Lugh is Huge

Part 1 of 2

A three-headed Lugh discovered in Reims, France in 1852.

Warrior, King, Craftsman, God—Lugh is so big that explaining his festival, Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-NAS-ah), which occurs on August 1, needs two parts. In this segment, we’ll delve into Lugh; next month, the rituals and customs associated with his celebration.

Legend & Legacy

A member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Lugh reigns as one of its chief deities. His name probably comes from the Proto-Indo-European root lewgh, meaning “to bind by oath.” Thus, in addition to many appellations, he is associated with oaths, truth, the law, and rightfulness.

Legends vary, but by all accounts, Lugh’s life played out against the deep-seated animosity between his tribe, the magical Tuatha Dé Danann, and the evil Fomori (also known as Fomorians), god-like beings that personified death, destruction, and chaos.

Everyone agrees that Cían (also spelled Kien) of the Tuatha Dé Danann was Lugh’s father and Eithne, his mother. She was the daughter of the evil Fomori King Balor.

Although one legend posits that the marriage of Cían and Eithne was an attempt to form an alliance between the warring tribes, the more prevalent myth is darker and more devious—like Balor himself.

In it, Balor was warned by a druid that his grandson would kill him. Since he had but one child—Eithne—he imprisoned her in a tower on Tory Island to prevent any opportunity for her bear children. Yet she dreamed of a man who would come across the sea. That man, of course, turned out to be Cían.

Cían, in the meantime, had a score to settle with Balor. The king had stolen the young man’s magical cow, the Glas Gaibheann, who never ran out of milk. Cían sought out Biróg of the Mountain, the wisest and most powerful druid to help him avenge the wrong.

Biróg disguised Cían as a woman and stirred up a magical wind that blew them both to the tower where Eithne lived. Biróg told the women who guarded Eithne that the disguised Cían was a queen of the Tuatha de Dannan who needed shelter. Biróg then cast a sleeping spell on the guards. 

Eithne recognized Cían as the man of her dreams. They fell in love, made love, and Eithne conceived Lugh.

When Lugh was born, Balor ordered him drowned. But Biróg rescued the baby and gave him to Cían, who arranged to have Tailtiu, Queen of the Fir Bolg, foster him.

Under Tailtiu’s guidance, Lugh matured into an athlete, warrior, swordsman, smith, craftsman, harpist, poet, historian, and sorcerer.

With those skills intact, Lugh traveled to Tara, the religious and political center of old Ireland, for the annual gathering held on August 1 to assure the well-being of the community. He presented himself to the court of Nuada, King of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

No one could join the court who did not have a unique skill with which he could serve the king. When Lugh offered his array of talents, each was rejected as the Tuatha Dé Danann already had someone with that skill. But no one had all those skills simultaneously. Lugh, then, joined the court not only as an Ollam (poet or bard), but as Chief Ollam, a term that refers to the highest member of any group.

Lugh was shocked that the Tuatha Dé Danann meekly submitted to the Fomori. Seeing courage in the young man, Nuada gave Lugh command over the Tuatha Dé Danann army. He led them to victory against the Fomori in the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh.

In that battle, Balor killed Nuada. Lugh then slayed Balor with a slingshot, fulfilling the prophecy that the king would be killed by his grandson. To this day, thunderstorms in County Mayo, Ireland, are referred to as battles between Lugh and Balor.

Lugh’s bloodthirsty magical spear (center of picture) as illustrated
by Harold Robert Millar
in The Mythology of the British Islands by Charles Squire (1905).
Savior & Sorcerer

Because he defeated the Fomori, Lugh earned the title of savior. He was declared King of the Tuatha Dé Danann and reigned over a united Ireland.

Later on, Lugh fathered, or—depending on who is telling the tale—was reborn, as the Irish hero Cú Chulainn.

As a prominent Celtic deity, Lugh’s titles were numerous. The most famous was Lámfada, “Of the Long Arm,” a reference to the length of his spear. It was unbeatable and could take the form of lightning when thrown.

His other magical possessions were:

  • Cloich tabaill, the slingshot that killed Balor;
  • Sguaba Tuinne, the “Wind-Sweeper,” a fast boat;
  • Énbarr of the Flowing Mane, a horse that could travel from this world to the Otherworld and back;
  • Failinis, a greyhound who always caught his prey, generated killer winds with his tail, was invincible in battle, and turned water into wine.

Lugh is also credited with inventing a number of notable Irish games, including horseracing, sports, and fidchell, the Irish precursor to chess.

Popular Culture

Lugh is prominent in contemporary popular culture, appearing in:

  • Video games, including the Young Wizards series
  • Saban’s 90s fantasy series, Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog
  • Marvel Comics® Thor: Blood Oath, Thor, and Warriors Three
  • Dungeons & Dragons, as part of the Celtic pantheon

Next month
Part 2 of 2
Lughnasadh—The Festival

One response to “Lugh is Huge”

  1. […] which occurs on August 1, needs two parts. Last month, we delved into the god’s background in “Lugh is Huge”; this month, the rituals and customs associated with his […]

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One response to “Lugh is Huge”

  1. […] which occurs on August 1, needs two parts. Last month, we delved into the god’s background in “Lugh is Huge”; this month, the rituals and customs associated with his […]

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