"Lugh of the Long Arm"
aka: Samildánach (CMT), Lug Lonnannsclech (CMT), Lug Laebach (Gwynn, III, 7)
God of arts, warriors, and sovereignty.
The origin of "Lugh"--and that of his Gaulish counterpart Lugus--is still a matter of debate. It may derive from *lug- "oath, pledge", which would fit with his role as a first function god in a Dumezilian structure. Alternately, it has been derived from the Proto-Indo European *leuk- "light", here perhaps meaning "lightning" which would also fit: his weapon is a spear, August is a time for lightning, and Cuchulain is deeply associated with lightning. In the case of "light", it may be a play on words, just as the occasional association with ravens--"lugos" is made.
Lugh is not quite a god. He is half Fomorian--his mother Eithne, daughter of Balor; and half Tuatha de Dannan--his father Cian, son of Dian Cecht. He was prophesied to kill his Fomorian grandfather Balor, and so was raised by Taltiu, a Fir Bolg queen, and traditionally fostered also by Manannan on Emain Abhlach, where he recieved his spear Sleá Bua--"spear of victory" and Manannan's horse Aonbharr. He returned to Ireland on the side of the de Dannans, becoming king due to Nuada's lack of an arm, and lead the gods to triumph against the Fomorians in the Battle of Magh Turedh. He put out Balor's evil eye, killing his grandfather as prophecied. However, three de Dannans killed his father Cian in a feud, and he punished them, as told in the story The Fate of the Children of Tureen. Nuada by now has a silver arm, and Lugh steps down from kingship.
Lugh gained entrance to the Tuatha De Danann by declaring himself the master of all arts--Samildánach. Because of this (and other reasons) he or his Gaulish counterpart Lugus is identified with Caesar's "Mercury".
According to the Dinshenachus, his wives were Bua--"Victory" (III, 41) , and Nas (III, 49), daughters of Ruadri, king of Britain. They also place is his grave at Loch Lugborta (Gwyn, IV, 279).
He is credited with at least one son, Cuchulain (O'Rahilly, 183).
Possibly the earliest mention of Lugh is in the Leinster cycle of poems, specifically "Lugh sceith"--"Lugh's sheild", a poem in praise of the legendary Labraid. Here we also see the association between Lugh and warriors.
The other major texts are:
Warrior and Sovereign
Aside from mastery of all arts, there is another important aspect to Lugh, namely his role in war and sovereignty. As a warrior, he wins the Second Battle of Mag Turedh, and as god of sovereignty, returns Nuada to his rightful place as king. His name was apparently used to refer to warriors, as seen in the Leinster poems, but also apparently in Gaulish, where "lugus" is also translated as "lynx", or "lugos" as "raven", the latter of which is a staple of battlefields. The Metrical Dinshenachas refer to him as "warrior Lug" (Gwyn, IV, 227)
Lugh's role as a god of sovereignty is demonstraited more explicitly in "Baile in Scale", in which Conn Ceadcathach enters a mysterious fog and finds himself and his companions in the Otherworld at the House of Lugh. He meets Lugh and Flaithe--literally, sovereignty. Flaithe asks who is to be served by a golden cup, and Lugh answers that it is Conn, as he proceeds to prophecy on the future high kings of Ireland. This ties with Michael Enright's Lady with a Mead Cup, which demonstraits the process of leader-making in Iron Age Europe: a goddess or her prophetess, usually associated with "Mercury" (Lugh, Esus, Odin), offers the leader a cup of alcohol in ritual, sealing his position. Mercury is a god not only of merchants, but of contracts in general--and if Lugh's name does derive from "oath", it is not surprising that his role is one of ensuring leadership and sovereignty.
Relationship to Lleu
Lugh's relationship to the Welsh Lleu (or Llew) is unclear. There is the obvious linguistic relationship: the earliest form of Lleu is in the Harleian 3859 genealogies, where he is called "Lou Hen map Guidgen". Lou eventually developed into Lleu, but is probably a phonetic rendering of "Lugh", as the hard "g" of "Lugus" had dropped out.
The similarities are these: Lleu's epitaph Llaw Gyffes means "skillful hand", combining the meaning of both Lamhfada and Samildánach. Lleu's birth, like Lugh's, is unusual, though the opposite of Lugh's--while Lugh's parents have an extreme form of exogamy, coming from warring nations, Lleu's parents are an extreme form of endogamy, being brother and sister. Lugh has his "twin" in Bres, who has a Fomorian father and De Danann mother and who exibits all the opposite traits of Lugh; Lleu has his own twin, Dylan, whose myths are unfortunately lost. Both Lugh and Lleu are associated with spears. Lugh and Lleu both have associations with birds and cats: Lugh is apparently identified with the lynx as a symbol of a warrior, and Lleu's name is often spelled Llew, the Welsh word for lion. Though I'm not sure of concrete evidence to tie Lugh to birds, Lugus and Lleu are both associated with birds, Lugus with ravens and Lleu with the eagle and the wren.
However, Lleu's story is one about losing sovereignty; his wife Blodeuwedd (herself created out of the land) leaves him for another, and though she is turned into an owl as punishment by Gwydion, it is still a reversal from the role of Lugh; and so the differences have yet to be resolved.
Now, Lugh had a counterpart in Bres, a king over the Tuatha de Dannans, who was half de Dannan and half Fomorian. Lugh represented the light, Bres the dark, both of an intertwined heritage. It is thought that Dylan also represents the dark, and Lleu the light. This sense of opposing twins, though not novel to Celtic myth, is also seen in the later Arthurian figures of Gawain/Gwalchmai and Mordred, with Gawain (whose character has been theorized to be influenced by both Lugh and Cuchulain) in the role of Lugh, and Mordred in the role of Bres/Dylan (remember that Mordred is supposedly drowned at birth, but survives).
Lugh's conception and birth, meanwhile, is similar to that of Perseus son of Danae, the Greek hero and son of Zeus, who is conceived in a golden shower, because it was prophecied that he would kill his grandfather. Perseus is set to sea, goes on a series of adventures (including slaying Medusa), and returns to his grandfather and unwittingly commits revenge, killing the old man. He then sets up the kingdom of Mycenia, and his descendant is Hercules/Herakles. Here, the analogy can be extended then to include Cuchulainn, who is then the equivalent to Hercules. (It is worth noting that the birth of Hercules also holds a strong similarity to that of King Arthur.)
Also similar is the Welsh tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, wherein Culhwch must defeat the giant Yspaddaden Penkawr, the father of Olwen; it is prophecied that when Olwen weds, Yspaddaden will die. Culhwch takes the role of Cian, Olwen that of Eithne, and Yspaddaden that of Balor, the evil giant. The equivalent here for Lugh, though, is instead Goreu ap Custennin, Culhwch's cousin, not his son. However, the role of the revenging relative is still pertinent.
Lugh is also sometimes equated to Odin; Michael Enright, in Lady with a Mead Cup suggests that Odin and Lugh may both be derived from Esus. Both have spears, both are associated with being one-eyed (though with Lugh this was only a magical stance, not an actual loss of an eye).
Ancient Irish Tales. ed. and trans. by Tom P. Cross & Clark Harris Slover. NY: Henry Holt & Co., 1936
Enright, Michael. Lady with a Mead Cup. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1995.
Gwyn, Edward. The Metrical Dindshenchas. vol. 1-4. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1991 (reprint). URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T106500A/index.html
O'Rahilly, Cecile. Táin Bó Cúalnge Recension 1. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976. URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T301012/
Stokes, Whitley. "The Second Battle of Moytura" Revue Celtique. Volume 12. Paris: F. Vieweg, 1891. pp. 52-130, 306-308. URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T300011.html.
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Mary Jones © 2007