How The Gypsy Scholar Discovered A Very Odd Lughnasadh Ritual on the Way Home After His Program August 1, 2011, 3 a.m.

Celebrate Community. In an age where so many of us feel disconnected from one another, the high days of August are an ideal time to come together with friends and neighbors to foster a sense of community. Lugh, as the Celtic Mercury, presides over communication, travel, and gatherings where there is a creative interchange of ideas. –Mara Freeman, Celtic Folklorist & Storyteller

It happened during the late-night/early-morning hours of August 1, when the GS was driving home from just having presented his Lughnasadh/Lammas [pronounced: loo-nuh-suh] special for the Celtic cross-quarter festival. He suddenly had to pull off to the side of the lonely mountain road because of a flat tire. “Goddamnit!” he muttered to himself, as he got out of the car to assess the situation. This was definitely not how he had planned to spend his time on this festival morning. But it was either change the flat tire or walk the rest of the way home.

After some futile consideration about his unfortunate situation, he reluctantly found the jack and lug-wrench and took the spare tire out of the trunk. Then he checked himself. Remembering something he read while researching the spirituality of Celtic cross-quarter days, he thought he’d try to have a positive attitude and take his roadside misfortune as a learning opportunity. So, thinking about the alleged power of positive thinking, he asked himself: “What would Deepak Chopra do in this situation?” Answer: He’d take his gold-club AAA membership card out of his bulging wallet and have a tow-truck there in 20 minutes, or call upon his guardian angel—whoever shows up first! “Now stop that,” he chastised himself, “sarcasm will get you nowhere in this situation!”

So after this minor lapse into his old emotional patterns, the GS tried to make sense about why this was happening on Lughnasadh (of all days) and prepare himself to make the best of a bad situation. But he couldn’t help but wonder, out here on this lonely mountain road at this time of night on Lughnasadh: “Were there forces beyond his control that landed him here … like the Celtic faeries he had told about on radio? Were they more than just an old Irish fairytale?—mischievous faeries roaming about during this in-between time, beginning at midnight, the witching hour. [“Celtic Celebrations involved feasting, plays and processions in costume, music and dancing, and the all-around suspension of everyday rules. These were delicious but also dangerous times, when the gates of the Otherworld opened wide, faery hosts roamed abroad, and the adventurous—or foolhardy—could slip into their magic realms. The unwary traveler could be “taken” by the faery host ….”] In other words (or verses), whatever the reason for being stranded out here, the GS was determined to look on the “bright side … of the road.” [Name of Van song he had played on his program.]

As he sized up what it would take to get the flat tire off, he hit upon an idea—since this was happening during the first hours of Lughnasadh, why not make a ritual action out of it? (He was remembering his research—and he had done a lot on Celtic-Irish mythology—; how, at the end of describing the traditional rituals and blessings of the various Celtic cross-quarter days, the folklorist would suggest creative ways of devising one’s own.) This sounded good, but he could see the problem he was going to have in squaring the special ritual objects of Lughnasadh with a tire, tire-jack, and a lug-wrench. Undaunted, he proceeded to roll up his sleeves and put his metaphorical-thinking cap on his head. With some difficulty, he managed to get the damaged tire, with the big hole in it, off and the spare one on. (He had to get his other lug-wrench out of the trunk, the one with the longer arm for more torque in order to loosen the seemingly immovable lug-nuts.)

It was after replacing the final of the four lug-nuts and giving the wheel a spin that it struck him—the connection between what he had been describing on radio about the relationship between the cross-quarter days and the Celtic year. The year is split into dark and light halves. It also is divided into four with the two solstices and the two equinoxes, making the four arms of the solar cross inside the circle of the year. Finally, the four cross-quarter days, placed between these four, forms an eight-spoked figure called the “Celtic Wheel of the Year,” which turns through the seasons. He spun it again: “Yes, of course, the wheel!” The GS ruminated as he watched: “Lughnasadh, the festival of the Celtic sun-god, Lugh, the “bright shining one.” Four wheels to his sun-chariot as it courses though the heavens. Four wheels to this car, with its lug-nuts holding the wheels on ….” The car was still stationary, but the GS’s mind was racing. He began to recall what he’d read out over the airwaves about this cross-quarter festival and its god Lugh.

[Lughnasadh is, literally, “the assembly of Lugh.” Lugh (Lugus to the ancient Gauls) was cognate to the Greco-Roman god Hermes-Mercury, the guardian of roads and travelers. He has also been linked with the Norse god Odin. In Ireland Lugus became Lugh, a renowned hero of the Tuatha De Danann, the divine inhabitants of the western isles. Lugh is associated with hills and high places and is “high-king of the otherworldly hall.” Some scholars believe his name derives from the Old Irish word lug, “light, brightness.” Lugh was also known as “The Bright One with the Strong Hand.” Another name for him was “Lion with the Steady Hand.” This is probably because of the fact that leu in Irish Gaelic means lion, related to the Latin leo. Another of his epithets was “Lugh of the long arm.” Lugh is one of the chief gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann, where he was known as “Many Skilled One,” meaning, like Hermes-Mercury, he was master of many arts. As Lugh Samildanach, he is the “many-gifted god” who appears throughout Irish lore as a helper of heroes. As “Lug of the Long Arm,” he was the father of the famous the warrior-hero of the ancient Irish Ulster cycle, Cuchulain. As the Celtic sun god, Lugh represented the creative, masculine principle of the universe as symbolized by the “stone phallus,” at Tara.]

The crazy (or loony) Lughnasadh logic was relentless, with its wordplay and mythological allusions. It all seemed to fit together in an ironic way. [“An Irish folk-tale calls this season the ‘little lunacy week in August.’”] It slowly dawned upon the GS that he was actually working with all the symbols needed for a Lughnasadh ritualthe wheel, the lug-wrench (which is cross-shaped, like the four main divisions of the wheel of the year), and the lug-nuts (from the stone phallus of Lugh?). [The GS later searched for images of the Irish sun god Lugh. He found one from an Irish archeological site, where Lugh was carved on a stone wall. Although it was seriously deteriorated, one could still make out a staff or spear that looked something like a L-shaped lug-wrench!) These were, the GS realized, the lug-nuts of Lug! [His name derives from the Old Irish word lug, “light, brightness.”] These lug-nuts are essential, since they serve to keep of wheels on the vehicle for locomotion. [“A lug nut is a fastener, specifically a nut, used to secure a wheel on a vehicle.”] The GS also remembered what his car manual had pointed out about them; that they are in a “star pattern.” [“Lug nuts must be installed in an alternating pattern, commonly referred to as a star pattern.”] As the GS gazed up from the hill to the clear night sky, a pattern of weird associations played off in his mind: Star Patterns … the Celtic Wheel of the Year, with its cross-quarter festivals … Lug of the Long Arm…. [“Originally, these great turning points of the year were not precisely marked on a calendar but reckoned from the careful observation of stars … by Druid astronomers…. These Celtic festivals mark powerful nodes of the year, often termed “liminal,” from the Latin word limen, meaning ‘threshold’ …. These ‘cross-quarter’ days are particularly potent, being referred to as the ‘four gates of power,’ which are special ‘in-between’ times when the seen and unseen worlds intersected and everyday rules were suspended. The normal world was turned upside down ….”] Star Patterns … the Pentangle symbol of neo-pagan religion. Thus, to the GS, it truly seemed that he had crossed some “threshold” and everything, by some loony Lughnasadh logic, was turned upside down.

“Aum! Hek! Wal! Ak! Lug! Mor! Ma!” O Lugh!, guardian of roads and travelers, “Lion with the Steady Hand” and “Lugh of the Long Arm” and “Lugh the Bright One with the Strong Hand.” (Oh holy tire, I won’t have my back pulled!) O Lugh, bright tire-changer of the gods! O Lugh!, you are truly the “Many Skilled One.”

[Now you might think this is silly, but if, in Ulysses, James Joyce can have a father-god whose symbols include a bicycle pump (“He smites with his bicycle pump”), then surely the GS can have his father-god with a lug-wrench!]

Suddenly, it hit him, like the four headlights of a semi-trailer truck from around the bend. The GS said to himself: “This is a Lughnasadh ritual about changing one of the four main wheels of this soul. (As he remembered that the body-mind-soul was, both in ancient myth and modern dream, symbolized as a chariot or some other vehicle.) In other words, the wheel that represents the GS’s masculine energy has become deflated (i.e., depressed) lacking air (pneuma = spirit), and it can no longer carry him where he needs to go. He remembered that Lughnasadh is a particularly powerful and fruitful time of creative masculine sun-energy. Thus, he must use his strong masculine Leo-Leu energy to replace his depressed will power with a spiritually fulfilled will power. Reflecting on all this, the GS wondered if this realization could qualify as some sort of mini born-again pagan experience. (Would this mean the GS had become a lug-nut for Lugh?) Not on the road to Damascus, but on the road home (with “the god of roads and travelers”) to Bonnie Doon. (How’s that for a Celtic place-name?)

As the GS got back into his vehicle, he didn’t need to turn on the radio to hear music, because a song began playing in his head:

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go / where it will go / I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go / I’m taking my time for a number of things /  that weren’t important yesterday / and I still go ….

[He didn’t know why this song, but the GS did play a Beetles song that night: “The Sun King,” which he took to be about Lugh: “He is represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. As the Celtic sun god, his name is related to the Latin lux, or, ‘light’, and means ‘the shining one.’” The GS later looked up the history of the Beetles song “Fixing A Hole”: “Paul McCartney wrote this after fixing the roof on his farm in Scotland. McCartney said the song was ‘about the hole in the road where the rain gets in, a good old analogy.’” A good old analogy indeed!—“in the road” and “fixing the roof … in Scotland,” a Celtic country].

Back on the road toward home, the GS mused: “Now there’s a Lughnasadh ritual I hadn’t planned on!” Thus the GS discovered that the Celtic folklorists (whom he quoted on his program) were right: there are indeed powerful unseen forces on these liminal—in-between time—festivals.

Now the GS’s little story comes to an end. And the only thing left is for his readers to figure out is whether the GS is engaging in some sort of self-depreciating, anti-new-age humor, or is he getting at something serious about the festival of Lughnasadh? (It is necessary to point out here that this is in keeping with what is also said about Lugh: “He appears in folklore as a trickster, able to change forms.”) Before considering this, the GS suggests that readers first ask themselves whether James Joyce was getting at anything serious, or just pulling our legs, in his satire on Celtic and Indian mythology from Ulysses (Ulysses, who was encountering many obstacles on his quest toward home):

MANANAUN MACLIR: (With a voice of waves) Aum! Hek! Wal! Ak! Lub! Mor! Ma! White yoghin of the gods. Occult pimander of Hermes Trismegistos. (With a voice of whistling seawind) Punarjanam patsypunjaub! I won’t have my leg pulled. It has been said by one: beware the left, the cult of Shakti. (With a cry of stormbirds) Shakti Shiva, darkhidden Father! (He smites with his bicycle pump the crayfish in his left hand. On its cooperative dial glow the twelve signs of the zodiac. He wails with the vehemence of the ocean.) Aum! Baum! Pyjaum! I am the light of the homestead! I am the dreamery creamery butter.

[This last is a reference to the Hindu “Nectar of Immortality,” the Amrit. Joyce plays with Irish and Indian mythology in Ulysses when he has Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom quoting to each other. Furthermore, Ulysses Annotated (1988) documents Joyce’s scrambled free association technique based upon his knowledge of Irish mythology. And another study, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (1960), sees Joyce’s Sir Lout based upon “Lug of the long arm—the Ildana or ‘master of many arts.’”]

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