Thursday, July 21, 2011

Antique Lughnasadh

As the festival of Lughnasadh approaches in a little more than a week from today (it is the onset of Autumn within pagan Irish religion; and it yields to a vast European pedigree), I thought I would draw your attention to an article by one Eamon "Ned" P. Kelly, the Keeper of Irish Antiquities and a specialist in Iron Age Irish pagan religion.  According to his brief article:
What few references we have to human sacrifice in early Irish written sources link the practice to the god Crom Dubh who is associated with Lughnasa, the Celtic harvest festival. This association may provide a religious context for the killings that, at a practical level, may represent the execution of royal hostages to ensure the compliance of subordinate lords or the elimination of rivals for kingship. That Oldcroghan man [a Bog Mummy] may have been a failed candidate for kingship, or perhaps even a deposed king, is implied by the fact that his nipples were cut thus rendering him ineligible for kingship. This is because the suckling of a king's nipples was an important gesture of submission by subordinates, and the stylised representation of breasts and nipples on the terminals of gold gorgets indicates that this was a custom that extended as far back as the Late Bronze Age at least. The rich field of research prompted by the discovery of Oldcroghan Man and Clonycavan Man [another Bog Mummy] is continuing and many further important discoveries may lie in store.
This mythological tradition relating Crom Dubh to the festival of Lughnasadh appears to rely on a textual imposition wherein the odious Crom Dubh and his rival Saint Patrick effectively stand-in for the thematic tale in which the god Lugh conquers his adversary, Balor, the one-eyed giant (O hOgain, Daithi [2006].  "Crom."  The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopedia of Myth, Legend and Romance.  Boydell: pp. 132-33).

Furthermore, this article serves to underscore many themes already acknowledged within European folk-paganism, such as the harvest games in which they mow down the wheat in their chase of the Field Spirit in the guise of a hare (the epiphany of the Harvest Rites and fertility), and the folk-song of John Barleycorn that contains the elemental themes of life, torture, eventual death (here, sacrifice!), and finally resurrection (excerpt from: "The Mystery of Mabon", a chapter from my MS. Whence the Witches' Sabbat):
Sown from last season’s remains, John Barleycorn grew again through spring until the following harvest when he was fully ripe.  At this period his “enemies” hunted him down with sharpened sickles as they cut him down at his “knees” and bundled each load of grain, carting it away.  From then on John Barleycorn was tortured unmercifully in the process of excising the corn from the chaff, and further when beer was brewed from his remains to yield his intoxicating “blood”, or when he was ground between two mill stones in the production of flour.1  The ultimate antecedents of John Barleycorn seem to lie in the Anglo-Saxon barley-god, Beow, who also experienced torture, suffered death, resurrection, and was notorious for the reviving effects of consuming his blood.2  Furthermore, Beow is ethnographically cognate with the Old Norse field-spirit Byggvir (“grain-man”), who is the servitor of the Vanir fertility-god, Freyr.  In one stanza recounted by the Lokasenna, Loki admonishes Byggvir’s pretense to heroism when the confrontational god declares that Byggvir was, in fact, wont to hide amid the straw on the floor whenever danger threatened.3
1 “John Barleycorn” transcribed in: Grigsby, John (2006).  Beowulf & Grendel: The Truth Behind England’s Oldest Legend Watkins Publishing: pp. 66-8.

2 Herbert, Kathleen (2007).  Looking for the Lost Gods of England Anglo Saxon Books: pp. 16; Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall, 1993).  “Beow”.  Dictionary of Northern Mythology Boydell & Brewer, pp. 34.
3 Bruce, Alexander M. (2002).  Scyld and Scef: Expanding the Analogues.  Routledge: pp. 28; Hollander, Lee M. (trans. 1962).  The Poetic EddaUniversity of Texas Press: pp. 90-1, 99; “Byggvir”.  Dict. of Northern Mythology, pp. 50-1.
Lammas, however, which is the British counterpart to Lughnasadh, is largely believed to be Celtic in origin when one considers the evidence that the calendrical date of 1 August as the onset for the native Harvest Festival does not occur within other Germanic countries (MacShamhrain, Ailbhe [2006].  "Lughnasadh".  Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, vol. iii.  John T. Koch, ed.  ABC-Clio: pp. 1201-02).

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