Below is a short essay I wrote for my Celtic mythology class last semester. I wanted to record it somewhere so I have it for future reference. There are also some interesting factoids in it…
A very common motif that appears in Irish and Welsh mythologies is that of the sun king, or solar avatar. Three in particular stand out over time: Lugh of the Long Hand, Cuchulainn of Muirthemne, and Lleu son of Aranrhod. There has been much speculation that Lugh and Lleu might actually be one in the same person – at the very least, they are both certainly connected with Lugus, one of the more prominent Celtic gods, portrayed as a craftsman with solar connections.
Lugh of the Long Hand appears in the stories of the Tuatha de Danaan. The Tuatha de Danaan is synonymous with “People to the North” and also analogous with the Celtic gods. Lugh’s father, Cian is one of these Tuatha – bestowing Lugh with a godly lineage. Several times in the text, Lugh is also described as being exceptionally beautiful, as well as – oddly enough – very bright-faced. During Lugh’s heroic phase of life, as he leads an army against the Fomorians, it is remarked that the brightness of his face was so great, you almost couldn’t look into it without hurting your eyes.
Cuchulainn of Muirthemne appears in the Tain and is another clear example of the solar avatar, even right away when he is born three times – indicative of triad power, in a culture where 3 is one of the most significant numbers possible. Add the “hero halo” he is described as having whilst in battle, and the associations with horses at his (many) births, Cuchulainn may as well have a sign with an arrow following him around, letting readers of the Tain know he has solar avatar connections.
Cuchulainn is also a great example of the role of the sun god in Celtic summer-winter myths, which are relative to anxiety about the return to earthly fertility. A summer-winter myth begins with an enemy attempting to “keep the world in winter” by undermining the Earth Mother, generally represented as a young woman. The role a sun god plays in a summer-winter myth is that of the potent masculine figure either restoring the Earth Mother, or trying to control her sexuality (if the second, the sun avatar is in store for a great personal tragedy).
Cuchulainn’s story fits perfectly into this mould, in that he represents the solar avatar that defeats winter. Medb, leading the army against him, represents winter/the Crone and her army is her wintery force. Cuchulainn, as the sun, keeps his fire burning all winter in order to reignite it to its full force in the Spring.
Lastly, Lleu, son of Aranrhod, appears in the Mabinogian. He plays a small role in the text, but his connections to the solar avatar are hard to ignore: he too, is described as being “bright” in appearance. In addition, he was born of an obscure father alongside his brother, who incidentally, is a sea god. He overcomes much adversity – mostly put in place by his own mother – and eventually takes a flower wife, Bloduewedd, which indicates a strong connection to nature in that Lleu literally marries nature.
All three are examples of solar avatars.