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Lugh

LUGH

LUGH . The pagan Irish deity Lugh (Shining One)the model of kingly leadership and master of all arts and craftscorresponds to the Gaulish god Lugus as well as to the Welsh Llew Llaw Gyffes. Luguswho had widely scattered sites dedicated to him, from Loudun and Laon in France, and Leiden in Netherlands (from Lugu-dunum, or fort of Lugus) to Carlisle in Britainis taken to be the Gaulish Mercury whom Julius Caesar identifies as the god most worshipped by the Gauls, a patron of prosperity and inventor of all the arts. Both Lugh and Lugus were honored on or near August 1, the beginning of the harvest quarter. Celebration of Lughnasa, the August festival honoring Lugh in Ireland, may have commemorated his symbolic ritual marriage to the land of Ireland. It included fairs and assemblies; hilltop gatherings; the first meal from the new crops; games and trials of strength; and horse racing. Traditions about Lugh may have survived in legends of the many Irish saints with the names Lugh or Lughaidh, as well as in legends about Saint Patrick, and early sites associated with his cult may have become associated with these Christian saints.

In the detailed picture of the Irish gods and their society found in The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, a text that includes language from as early as the ninth century, Lugh appears among the gods (called the Tuatha Dé Danann) as the unique practitioner of all the arts (samildánach, meaning skilled in many arts together). When Lugh arrives, the Tuatha Dé are anticipating an attack by the supernatural Fomhoire, who are trying to restore the reign of Bres, whose greed and incompetence forced him to leave Ireland. Bres is the son of the Fomhorian king Elatha and of Ériu (Ireland), a woman of the Tuatha Dé. When his misdeeds drive him from his kingship of the Tuatha Dé, Bres flees to his father's people, the Fomhoire, to gather an army. In response, the Tuatha Dé invite Lugh to lead their defense. Lugh is also half-Fomhorian, but on his mother's side: Eithne, daughter of Balar was given in marriage to Cian, son of the divine physician Dian Cécht, to form an alliance between the two peoples.

Asking what contribution each god will make to the battle, Lugh coordinates the work of the tribe's professionals and artisansfrom weapon makers to physicians, druids, and witchesmaking the tribe stronger through collaborative effort. A master strategist, Lugh sends Eochaidh Ollathair, called the Daghdha (the Good God), to the Fomhorian camp to arrange a truce until Samhain (November 1), the beginning of winter and the start of the Celtic new year, so that the timing of the conflict will be favorable to the Tuatha Dé. Once the battle begins, Lugh's skill at arms tips the balance in favor of the Tuatha Dé. He defeats his Fomhorian grandfather Balar in single combat and deprives the Fomhoire of their greatest weapon, the magical power of Balar's baleful eye. Lugh assumes the responsibilities of a king after Bres's successor Nuadhu is slain, and he arranges the peace treaty between the two peoples. Lugh's bargain for the life of the Fomhorian poet Loch wards off Fomhorian aggression forever, and Lugh's decision to spare the captured Bres brings the Tuatha Dé knowledge of the most favorable days in the agricultural cycle: when to plant, when to sow, when to reap. By his judicious decisions, Lugh establishes a lasting peace and gives the Tuatha Dé access to Bres's power over agricultural prosperity.

In the later, related tale Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann, Lugh appears as his father's avenger, exacting from the kinsmen who murdered Cian a wergild that includes having to win magical weapons that will be used against the Fomhoire. The guilty cousins are killed completing the final task of the wergild, but Lugh himself commits no act of violence and thus avoids perpetuating a cycle of kinslaying. In the epic tale Táin Bó Cuailnge (The cattle raid of Cooley), a tale known from manuscripts that include language from as early as the eighth century, Lugh appears as the father of Cú Chulainn, the preeminent Ulster hero whose single combats determine victory for his province against forces drawn from the rest of Ireland. In Baile in Scáil, a ninth-century text associated with the political claims of Irish kings, Lugh foretells and legitimizes an extended succession of Uí Néill rulers.

Lugh is said to be the originator of assemblies and to the inventor of an Irish game of strategy resembling chess (fidhchell ), as well as ball-playing and horseracing. He is also said to have founded an assembly held on Lughnasa at Tailtiu in honor of his foster mother. Lugh's marriages link him symbolically to the land of Ireland, and his queens include Buí, a goddess of Munster, and Nás, eponym of a site in Leinster. He dies at Uisnech when he drowns fleeing grandsons of the Daghdha, who seek to avenge their father, slain by Lugh through jealousy over one of his queens.

See Also

Celtic Religion, overview article.

Bibliography

Gray, Elizabeth A., ed. Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired. Naas, Ireland, 1982. Provides text and translation; contains extensive indices of references to the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fomhoire in early and later medieval Irish literature.

Gray, Elizabeth A. "Lug and Cú Chulainn: King and Warrior, God and Man." Studia Celtica 24/25 (19891990): 3852. Explores key facets of the mythological dossier of Lugh and his heroic offspring.

Mac Cana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. New York, 1970. Succinct, authoritative, and comprehensive survey, extensively illustrated with photographs of significant items of Celtic material culture; includes chapters on the Tuatha Dé Danann and on the Irish heroic tradition.

MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of the Harvest. 2 vols. Dublin, 1982. Provides an extensive discussion of both learned and popular literary sources related to Lugh and details folk customs associated with the celebration of Lughnasa.

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinley Rees. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. London, 1961. Far-reaching and ahead of its time; explores the range of Celtic mythic tradition in the Indo-European context, including reference to the work of Georges Dumézil, with exhaustive notes that provide access to both specialist studies and more general works.

Elizabeth A. Gray (2005)

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