Celtic Arthur: Gods of Sun and Storm

Previous Article: Celtic Arthur: The Rape of the Flower Maiden

cuchulinnEvery pagan mythology seems to have gods of this kind. Egypt had Ra, Greece Apollo and Zeus, and the Norse Thor. Yahweh was originally a storm god, and the Irish equated Helios with the prophet Elias and Sol with Christ. While the gods of the Celts are not openly connected to specific forces of nature, In “Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance”, Roger Sherman Loomis makes the case that many of the great Celtic heroes had solar or stormy natures, and that these traditions made their way into the great Arthurian sagas.

Lug, the hero of the Irish saga “The Second Battle of Moytura”, is the first solar figure described by Loomis. He quotes from the sagas:

The shining of his face was like the setting sun. It was impossible to look upon, so great was its brilliance… His brow was as bright as the sun on a summer’s day.

When Lug approached the palace of Bres, the king thought that the sun was rising in the west. In “The Second Battle of Moytura”, Lug is called by his epithet, Samhildanach, which means “summer of many arts”, and it states that he was red “from sunset to morning”, just as the sun is red when it sets and rises. Lug is also a storm god, which Loomis shows by quoting the description of his spear, and of his approach in battle:

It roared and struggled against its thong. Fire flashed from it. When Lug approached, there was mist all round, so that none could move because of the great darkness. Lug let fly his spear at them. Once slipped from its leash, it tore through the ranks of the enemy.

Cuchulinn, the hero of the Ulster Cycle, is likewise a being with a powerful solar and storm nature. Loomis points out that he had a geas (taboo) upon him that he must not rise later than the sun. In “The Cattle Raid of Cualgne”, the intense heat of his body melted the snow around him for thirty feet. But most telling is the description of his transformation in battle:

His gnashing caused flakes of fire to stream from his throat and outward. Among the clouds over his head were virulent pouring showers and sparks of ruddy fire which his seething wrath caused to mount up above him. A thick jet of dusky blood shot up out of his scalp and was scattered in all directions, forming a magic mist of gloom and smoky pall.

Loomis sees this bizarre paroxysm as the transformation of a solar deity into a god of the storm. He derives the meaning of the name of Cuchulinn’s weapon, the gaebolga, from the Irish for “forked spear”, which seems to describe lightning, and quotes Cuchulinn himself saying that he has thrown his spear in the mist, and that if a man has been hit by it, he is no longer living.

Cuchulinn’s rival, Curoi, also betrays a dual nature. For example, in “Bricriu’s Feast”, he claims the position of “light bearer”, saying “however tall I may be, the whole household shall have light and the house shall not be burned.” Every night, while he roams the world, he sets a spell on his castle to make it spin, and Loomis equates this to the night sky in the absence of the sun.

And yet Curoi also takes on the mantle of the storm god: “The creaking of the old hide about the fellow and the crashing of his ax were as loud as a wood tempest tossed in the night by a storm.” Loomis points out that an ax is commonly associated with storm deities as a symbol of the lightning.

Finally, Loomis brings it back to his previous subject, the rape of the flower maiden, calling the story of Blathnat’s abduction by Curoi and her rescue by Cuchulinn “the passing of the flower maiden from the old god to the young god.” The passing of a year between Blathnat’s abduction and her discovery by Cuchulinn and the fact that the struggle for her possession lasted from the first of November to the middle of spring show that the story is a myth that is attempting to explain the seasons.



About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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1 Response to Celtic Arthur: Gods of Sun and Storm

  1. Pingback: Celtic Arthur: The Rape of the Flower Maiden | Jim's Jumbler

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