Cian son of Dian Cecht whose other name was Scal Balb, gave her (Tailltiu) his son in fosterage, namely Lug, whose mother was Eithne daughter of Balar.¹
As discussed Nuadu Airgetlam was a known deity, not on the continent of Europe but more locally to England and Ireland. Lug by comparison, extends over the whole area of Europe once dominated by the Celtic languages. Within the context of Irish folklore, Lug is the most prominent amongst all of the gods within the Celtic pantheon. He is at first a foster-son made king. A king made warrior. A warrior made culture-hero. The Christian scribes made Lug analogous with David, the boy who takes down Goliath. The zealous scribes, as will be shown, developed a narrative inspired by the Biblical story of the Old Testament and were instrumental in keeping the folklore of Lug alive.
As such Lug is the epitome of a deity reconstructed to fit the political mould of the day. The investigation of Lug will shed light on his Christian and pre-Christian personas, in order to glimpse the many roles of Lug, and what and to whom he may have symbolised.
For once we are not confined to the manuscripts of Irish folklore to find, not far from these shores, votive inscriptions of ‘Lugus’ at the rock sanctuary of the Peñalba de Villastar in Spain and on a lead tablet found in Chamalières in France, inciting the deity. The plurality of his name is found in a Latin inscription dedicated to a divine group of ‘Lugoues’, found in Osma, Spain on behalf of a guild of shoemakers. A not insignificant detail considering Llew in Welsh mythology appears as a shoe-maker. Even closer to this island, Carlisle in England during Roman occupation was once known as ‘Lugu-valium’.²
The Roman Emperor identified the most powerful god of the Gauls with Mercury, “inventor of all the arts” believed to be a reference to Lugus³. Emperor Augustus, inaugurated the “fort of Lugus” (Lyon), once the capital of Roman Gaul as late as 18 BC on the 1st August. Perhaps not so coincidentally the festival attributed to Lug (Lughnasad) was commemorated on the same date in Ireland.⁴
His name enters as an element in personal names; ‘Trenalugos’, ‘Luguaedon’, ‘Lugu-dex’.⁵ In Irish mythology he is sometimes referred to as Lug Lamfada (long hand) or Samildánach (equally skilled in many arts) a similar appellation found in the Welsh mythological figure, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, “Lleu of the Skillful Hand”.
In the chronological order of the LGE texts, as edited and translated by R.A.S. MacAlister (1870-1950) accounts of Lug include;
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min (305) There were four cities in which they were acquiring knowledge and science and diabolism: these are their names, Failias, Goirias, Findias, Muirias. From Failias they brought the Lia Fáil which is in Temair, used to utter a cry under every king that should take Ireland. From Goirias they brought the spear which Lug used: battle would never go against him who had it in hand.
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min (309) It is the Tuatha De Danann who brought with them the Great Fal, (that is, the Stone of Knowledge), which was in Temair, whence Ireland bears the name of the “The Plain of Fal.” He under whom it should utter a cry was King of Ireland; until Cu Chulainn smote it, for it uttered no cry under him nor under his fosterling, Lugaid son of the three Finds of Emain. And from that out the stone uttered no cry save under Conn of Temair. Then its heart flew out from it (from Temair) to Tailltiu, so that is the Heart of Fal which is there. It was no chance which caused it, but Christ’s being born, which is what broke the powers of the idols.
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min (311) Tailltiu daughter of Mag Mor king of Spain, queen of the Fir Bolg, came after the slaughter was inflicted upon the Fir Bolg in that first battle of Mag Tuired to Coill Cuan: and the wood was cut down by her, so it was a plain under clover-flower before the end of a year. This is that Tailltiu who was wife of Eochu son of Erc king of Ireland till the Tuatha De Danann slew him, ut praediximus: it is he who took her from her father from Spain; and it is she who slept with Eochu Garb son of Dui Dall of the Tuatha De Danann; and Cian son of Dian Cecht whose other name was Scal Balb, gave her his son in fosterage, namely Lug, whose mother was Eithne daughter of Balar.
So Tailltiu died in Tailltiu, and her name clave thereto and her grave is from the Seat of Tailltiu north-eastward. Her games were performed every year and her song of lamentation, by Lug. With gessa and feats of arms were they performed, a fortnight before Lugnasad and a fortnight after: unde dicitur Lugnasad, that is the celebration (?) or the festival of Lug.
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min (312) After the death of Nuadu and of those men, LUG took the kingship of Ireland and his grandfather Balar the Strong Smiter fell at his hands, with a stone from his sling. Lug was forty years in the kingship of Ireland after the last battle of Mag Tuired, and there were twenty-seven years between these battles.
TUATHA DE DANANN: Min & R1 (319) The adventures of Tuirill Biccreo and of his sons, Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba. This is what will here be related: Now Delbaeth s. Ogma had the name of Tuirill Piccreo, and it is his sons who slew Ethlend father of Lug, whose name was Cian, when he went in the form of a lapdog to the Brug. So Lug came to avenge his father upon them, or till they should pay him the wergild for him.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R3 (361 Though Lugaid Red-stripe was foster to Cu Chulaind, he was older than Cu Chulaind. Lugaid Red-stripe was a pupil in martial matters of Cu Chulaind.
TUATHA DE DANANN: R3 (366) Forty years had Lug, till the three sons of Cermat slew him in Caendruim, that is in Uisnech.
SONS OF MIL: R1 (396) As for Tea d. Lugaid s. Íth, she it was whom Érimón took instead of Odba; and she was to choose a mound in Ireland as her bridal portion. This is the marriage-price which she chose, Druim Chain, the mound which is Temair; Temair is Tea Mur, “the Wall of Tea (d. Lugaid s. Ith).” Lugaid means Lug Íth, that is, “Lug, who was less than his father.”
Early in the passages about Lug we are instantly met with the forces of Christianity. It is only fitting that we then work backwards from this point to understand the pre-Christian elements, as they are presented to us towards the end of the passages.
First things first, the chief worship centre of the TDD, Temair more widely known in Irish mythology as Tara is identified. Temair, later anglicised as Teltown is an area in Co. Meath, between Navan and Kells. It was at Tara that the High Kings of Ireland were inaugurated. The would-be king proved his worthiness to the kingship in which the final blessing was given to him under the ‘Great Fal’. “He under whom it should utter a cry was King of Ireland”.
The TDD we are told acquired their knowledge from four cities, one of which was Failias from where they brought with them the ‘Great Fal’ or ‘Stone of Knowledge’ to Ireland, which again shows the application of this word to a stone that held some important meaning, used in ceremony at Tara. I will return to the entry about Lug’s spear and its meaning as we get closer to the symbolic meaning of the deity.
This brings us to an interesting passage where we are told that Cu Chulainn, a figure within the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology ‘smote’ the Great Fal, the reason being that it no longer cried under him or Lug. Only when one Conn, stood under the Great Fal did its heart flee from that place, breaking the power of the old gods or those who bore their name and instead recognising Conn’s right to kingship because of Christ being born. This Conn can be found in a separate piece of folklore called Baile an Scáil⁶ who on walking across the stone hears it utter a scream. Startled by the event, Conn is consoled by three druids; Móel, Blocc and Bluicne who give him an historical account of the stone’s significance.
This either implies that over time, Tara’s importance as a religious sanctuary and its use by the High Kings had either ceased or that Conn’s presumed ignorance of the significance of the stone, nods to his breaking with the old pagan rituals and beliefs in favour of the new religion, Christianity. This Conn ‘of Temair’ which assigns to him a position of importance at Tara, is the grandfather of Cormac Mac Airt, a later High King of Ireland during the early days of Christianity, which points to the latter being the favoured theory.
The ‘Heart of Fal’, which MacAlister believes might also have been some stone or fetish at Temair used in the rites of the king’s inauguration and possibly periodically to renew the kings strength throughout his reign⁷ is here identified as one of the idols of a pre-Christian religion, the second is the Great Fal or ‘Lia Fáil’. After much soul searching and a lifetime of research even MacAlister conceded to the popular theory that this Fál* far from having an ancient meaning was a late scholastic invention created by drawing on the Greco-Latin word phallus and as such the Lia (stone) represents the symbol of reproductive power.⁸ These once significant and powerful idols of the old religion are ridiculed and demonised in name, and subsequently destroyed by the birth of Christ, i.e. the adoption of Christianity in Ireland.
This ‘adoption’ as alluded to in previous posts, evidenced in the reference to Lug and Cu Chulainn in the same breath as Christ, was not an immediate one. The lack of written evidence of martyrdom in this country does not and should not lead the reader to believe that Christianity was an overnight success. Far from it. A period of what MacAlister calls ‘syncretism’ was underway; the ‘cohabitation’ of both Christian and non-Christian beliefs until the latter was slowly eased out.
“Syncretism implies that the people while accepting the new teaching do not relinquish the old; they merely add Christ to their pantheon.”⁹
This leads us nicely onto the third passage. It contains much information about one Tailltiu, a daughter of the King of Spain named ‘Mag Mor’, which literally means in Irish ‘Great Plain’. She is at first abducted and married to the last leader of the Fir Bolg tribe, Eochu Mac Erc who dies in the First Battle of Mag Tuired. Perhaps as a spoil of war she is gifted to another named Eochu Garb, son of Dui Dall, or Dui of the Blind, of the TDD who were triumphant in that battle. She is entrusted with the rearing of Lug, the love-child of Cian also called ‘Scál Balb’, and Eithne, daughter of Balor linked with the Fomorian tribe. Tailltiu clears a plain and is buried there after she dies which is the explanation as to why it is named after her.
The five key pagan religious assemblies were located at Temair, Tailltiu, Carman, Tlachtga and Uisnech. These different assemblies honoured different deities as they were conducted at different days of the year. Lughnasad (1st Aug) the beginning of autumn was celebrated at both Tailltiu and Carman locations. The festival of Samain (1st Nov) the beginning of winter, celebrating the death of the spirit of vegetation was held at Temair and Tlachtga, Beltane (1st May) the beginning of summer at Uisnech.¹⁰
Tailltiu is also mentioned in the story of Baile an Scáil when the three druids tell Conn that the Great Fal which he accidentally walked upon was to remain forever in the Land of Tailltiu whereupon a field of games in her honour were to be conducted annually so long as there was a monarchy in Temair.⁹ The ‘gessa’ mentioned in the passage is the plural of ‘geis’, a specific restriction applied to an individual or a group of individuals. In the case of the king who I have theorized in my previous post (TDD – Bress) represented a god incarnate on earth, specific gessa and “feats of arms” were imposed on the king to protect him from injury or from the injury of others, further alluding to the king’s assumed divinity.¹¹
There is some reason to believe that Lug represented a sun-god. There is little evidence to the theory but we might refer back to the spear brought from Goirias that “battle would never go against him who had it in hand”. In my first post (TDD – Origin) we already know that the root word for Goirias identified by MacAlister is ‘gor’ meaning fire, an element symbolic with the sun. MacAlister suggests that as the incarnation of Lug (the sun-god), the king’s duty at Lughnasad was to align with his consort, the moon or the earth, in an effort to keep the sun shining long into the autumn for the benefit of the harvest and that the Tailltiu and Carman locations both served as sun-shrines .¹² Why then, would a festival such as this, pregnant with pagan custom be kept alive by the medieval scribes eager to remove all memory of a religion that threatened the adoption of Christianity?
As discussed by Mark Williams in Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth, the great ‘óenach’ or fair held at Tailltiu was the most famous of all the assemblies not only for its political, religious and judicial business conducted there but also served to attract game play and trade. The festival already had an association with the pagan Lug and so Williams suggests that the scribes have appropriated the deity as a symbol of ideal kingship overlapping him with another from the Old Testament who personified the Christian aspect, King David. Williams states that a later tradition assigned Tailltiu as foster-mother to Lug and the assembly, held there in commemoration of her was called Lughnasad, probably meaning the ‘Festival of Lug’.¹³ The intentional overlapping of the lives of pagan gods with the Old Testament is apparent in the fourth passage where we are told that Lug kills his grandfather Balar the Strong Smiter with a stone from a sling, a parallel of the story of David, who killed the Philistine Goliath using the same method and becomes king.
Indeed the similarities do not end here. The Biblical David is described as a handsome youth and by his taking down the giant Goliath, a worthy warrior. As a king his actions deem him wise and just and also skilled in the arts of poetry and music.¹⁴ Similar characteristics are attributed to Lug ‘equally skilled in many arts’ and in the description of him in stanza 10 of POEM XLVIII in the LGE; “Lug the complete who was a man smoothly-pleasant and generous.”
Williams suggests that the memory of the pagan god was kept alive in the writings of the Christian scholars to mirror David of the Old Testament, further legitimising that Ireland was ready to “receive the truth of Christianity, being already long prepared for it.”¹⁵ In doing so the Christian scribes have re-constructed Lug as the ‘culture hero’ of the festival at Tailltiu and his prowess in the games held there set out the idealised projection of characteristics that future kings should display in asserting their royal power. Lug’s re-construction based on the Old Testament Biblical story not only represents the old religion but the predecessor to Christianity in the same way that King David is the predecessor in the lineage of Christ.
The fifth passage leads us to story elaborated in ‘Oidheadh Cloinne Tuireann’ or ‘The Fate of the Children of Tuireann’ where Lug seeks to avenge the death of his father Cian who is called Ethlend when in the form of a dog. Lug confronts the sons of Delbaeth, (Tuirill Biccreo) the three gods of Dana: Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba. What follows is their admission to the murder and their travels overseas to procure magical items and weapons for Lug as their blood fine / compensation. The items and lands mentioned are borrowed from several sources including Jason and the Argonauts and The Apples of the Hesperides in Greek mythology and King Arthur’s Avalon¹⁶ illustrating the obvious artificiality of the story.
In the sixth and eight passages various personas of Lug are given in the LGE. We are met with Lug the deity, Lugaid the foster-son of Cu Chulainn, Lugaid ‘Red Stripe’ and Lug the son of Cian and also of Íth. One ‘man’ cannot be all things to all people and so we infer that the scribes have recorded for us all persons with the name attributed to Lug.
“numerous literary figures – often heroes or legendary ancestors, and definitely intended to be mortal – look like alter egos of the god.”¹⁷
“But Lug’s most famous possible avatar is an ally of Mac Con (and in some traditions, his cousin), Finn mac Cumaill. The legendary Finn was the leader of a fían— a band of young, aristocratic warrior-hunters— and he became the focus of a lush body of later medieval and modern Gaelic tradition.”¹⁸
“One further special case may be significant, albeit problematic: the crucial bond between Lug and the Ulstermen’s greatest hero, Cú Chulainn. According to the great epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’), Cú Chulainn is Lug’s son. But according to the much shorter tale Compert Con Culainn (‘Cú Chulainn’s Conception’), he is also in some sense his mortal incarnation.”¹⁹
In this tale Lug who fathers Cú Chulainn, does so successfully on the third attempt and although three separate births are given the scholars describe them as a triple birth, marking the hero as someone of importance. Here Williams suggests that as a medieval re-incarnation of Lug, Cú Chulainn’s life overlaps with that of Christ, both living for thirty-three years but a disparaging comparison of Cú Chulainn’s natural conception by sexual intercourse is made by the Christian scholars in contrast to the divine conception of Christ to a virgin mother.
The process of syncretism not only weakened the influence of pre-Christian beliefs by downgrading pagan gods to mere mortals but also established a distinguished ancestral line for Ireland’s elite. As Lug was the preferred cross-over from pagan to Christian belief, his name was regularly adopted by communities claiming to be descended from or in reverence to him.
Williams identifies tribal names such as the Luigni or ‘People of Lugus’ and the Luigni Temro (‘of Tara’) who named their people after him, found in the memorial inscriptions on ogham stones, in the form LUGUNI.²⁰ Ogham stones represent a pagan tradition of early writing in the 5th to the 9th century and stood to commemorate the elite in personal name, sometimes followed by the name of their descendent and / or preferred tribal ancestor / devotee.
Williams also identifies many of these elite who had taken the name of the ancestor-deity to legitimise their claim of political authority,
“Luigne Fer Trí, legendary ancestor of the Luigni of Connaught and fosterer of the wise king Cormac mac Airt, is a likely candidate. So is Lugaid Mac Con, a pseudohistorical king of Tara associated with the Érainn people of Munster, whom Cormac, according to legend, displaced as king.”²²
“A fourth is Lugaid Riab nDerg (‘the red-striped’), who like Mac Con was remembered as a legendary king of Tara.”²³
We may recall that Cormac Mac Airt ruled as High King of Ireland during the early days of Christianity. Cormac still in the process of converting to Christianity was slow to give up the ancestor-deity that legitimised his claim to the kingship. The Christian converters understanding his dilemma, but keen to have Ireland’s religious and political figure-head ‘on board’ so to speak, kept alive Lug, the games associated with him and the tales of his heroic deeds until the recognition of Christ as the one true God, was fully realised by the king’s successors.
As the assemblies were connected by the seasonal activities of the year, it would follow that when the celebration of one ceased so too did the celebration and religious recognition of all the others. The last recorded celebration at Temair related to the feast of Samain was 559 or 560 A.D. Diarmait mac Cerrbeil, the last High King to have had pagan sympathies, was murdered four years later.²⁴
Returning back to the seventh passage we are told that Lug reigned for forty years as king of the TDD until he was slain by the three sons of Cermat at Caendruim in Uisnech. As discussed in TDD – Bress, we may here identify this Lug with Fiachu who I suggested assumed the name of the deity when he acquired the kingship after the death of his father Delbaeth. Cermat’s three sons Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Greine whose names mean son (in this case god) of hazel, ploughshare and sun, slay ‘Lug’ in order to succeed him.
This leads us to the last passage where Tea is named daughter of Lug and Íth his father. We can imagine the scribes, scratching their shaved-pate heads when this anomaly came through from tit-bits of folklore from some place in Ireland. Trying to make sense of it as anyone might, they landed on the solution that Íth was the reason of the suffix to Lug-aid, who they proudly claimed was “less than his father”.
This passage is taken from the section of the LGE relating to the incoming invaders, the Sons of Míl known as the Milesians. Érimón is named one of the leaders of that tribe. Tea as will be revealed in my next blog post is linked to a secret. But for now it is enough to say that in the folklore of the Milesian invasion she is named a daughter of Lugaid mac Itha. Lug again lives on as a tribal ancestor of Míl, Íth being Míl’s brother. Érimón is son of Míl and so the family relationship between Érimón and Lug would be first cousins.
We are then given a reason for the naming of Temair, the pairing of Tea with Mur (wall) as the place of her final resting place and the location for the agricultural festival of Samain. As already mentioned Samain was the celebration of the death of the spirit of vegetation on 1st November, the beginning of winter. MacAlister suggests it would follow that the re-birth of the spirit of vegetation should have been celebrated at the vernal equinox.
His evidence for this second celebration at Temair lies in the story of St. Patrick who according to legend lit the Pascal fire in full view of Temair prior to the alleged lighting of an annual fire there to celebrate Beltane on the 1st May. St Patrick’s actions were considered by the pagan custom to be a grievous offense. As the Paschal fire is lit on Easter Eve, which in 433 A.D. was the 24th March MacAlister argues against the story’s intended reason as the replacement of the festival of Beltane with Easter as it occurred at a far earlier date. Even as with the festival of Lughnasad whose celebrations began two weeks before the 1st August, a fortnight before the Beltane date would mean the earliest date for the Easter festival would have been the 17th April.
The presiding king at Temair, king Loeguire mac Néill was also said to have been celebrating his birthday. MacAlister finds no evidence of birthdays being celebrated in pagan times and so asserts that king Loeguire as the incarnation of the deity was instead celebrating the feast of the rebirth of the god of vegetation on or around the 25th March.²⁵
This theory heightened MacAlister’s interest in Tea and in her descent from Lug, the incarnation of the sun-god from Ith ‘corn’ and Tea’s marriage to Érimón or ‘ploughman’. In effect, he believes that the scribes have retold to us some ancient story of an ancestress who personified this spirit of vegetation.²⁶ If his theory holds, by his association in the re-birth of the spirit of vegetation, there is even more reason to believe that Lug might once have personified a solar deity.
In the statement that “Lug, who was less than his father” we could read many meanings. Lug, as part of the Celtic pantheon, as MacAlister states, “originated in groups of shadowy beings, of indefinite number and very feebly developed personality, who gradually crystallized into clear-cut individuals” and as such might have at one time been perceived as an elemental deity of lesser importance than Íth his father, the ‘corn spirit’.²⁷
We will never really know what Lug initially represented to the masses as the intentional image of him as constructed by our propagandists have overshadowed the deity’s original purpose. Their actions allow us to understand their methods of reconfiguring pagan deities for the purpose of creating a history of Ireland, an elite lineage for the rulers they wished to appease and to unite the people under one religion with one God. In spite of their best efforts I believe that they have unintentionally revealed the pagan aspects of Lug, a sun-god or solar deity, descended from the corn-spirit, instrumental in the re-birth of the spirit of vegetation and in keeping the sun shining in the autumn for the benefit of the harvest. What can be said with more certainty is that without the medieval Christian scholars, these insights from ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak, might otherwise have been lost forever, had they not kept the memory of Lug alive.