâ¿¿d grown a little weary of his style, and have skipped his last few books, but this reminded me why I liked him in the first place. A good addition to the Canongate Myths, which remains a series well worth following.
the_hag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
am not all that familiar with Celtic mythology and had actually never heard of Angus (god of dreams and love), so I was a bit worried that some bits of the story would be lost on me...but I need not have worried. Dream Angus is a quite a wonderful retelling of this myth. After doing a bit of research, I find that McCall Smith has kept the bones from source material and dressed them up in contemporary garments and he has, I believe, done it a very likeable and compelling way! Like a couple of others in this series, we are presented with vignettes which weave back and forth between ancient mythological settings and more contemporary ones; giving us the opportunity to hear Angus tale from birth to finding his own true love while also being given a glimpse of how he is still relevant in the modern world...for Angus, it seems still bestows upon us his precious and wonderful dreams! We find that Angus touches the lives of someone in each little story, and each is compelling and beautiful in its own way. I was particularly amused to see Angus cast as a psychotherapist using lucid dreaming to help his patients...a nice little twist! I would definitely recommend this as a light, but amusing retelling of Angus, Celtic God of Dreams, I don't think you'll be disappointed! I'm certainly glad to have read this and I'm looking forward to seeing more in this series!
Aeyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Flitting in amongst the lives and dreams of modern day Irish folk, Angus, deliverer of dreams and igniter of passions and love, takes on the persona of a therapist, a tow-headed and simple-minded youth, or the ancient regalia as the son of the Dagda, the highest of the Irish deities. McCall Smith crafts a series of delightful short stories, rife with the connections between people and the failings therein. Whether describing the beautiful beginnings of a newlywed couple or the wrenching betrayal of a damaged marriage, he tells an engaging story. Yet unlike precursors in the Canongate Myth series, the connections to the myth that beget this novel seems to hold a tenuous thread to the modernity of mythic experience that Smith never truly expounds upon. The mythic story arc, encasing the modern short stories, of the Dream Angus could be excised and leave a fine collection of short stories. I felt disappointed that the first Celtic exploration did not delve as deeply nor as soundly as the Greek tales. The myth was relegated to the hastily surmised binding offering a tenative connective tissue to the short stories, rather than the wellspring from whence they sprung. The prose is lovely and the characters have feeling to them, but I engaged this novel hoping for the resonance of mythos to carry me to the ineffable realms of imagination and creativity, but alas the flight stopped lightly at a pleasurable yarn to wile away an afternoon, leaving me grasping at a loose thread yet to be woven into cloth.
Sile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Why did I read it? I like the idea of modern takes on older myths and this was available as part of my subscription to an audio book site.Synopsis: It starts with the old celtic myth of Angust, starting with his parents and his birth, interspersed with Alexander McCall Smith's stories based on the myth.What did I like? I liked how it weaved back and forth from the time of myth to more modern life stories and how these new stories reflected the life of the Angus of old. Somehow, they enhanced the old tale, but I am not sure how and I feel this is a deeply personal feeling. Dreams feature in every tale and not all of them are happy ones, yet the book doesn't really have the melancholy atmosphere of the celtic storytelling tradition; at least not for me.I felt the narrator of this book, Michael Page, captured its essence perfectly, being neither intrusive nor losing my attention at any point. A perfectly balanced performance for my commute to and from work.What didn't I like? Way too short for me. This book was over in two days of commuting and this was disappointing as I wanted more.Would I recommend it? Heartily to anyone who likes good storytelling and has a fondness for the older myths.
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