I gathered a lot of information on Lúgh when I decided to ask him formally to be my patron and then I decided to write this essay for others who might be thinking about him too. It is ironic that I wanted to do this because apparently (something I learned after my research) he is associated with sworn contracts!
Lúgh is the easiest god to talk about and he is also the hardest. There is a lot of information on him but most of it is fragmented, however, it does give a good picture of who Lúgh Lamhfhada is. Our information comes from iconography from the Pre-Roman period, place-names, iconography and epigraphy from the period of the Roman occupation, testimony of the Greek and Roman writers and literary traditions of the insular Celts. Possibly the earliest mention of Lúgh is in the Leinster cycle of poems, specifically “Lugh sceith”–“Lugh’s shield”, a poem in praise of the legendary Labraid. Other major texts that mention Lúgh are the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which briefly mentions Lúgh and the battle with the Fomorians, the Cath Maige Tuireadh in which Lúgh comes to the Tuatha De Danann and battles the Fomorians, the Oidheadh Chlainne Tuireann is a side-story to Cath Maige Tuireadh, the Sons of Turenn kill Lúgh’s father Cian, and Lúgh extracts an eric that results in their death, the Compert Con Culainn tells of Lúgh’s siring Cuchulain on Dechtire, the Táin Bó Cuailnge where Lúgh appears to Cuchulain and tells him he is his father, the Baile in Scáil where Conn Ceadcathach is taken to Lúgh’s house and is told of the future high kings of Ireland by Lúgh and the goddess of sovereignty and “Ar an doirseoir ris an deaghlaoch” a late poem, this has Lúgh raised on Emhain Abhlach.
I’d like to start with his name as he has many; some are famous while others are not. He is called Lúgh Lamhfhada, Lúgh Samhildánach, Lúgh Lonnbeimnech, Lugaid Lága and Lugaid Láigne. Lamhfhada means “of the long arm” and this refers to his ability with the spear rather than having a long arm. Samhildánach means “the one who possesses equal knowledge of all the arts”, Lonnbeimnech means “fierce striker” and both Lága and Láigne mean spear. Looking at the proper name though gives a few confusing definitions for him. Lúgh name is thought to mean “shinning one” or “light” and because of that he was thought to be a solar god, but that is not true. His name is more associated with storms and rain as he is the beginner of the harvest. So if his name means “light” it is likely that it is more like lightning flash as in thunder. His name is also linked to the Old Celtic stem word lugi, which means “to swear, or oath”, which makes him associated with sworn contracts. There also seems to be a little pun on his name because Lú also means little, in the sense that he is overlooked until his power is shown.
Now let us talk about Lúgh. Lúgh is the son of Cian and Eithne. Cian is the son of Dian Cécht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Eithne is the daughter of Balar, the champion of the Fomorians. So in a patrilineal society that means that his allegiance is to his father’s family as opposed to his mother’s. He is a part of a set of triplets, two of which were killed and he is the only survivor. He was fostered to Tailltiu, who is a Fir Bolg Queen associated with clearing a large field for agriculture, he is also said to have been fostered to Manannán mac Lír. He is youthful, athletic and handsome. He is the divine prototype of human kingship.
Lúgh is associated with Lughnasadh, some link him to ravens though the evidence for that is circumspect. During the la Téne period there was a god who was widespread and he was shown on the La Téne art of the period with birds, horses, Tree of Life, dogs or wolves, twin serpents and mistletoe. We don’t have a name for him but because of the place names that are associated with where these artifacts were found we can guess that this god might be Lúgh. During the Roman occupation the name Lúgh was not used a lot however, this could be due to the Roman habit of giving the local deities Roman counterpart. From the evidence we have Lúgh is linked to Mercury and there were over 400 dedications to Mercury found.
So let us talk about Lúgh’s domain. He is a warrior, a sorcerer, a smith, a harpist, a champion, a poet, a historian, a physician, a cupbearer, a skilled god of commerce and a brazier. He is associated with heights, he has multiple forms, and he is a sovereign protector with warrior attributes. He is a master of all crafts and arts. He chants spells to encourage the army of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he is a warrior that succeeded by the skill of his magic as well as brute force. He uses a spear, and a sling in combat. He shows his skill as a physician when he uses herbs to cure Cú Chulainn (whom he is associated with as father or foster father depending on the story read) in the Ulster cycle (not surprising considering who his grandfather is).
Some conclusions on my part:
– Originally he might have been a god of sworn contracts.
– Through his connection to the Fomorians (who were originally thought to be land gods or spirits that granted agriculture or withheld it) and to Tailltiu we can say that he is a god of harvest, as he got the secrets of the agricultural cycle from the Fomorians (Bres) and he was fostered by Tailltiu who cleared the largest plain for agricultural use.
– He seems similar to An Mórrígan in that he encourages his army by chanting spells, he seems to be associated with Ravens (for An Mórrígan it was the crows) and it is not a clear association. They both have a strange relationship with Cú Chulainn. They are both warriors that use magic as well as might to fight. Both are associated with sovereignty. It is said that magic cows are created by the advice of the god Lúgh in order to defy the oppressive demands of Bres, which in the end might have brought conflict and we know that An Mórrígan is associated with cows mainly stealing them to instigate wars.
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Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopedia of Myth, Legend and Romance. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 2006