The Old Dark Bent One: A Lughnasadh story

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Who says the most ancient one is old?

Today is the festival of the Gaelic festival of Lughnasadh, celebrating  the first harvest. We are at that point mid way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. It feels fitting that this morning here in the mountains the sky is overcast with cooling breezes. As a wonderful sign of the movement of the great wheel I awoke this morning to a rustling in the bushes and as I opened my eyes the snout of a mama bear appeared, munching on greenery. She weaved her way through the trees with two little bundles of black fur running between her legs.

Across cultures there are many festivals at this time of year, maybe you celebrate Lammas, the Anglo-Saxon harvest festival of loaf making – which reminds me I should really get some spelt flour and see if I can concoct a gluten free soda bread. Or maybe you celebrate Lughnasadh, with the sun god  in Lugh, or in honor of his mother mother Tailtiu, after whom  Oenach Tailten, the great festive games,  were held in her honor. The games were named after her as  Tailtiu died in sheer exhaustion from clearing hundreds and hundreds of acres of Ireland, clearing the way for planting and farming. 

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Yet none of these festivals satisfies me as I hear a calling, a deep ancient calling. I hear it in my blood and my bones, as it is a calling from the old dark bent one himself, Crom Dubh, one of Irelands oldest deities, part of the very psyche of Ireland itself. So I find myself digging again, under myth and legend, trying to find the source, and here he is the opposing figure to the shining sun god Lugh.

crom cruach

Crom Cruach as represented in ‘The Secret of Kells’. Click picture for trailer.

Among the roots of Crom Dubh, lies his earliest form, Crom Cruach. Crom means bent, crooked or stooped, while Cruach means both bloody and gory, or slaughter. He was a golden figure surrounded by 12 standing stones, stones that stood in an ancient circle on Magh Slecht (the plain of prostration), where people would bring their sacrifices. He demanded no less than your first born, to ensure your continuation of life through providing a good harvest. Crom Cruich was a terrifying figure, as all the old gods and goddesses are – as we humans need those lessons! Due to his golden appearance scholars suggest he was a solar deity, surrounded by 12 stones representing the zodiac. The sacrifices suggest he was a fertility god, and I even stumbled upon some theories relating Crom Cruach to Moloch the Ammonite god – both figures demanding a very high price in their sacrifices! ( Bohemian Grove’s owl represents Moloch – and their sacrifices, the sacrifice of ‘care’, but then that’s a whole other modern horror story).

Crom Cruach later morphs into Crom Dubh, Dubh meaning dark so Crom Dubh is the stooped bent, dark one. He lies under the earth with the great earth goddess Aine (of whom there are many aspects and forms) and at Lughnasadgh Crom Dubh emerges from the otherworld carrying his great offering, the first sheaf of wheat. Lugh and Crom Dubh fight, not just over the wheat but also the wheat sheaf is his daughter Eithne (pronounced Onya/Enya). Although of course Eithne isn’t just his daughter sometimes she appears as his consort.

I love getting lost in these myths as just when you think you’ve plotted the story, boom – and your back to a muddle, unsure of who is who. But I guess these days we can give it 5 minute research and think we’ve got it straight. These myths although hold a burning truth at their centre, a centre covered in a thick, thick weave. This cloth tells of symbolism we don’t quite get, as we are of another age. Untangling the threads of this cloth is an impossible task. You think you’ve picked up a strand until it morphs into something else completely. I love the chaos and the uncertainty, teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously, and give over to all those things which our modern age can’t quite grasp.

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Cruachan Aigle (Crough patrick)

Many made a pilgrimage at Lughnasadh, barefoot up the rocky path to the summit of Cruachan Aigle (the original name of Crough Ptrick).  A great festival was held at the foot of the mountain in honor and gratitude of the harvest. On Lughnasadh’s eve women would climb to the summit to spend the night in Aine’s bed to aid in their fertility. The next day those that made the climb brought offerings but also to ask of special blessings and requests at this sacred time in such a sacred place.

snake goddess

Saint Patrick fought one of his greatest battles at this site as he was lured into battled with Corra the triple goddess taking serpent form. From Loch Derg (Lake of the Cave) Patrick was abducted into the otherworld but he escaped which shows his victory not only over Corra but of all Paganism as it is said that after defeating Corra all snakes on Irish soil disappeared. But there is a hint on that Island the lake of the ‘cave’ and with Corra in snake form, for the ‘cave’ was a pagan sanctuary, with a temple of incubation – which practised this ritual of incubation of entering the otherworld through mind altering techniques or drugs. The snake was always associated with these sanctuaries as throughout Europe in similar temples they roamed free. It is well documented that the Romans wiped out such sanctuaries, wiping out these ancient practices, creating the way for Christianity – and so we have Saint Patrick fighting Corra, a symbolism of Irish Paganism.

Somewhere along the web I picked up an interesting quote from Michaal Dales and his book ‘Mythical ireland’ who explains that after the neolithic it isn’t just the great sheaf of wheat that Crom Dubh is bent over from it is the rise of the iron age warriors and the clash with Christian Saints. His burden is all the weighty issues he’s supposed to carry, like his alter ego the bull, enduring everything heaped on him by his symbolic foes, the Irish saints!

And that about scratches the surface of my Lughnasadh….the tale has barely begun…

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