For What Do We Strive? Lugnasad Thoughts

For those who set the dates of the festivals by stones and stars, tomorrow is Lugnasad. Although I’ve been writing about Lug this year, his stories aren’t the only one associated with the festival. There are the stories of Carmen, Áine, and Crom Dubh—the harper in the cave, the bull sacrificed and restored, and the Cailleach’s reaping contest.

The Cath Maige Tuired doesn’t end with Balor’s defeat, but goes on to the ransom of Bres—and Bres’s ransom is closer in spirit to many of these other tales, in that it speaks to the harvest and feeding the people, as many of the other stories do. (I don’t think it’s an error that the subtitle of the CMT is “The Battle of Mag Tuired and the Birth of Bres Son of Elatha and his Reign”. The point of the story is to speak of Bres, who resembles many other Lugnasad figures, tied to the harvest, who would prefer to keep it for themselves rather than share it among the people, perhaps because they are greedy—and perhaps because they represent the rights and needs of the land rather than the people. Balor gets all the press, but Bres’s knowledge is the real prize of the battle.

So what is the heart of Lugnasad? I propose that it is this: there is no harvest without striving, no striving without change, and no change without loss. Lugnasad should remind us of what we have let go in striving for what we want, and to honor both the losses and the striving as much as the harvest that is won. Lugnasad’s oldest name is Brón Trogain, which is generally taken to mean something like the sorrow of the earth, with connotations of the sorrows of birth. As the earth gives birth to the harvest—and may thus, like Bres resist giving it away—how do we pay for the harvest? How do we, like Lug, remember the suffering of our foster mother? What do we give up in our striving? And for what do we strive?

There are more stories–of weddings and prophecies and possible deaths–to come!




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