Lugh (pronounced “Loo”) is the Irish/Celtic embodiment of the craftsman archetype deity – a god of skill and distribution of talent. He is highly proficient in art, poetry, medicine, martial arts, and more, and he invented fidchell (Gaelic chess), ball games, and horse racing. This guy is not just a jack-of-all-trades, he is the master of ALL the trades.
Lugh is a warrior as well as an artistic and athletic craftsman, though – not a God of War, creating strife and discord, but a Warrior God – with warcraft being only one of his many skills. In fact, he’s commonly depicted as a blacksmith god – since war was a big part of Celtic culture, those who were skilled in shaping weapons and tools were thought to have a magical power over the element of fire and metals of the earth.
Since we are dealing with mythology, we know Lugh can’t have come from a happy and well-adjusted family. Here’s a little background on Lugh’s crazy mixed-up beginnings:
Lugh’s granddad was Balor of the Evil Eye, a monstrous Fomorian who imprisoned Lugh’s mom in a cave to prevent her having children in an attempt to avoid a prophecy that his grandson would kill him. Despite Granddaddy Balor’s best efforts, an amorous member of a rival tribe snuck into the cave, and when a mythical mommy and a mythical daddy love each other very much…
In due time, Balor’s daughter gave birth to three bouncing baby boys — two of whom Balor promptly drowned. Lugh, the last remaining son, escaped with the help of his uncle and was raised by his foster dad/sea god, Manannan Mac Lir, and his awesome foster mother, Talti (more on her in a minute).
Lugh’s master craftsman status started early, as he grew up perfecting every skill he ever put his hand to. Farming? Sports? Handcrafts? Poetry and songwriting? Blacksmithing? He had them all covered. Lugh was basically the Celtic MacGuyver of his era.
Upon reaching adulthood, Lugh had a little unfinished prophetic business with his grandpa, so he tried to gain entry to Tara, the hall of the high kings of Ireland, where his Balor’s opponents resided. When he got there, he sold himself as craftsman and offered his skills in lots of different ways, but the guards told him that they only needed one person who could do each skill, and that they were already full up on skilled dudes doing jobs. Our boy Lugh, however, being highly skilled at persuasion because he was skilled at EVERYTHING, responded “Ah, yes, but do you have ONE skilled dude who can do ALL THE JOBS?” The guards decided that was a fair point and that anybody with that much confidence in his MacGuyverness was worth a gander, so they let him into the king’s court.
Lugh backed up his big talk by proving himself to the king through industry, and eventually the king decided Lugh was both smart and bad-assed enough to lead the tribe to victory in battle against the Fomorians.
As a warrior, Lugh’s weapon of choice was “The Slaughterer,” a particularly bad-assed magical spear that blazed fire and leveled companies of men as it tried to fight without its owner – and which returned to its master after it reached its target like a magnificent, murderous boomerang. Legend says that Lugh had to sleep with the spear’s head immersed in honey and herbs at night to calm it down enough so that he could rest. Lugh also had a pretty nasty sling-stone, which he used to kill Granddaddy Balor in battle by slinging it right into his Evil Eye, as it was foretold by the prophecy. In fact, one of Lugh’s theological aspects is as the god of storms, which refers to the epic battle between him and his grandfather, still thundering on in the heavens.
As if these weapons weren’t enough, Lugh also had a sword very impressively named “The Answerer,” which was a gift from his foster father, Manannan Mac Lir. Between the length of this weapon, the length of his reach, and the accuracy with it [heh heh], he earned his tough-guy nickname “Lugh of the Long Arm.” Finally, to round out his collection of whoop-ass, Lugh had a self-sailing boat named Wave Sleeper, a horse that could travel over water, and a skilled hunting hound who guaranteed his success in the hunt. This dude was pretty much the Chuck Norris of Celtic mythology.
Lugh reigned as High King for 40 years after his victory over the Fomorians, but eventually the trouser trouble that always seems to end the mythological fun got the better of him. A kinsman seduced Lugh’s wife, so Lugh killed that kinsman, and then that kinsman’s sons drowned Lugh. (Apparently not getting drowned was a skill that did not get more refined as he aged, poor guy).
SO…that is the tale of Lugh the Warrior – but in the Wheel of the Year, we celebrate Lugh as the God of Grain on his Sabbat, Lughnasadh (Loo-nah-sah)…which seems like it makes no sense at all. Turns out that Lugh was also pretty skilled at agriculture and familial piety as well though, as we’ll see next.
Remember at the beginning, when we mentioned Lugh’s awesome foster mother, Talti? Well, it turns out Talti was pretty darn crucial not just to Lugh’s survival in the early years, but to Ireland’s survival as well. When her people were threatened with starvation, Talti cleared the plains of Ireland for agriculture, but it was such an arduous job that she sacrificed herself to do so and died of exhaustion after she finished. (So honestly, why is this Sabbat not called Taltinasadh)?
Lugh did plenty to ensure a robust bounty of nourishment himself, however. According to legend, he spared the life of Bres, another of those nasty Fomorians, in return for Bres teaching his people how and where to plough, sow, and reap their crops, and he also triumphed at one point over the spirits of the Otherworld, who tried to keep the harvest for themselves. (I will admit, that was also pretty important. But did he die???)
Lugh became firmly linked to the grain harvest after he held the annual Assembly of Talti, a giant harvest festival and gathering of athletes, artisans, and tradesmen, in honor of his foster mother every year following her death. The Assembly of Talti grew to be a contest similar to the Olympic Games, and the people of Ireland continued to observe it long after Lugh was gone, too – even, some say, up until the 18th century.
In modern Lughnasadh celebrations, which take place during the first grain harvest in the Northern Hemisphere, folks have long honored Talti’s sacrifice with corn, grains, bread, and other produce, and Lugh is sometimes honored in ritual plays showing him defeating blight or famine to protect the harvest for the people. Frankly, since I do love my carbs, any excuse to bake bread is a festival I can get behind, but the symbolism behind this one really appeals to me as well.
Most importantly to me, though Lugh is now honored as the god of artistry and skills. Songwriters, authors, artists, musicians, and crafters of all types can call on him when they need a little creative boost – not just as a muse, but more as an affirmation that they can excel at their chosen skill and a source of strength for their creativity in general. I always come back to a vision of Lugh as a sort of exalted MacGuyver – somebody who is skilled at just about everything and can use his wit and ingenuity to solve all kinds of unsolvable problems in whatever field he puts his hands to. That’s the kind of god I could use on my side.
And that, my friends, is Lugh, My Creative Homeboy.
PHOTO SOURCES: Linked from images above