Arguably one of the most famous and beloved gods in Celtic mythology is the talented, handsome Lugh (pronounced Loo). Lugh is a member of the magical Tuatha Dé Danann, and the mythology is full to bursting with stories about him.
In fact, so famous and influential are the tales of Lugh that to this day the traditional Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasadh is named after him. This in turn is used as the name for the entire month of August in the modern Irish language (spelled Lúnasa).
Lugh has several epithets, some of which include Lámhfada (of the long arm), Ildánach (skilled in many arts), Samildánach (equally skilled in all the arts), Lonnbéimnech (fierce striker), Macnia (youthful warrior), and Conmac (hound-son).
For modern Pagans, Lugh is associated with the sun, the harvest, the arts, skills across many disciplines, Kingship, warriorship, prosperity and truth. Many choose to invoke Lugh when they need help with creativity or leadership.
Late summer, when the land is heavy and abundant with fruit and grain, is the time that Lugh is most potent. And even today, people mark Lughnasadh with bonfires and celebration. This includes the Catholic Church, who hold harvest events that hark back to Lughnasadh festivals.
The story of Lugh’s conception and birth is fascinating, and lays the foundation for an unusual and fantastic life. He was the son of Eithne, a famously beautiful woman and the daughter of Balor the giant.
It had been prophesised to Balor by a Druid that he would be slain by his own grandson, so in order to prevent this, he had Eithne imprisoned in a high tower on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, so that she would never meet a man and bear his child. She was looked after by twelve women who saw that she was well cared for.
Eithne was plagued by dreams of a certain man’s face every night as she slept. Then one night, two women arrived at the door of the tower pleading for help. They were permitted inside, but once through the door one of the women revealed herself to be a Druidess named Biróg.
Biróg cast a spell on the twelve servants and sent them into a deep sleep, she then lifted a spell from the other woman, who turned out to be a man of the Tuatha Dé Danann named Cian. He had come to the island looking for a valuable cow that he believed had been stolen from him by Balor.
Cian climbed the stairs and found Eithne, who recognised him immediately as the man from her dreams. So amazed were they by each other that they immediately fell in love, and conceived a child that night. Biróg urged Cian to leave, and so Eithne went through her pregnancy in the tower under the watchful eye of her father.
Eventually Eithne gave birth to triplets. But to her despair they were thrown into the sea soon after they were born to be drowned. One of the babies did not land in the whirlpool that killed the other two. Instead he landed in a harbour where he was rescued by Biróg who took him to Cian, his father. Eventually he was fostered by Cian’s brother, Gavida, who was a smith. Thus began Lugh’s journey.
Joining the Court at Tara
Once he had grown into a young man, Lugh set out to Tara to join the court of King Nuada, a member of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. He arrived at the door of the great fort on the hill (the remains of which can still be visited today!) and told the guard at the door that he wanted to enter.
The guard denied him, saying that only someone in possession of a special skill could join the King’s household.
Lugh told him that he was a builder, but the guard replied that they already had a builder. Lugh then told him that he was a smith, a champion, a harper, a warrior, a poet, a magician, a physician, a cup-bearer and a brazier. But again, the guard said that they already had people that possessed each of these skills.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Lugh asked the guard if they had a person that possessed all these skills together. Sure enough, they did not, and clever Lugh was permitted to join the court.
Trouble with the Sons of Tuireann
Lugh’s father Cian had an old enemy named Tuireann, who had three sons names Brian, Luchar and Lucharba. One day these three son’s encountered Cian, and decided that they would kill him for their father.
Cian transformed himself into a pig in an attempt to hide from them, but was soon discovered. Cian knew they if they killed him as a pig, Lugh would only have the legal right to claim compensation for a pig, but if they killed him as a man he would be able to claim compensation for a father. Sure enough, he convinced them to allow him to die as a man.
Sometime afterwards, Lugh held a feast and invited the brothers to join him. He asked them what they would expect as compensation were their father to be murdered. Without thinking, they replied that death would be the only satisfactory demand. Lugh wholeheartedly agreed, and in the same breath accused them of the murder of his father
As compensation, he gave them a number of impossible quests. They set out to fulfil his demands, and completed all but one. Lugh commanded them to persevere, and they all received mortal wounds as they tried to finish the task. Still angry about the murder of his father, Lugh refused to heal their wounds, and to the despair of Tuireann the three sons died. Not long later, Tuireann himself died of grief.
Battle of Moytura
Using the magical items that the sons of Tuireann had retrieved for him, Lugh lead the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Second Battle of Moytura against the Fomorians.
Before start of the battle, Lugh gave a powerful speech to his army that filled them all with hope and made them all feel at the level of a King. He also asked each warrior what skills and talents they would bring to the battlefield and thus filled them with pride.
During the battle, Lugh’s grandfather Balor killed King Nuada. Finally, Lugh faced the terrible giant that had murdered his siblings and his King. Balor’s eye, that had the power to kill anyone he looked upon, opened. And in an incredible feat, Lugh fired his slingshot and drove the evil eye right out of the back of Balor’s head, killing him.
Lugh became the new King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and as his first act decided to spare the life of Breas who had betrayed them, on the condition that he teach the Tuatha Dé Danann how and when to plough, sow, and reap.
There are many other stories and events that feature Lugh. He is said to have begun a series of games similar to the Olympics called the Assembly of Talti after his foster-mother Tailtiu. He started a number of Lughnasadh festivals around Ireland. And he invented the Irish boardgame similar to chess known as fidchell.
Lugh also appears in stories with other famous mythological figures. Including Cúchulainn, whom he fathered with the mortal woman Deichtine. Lugh later appeared to Cúchulainn to heal his wounds after the Táin Bó Cuailnge.