The Gods of Art?

Where Lug was fostered is one of those things that isn’t entirely clear in the texts we have to hand. That he was fostered with Tailtiu is clear, but there are other suggestions that he was fostered with Cian’s uncle, Goibniu, and, particularly in later texts, with Manannán. My stories accept both as true, with Goibniu coming first, then Manannán.

Goibhniu the Smith, Luchta the Carpenter or Builder, and Credne Cerd the Brazier, with Dian Cécht the Healer as a sometime fourth, are sometimes known as the Gods of Art. Now that title is often given to another set of brothers, the three sons of Brig and Bres, or of Tuiren/Tuirell. I’ve always found this a bit odd, being as those three, whom we will discuss in more detail later, seem to have very little in the way of arts beyond cheating, stealing, and general mayhem. On the other hand, Goibhniu et al are known for the arts they practice, to the point that early medieval law texts around their arts were named for them, though we have only parts of the Book of Dian Cécht extant, if I recall correctly.

Between the hints at Goibniu fostering Lug and his reputation as master of all arts, it makes sense to me that he studied those arts with his father’s uncles. In fact, in the Coming of Lug (to be told shortly), two of the three are named as the masters of their arts when Lug claims his own mastery (oddly, Goibniu is replaced by Colum Cualeinech of the three new techniques, who I haven’t otherwise heard of).

So what do we know of these artisans (for they are artisans, rather than artists, I would argue)? I think one of the most known of their stories is how they continually supplied the Tuath Déa with weapons in the Cath Maige Tuired:

One thing which became evident to the Fomoire in the battle seemed remarkable to them. Their weapons, their spears and their swords, were blunted; and those of their men who were killed did not come back the next day. That was not the case with the Tuatha De Danann: although their weapons were blunted one day, they were restored the next because Goibniu the smith was in the smithy making swords and spears and javelins. He would make those weapons with three strokes. Then Luchta the carpenter would make the spearshafts in three chippings, and the third chipping was a finish and would set them in the socket of the spear. After the spearheads were in the side of the forge he would throw the sockets with the shafts, and it was not necessary to set them again. Then Credne the brazier would make the rivets with three strokes, and he would throw the sockets of the spears at them, and it was not necessary to drill holes for them; and they stayed together this way.

And here we see Goibniu is back as a member of the trio—and meanwhile Dian Cécht their sometimes fourth, is, with his children, healing all wounds at the Well of Slaine. These arts are turning the battle for the Tuath Déa, until the traitor among them, Ruadan, son of Brig and Bres, betrays the secret of their success.

Luchta is called mac Luachada in the Cath Maige Tuired, and a builder, and when Lug asks after the talents of the Tuath Déa for the coming battle, Luchta says he will supply their hosts with shields and spearshafts. Beyond this, I haven’t found more mentions of him, though another Luchta, son of Lugar son of Lugaid White-hand, and father of Eochu the King of Munster who had only one eye and gave it away to pay a poet for a hen in the Rennes Dinsenchas. Credne Cerd again shows up mainly in the Cath Maige Tuired so far as I’ve found: he helps Dian Cécht build Nuadu’s silver hand, and promises to supply all the rivets and shield bosses and shield rims the Tuath Déa will need. I would very much like to find more, as these two seem very important.

Goibniu, on the other hand, while also appearing in the Cath Maige Tuired, seems to have made his way into folktales as the Goban Saor, taking the role of a trickster smith and builder who, with his less than clever son, wanders through story after story and given credit for building many of the great old building of Ireland, ruined or otherwise. Goibniu, along with the feat listed above, was one of the five (with Lug, Ogma, the Dagda, and Dian Cécht) who held secret talks to plan the Battle. Not only does he promise to renew the weapons daily, but:

No spearpoint which my hand forges will make a missing cast. No skin which it pierces will taste life afterward.

And it is Goibniu whom the Fomoire send Ruadan to kill:

They sent him back to kill one of the aes dana, Goibniu. He requested a spearpoint from him, its rivets from the brazier, and its shaft from the carpenter; and everything was given to him as he asked. Now there was a woman there grinding weapons, Cron the mother of Fianlach; and she ground Ruadan’s spear. So the spear was given to Ruadan by his maternal kin, and for that reason a weaver’s beam is still called “the spear of the maternal kin” in Ireland.
But after the spear had been given to him, Ruadan turned and wounded Goibniu. He pulled out the spear and hurled it at Ruadan so that it went through him; and he died in his father’s presence in the Fomorian assembly. Brig came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Brig who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)

Goibniu is healed in the Well of Slaine, and continues to provide weapons to his kin.
The other mention I’ve found of him in the texts is from the Edinburgh Dinsenchas which appears to be about his father, if Gobbán and Goibniu are the same:

Traig Tuirbi, whence is it?
Not hard (to say). Tuirbe Trágmar, father of Gobbán the Wright, ’tis he that owned it. ’Tis from that heritage he, (standing) on Telach Bela (‘the Hill of the Axe’), would hurl a cast of his axe in the face of the floodtide, so that he forbade the sea, which then would not come over the axe. And his pedigree is not known, unless he be one of the defectives of the men of art who fled out of Tara before Samildánach, (and whose posterity) is in the secret parts of Bregia. Whence Tráig Tuirbi, ‘Turbe’s Strand.’
Tuirbe Trágmar was a negligent man,
Father of Gobbán with pure desire.
Unknown is his bright pedigree,
From him Tráig Tuirbi is named.

Who are the “defectives of the men of art who fled out of Tara”? I haven’t sorted that out yet, but it’s an interesting piece of data, and relevant to the current project being as they fled before Samildánach, aka Lug.

Dian Cécht, though, is probably the one with the most story around him in the texts we have. Cian, Lug’s father, is of course his son. It is he who puts a silver hand on Nuada after Nuada loses his hand to Sreng, the Fir Bolg champion. Dian Cécht’s son, Miach replaces the silver hand with one of real flesh—which leads to Dian Cécht killing him, and all the herbs of healing growing out of the son’s grave*. He promises in the battle:

Any man who will be wounded there, unless his head is cut off, or the membrane of his brain or his spinal cord is severed, I will make him perfectly whole in the battle on the next day.

And he does just that, with the help of Airmed and his two sons, Octriuil and Miach (who appears to have recovered from his death and burial quite well).

The Dinsenchas don’t ignore the great healer either. We learn he had a harper, Corann, who summoned a pig from his harp, and my have also been another of his children (Mag Corainn, Edinburgh). Corann, here Coronn, is mentioned again in the Rennes, as the harper of Dian Cécht, and says he was given land, Mag Coroind. Lusmag (herb-plain) is named because of the work of gathering and grating herbs for the well of Slaine (Edinburgh).

Some scholars have identified Dian Cécht with Mac Cécht, one of another triad with Mac Coll and Mac Grian, the sons of Cermait, son of the Dagda, partly because a story of Mac Cécht killing the Mórrigan’s son, Méche**, has Dian Cécht instead of Mac Cécth in one recension of the text. Now, I find myself a little doubtful that Mac Cécht and Dian Cécht are the same—they seem to have very different roles.

 

 

* I’ll note here that the meaning of this story is much debated by scholar’s studying the medieval texts. Why does he kill Miach, and why does he scatter the herbs once they’re grown? Is he just a father jealous of his son or is there some deeper meaning that has been obscured by time? I don’t have answers for this, but again, Story Archaeology has talked about this more than once and put forth some interesting theories of their own,

** In the Bodleian Dinseanchas:
Berba, into it were cast the three adders that abode in the 
hearts of Méche, son of the Morrígain, after his death by Mac 
Cecht in Mag Méchi (Mag Fertaigi, now was the name of that 
plain formerly). The shapes of three adders’ heads were on
the three hearts that were in Méche, and, unless his death had
occurred, the adders would have grown in his belly till they would 
not have left an animal alive in Ireland. So after slaying him on 
Mag Luadat, Mac Cecht burnt them [the hearts] and cast their 
ashes with yon stream, and it boiled, and it dissolved every one of
the animals that were therein. Wherefore thence are “Mag
Luadat”, and “Mag Méchi”, and “Berba”. Hence said the poet:
‘Méche’s hearts, hard the wound,
Have been drowned in the Barrow;
Their ashes, after being burnt by you,
Mac Cecht, slayer of a hundred, cast in.’

And in the Rennes:
Meche son of the Mor-rígain, in him were the three hearts till Mac Cecht killed him on Mag Mechi, which till then had been named Mag Fertaigi. Thus were those hearts, with the shapes of three serpents through them. Now if death had not befallen Meche the serpents in him would have grown, and what they left alive in Ireland would have wasted away. Then Mac cecht burnt those hearts on Mag Luathat ‘Plain of Ashes’, and cast their ashes with the stream, whereupon the rapids of the river stayed, and every creature therein died and boiled.
Or maybe it was on Ard Luaithrid ‘Height of Ashes’ that he burnt the hearts; whence Berba is said, and Mag Méchi and Ard Luaithrid.
Or Ber-ba may be (a compound of) ber or bir ‘water’ and ba ‘dumb’. Whence is said Berba, that is, ‘dumb water’.

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