Posted by: Brian | July 27, 2016

What is Lugh today?

Lugnassad, luaidh a hada
Cecha bliadna ceinmara,
Fromad cech toraid co m-blaid,
Biad lusraid la Lugnasaid.

Lughnasadh, makes know its dues
In each distant year:
Tasting every famous fruit,
Food of herbs at Lughnasadh.

~ Collected my K Meyer in Hibernica Minora (1894) ~

Lugh’s name is likely derived from ‘lightning’ or ‘swiftness’ or ‘oath’. This god is born to Ethniu in her tower of glass then fostered by Manannán and Tailtiu. He arrives at the royal seat of Tara to lead the Tuatha Dé to victory in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, where he defeats his grandfather, Balor of the Baleful Eye.

His most common epithets include MacEthlenn, ‘Son of Ethniu’, Samildanach, ‘Equally Skilled in All Arts’, and Lamhfada, ‘of the Long Hand’.

His name is cognate to the Welsh Llew, and the Continental Lugus, as well as the Spanish Lugo or Lugoues (plural). The Romans interpreted him as Mercury, and his is probably the model from which the Germanic Odin/Wodan developed in the 1st century BCE. The Church re-sanctified many of his sites in France and the British Isles by attributing them to St Michael, another defender against the powers of Chaos.

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, traveling, and moving persons or resources across ‘borders’), oaths, and social contracts. Furthermore he is a god of the harvest, protection, healing, victory, success, skill in any endeavour, shoes, journeys, doorways, borders, games, especially Fidchell/Chess, ball sports, especially hurling, and horse racing.  He is also strongly associated with Sovereignty. Lugh is a ‘friendly’ god, a fact attested to by his pan-Celtic appeal; he was worshiped throughout the Celtic world and was popular among all classes of people from kings to shoemakers to farmers. The fact that he is often depicted in triplicate, or simply described by the plural form of his name, would also indicate he can be many places at once, or assist in multiple endeavours. Thus this god is intimately entwined with many aspects of public and private life.

Alexei Kondratiev comments on his polyvalent and popular nature by saying, Lugh “is the saviour-hero, the bringer of happy endings, the embodiment of a new synthesis that transcends earlier problems. Very likely the elaboration and dissemination of his cult by the druids was associated with a wealth of theological speculation. In his daring ‘leaps’ – an element stressed in several traditions about him – he even puts one in mind of the Vedic Vishnu, whose ‘steps’ create space where there was none, permitting the defeat of the cosmic destroyer Vrtra.  It is quite possible that the druidic thinking about Lugh was developing along similar lines, and that, if the religion of the Free Celts had been left to evolve on its own, Lugh would have come to play a role as universal and all-pervading as Vishnu does in modern Hinduism.” [Apple Branch p.183]

The preceding is as applicable today as it was when the worship of Lugh was at the height of its appeal.  But we, as modern pagans, tend to focus on some of these spheres while ignoring others, or treating them as obsolete.

To address this point I would like to ask:

“What is Lugh today?”

Lugh as protector of the harvest, defender of order, victor, skill-bringer, and game-winner, are all still popular spheres among neo-pagans.  In fact, for many urban pagans, who have no real connection to food production, Lugh’s role along with those of many other deities allows us to cultivate a kind of mindfulness around this basic necessity that is too easily taken for granted.

His lightning is a powerful symbol for the experience of Imbas or prophesy,  the ethical repercussions of his role as a guarantor of oaths, and even his powers of healing (as the blasting of disease).

Where do we see Lugh’s battle against the Fomoire and their powers of chaos and dissolution?  Mad cow disease? Crop blight? West Nile virus? SARS?  At first these suggestions might sound simplistic or naïve, but protecting the cattle and corn is part of his traditional role; and being a healer and equally skilled in all arts, Lugh is the ideal candidate to oversee research and development and interdisciplinary studies for any practical or technical field like medicine; medicine being one more arena wherein we battle the powers of chaos and dissolution.

Though Lugh is a culture god with a great interest in the arts (which includes sciences and trades), he also stands against the imbalance and chaos we humans have caused.  In the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, when Bres is pleading for his life, he offers Lugh and the gods a crop in every season and an un-natural overabundance of milk.  Lugh declines, understanding that this is no less chaotic that the stingy and ungenerous attitudes expressed by Bres earlier in the story. Does this offer us any insight on the way we use our resources?  Usually the fomoire represent powers outside those of the gods and the tribe, but as imbalance can be expressed by our technologies as readily as by fomoirian magics, thematically they can express our own actions as well.  Lugh’s dialogue with Bres can be seen as a call for restraint or for balance.

Unfortunately, the spheres of commerce, politics, military defense, and contracts (integral to the legal professions), all sacred to Lugh, are largely treated by neo-pagans as secular, if not outright counter-religious, spheres of human activity.

This view, of course, is a result of many factors coming together:  those Christian denominations which polarize spirit and material life; the alternative community views brought to light in the 1960’s counter culture (which were born out of the ‘drop-out’ mentality of the 1950’s); as well as the ongoing dialogue North American culture is having between values of individualism vs. community, and what we expect from our various institutions.  These have all strongly impacted both modern secular and modern pagan views.  I think the modern assumptions which write off our governments and large institutions as inherently corrupt are in part responsible for the low opinions we have of them.  I also think by assuming they are corrupt by nature actually provides an excuse for bad behaviour and lax ethics within these spheres of activity.

What if, instead of deriding these aspects of our culture, we acted on the premise that they are, or at least should be, governed by sacred standards, and thus acted within them and critiqued them accordingly?  What if we stopped accepting unreasonably greedy behavior from ‘business’?  What if we demand an equitable and fair exchange of energy (goods, time, effort, money are all just manifestations of energy/resources which we are capable of exchanging) regardless of the sphere?  Does this give a different way of participating in the world in which we live? To adapt a Christian expression, “What would Lugh do?”

On a more playful note; hockey was first invented on Long Pond, in Windsor Nova Scotia, by a bunch of Irishmen trying to play hurling on ice. Hurling resembles grass hockey and has been played in Ireland for at least 2000 years – CúChúllainn and Finn MacCumhal the great heroes of the Ulster and Fenian Cycles were both avid hurling players.  CúChúllainn’s father, the god Lugh, is the inventor of ball sports, and hurling ‘play-offs’ took place at Lughnasadh. So Lugh as the patron of hurling can thus be seen, by natural extension, as the patron of our national sport: Hockey!  🙂

This is hardly a complete survey of the god Lugh in our modern world, but I do hope that it offers some food for thought.  Many neo-pagans seem all too willing to see our religion(s) in terms of the modern world.  I’d love to see more of us attempt to see the modern world in terms of our religion(s).  I think a living religion requires both perspectives.

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Responses

  1. Sounds like you are describing social justice, which happily some of us are seeing through the lenses of our religions and deity devotion. I like your placing Lugh into this context, and even connecting him with hockey! I think along these lines we can readily connect him with the harvest and food production wherever we live, not necessarily by some of us being food producers, but by all of us being food eaters, and more of us having an awareness of the problems with industrial food production, processing, and ability of everyone to access quality food. Food bank donating and volunteering, organizing food drives, gleaning fields and orchards for food pantries, helping kids learn about our food sourcrs, donating fresh produce to retirement homes, or adopting a hungry family might be meaningful ways to engage with the harvest season through Lugh, protector of harvest and social order, hence justice. It is a good conversation to start.


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