The God We Worship

A group of about 50 of us just finished celebrating the Feast of Lugh, the Irish god who is master of all skills.  We told stories, ate grapes, and sang songs at sundown near a small lake surrounded by woods and fields.  Afterwards we built a fire, drank wine, sang more songs (Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and a slough of Broadway show tunes) and drummed into the night.  Later we reflected on how good it feels to take time each year around August 1 to notice the passing of the long summer days, the beginning of the harvest with its county fairs, and to think about Lugh—the bright, sunny young man who is good at everything and has the wisdom to use human skills wisely.

Of course, Lugh is not a handsome young man.  He is not a human being. He is a god.

Joseph Campbell has said that every “god is the dancer, and you have to become the god to worship the god, to find that god in yourself . . . to worship a god, you must become that god. No matter what you call the god or think it is, the god you worship is the one you are capable of becoming. The power of a deity is that it personifies a power that is in Nature and in your nature.”

I don’t know if any of us that night at the lake would say that we worship Lugh.  The Irish gods are supernatural forces or ancestral beings.  Yes, we can worship them, but they are more like inspiring examples of Life or companions on Life’s Way, rather than deities on some Olympic mountain expecting or demanding worship.  But I think there’s value in reflecting on Campbell’s teaching no matter what our relationship with Lugh.  The power of Lugh—to use all skills wisely—is a power we can see in Nature, for the laws of nature, the activities of the natural world, seem wisely orchestrated.  Nature knows what to do and does it.  And certainly Lugh’s wise use of skills is a valued aspiration we find in our own nature.  If only we realized it and demonstrated it more consistently.

So perhaps on Lughnasa each year we like to think about Lugh and hear stories about him—and his rascally descendent in the Southern Appalachian tales, the Jack who is Jack of All Trades—because we know we want to worship his qualities in ourselves.  And indeed if we are going to worship him and his qualities, we must become him.  “The god you worship is the one you are capable of becoming.”

This is hopeful.  As we look back on the months behind us, we can find national and international examples of how great human skill and technology failed.  How great skill and technical know-how was not wisely executed.  We can find in our own private lives times we acted unwisely and unskillfully.

Perhaps we should worship Lugh, really worship him in that old-time religious sense.  And all year long.  The god we worship is the one we are capable of becoming.