Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Translated from the Gaelic by the Dal Riadh Celtic Trust
Feast of Lugh, The Sun god


Celtic Festival of Light

August 1st brought the feast of Lugh, the sun god; the feast was called 
Lughnasadh. The Celtic religion, like that of ancient Egypt, was 
basically solar-oriented; hence, this festival was an important one. 
It was primarily an agrarian occasion, mainly concerned with harvest
time; it was a relatively happy period in the lives of the Celts, 
when the most benevolent aspects of the gods were in evidence. We can
trace Lugh back to the Pretanic Celts. Here He is the son of 
Arianrhod and Gwydion. While Arianrhod gave birth to him, Lugh was
taken away by his father, who was also his uncle, and raised by him.
However, by the old traditions there are certain things that can only
be given by the mother. One of these is the name and Arianrhod refused
to do so when Gwydion brought him to her. She said, "Why do you 
prolong my shame? He shall have no name until I give it to him." The
next day Lugh was practicing when Arianrhod remarked, "The fair one has
a skillful hand." Which is the meaning of his name, "skillful hand",
amongst the Pretani. She was absolutely livid at having been tricked 
so she swore that he would have no weapons lest they came from her
hand, as this is the next thing to come from the mother. Gwydion
proceeded to determine how to circumvent this problem and after having
done so presented Lugh as a champion in need of weapons. It was only
after she had presented them that she realized who he was. She then
swore Lugh would have no wife, for this was the last blessing to come
from the mother. However, by the work of Math, Gwydion created a woman
made of the blossoms of oak, broom and meadowsweet. She was named
Blodeuwydd which means "flower face". But that is a whole story unto
itself and we’ll leave it for our Pretani cousins to take those up.

Lugh came to the Gaelic peoples just prior to the Second Battle of 
Maige Tuired (moy tura). In the lore is told how He came to the 
Tuatha de Danaan who were being led by the Dagda. He presented 
himself to be a help in the coming fight against the Fomore. He was 
asked several times what his skill was. Each time he told of a skill 
he was told that one of the Tuatha already possessed that skill. 
Finally he broke the stalemate by asking who amongst the Tuatha had 
all of the skills, as did he. None did, and so he was not only 
admitted into the company of the Tuatha but also given the title Il 
Danach which showed that he possessed all of the skills. When the 
mighty battle finally roared and Tuatha warrior met Fomore warrior 
on the field of honor, Lugh had been kept far away from the scene. 
Finally, going against the wishes of the Dagda, he went out to the 
scene of battle himself. The battle had gone hard for the Tuatha even 
though the weapons of Goiban repaired themselves and the healing of 
Dianecht brought back those who had fallen. Lugh certainly saved that 
day. For he put out the evil eye of Balor before it could do more 
damage. Yet even with the help of Lugh, the Tuatha suffered loses with 
the death of Nuada and others. Lugh became permanent in the company of 
the Tuatha. Lugh, the God of Light, was eventually wounded himself on 
the day that is named after him, Lughnasadh. His death, however, comes 
in the three days preceding the Samhain, when He dies at the hand of 
his Tanist (his other self) who is the Lord of mis-rule. This is said 
to be the festival of Lugh. However, this harvest festival usually 
dedicated to Lugh was very often dedicated to his foster mother Tailltu. 
There is quite a bit of evidence that Lugh stepped into the shoes once 
worn by Trograinn, the son of Griann.

This is the time when the warriors returned from the fields of battle 
to begin harvesting the crops. At this time fairs were held. 
Traditionally, this was also the time when marriages were contracted. 
There were many games and races. A great number of records still 
exist which show that this date held importance across all of the 
Gaelic lands. One of these, the 12th century manuscript of 'The Book 
of Leinster' tells of a fair, an 'aenach', held at Carmun in Leinster 
(probably south of Kildare). This fair was held once every three years; 
it began on 1st August and ended on the 6th. Another example is the 
Curragh of the Liffey which is the most celebrated race course in 
Ireland. However, from the ancient lore we see the God of Light Lugh 
Himself, instituted the great fair of Tailltenn (now called Teltown) 
in honour of his foster mother Tailltiu (pronounced Telsha). The lore 
relates how Tailltiu's heart broke under the strain of clearing the 
plain that carries her name. Lugh then ordained that the fair, with 
feasting and games should be held there annually for all time as a 
memorial to Her. Tailltiu was in fact a Goddess of the Land who 
founded the kingship of Ireland under the Fir Bolgs, in the time 
before the coming of either the Tuatha de Danaan or the Gael. It is 
said that the Fir Bolgs landed in Ireland at Lughnasadh, hence this 
festival seems to have a great deal of association with the older 
races of that land. The site of Tailltenn was also an ancient sacred 
burial place for the men of Ulster, which is traditionally the 
stronghold of the Fir Bolg warriors. The Fir Bolg peoples were 
closely associated with agriculture. Lughnasadh was an important land 
festival within the communities of the 'common folk'. Throughout 
Gaelic lands Lughnasadh is to this day known as "the festival of 
first fruits". It does in a very real way honor Thallium, who as a 
Goddess of the Land (and sovereignty), is the Earth Mother.

When considering the agricultural perhaps we can best establish the 
idea of the intent of this festival time by exploring the Gaelic 
language itself. By doing this study, we find that the name Lugh, 
transliterates to “the least.” As the People were still by and large 
living on the stores or the previous years harvest, this was the time 
when the stores were at the least. It was a time of looking forward 
to the harvest time just starting. It must to be pointed out directly, 
to avoid confusion, that this festival either in veneration of 
Tailltiu or Lughnasadh, has no connection to any concept of Corn 
Kings or harvest festivals, such as referenced to in Frazer’s “The 
Golden Bough”. Tailltenn was the scene of the final battle between 
the Tuatha de Danaans and the Gaels. The Gaels here defeated the 
Tuatha, and it is here that they buried their three kings. After this 
the Gaels divided Ireland between the sons of the Mil.

It seems that a common element was the prevalence of horses at the 
fairs associated with Lughnasadh. Of course the White Stead is a 
common companion of Lugh in the lore. Even in the Ulster Cycle, the 
foot race between Macha and the chariots of MacNesa speak of this. 
The emphasis on horse races and horsemanship seem to drive home the 
point. This is very significant, for the horse is the embodiment of 
the Goddess of Sovereignty. In this her task seems to be to deliver 
spirits to Otherworld. A telling custom related to this belief which 
was once widely practised in the coastal lands of the Gaidhealtachd 
was for people to drive their horses down to the beach and into the 
sea on Lughnasadh. The Fair of Tailltenn, became a major annual event 
held on the 1st of August, which was attended by people of all classes 
in Gaelic Celtic. It had all the usual attractions of a great 
festival, but was particularly renowned for its excellent games and 
its 'marriage market'. Lughnasadh was the season of handfastings, or 
trial marriages that lasted a year and a day. After that time the 
couple had to return to the same place at the fair the following year 
to make their contract a permanent one. They also had the right to 
declare themselves divorced by walking in opposite directions away 
from each other. Trial marriages of a year and a day lasted up until 
recent centuries in many Gaelic areas. During this time young people 
would often simply *pair up* with a 'brother' or 'sister' for the 
duration of the fair, after which they went their separate ways. As a 
matter of fact, even into the 18th century the ribald flavor of the 
Teltown Fair (Teltown being the Anglicized version of the place name) 
was held to be quite scandalous. In some places one whole day was 
dedicated to horse and chariot. In addition to the games, there were 
recitations of poems, genealogies and romantic tales. Music was 
provided by “cruits” (harps), timpans, trumpets, horns and “cuisig” 
or “piob” (pipes). Feats of horsemanship were performed. There were 
also jugglers and clowns. It seems that there were usually three 
distinct market places; one for food and clothes, one for livestock 
and another for luxury goods. If it rained during this festival, it 
was believed that Lugh himself was present.

Like the other fire festivals, this one too was once celebrated with 
great bonfires in every district. These fires lasted well into the 
nineteenth century in many places. In many places the elderly women 
would go to the cattle to tie red or blue threads onto their tails, 
while repeating incantations. For the milk to retain its goodness, a 
ball of cow's hair or 'ronag' was put into the milk pail on this day. 
Curds and cheese were specially prepared from that day's milk. In 
many places, after the rise to dominance of Christianity, the pagan 
bannock became the 'Moilean Moire', dedicated to Mary. In this way 
the ancient customs were carried on under a thin veneer of 
Christianity as La Feill Moire, The Feast day of Mary. This festival 
falls on August 15th, very close to the ancient date of Lughnasadh 
before the Gregorian calendar changes. We can see many similarities 
between Mary as mother of Christ (the Sun King) and our ancestral 
Goddess of the Earth, Tailltiu, foster mother of the Sun King Lugh. 
La Feill Moire has retained much of its pagan roots. It is not very 
difficult to back-engineer this verse to regain a wholly 
pre-Christian expression. I shall however, leave that for the reader. 
In this rite the father of the household breaks the bannock, giving 
a piece to his wife and his children in order of age, then the whole 
family walk sunwise round the fire singing the rune of Mother Mary 
'Iolach Mhoire Mhathair':

On the feast day of Mary the fragrant,
Mother of the Shepherd of the flocks,
I cut me a handful of the new corn,
I dried it gently in the sun,
I rubbed it sharply from the husk
With mine own palms.
I ground it in a quern of Friday
I baked it on a fan of sheep-skin
I toasted it to a fire of rowan
And I shared it round my people.
I went sunways round my dwelling
In the name of Mary Mother
Who promised to preserve me
Who did preserve
And who will preserve me...
(Translated from the Gaelic by the Dal Riadh Celtic Trust) 
Source:  http://celt.net/Celtic/History/calendar.html