Mythological Spotlight #9 – Lugh

A statue of Lugh

Introduction

Lugh is a rather well-known Irish deity and heroic figure.  He’s hailed a leader of the Tuatha De Dannan, the divine father of a heroic figure named Cú Chulainn, he himself is generally associated with heroism, skill and crafts, and he has a Celtic pagan festival named after him (that being the festival of Lughnasadh, which is held on August 1st). He is a complex deity, which perhaps leads many people to misunderstand him. Today he is erroneously recognized as a solar deity, a god of light, and even the Irish incarnation of Lucifer, without any solid basis in the original mythology, and the people who identify Lugh as such don’t really explain why they do.

This post was originally going to be just me debunking the idea that Lugh is connected to Lucifer in any meaningful way but then I started reading into Lugh and Lugus and decided, fuck it, let’s make this the first Mythological Spotlight I’ve done since last year.

 

History

The Irish deity Lugh seems to be a reflection of an older Celtic deity named Lugus, who was worshiped in parts of England and Western Europe. Lugus is known to be a three-headed deity with knowledge of all crafts, though sometimes he is said to have been particularly evoked by shoemakers. He was also held to be a deity who could move between many realms, was considered to have warrior attributes (including a spear), and was considered the divine guarantor of sovereignty. His wife was Rosmerta, a goddess of plenty. Lugus may also have been very associated with ravens, particularly ravens with white feathers, as a sign of his connection to the otherworld. It has been suggested that Lugus may even have appeared as multiple deities, and that his triune appearance is the result of a fusion of the deities Esus, Toutatis and Taranis. Some depictions of Lugus are said to have four heads instead of three, perhaps indicating that he was meant to be an all-seeing deity.

The Romans considered Lugus to be identical with their deity Mercury, possibly because of the identification of Lugus with Mercury by Julius Caesar via interpretatio romana (essentially the practice of interpreting foreign deities through the lens of Roman mythology) during his conquest of the Gaulish tribes. Caesar specifically referred to Lugus as the master of all arts and crafts, the guide of travelers, patron of commerce and the most popular deity of the Gauls. It is uncertain whether Lugus actually embodied all of the traits associated with Mercury, though there are likely some superficial similarities between Lugus and the Roman Mercury. In a way it’s like when the Greeks saw Ba’al Hadad, and the many other deities named Ba’al, and decided that they were all foreign avatars of Zeus (the name Ba’al Zaphon, for instance, was translated into Zeus Kasios by the Greeks).

As “Gaulish Mercury”, Lugus was linked strongly with high places in the tribal territories where he was worshipped, such as Montmartre, the Puy de Dôme and the Mont de Sène. These locations were referred to by the Romans as Merucrii Montes, literally the mountains of Mercury, and would contain shrines and statues dedicated to the “Mercury” deity. After the arrival of Christianity, Lugus became assimilated into Christian folklore as the Mercurii Montes were turned into St. Michael’s Mounts, thus assimiliated Lugus and the “Gaulish Mercury” into the archangel Michael. According to some, French legends claim that Michael is said to have fought Satan atop Mont Dol.

125px-autel_tricephale_museestremi_reims_1131a
The face of Lugus

Lugh, the Irish deity, is perhaps more well-known. In particular he is best known for the myth in which he fights Balor, the leader of the Fomorians who was also his grandfather, and kills him. In Irish myth, Balor becomes aware of a prophecy which says that one of his grandsons will kill him. Thus, to stop this prophecy from coming true, he locks his daughter Eithne up in a sequestered tower, away from any potential suitors, so that she couldn’t get pregnant. With the help of a druidess named Birog (or Biorog), Lugh’s father-to-be Cian manages to infiltrate the tower and seduce Eithne, resulting in her pregnancy and Lugh’s eventual birth. When Lugh grows up, he kills Balor with his slingshot (or a spear, in some versions of the myth), securing the harvest and its powers of fertility on behalf of the Tuatha De Dannan. After this he prepares to fight and kill Bres, a half-Fomorian king of the Tuatha De Dannan who ends up appeasing the Fomorians at the expense of the Tuatha De Dannan. However, when Bres promises to teach the Tuatha De Dannan the secrets of agriculture, Lugh spares his life.

Lugh is noteworthy in that, through his lineage from both the Tuatha De Dannan (through his father Cian) and the Fomorians (through his mother Eithne), he is linked to both sides of the mythological conflict, though he ultimately sides with the Tuatha De Dannan. The relation between the Tuatha De Dannan and the Fomorians is comparable to the Olympians and the Titans, or the Devas and the Asura: they are opposing clans, tribes or mythological races representing different aspects of nature, civilization or the psyche. In this case, the theme seems to be the relation between man and nature. The Tuatha De Dannan represent human society and civilizational control over the forces of nature, while the Fomorians represent the primordial power of the land and forces of nature in their raw form – which can be either beneficent or cruel, but either way blind to the concerns of humans and apathetic to Man’s will. Though locked in combat, neither the Tuatha De Dannan nor the Fomorians can truly destroy one another, being linked to each other by ties of blood. Through his conception by Cian and Eithne, the powers of the Tuatha De Dannan and the Fomorian unite in Lugh’s being, perhaps suggesting the interpenetration of opposites.

Later medieval Irish folklore would cast Lugh in a slightly different light. Instead of being the offspring of a Tuatha De Danann and a Fomorian through seduction with the aid of a druidess, the medieval Lugh’s birth is the product of a simple political marriage, removing his more complicated origins and his link between opposites.

The Celtic Lugh was also known as the master of all crafts, and the inventor of an Irish board game called fidchell, and the institutor of fairs and games, such as the Assembly of Talti. Thus it is not just Tuatha De Dannan and Fomorian that unite in him, but king and craftsman/artisan. Indeed, one of Lugh’s epithets is Samildanach, meaning “many-gifted” or “skilled in many arts”, suggesting that he was indeed the master of crafts and skills. This, in a way, echoes the assessment of the Gaulish deity Lugus as the master of all crafts and his association with the Roman deity Mercury. It is possible some of the attributes of Lugh may have been reflections of the mercurial persona of the “Gaulish Mercury”.

hermesseatedc
Is it me or is it getting rather mercurial in here?

Lugh’s festival, of course, is the August festival Lughnasadh. The main theme associated with the festival is that of the opening of the Harvest, the beginning of the descent of the Sun, and gathering for a feast in the name of Lugh. It also ties into the myth of Lugh’s conflict with Balor, as Lugh’s faction clashes with Balor’s over control over the powers of the harvest. This clash is said to be marked by lightning and thunder storms, with Lugh’s storms blotting out the harsh summer sun represented by Balor’s all-consuming eye. Thus Lughnasadh represented an escape from the harshness of summer through the arrival of rain. The festival is said to be centered around hills and high places, particularly hills that contain a source of water near to the top. Lughnasadh was also said to be an occasion where major assemblies would take place in which legal matters would be settled, political issues were discussed, artists, craftsmen and entertainers would have a chance to show their talents, and athletes would get to compete in sporting events that brought the community together for a time. According to the Sanas Cormaic, even the name Lughnasadh implies the assembly of Lugh, as in an assembly of the community under the auspices of the deity Lugh.

There is also a similar figure to Lugh in Welsh mythology known as Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who is not considered a deity but rather a mythological hero, whose name derived from Lugh or Lugus and is seen as sort of an equivalent. In Welsh myth, Lleu was one of the sons of the goddess Arianrhod, who magically conceives Lleu and a boy named Dylan despite being a virgin after being struck with the magic wand of Math, king of Gwynedd (north or northwest Wales). While Dylan was born as a human, Lleu is initially born as a mysterious unformed thing, which is wrapped up by his uncle Gwydion and placed in a chest until it changes into a healthy baby boy. After this Arianhrod curses the young Lleu three times at once: the first curse denies him from having a name unless she names him herself, the second curse denies him from having weapons and she arms him herself, and the third curse denies him from having a wife from any race currently living on this earth. Gwydion breaks the first curse by disguising himself and Lleu as shoemakers, tricking Arianhrod into naming him Lleu Law Gyffes (meaning “the little one has done it with a sure hand”), he breaks the second curse by summoning an imaginary army to attack Arianhrod, forcing her to arm Lleu to defend her, and he breaks the third curse by creating a wife for Lleu out of flowers. This would appear to confer upon Lleu the master of all three social functions attributed to the analysis of Georges Dumezil: the first being ritual identity, the second being strength and status as a warrior, and the third being fertility and reproductive capability through a consort. The motif of the number three evoked in the curses may also be a subtle echo of Lugus’ three heads.

There is another Welsh myth featuring two characters named Lludd and Llefelys, who are both cognates or variations of different Celtic deities, and this myth repeats the theme of the three functions and their respective trials. Lludd is based on either the Irish deity Nuada or the Welsh hero Lludd Llaw Eraint, and is depicted as ruling Britain from his seat in London, while Llefelys is a likely a cognate of Lleu and Lugus and is depicted as ruling France. Lludd comes to Llefelys concerned about three oppressions haunting his country: the first is a supernatural race known as the Coraniaid that can hear everything that is said in the land, the second is a scream that echoes every May Eve which robs men of their courage which is caused by two dragons fighting each other, and the third is the unexplained disappearance of royal provisions caused by a powerful magician casting a sleep spell over the royal court and then taking the provisions. To conquer them, Llefelys tells Lludd to (1) sprinkle certain insects crushed with water over the supernatural voyeurs, (2) trick the two combatant dragons into getting trapped within a chest and then bury the chest beneath the ground (or Snowdon), and (3) defeat the magician who steals the royal provisions. After doing such things, Lludd regains his sovereignty as ruler thanks Llefelys, who in turn is shown to possess the knowledge of sovereignty and the tricks to preserving it.

fightdrag
The red dragon fighting the white dragon

Both the Irish and Welsh myths contain aspects that, while they don’t explicitly link back to Mercury, they do share echoes of some of Mercury’s traits: namely the boundary-crossing aspect of Mercury/Hermes and his cunning. Not to mention that Lugh inherits from Mannanan a bag filled with treasures, perhaps an echo of Mercury’s bag of riches.

Since the Victorian era, Lugh has come to be identified as explicitly a sun god in the same vein as deities like Apollo in Greek Mythology, despite Lugh not really being much of a solar deity in the actual lore. This is a perception that carries over into the modern day from contemporary neopagan circles to pop black magician E. A. Koetting. However, to my knowledge (and we’ll get into this in more detail in a minute), Lugh doesn’t seem to have any real connections with the Sun, nor is he necessarily a god of light. He is most clearly a deity of craftmanship, a possessor of kingship, likely oaths as well, but not necessarily a solar deity. But for some reason, the idea of him being a deity of the sun and light persists, leading into other connections attached to Lugh that aren’t really present in any of the mythology associated with him.

 

Lugh’s Supposed Relation to Lucifer

In modern times, there are many people on the Internet who try to say that Lugh is either closely connected or outright the same thing as both Lucifer and the Norse deity Loki, based mainly on the claim that Lugh, Lucifer, and Loki all share the same etymology – supposedly, all three of their names mean light, through the Indo-European word “luek” (meaning light), and therefore they are all deities of light in their respective pantheons, ergo they are all light bringers and hence Loki and Lugh are Luciferian deities.

First, let’s immediately address the issue of etymology. Lugh’s name most likely derives from the Gaulish deity Lugus, and Lugus’ etymology doesn’t have anything to do with light. His name actually comes from the old Celtic word “lugi”, which means “to swear”, in the context of swearing an oath. This etymology implies Lugus was conceptually tied to oaths and contracts, not unlike the Indian deity Mitra (who was a deity of friendship, the morning light, oaths and contracts) or the Roman deity Orcus (a chthonic deity who punished those who broke oaths and contracts). Furthermore, the clash between Lugh and his enemy Balor is said to be symbolized as thunderstorms, and it is said of such clashes “The wind of Lúgh Long-arm is flying in the air tonight. Yes, and the sparks of his father [sic]. Balor Béimeann is the father”. This is a clear reference not to the attributes of a solar deity, but to the elements of wind, lightning and thunder storms. By this metric, Lugh has much less in common with sun deities like Apollo, let alone Lucfier, and more in common deities like Thor or Marduk, at least where natural elements are concerned. Of course, even if Lugh were a solar deity, this probably doesn’t equate to direct correspondence with Lucifer. Perhaps he would correspond with Apollo, but that is another matter. If anything, it could be argued that Lugh has more in common with the archangel Michael than he does Lucifer, considering that Michael does battle with the enemies of his divine faction with the aid of a spear.

As for Loki, there are several possible sources for his name. The Old Norse word “logi” (meaning flame, suggesting association with fire), another Old Norse word “loka” (meaning lock), “luka” (meaning close or shut), or that the word “loki” itself might be a reference to tangled knots or cobwebs. Much of the likely sources of his name don’t really have anything to do with light but instead signify either his role in bringing about Ragnarok or his role as the inventor of the fishing net. Hardly signifying of a god of light if you ask me. Thus, attempting to connect Lugh, Loki and Lucifer by name is essentially the same kind of etymological fallacy as saying Amen is actually a reference to Amun/Amun-Ra or that Satan and Set are basically the same deity based on the idea that Set=Sat=Saton=Satan (sadly an idea that I suspect permeates the doctrine of the Temple of Set).

8841a691f212693d41b7df4b0cdfbd16
Basically just watch The Zeitgeist Movie if you think this makes sense

There is also the idea that Lugh is connected to Lucifer through Odin (or Woden) that I’ve seen, on the basis of the vague or general idea that Odin is an antinomian deity of some sort and so is Lucifer, oh and also Lugh and Loki have the same etymological connection even though we’ve debunked that already but now somehow we’re going to throw Odin into this because god damn it this guy wants to be a Viking so damn badly! Seriously though, the name of this blog alone should tell you it’s not a trustworthy source. But back to the actual point, there is no real etymological connection between Lugus or Lugh and Odin, either, nor is there any solid correspondence between the two, despite the Stephen Flowers quote. There are superficial similarities between the two deities, such as the shared identification with Mercury by the Romans and the shared association with ravens and spears, but I can’t seem to find many of the major traits of Odin that line up with Lugus or Lugh.

It doesn’t help that Lugus is less pronounced a deity than his Irish counterpart, which is probably due to the Romans spreading the idea that Lugus and Mercury are basically the same deity. But, for instance, a key difference between Lugh and Odin is their roles regarding battle. Odin is often mistaken as a god of war par excellence, but as a god of magic and wisdom his role was not as the badass manly god charging into battle (that would probably be Thor) but rather as the chief magician who directs the battles in question, and of course selects the slain for Valhalla, whereas Lugh is known for directly stepping up to battle in order to kill Balor. In many respect the two couldn’t be more different: one was a hero god, the other a supreme magician god who directs things behind the scenes. You could make the argument that Lugh was kind of a tricky character, though it’s hard for me to find any actual myths of trickery attached to Lugh himself as opposed to either versions of Lugh or companions of his.

And of course, Odin doesn’t have direct correspondence with Lucifer either, having different myths, direct origins, but are faintly similar in minor respects (such as the theme of knowledge or enlightenment, or something about darkness and various Left Hand Path cred that doesn’t actually connect the two). So, in summation: Lugh, Loki, Lucifer and Odin, are all separate mythological entities, with different heritages, backgrounds and attributes, with minor similarities that relate them between each other but otherwise don’t equate to any meaningful correspondence. With Lugus, Lugh, and Lleu, however, there is some actual correspondence in terms of etymology and some shared themes and characteristics, though they are likely separate entities as well.

Finally, let’s return to the theme of Lughnasadh for a moment, because nothing about it seems to suggest any associations between Lugh and the sun. If anything, the fact that Lughnasadh was associated with storms in the myths connected to the festival, like with that line about the wind of Lugh the long arm, suggests association with wind or storms rather than the sun. Not to mention, if you’re going to have a sun deity, why have his dedicated festival be at a time when the sun is supposed to start receding and the days begin to get shorter in the month before the autumnal equinox? If he were a solar deity, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold his festival on the summer solstice, when the sun is at its most dominant and the days are brightest in the year, or in the spring solstice where we see the beginning of the sun’s rise in the annual cycle?

f3baad8d675c7a76329ba83f077a97b0c7662d5155b6d2930a9327bb4146340e
Because nothing says sun god like thunder and lightning

 

Conclusion

Lugh is far from the simple deity of sun and light he’s been pigeonholed as in the modern day – in fact, as we’ve established, he doesn’t really have anything to do with those things at all. Moreover, I’d say the idea of Lugh as a sun deity paves over his complexities in a way that suggests a perennial tendency of modern paganism to airbrush the old gods in their intricacies in order to make way for deities that are easier to understand, often friendlier too in the case of deities that are much darker but still integral to their respective pantheons (such as Odin). The actual Lugh is to be seen as a heroic deity, bringer of the harvest, master of trades and skills, a bridge between the forces of nature and the will of man, and a deity who presides over the community through the annual assembly of Lugh, with many other associations stemming from his ancestor Lugus. In my view, this makes for a much more nuanced deity than just “the Irish sun god” or “the Irish Odin”.