Thursday, August 1, 2013


The Mórríghan, my namesake, dressed as a crow was calling outside my window at dawn: it's Lúghnasa! Or maybe it was Lúgh's raven. I couldn't see it, I was trying to sleep. The bird didn't really caw, it was more like a bark: get up you lazybones. I pulled the pillows over my ears. It kept barking. (I was up all night listening to Dick Francis' Even Money. It takes longer to listen to a book than to read it. And I can never put a good book down.)

Only the male crow sings. It's a rather mournful little warble. This one was barking orders outside my window like a drill sargeant. It could have been a raven, but ravens in Oakland? They are deep-voiced. Croak, the raven, evermore? Let's just say corvids were involved.

OK, OK, I'm up. Got it. It's Lúghnasa. (No, not the band). I can't climb the highest peak, nor dance, nor even circle the proverbial well—not with this torn knee. Yesterday I cleaned house for the first time since I was injured in March, and am paying dearly for it. But somehow the body keeps time with tradition, despite the century one is living in. About the only thing up for dancing today, is my imagination.

Sometimes The Mórríghan, the Great Queen, is called the phantom queen, or the war goddess. Or "Morrigu" for short. She's an ancient triune goddess land/ soverighnty. As in mother of the gods. Some say the Welsh Morgan le Fey is a cognate of the Mórríghan (or Morrigan), others say no FN way—it's a case of bad linguistics.

That little fada (accent) on the first syllable, mór changes the meaning of the word from sea—mor, muir, mer—(or horse—but I really don't see how anyone can get "horse" out of itto—great, or big—as in The Big Kahuna.

My Welsh friend Mábli named me The Mórríghan in grad school and it stuck. I miss Mábli, living far awa' in Stornowa'. I know, Maureen is supposed to mean little Mary—but I fancifully said that's a Christian overlay for a name already in Irish mythology. And so, The Mórríghan moniker stuck.

Maíriín is Maíri with a diminutive ending, -ín, or in English: Maura + -een. Like Colleen: cail + în. You're probably thinking Maureen sounds nothing like Mórríghan. Welcome to Irish 1A. That -gh in the middle of Mórríghan is silent, more of a swallowed y sound. Like a gulp. Call this an exercise in false etymology, or maybe a bad case of vivid poetic imagination.

About the only thing that warring camps of Indo-European linguists do agree on is that  = king/queen, or soverignty. The rest is up for grabs.

Then there's the thought that Mor-ríghan is cognate with Morgan idea, with no fada, as in the sea. This is where it gets tricky. She-of-the-sea, my old boyfriend, climber-poet Edwin Drummond (aka The Human Fly) used to call me. Great big sea. (No, not the band). Fanciful wordplay drives linguists to drink, but if you're an IE linguist, where consonants count for little, and vowels count for nothing at all, any excuse to drink is probably good. Or if you're a poet. Besides, who wants to be called Biitter Herbs anyway? Just don't call me Battleaxe.

You're probably wondering what all this has to do with Lúghnasa, or August 1. I'm wending my way there. Never could think straight, so it's widdershins for me. My thoughts travel at the speed of Celtic knots. Or maybe I'm bird-brained from being wakened at dawn.

The crow is one of the Mórríghan's animal personae, a shape-shifter. Not only was she a triple goddess—there's fierce debate as to which three goddesses—she could turn into an eel and a wolf as well as a white, red-eared heifer (OK, so that's four critters—which goes against the Celtic trinity thing).

But in Irish literature, The Mórríghan was most famous as the scaldcrow, or raven on the shoulder of CúChullain's corpse—he died, strapped to a menhir on the battlefield in the Táin Bó Cúailnge while she ate his guts. She is the Irish goddess of war and fate. The washer at the ford, she ordains who will live or die on the battlefield.

Those two had a serious love-hate thing going on. Cú should never have spurned The Mórríghan  when she offered herself up. (She had this re-virgination land thing going on too). You know what they say about a woman scorned. Kick that up a few notches when she's an cougar sovereign goddess—and mother of the gods. Besides, Lúgh was Cú's father. So, I'm sure there was another interesting triangle going on as well. Welcoming them home with open thighs, and all that. Let's just say she's complicated.

Lúgh too had a thing about those corvids—oracle ravens. You know, the ravens at the Tower of London? No wonder the Romans had to bury statues of imperial Roman eagles there. To break up the juju. Some say London is Lugh's city, Lugdunum. Did the ancient Irish distinguish between ravens and crows? They're both Otherworld carrion birds. Some IE linguists claim that the Gaulish lugos (Lúgh is a cognate) means raven. Or maybe it means *lug as in oath, pledge, or in Proto-Indo European it could mean *leuk (light). Or maybe it's wordplay with ravens. —Check out Lugh - in Mary Jones dictionary.

The Hound of Ulster's man-handle was CúChullain, but his baby name was Sétanta (sé as in Sidhe?). There was something odd about his birth(s): unseasonable snow, birds, twinned colts (making it a triad birth), maybe some kidnapping or infantacide. Let's just say he-who-was-to-become-Sétanta, then CúChullain, died more than once, and Lúgh had to stick the kid's soul back into Deichtine's womb all over again. (Deichtine was sort of like the Welsh Arianrhod (silver wheel) and her magical sons: Dylan Ail Don and Lleu Llaw Gyffes. All these multiple virgin births. I'm sure their Facebook status is set to: It's extremely complicated. Monks trying to shoehorn Irish mythology into Biblical shoes.)

So when the Mórríghan was calling me nine times outside my window at dawn, in a place where crows don't normally visit—it got my attention. Made me realize it's a feastday. A crossroad of the year. I thought about baking some sodabread to celebrate the great wheel of the year. Not that I actually did anything, other than attempt to write this blogín.

The other ancient  Irish feast days are largely forgotten—but everybody knows of Hallowe'en, or Samhain. Then there's Imbolc (first milk) and Beltane (Bel's fires). And Lúgnasadh. Or Lúghnasa—its Christian frock is the harvest, or first-new-grain-loaf festival, aka Lammas Day. Technically, Lúghnasa began yesterday, as Irish days, like Hebrew days begin at dusk.

Today is the feastday of the god Lúgh Lámhfhada. And whenever you begin invoking the old Irish gods, they all want to come to the party. And young Lúgh, a bona fide member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, was the young rising god, a real party animal. 

Lúgnasa is the half-way mark between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. The word is a combination of Lúg (the god Lúgh) and -násad (which is an assembly, or gathering). His handle, Lámhfhada means long arm. God of all arts, he was really good with his, er… spear. (See also pan-Celtic god Lugus, and Welsh counterpart Lleu Llaw Gyffes, "The Bright One with the Strong Hand.")

Lúgh (modern: Lú) founded the Óenach Tailten (the ancient Irish Olympic Games—similar to the Greek Games) as a funeral feast for his (foster) mother Tailtiu, queen of the Fir Bolg. Royal
fosterage was a big deal in ancient Irish mythology—it built alliances between clans and tribes. Foster children had mixed allegiances—to their foster families, and to their blood kin. 

Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann was Lugh's father, and Ethniu, daughter of Balor, of the Fomorians, was his mother. (Or Lugh had three fathers, or was born three times, or was a lone surviving triplet—Balor drowned the others.) Got that? There's a test at the end, should you ever get to the bottom of it. I would imagine most of you are stark raving by now—with all those pimpley hyperlinks screaming: pick me, pick me!

So, we have three conjoined Irish races: Tuatha Dé Danann (TDD), and some Fomorians from under the sea (making Lúgh a half-god), with the Fir Bolgs as his foster parents. Add fosterage with Manannán mac Lír at Emhain Abhlach (Anglesey) too. we're not to sure what mythical race he was, TDD? Manannán arms Lúgh. So, Lúgh has three fathers, and/or is triplets, or was the product of a triple birth. Good old Indo-European threes. Surely that was significant. I said, it's complicated. Gawd, I need a drink.

Lúgh's poor foster mother Tailtiu, died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. Not too sure what all the menfolk were doing when all this was happening. Sitting on their keisters swilling heather beer in yon bonny glen? Apparently clearing the fields was women's work—even if she was the queen. What's with that? Master and commander?

So Lúgh of the Long Arm threw his foster mother Tailtiu the mother of all Irish wakes, or funeral feasts—if you must. The first Óenach Tailten, or Áenach Tailteann, was traditionally said to be held at modern Teltown, County Meath. Telltown is a corruption of Tailtu's name. It's also the seat of the early Uí Néills, so locating it there is a dynastic thing. Turf wars and all that. They later footed the bill for the See of St. Patrick at Armagh and took on some retroactive airs.

The Óenach Tailten Games were celebrated as late as the 18th century and included feasting, fighting and fecking. Or the ritual sacrifice of a white bull, heavy athletic competitions, handfasting, dancing, pilgrimages to the top of Croagh Patrick and to holy wells (Brigid, the beer goddess and the hearth is invoked), and the ritual cutting of the first harvest grain—with August 1 as the epicenter. 

Surely you didn't think these parties lasted only a day, did you? More like a month and a day. Takes about a week or two to ease into it. Like poets arriving fashionably late. Then, it was party like a rock star for another week or so, then nurse the hangover. Willow bark tea was as good as it got for aspirin.

See, when the Games were gussied up and Christianized, the sagarts had to make the festival fall on a Sunday to make things work out right. Eddie Stack mentioned in his blog that July 26 was Féile Lúghnasa. It's a movable feast—whatever it takes to make it to fall on the last Sunday in July.
One time it was held at around 200 sites, nearly always remote, inaccessible places that were on heights, or near water. The festival was dedicated to Lúgh, the young and most brilliant god of the Tuatha de Danann. Lúgh was the god of light, god of arts and crafts, father of inventions and the likes. It was he who saved the harvest by vanquishing Bal, the sun god who was in the process of scorching all the country’s plants and crops with relentless heat.  —Eddie Stack 2010
Lúghnasa is ancestor of Aonach an Phoic Puck FairDomnach na bhFraochóg, or Bilberry Sunday. (AKA frachóg, whorts, or heatherberries. In our family, August is also the opening day of huckleberry season. My grannie would take us up the ridge at Tomales Bay to check on the bushes. Just to make sure.)

The Áenach Tailteann is also the ancestor Games of Scottish Highland Games—as they too were traditionally held in August. 

Lúghnasa was once called Dé Domhnach Chrom Dubh, or Crom Dubh Sunday—he was a bent/crooked dark fertility god, said to reside in a cave at the crest of Croagh Patrick. But Christianity banished him as an evil one.  Another permutation of Lúghnasa is Domhnach na CruaicheReek Sunday, or Garland Sunday, is the day 30,000 Irish lemmings crawl up Croagh Patrick on bended knee. Or blindfolded, or both, while praying all the way up with myriad jaysusmaryanjosephs. Not me, my knees will never kneel again. Though I do prefer to walk barefoot.

Pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick on "Reek Sunday". Climbing the mountains was part of the festival since ancient times, and the modern "Reek Sunday" pilgrimage is related. —Wiki

Lúgh Lámhfhada was also the patron god of cobblers. Thought I'd throw that one in for free. The thought of shoes at a time like this tickles me. I can't bend down to put on my shoes. Besides, the closest I got to a holy well today was the shower. I was circling the drain. Does dyeing your hair count as pilgrimage?

So you had a few goats, some old and new, toss in a bit of the living and the dead, and the dead coming back to life again—what more could you ask for? An "A" party list.

Lá Fhéile Lúghnasa Sona Daoibh!

About the spelling of CúChullain By right, it should be: Cú Cullan, or Cullen but Cullen is genative, so it became Chullain. The Irish manuscriptrs, written in half-uncials, had no lower case letters. So merging the names was also a scribal thing. Sometimes they had the space to write it as two words, sometimes not. They were writing on vellum, you had to kill a calf and then cure the hide in order to make a vellum page to write on. So they got inventive.

Some of my links:

Hallowe'en agus Samhain

Hallowe'en customs in Bantry Bay, Cork, Ireland, ca.1896

Folklore: Fertility Rites




Further reading:

Mary Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia really great job of compiling various obscure Celtic books in one place.

This year marks four-hundred years of Puck Fair! Now that ain't baaaaad. Have you crowned your goat? While the “Roundheads” under Oliver Cromwell, pillaged the countryside, they routed a herd of goats grazing on the McGillycuddy Reeks. The animals took flight, but the he-goat or the “Puck” was separated from the herd. The goat ran towards Cill Orglain (Killorglin), arrived exhausted, and so, alerted the villagers —who were able to protect themselves and their stock from Cromwell's raiders. In recognition for services rendered by the goat, the Irish have celebrated Puck Fair in his honor for 400 years. But he has older connections. Just ask the ravens.

Those are two ravens, not Puck goats, third one wouldn't cooperate.


E Creely said...

So I made Lugh some loaves of bread which I will ritually offer to him as soon as I can get 'em out of the pan. Any advice on what I might say over the loaves?

Maureen Hurley said...

E Creely,

As Badb, one aspect of the triune goddess, the Morrígan, she recites a prophecy celebrating victory during the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and she cants a time of peace:

Peace to sky. Sky to earth. Earth under sky, strength in each, a cup full, full of honey, mead in plenty. Summer in winter, spear over shield, shield over fist. Fort of spears; a battle-cry, land for sheep, bountiful forests. mountains forever, magic enclosure. Mast on branches, branches heavy, heavy with fruit, wealth for a son, a gifted son, strong neck of bull, a bull for a poem, a knot on a tree, wood for fire. Fire from stone. Stone from earth, wealth from cows, belly of the Brú. Doe cries from mist, stream of deer after spring, corn in autumn, upheld by peace. Warrior band for the land, prosperous land to the shore. From wooded headlands, waters rushing, “What news have you?” Peace to the sky, life and land everlasting. Peace.

Sith co nem. Nem co doman. Doman fo ním, nert hi cach, án
forlann, lan do mil, mid co saith. Sam hi ngam, gai for sciath, sciath
for durnd. Dunad lonngarg; longait-tromfoíd fod di uí ross forbiur
benna abu airbe imetha. Mess for crannaib, craob do scis scis do áss
saith do mac mac for muin, muinel tairb tarb di arccoin odhb do
crann, crann do ten. Tene a nn-ail. Ail a n-uír uích a mbuaib boinn a
mbru. Brú lafefaid ossglas iaer errach, foghamar forasit etha. Iall do
tir, tir co trachd lafeabrae. Bidruad rossaib síraib rithmár, ‘Nach scel
laut?’ Sith co nemh, bidsirnae .s.

Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, Text 166, Author: Unknown