Thinking about Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is a Gaelic festival that marks the beginning of the harvest season. Lugh is an Irish Celtic deity, son of Cian and grandson of Danu and Dian Cécht of the Tuatha Dé Dunann, and his mother was Ethniu/Ethlinn, daughter of Balor of the Fomorians. His foster mother is Tailtiu.

Tailtiu is a presumed earth goddess Of Irish mythology. She was the daughter of the king of Spain and the wife of Eochaid mac Eric, the last Fir Bolg High King of Ireland. She survived the invasion of the Tuatha Dé Dunann and became the foster mother of Lugh

(In medieval Irish myth, the Fir Bolg were the fourth group of people to settle in Ireland. They were descended from the Muintir Nemid, an earlier group who abandoned Ireland to settle in other parts of Europe. Those who went to Greece became the Fir Bolg and eventually returned to the now uninhabited Ireland.)

Tailtiu is further said to have died of exhaustion clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. In honor of her self-sacrifice, Lugh, in turn, established a harvest festival and funeral games, Áenach Tailteann, to be celebrated annually at the time of the harvest. Lughnasadh is thus linked to the land and the harvest.

Now, this is mythology, not historical reality, and I think it’s safe to say that there is no historical truth to the tale. But that’s not to suggest that the myths are simply made up fables like the stories of Aesop, tales designed to demonstrate a moral imperative. No, myths teach spiritual Truths. Histories, on the other hand, are simply the collections of events that happened before the present. Historians, like mythologists, are story tellers and through story, they attempt to put series of events into a context that allows them to make sense of those events. In other words, to tell a story based on a series of historical events.

Ancient mythologies, on the other hand, were pre-history oral tales before they were ever recorded, and different ancient clans had their own unique telling or the stories. This is normative. Even the Hebrew bible, that appears to tell a consistent story is an admixture of different stories with differing points of view. Modern literary criticism notes at least five distinctively different tales distinguishable by their linguistic differences. These separate tales were strung or redacted together into a coherent narrative by Hebrew sages most likely during the period of the Babylonian captivity. Yet their linguistic distinctiveness remains and is only finally lost in modern translation of the original Hebrew text.

Getting back to Lugh, in other stories, he is also known as a sun god and a fierce warrior as well as the god of storms and especially, thunderstorms. He is associated with the crow, the raven and the lynx and is the proud owner of a magic hound. Lugh is also the possessor of several magical weapons including an invincible spear. It is said that the spear never missed its target and was so bloodthirsty that it would often fight without anyone wielding it. The spear is one of the treasures of the Tuatha Dé Dunann.

Like history, mythology tells stories but of a spiritual reality, a reality that’s just as real as the everyday historical reality, but far more important as it touches our eternal soul.

So, while all of that is interesting, and for me, at least, quite compelling, the question remains: so what? In the first place, why should I care? How does it affect me as a human being? As a Druid? How do I enter into that spiritual reality and make it my own?

In the dominant Western religious traditions, whether Jewish, Islamic or Christian, god is totally other. Even the names they gave their respective gods are impersonal identifiers. Muslims call their god by the singular name, Allah, which simply means god. Jews, on the other hand, have multiple names derived from the multiple threads that make up the Torah, the Jewish holy book. El and El Shaddai taken directly from the Hebrew biblical text, meaning god and god almighty respectively, are impersonal and merely descriptive. The ultimate and most holy name of god within Judaism is the four letter ineffable Tetragrammaton which is generally translated in English simply as the LORD, generally written is small caps. In a worship context, it is pronounced as Adonai, meaning “my lord” or HaShem, literally “the name.” The Christian god is called God, sort of like naming your dog, Dog. Even Jesus of Nazareth is unimportant in the Christian tradition with out the qualifier, “the Christ.” These names absolutely carry a great deal of meaning within their respective traditions, but they all have one thing in common, they emphasize the absolute otherness of, and distance from, the divine.

That otherness and distance is the principle difference between the dominant Western traditions and the pagan approach to the gods (like Wicca, Druidry is its own specific pagan pathway). So, getting back to Lughnasadh, when we are talking about gods and goddesses like Lugh and Tailtiu, we are, of course, talking about divinity, just as much so as when talking about the gods of the three dominant Western religious traditions. But from the pagan perspective, where does divinity lie? It is actually all around us and not simply (or exclusively) up there. The underlying, and ever present, forces of nature are divine and the various gods and goddesses are aspects of those forces of nature personified and thus relatable.

Thus, in celebrating Lughnasadh, we are we are identifying with Lugh and Tailtiu and their respective roles in the sustaining forces of nature. Far from celebrating something out there, we are celebrating something that is both immediate to ourselves , and not to wax to grossly Jungian, something within ourselves as well. And that’s what makes the rites so meaningful and the celebration so fulfilling.

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