Of Norse Loki and the Celtic Lugh

by DaRC ~ 
This summarizes the conclusion below which defines the details of my thoughts. The main thrust here is that the Celts were amongst the earliest European tribes to smelt iron, their culture thus heavily influenced those tribes around them, particularly the Norse, Northern or Germanic tribes. Loki provides the echo of that Celtic influence on early Northern culture within the Norse mythology. As Lugh or Lugus was one of the primary Celtic deities, I think that Loki can be identified as the Norse view of Lugh. This depends upon Loki and Lugh being identified together for which the argument is that both were fostered in the legends. They both have a close association with mistletoe and provide gifts to their friends. They are lightning Gods rather than Sun, Earth or Water gods and can both be associated with killing, via a thrown spear, a Sun god. This is just what inspiration points to me as obvious and that the demonization of Loki is the influence of Christianity in misinterpreting the Norse mythology for its own ends.
The Beginning of Norse Mythology -The Early Northern Iron Age (c. 500 BC)
The knowledge of the early Norse iron age is limited to archaeological evidence and comments from classical authors. Evidence suggests that the late Bronze Age (ca. 700 BC) was a time of cultural change when the language(s) spoken earlier may have been replaced by the Germanic language.
It seems that there were organised villages and the gradual change to a more sophisticated, stratified society started around 500 BC right at the beginning of the Iron Age. Many finds have been found in bogs. The oldest war booty offering, known as the Hjortspring find, contains the remains of the oldest prehistoric Danish boat. It is of the same type as the craft known from Bronze Age rock carvings. The weapons found with it, however, are of Celtic origin.Other finds from the end of the Bronze Age period include the Dejbjerg wagons and the large cauldrons from Brå and Gundestrup which bear witness to connections with the Celts. These precious vessels were brought back during the turbulent period when the Germanic Cimbrians and Teutons were roaming Europe and attacking the northern boundary of the Roman Empire where, at Noricum in 113 BC, they defeated a Roman army.
The Roots of the Runes
What we now know as the runic alphabet seems to have developed from two distinct sources – one magical, one literate. Pre-runic symbols, or hällristningar, have been found in various Bronze Age rock carvings, primarily in Sweden. Some of these symbols are readily identifiable in the later alphabets, while others represent ideas and concepts which were incorporated into the names of the runes (sun, horse, etc.). The exact meanings of these sigils are now lost to us, as is their original purpose, but they are believed to have been used for divination or lot-casting, and it is fairly certain that they contributed to the magical function of the later runic alphabets.
There is some debate over the origin of the ‘alphabet’ aspect of the runes. Cases have been made for both Latin and Greek derivation, and several scholars are once again arguing in favour of both these theories. However, the strongest evidence still seems to point to a North Italic origin (from Etruscan). The parallels between the two alphabets are too close to be ignored, particularly in the forms of the letters, as well as in the variable direction of the writing, and certain structural and even symbolic characteristics. This would also explain why so many of the runes resemble Roman letters, since both Italic and Latin scripts are derived from the Etruscan alphabet (itself a branch of the Western Greek family of alphabets).
This theory would place the original creation of the futhark sometime before the 1st. century AD., when the Italic scripts were absorbed and replaced by the Latin alphabet. Linguistic and phonetic analysis points to an even earlier inception date, perhaps as far back as 200 BC.
When the northern tribes began integrating the Italic alphabets into their own symbolic system, they gave the letters names relating to all aspects of their secular and religious lives, thus transforming their simple pictographs into a magical alphabet which could be used for talismans, magical inscriptions and divination (Elliot, Runes: an Introduction, pp. 5-6)
A third theory, and perhaps the most popular today, is that the runestaves were derived from North Italic alphabets used in the Alpine regions of Italy. Like the Latin alphabet, these scripts derived from the Etruscan alphabet. They were in use until the first or second century when they were finally superseded by the Latin script. Like the runestaves, the North Italic alphabets could be written either right to left or left to right H. Arntz believes that one of the Germanic tribes said to be in the Alpine regions by Roman authors could have encountered North Italic writing as early as the fourth century BC. From this they evolved the futhark as we know it and by the second century BC it had already began its spread northward (Elliot, pp. 8-9). We do know that Germanic tribes did indeed encounter North Italic writing. In 1812 a helmet was unearthed at Negau near the border of Austria and Yugoslavia. Inscribed upon the helmet are the words hargasti teiwa, which indicates that someone who spoke Proto-Germanic knew the North Italic script and used it in writing his own language.
It must be noted that this theory gives sufficient time for the runestaves to be in use in Denmark and Norway in the third century AD. A major objection that can be made to this theory is that the shapes of many of the runestaves do not resemble North Italic writing at all. This problem could be solved when one considers the symbols often found in rock carvings which appear to predate the runestaves themselves. Many of these symbols resemble many of the runestaves, so much so that it seems possible that whoever invented the runestaves could have adapted some of the North Italic letters for the rune row’s use and derived the other staves from these ancient symbols (Elliot, p. 7).
Though we cannot say for certain, it seems likely that the Common Germanic rune row was invented sometime between the fourth century BC and the first century AD. It was apparently developed by an individual familiar with North Italic script who adapted letters from that alphabet and symbols used by the Germanic peoples for use in the rune row.
Celtic Comparative HistoryIt can be seen from the above that circa 300 BC – 100 BC is probably when the Norse Mythology is created. Odin’s discovery of the Runes is from around that time and it was a time when Norse culture was changing from a Farmstead culture into a more stratified, organised culture and coming into contact with the Italian and Celtic cultures via both trade and war.
So what was happening with the Celts at this time? Beginning around 500 BCE, and following on the sudden expansion of both wealth and territory it had experienced in the Early Iron Age, the Celtic world entered into a period of comfort and self-confidence where it took great interest in the cultures and artistic expressions of its neighbours and borrowed freely from them, yet always adapted such borrowings to native Celtic tastes and values. This blend of innovation and tradition gave rise to the unique La Tène style of Celtic art, and doubtless had repercussions at all levels of Celtic culture, particularly in the realm of religion. A whole vocabulary of religious symbols of Oriental origin began to be depicted on art objects during this period, suggesting a renewed interest in religious ideas as a result of exposure to foreign traditions, although there does not seem to have been any break with the fundamental Indo-European heritage. Many of these imported symbols, as well as some other new ones of native origin, are found in association with one particular god, Lugus, whose sudden and widespread rise to prominence must have been one of the most important events in La Tène religion.
The La Tène period was when the Celts were at the height of their political power and it was during this period that they came to the note of the Classical Greeks and Romans particularly during their invasions of the Etruscan city of Clusium and Rome in 390 BC where Brennus’, their leader or the title of their leader, demanded his weight in gold to leave the city alone. Throughout the next 200 years there are constant movement of Celtic tribes from the Atlantic to Asia Minor. This also coincides with Greek expansion under Alexander the Great and Roman expansion. When the German tribes start their migrations into Transalpine Gaul circa 100 BC this causes the last of the great Celtic migrations from the East of the Rhine to the West of the Rhine which in turn enabled Julius Caesar to conquer the now divided Gaul. All the Gaulish tribes and their lands had been conquered – Transalpine, Cisalpine and Gaul itself. However many of the German tribes adopted Celtic culture and religious practice.
The Mythic History of Lugus and Loki – Who was Lugus?
Many scholars have interpreted the name Lugus as a derivation of the Indo-European root *leuk- ‘light’, which also gave rise to Latin lux. This is partially confirmed by the meaning of lleu in Welsh (especially as part of (go)leu ‘light’). As a result, and helped along by Victorian scholars’ obsession with ‘solar myths’, it was taken for granted that Lúgh was a solar god. Moreover, a comparison between Lúgh’s title Lámhfhada (‘long-armed’) and the title Prithupâni (‘broad-handed’) given to the Vedic god Savitr (the god of the first light of day) seemed to confirm such a notion– and it is now firmly entrenched in popular literature about Irish ‘mythology’. However, traditional, ritual-associated ideas about Lúgh show no trace of this. Lúghnasadh is a day on which thunderstorms with plentiful rain are expected and welcomed. They provide a respite from the fierce summer heat that endangers the crops and encourages insect pests. The pitiless sun is Balor’s scorching eye, and the spear of Lúgh is needed to tame its power. Lúgh is called Lonnbeimnech (‘fierce striker’) as well as Lámhfhada. Celtic ‘Mercury’ is sometimes shown not only with his spear but with the easily recognizable Indo-European thunder-hammer. In Mayo the Lúghnasadh thunderstorms where seen as the battle between Lúgh and Balor: ‘Tá gaoth Logha Lámhfhada ag eiteall anocht san aer. ‘Seadh, agus drithleogaí a athar. Balor Béimeann an t-athair’ (‘The wind of Lúgh Long-arm is flying in the air tonight. Yes, and the sparks of his father [sic]. Balor Béimeann is the father’). From these and other examples it is abundantly clear that Lugus has his domain in storm rather than in sunlight, and that if his name has any relation to ‘light’ it more properly means ‘lightning-flash’ (as in Breton luc’h and Cornish lughes). This is the principal function of his invincible spear. Although there may be some thematic relation between the titles of Lúgh and Savitr, they are clearly not equivalents of each other.
A more evident and significant pun exists between the name ‘Lugus’ and the Old Celtic stem lugi- meaning ‘to swear, oath’ (appearing in Irish as luighe, in Welsh as llw, and in Breton as le). The famous Gaulish text found at Chamalières in 1971, which is the script of a magico-religious ritual for obtaining the help of Arvernian Maponos in a military revolt, concludes with the thrice-repeated formula, ‘Luge dessumiis [= dexumiis]’ (‘By an oath I make them ready’), where the echo of the god’s name in the expression luge could hardly have failed to impress itself on a Celtic-speaker’s ear, and would have underlined his relation to the quintessentially first-function institution of oath-taking.
This god is shown together with birds; horses; the Oriental Tree of Life motif; dogs or wolves; and twin serpents. But the imagery most intimately connected to him is the mistletoe leaf or berry. Most often the mistletoe leaves are shown at either side of his head, like horns or ears; but sometimes the symbolism is reversed, and the god’s head appears as the berry of a mistletoe plant. During the 300’s the mistletoe-leaf motif combines with that of the twin serpents (portrayed as facing S’s) into a new motif archaeologists call the ‘palmette’. This shape, crowning the god’s head or attached to some animal figure, is common (especially on coins) until ca. 200 BCE. Thereafter the twin serpents appear alone in what is still clearly a glyph representing this particular divinity. The fact that representations of the god and of his symbols appear most frequently on objects related to formal aristocratic banquets (such as the famous wine flagons from the Basse-Yutz burial in the Rhineland) strongly suggests that he was in some way associated with sacral kingship.
This bit of theology had a major impact on the Celts’ Germanic neighbours. Around 100 BC, the western Germans, impressed by the cultural brilliance of the La Tène Celts, converted wholesale to Celtic religion and adopted many aspects of Celtic social organization and culture, to the point of giving their children Celtic names. One of the most important institutional borrowings of this period was the ‘legitimization’ of a warrior-chieftain through a sovereignty ritual, and it necessitated also borrowing the Celtic deities who presided over such a ceremony. Many scholars have preferred to see the many similarities between Lugus/Mercury and the Germanic Wodan as separate survivals of an Indo-European prototype; but some now find no reason to believe that Wodan did not originate in the 1st century CE in the lands near the North Sea as a deliberate imitation of Celtic ‘Mercury’, in one of his important guises.
Evidently Lúgh’s story was popular in mediaeval literary circles, and we have many allusions to it in both prose and poetry. From such allusions we learn that Lúgh was one of a triad, the two other members of which died at birth — reminding us of the triplicity of Celtic ‘Mercury’, and of the plural Lugoues. We learn that he was fostered not only to Tailtiu but to Manannán mac Lir, the ruler of the Otherworld Feast in the Land of Apples, and that he had inherited the use of Manannán’s sword Freagartach (‘The Answerer’). His usual personal weapon, however, was the Spear of Goirias, echoing the spear of Celtic ‘Mercury’. He also inherited Manannán’s corrbolg or ‘crane bag’ filled with magical treasure, again recalling Celtic Mercury’s bag of wealth. In the 11th-century text called Imthecht Clainne Tuirill we first hear of an interesting tradition about Lúgh’s natural father, Cian (here called ‘Ethlenn’ through confusion with Lúgh’s mother, the author having assumed that ‘Lúg mac Ethlenn’ was a patronym instead of a matronym): he was a shape-shifter, capable of turning into an oirce or ‘lap-dog’ (i.e. a dog kept as a pet rather than as a hunting animal), of the kind widely associated with healing shrines throughout the ancient Celtic world, especially in relation to Celtic ‘Mars’ — an appropriate attribute for a son of the physician-god, and a reflection of the canine imagery that sometimes accompanies Iron Age Lugus.
Who was Loki?
It is possible to see from references in Simek and from Grimm that Loki was indeed very closely associated with fire. Loki is also known as Lopt and Logi, it is interesting that Simek says that, ‘Lopt possibly comes from lopt-eldr = ‘Lightning’ or ‘one who tends lightning.’ Lopt is normally translated as air or the airy one. Within the Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLVI) when Thor, Loki and Thjalfi meet Utgardi-Loki in whose hall Loki has a race with, and is just beaten by, Logi turns out to be ‘wild-fire. Like Lugh he also has two brothers (Gylfaginning XXXIII) maybe representing Lugus’ triple aspect.
Snorri Sturlusson says that many also count Loki among the gods, for he is friend and companion of Thor and foster brother to Odin, though both of his parents were giants, or Jotun. Both Odin and Thor had at least one giant parent as well. Loki is distinguished from the rest of the gods historically by not having any cult or place-names in Scandinavia attributable to him – and for good reason. He calls him a malicious shape and sex changer who had not only begotten monsters such as Fenris-wolf and the Midgard Serpent, but had borne Odin’s eight-footed horse Sleipnir. It is Loki, according to most versions of the myth, who instigated the murder of Baldur by persuading Baldur’s blind brother Höd (Hood/Night) to cast a mistletoe dart at him. For this deed the other gods caught Loki, bound him to a rock and caused a snake to drip venom on his face. There he is to stay until Ragnarök, or destruction-of-the-gods. There is an apparent analogy here to the myth of Prometheus, even to the extent that Loki’s name suggests ‘fire’ (logi). ‘The Song of the Sybil’ and ‘Loki’s Flyting’ allude to these events.Therefore, Odin was popular among certain Viking chieftains whose truces and solemn oaths were never meant to be held. Appropriately Odin is frequently associated with beasts of battle – the raven and the wolf. Loki, on the other hand, is often forced into a bargain and by keeping it only his cunning can ensure it comes out favourably to the Gods.
Thor is the mightiest of the gods and the only god about whom no evil can be said. He is the only one of the gods able to withstand and repel Loki. Loki’s only taunt against Thor is to remind him of an incident during Thor’s journey to the east when he was deceived by a giant of prodigious magical powers. The taunt is hollow, however, for Thor had acquitted himself so well during that trip that the race of giants feared for their lives. Thor is the protector of the gods against all their enemies, specifically dwarves, elves, giants/jotuns, trolls, and the Midgard-Serpent. At Ragnarök he battles the Midgard-Serpent (Loki’s offspring) to the death.
Baldur, the slain god, is known as the purest of the gods. His death is the first catastrophe in a series of events which resolve in the destruction of the gods. Baldur, however, we are told in ‘The Song of Sybil’, will rise again. His death and resurrection are inevitably associated with the death and resurrection of Christ, but there is no real reason to assume direct borrowing from Christianity in the myth, for Baldur, like Adonis, is a typical sacrificial god whose myth grows out of an artful mimicry of the cyclical regeneration of the earth. However, it is forgotten that Loki in the ‘Cutting of Sif’s Hair’ obtains for the Gods Wodan’s spear and ring, Gungnir and Draupnir, Thor’s Hammer, Mjollnir, and his wife’s (Sif) hair in gold, then Freyr’s boar and boat, Gullinbursti and Skídbladnir. Finally, like Mercury, Loki has shoes with which he can walk on water and air (Prose Edda, Skáldskaparmál 147).
Conclusion – Tying the Strands Together
From the above evidence we can surmise that before the Roman’s conquered the Celtic homelands there was great interaction between the Germanic and Celtic tribes, just as there is great interaction between the As and the Jotun’s in Norse Mythology. Within both cultures fostering is common, maybe it was one of the practices that the Germanic tribes adopted from the Celtic tribes. So it seems that much of Norse Mythology is their interpretation of the Celtic mythology. The evolution of the Norse mythos appears at the same time that Celtic culture was at its most influential. Thus the echoes of Celtic ideas & knowledge resound through the Norse world.
The similarities for Loki and Lugus run through their legends – both Lugh and Loki are far removed from the original Lugus. Lugh is the Gaelic interpretation whilst Lugus is the Brythonic of which there is only archaeological evidence. Thus Lugh is fostered to Manannan in Gaelic Mythology whilst Loki is Odin’s blood-brother – to me this suggests that Loki was a Jotun fostered to the As. From there we can come down to more specific associations in that both Lugh and Loki are notorious shapeshifters. Then we come to the gift giving. Lugh inherits Mannanan’s crane bag whilst Loki does not have a bag specifically but is responsible for most of the Aesir’s special gifts. This appears to me to be mythological echo of the knowledge the Germanic tribes gained from their more sophisticated Celtic cousins. Mjollnir comes from Loki and we find that Lugus is sometimes shown with the Hammer as a weapon. They are both heavily tied in with serpent iconography and they are both lightning Gods. To this we come to the legend of Baldur or Balor. Once again their names are similar and they are both Sun Gods struck down by a spear representing the thunderstorms breaking the heat of a long hot summer. The association of Loki with Lugus becomes stronger with the Norse iconography of it being a mistletoe dart. Lugus’ association with mistletoe suggests that the Norse recognise the Baldur myth as being of Celtic origin.
Finally we come to Ragnarök and Loki’s part in it. Personally I can see this as almost the Norse interpretation of another typical Celtic myth – that of the returning Hero. Much as Arthur in legend is taken to the Summer Isles. He will return in time of need when he will save the nation and bring a return to the Celtic Romano-British Summer that was a Golden age. So Loki is prophesised to return at Ragnarök with his Jotun family. Would not the Norse mythology regard a returning Celtic Hero as bloody and disastrous? Particularly with his blood-brother Odin Oath-breaker having imprisoned him, whilst Logi puns into Oath in Celtic languages and it was Odin who breaks Loki at the end by imprisoning him. For me the case seems quite persuasive that we could associate the Jotuns with the Celts and that Loki can be associated with Lugus of the Gauls.


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