For approximately ten months I have been holding a secret about taking part in a section of a documentary film concerning the Celtic god, Lugh. The druid grove to which I belong celebrated Lughnasadh in foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains and the production company who engaged with us, TILE FILMS of Dublin, were patient and respectful of our ways.
The film crew in discussion.
All of this began when a good friend of ours, the folklorist Dr Jenny Butler asked how would we feel about the grove being filmed at one our rituals. After deliberation we decided to take part in the film as we felt that it would be a unique blend of Irish mythology, sacred sites, archaeology and scientific exploration.
We normally do not allow sightseers to watch us, preferring to maintain the privacy of members and not to be distracted by camera flashes, so it was a major decision for us to give permission for the filming.
We stipulated that the camera crew could not enter the circle whilst we were celebrating the actual ritual; however, we were willing to re-enact whatever sections they wanted to record afterwards.
The traditional Lughnasadh site in our area is on Arderin (Height of Ériu) in the Slieve Bloom mountains however, after surveying the area with the production team a few weeks prior to filming we chose to work at Tobar Lugna (Lughna's Well) in the foothills, near to the village of Cadamstown. This location fulfilled all of the requirements having light, silence and easy access for all concerned.
It was at this site that our pre-christian ancestors venerated the clear water at the well which is still believed to hold a cure for eye ailments. Later, in christian times, the oratory of the little known St. Lugna was built here, the remains of which can still be seen.
Dr. Jenny Butler.
Filming started at 10.00 a.m. and for Fred, our oldest druid, a good few hours earlier when he and the film crew visited a Bronze Age burial mound in a valley on the eastern slopes of Knocknamann (Hill of the Women), which was a Bealtaine ritual site. Beneath it's western slopes sits the small town of Kinnitty in Co. Offaly where the lads had lunch prior to our arrival on site at 2.30 pm.
Twelve druids, seven women and five men, from the four provinces of Ireland, assembled on a level piece of land where the earth energy was strongest. We were bordered in the north by a line of whitethorn trees, in the east by a stand of old ash trees and in the south on a higher level, the remains of the oratory, whilst below us to the west, flowed the waters of the well.
Our preparations began by dressing the well with flowers, followed by placing on the land the first fruits. We went silently down to the well and walked around it sun-wise nine times before a woman druid filled our cup with its water and led us back up to the harvest.
We circled the earths' fruits and in silence constructed a sphere of energy combining the realms of Sky, Land and the Watery Underworld and went on to celebrate Brón Trogaine.
The Owl Grove druids chat while film crew align...
©2013 Colin Russell.
The original name for Lughnasadh was Brón Trogaine (pronounced Brune Trown) which means something like 'the earth sorrows under its' fruits' and describes the earth giving birth to the harvest. The name for this festival changed later to Lughnasadh when it was attached to the god Lugh with the 'nasadh' part of the word meaning games or assemblies.
Lughnasadh was the time when the great gatherings of the tribes were held and presided over by the local king. The most well known one was at Teltown in Co. Meath where Lugh was said to have introduced games and horse racing in honour of his foster mother, who died there. These Lughnasadh gatherings were also a time for trial marriages and law making.
Fruits of the Earth
In nature Lughnasadh marks the appearance of the first fruits of the year and in ancient times, when people relied on food collected in the wild, it began the start of the harvest season.
In Ireland the festival was often celebrated at high places where the land was seen to meet the sky and the goddess to meet the god. These places also gave a view of the surrounding landscape and other peaks where Lughnasadh was being marked. It is thought that the ancient pagan celebrations took the form of offerings of grain, flowers and berries to the gods.
The dressed Tobar Lugna
Today, we druids celebrate this time with a ritual to honour the goddess of the land, Ériu and her gifts to us, the harvest of fruit and crops. We also honour Lugh the god of light.
Our ritual connects us to nature and to the spirits of the place and in silence we take time to listen and harmonise with each other. A powerful part of our ceremony is the sharing of water from the well when the cup is passed around the circle.
Later the grove members share what Lughnasadh means to them individually and what each hopes to harvest in their lives.
Our ritual ends as we kneel to place our hands upon the earth.
A great source for information about the celebration of Lughnasadh in Ireland is Máire MacNeill's book 'The Festival of Lughnasa'
An interview with Mel after the film.
The derivation of Lugh may have its roots in early words such as leuk, 'light', or lug, oath. In myth his titles include Lámfhada, 'Long Arm'. Samhildánach, 'Equally Skilled in Many Arts' and Lonnbeimnech, 'Fierce Striker'. The Milky Way was once known as Lugh's Chain and these descriptions suggest that in Ireland he was not viewed as a sun god rather he was associated with light, the night sky, lightning and storms.
Summer storms, when lightning strikes the land, was welcomed by farmers as it increased nitrogen in the soil thus producing an better yield of crops, so Lugh as the 'Fierce Striker' would have been welcomed by the community.
Another title of Lugh, found in old manuscripts is 'Lethsuanach' meaning he had "red colour on him from sunset to morning" and he is described in one story as "coming up in the west, as bright as the sun, with a long arm", leading Prof. Mike Baillie to suggest that Lugh was in fact a red comet which appeared over ancient Ireland.
An article by Prof. Baillie
An early announcement of the film was published on the web site Wildhunt:
A short and interesting clip of the film can be seen now on the Smithsonian Channel titled Sacred Sites Ireland and the full film will be screened on Monday 7th July 8pm US time on the Smithsonian Channel http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/home