Tag Archives: Lughnasadh

The Nature and Character of Lugh

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It seems like every year around this time, I’m fighting misinformation on the god Lúgh. Everywhere one looks on the internet, people are perpetuating the same outdated stuff; that Lúgh is a sun god, and/or a god of the grain. The origin of such notions is from new age books that never bothered to research beyond outdated Victorian-era anthropology.

I mean, you only have look it up on wikipedia to know that his name doesn’t link him to the sun: “The exact etymology of Lugus is unknown and contested. The Proto-Celtic root of the name, *lug-, is generally believed to have been derived from one of several different Proto-Indo-European roots, such as *leug- “black”, *leuǵ- “to break”, and *leugʰ- “to swear an oath”. It was once thought that the root may be derived from Proto-Indo-European *leuk- “to shine”, but there are difficulties with this etymology and few modern scholars accept it as being possible (notably because Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produced Proto-Celtic *-g-).”

Some of the later new age publications actually acknowledge that modern scholars say Lúgh isn’t a sun god, but word it so as to not step on the toes of the die-hard sun theorists. The main passage that comes to mind is one published in Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of First Harvest by Anna Franklin & Paul Mason, and has been copied onto Lúgh articles all over the internet. It states: “While some writers state, without hesitation, that Lugh was a sun god, others, with equal force, argue that he was neither a god of the sun nor harvest.” What the author seems to be doing here, is giving both ideas equal merit. However, they don’t have equal merit. The actual historical record speaks for itself.

There is no record of Lúgh being worshiped as a sun god, but ample evidence that both his name meaning and his roles in Celtic religion were something else entirely.

“…helped along by Victorian scholars’ obsession with “solar myths”, it was taken for granted that Lúgh was a solar god… However, traditional, ritual-associated ideas about Lúgh show no trace of this… Lugus has his domain in storm rather than in sunlight, and that if his name has any relation to “light” it more properly means “lightning-flash”… This is the principal function of his invincible spear…”Lugus: The Many-Gifted Lord by Alexei Kondratiev

Why does it irk me so that the misinformation persists? Because people who think Lúgh is a sun god are getting the story wrong. Because if you’re getting the story wrong, then you’re also misunderstanding the meaning of an entire holiday; Lughnasadh. Because if you think Lúgh is a sun god, you do not know the real Lúgh. The real Lúgh is much more interesting and complex.

So that is why I’m writing this. It’s time to go beyond calling out the sun myth debacle, and move on to telling folks about his true character.

Excuse me, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and hero, Lúgh?

He was known by the continental Celts as Lugus, by the Welsh as Lleu, and by the Irish as Lúgh. We must look to all these cultures to get a complete picture of who Lúgh is. When Romans encountered Lugus, they equated him with their god Mercury, patron of travelers, commerce, trickery, and eloquence.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Early depictions of Lugus show him with a Tree of Life, twin serpents, dogs or wolves, birds (especially two ravens), horses, and mistletoe. He has similarities with Cernunnos, as they are both threshold gods, psychopomps, have a triple form, and a magical bag.

He has much in common with, and may actually be the prototype for- Odin. Like Odin, he wields a spear and is associated with two ravens. They are both psychopomp deities (again, like Cernunnos and Mercury). Both are travelers and magicians. Odin is god of wisdom, Lúgh of intellect and of every skill. Odin is one-eyed. Lúgh closes one eye to do magic on the battlefield. Odin was hung on a tree, pierced by his own spear, died and was reborn. So was Lleu. There are a few similarities with Loki as well, as they are both tricksters and associated with the mistletoe, however Lúgh is seen in a much more positive light than Loki. (For more of such comparisons, read The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts by Thor Ewing, and Of Norse Loki and the Celtic Lugh.)

Lugus

Archaeological Museum of Dijon

So if you know a little about Norse mythology, you may be starting to form a picture in your mind of some of the aspects of Lúgh’s character; imagine a younger, smaller, Celtic Odin (especially in his traveler guise), with a fair bit of the trickiness of Loki. Now imagine that like Thor, he can also wield lightning. He shares some strikingly similar characteristics and powers with these gods.

I think of all the modern day depictions of Lúgh in art, the Magician in Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot captures his spirit the best; the slender wiry god sits perched in his sacred oak (a tree sacred to several Indo-European thunder gods), a floppy red Odin-eske hat covering one eye, and his magic bag slung over his shoulder. The torc around his neck is huge (or is it the god that’s small?). He is surrounded by some of his symbolic animals (serpent, horse…). Torcs and rings of gold hang from the trees. A fidchell board (Celtic chess- his invention) lies at his knee.

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

In Irish lore, Lúgh was born of a Fomorian mother (Ethniu), and a Tuatha Dé Danann father (Cian). The Fomorians were an earlier race of beings that inhabited Ireland, sometimes depicted as monstrous giants, sometimes from under the sea. They represent wild chaotic nature. The Tuatha Dé were the race of divine beings that would later become the Sídhe, and were often represented as the gods of humanity and civilization.

Lúgh was born of both races, and so has a mastery of both nature and civilization, of the below and the above, of humankind and the divine. It is no wonder then, that his traditional places of worship are high hills with a nearby water source.

In the Battle of Mag Tured, Lúgh goes up against his own grandfather, the evil Fomorian king Balor. With his swift sling (or in folk tradition, his spear), he pierces Balor through his fiery poisonous eye (which represents the harsh summer sun). In winning this battle, he gains control of the land for the Tuatha Dé (and metaphorically saves the crops from scorching in the fields from Balor’s evil sun-eye).

He was fostered by Manannán mac Lir, the sea god and gatekeeper to the Otherworld, and so has many water associations and inherited much of Manannán’s magic. He was also fostered by Tailtiu, a Fir Bolg queen who died clearing land for agriculture. And it was in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu that Lúgh instituted the first Lughnasadh festival and funeral games.

I have just hit a very few of the highlights here, describing some of the points in the mythology that tie in with the season of Lughnasadh, and describing some of Lúgh’s traits that I find especially interesting. I know I have left out a lot of important parts of his lore. Find more of the story of Lugh in Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), and The Second Battle of Mag Tured (Moytura). Read about Lleu in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion.

He is god of Land, Sky, and Sea. God to kings, warriors, and farmers. He is the quintessential underdog, surviving and winning despite the odds and with intellect and magic rather than brute force only. He is both hero and trickster and sovereign protector of the land. He is patron of travelers, for he travels with the lightning, small and swift, many places at once. He traverses worlds.

As Alexei said, “His many gifts remain at the disposal of those who trouble to seek him out.” Indeed, I hope you do.

The Nature and Character of Lugh | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Harvest Dollies for Modern Pagans

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Historically, grain dollies were made from the last sheaf harvested, and either left in the field or placed wherever grains were stored. It was often tied or plaited to be roughly human shaped, but in some places shaped like an animal. It was representative of the Spirit of the Harvest, or the Corn Mother. In Ireland, the grain harvest is associated with Lughnasadh. But the god Lugh is not a grain god or earth god. He’s not John Barleycorn (who is English, and more about the production of beer). Lugh isn’t a sun god either, but I’ll get to that later.

The grain dolly from the previous harvest would be ploughed into the first furrow of the new season in the spring, or else otherwise destroyed in some way to release the spirit of the previous year’s grain. Another tradition, the one that most Pagans follow (and I don’t know the origin), states that it is to be kept to insure a bountiful crop through the next harvest season and burned around the time that a new one is made from the last sheaf.

Since Neopagans have three harvest holidays (Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain) in the widely observed “wheel of the year”, there is some debate over which holiday to burn a grain dolly. I would think the answer would be to make it close to one’s local grain harvest date. Arkansas grows soft red winter wheat as a commercial crop. Harvest begins in May and ends as late as the first week of July. So, for our locality, if you want to burn your grain dolly at the end of harvest, it makes sense to do so at Lughnasadh, rather than at any of the later harvest holidays. That, and because it’s the harvest holiday that has a strong grain theme.

Note that I’m calling them grain dollies instead of the more traditional “corn dolly”. This is because Americans have confused traditional use of the word corn to exclusively mean maize. To the Europeans, corn meant grain. Corn dollies were not corn husk dolls. They didn’t have maize back then. Corn dollies were made of whatever grain various European cultures predominantly ate, like wheat or oats.

But we do live in the modern western world, and many would say that we need to adapt traditions to where we are and the way we live now. Americans in general do eat a lot of corn, both as a vegetable and as a grain, and as a sweetener (although Arkansas doesn’t grow much maize commercially). Corn husk dolls are easier to make than wheat dolls, which is probably a big part of why most American Pagans make corn husk dolls instead of the more traditional grain dollies for harvest holidays. The materials are also easier to find. Not many people grow wheat in their backyard garden but plenty grow corn, or could get corn in the husk at any farmer’s market or grocery store. Maize harvest starts mid August in Arkansas and can last late into September or even October, so it would make sense to burn your cornhusk harvest dolls at the Autumnal Equinox or Samhain if you are so inclined.

Unless you are a farmer or a gardener who grows grains, your harvest doll is purely symbolic anyway, not made from the last sheaf of anything, but symbolic of the harvest for you personally. So make it of whatever materials represent the harvest for you (you’ll notice that one of the dollies in the picture below is make of both cornhusks and wheat), and burn or bury it at whichever of the harvest (or spring) High Days that you feel drawn to do so.

Harvest Dollies | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Three Easy Lughnasadh Crafts

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Lughnasadh is a celebration of first fruits and grains. It is the wake of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu- Great One of the Great Earth. Lugh is a god of many skills and has many roles. His name is associated with light, but contrary to popular belief, it is the flash of lightning, not sunlight, with which he has been traditionally associated. In County Mayo thunderstorms were referred to as battles between Lugh and Balor. Balor’s evil eye represents the scorching late-summer sun. Lugh’s defeat of Balor represents August storms defeating the crop-threatening summer heat and drought.

The theme of these three crafts are wheat and blueberries. Blueberries are a traditional Lughnasadh food, and according to Mara Freeman, the Sunday nearest August 1st was called “Bilberry (blueberry) Sunday” (Kindling the Celtic Spirit). Blueberries, to me, also represent the color of the stormy skies hoped for at Lughnasadh. It is good luck and a good omen if it rains on Lughnasadh.

blueberries and wheat crafts

salt-dough blueberry beads
The first thing you’ll need to make is the salt dough blueberry beads. Take a handful of salt dough, add a generous squirt of blue food coloring, and a few drops of red food coloring. Knead in the color well. Adjust if necessary to get the color you want. Roll into blueberry sized balls, poke a hole through the middle with a skewer, and let dry.

wheat & blueberry crown
Measure two inches down from the top edge of a brown paper grocery bag and cut in a straight line to get an even strip. Fold this in half lengthwise. Wrap around your child’s head to measure for size. Remove, tape in place and trim excess. Arrange placement of blueberry beads and wheat heads. Glue in place.

wheat & blueberry necklace (or wall hanging)
With heavy-duty thread and a yarn needle, string blueberry beads and wheat heads, piercing through the middle of the wheat head. Stop and tie off when you reach the length you want. You may want to trim the long bristles of the wheat.

wheat mobile

Lughnasadh mobile
To make this craft, you’ll need: blueberry beads, wheat heads, heavy string or yarn, marker or crayon, scissors, glue, a hole-punch, stained glass paint (or white glue mixed with food coloring), painbrush, and waxed paper (or re-purpose some clear plastic packaging).
First, trace three shapes onto your wax paper or plastic packaging. Use your wheat heads to help you decide how big they need to be. My shapes were a half-circle, a circle, and a triangle, but you can choose whatever shapes you like. Paint the shapes, the color of your choosing, with the stained glass mixture. Let dry and cut out. Punch holes in the top and bottom of each shape. Arrange wheat heads on shapes with color peeping though. Glue in place and let dry. Thread onto string or yarn, interspersed with beads, tying knots to hold each item in place. Hang from a sunny window.

three Lughnasadh crafts

salt dough wheat plaque

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With Lughnasadh/Lammas coming up in a couple of weeks, a fun project to work on is a wheat plaque to decorate the family altar, hearth, or nature table. I used ordinary salt dough for this project (1 cup salt, 2 cups flour, and around 1 cup water). You can add paint or food coloring to the dough if you like, or paint after the project is completely dry.

First, I rolled out my well-kneaded dough, thickly and evenly. I used a mixing bowl and pizza cutter to get a clean even arch at the top. Then I used a ruler to cut a straight bottom edge. I used a teardrop shaped clay tool to press in tall grasses, and a knife tool for the wheat stalks. I used a couple of methods for the wheat grains; one is to press in each grain with the teardrop shaped clay tool, and the other is to make little snippets up and down the stalk with the end of a pair of small scissors. The latter method is my favorite, because it adds interesting dimensions to the plaque. I added swirls and small holes for a finishing touch. The plaque can be hung on the wall when dry (don’t forget to poke a hole in the back with the blunt end of a tack when turning over to dry the back), or propped up on a shelf.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try curving the plaque around a foil-covered vase to dry, then attach salt dough rings to the back to hold candles. If you poke holes all the way through the plaque with a straw, you can add amber colored beads that would shine in the light of the candle.

wheat plaque

Hallow Magic for the High Days

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Most ADF rituals emphasize worship over magical workings, or so I’ve heard. It doesn’t have to be so… why not have it all? The Druid-style rituals I piece together tend to be short and sweet, so there’s plenty of room to add a little magic. Here are some ideas I’ve had for High Day themed magical workings that are aligned with the Triple Hallows. Most of these ideas are for outdoor rituals. For some of these, you may want to have a crafting session ahead of time, then have participants bring their finished work to the ritual, ready to give it that final “oomph” of energy before activating in the Hallow.

In the following workings, I use the word “intent” a lot. What I mean by this is the goal of your magic, and the act of thinking about it and letting the energy of it flow into what your are crafting or doing. Your intent can be for increase (like for prosperity, wisdom, love, for a few examples), or your intent could be something you want to release to the universe (like negativity, bad vibes… things that hold you back) for the Kindreds to transform it into something better or make use of somewhere else.

As a general guideline, do “releasing” work in the waning part of the year (Lughnasadh to Yule) or during a waning moon, and “increasing” work in the waxing part of the year (Imbolc to Midsummer) or waxing moon. Whatever your intent, you can often change it’s nature by perspective and wording, to flow with the season. For example; if you want to do prosperity magic, but it’s a waning season/moon phase, make it a “poverty banishing” working instead.

FIRE
These are items that are fashioned to be burned in the Fire Hallow.

  • PRAYER LEAF: Hand out big Sassafras leaves (or other big leaves) and markers for participants to inscribe their intent through words symbols or pictures. This one is ideal for any High Day. I like to use it for Samhain, and with bay leaves on Imbolc. (For indoor rituals, use slips of flash paper instead; to avoid having a room filled with smoke.)
  • SUN SYMBOLS: Hand out thin straight sticks or wheat stalks and sun-colored yarn/raffia for participants to make rustic “god‘s eyes”, weaving with the energy and intent of their goal. This one is ideal for Summer Solstice.
  • HARVEST FIGURES: Hand out string, sticks, corn husks, raffia, and/or other dried plant materials for participants to shape and tie into human or animal form, representing a goal or intention completed. This one is ideal for Harvest holidays. I like to use it for the Autumn Equinox.

“At this time we shall infuse our ______ with the energies of our intentions.
When you are ready, you may come to the Fire and burn them.”
After all have done this, say:
“Our intentions have been released to the Sky, to the Kindreds,
and to the passing of the seasons. It is done.” ALL: “So be it!”

WELL
These are items that are fashioned to be placed in the Well Hallow. Consider using a flowing stream for your Well Hallow.

  • PRAYER BOATS: Hand out paper and markers/crayons for participants to make origami boats and inscribe their intent on them through words, symbols and/or pictures. I like this one for Lughnasadh/Freyfaxi.
  • FLOWERS: Let participants choose from a basket of flowers, the one that represents their intent, or make paper flowers. This one is ideal for Beltane.
  • PRAYER SLIPS: Hand out pens and strips of water soluble paper for participants to inscribe their intent. This is another good one for Imbolc.

“At this time we shall infuse our _____ with the energies of our intentions.
When you are ready, you may come to the Well and set them afloat.”
After all have done this, say:
“Our intentions have been released to the Waters, to the Kindreds,
and to the passing of the seasons. It is done.” ALL: “So be it!”

TREE
These are items that are fashioned to be hung from the branches of the Tree Hallow.

  • CLOOTIES (prayer flags): Pass around a basket of various colors of thin natural fabric cut in strips (or participants may bring their own; the magic is especially powerful when it is cloth torn from one’s own clothing). Participants choose color and pattern of cloth based on their intent and infuse them with the energy of their intent with touch and prayer. Each dip their cloth in the Well and tie to the tree. Ideal for any warm weather High Day.
  • TREE ORNAMENTS: Hand out toast, peanut butter, birdseed, string, and cookie cutters. Participants cut shapes from the toast, spread on peanut butter, and sprinkle on birdseed (all with intent!) then poke a string through for hanging. This one is a good one for Winter Solstice.
  • WISHING EGGS/SPHERES: Hand out papier-mâché eggs (with 2 holes poked in one end), paints, markers, and string. Participants use paint and markers to inscribe their intent through words, symbols and/or pictures on the eggs, then hang them on a tree or shrub with string.  Do this one for the Spring Equinox.

“At this time we shall infuse our ______ with the energies of our intentions.
When you are ready, you may come to the Tree and tie them.”
After all are tied, say:
“Our intentions have been released to the Land, to the Kindreds,
and to the passing of the seasons. It is done.” ALL: “So be it!”

Kids’ Activities for Lughnasadh / Lammas / Freyfaxi

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Here are some ideas and resources for celebrating Lughnasadh/Lammas/Freyfaxi with children. These three early to mid- August holidays overlap and share some common themes; the grain (and berry) harvest, fertility of the land, and sporting events and fairs that include horse races.

I disagree with the notion that this was a time of honoring the waning sun. I think that idea comes from the Victorian-era notion that Lúgh is a sun god. The Celtic god Lúgh is most likely a lightning god; his name means “flashing light” and his epithet lonnbeimnech means “fierce striker”. In County Mayo thunderstorms were referred to as battles between Lúgh and Balor. Balor’s evil eye represents the scorching late-summer sun. Lúgh’s defeat of Balor represents August storms defeating the crop-threatening summer heat and drought. Lightning strikes help fertilize the soil with nitrogen, and of course, the rain that comes along with the thunder and lightning is essential for a good harvest.

Many of the (otherwise somewhat useful) books and stories suggested below have a few lines or words in them describing Lúgh as a sun god. Unfortunately, this is true of many, if not most, children’s mythology books. When I find some that are more accurate, I will happily (joyfully!) update this list. So, as with anything, read to yourself before reading aloud to your kids to correct historical mistakes and inaccuracies.

EXPLANATION & INFORMATION

STORIES

  • “Saving Freyfaxi” by Christy Lenzi, a four-part story starting in the July/August 2010 issue of Cricket magazine. The story is about a Viking girl who is put in charge of a sacred horse, Freyfaxi, dedicated to the god Frey.

GAMES Games are of special significance for this holiday; the death of Lúgh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu, is commemorated by the Lughnasadh Games.

  • More familiar games well suited to this holiday are horseshoes/ ring toss, footraces, tug-of-war, and sack races, etc.
  • Idea for an indoor game: play the board game “Hi-ho Cherry-O” with real blueberries instead of the plastic cherries.

CRAFTS / ACTIVITIES

  • Go berry-picking.
  • Visit a horse ranch. Horses are associated with both Lúgh, and with the Norse god Freyr.
  • Help a grown-up with bread-baking; practice kneading and shaping dough into harvest knots and other shapes.
  • Make deity coloring pages to decorate your altar; use an internet image search to find one you like, save it, and go to a photo editing website like ScrapColoring to convert your image.

Lughnasadh deities

  • Try wheat weaving. Braided wheat straw decorations are symbols of good luck and prosperity. They are part of the harvest celebrations of many cultures. They are often called “corn dollies”, but this kind of corn dolly is not shaped like a person. (Also, corn dollies are not made with corn husks. In Europe, corn means a grain like wheat, barley, or rye.) For a simple first wheat weaving project, take three wheat stalks of equal length and soak the stems in warm water until they bend easily. Line them up beside each other. Starting at the wheat heads, braid the stalks all the way to the end, loop it around and tie to just above the wheat heads with a red ribbon. Find a book at the library on wheat weaving and work your way up to making more difficult wheat weaving designs.

Kids Activities for Lammas

Countdown to Lammas – Holiday Planner

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July  8th – 14th

  • Decorate home for the holiday / make crafts to decorate home, like wheat weaving and dough crafts.
  • Take seasonal (outdoor) pictures with family/friends.
  • Firm up ritual plans, if you haven’t already. Will you be attending a festival, local event, a family event, or doing something on your own? If you are planning the ritual, decide on location and script/liturgy.
  • In addition to any ritual plans, you may want to plan on attending a local harvest festival or fair; check community calendars and plan accordingly.

July 15th – 21st

  • Make menu plans and grocery list.
  • Find some good berry patches and places to pick pawpaws.

July 22nd – 31st

  • Shop for menu items.
  • Forage paw paws (if ready) and wild berries.
  • Prepare some menu items in advance (breads and desserts, for example).

August 1st

  • Prepare feast (or potluck dish).
  • Have ritual, attend any other festivities, and celebrate!

*And by “Lammas” I mean to include Lughnasadh and Freyfaxi.

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