Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shouting from the Hilltop: a perspective on La Lunasa/Lughnasadh

Lugh inspires the very finest quality of fan art.
Image by el-grimlock
La Lunasa/Lughnasadh

With the end of July and beginning of August rapidly approaching La Lunasa will soon be upon us and with it, well folks like me talking about it.

In terms of more mainstream "Pagan" holidays, it has been my experience that Lughnasadh often finds itself as being one that many folks are unsure of what to do with it; la fheile brigid/ Imbolc being the other. Whereas Oiche Samhana/ Samhain and lá bealtaine/Beltane remain two of the more popular feast/festival days, the others find themselves playing a sort of second fiddle.

I think it is primarily to do with the fact that each day has direct associations wih a specific deity. So, if one finds themselves not being particularly devoted to either Lugh (Tailtu, but we'll get to her later) or Brigid, then there is little impetus to celebrate, other than they are supposed to be holy days on that "wheel of the year" calendar. For GRP's, on the other hand, we've only really got the four days... so you had bloody well do something you lazy wretches!

I mean, I am certainly "closer" to Brigid, than I am to Lugh; Brigid, after all is the focus of my hearth and has the added significance of a probable functional connection to my profession. I thoroughly enjoy lá bealtaine, as it is a bright spot in an otherwise drab, freezing, somewhat miserable point in the year; February being the "heart" of winter in Toronto, such as it is. Lugh, on the other hand, I'm not remotely devoted to, strictly speaking.

Lugh was, at one point in my life a very significant deity, and in my neo-Pagan days often the centre or focus of the majority of my prayers/ meditation. Nowadays though, prayers going his way are either for specific reasons (safe travel, chief among them) or during la lunasa. Don't get me wrong, Lugh is a pretty awesome god. He has one of the most detailed and epic of all mythologies, he is all skilled, and so far as the reports from his devotee's go, a pretty nice deity all around (except, of course, if you've murdered his father). In fact the priest who married my wife and I is a devotee to him, and if the company one keeps is any indication of the quality of an individual, that he is counted among Lugh's devotees speaks volumes. I think in my youth it really was the "star power" that Lugh had which initially drew me to him, but as I progressed a bit deeper into things, I came to realize that my experiences were leading me to other, darker places.

Having said all that, La Lunasa is the one time of the year where Lugh is front and centre (other than some of the more spectacular thunderstorms which crop up around this time of year). I often find myself going over his tales a little more closely, and certainly I do enjoy my generally low key activities on the day itself.

I will generally get up early, and go to a particular local, which happens to be one on the the highest points in the region. There is a small parkette, itself a terminal portion of a trail which extends south, along the Humber River, to Lake Ontario. At this northern end, there is a very large hill, and so for the past few years I have taken it upon myself to go down into the river valley, find a nice broad stone to carry with me, and traverse up the hill to its summit. I will make a small shrine, pour out some offerings and offer prayers and song to the lord of victory. I'm going to be moving in the autumn, and so travelling distances on a daily basis are going to be much further, so this year I think a little more emphasis will be required on the safe travel aspect as well. Again, being isolated and not part of any local sporting leagues, opportunities to offer up my victories are few ad far between, but Lugh does recieve those as well.

It is also a pertinent time to reminice about our ancestors (then again, when isn't it pertinent?) and particularly their sacrifices, their struggles in which they made our coming into the world, and our lives within it, that much easier. Tailtu, the foster mother of Lugh, ought to also be given offerings and prayers. Though if you want my thoughts on her, you can find them in my La Lunasa post from last year.

Hail to the lord of Victory!
He, whose hand is far reaching
He, whose skills are many
He, whose blessings produce victory

May he continue to watch over and
guide us in our efforts to restore:

Honour to the gods!
Nobility to the ancestors!
Peace with the kindly ones!

Hail Champion!
Hail Balors bane!
Hail Lugh!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

(Not) Alone in the dark

I've written before about the sort of ennui which can accompany belonging to a minority religion or theistic perspective in the face of a dominant religious/cultural paradigm. This sense seems to have followed me to within the sanctum of our small little community as well, because I have never come across another devotee to Donn. Ever.

It is not at all surprising, given the relatively little mythology and folklore which has been written about him. Given the lack of grand narrative. Given the functional, and lets face it understandably depressing, role of lord of the dead. Even the allusions to him are scarce and you have to be looking out for them to really notice at all. Yet, for all of that, there is an almost universal (as small a universe as it may be) consensus of Donn being a definitive example of a pre-Christian god, and not just a literary invention.

Having said that, it ought to be mentioned that the scant amount is scant only when compared to more luminary mythic figures, especially those who are generally counted among the Tuatha De Dannan. To have information, and a fairly concrete mythology to boot, however, is in itself a rare thing when it comes to the mythic texts. Donn is unique in that he is not counted among the TDD, yet is none the less recognized as a deity. The exemplar of a deified ancestor, albeit there is nothing said about his own line (whether he had sons or daughters), but the line of his brothers did indeed continue. With folklore holding his residence as the destination of all the Gaels after death, it is certainly reasonable to view it as such. The interesting thing about this, is that the ancestral nature is not used to justify anything in the present (contemporary) accounts; no one gave Donn as their ancestor to legitimize their rule, the same way that say Nuada has been utilized.

I suppose that, given all this, Donn still lacks the star power of An Morrigan, Lugh, Brigid or An Dagda; then again Cthonic deities are seldom seen in the light, let alone the limelight.

On the other hand, if the gods are in the habit of reaching out to us (and personal and anecdotal evidence certainly support this conclusion), then perhaps Donn is simply a very selective god? Wow, that must make me really special and unique...

The Dark Lord Favours Me!!!
...or, more reasonably, perhaps the relationship between function and worship overlaps in such a way that few (and this is based on anecdotal, Internet sourced research. Who knows, maybe there is a full blown cult of Donn out there somewhere, and they just shy away from the Internet?), if any other GRP's find themselves in a similar place as myself. Then again, a lot of people (swarms, it seems at times) have written about their experiences with deities like An Morrigan (and Babd, Macha, Nemain, Annu, etc.), and seem to lack functional associations one would normally expect with a goddess known primarily for slaughter. On the other hand, I'm not a devotee of An Morrigan, so can only speculate. Perhaps the functional aspect is not something which many others find particularly compelling or the basis of their association with a god or goddess.

It makes sense that from "our" end, the deities with more interesting or compelling stories are the ones people seek out, and inversely are the same who seek "us" out. It is an interesting theological line of inquiry, that there is an observable correlation between the popularity of a deity, and the size of its devotee's/worshippers. Well, actually that isn't interesting, as much as its blatantly obvious. No, the interesting aspect is that because the relationship is (supposed to be) a two way street, that the more popular deities are also the more extroverted ones. So judging from the litany of UPG and SPG detailing these personal or shared experiences, and taking them at face value, the gods are reaching out to us in a very real, arguably observable way.

I expect this to be somewhat disconcerting because lets face it, GRP's (and CR's in general) are a rational lot and (my own biases definitely showing) the idea that we are actually being sought after by deities can be, well overwhelming to say the least. I posted the image above in jest, because it is all too easy to fall into delusions of grandeur and self importance. Yet there is something very comforting in the realization that the gods want us to seek them out, and they seek us out in return. We are not just praying, singing or screaming into the void. We are rebuilding something precious, something sacred, and it is difficult to articulate the significance of this in words alone...

The night may be long, and full or terrors, but we are not alone.