Posted by: Brian | June 29, 2013

A Toast and a Tale for Lughnasadh

“About the Calends of August she died, on a Monday, on the Lughnasadh of Lugh; round her grave from that Monday forth is held the chief Fair of noble Erin.
White-sided Tailtiu uttered in her land a true prophesy, that so long as every prince should accept her, Erin should not be without perfect song.
A fair with gold, with silver, with games, with music of chariots, with adornment of body and soul by means of knowledge and eloquence.”
~“Tailtiu” lines 45-56. ~ The Metrical Dindshenchas~


(by the very talented Peter Kulpa in an evironment with very tricky lighting and acoustics, at a Lughnasadh event last year.)

Lughnasadh, translated as the ‘Assembly of Lugh’; is traditionally celebrated on August first or the first Sunday in August. This holiday coincides with the weaning of the lambs born around Imbolc and the shearing of the sheep. It is also the time of first harvest. This day celebrates the protective power of Lugh; the god who opens the way that we might begin the harvest of wild and cultivated crops. Lughnasadh is celebrated with market fairs and games, offerings to the god on hill tops, bonfires, and horse races through water. Just as Brighid tempers the cold winter elements at Imbolc, Lugh tempers the heat of summer at this, the hottest time of the year. Thunderstorms on this day are considered a good omen.
Lugh represents the union of opposites and the victory of law over dissolution and chaos. He presides over communication, commerce, mercantile endeavours (buying, selling, trading, travelling, and moving persons or resources across ‘borders’), oaths, and social contracts. He is a god of the harvest, protection, healing, victory, success, skill in any endeavour, shoes/shoemakers, inspiration, journeys (both worldly and Otherworldly), doorways, borders, games, especially Fidchell/Chess, horse racing and ball sports, especially hurling. He is also strongly associated with Sovereignty. Lugh is the remover of obstacles, the bringer of swift victory, and of excellence in all its forms – and Lughnasadh is his festival.
However, in line with his generous nature, Lugh shares this holy period with a number of other deities. These include goddesses such as Carmun and Tailtiu. So, after much preamble, it is these goddesses which will be our subject here.

Carmun is associated with the great assembly in Co. Wexford, Leinster. Her story is recorded in the Dindshenchas (MD III 2). It describes her as a provident power able to give forth and withhold the abundance of the land. Her father-in-law is described as ‘right hospitable’ and his father as ‘rich in substance’. They come from the East, the direction of Prosperity. However, her husband is named ‘fierce’, and her three sons, ‘violent’, ‘dark’, and ‘wicked’, showing our ambivalent relationship with the natural world – the source of all our food and also of great danger.
Lugh captures Carmun and drives away her sons. She is kept in a grove, her abundance producing powers thus controlled by the god of the tribe, and the tribe itself, while her dangerous offspring are no longer a threat. When she dies, Lugh inaugurates a festival on his holiday in her honour to maintain a good harvest. Whether this is to keep her subject to the tribes needs or to placate her spirit is uncertain, as it is described as merely commemorative. But even as commemoration, it is attributed with power.

By far the most famous goddess associated with the assembly at Lughnasadh is Tailtiu. The Dindshenchas (MD IV 146, quoted above and in detail in the video) say that the Telltown Lughnasadh assembly was instituted for Tailtiu. Her name is related to the Roman goddess Telus, who they equated with Gaia, and likely means ‘Great Land’. She is depicted as the Fir Bolg queen who instituted agriculture and was the foster-mother of Lugh. She died clearing the land that would become Co. Meath, and so Lugh instituted funerary games to be held on Lughnasadh to honour both her and her accomplishments.
Brón Trogain, ‘the sorrowing’ is what Lughnasadh is called in Tochmarc Emire, the Wooing of Emer, and the Acallamh na Senorach refers to it as Lughnasadh but calls the month which it begins ‘Trogan’. This name, so contradictory to the festive and victorious nature of Lughnasadh celebrations, may refer to the death of Tailtiu and related goddesses. This may represent the land’s loss – an obviously conciliatory act, as it is we ourselves who are the one’s about to do the taking.
Just as Carman is associated with a place of the same name and Tailtiu is associated with the great assembly at Telltown in Co. Meath – the ritual center of Ireland – other places also had particular goddesses. For example, Búi or Nás, associated with their assemblies on Lughnasadh.

If we only had a passing familiarity with these goddesses, it might be tempting to conflate them as local variations on the same deity. But the themes they express are different: Tailtiu and the Fir Bolg generally seem to represent the generosity of the land; Carmun, though still a fertile power, had to have her gifts wrested from her and her sons kept from wreaking chaos; and Nás seems to have more to do with politics and Sovereignty than concerns of the harvest. They express different themes as to how Lughnasadh can play out, and so there are stark differences in their relationship with the god Lugh, adversary, foster mother, or wife, but in each place or time, he makes them the matron power of his great assembly.

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