Welcome to the second entry of Better Know a Celt, a series I started with the intention of getting to know the gods and goddesses of my chosen hearth cultures. The Celt for August is, surprise surprise, one Lugh Lámhfhada, Lugh of the Long Arm, Many-Skilled, Craftsman, Artist and Athlete Extraordinaire. I’ve often described Lugh to non-Celts as an Irish Apollo, which, on the surface, isn’t too far from the truth. Both gods seem to be jack-of-all-trades, having such a diverse purview that it might be easier to say what They’re not in charge of. Both are also gods of light (though not necessarily the sun), are both warriors and artists, and are shown in mythology to care deeply for Their mothers.
Writing this post has been difficult, not because there’s any dearth of mythical information about Lugh or because His modern followers are silent – to the contrary, He seems to be one of the more popular Celtic gods nowadays – but because I find so little connection with Him. I have some vague sense of what His presence is like, and He’s indistinguishable from Aengus Óg’s presence in my mind: warm, quiet laughter, but golden where Aengus is red. Which leads me to wonder if there’s some connection between the two gods (there is) or if I’m just getting nothing from Lugh and projecting His image onto Aengus (which is probably also true).
But, it’s important for me to know all the Tuatha Dé Danann, not just the Ones Who seem most important to me. They all have Their place, Their thread in the tapestry. (There’s also a lot to be said for recognizing that not all the gods are going to like me, or that Some may have a “meh” reaction at my presence. That’s okay when you’re a polytheist. Not all practitioners are cut out for all gods, and it’s okay to have some you only honor once in a great while – say, Lugh at Lughnasadh – or even not at all.)
So, without further ado, I present to you a god who really needs no introduction: Lugh.
What personal experience I have with Lugh comes from my ritual this past Lughnasadh, where He and His foster mother Tailtiu were the Patrons of my rite. I offered a lot of alcohol at that ritual, but Lugh got his very own shot glass full of whiskey; I felt a chuckle of approval and found myself laughing in return. It felt very relaxed and informal, like buying a drink for a friend instead of offering to a Shining One.
Prior to Lughnasadh, I spent some time researching and collecting articles on my personal wiki to prepare for getting to know Lugh. I consider this reconnaissance phase similar to stalking potential dates via Facebook and Twitter; there’s all that information out there I can use to get to know Them better so I don’t show up looking completely out of my depth – or worse, uninterested. (Okay, so maybe Facebook stalking isn’t the best metaphor. It’s harder to creep on a god than a human date, I guess.)
One of the first things I tried to do was create a family tree for Lugh, and it quickly became tangled and linked to nearly every other player in Irish narrative. Besides the usual familial complications that come from merely being a mythological character, Lugh’s family tree is so complicated because he has both a biological family and a foster family. From what little I’ve gathered, fosterage is a serious concept in Celtic mythology, with foster families sometimes taking precedence over one’s biological kin.
Lugh’s biological father is Cian, the son of Dian Cécht, an Irish god of medicine and healing wells. His aunt Airmed and uncle Miach are also linked with healing and, in Airmed’s case, herbalism. (Miach, Airmed, and Dian Cécht’s story ends in tragedy; you can read about it here.) Lugh’s biological mother is Ethniu, daughter of Balor. Yes, that Balor – Balor of the Evil Eye, king of the Formorians, the “evil” race of giants who ruled over Irish lands before the arrival of Danu’s people. There was a prophecy against Balor that He would be killed by His grandson, and so He preemptively locked his daughter Ethniu in a tower far away from the possibility of getting impregnated by any man. That worked about as well as one might expect; Lugh was conceived, and He went on to kill His Formorian grandfather.
Now, both Manannán mac Lir and Tailtiu, Queen of the Fir Bolgs, are listed as foster parents for Lugh, but I haven’t found any information suggesting the two of Them were married. Perhaps this is an amalgamation of two (or more) localities’ myths; after all, the Welsh Lleu and the Continental Lugus suggest Lugh to be a pan-Celtic deity. I’ve written on both Manannán and Tailtiu before on this blog. Both are deities I’m interested in, and Both seem more connected to nature than are Lugh’s biological parents. In honor of Tailtiu’s death, Lugh institutes a series of games and feasting similar to the Olympics that evolves into Lughnasadh, the modern celebration of first fruits and harvests.
Lugh is the father of the famous hero Cúchulainn by Deichtine, sister of the famous Ulster King Conchobar mac Nessa. I can find a short list of names of other wives/lovers and offspring, but that’s all they are; a list, without much other information. One of Lugh’s wives, left unnamed in this story, had an affair with the Dagda‘s son Cermait, whom Lugh promptly slays in retaliation. (Mustn’t have those unnamed wives sleeping around, after all.) Cermait’s three sons, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Gréine – [shouldn’t they all be Mac Cermaits? Ah well] – drown Lugh in Loch Lugborta and go on to become High Kings of Ireland. As for Lugh, he walked it off and doesn’t seem to be any worse for wear for having drowned.
A good phrase to sum up Lugh is “anything you can do, I can do better.” This guy is good at everything, from the martial to the bardic arts, speechcraft, healing, anything involving horses or dogs, strategy games like chess – heck, He’s even good at being a cobbler! (I bet He’s got a knack for underwater basket weaving, too.)
Lámhfhada, how I describe Him in the title of this post, means “of the long hand.” I’ve occasionally seen this translated as “of the strong arm” as well, but since I’m no expert in ancient Irish, take that with saltshakers handy. This seems to be one of His most common epithets used in the modern rituals and invocations I’ve read.
Ildanach and Samildanach both mean “[equally] skilled in all arts,” referring to His ability to master any skill He comes across. Lonnbeimnech (“fierce striker”) and Maicnia (“young warrior”) both refer to Lugh’s warrior prowess in particular.
Two epithets I found – Lethsuanach (“half-cloaked”) and Scal (“phantom”) – leave me curious and wanting more information. Could there be more to this cheerful golden warrior, who can argue philosophy and beat you at a game of chess just as easy as He can drink you under a table or win an arm-wrestling competition? (The answer is, of course, yes. There is always more to the gods than you see on the surface.)
And what is a warrior without His weapon, or a bard without His instrument?
Lugh’s weapon of choice is His spear, one of the four fabled treasures the Tuatha Dé Danann brought with Them upon Their exodus from Their home to Ireland. Lugh’s spear comes from the ancient city of Gorias and is described from a variety of sources (of varying qualities) as Gae Assail (“Spear of Assal”), Areadbhair (“Slaughterer”), Sleá Bua (“Spear of Victory”), as made of yew, and as being unconquerable in battle.
There’s a fabulous story of Lugh going to Tara in hopes of joining the Tuatha Dé Danann, and He impresses Them by boasting about His many, many, many skills. One of these skills is being a harpist, and one of Lugh’s sons – Cnú Deireóil – is a harpist as well.
Lugh’s animals are horses, canines – especially wolves and hounds – seals, and birds like crows and wrens. There are a variety of colors one might use to represent Him, but I’m specially fond of white, gold, and red. Also, He seems to like booze a lot, so if you’re thinking of talking to Him, why not pour Him a drink?
Acting in His Honor
I got to the end of this post and have realized I’ve barely scratched the surface of what and who Lugh is. There are tons of information and myths out there about Him. So to give some final thoughts, what might you do once you’ve decided Lugh is Someone you want to honor?
To me, Lugh stands for honor and victory, which when put together (at least in my mind) equals justice. Be truthful in word and deed; act and speak with honor and integrity; even to the most base of tasks, dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to their completion. On a sliding scale of “chaos” to “order,” Lugh seems pretty firmly in the “order” camp. When you act, always act in a manner that furthers community harmony, guides growth, eases pain, and stands up for the little guy. Lugh is not the kind of fella who stays silent, especially around bullies and unjust institutions.
Lugh is also about making yourself the best you can be so when faced with injustice – whether it’s the injustice of a playground bully, unfair legislation, or the injustice of hungry children in your neighborhood – you’re ready to fight. This is a battle that has to be waged mind, body, and soul. It’s not enough to just be physically strong; you’ve got to be smart, and you’ve got to have heart.
So what can you actually do in Lugh’s name? Well, for starters:
- Volunteer at animal shelters or with charities like Angels of Assisi.
- Support local food banks or any organizations like Feeding America that work to spread the harvest around.
- Honor your body by regularly exercising and eating well, especially if it’s locally sourced food (his foster mom was an agricultural goddess, after all).
- Take up martial arts or competitive sports.
- Practice singing, storytelling, or the instrument of your choice, especially stringed ones.
- Learn to be an ally. Speak up when you see instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other kind of oppression.
That’s just off the top of my head. Since Lugh’s purview is just about everything, you can do just about anything in His name and for His worship. Where do your strengths lie? Where do you feel like He’s pushing you to improve? Do that.
- The Lugh Shrine at New Tara
- The Second Battle of Mag Tuired
- The Long Road to Identifying My Patron by Carpdeus
- The Lammas Vs. Lughnasadh thread on The Cauldron