If you want to know many, many things about Lugnasad in Ireland, I cannot recommend a better book than Máire MacNeill’s Festival of Lugnasad. She collects folklore from numerous Lugnasad sites and compares them to reconstruct a core Lugnasad story. Whether or not you like her reconstruction, the data she provides to other seekers is outstanding.
I celebrate Lugnasad as a season of 31 days. This comes from the description of the oenachs or fairs held at this time at places like Tailten and Carmen—the length of the festival was a fortnight before and after Lugnasad, and a fortnight, in Ireland at the time this information was written down, was fifteen days. So fifteen days before, Lugnasad itself, and fifteen days after, makes a 31 day festival. The oenachs were not, so far as we can tell from existing sources, a strictly religious festival, but a time for people to meet across a region, to trade, to find partners, to race horses, and to celebrate the season. Calling the oenach could also be a test of a ruler’s sovereignty—if a ruler called and no one came, they had no support and their rulership was undermined.
My season of Lugnasad starts today, 15 days before Lugnasad, as counted by the stones and stars, rather than by the calendar. Lugnasad comes halfway between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox–and there are passage graves and stone circles in Ireland aligned to the sunrise on this day (and Imbolc, it’s twin in the sun’s arc). These stones don’t have the fame of Newgrange, but still do their work of marking the time of seasons, but like Newgrange were built by people in Ireland likely before the stories of the Tuath Déa were ever told.
I don’t have a great festival to attend (the oenachs having gone out of fashion during the medieval period), so for me it’s a season of celebration and meditation, a bit like Lent for Catholics but with less focus on giving up things and more on creating. This year, I’m hoping to celebrate the season by telling stories of Lug and his relations and sharing them here, with whoever should happen to wander by.
These stories are based in the medieval Irish literature and collected folklore from Ireland that hint at what they might have been, before Christianity softened the edges and reworked the cosmos to have one god before which all others must be only shadows. Much of what we have written from the medieval period is actually part of a great project of the monasteries to write Ireland into the holy history of the Christian empires—to connect the foundational myths of the Irish people with those of the Hebrews, collected in the Christian Bible, so there are likely any number of strange turns worked in to make things line up with the standard histories of the day. (One of my favorite examples of this occurs in the Cath Maige Tuired, where the story says that Lug played fidchell against Nuada when Lug first arrived at Teamhair, but the scribe says in an aside this cannot be true, for fidchell was invented during the Trojan War, which was happening at the same time as this, so could not have reached Ireland yet.)
But my versions are my own, made up of gathered pieces from what remains and what bubbles up in my own heart. I hope they are true, in the sense that stories should be, but I have no illusion they are the only true version. Many stories can be true without agreeing on every detail.
In all, this is a work of devotion for Lug, Samhildánach, Lámfada, Mac Ethlenn, Lonnbéimnech, Macnia, Lethsuanach, Conmac, Balor’s Bane, Dancer on the Western Hills. This is my understanding of his stories. May those who read them find joy in them—and may those with different stories tell them and be blessed in the telling!