At the time of writing* it has been a cold and moist summer so far. I found myself wondering if maybe we should be paying more attention to the deities of the sun. I tried to put this right at my midsummer gig with a couple of stories in honour of the the great life-giving ball of light in the sky, including the myth of Ra, the Egyptian sun god. I say ‘the’ Egyptian sun god but here we come to a problem with the most exalted position in a pantheon: there is often more than one claimant. Osiris, Horus and Khepera have all been feted as the Egyptian god of the sun and each has been incorporated in to Ra’s history by his priests at Heliopolis in order to establish his dominance, and consequently ensure theirs.
Who then should we be offering our praises to if we want a sunny holiday and why wasn’t I writing about this for the solstice in June? Well, the local god of the sun as venerated by the celts is Lugh and his feast is held on the first of August. Though tennis and music fans may moan as the other sky gods empty their bladders over Wimbledon and Glastonbury, a little rain in June is only right and proper as it is good for the growing of crops. Meanwhile the solar deity is saving the warmth for the ripening of grain, which you would be forgiven for thinking is their primary function. It is not. The first job of a solar deity is to battle the forces of darkness and bring light to the world.
Let me tell you how Lugh came to Tara.
A handsome warrior with a kingly diadem on his brow approached the door of the citadel. The doorkeeper of the Tuatha De Danann asked who he was and was given the answer “Lugh, equally skilled in many arts”. The doorkeeper asked him “What art do you practice? For no one without an art enters Tara.” “Question me,” said Lugh. “I am a builder.” The doorkeeper answered, “We do not need you. We have a builder already, Luchta mac Luachada.” Lugh said, “Question me, doorkeeper: I am a smith.” The doorkeeper answered him, “We have a smith already, Colum Cualeinech of the three new techniques.” The sequence continues in the same format while Lugh offers the skills of champion, harper, warrior, storyteller, sorcerer, physician, cup-bearer and bronze smith. He asks whether they have anyone who can do all of these and is given a series of tests to prove his intelligence, strength and artistic ability at which he outshines the Tuatha De in every way and is finally admitted.
The Tuatha De are very pleased to have him for they have been sorely oppressed by an ancient, race of wicked giants called the Fomorians. Lugh sets about collecting the accoutrements of a sun god including golden apples, regenerative powers and a burning spear before leading the Tuatha De in to battle. In the fray Lugh has to face the Fomorian king, Balor, who has a single, heavily lidded eye the baleful glare of which burns all it falls upon… and suddenly it is clear we are not dealing with the forces of darkness but another, older sun god. As Balor’s four attendants (forgotten representatives of the four winds that so often support the solar divinity) raise the eye’s lid to destroy the Tuatha De, Lugh throws a stone ball, knocking the eye out the back of Balor’s head where it does significant damage to his own army. As all good spirits of light do, Lugh then established proper agriculture and governance.
A solar deity’s life is marked with conflict, sometimes an annual or biannual fight, in Ra’s case a nightly struggle with serpents, and if that isn’t enough there is always some golden haired youngster looking to do them in and take their place. Next time you are complaining that the sun isn’t doing their job, just remember that it’s tough at the top.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.
* Early July, for various reasons such as being busy through later July and August.