It’s been just over a year since we signed the papers and finally settled down on a mountaintop in western North Carolina. Sometimes I drive around town and still marvel that I’m here, on the very mountain that I used to feel protected by as a child.
Last year at Lughnassadh, we were still digging through boxes and living on takeout while a local handyman replaced the falling-apart cabinets and countertop in the kitchen. This year, we’re feasting on tomatoes and other veggies I grew from seed. In between the two, I’ve had to confront a whole lot of memories of trauma.
There’ve been many a late night when, unable to sleep for bad dreams, I’ve driven around to some of the places where those traumas took place. The little corner house where both my parents and paternal grandparents raised babies. Where I used to stand by the street hoping one of my two great-aunts who lived just above us would pass by and take me home and away from the fighting at my house. The house my grandparents lived in when they were alive. The apartment we lived in when I was in elementary school – the street where the neighborhood kids threw rocks at me and cracked my front tooth.
I have to go to Asheville on Monday – on Lughnassadh – to see a dentist because that tooth is currently abscessed. See how it all keeps circling back?
Lugh Knew Family Trauma
One story of Lugh’s birth is that his grandfather, Balor of the Formorians, is given a prophecy that he will have a grandson that will kill him. Not wanting to die, he sequesters his daughter Eithniu in a great tower on Tory Island and allows her contact with only women. Yet somehow (it’s a long story that involves fairies and magical cattle) Cian of the Tuatha De Dannan manages to seduce her. When she gives birth to three sons, Balor orders all three killed. The three babies are thrown into a whirlpool – yet Lugh is accidentally dropped into the harbor and miraculously spared.
He is separated from Eithniu and raised by his foster-mother, Tailtiu. While fostering was standard practice at the time, (and we are, of course, talking mythology and not human beings) we’ve discussed the trauma that human babies experience when separated at birth from biological parents. Of course it would seem any type of being would be traumatized by having your grandfather throw you and your triplet brothers into the ocean to drown, and to grow up knowing he still wanted you dead.
Lugh Also Wasn’t Having Fascism
Fast forward a bit, and times are tough for the Tuatha De. The Fomorians are grievously oppressing them. They’re making great figures like the Dagda (the “Good God”) do humiliating, pointless labor. They demand such high rents and tributes that the land is groaning under the burden and the people are barely surviving. Yet they’re so beaten down that “not one of them would do anything of consequence without permission” from the Fomorians.
It’s like… they’re making them work pointless jobs to pay exorbitant rents and excessive costs for necessities while not giving them freedom over their own bodies and choices.
And Lugh wasn’t having it.
When he first rolled up at Tara, everyone was major impressed. Lugh was young, beautiful (like that kind of hot that’s so amazing it almost hurts to look at) and he was literally good at everything. He was also half Fomorian so he really could have looked around at the way the Tuatha De were being treated and said fuck this shit. Imma go to the police academy or something and use my privilege to just not do this. Instead he took one look at the Forces* that showed up to collect the rent and shouted “ACAB! – I wanna kill these guys really bad**.”
“If you do, they’ll kill us all,” the King said. Because he knew how cops work.
“You’ve been oppressed entirely too long,” Lugh responded. But he was learning.
Lugh Undertakes A Battle Of Overthrowing
Understand that years passed from the time Lugh first showed up at Tara until the Tuatha De Dannan finally met their oppressors the Fomorians on the field of battle. It wasn’t because the Tuatha didn’t want to get the boots off their necks. It was because they were people of skill and cunning. They spent years planning. *** The scene above takes place after Lugh, The Dagda, Nuada and Ogma have spent a solid year together making secret plans. Even after this, the battle must be delayed further while plans are set in motion, so the Dagda goes to the Fomorians and allows himself to be further humiliated just to stall for time. When he’s done delaying, he gets up and leaves.
That’s some amazing strength.
But eventually the time comes and everyone meets on the plain of Maigh Tuireadh. Finally it is time to rise up and overthrow the oppressors. The Morrigan incites them to battle by crying out, “Undertake a battle of overthrowing….Awake, make a hard slaughter, smiting bodies, attacks boiling, greatly deafening, devastating, the people to a man crying out!”
And now, Lugh must face his grandfather. The grandfather that tried to murder him as an infant, that imprisoned his mother and murdered his twin brothers.
Balor is a giant, with an eye in the center of his forehead that functioned sort of like a neolithic flame thrower. Anything he looked upon with this eye was burned to a crisp and died. A very dangerous, blustery older relative who is hurling abuse at Lugh from the moment he steps onto the battlefield, fighting on the side of Lugh’s oppressors. How many of us can relate?
Everyone in the world who’s experienced trauma would understand in that moment if Lugh had looked at his grandfather as he began to raise that eyelid and take aim and said nope. I can’t face this right now. It’s too much. In fact, the entirety of the Tuatha De Dannan had tried to keep him from the battle because they didn’t want to risk losing him. It was like maybe they knew they were asking too much of him.
Instead, Lugh begins to chant curses, hopping on one foot in circles around his grandfather. If you know Irish magic, this is some powerful mojo. I feel like he was calling up everything his grandfather had done, and the spirits of his dead brothers and his mother and all the Tuatha De that had suffered and died under this injustice. And when he had raised all that energy – and his grandfather was laughing and demanding to know “who is this chatterer before me?” he put every ounce of pain and trauma and injustice into his slingshot and hurled it right at that monstrous eye just as it began to open.
And he knocked that eye right out the back of his grandfather’s head, killing him and sending it rolling uncovered through the enemy ranks and killing thousands. After that – after Lugh stood up in the face of his family trauma and hurled that trauma and injustice right back at its perpetrator and said “We’re not gonna take it” just like a bronze age Dee Snider – the oppressors were defeated.
And when it was over, The Morrigan gave a very famous prophesy about the land being bountiful, cups overflowing and everyone having what they need.
Lughnassadh In Appalachia
We’re at a perilous place here in America. Our own Fomorians are trying very hard to get the power the ones in ancient Ireland had. In some ways they already have.
Meanwhile, the tomatoes are getting ripe, and I’ve canned enough pickles to send boxfulls to friends and family. We’ve had squash and zucchini and cabbage already, with more to come. There’s beans on the vine and the corn is getting tall. My mountain has been good to me.
They have no power over me now. I am still dealing with the memories and the after-effects, but they will never hurt me again.
Lugh showed us the connection between standing up to our abusers on a small scale and overthrowing oppressors on a grand scale. The armies of oppressors are made up of individual abusers. Or, some of those who work forces are the same who burn crosses.
Myths like the stories of Lugh are not meant to be literal or scripture. They’re more real than that. This Lughnassadh, let’s learn from Lugh how to face our trauma and our oppressors. And overthrow them both. Then let’s enjoy our harvests.
*See: Zack de la Rocha
**May be slightly paraphrased
***There is no evidence members of the TDD ever complained that “we had an entire assembly at Tara, we have a king and several gods why do we have to assemble again? Nuada is worthless!”