Lug

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Lug or Lugh (pronounced "loo") is a former Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. He is known by the epithets Lámfhada ("long hand"), for his skill with a spear or sling, Samildánach ("multi-talented", "skilled in many arts"), Lonnbeimnech ("fierce striker") and Macnia ("boy hero"), and by the matronymic mac Ethlenn or mac Ethnenn ("son of Ethliu or Ethniu"). He is a reflex of the pan-Celtic god Lugus, and his Welsh counterpart is Llew Llaw Gyffes.

Contents

Lug in Irish tradition

Birth

Lug's father was Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann and his mother was Ethniu, daughter of Balor, of the Fomorians. Their union is presented as a dynastic marriage between the two peoples in the Book of Invasions, but later folklore tells a more elaborate story, reminiscent of the birth of Perseus from Greek mythology. According to a prophecy, Balor was to be killed by his grandson, so he locked his daughter Ethniu in a tower of crystal, usually located on Tory Island, to keep her from becoming pregnant. However Cian, with the help of the druidess Birog, managed to enter the tower and seduce her. She gave birth to triplets, but Balor threw them into the ocean. Two of the babies either drowned or turned into seals (compare the birth of Dylan and his twin, Llew Llaw Gyffes in Welsh mythology), but Birog saved one, Lug, and gave him to Manannan mac Lir, who became his foster father. He was nursed by Tailtiu.

There may be further triplism associated with his birth. His father, Cian, is usually mentioned together with his brothers Cú ("hound") and Cethen, who nonetheless have no stories of their own, and two characters called Lugaid, a popular medieval Irish name thought to derive from Lug, have three fathers: Lugaid Riab nDerg was the son of the three Findemna or fair triplets, and Lugaid mac Con Roí was also known as mac Trí Con, "son of three hounds". Notably, in Ireland's other great "sequestered maiden" story, the tragedy of Deirdre, the king's intended is carried off by three brothers, who are hunters with hounds. The canine imagery continues with another Lugaid, Lugaid mac Con, and of course Lug's son Cúchulainn. In some stories Cian was able to transform into a dog. Perhaps in a lost version of the myth, Ethniu was impregnated by three brothers with canine associations.

Lug joins the Tuatha Dé Danann

As a young man Lug travelled to Tara to join the court of king Nuada of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The doorkeeper would not let him in unless he had a skill with which to serve the king. He offered his services as a wright, a smith, a champion, a swordsman, a harpist, a hero, a poet and historian, a sorceror and a craftsman, but each time was rejected as the Tuatha Dé already had someone with that skill. But when Lug asked if they had anyone with all those skills simultaneously, the doorkeeper had to admit defeat, and Lug joined the court. He won a flagstone-throwing contest against Ogma, the champion, and entertained the court with his harp.

The Tuatha Dé were at that time oppressed by the Fomorians, and Lug was amazed how meekly they accepted this. Nuada began to wonder if this young man could lead them to freedom. Lug was given command over the Tuatha Dé, and he began making preparations for war.

The sons of Tuireann

When the sons of Tuireann, Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba, killed his father, Cian (who was in the form of a pig a the time), Lug set them a series of seemingly impossible quests as recompense. They achieved them all, but were fatally wounded in completing the last one. Despite Tuireann's pleas, Lug denied them the use of one of the items they had retrieved, a magic pigskin which healed all wounds. They died of their wounds, and Tuireann died of grief over their bodies.

The Battle of Magh Tuireadh

Using the magic artefacts the sons of Tuireann had gathered, Lug led the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh against the Fomorians. Nuada was killed in the battle by Balor. Lug faced Balor, who opened his terrible, poisonous eye that killed all it looked upon, but Lug shot a sling-stone that drove his eye out the back of his head, wreaking havoc on the Fomorian army behind. In some versions he uses a spear.

After the victory Lug found Bres, the half-Fomorian former king of the Tuatha Dé, alone and unprotected on the battlefield, and Bres begged for his life. If he was spared, he promised, he would ensure that the cows of Ireland always gave milk. The Tuatha Dé refused the offer. He then promised four harvests a year, but the Tuatha Dé said one harvest a year suited them. But Lug spared his life on the condition that he teach the Tuatha Dé how and when to plough, sow and reap.

Later life and death

Lug instituted the harvest festival of Lughnasadh in memory of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, held on 1 August at the town that bears her name (now Teltown, County Meath), and to have led horse races and displays of martial arts. It is a celebration of Lugh's triumph over the spirits of the Other World who had tried to keep the harvest for themselves. It survived long into Christian times and is still celebrated under a variety of names. Lughnasadh is now the Irish name for the month of August.

Lug is said to have invented the board game fidchell. He had a dog called Failinis.

He had several wives, including Buí, who was buried at Knowth, and Nás, whjo gave her name to Naas in County Kildare. His daughter or sister was Ebliu, who married Fintan. One of his wives, unnamed, had an affair with Cermait, son of the Dagda. Lug killed him in revenge, but Cermait's sons, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine, killed him in return, drowning him Loch Lugborta. He had ruled for forty years.

Lug in other cycles and traditions

In the Ulster Cycle he fathered Cúchulainn on the mortal maiden Deichtine. When Cúchulainn lay wounded after a gruelling series of combats during the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley), Lug appeared and healed his wounds over a period of three days.

In Baile in Scáil (The Phantom's Trance), a story of the Historical Cycle, Lug appeared in a vision to Conn of the Hundred Battles. Enthroned on a daïs, he directed a beautiful woman called the Sovereignty of Ireland to serve Conn a portion of meat and a cup of red ale, ritually confirming his right to rule and the dynasty that would follow him.

In the Fenian Cycle the dwarf harper Cnú Deireóil claimed to be Lug's son.

The Luigne, a people who inhabited Counties Meath and Sligo, claimed descent from him.

Lug's name and nature

Lug's name has been interpreted as deriving from the Indo-European root *leuk-, light, and he is often surrounded by solar imagery, so from Victorian times he has often been considered a sun god, similar to the Greco-Roman Apollo. Alexei Kondratiev notes his epithet lonnbeimnech and that folklore in County Mayo described thunderstorms as a battle between Lug and Balor, and concludes that "if his name has any relation to 'light' it more properly means 'lightning-flash' (as in Breton luc'h and Cornish lughes)", making him a storm god. He also appears in folklore as a trickster.

However he is a more complicated figure than any one such designation would allow. The best parallels from classical mythology would appear to be the Roman god Mercury and his Greek counterpart Hermes. Julius Caesar says that Mercury, believed to the inventor of all the arts, was the most revered god in Gaul, which parallels Lug's epithet samildanach and his mastery of all arts. Juliet Wood interprets Lug's name as deriving from the Celtic root *lugios, oath, making him a god of contracts like Mercury.

In Irish tradition Lug is associated with youth, kingship and healing, and his mastery of all arts suggests he transcends all divine functions. Like his Gaulish counterpart Lugus, he was compared with the archangel Michael.

Texts


Preceded by:
Nuada
High King of Ireland
AFM 1870-1830 BC
FFE 1447-1407 BC
Succeeded by:
Eochaid Ollathair

Template:End box

Bibliography

  • Ellis, Peter Berresford, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology' '(Oxford Paperback Reference), Oxford University Press, (1994): ISBN: 0195089618
  • MacKillop, James. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0192801201.
  • Squire, Charles, (2000) The Mythology of the British Islands, London: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. (now considered out of date).
  • Wood, Juliette, The Celts: Life, Myth, and Art, Thorsons Publishers (2002): ISBN: 0007640595

External Links


Lug handles are a kind of flattened knob attached to the side of pottery. Lugs may have small perforations to take a cord. They are sometimes found on prehistoric ceramics such as Hembury ware.de:Lugh fr:Lug (dieu) ja:ルー pl:Lugh

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