Labhraidh Luathlam ar Cleb (Labriad)
Irish hero or god. Ruler of mag mell, the "plain of honey" where the trees were always loaded down with magical fruit and vats of mead could never be emptied, Labhraidh arranged for the hero cuchulainn to spend time with Labhraidh’s wife’s sister, the lovely fairy queen fand. In return for this dalliance, Cuchulainn had to fight and defeat three warriors who were troubling Labhraidh. This bargain set in motion a love triangle, because Fand was the only companion who tempted Cuchulainn to break faith with his wife, the peerless emer. The story is told in an ancient text called Cuchulainn’s Sickness, which formed the basis for the play by William Butler Yeats, The Only Jealousy of Emer.
Irish hero. Mythical and possibly historical ancestor of the people of the eastern province of leinster, Labhraigh was said to have invaded Ireland in the second century b.c.e. besting an opponent named Cobhthach to gain his territory. A longer version of his legend reveals two kings, both called Labhraigh. The first, Labhraigh Lorc, had an evil brother (or uncle) named cobhthach, who yearned to be king over Leinster in the place of ailill Aine, the true king. Cobhthach pretended to be near death, and when Labhraigh leaned over in grief, stabbed him to death; then Cobhthach poisoned Ailill. Ailill left a son, one who was called Moen ("speechless") because he never spoke. At least, he did not until struck by a ball when playing football one day, whereupon his playmates gave him the name of Labhraigh Moen ("the speechless one speaks").
Moen grew to be a kindly and generous nobleman, so much so that he attracted the attention of the evil usurper Cobhthach—who promptly banished him to the wilds of munster, far to the southwest, where the people were called the Fir Morca. There the king’s daughter, the lovely moriath, fell in love with the exile. Stealing into court with his harper, the magnificent craiphtine, Labhraigh Moen waited until the magical music put the court to sleep, then seduced Moriath. When, the next morning, her mother heard Moriath sigh in a knowing satisfied way, she instantly guessed the truth, but the parents did not attempt to stand in the lovers’ way. Labhraigh was welcomed by the king, and together the couple went east to win back Labhraigh Moen’s kingdom.
First they captured the fort at Dinn Rig, once again using Craiphtine’s magical music—this time to put the defenders to sleep, while the attackers kept their ears carefully covered against the sleep-inducing music. Then
Moen set about making a trap for the usurper. He built a great hall, all of iron, and once Cobhthach had entered, locked the door and heated the building up with bellows until the evil king and his entire army died.
In another version of the story, Moen became speechless when Cobhthach forced him to eat the hearts of his father and grandfather. Banished to Brittany, he heard the music of Craiphtine and, immensely moved, broke his silence to praise the harper. Thereafter, he raised an army and defeated the usurper Cobhthach at Dinn Rig, the fort of kings.
Various interpretations have tried to discern the historical truth behind these fanciful narratives. The speechlessness of the king has been understood as an indication that he did not speak the language of the country or that he was in some way blemished (see blemished king). In a variant of the legend, it was not Labhraigh who was dumb but anyone who saw him without hair covering his ears—for the king had the ears of an ass. (Anyone who did not keep silent was killed.) Then a young barber whispered the dreadful secret to a tree, which was cut down and used to make a harp for Craiphtine, and which then sang out the secret entrusted to it. Shamed, Labhraigh revealed his unsightly ears for all to see.
Irish hero. In the book of invasions, we read of the earliest arrivals in Ireland: the lady cesair, with her 50 handmaidens and a scant three men. Ladra, the ship’s pilot and Cesair’s brother, was one of the three. Once he had brought them safely to land, Ladra demanded more territory than Cesair was willing to give. He set off to found his own kingdom, but he died trying to satisfy the many women who had accompanied him there, or perhaps from an oar that penetrated his buttocks. It is unclear from the multiple texts whether this figure is the same as adra or a separate character.
Lady of the Fountain (Laudine)
Arthurian heroine. The mysterious Laudine, the Lady of the Fountain, may descend from an ancient Celtic goddess of springs, for she ruled a splendid pool called barenton in the center of Brittany’s magical forest of broceliande. Because Barenton’s waters had the power to stir great storms, it was fiercely guarded by Laudine’s husband, the Black Knight named Esclados le Roux. cymon, a knight from king arthur’s court, tried to slay the guardian, only to be driven away. Returning to camelot, Cymon related his story and inspired the young knight owein to seek out the place and take on the Black Knight in single combat.
This time, the young adventurer had assistance, in the person of a maiden named luned, who told him the secret way to slay the Knight. Once that task had been accomplished, Luned helped Owein win the heart and hand of Laudine, who was quite willing to be wooed and won by such a brave knight. For a year the couple lived happily and contentedly together, but then Arthur and his knights happened by. Owein’s lady entertained them splendidly, then was heartbroken when her husband begged to be allowed to accompany them on their adventures. Laudine agreed, only to be abandoned by her thoughtless knight.
War and adventure held so much appeal that Owein forgot to return to the Lady of the Fountain as the seasons passed and a new year began. When the maid Luned arrived at the king’s company, Owein was shamed in front of the round table knights by her revelation of his betrayal. He went mad, roving the forest like a wild beast. Befriended by a lion and later by Luned, Owein followed the maidservant’s suggestion and slipped up to Laudine’s fountain in the dark of night. There he began sprinkling its water on the steps around it, causing great storms to ravish Laudine’s land. Her maid told her of the Knight of the Lion—Owein in dis-guise—who could save her, so long as she would help him reconcile with his beloved lady. Desperate to save her land, Laudine agreed, and when Owein was revealed to be the savior knight, she kept her promise as he had not.
Lady of the Lake
Arthurian heroine. The mysterious Lady, sometimes called nimue or morgause although also differentiated from those characters, gave the king-to-be arthur the magical sword excalibur. In early texts she is a fairy, a semidivine being who exists in a world parallel to ours, the Celtic otherworld, called in her case the Land of Women (see tir na mban). The Lady lived on a magical lake surrounded by her maiden servants; she captured lancelot and raised him to be her protector, for which he was called Lancelot of the Lake. In some sources, Lancelot was the Lady’s lover and, by her, the father of the pure knight galahad.
Later texts demoted the fairy queen to a mere sorceress, who created an illusory lake to keep people away from her land. Her power in the Arthurian legends remained firm, however, for she protected Arthur throughout his life, and it is to her that Arthur returned at the end of his life. Giving back Excalibur to the lake’s depths, the wounded king was then conveyed away—to where, no one knew—by the Lady. Her connection with Arthur has been described as parallel to that of the Irish goddess morrigan and the hero cuchulainn.
Laeg (Laeg, Loeg)
Irish hero. Charioteer to the greatest of ulster’s heroes, cuchulainn, Laeg saved his master by taking a spear intended for him.
Irish goddess. This name or title, which means "red mare," was used of aine, goddess or fairy queen of southeastern Co. Limerick. red is generally an otherworld color, and horses had associations with death; the title thus seems to point to Aine as a goddess of death who takes us on a ride to the afterlife.
Symbolic site. Celtic religion saw water as sacred, so it is not surprising that lakes were seen as potent symbols of the other-world. Tales of cities beneath lake waters are found in many Celtic lands (see inchiouin, lough ree), as are stories of magical beings who dwell either under the lake’s waves (see li ban) or on magical islands (see lady of the lake).
The religious meaning of the lake as a passageway to the Otherworld seems to reflect ancient Celtic rituals in which treasures were offered to lakes; the great horde of objects found in the shallows (la tene) of Switzerland’s Lake Neuchatel were probably deposited ritually, perhaps to drive away plague or with an equally serious intention. Similar offerings were made at holy wells, which were commonly used for seasonal festivals, while lakes seem to have been more commonly visited ritually in times of great need. Records show that offerings to a lake near Toulouse in southern France preceded the end of a pestilence; the unreliable warrior Caepion then stole the treasures. When he was killed in battle soon after, this was taken as a sign that he had been punished for his greed. Such legends did much to protect lake deposits from thieves, and recent excavations at lough gur revealed significant and valuable artifacts.
Celtic folkloric characters. Throughout the Celtic lands, lakes were seen as entrances to the otherworld. In those lakes lived fairy women whose enchanted palaces under the waves could sometimes be seen from shore. These lake maidens—who sometimes appeared as swan maidens—made wonderful wives for human men, but they were hard to capture. One had to steal something from the lake maidens; when she appeared as a swan, it must be her robe of feathers; at other times it could be her comb or another personal object. Then she would come meekly to shore and become as industrious and pleasant a wife as a man could wish.
However, such maidens invariably placed taboos around their husband’s behavior; the husband of aine of lough gur could express no surprise at anything their son did, while melu-sine’s husband could not see her on Sundays. The Welsh lake maiden Nelferch extracted from her husband the agreement that he should not strike her without reason; she set a limit of three mistakes. They lived happily except for his tendency to tap her when he wanted to get her attention. Despite the good intentions behind his actions, she still considered it breaking her rule, and upon the third incident she disappeared. Whenever a lake maiden’s rule was broken, she instantly disappeared, returning to her watery home, sometimes taking her children with her but just as often leaving them orphaned.
British folkloric figure. The word worm may seem to indicate an insignificant being, but in fact it was the Norse and Saxon word for dragon. One of the most famous British dragon stories concerns the worm that haunted the northern region around Lambton Castle. Its presence among humans began with an unruly 14th-century lord who went fishing on Sunday morning instead of going to church—and in full view of the chapel at that. His luck was bad until, just as the church bells stopped, something bit at his line. He hauled in a strange creature, a sort of eel with nine mouths. Appalled and frightened, he threw it down a well—still locally called Worm’s Well—and set about to reform his life. He even went to the Crusades. Meanwhile, in the well, the worm was growing larger and larger, until it emerged a true monster to ravage the countryside and kill all the knights sent to combat it.
When the lord returned from the Holy Land, he found his lands in disarray and his people in fear. Realizing his guilt, he pledged to kill the worm. A wise woman advised him that he must have a smith make spiky armor and that he must fight the worm from the rock in the middle of the River Wear. In addition, she warned, he must kill the first creature he met upon his victorious arrival home. Planning ahead, the lord arranged to have a dog let out the moment he approached his castle, then set off to do battle with the monster. It was a fierce struggle, but the worm finally impaled itself upon the spikes of the lord’s armor and died. Alas, in the excitement of the lord’s return home, his aged father ran to congratulate him. The lord immediately killed the dog that had, indeed, been let out as the designated victim, but it was not sufficient to meet the conditions set out by the old woman, and as a result no lord of Lambton died in his bed for nine generations.
Lamorack de Galles
Arthurian hero. King pellinore’s son, he was a famous warrior of the round table. He killed the husband of king Arthur’s half-sister morgause, and her sons, who included gawain, killed him in retaliation.
Lancelot (Lancelot of the Lake, Lancelot du lac, Lanceloz, Lanzelot von Arlac)
Arthurian hero. The handsomest and bravest knight of the round table, he became the lover of arthur’s queen guinevere, thus creating a fatal triangle that serves as the central dramatic conflict in the Arthurian cycle. The connection of Celtic mythology with the matter of britain—the tales relating to king arthur and his knights of the Round Table—has been widely argued, with general agreement that there is a connection but less agreement on specifics. Thus in the character and actions of the heroic knight Lancelot we may find Celtic themes and motifs, as we do in the other primary characters of the narrative, Arthur and Guinevere.
Lancelot’s background is not clear from the texts; the fact that he is called "of the lake" suggests a relationship to the mysterious lady of the lake, which in turn has led some to speculate that Lancelot was of the fairy people, although many texts claim that the Lady was only his foster mother and that his father was the French king Ban of Benoic, of whom little more is known. Other tales say he was the son of king Pant of Genewis and his wife, Clarine, from whom the infant Lancelot was stolen by the Lady of the Lake while Clarine was nursing her husband’s battle wounds. The Lady then raised him in ignorance of his true family, which Lancelot learned as a young man.
He came to camelot then, drawn by the fame of the great king and his beautiful queen. From the first he and Guinevere were drawn to each other. In the interests of her virtue and the court’s harmony, however, both resisted their attraction. When Guinevere finally spent a night in the forest alone with Lancelot, the upstanding knight put a sword between them, to assure that he would not yield to fleshly temptation. Arthur, finding them sleeping virtuously beside each other and separated by the sword, took the sword with him, thus ensuring that the couple would realize they had been observed. Lancelot departed the court, intent upon seeking glory in the field of battle, and left a heartbroken Guinevere behind. (A similar incident occurs in the parallel Irish tale of grainne and diarmait, but Grainne was a more forthright and sexually demanding partner.)
One story, told by Chretien de Troyes as Le Chevalier de la charrette or The Knight of the Cart, says their affair began when Guinevere was stolen away from Camelot by the giant or king meleagant. Lancelot set out in pursuit of the kidnapped queen, but he soon lost the track and had to rely upon a strange dwarf who was dragging a cart full of condemned prisoners. When the dwarf told Lancelot that the only way he would ever see his beloved again was to join the criminals in the cart, Lancelot did so willingly. Approaching Meleagant’s castle, Lancelot was confronted by two bridges: one that went beneath the moat, smooth and straight; the other, made of a sword blade, that went above the water. Desperate to find Guinevere, Lancelot took the shorter route, wounding himself dreadfully in the process. Locating the queen in a bedroom where the seneschal kay slept, himself wounded, the bleeding Lancelot joined his beloved in her bed. The next day, when bloodstains were found on Guinevere’s sheets, Kay was accused of seducing her, and Lancelot had to fight for his friend’s honor.
When Guinevere returned to Camelot, it was as Lancelot’s mistress as well as the land’s queen. His fall from perfection meant that when he went on the quest for the sacred grail, he was unable to attain his goal. Their affair was kept secret in the court, and Lancelot performed many noble deeds in Guinevere’s honor. He freed the many knights held captive in the perilous valley, part of the forest of broceliande that king Arthur’s half-sister, the sorceress morgan, had enchanted. Because she had been betrayed, she made sure that any knight who had ever wronged a woman would become trapped by her magic, seeing the trees as great battlements guarded by fire-breathing dragons. Many knights were trapped there, including the seemingly pure gawain, until Lancelot—ever true to his queen and lover—freed them all.
The beginning of their affair was also the beginning of Camelot’s downfall. Lancelot was not to blame, nor the hopelessly smitten queen, for Arthur’s own past rose up to destroy his ideal kingdom. Guinevere was convicted of treason and sentenced to death by burning, but Lancelot arrived just in time to save her, and in the commotion killed his own best friend, the upright knight gareth. Arthur’s own illegitimate son mordred, conceived upon morgause, began a war on Camelot that ended with the deaths of all the heroes except Arthur, who was taken away by the mysterious Lady of the Lake—perhaps to rise again as Britain’s "once and future king." According to some sources, Lancelot died in that final battle, although others say that he survived to become a saintly hermit in his castle, while his beloved Guinevere retired to a convent.
The Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle echoes two more clearly Celtic romances: one from Ireland, that of the heroic leader fionn mac cumhaill, his young follower Diarmait, and the lady Grainne; the other from Cornwall, that of the aging king mark, the fair knight tristan, and his fated lover iseult. In spite of some similarities, the stories have significant differences. The assertive Grainne put a geis or sacred vow upon Diarmait that he must carry her off and later taunted him into sleeping with her, while Guinevere was less forthright in expressing her desire for Lancelot; some have seen the influence of Christianity in her hesitation. The Arthurian material lacks the magical motifs of that of Tristan and Iseult, who fell hopelessly in love after drinking a magic potion intended for the bride to share with king Mark on her wedding night. Thus magically entangled, the couple fought unsuccessfully against their love; the trials of Iseult parallel those with which Guinevere’s virtue was tested.
The similarity of these three stories, all from different Celtic lands, has led scholars to suggest that all derive originally from a myth in which the goddess of sovereignty transfers her love to a new and younger king and thus authorizes his kingship. Lancelot, like Tristan and Diarmait, is selected by the goddess-queen as her next lover. If this were indeed a story of dynastic change, the goddess’s choice would have indicated that a new king was to be installed. From this mythological outline, three Celtic cultures elaborated their own intensely evocative human tales.
In some texts Lancelot is the lover of the Lady of the Lake and, by her, the father of the pure knight galahad. In other tales he was the accidental lover of elaine of Corbenic, by whom he conceived Galahad when, intoxicated, he believed he was sleeping with his beloved Guinevere. Some Arthurian tales do not show Lancelot as Guinevere’s lover but as a faithful servant of the king; this has suggested to scholars that the love triangle was a late development of the myth.
Laoghaire (Loegaire, Leary)
Irish hero. This name is common among Irish heroes, including:
• Laoghaire, son of NIALL of the Nine Hostages. Quasi-historical high king of Ireland, during whose reign St. Patrick lit the beltane fire on slane hill; upon hearing the preaching of Patrick, Laoghaire was instantly converted.
• Laoghaire Buadhach, "Laoghaire the victorious," a hero of the ulster cycle who died rather than let a poet, Aodh, be killed by the angry king concobar mac nessa.
• Laoghaire mac Crimthann, consort of the heroine or sun goddess der greine, whom he won by killing a fearsome giant named goll mac morna. He was lured to the other-world by a young fairy king, Fiachna, who came to beg his aid against an invader. Laoghaire was willing to help, but he found himself trapped, for once in fairyland he was unable to return to home, and he remained there forever.
Irish heroine or goddess. In the province of ulster, this obscure figure is connected with a holy well called Tobar Lasair (Tobar Lastra) where she was celebrated with a festival on April 18. She is more significantly associated with munster, where she similarly is associated with a well that she shared with her sister, the otherwise unknown Ciar. As
Lasair’s name means "flame," while Ciar’s means "extreme darkness," the two may be twins that represent the important cosmological concept of balance or complementarity.
Lasair’s name appears in several groupings of heroines or goddesses. She is said to have been the sister of latiaran and inghean bhuidhe, with whom she lived in a monastic cell at the little town of Cullen in Co. Cork. She later moved to nearby Killasseraugh (Cill Lasaire, "church of Lasair"), where she remains the patron saint of the parish. She was said to have had a holy well near Cullen, but its location has been lost, as has the date of her festival.
Period of Celtic culture. At the region called La Tene ("the shallows") in Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland, one of the greatest of archaeological finds was made by amateur explorers in 1858: a huge deposit of thousands of objects, apparently thrown into the lake as part of a ritual, that ranged from golden torcs to iron cauldrons, from elaborate silver brooches to sacrificed dogs, pigs, and cattle. The horde gave its name to the third period of the developing Celtic culture, the earlier ones being the urnfield and hallstatt; the La Tene period is now divided into three phases, I, II, and II.
Full of spirals and whorling designs, the metal decorations on the art found in the horde, apparently created by a colony of artists on the lakeshore, represent masterpieces of ancient art. Old European or pre-Indo-European designs have been traced in the art of La Tene, as have Greek, Etruscan, Scythian, and even Persian designs, suggesting that the La Tene people were part of a wide network of cultural exchange in the Mediterranean world. Although the artists of La Tene only worked from ca. 500 b.c.e. until ca. 100 c.e., the style lasted until the Norman conquest of Ireland in 1169.
Latiaran (Lateerin, Lateeran)
Irish goddess or heroine. In the tiny town of Cullen in northern Co. Cork, a strange monument is dedicated to Latiaran: a standing stone in the rough shape of a heart, which stands near a diminutive holy well dedicated now to St. Latiaran, a holy woman unknown elsewhere. Local legend has it that she was a woman of such modesty that, when she was carrying some boulders (or hot coals) in her apron and a smith commented approvingly on the shapeliness of her ankles, Latiaran dropped her apron. The standing stone fell out of it, wedging itself upright in the ground, whereupon she disappeared beneath it. The stone, called Latiaran’s heart, can still be seen in a patch of grass near the graveyard in Cullen.
Two aspects of this curious tale suggest an ancient goddess converted into a saint with the coming of christianity. The smith is elsewhere known as a magical being whose exemplar is the god goibniu. The motif of rocks falling from the apron is otherwise found in tales of the world-creating hag, the cailleach. That Latiaran (whose name is untranslatable) was a fire goddess is suggested by the hot coals she carried, as well as the names of her two sisters: lasair ("flame") and inghean bhuidhe ("yellow-haired girl"). Or they may have been seasonal divinities, for they each ruled a different part of the growing seasons: Lasair, the first of spring; Inghean Bhuidhe, the beginning of summer; and Latiaran, the harvesttime, connected with that season by the local tradition that women should curtsy to Latiarin’s heart as they passed during harvest and by the marking of Latiarin’s feast day on the last Sunday in July, the old Celtic festival of lughnasa.
Even today the pattern or ritual to Latiaran brings rural people from around the region to celebrate the harvest. Latiaran Sunday is held on or just before July 25, her feast day. It was the first day for eating potatoes in that region, and the weather was reputed always to be fine.
Latiaran, whose name is found nowhere else but in Cullen, has been interpreted as corrupted diminutive form (from a hypothesized Laisrian) of the better-known Lasair. Both may be variants of the great figure of brigit, who like Latiaran was said to have carried hot coals, in Brigit’s case in the town of Ardagh, where she dropped them at "the little church of Lasair." As Brigit was a goddess connected with fire, it is possible that Lasair and Latiaran were originally titles or local names for her.
Continental goddess. Little is known of this obscure goddess, who has been interpreted as a goddess both of beer and of holy wells.
Continental Celtic god. A few inscriptions bear the name of this obscure god, whom the Romans associated with their warrior divinity mars. His name has not been translated.
Launfal (Sir Launfal, Lanval)
Arthurian hero. In the works of the 12th-century French poet Marie de France we find many Celtic motifs, perhaps derived from the folklore of Brittany. In one of Marie’s most famous compositions, a puritanical knight of king arthur’s court, Launfal, hated the beautiful queen guinevere, to whom he felt morally superior even before she fell in love with the glorious knight lancelot. At her wedding feast, Guinevere snubbed Launfal, prompting him to pack up and move back to his own castle, where he soon spent more than he had. He was in despair of what to do when a fairy lover named Tryamour came to his rescue, providing him with all the riches he needed in exchange for his love. Her one demand was that he never boast of her. He agreed, and they began to enjoy themselves together, he providing love in exchange for a great white horse, a hard-working squire, and an inexhaustible purse.
After seven years, Launfal returned to Camelot. To his surprise the hated Guinevere flirted with him. Once again Launfal became morally indignant and rebuffed her. Infuriated, Guinevere snarled that Launfal was so ugly no woman would ever look at him. Stung, the knight forgot his promise and began to brag to Guinevere of his lady’s beauty and wealth.
As soon as he returned to his quarters, Launfal realized his mistake, for all his wealth had disappeared. To make matters worse, Arthur returned home to discover Guinevere, her clothing disheveled and torn, accusing Launfal of rape. When he explained his side of the story, he was set free for a year, with the demand that he produce his beautiful lady; after a year, Launfal had to return and await condemnation. Unlike every other story of a man who breaks his pledge to a fairy lover, Launfal was saved when Tryamour appeared and took him away to fairyland.
Arthurian hero. A minor character in the tales of king arthur, he was elaine’s brother and a friend of Lancelot.
Law of the Innocents
Celtic custom. One of the oldest extant laws in Scotland is the Law of the Innocents, which provides protection for unarmed civilians during warfare. Written in ca. 700 c.e. by the Christian cleric Adomnan, ninth abbot of iona, the law penalized men who took advantage of war to rape women; some scholars have used this part of the law to argue that Celtic society, far from being fair to women, put them at grave risk with its warrior ways. Others, however, argue that women in Celtic lands did, in fact, have considerable power, which began to decline after Christianization and the arrival of Saxons and Vikings. In either case, the Law of the Innocents was used in the late 1990s by three women who protested against nuclear arms in Scotland by dismantling a Trident submarine control center; they were acquitted by an order to the jury by judge Margaret Gimblett.
Laying the Fairies
Folkloric concept. There was only one way to get rid of fairies: give them something. When fairies, especially brownies, helped human beings, they did so for their own reasons, not to gain money or clothing. Some went naked and departed immediately upon being handed clothing (or hand-knit tiny sweaters). When fairies were driven off by this kind of misguided generosity, the former owner was said to have "laid" them.
Leborcham (Lavercam, Lebarcham, Levarcham, Lebharcham)
Irish heroine. The nurse of the tragic heroine deirdre of the Sorrows, she was born a slave but rose into the ranks of nobility by her wit and strength and finally became a bard. Leborcham was so fleet of foot that she could run the entire length of Ireland in one day and be back by dawn to deliver news, a talent that brought her to the attention of the king of ulster, concobar mac nessa. When the doomed Deirdre was born and Concobar determined to raise her to become his concubine despite predictions that she would cause the downfall of the land, Leborcham was put in charge of the girl’s upbringing and education. It was Leborcham who told Deirdre, struck by the sight of a raven’s blood against snow, of the man whose coloring resembled that sight: noisiu, Deirdre’s fated lover.
Leborcham remained loyal to her charge, and she tried unsuccessfully to warn the girl to leave Ireland after she and her lover had been tricked into returning from their Scottish exile. Unfortunately, Deirdre was already home and unwilling to go back into exile. Leborcham then tried another route: She went to Concobar and told him that her hard life in the wilderness had destroyed Deirdre’s beauty, although she remained as radiant as ever. Alas for the girl, the king chanced to see her again and so realized Leborcham’s deceit. When her lover was killed, Deirdre chose death over remaining as the king’s enslaved consort.
Continental Celtic god. Believed to be of pre-Celtic origin, Leherennus was worshiped in the mountain range of southern France, the Pyrenees; the Romans identified him with their warrior god mars.
Leinster (Laighin, Galian)
Irish province. One of the five ancient divisions of Ireland (with munster, connacht, ulster, and mide), Leinster is the eastern province, where today’s capital city of Dublin is located. It was traditionally associated with prosperity and commerce, as well as nobility, good manners, and hospitality.
Leinster has historically been the richest of Ireland’s provinces, constituting the "pale" of Anglo influence during the English occupation (the source of the expression "beyond the pale," which referred to regions that remained more Celtic). The name derives from an early Celtic people called the Lagin (Laigin, Laighnigh). Today, Leinster includes the counties of Dublin, Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, and Wicklow.
Irish hero. This obscure figure is known from several legends as the smith to the great magician bodb derg. After him, the scenic lakes of Killarney in Co. Kerry are called, in Irish, Loch Lein.
Minor Irish hero. One of the several craft gods of ancient Ireland, Len Lmfiaclach lived in a lake where he devoted himself to crafting beautiful objects for fand, daughter of the wilderness goddess flidais and one of Ireland’s most powerful fairy queens. To do his work, Len Linfiaclach threw his anvil every night toward the east. As it traveled, it left three trails: one of water, one of fire, and one of purple jewels, which Len Linfiaclach gathered for his creations.
Continental Celtic god. Equated by the Romans with mars, who was god of both war and agriculture, Lenumius is known from some inscriptions, but we have little other information about him.
Continental and insular Celtic god. In Gaul and parts of Britain, Lenus was invoked as the ancestral god of the Treveri tribe. Statues show him standing next to a large bird, perhaps a goose; the juxtaposition may indicate his own powers or his partnering with a goose goddess.
Arthurian hero. This otherwise obscure character was the father of the great beauty guinevere, who became the wife of his ally, king arthur.
Leprechaun (leipreachan, luracan, luchraman, luchragan, luchorpan, lupracanaig, lurikeen)
Irish folkloric figure. The most familiar Irish fairy is today depicted as a dwarfish man with green clothing who knows the location of the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. One of many species of Irish fairy, the leprechaun was a solitary sort (see solitary fairies), encountered far less frequently than the more common trooping fairies, who danced and sang and led travelers astray. Finding the leprechaun was only the first step to finding his treasure, for then one had to extract that information from him. The only way to do so was to trap and hold the little man, keeping him clearly in sight. The leprechaun’s favorite trick to get out of such a trap was to claim that a monster approached, prompting his captor to look up momentarily, whereupon the leprechaun disappeared.
The leprechaun’s name comes from leith brogan, the maker of the brogan or shoe; he was the fairy’s shoemaker (sometimes tailor), an industrious being rather like the Scottish and British brownie, except that he rarely worked for anyone but himself, whereas the Brownie was a volunteer farm laborer. Of a somewhat surly disposition, the leprechaun could become downright malicious when crossed, so it was considered important to be polite when dealing with one.
There is some evidence that this fairy figure had a mythological antecedent: the important and all-talented god lugh, sometimes called the shoemaker Lugh-chromain, "little stooped Lugh." As patron of the arts and of treasure, Lugh was diminished after Christianization (see christianity) and remained in this folklore figure. The book of invasions also mentions a race of small-bodied monsters begotten by the biblical Noah’s son Ham because his father had cursed him; these may have provided a mythic template for the leprechaun.
The leprechaun appears in some literary works, most notably the early 20th-century comic novel Crock of Gold by Dubliner James Stevens, which was the basis for the popular American musical (and later movie) Finian’s Rainbow.
Cuinn, Leth Moga Irish geographical divisions. Along the eiscir riada, the great glacial ridge that divides Ireland from Dublin to Galway, the land was once divided between the leaders conn of the Hundred Battles to the north and eogan mor (under his name of Mug Nuadat) to the south. The northern region was called Leth Cuinn, while the southern region was Leth Moga. This is one of several ancient divisions of Ireland, the most common being the division into the five provinces.
Irish heroine or goddess. This name appears in the dindshenchas, the place-name poetry of Ireland, as the daughter of the great king of the province of ulster, concobar mac nessa. She was carried off by a party of warriors in the service of a minor king, Fothad. The obscure tale points to a form of the goddess of sovereignty, who establishes a man in kingship when he mates with her. The name also appears as a compound name for medb, the great warrior queen whose connection to the sovereignty goddess has been well established.
Leucetius (Loucetius, Leucetius)
Continental Celtic and British god. Known from a few inscriptions in continental Gaul and Britain, Leucetius was the consort of a better-known divinity, the goddess of sacred groves named nemetona. An inscription to the pair was found at the healing shrine of bath, called by the Romans aquae sulis, suggesting that Leucetius may have been a healing god. In Gaul, Leucetius was considered a form of mars, perhaps as a healing divinity, for the warrior Mars was sometimes pictured fighting off disease. Leucetius’s name includes the syllable for "bright" or "shining" and has been interpreted to mean "lightning."
Folkloric belief. The belief that there are invisible lines of power that run beneath the earth and connect ancient sites of power is a modern myth whose beginnings can be traced to the works of the writer Alfred Watkins, who charted in 1925 what he dubbed "the old straight path." Watkins believed that he had discovered an ancient form of geomancy or earth-energy tracking, indigenous to Britain. There is no mythological or other folkloric evidence of such a belief. In addition, the sites are so widely disparate in both time and place that few real "straight tracks" can be traced. There is no evidence that ley lines, under any name, were part of Celtic belief.
Liadan ^adan, Liadhain, L^dain)
Irish heroine. The bard Liadan came from the Irish region most connected with music and song, the southwestern province of munster. Another poet, Cuirithir, fell in love with her while she was making a poet’s circuit of the island, but she refused to interrupt her tour and declined his advances, instead inviting him to visit her at home in Co. Kerry. When he did not appear, she entered a convent. She soon regretted her decision but then found that Cuirithir had become a priest. This ended the possibility of consummation of their love, although their confessor suggested that they sleep together chastely as a proof of their holiness. When Cuirithir was exiled for seeking out Liadan, she died of grief at his praying stone. The story, although Christian, has many Celtic echoes, including the position of women as poets and the testing of the virtue of the lovers (also found in the story of lancelot and guinevere) by having them sleep together without giving in to their passion.
Lia Fail (Lia Fal)
Irish mythological object. One of four great magical implements of the tuatha de danann, the people of the goddess danu, the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny was a great stone pillar that shrieked when touched by the true king. It came from the other-world, from the magical city of Falias. (The Tuatha De’s other magical objects, each from a different Otherworld city, were a spear that never missed, an invincible sword, and an inexhaustible cauldron.) The Lia Fail was said to stand on the great hill of tara in Ireland, where it was used in inauguration ceremonies of the high king. A stone still stands on Tara hill, but there is some dispute as to whether it is the true Lia Fail. For one thing, legends claim that the true Lia Fail has been long resident in the oth-erworld, where it was taken when its owners were banished from the surface world, and that the stone in this world is a substitute. Other legends state that the true Lia Fail is now in Scotland. In the sixth century c.e., Tara’s king muircertach mac erc loaned the Lia Fail to his Scottish brother, fergus mor, who then refused to send it back; it became the Stone of Scone (Sgain), which was stolen by the English king Edward I after the fall of Macbeth (1057) and installed under the throne at Westminster Abbey, serving for centuries as the inauguration stone and authorizing symbol of English monarchs (though not, reportedly, shrieking). The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 after several earlier attempts by Scottish nationalists to recover it.
Still other versions of this story have it that the Scottish Stone of Scone is not the Irish Lia Fail at all but a stone that came from Egypt. It had its own magical power, having been hallowed in ancient time when the biblical Jacob slept upon it and dreamed of angels ascending to heaven.
Irish hero. There are several figures in Irish mythology who bear this name. One was a member of the race of nemed, who cut down all the trees on the hill of tara so that corn could grow there, after which the hill was called Druin Leith in his honor. The other (who may be the same figure) loved a woman named bri but was prevented by their deaths from wedding her; their names live on in the double name of bri leith, given to one of the great fairy mounds of Ireland.
Irish mythological animal. The "gray of macha" was the name of the favorite horse of the ulster hero cuchulainn; the steed, which magically arose from a lake, was a gift from Macha, the primary goddess of Ulster.
L Ban (Liban)
Irish heroine. The story of the mermaid Li Ban ("finest of women" or "beauty of womanhood") was first recorded in the annals of ireland in the 17th century but was said to date to the 6th century. Variously described as the daughter of the king of Tara, aed abrat, or of the obscure Ecca (her mother is not named, but may have been etain), Li Ban was swept away by a flood that resulted from someone’s failing to cover a sacred well. As a result, the well swelled and overflowed until it destroyed the kingdom of Aed Abrat, drowning him and most of his family. Only Li Ban survived, together with her little lapdog, both of whom were caught within an underwater bubble where they lived for a year. Watching the playful salmon, so comfortable in the element that trapped her, Li Ban prayed to become a fish.
Her wish was granted: She was turned into a mermaid with a salmon’s tail and a woman’s torso and head. Her pet dog became an otter, and together the pair swam in the waters of lough neagh for 300 years. During that time, Ireland became Christian—a common folkloric motif also found in the stories of another transformed maiden, fionnuala, and in that of oisin who lived in fairyland with the queen niamh of the Golden Hair.
At the end of three centuries, Li Ban called out to a passing boat, entreating the men she saw to capture her and instructing them to meet her on the shores at Inver Ollarbha. In that boat was a priest, Beoc, who first went to Rome on an errand, then arranged for the mermaid’s capture. She was hauled up and kept in a half-submerged boat, so that she could swim until it had been determined what should be done with this miraculous maiden. At first the local kings and priests argued over who had the right to claim her, but angels instructed them to wait until two oxen (or stags) appeared—and then to trust that the beasts would haul the maiden to the territory in which she belonged. The miraculous oxen did, indeed, appear and carried Li Ban to the church of the priest who had first found her, Beoc. There she asked to be baptized so that she might die immediately and ascend to heaven, whereupon her wish was answered and she was named Murgen, "sea-born." Dying immediately, she became a saint and was regarded as a holy virgin.
This mixture of pagan and Christian elements shows how ancient divinities were brought into the domain of the new religion. L^ Ban was probably once a goddess like boand and sinann, two other divinities whose myths involve a well magically overflowing. Her original myth, however, is probably hopelessly lost under the accretion of Christian motifs.
Another (perhaps originally the same) L^ Ban was a fairy queen, consort of the ruler of mag mell, "the honeyed plain," and sister of the great fairy beauty fand; she and her husband, beset by monstrous fomorians, set in motion one of Ireland’s greatest love stories when they asked the hero cuchulainn to save them. He did so, but he fell in love with Fand—the only love affair that threatened the durability of his marriage to the paragon of womanhood, emer.
British fairy. Licke is named, in several texts, as a small fairy who worked as a cook in the otherworld.
Irish heroine. The goddess of the River Liffey (see ana life) and of the plain (Mag L^fe) through which it flows, L^fe was described in the place-poetry of ancient Ireland, the dind-shenchas, as a sweet, hardworking, pleasant woman who died giving birth at Port Agmar in Aran, whereupon her consort, the otherwise unknown Deltbanna, son of Drucht, died of grief.
Another story says that Deltbanna was her husband, and that L^fe was a Pictish woman who crossed the lovely plain through which the Liffey now flows. The river was called at the time Ruitheach, "the flashy torrent," and L^fe said that its prospect was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Deltbanna immediately named the plain for her, and the river took its name from that affectionate act.
Cosmological concept. The Celts saw this world as impinging upon or existing parallel to an otherworld of spirits, fairies, and divinities. Places that were not quite one thing, not quite another—twilight and dawn, the turning days of the year, geographical sites like bogs and lakes and misty islands—were the points of exchange between these two worlds. Such lim-inal (literally, "shadowy") places and times were very important in Celtic myth and ritual. On samhain and beltane, the year’s most powerful days on November 1 and May 1, respectively, visitations from the Otherworld could be expected; passing at twilight near a fairy mound on either day amplified the liminality and thus made one subject to fairy kidnapping.
Archaeological find. In the bog near the British town of Lindow, one of the most important and baffling Celtic archaeological finds was made in 1984: a human body, preserved by the bog’s tannic water, which appeared to be that of a human sacrifice who had suffered the threefold death of Irish legend. Whether this man died in ancient times because of some offense or as an offering to remove famine or plague is impossible to determine, but the find has given rise to significant research.
Arthurian hero. This minor knight of the round table was a cousin of the superlative lancelot.
Irish mythological site. The term lios is often used to describe hillforts and stone circles in Ireland. One site of that name is especially renowned, as it is the largest stone circle in the land, with a circumference of almost 160 feet. Near the mythologically significant lough gur, the huge circle dates from as much as 4,000 years before the Celts arrived in Ireland. Like many such structures, it is astronomically aligned, in this case to the setting of the moon at midsummer.
Irish hero. The great Irish sea god manannan was called "mac Lir," meaning "son of Lir," but it is not entirely clear who Lir was. Some have described him as an earlier sea god who was absorbed into an invading people’s mythology by being named as the antecedent or father of one of their own gods. Despite the similarity of names, Lir has nothing to do with the Shakespearean King Lear, who may be based on the Welsh god lludd, whom Shakespeare may have confounded with llyr, another Welsh divinity. Lir may be the same as or distinct from the king of the same name, whose children were turned to swans (see children of lir) by their evil stepmother, in one of the three sorrows of ireland. The story, one of the most familiar in Irish legend today, is not ancient but arrived from Britain or France in the Middle Ages; however, it has many motifs and themes that are typically Celtic, such as shape-shifting and magical incantations.
Irish mythological site. In the small town of Liscannor near the renowned Cliffs of Moher, a holy well dedicated to the goddess turned-saint brigit gathers the faithful on February 1, Brigit’s feast day and the Celtic feast of imbolc or spring’s awakening. A pattern of circular transits up and down a hillside precedes a visit to the well itself; the well’s waters trickle down the rocky wall of the well house, which penetrates to within the hill, an unusual location that has led scholars to theorize that the original figure to whom the well was devoted was a goddess, rather than a saint.
That goddess was probably not Brigit, for the dedication of the well to her is relatively recent. Until the 1950s, the pattern day was on lugh-nasa, the old Celtic harvest feast on August 1. That day is associated with goddesses like tailtiu who died while giving birth—a representation of the vegetation’s death to provide life—and to the hag of harvest, the cailleach. The nearby cliffs are called, in Irish, Ceann na Caillghe, "the hag’s head," reportedly because the hag mal leapt from their top to her death. Some local legends connect this hag with the monster called the ollipheist.
Continental Celtic goddess. Not much is known of this goddess, whose name seems connected with words for "earth" or "broad," suggesting that she was a deity of the wide world. She was sometimes described as the consort of the god cicollus, whom the Romans saw as similar to their god mars, but she was not herself renamed by the invading legions.
Symbolic food. Scottish Highlanders historically had a superstitious aversion to liver, which was considered inedible. Not even monsters like water horses ate their victims’ livers, which were sometimes the only trace of the unfortunate human meal left at the scene of a disappearance.
Arthurian hero. This obscure figure was said to have been an illegitimate son of king arthur.
Llassar Llaesgyfnewid (Llassar Llaes Gyfne-wid)
Welsh god. A relatively obscure Welsh giant, he owned a cauldron that figures importantly in the collection of Welsh myths called the mabinogion, for it had the power to regenerate the bodies of slain warriors. The evil Evnyssen employed the cauldron’s power in his people’s great but ill-fated battle with the Irish. Llassar’s wife, cymideicymeinfoll, was a cauldron of war herself; every six weeks a fully armored warrior sprang from her womb. Some interpreters claim that the cauldron belonged to Cymidei rather than to her husband.
Welsh hero or god. In Welsh myth, this king ruled on the Continent while his brother, lludd, ruled Britain. He came to Lludd’s aid in ridding Britain of three plagues.
Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Llew Llaw Gyffes)
Welsh god or hero. When the goddess arian-rhod sought to become king math’s foot-holder—an office previously held by the maiden goewin, whose rape rendered her unsuitable to perform the sacred duties—she was tested to ensure her virginity. To Arianrhod’s surprise and horror, as she stepped over Math’s magical rod, she bore two children. One, dylan, disappeared immediately into the sea; the other, an unformed ball of flesh, was snatched up by Arianrhod’s brother, the poet gwydion, who put it in a magical chest where it formed finally into a child—a boy, who may have been Gwidion’s own son, born of his love for Arianrhod.
It was a mother’s right to name her children, and Arianrhod angrily refused to name the premature babe born through trickery. So Gwydion tricked his sister again, forcing her to grant the name Lleu Llaw Gyffes—"bright one of the skilful hand"—to the boy. Similarly, it was her right to arm him with weapons, and here again Gwydion tricked Arianrhod so that Lleu could be outfitted as a warrior. Finally she cursed her mysterious son, declaring that he should never wed a human woman. Once again, Gwydion tricked his sister, this time with Math’s help. The two men formed a woman out of flowers, and so Lleu was married to blodeuwedd, the aptly named "flower-face."
Unfortunately, Lleu had no happiness with his wife. She soon took a lover and began to plot how to be rid of him. Because Lleu was protected from harm by the strange fact that he could never be killed when inside or outside, while on horseback or afoot, Blodeuwedd challenged him to stand under a thatched roof by the side of a river, with his foot on a deer. Lleu took the dare. Standing in this unlikely position, Lleu received his death-blow and sailed away in the form of an eagle. His murderer did not go free; she was turned into the nocturnal owl.
Many scholars have seen Lleu as a parallel divinity to the Irish lugh, although the complex story has little in common with those told of its alleged Irish cousin.
Lludd (St. Lludd)
Welsh saint or goddess. Christianity, employing the same adoption of native divinities that the Roman legions earlier practiced, "converted" many ancient divinities, calling them saints but keeping their symbols, and sometimes even their narratives, intact. Thus we find that when Lludd was decapitated for her holiness, her head rolled down a hill; where it stopped, a healing spring gushed forth. The motif of the miraculous head is typically Celtic, as is the power ascribed to healing wells. Behind this Welsh saint, therefore, an early goddess may hide.
Welsh god or hero. Several figures in Welsh mythology bear this name; they may be aspects or echoes of each other or distinct figures, although it is difficult to disentangle them. The most important is Lludd Llaw Ereint (nudd), an ancient British king whose brother llefelys ruled on the Continent; the two were sons of beli, god of death. According to the early historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, it was Lludd who built London, but the god behind this alleged king can be detected by Geoffrey’s description of a temple dedicated to him (on the site of today’s St. Paul’s, near the old entrance to the city called Ludgate).
Three plagues struck Britain while Lludd was king: a race of demons called the Corianiad; two dragons; and a giant magician. With his brother’s help, Lludd defeated all three, setting poisonous insects lose on the Corianiad, getting the dragons drunk so that they were easy to kill, and killing the magician in mortal combat. It is believed that this ancient royal character inspired William Shakespeare in his play King Lear, but he confused Lludd’s name with the similar Welsh figure llyr.
Llwch Llawwyanawc (Llwch Lleminawc, Llwch Llenllawc)
Welsh hero. This minor character in Welsh legend bore a flaming sword as he led king arthur through the dim other-world.
Welsh god. Not much is known about this ancient god, who may be the same as the Irish sea god lir. Some scholars interpret Llyr as an underworld or otherworld divinity, but as the Celts often described the Otherworld as an island in the sea or as a land beneath the waves, these two interpretations are not necessarily in conflict. The Welsh Llyr was father of the hero manawydan, with the great mother goddess don’s daughter penarddun; he also sired the warrior bran the blessed and the love goddess branwen, with the queen named Iweriadd (Ireland).
In some texts Llyr appears as a human king, Llyr Llediath, "Llyr of the foreign accent," while in later folklore he was Christianized as a saint who was buried under the River Sahr, an appropriate site for an ancient water divinity.
Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions a King Leir, on whom Shakespeare is assumed to have based his memorable mad king.
Arthurian heroine. The foul and ugly hag who appears in some Arthurian tales is a form of the ancient goddess of sovereignty, who becomes a blooming young woman when kissed by the rightful king; she also recalls the great pre-Celtic figure of the cailleach, the weather-controlling giant. In some legends of the sacred grail, she appears as the figure who asks candidates the mysterious questions that test their purity. Variously known as Cundrie and as lady ragnell, the Loathy Lady inspired the medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his "Wife of Bath’s Tale."
British folkloric spirit. Like hob, the syllable lob appears in many British fairy names. Lob-Lie-by-the-Fire was a big brownie who did hard farm labor despite his lazy name. The term lubber (as in "landlubber") descends from this term and was used to describe people who were so distracted from ordinary life that they were clumsy and foolish.
Buadach. Irish hero. Minor figure in the story of the feast of briccriu.
Location of Otherworld
Cosmological concept. The Celtic otherworld was a place of the dead, the gods, and the fairy people, but it was neither above nor below our earth, where the Christian description locates heaven and hell. Rather it existed in a parallel universe, not entirely separate from our world but not within it either. This contiguous world was believed to be reached through portals in either time or space (see liminality). Temporally, the dates of samhain on November 1 and its opposite feast of beltane on May 1 were considered to be open to the Otherworld; in this world, borderland places like bogs and islands served as the same kind of doorway. Within the Otherworld, time moved differently than in this world; people who spent a night there might return to discover a hundred years had passed on earth.
Irish heroine. Handmaiden to queen medb of connacht, she was killed in the great cattle raid on ulster described in the Irish epic, the tain bo cuailnge.
Lochlann (Lochlanns, Lochlannachs)
Irish mythological site. In some texts, this appears as the name of the northern land of the fomori-ans, the opponents of the magical tuatha de danann and several other mythological Irish races. Occasionally the Fomorians are called the Lochlanns or Lochlannachs. Some scholars have interpreted Lochlann as Denmark and lower Scandinavia; the Fomorian capital city of Berva, mentioned in some tales, is otherwise unknown and believed to be entirely legendary.
Scottish folkloric figure. This water fairy of the Hebrides, like the similar habetrot, was a spinner, an appropriate skill for a matron spirit of a region where tweed-making was an important economic role for women. Loireag was small and plain but fierce, giving trouble if any rituals connected with spinning, warping, weaving, or washing were neglected. She was also a musician with a sweet voice—again, something to be expected in a region where women sang as they performed their textile labors, as can be seen in the famous "waulking songs" of Scotland, whose heavy rhythm accompanied the equally rhythmic work of preparing cloth.
Long Man (Long Man of Wilmington)
British folkloric site. On Windover Hill in East Sussex, a figure of a man holding two immense staffs is carved into the white chalk soil. At 226 feet, it is even taller than the cerne abbas giant (although it lacks that figure’s notable sexual organ). The Long Man may represent some unknown god of the Celts or a pre-Celtic people. Local legend has it that the outline was traced around the body of a real giant after he was killed on the hillside by pilgrims; the tale may recall Christian opposition, which may also have resulted in the figure’s emasculation.
Arthurian hero. A young knight of camelot, Lorois encountered a court of mounted women while riding through the woods one day—beautiful damsels, entirely nude, with flowers in their hair. Riding beside them were their lovers astride strong horses. Behind that splendid party came another, more pitiful one: a hundred thin women dressed in black and riding scrawny horses, who were accompanied by thunder and snow as they rode, followed at a distance by a hundred men of similar appearance. The first group were those who had opened themselves to love, while the second group had refused it.
Losses of the year Scottish and Irish ritual. At samhain, the Celtic festival on November 1 that marked the end of one year and the beginning of another, many rituals and games of divination sought to discover the "losses of the year": whether the coming year would be a happy one with few losses, or a difficult one with many losses. In Scotland the tradition moved to hog-many on January 1, when the evil of the past year was expunged by a thorough cleaning and the first footer foretold the coming year’s luck.
Irish heroine. A fierce warrior woman of the unearthly fomorians, Lot led her people in their war against their enemy, the people of partholon. As with most Fomorians, she was described as improbably ugly, with lips on her breasts and four eyes on her back.
Arthurian hero. A minor character in Arthurian legend, he was the husband of king arthur’s half sister morgause and father of the knight of the round table, gawain. His part in the action is mainly through his sons, since he fell to the powerful king pellinore in Arthur’s battle for the throne; the sons of the two kings feuded thereafter.
Loughcrew (Sliab na Cailleach)
Irish mythological site. A great megalithic burial center in Co. Meath, near the center of Ireland, Loughcrew is connected in legend to the great hag, the cailleach, and its Irish name means "mountain of the hag." There are a number of passage graves and other ritual sites on the several hills that make up the Loughcrew complex, one of Ireland’s oldest and richest in graphic ornamentation—spirals, starbursts, meanders, and other designs are carved into the granite rock. On the side of one hill is the Hag’s Chair, a grouping of rocks that form a seat from which one can see several distant counties. Atop that hill is a decorated cairn oriented to the sunrise on spring and fall equinox.
Irish mythological site. The legends about Lough Derg in Co. Donegal claim that it was occupied by a great monster (or serpent) called caoranach, whose massacre by st. patrick bloodied the lake waters (hence its name, "dark red lake"). Another lake of the same name is found in Co. Galway, where the great magician of the tuatha de danann, bodb derg, was said to have had his palace.
Since Ireland became Christian, Donegal’s Lough Derg has been the most significant place of pilgrimage, especially to St. Patrick’s Purgatory on Station Island, where the saint was said to have descended through a cave to an otherworld in order to do battle with evil. The legend, however, does not date from early Christian times but to the medieval period. In the late 16th century pilgrims were housed in dormitories according to their province, so that the island formed a microcosm of all Ireland. The site continues to attract pilgrims today.
Irish mythological site. This small lake in Co. Limerick, inhabited for almost 6,000 years, is surrounded by low hills, each of them connected with a goddess (see aine) or god (see donn firinne). Site of the largest extant stone circle in Ireland, the Grange, the lake is believed to be an entrance to the otherworld, a belief common to Celtic lands where water was seen as the dividing line between this world and that of the fairies.
The many legends connected with the lake emphasize a cycle of time, usually seven years. Each time that cycle passes, distinctive events occur. The lake empties of water, and passersby see a tree growing from its bottom, covered with a green cloth; beneath it, a woman named toice bhrean sits knitting. The goddess or fairy queen Aine is similarly seen at Lough Gur each time the seven-year cycle ends, as is her enchanted son geroid iarla, born to her after her affair with Maurice, earl of Desmond, who saw her swimming in the form of a swan and stole her cloak in order to capture her. As with other such marriages, the groom was put under a taboo by the bride, in this case to show no surprise, no matter what their son might do. Maurice forgot himself when, at a banquet, the now-grown Geroid shrank himself into a tiny being and leaped into a bottle, then out again, resuming his regular size. The moment Maurice called out in amazement, Geroid disappeared into Lough Gur, appearing on its surface as a goose. Every seven years, he emerges from his fairy residence on the island named for him, Garrod Island, and takes on human form as he leaves the lake. He rides a white horse and leads the wild hunt across the land.
Other legends tell of a fairy housekeeper who appears on the chair-shaped ancient monument called the Suidheachan or "housekeeper’s seat" near the lake. The housekeeper once fell asleep when the dwarf harper, Aine’s brother fer i, stole her comb (a female anatomical symbol, suggesting the theft might have been a rape), whereupon the housekeeper cursed the cattle of the region as well as the dwarf. Fer I returned the comb, but to no avail, for the curse held and he died. The housekeeper, or another fairy woman, is believed to "steal"—drown—a human in the lake waters once every seven years. The lands around the lake are believed to be the territory of the fairy race, who frequently kidnap children from its shores.
Irish mythological site. This large lake in the northern province of ulster was originally a well, but when a careless woman left the lid off, the well waters exploded and formed the lake. In the process, the family of the maiden li ban drowned, leaving the girl alone beneath the waves with her little lapdog. Watching fish frolic about her, L^ Ban prayed to be turned into one; she was instantly transformed into a mermaid with a salmon’s tail, and her little dog became an otter. Other stories from the region say that a magical city appears on clear days beneath the lake’s waves, and that the folkloric finn mccool formed the lake when he scooped up a handful of dirt and threw it after an escaping giant, the lake being the hollow left by Finn’s hand, and the Isle of Man, the clod of dirt he threw.
Irish mythological site. A lake by this name, formed by the great River Shannon, is said to have a city in its depths, visible on clear days. It was on its shores that the great queen and goddess medb was killed by her nephew furbaide ferbend in retaliation for her murder of his mother, her sister clothra.
Manx god. On the Isle of Man, the god known in other Celtic lands as lugh or lugos was called Luan; he was an agricultural divinity whose feast was on the major Celtic holiday of lughnasa on August 1.
Irish heroine. Her name means "speedy foot," and she was aptly named, for this warrior woman was the fastest runner in Ireland. She took in a nephew at whose birth she had been midwife, a boy who would grow up to become the hero fionn mac cumhaill, when he needed protection against those envious of his great potential. In her forest home, Luaths Lurgann trained the boy in the martial arts. Fionn was devoted to his aunt, but he accidentally killed her when, pursued by an enemy, he picked her up and ran to safety. Fionn ran so fast that the wind, tearing through the warrior woman’s body, ripped her to shreds, leaving only her thighbones, which Fionn used to dig a lake, still called with her name, Loch Lurgann.
British folkloric figure. Although not known from other sources, this character appears in the work of the great English poet John Milton, who in L’Allegro describes a "drudging Goblin" who threshed corn "that ten day-laborers could not end" before lying down by the fire to sleep off his labors until dawn, at which time he disappeared. This "fiend" seems a friendly brownie or perhaps a lubber (see lob), but the Puritan language of the time led Milton to describe his helpful fairy farmhand in negative terms.
Arthurian hero. One of the most trusted members of king arthur’s court, Lucan served as his butler throughout his reign and was by his side at the battle of camlan when Arthur was wounded. Despite that fatal cut, Lucan attempted to save his king and died doing so.
Irish god. One of the minor gods of craftsmanship, Luchtar was the brother of the smith goibniu. Ruler of carpentry, Luchtar crafted the spearshafts for the gods of the tuatha de danann, the people of the goddess danu, in their fight against the monstrous fomorians, in the mythological second battle of mag tuired.
Lugaidh (Lugaid, Lughaidh)
Irish hero. Several Irish heroes bear this name:
• Lugaidh Laighde (Loigde), who had five brothers, all named Lugaidh. The brothers were out hunting when they encountered a hag guarding a well, who demanded that one of them sleep with her. All but Lugaidh Laighde pulled away in disgust, but he made love to her. Pleased with his abilities, the hag turned into a lovely young maiden who revealed herself to him as the goddess of sovereignty.
• Lugaidh mac Con Roi, son of cu roi and enemy of cuchulainn. He is sometimes said to be the son of blathnat and to have hated Cuchulainn because his mother betrayed his father for that hero. He gave Cuchulainn a fatal javelin-thrust, then allowed him to die with dignity, decapitating the dying hero as he propped himself upright against a pillar stone. Lugaidh was then killed by conall Cernach.
• Lugaidh, friend of Ailill mac Mata, who killed fergus mac Roich. The great warrior Fergus had incurred Ailill’s enmity by becoming the favorite lover of queen/goddess medb, and Lugaidh and Ailill discovered the lovers swimming nude one day. Despite his blindness, the warrior-poet Lugaidh hurled his spear at Fergus and killed him.
• Lugaidh Riab nDerg (Lugaigh of the Red Stripes) was the son of clothra, medb’s sister. Three brothers impregnated Clothra at the same time, and Lugaidh was the son of all three. Three red stripes across his body delineated which part of his body had been sired by which brother.
• Lugaidh mac Conn, foster son and enemy of the munster ruler ailill Olom, who defeated Ailill’s army at the battle of mag mucramhan. Lugaidh later tried to apologize to the Munster king, but Ailill infected him with his poisoned breath, and the hero died.
Lugh (Lug, Luga, Lui Lavada, Lugh Lamfhoda, Lugh Samildanach) Irish god. One of the great heroes of Irish mythology, Lugh was the grandson of the frightening fomorian king balor of the Evil Eye. A prophet had warned Balor that he would be killed by his grandson, but the Fomorian believed he could keep himself immortally safe by assuring that his daughter never saw a man, much less had intercourse with one. cian foiled that plan by dressing as a woman to sneak into the tower where Lugh’s mother eithne was held captive. Eithne had triplet sons—a motif that suggests that Lugh was originally a multiple god—but only one lived. And that grandson Lugh did, indeed, kill his grandfather, because he had been raised among the tuatha de danann and fought on their side in the mythological second battle of mag tuired.
Other sources call Lugh a son of the dagda, the great fertility god of Ireland. In the book of invasions, we are told that Lugh gained his title of "many-skilled" when he arrived at tara and entreated its king to permit him to join the Tuatha De Danann, proclaiming that he had already fostered with one of them, the sea god manannan mac lir. The Tuatha De were at first unwilling to accept Lugh. When they asked why they should accept him, he said he was a good carpenter, but they already had one of those. Lugh then said he was a smith, but there was already a smith in residence too. bard, harper, historian, hero, magician—all of these already lived with the Tuatha De Danann at Tara. Did they have anyone who was skilled in all these arts, Lugh asked. The gods had to admit that they did not, and so Lugh was admitted to their company and dubbed Samildanch, "the one of many skills."
Lugh’s second title, Lamfhoda, "of the long arms," came not because his arms dragged on the ground but because his weapons extended his reach beyond other warriors’ abilities. Lugh’s prowess with the javelin and sling made him a fierce opponent, as his grandfather Balor learned when they met in battle. The fact that Lugh was generally recognized as a harvest god suggests that this battle with Balor was part of a mythic cycle whose meaning is now lost but that may have depicted a seasonal change. For it was Lugh who led the Tuatha De against the Fomorians in that great final battle. After winning the campaign, Lugh decided to spare the life of the half-Fomorian king bres, in exchange for agricultural information—another connection between Lugh and the seasonal cycle that culminates in harvest.
Lugh has been described as cognate with other Celtic gods: lleu llaw gyffes in Wales and lugos in Gaul. He is sometimes described as a solar divinity because of the brightness of his face; some contend that his name is connected to the Latin word for light, lux. Lugh is more accurately described as a god of arts and crafts, his name probably deriving from the Celtic word lugio, for "oath," as Lugh oversaw the keeping of promises. He may have migrated from the Continent after the Celts had moved to Ireland, the story of his arrival at the door of Tara a mythic memory of his assimilation into the gods of the land.
Lugh’s heritage runs through
Irish mythology: he was the father of ulster’s greatest hero, cuchulainn, whom he sired on the human woman dechtire. Lugh fought beside his son during the great tain bo cuailnge, but as Celtic power in Ireland waned, so did Lugh’s reputation. conn of the Hundred Battles, king of Tara, waited within a druid’s fog as Lugh prophesied the king’s future, but thereafter Lugh disappeared from Ireland. Some believe he went undercover, appearing as the folkloric craftsman, the leprechaun, whose name has been translated as "little stooping Lugh."
(Lammas, Lughnasadh, Lughnasad, Garland Sunday, Crom Dudb Sunday, Bilberry Sunday; on the Isle of Man, Laa Lhuanys; in Wales, Calan Awst) Celtic festival. The four great feasts of the Celtic year ended with Lughnasa, the harvest festival on August 1; the next feast, samhain, marked the beginning of the new year. Named for the god lugh, Lughnasa was noted among the continental Celts as the time when the great Council of the Gauls was held. In 12 b.c.e. the Roman emperor Augustus demanded that the great assembly meet at the altar dedicated to the god at Lyons (a town named for Lugh), thus both asserting his power over the subjugated Celts and implying that he could substitute for the great Lugh in Celtic worship.
In Ireland the festival was said to have been created by Lugh in honor of his mother, the goddess tailtiu, who died on that day and in whose name an athletic contest was held. Some sources give the name of Lugh’s mother as balor’s daughter eithne and call Tailtiu his foster mother; yet other sources say that Lugh established the festival in honor of his two wives, Bui (a cow goddess) and nas (otherwise unknown, but connected with the word for "assembly"), a combination of words that together present a good picture of a cattle fair.
Primarily a harvest festival, Lughnasa was also a ritual of propitiation of awesome powers that might endanger the harvest, and it was celebrated with fairs and gatherings, some of which continue today. Although the actual date of the Celtic feast was August 1, the change of calendars from Julian to Gregorian in the Middle Ages affected Lughnasa more than the other festivals. Vestigial Lughnasa celebrations are still found in previously Celtic lands, stretching across a full month from late July through mid-August. Scholars occasionally argue over the designation of a festival as related to Lughnasa, but they have in common a focus on celebration of first fruits and the sale of livestock. In England Lughnasa festivals are found at Britford Fair at Warminster on August 11 and at Highworth Fair on August 13, both sheep fairs.
Lughnasa fairs were times at which contracts were established, possibly reflecting Lugh’s ancient role as a sponsor and guarantor of oaths. One of these was the betrothal or marriage contract, including that kind of trial marriage called a teltown marriage, whereby the couple plighted themselves until the following Lughnasa, at which point the bond could be made permanent or broken without consequences.
On the Isle of Man the great fair of Santon was celebrated on August 1, when people gathered to sell produce and livestock. Visiting of holy wells was also common, as was the climbing of mountains; Snaefell Mountain was the favored destination, and tales abounded of indecent behavior that took place among young people enjoying the Lughnasa holiday there.
In Wales Lughnasa is called Calan Awst or "August Festival" and is traditionally marked by climbing hills to gather berries. A Welsh tradition claims that Lughnasa was the day that the biblical maiden, Jephtha’s unnamed daughter, went to the mountains to bemoan that she would be killed before losing her virginity; this story, like Manx rumors of sexual indiscretions, suggests that enjoyment of sexuality in the open air was part of the festival.
In Ireland the Sunday nearest that date is still traditionally celebrated as marking the harvest. Variously called Garland Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, and Crom Derg Sunday (after an early harvest god), the festival is called Reek Sunday in Co. Mayo after the "reek" or mountain, croagh patrick, where the greatest Lughnasa celebration is now held. As many as 60,000 pilgrims climb the pyramidal peak beside the sea on the Sunday nearest Lughnasa; local tradition has it that pilgrims are guaranteed heaven if they make the climb three times. Once they have ascended the peak, today’s Christian pilgrims find not only a chapel dedicated to st. patrick, who reputedly fought with forces of evil at that site, but ruins of neolithic structures, suggesting that the site was sacred to pre-Celtic people, while the designation of Lughnasa for the climb indicates that the mountain continued to be sacred to the Celts as well.
There are dozens of Lughnasa mountains around Ireland, including Mount Brandon in Kerry, where another significant ascent still takes place on Lughnasa. Near Brandon the oldest known Lughnasa celebration takes place: puck fair in the small town of Kilorglin. Now a street fair with booths and bands, Puck Fair is arguably ancient; some researchers contend that it dates back only several hundred years, but local tradition holds that it is of Celtic origin. The "puck" of the fair’s title is a wild goat captured on a nearby mountainside and brought into town, where the small creature is displayed for three days (Gathering Day, Fair Day, and Scattering Day) on a high platform about the town’s main street. The goat’s reputation as a randy creature may reflect other associations of the Lughnasa festival with licentious behavior.
In Scotland the Lughnasa celebrations tend to group themselves around st. michael’s Day or Michaelmas on September 29, the archangel Michael having been substituted after Christianization for Lugh. Especially popular in the Highlands, Michael was the patron of horses, perhaps an odd role for an angel but enthusiastically celebrated with races. On the eve of Michael’s feast, carrots were baked into a special bread pudding called a struan, and a cereal was made of all the grains grown in the area; carrots (the most phallic of vegetables) were also exchanged as tokens of affection, for which Michaelmas was sometimes called Carrot Sunday. Visitations to cemeteries and circuits of burial grounds indicated a somber side to the festival.
Lugos (Lugus, Lugoves)
Continental Celtic and British god. The god known as lugh in Ireland and lleu llaw gyffes in Wales appears in Gaul as Lugos (or, in several cases, as a group of three gods called the Lugoves). Sometimes regarded as a solar god, he is more accurately described as a divinity of crafts, as his connection by the Romans with their god mercury shows. As the Celts were widely known for their craftsmanship, the importance of this god cannot be understated. His name appears in many place-names: in France, Lyons, Leon, Loudan; in Holland, Leiden; in Britain, Lugavalum (modern Carlisle) as well as London (Lugdunum; alternative readings claim the word comes from Celtic for "wild place").
Scottish folkloric figure. A monstrous female being who haunted a lake on the Isle of Skye, the luideag was terrifyingly ugly and easily angered.
Irish folkloric being. The fairy of the blackthorn tree (see thorn), one of the trees most beloved of the Irish fairy folk, the lunan-tishee was especially active on the feasts that begin summer and winter, respectively, lugh-nasa on August 1 and samhain on November 1.
Scottish folkloric custom. On lughnasa, the Celtic harvest feast celebrated around August 1, people in the Highlands and islands of Scotland made a special cake called the lunastain; alternate names are luinean when given to a man, luineag when the recipient was a woman. Such breads or cakes may have originated as propitiatory offerings or magical food to protect the eater or to bring good luck. A similar cake called struan was made and eaten on the feast of st. michael.
Arthurian heroine. This minor character in Arthurian romance served the mysterious and beautiful Laudine, the lady of the fountain; she effected a reconciliation between her mistress and owein, her unreliable estranged husband, after a reformed Owein saved Luned from danger. Some of Luned’s powers suggest that she was originally a fairy woman; the association of fairies—in Breton, korrigans—with forest fountains strengthens this connection.
Scottish folkloric figure. Recorded in 1665 as a brownle-like fairy farmhand of the Scottish islands, the luridan also has much in common with the ancient Celtic conception of the genius loci or spirit of a place, for he was tied to various sites, first in Wales and later on the large island of Pomonia in the Orkney islands. As with others of his fairy ilk, the luridan was a fine and diligent housekeeper, sweeping up and washing dishes at night, and rising early to stir the fire so that the house was warm when the family awakened.
Irish folkloric figure. In the Book of Leinster, we find mention of this Irish giant with 14 heads, who loved a woman giant named Goabal whose "charms" (not further defined) "extended over 80 feet."
Continental Celtic god. Known only from one inscription at a healing spring in eastern France, this god is believed to have been the consort of brixia, a goddess sometimes linked to the important goddess brigit.
Arthurian site. British poets, especially those who worked with the Arthurian legends that make up the matter of britain, believed there was an island of this name off Britain that had been drowned by the sea. Lyonesse has been located off Cornwall, near the Isles of Scilly, where a rocky outcropping called the Seven Stones is locally called "the city." The tradition combines the motif of the sunken city (see ys, inchiquin) with that of the floating island of the Celtic otherworld. Alfred Lord Tennyson invokes the tradition when he speaks of the "sunset bound of Lyonnesse."