Okay, we’re sortof skipping to day 9. Not because I want to skip the days in between (I’ve been hung up on Day 4 because I keep meaning to reread the myth I want to write about but I keep forgetting) – but because someone sent me an ask on tumblr and I thought that responding with a 1300 word essay was the best plan.
Unfortunately, the ask was sent as “Fan Mail” – so my response will never be seen by anyone other than the recipient. I mean I could screenshot the message and then make a public post, but meh. I decided instead that I would just make a separate blog post that’s basically my answer to the above question, which was the real point of the message I received.
Alright, done talking about that – you’re going to get enough of me talking momentarily! Let’s get to it.
I can’t really blame anyone for running into and then latching onto the solar deity misconception – I certainly did when I started out in Gaelic Polytheism! But I’m really glad that my mistake was corrected quickly, and that the people that corrected me were so nice about it, because that’s one of the many things that helped sparked my interest in Celtic Reconstructionism – because these huge misconceptions keep being perpetuated by New Age works that don’t bother to research beyond the outdated victorian-era anthropology. It can be really frustrating to watch. I’ve received the question “Is Lugh a sun god” more than once, so it’s about time I just made a big writeup about it.
The short answer is a simple but firm “No.”
But that’s pretty boring, so let’s look in to how these misconceptions started and the evidence that refutes them! Bonus UPG discussion at the end. Like a prize! Right?
Okay so anthropologists in the Victorian era had, as it was explained to me, “a major sun boner.” They were convinced that, at their root, all cultures had a sun cult (whether or not this was true at all). In Ireland, one support for this was the writings of St. Patrick, who has a passage in his Confessions discussing the difference between worship of the sun and the Son (Christ). This has been used, according to Proinsas MacCana’s Celtic Mythology “as clear proof of the existence of sun-worship in Ireland, but it’s more likely to be one of the theological commonplaces acquired by Patrick through his religious reading and training.” MacCana expands upon this, explaining the lack of additional proof: “And if one excludes this, then in all of the substantial remains of Irish tradition there is hardly any worthwhile evidence for a cult of the sun.”
The CR FAQ says that this misconception actually goes back even further, to the 17th century Neo Druidic orders:
“These romantic revivalists were not looking to Celtic history for their theology or cosmology, and instead chose to believe that all Gods are solar in nature, and that the druids practiced a form of monotheism that presaged Christianity. Actual Celtic scholarship proved these models false, but with so many people reading the books written in that era, these outdated misconceptions found their way into the occult community and are still repeated by those who do not actually study Celtic history.”
So those couple of things give us the basis of why the idea of a specific god of the sun is unlikely, but we can expand it further by looking in to what the Gaelic gods WERE gods of. And the answer is really complicated. The fact is, the gods of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man weren’t really gods of specific things. You might say that Lugh, for instance, was a warrior, but was He The Warrior God? No, because there are a number of other deities that also have warrior attributes – Nuada, Ogma, and others. You might say that He’s a crafty god, but is he The God of Crafts? No, because there are others who are craftspeople as well. There’s a quote from Marie-Louise Sjoestedt’s Gods and Heroes of the Celts that discusses this well, the problems with the classical ways of approaching mythology when confronted with the cultures of the Celts:
“…we seek for a cosmos and find chaos. A mixture of races, human and divine, a multitude of ill-defined mythological figures, whose activities are not clearly differentiated, share amongst themselves or contend for a land which we can hardly recognize as ours, a world which is indeed our world but pregnant with many “otherworlds.””
Coming back to Gaelic cultures specifically, we find that gods are viewed not as transcendent – that is, above and apart – but very much a concrete part of their world. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to draw a connection between this and the definite lack of single, set domains for deities. It would have been very strange if a member of a family performed only one important task and didn’t help with any of the others, and so it probably would have also been very strange if a god performed only one important task and didn’t help with any of the others.
This is not all to say that the sun was ignored, they were certainly important and we find blessings regarding the sun and the moon in the Carmina Gadelica, it is only that they don’t seem to have been viewed as gods. Additionally, they appear to have been viewed as feminine, further disproving the notion of a sun god.
But even if this were not all taken in to account, we have barely bothered to look at the actual subject of our inquiry: Lugh.
It seems odd that, when looking for a deity to center a sun-cult around, Lugh was chosen. There are a few descriptions of Lugh in the lore where indeed He seems to be given attributes of the sun. But does this equate him with a sun god? Decidedly, no. If we look elsewhere in the lore, we begin to understand that to describe someone as sun-like was not actually to imply any solar relations, but simply to compliment. For example, Ogma being called “sun-faced” was a reference to his brilliant wisdom and strength, not solar attributes.
I regret that I can’t find the quote I’m thinking about at the moment, but someone pointed out the fact that these lands are a little cloudy, haha – and so of course to be compared to the sun was a compliment, as sun was a rare and much-enjoyed thing, and a necessity to agricultural life.
And really these are the only links we can draw between Lugh and the sun – a few descriptions from other people that liken Him to the sun. If the sun did indeed fall under His domain, you’d think He might have mentioned it in the Coming of Lugh when He lists His many other skills and talents. It just really doesn’t seem to be a thing He has anything to do with. A staple of solar deities from other cultures is usually that they actually have some sort of hand in the rising and setting of the sun. Take, for example, Helios from Greek mythology, from Theoi.com:
“Helios dwelt in a golden palace located in the River Okeanos at the eastern ends of the earth. From there he emerged each dawn driving a chariot drawn by four, fiery winged steeds and crowned with the aureole of the sun. When
he reached the the land of the Hesperides(Evenings) in the West he descended into a golden cup which carried him around the northern streams of Okeanos back to his rising place in the East. “
Or Ra, from Egyptian mythology, from Kemet.org:
“Ra “lives” within the actual physical disk of sun, mythologically described as the “Boat of Millions of Years” which rises and sets each day, riding from horizon to horizon on the back (or belly) of Nut, and traversing during the hours of darkness the netherworlds where the enemies of Ma’at reside.”
This just isn’t something we can say about Lugh, or any Gaelic god, at all. No one had stewardship of the sun – it was instead viewed, it seems to me, as a constant feature of the world. There’s a curse recorded in 519 that includes “So long as the sun follows its course.” If stewardship of the sun belonged to someone else, I think it would make more sense to say something like “As long as Lugh holds the sun in the sky” or something along those lines.
Now, as far as UPG of Him appearing as bright or shining, that’s another story altogether. To say that He is not a sun god doesn’t mean He can’t be associated with anything sun-related at all. But it’s important to remember that this is UPG and we can’t confuse it with the facts. I have associated him with things like the “light” or “illumintation” of knowledge, the sweat of a job well done, the spark of a forge or the bright colors of copper or brass. I often worry, though, that my UPG is subject to outside, unreliable influence. I started out with an awful, poorly-researched book of Celtic gods that propagated these sorts of misconceptions, and I worry that some of those first impressions of the gods will never go away.
MacCana, Proinsas. Celtic Mythology. Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., 1970.
Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Gods and Heroes of the Celts. Turtle Island Foundation, 1982.
*I tend to capitalize Lugh’s pronouns just as a matter of habit, and I don’t usually do it with other deities’ pronouns. This is not meant as disrespect, just personal habit of a devotee of Him.
Also, disclaimer: I am not a historian. I am not an anthropologist. I am not an archaeologist. I’m literally just some person who likes to read.