Lugh, known as the Ildanach (many linked skills), forms a very important focus for the survival of the Tuatha Dé Dannan as they face invasion from their ancestral enemy, the Fomorians.
The challenges faced by this deity on his journey from boy, to sage, to king are many, but for one such as Lugh these are readily faced and overcome.
What can we learn by following the tales of Lugh? What does it take to exist as an orphaned child of two warring tribes? Especially when that existence is weighted by the burden of a heavy prophecy.
Who is Lugh in Celtic Mythology?
Lugh’s challenges begin even before his birth. The Fomorian warlord Balor, known as the “Bale Eye” was prophesied to die at the hand of his grandchild. As with many figures in these ancient tales, he attempts to prevent his demise, but prophecy is rarely subverted.
In one version of the tale Balor’s daughter Ethliu is locked away in a tower but Cian, son of Dian Cecht, on a quest to steal back a cow seized by Balor finds her. She conceives three children, yet when they are born Balor casts them all into the sea. Here one child survives and is rescued by Manannan Mac Lír and taken to foster with Tailtiu, a princess of the Fir Bolg. This child is Lugh.
When next we meet this God in our tales he has grown to his full, and presents himself to Tara and the hall of the restored King Nuada. Here is challenged and denied entry and asked ‘What art dost thou practice? for no one without an art enters Tara’.
What follows is a series of declarations where Lugh lists the many arts he has. From ‘wright’, ‘smith’, ‘Harper’, ‘Leech,’ and even ‘Champion’.
Yet Lugh finds that though he has a host of talents, none of them gain him access to the king. For each of his arts, there is another already present at Tara so time and again he is told ‘‘We need thee not.’
Not to be deterred from his purpose Lugh considers what he has learned and instead of answering a question he asks one;
He said again: ‘Ask the king’, saith he, ‘whether he has a single man who (possesses) all these arts, and if he has I will not enter Tara.’
With this well considered question Lugh shows his intellect and indeed is admitted to the hall of Nuada, taking up the seat of the sage, one who has many interlinked skills.
Even though Lugh gained entry by his collection of talents, he still had to prove himself worthy of the seat of the Sage. The first challenge came from Oghma, Champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann. In a feat of strength the Hero heaved a vast boulder from the cook fires and tossed it straight through the wall of the feasting hall. To try to match this Lugh tossed the boulder back in… using the same hole, but then applied his skills in craft to repair the damage done.
During his trials in the hall of the Nuada, Lugh called for a harp and performed the three things by which a Harper’s skill is shown. The three strains. Geantrai the joyful strain. Goltrai the wailing strain, and finally Suintrai, the sleeping strain. In this way Lugh kept the hall of the king greatly entertained.
Many other challenges the youth faced to test his skills in that hall, but it was as the day came to its close that Nuada had seen all he needed. Knowing that conflict with the Fomorian’s must come on account of the deposed Bres, Nuada decided that Lugh should go to the seat of the king. In this way did Lugh become the third King of the Tuatha Dé Dannan in Ireland and he ruled for forty years in that seat.
Of course to one of many talents the ways of the magician were not unknown. The most interesting expression of this came in the second conflict on the plains of Moytura. As the Fomorian’s clashed with the Tuatha De Dannan, Lugh was kept to the rear to ensure his safety. Yet this passive role was not for him and slipping from his guard he went about the battlefield and performed the crane stance. In this position, with one foot raised as the crane does, and one eye closed to see only the Otherworld, Lugh performed acts of blessing and cursing.
Of course it was not just magic and skill that could carry a battle. It was also the arts of the warrior. Lugh was said to cast a sling stone clear through his grandfather Balor’s poisonous eye, fulfilling the prophecy.
He was also said to wield one of the four great treasures of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. The spear, brought from findias. It was said that no battle could overcome it. This then was a fitting weapon for one with such a broad range of abilities.
What Does the Lugh Look Like?
Lugh is described as ‘sun faced’ which many folk have taken out of context to infer him as a solar deity. What this was actually referring to was his good looks. He is said to be fair and good looking, and given what we know from the above, he would have an athletic build capable of a lot of grace and movement, but also with sufficient strength to see to the more physical of his many talents.
Who is Lugh Today?
Lugh today is a very interesting figure. He is an orphaned child of mixed heritage, a heritage that is fraught with centuries of conflict which culminates in the second battle of Moytura in which he is compelled by fate to be a kinslayer.
Yet for all of that Lugh is the one, who through use of his many linked skills, earns his place as king of his people and sees them through conflict and into a time of restored balance and peace.
He is a God for which any ability is never out of reach and so can be a great deity to approach with a variety of questions.
So what Question would you ask Lugh?
Where To Now?
If you think that Lugh is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: