Archive for the ‘Lughnasadh’ Category


It may seem strange to refer to a god as ‘crooked’, but gods of the underworld were generally considered crooked in some way. Priestesses wore one sandal when invoking them. Apollo, the bright and handsome sun god of Greece both brought plagues (with hot and feverish weather) and cured them (as god of healing). He was visualized both as shooting plague arrows into cities, and shooting creatures that brought plague. In this role he presided over the sacrifice or expulsion of scapegoats and was titled ‘crooked’. Apollo was the patron of all those cast out from the community, including those who went off to found colonies.

The Irish Crom Dubh is ‘Black Crooked One’ or ‘Black Bowed One’, also called Crom Cruach or Cenn Cruaich (‘the Bowed One of the Mound’) and was a sacrificial god associated with the beginning of August. His importance may be discerned from the fact there are far more stories of Crom Dubh connected with Lughnasa than there are of Lugh. Though many Irish people have never heard of the festival of Lughnasa they have certainly heard its alternate name Crom Dubh’s Day (or Sunday).

Crom Dubh’s Day is the occasion for a pilgrimage up a high hill or mountain such as Croagh Patrick. This was a holy hill in Pagan times, taken over by Saint Patrick, possibly considered a natural harvest mound or Goddess womb in the manner of Silbury Hill.  

The 11th century Book of Leinster states ‘In a rank stand twelve idols of stone; bitterly to enchant the people the figure of Crom was of gold.’  This is thought to refer to a circle of standing stones at Magh Sléacht near Killycluggin (the plain of Tullyhaw in County Cavan) in the sacred number of thirteen- the sacred king and his twelve companions. [1]   It may be that in ancient times a human sacrifice was made here, perhaps selected in the games. It seems likely that the sacrifice would have been haltered and lamed, actually or symbolically. Crom Dubh, the god who presided over the sacrifice was also ‘crooked’. He is thought to belong to the religion of the ancient Irish. The earliest written account of him refers to an idol at Magh Sléacht worshipped by King Tignermas and his followers, at which human sacrifices were made. This statue is said to have sunk into the ground after St Patrick demolished it, and indeed, the stone circle stands in ruins. In most of the folklore he is called Crom Dubh, characterized as the ‘dark croucher’ or the ‘old bent one’ and was identified with the devil.

It may be that after the sacrifice the victim was identified with the god, becoming a ‘crooked one’ and believed to be dwelling in the mound with the god as king of the dead.

In later ages Crom Dubh’s human sacrifice may have been substituted with a bull.  On the north shore of Galway there is still a tradition that a beef animal must be roasted to ashes in honor of Crom Dubh on his festival day. It is possible that the bull was an avatar of the god, and that there was a yearly sacrifice of this bull with the substitution of a new bull, in the manner of the Egyptian Apis. In various versions of the story Patrick is said to have overcome or converted a Pagan called Crom Dubh, in some versions by resuscitating his dead bull.

According to another Lughnasa story Crom Dubh was buried up to his neck for three days and only released when the harvest fruits had been guaranteed. Crom is associated with the ancient mounds as an old agricultural god of the earth who caused the crops to ripen, as are the sidhe (‘people of the mounds’) or fairies of folklore who are the descendants of such gods. They also have to be offered regular sacrifices in the form of milk. Crom is possibly an underworld god, like the Greek Hades (Roman Pluto) who captured Persephone (Proserpina). Hades/Pluto was both the guardian of underworld treasure (the minerals of the earth) and grain, which sprouts in the underworld.

In many parts of the world the festivals celebrated around our Lughnasa period relate to the effects of the Dog Days which make vegetation brown and wither, signaling the death of summer.

The Dog Star Sirius, called Alpha Canis Majoris by astronomers, is one of the brightest in the night sky and can even be seen in the daylight. Sirius is three times the mass of our Sun and ten times as bright. In mid-May Sirius sets in the west just after sunset, then is no longer visible for seventy days. It then appears rising in the east at sunrise and this is known as the heliacal rising of the star, occurring in late July and early August. The ancients believed that it added its own heat to that of the sun, causing very hot weather and exerting a baleful influence- dogs became mad, people became listless or ill, [2] streams and wells dried up, while plants withered and turned brown. It signaled the end of the period of growth, and therefore the end of summer. It seems that Lughnasa was celebrated at the end of this period (12th August) and marked the first day of autumn.

In the tale of Lugh we encounter his enemy and grandfather Balor, a tyrant who must be defeated. He is described as having a single baleful eye that poisons and withers all it looks upon. Dr. Ó HÓgáin reconstructs the original name of Balor as *Boleros, meaning  ‘the flashing one’ from the ancient root *bhel meaning ‘flash’. [3] The name of Sirius comes from a Greek word meaning ‘sparkling’ as it radiates a blue-white light, but when it is low on the horizon it can shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow. Balor is also titled Bailcbhéimneach (‘strong smiting’) and Balar Biirug-derc (‘piercing-eyed’). [4]

Ancient classical writers, including Ptolemy and Diodorus Siculus, associate him with a promontory called Bolerion in Cornwall, England. This was most probably Land’s End, to the southwest of the country. Balor is said to have died at Carn Ui Neit (the ‘Cairn of Net’s Grandson’), Mizen Head in County Cork, Ireland- again the furthest south west point of the country. This association with south-western promontories is generally taken to indicate that Balor is some kind of deity associated with the setting sun- which sets in the west- but the south-west is also the setting point of Sirius.

 Balor tried to trick Lugh into placing his head on top of Lugh’s own, and this may be a metaphor for the effect achieved when Sirius rises with the sun. Another one-eyed tyrant caused the death of King Conaire, who died with a raging thirst in his throat, perhaps a reference to the effects of the Dog Days.

Lughnasa is the time of year associated with the sacrifice of the sacred king or the death of the corn god, marked with wakes and funeral games. In many legends the dog is considered to be a psychopomp- a creature that conveys souls to the Otherworld. The Egyptian jackal/dog headed god Anubis, for example, is concerned with conveying the dead to the afterlife. In Greek myth the three headed dog Cerberus guarded the entrance to the Underworld. It can be no coincidence that the constellation of the Dog appears at the end of summer to convey the soul of the sacrificed sacred king/vegetation god to the Otherworld.

[1] Janet and Stewart Farrar, Eight sabbats for Witches,  Hale, 1981

[2] Most cases of tarentella are reported at this time of year.

[3] Dáithí Ó HÓgáin, The Sacred Isle, The Collins Press, Cork, 1999

[4] Daithi O HOgain, Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of the Irish Folk Tradition  Prentice Hall Presss 1991


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I survived, though whether I’m actually a changeling now remains to be seen! I’ve written very briefly about my experience on my weekly column at Patheos Pagan, A Sense of Place : A Night In The Mound

As you can imagine, a 1000 word column doesn’t allow more than a scratch of the surface for an experience like that, while still including substantive background information. One concept I wanted to speak more about is the unequivocally Ancestral focus of the mounds. Yes, they may have significant alignments (solar, lunar, and stellar); yes, they were actively engaged with by their living communities (ritual use); yes, folklore sprang up regarding them because their original function slipped from active use and memory to nostalgia (fairy), but they remain first and foremost Ancestral.

This YouTube video, while all over the shop with its focus, and anglophilic tone, does correlate the Stones, themselves, to the Ancestors in a direct and literal way, which is how I interact with them as well. It is also a view expressed by more than one presenter at The Archeology of Darkness conference last hear at Sligo IT (I promise, I will post those notes eventually). Have a look:

I was struck most, on the day, by the elusive Otherness of the mounds and the way they were sited on the land. They slipped in and out of view, in unexpected ways. As you walked along the trail, a mound would suddenly appear before you. A few steps later, it vanished from sight. Some mounds were visible while standing in front of a certain cairn, that were unseen when you moved to another. The necropolis is home to an estimated 14 passage cairns, which are oriented differently. I stayed in one that opens to the North.

In the recess, or side ‘bed’, where I slept, I had a sense of downward momentum. You do crawl down to enter the cairn, and it is a tight fit before opening first to the somewhat larger antechamber, then to the main chamber with its tall corbeled roof (you can easily stand in there). In cruciform shaped cairns, there are three recesses off the main chamber–small side ‘rooms’, if you will. I only spent time in my western recess, as my intention was to become familiar with a specific energy (I have a feeling each recess was used for different functions and has different energy). The western recess, where the Reek stone is, had its own mini corbeled roof. Because I know Croagh Patrick is sacred to Crom Dubh, that chthonic deity was on my mind heavily.

At one point I strongly felt an underground presence, specifically looking for sacrifice. I won’t say anymore about that here.

I slept more easily than I imagined I would. With nothing but rock for cushion, I thought I would toss and turn. I also thought I would be awake longer: drinking, feasting, being With the Ancestors, but I was asleep by 21:00! My sleep did seem to happen in cycles though, and each time I woke I had a sense of light in the cairn and found myself disoriented as to the source of the light, i.e., I thought I knew the source, which in hindsight could not have been the case. I also did not wake until almost 11! And even then, it took longer to gather my things and leave, than I thought it did. Time was distorted. I think I could have easily spent 3 days and nights there! It was a very ‘sleepy’ –pulling you down–energy.

When I left though, I had an amazing sensation of lightness. As though my atoms were effervescent. The experience was very like a sensory deprivation chamber (another point made during the Archeology of Darkness symposium). I would like to see descendants of these wonderful ancestors visiting these sites to commune with their dead in a real way. However, some prohibitions:

  • do NOT climb on the cairn
  • do NOT scorch the rock with candle
  • do NOT take rocks away as souvenirs
  • DO clean up, take your rubbish and any you may find
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    I’m going to spend a night on the mound.  If I don’t come back, I’m dead.  If I do, I may be mad…. or a poet.

    [youtube http://youtu.be/NFZcblhvDzQ]

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    A little tidbit, while I’m thinking of it.20120821-142939.jpg

    We have several large standing stones on our ridge. The thick, curved variety. One of our neighbors popped in today, to make a massage appointment, and she mentioned a bit of local folklore about these stones. Here in east Cork, those large stones are known as ‘bull stones’. Our neighbor said that when she was a girl, she thought this was because they tied the bull to them….

    On the Dingle Peninsula, there was a great assembly held on Domhnach Chrom Dubh in the village of Cloghane. In the old days, the turas (pilgrimage) was made at dawn (1). That would mean a night climb or a vigil on the hill. The ’rounds’ consisted of praying at the ruined oratory and then encircling it and the pillar-stone and the ‘graves’ nine times while saying the Rosary, and ended by taking a drink from the well. When these exercises finished, pilgrims went down the eastern slope to the village, where a famous Patron was held. This Patron (pattern) was begun, tradition says, to20120821-160849.jpg commemorate the day on which the pagan Crom Dubh was converted to Christianity. Crom lived at Ballyduff (Baile Dubh), about two miles from Cloghane. A stone carving, formerly kissed as a cure for toothache, in the wall of a local church is said to represent his head. In the OS Name Books for this parish, dated 1841, there is a note indicating that Croum Dhu was the god of the harvest whom pagans worshipped. His conversion legend tells of him slaughtering a bull in order to send the meat as a gift to St. Brendan.

    Another story, from Galway, recounts how Crom Dubh (a false god whose law prevailed until Patrick overcame him) was a wild speckled bull (tarbh breac) that killed travelers at Mam Ean: it attacked Patrick, but was driven by him into the lake in which it drowned (Loch an Tairbh – the bull’s lake). In Armagh there is the story of a bull that prevented Patrick from building a church, so Patrick cursed him and he went mad, eventually caught and killed, and buried under a standing stone at Corran. This stone, part of The Bull’s Tracks, was once associated with the bull of Cualgne (from the Cattle Raid of Cooley), which makes sense because originally the bull that defied Patrick (Crom) and the bull of Cualgne were, if not one and the same, at least emanations of the same concept. On an island north of Skye there was a tradition of sacrificing a bull in August, on a day dedicated to ‘going around some ruinous chapels, taking of omens from a hole in a round stone…, adoring of wells and … pouring of milk upon hills as oblations.’ 20120821-160834.jpg– and the bull-killing associated with a cure for insanity(2). From Cois Fhairrge, we hear of a beef-animal skinned and roasted to ashes in honour of Crom Dubh (harvest-giver and weather-ruler), which the hide carefully preserved. For as we know from many Irish sources, sleeping in a bull-hide was a rite of divination.

    I have a reference to make here connecting the wild bull as guardian and dream giver, and an essential trial undergone by seekers, but am at a loss to find my citation [NEED CITATION].

    There are several large stones identified as, or with, Crom Dubh (Crom Cruach, Cromm Crúaich, Cenn Cruach, Cenncroithi), i.e.. the decorated stone from a Cavan stone circle, and the large stone at the Grange circle in Limerick.

    In he latest issue of the NRA archeology magazine, they mention this about standing stones20120821-160857.jpg, “Standing stones are thought to have functioned as burial-markers, commemorative monuments, boundmarkers and route indicators. … Previous excavations of standing stones in Ireland demonstrate a general association with prehistoric burial grounds and they are
    often interpreted as territorial markers. It has also been occasionally suggested that some are aligned on important landscape features such as local mountains. It has also been suggested that standing stones were intended to resemble the human form. The Ask stones may fall into one of two categories: ‘guardian’ stones to the site both warning of the entry into a sacred or supernatural space and protecting the outside world from the energies within, or ‘companion’ stones to the dead, marking the limits and extent of a sacred or significant place, such as a cemetery.”

    1. Manuscript of the Irish Folklore Commission 888, 390.
    2. Mitchell, A., On various superstitions in the north-west highlands and islands of scotland especially in relation to lunacy.

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    When the winds call,
    Leave all behind.
    run, arms open,
    into the dance

    leave comfort behind
    in your house of stone
    leave sitting idly
    at your desk

    for We are not fit
    for mere normalcy
    No, We are designed
    for the Dance

    A storm raged across Ireland today. He swirled and turned and roared in from the South. Strong with wind and rain, the great Being of the Southern Oceans turned. tonight….in the gloaming of a grey world I ran….. grey coat, wellies, hair billowing

    into the field of the bull i stood, my heart buffeted by my Brother, the South Wind. Oh, what secrets….Oh, what power.

    Thump…my feet felt Eire shake
    Thump….my chest felt His thrust
    Thump…my arms flew open

    A witch walked the high ridge on this stormy night
    A witch left her hair loose along the hedge on the lane
    a Witch stood among her Kin when the Winds roared their might

    …twas good none dared view betwixt and between

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    Today is the date of Old Lughnasadh, if you account such things according to the calendrical change from Julian to Gregorian. If we celebrate Bron Trógan, and the groaning of the earth, on this date we notice it coincides with the Perseid meteor shower.

    Although, if we hesitate and wait for the 2nd new moon after Summer Solstice, as Máire MacNeill suggests in her seminal work, The Festival of Lughnasa, then we hold our breath until 17 August.

    I feel the Gate now…and see that Eithne’s hair has turned golden.


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    Last week I wanted to write about cycles but my computer had other ideas. So I think I will take up my musing on this most universal of elements within paganism (is that too broad?). It’s a natural time of year to ponder the issue because we are in the midst of the Imbolc season. Yes, I said season. I’m of the opinion that we can tell a lot about a particular festival based upon its mirror image. The counter-point to Imbolc is Lughnassadh, and we know that the Lughna Dubh period (as it was known in Ireland) extended over at least a fortnight (MacNeill, 15-16). But I don’t want to be too scholarly here. I want to speak about experience.

    As I mentioned in another post the etymology of Imbolc has been successfully linked to purification. Toward the middle to end of January I was feeling the strong pull toward milk baths and fasting. The snowdrops had blossomed; a first indicator here that the wheel is turning. Snowdrops come first, then daffodils. The delicate petals remind me of Aine and her slender white feet not crushing the flowers as she dances. I bathed myself, I cleaned the house, but I did not fast.

    I also gathered reeds to make my new solar wheel. Out in the freshness of the day I sang…. “Brid is come. Brid is welcome. Welcome Brid.” as I pulled the tender new shoots. I don’t like using a blade on them, though whether this is due to tradition I can not recall. I would need to grab my reference source (Ó Catháin) and I just don’t want to. Regardless, there was only pulling. I did not feel the rush to make the wheel this year as I have done previously. The reeds sat on the big table in the kitchen for several days, absorbing the cooking of food, the household conversation, and general minding of domestic tasks. Finally, for no obvious reason I felt it was time so I sat and wove, as my partner cooked. Then the equal armed cross sat, neatly worked and secured, on the big wooden table in the kitchen for several days, absorbing the cooking of the food, the household conversation, and general minding of domestic tasks. Today, it was time. I removed last year’s wheel from above the door and replaced it with the new one. Last year’s talisman was placed on the beam in my Therapy Room next to the one from the year before.

    I’m not hung-up on precise observations and observances. It’s a conscious choice I’m making based on my disgust at our ordered-beyond-comprehension-mind-numbing-modern-lifestyles. My aim is to let go and feel the changes. To let my body speak. To give voice to the myriad parts of understanding and knowing that reside within my wonderful organism that aren’t primarily frontal cortex centric. So, Imbolc is here and I’m moving further into spring. The last bit of purification I want to engage my senses in is the fast. My body is ready to detox and ingest some spring tonic! We’ll see how it goes. The nettles are certainly tender! 🙂

    MacNeill, Maire. The Festival of Lughnasa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.

    Ó Catháin, Séamas. The Festival of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. Dublin: DBA
    Publications, 1995.

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