Just the Beginning

It occurs to me that my post on Sunday may have been a touch cryptic.  (I can be naughty at times.)  Horror Homeroom was good enough to publish a piece I’d written about the movie Midsommar, a film that got its hooks into me earlier this year.  Here’s the link in case you’d like to read it (it’s free): http://www.horrorhomeroom.com/midsommar-and-cross-quarter-day-horror/.  It’s not an article using the Bible and horror as in yesterday’s post, but rather it is an exploration of the broader relationship between horror and religion.  The origin of religion has long been a fascination, and the more I look into the connection with what makes us afraid, the more I find in common.  But why midsummer when summer’s only just beginning?

Ancient peoples in temperate zones, according to the records they left behind, carefully observed the change of seasons.  Without a tilted, spinning globe as a model the science of the time (which was likely their religion) suggested that the heavenly bodies were migratory.  If you use raw observation that’s what seems to be the case.  Now that I sit in the same office every day with a south and a west window, it becomes very clear how the sun shifts over the course of the year.  In the winter it seems to be on a journey far to the south.  Religions of such science would want to know, of course, when it would start coming back.  The years were divided into segments—we still recognize four of them in our seasons although, in truth, they are merely gradual changes that take place in the weather as the earth’s tilt moves our hemisphere toward or away from the sun.

Midsummer was a northern European festival to celebrate the longest day.  Whether this is the start of summer or the middle of summer is merely a matter of interpretation.  The film Midsommar plays on the disorienting long span of daylight in northern Sweden.  Without the dark to guide us, sleep and the regular rhythms of daily life can become difficult.  When the people believe the old religion, well, let your imagination run wild.  Horror films often lurk in these transitional times of the year.  We tend to associate them with Halloween, but there’s enough to be afraid of right now.  Not all horror has religious components, of course.  Nevertheless it has been there from the beginning, from when van Helsing pulled out a crucifix to frighten off Dracula.  And it continues, in perhaps more sophisticated ways, even in the broad daylight.

August Ancestry

Lugh

Now that August is in full swing, it is appropriate to think of Lugh. It would have been more appropriate, I suppose, to have considered him on Lughnasadh (August 1) but I’m afraid I missed the deadline. August is the only month with no officially recognized holidays, either lighthearted or serious, in the United States. Back in Celtic Britain the first of August was one of the quarter days, or days when the rent was due and religious festivals were celebrated. When Scotland was Christianized, Lughnasadh was kept under the name Lammas-mass, a festival of the first harvest of the year. The Christian correlation became the deliverance of Peter from prison or Saint Peter in Chains.

Lugh was, without doubt, one of the most important gods of the Celts. It has been suggested that the Celts understood their gods not to be transcendent beings of a different order than humans, but rather as their own ancestors. They apparently believed that gods came from great humans. Lugh is a warrior god, and occasionally god of the sun. His favored epithet is “long arm” or “long hand,” indicating his felicity with spears and swords. So widely was he known that many important cities were named after him, including Lyon in France, Vienna (known by one of his epithets), and perhaps even London itself. When Romans conquered the Celtic lands, the festival in August was that of the Caesar from whom the month takes its name, Augustus. Apart from the minor Christian festival of Peter in Chains, the month of August was simply forgotten as the seat of holy days.

The origins of gods differ in diverse cultures. The assumption of most people today seems to be that gods exist as an ontological reality and we reverence them because of their factual existence. The Celts, on the other hand, grew their own gods in the tradition that a noble human was worthy of veneration and full of undying power. Lugh may have been one such person. If he was, he has been lost in the heavy haze of hoary antiquity. He comes to us today in August, but more often in March. The word leprechaun is an Anglicized version of the Irish phrase “Lugh the cobbler” (one of his many associations). As such he is remembered every time we pour ourselves a bowl of Lucky Charms.

Part Lugh, part Potter