Saturday, 20 June 2015

Lugh of the Long Arm carries the sun across the sky on the longest days of the year

See also this new video explaining some of the astronomy and mythology behind this event.

The longest days of the year have arrived. The sun's rising and setting positions have reached their most northerly points along the horizon and these rising points are now "standing still" - hence the word solstice, or in Irish grianstad, meaning, literally, "stopped sun".

Orion "carries" the sun across the sky on the three longest days of the year.
The further north you are located from the equator, the longer the days in summer, and the shorter in winter. Here in Ireland, in the Boyne Valley, the sun rises before 5am on Summer Solstice and sets around 10pm. Even in the middle of the night, there is no real darkness as the whole northern horizon remains bathed in light. This is a result of the fact that the sun does not go far enough below the horizon at midsummer for Astronomical Twilight to end.

The sun is crossing over the Milky Way right now.
Something else that's really interesting is happening right now as the sun crosses the sky on these, the longest days. If you could somehow darken the sun, like what happens in a total eclipse, you'd see that the sun is currently positioned directly above Orion. In fact, at Summer Solstice in this modern epoch, the sun appears to be "carried" across the sky by this great anthropomorphic warrior/god/hunter constellation, in his upraised arm. Further to this is the fact that the sun is currently located in one of the two positions where it appears to "cross" over the Milky Way. Astronomers today call the sun's path the ecliptic. This imaginary ring through the sky intersects the Milky Way in two places - one above Orion and the other beneath Ophiuchus, between Sagittarius and Scorpius. It just so happens that in our lifetime, these positions correspond with the location of the Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice sun, respectively.

It is fascinating that the Boyne river, along which the greatest megalithic passage-tombs in Europe were built, has a name that is the same as the old Irish name for the Milky Way - Bealach na Bó Finne, the Way of the White Cow.

In mythology, there are many gods and warriors, but some particularly interesting ones which we examined in Island of the Setting Sun - In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers. One of these is Lugh Lamhfada, Lugh of the Long Arm (or the long throw, perhaps). In the ancient mind, was it perhaps Lugh who was seen to "throw" the sun, moon and planets from his upraised hand?

Amergin's poem, on a photo of the Boyne estuary where he
arrived in Ireland with the Milesians.
There are other characters of mythology that are interesting. Amergin, leader of the Milesians, was known as Amergin of the Bright Knee. The star that we know today as Rigel has an Arabic name which means "bright knee". Amergin asked "who but I knows the place where the sun sets, who but I knows the ages of the moon?" The Annals of the Four Masters says the Milesians arrived in Ireland at Bealtaine in 1694 BC. On that date, the sun was above Orion, being carried across the sky. Because of an effect of the wobble of the earth's axis called Precession of the Equinoxes, the sun's position on the ecliptic on a specific day of the year (eg solstices, equinoxes) is slowly moving westwards through the ecliptic. When the Milesians arrived in 1694BC, their bright-kneed leader set foot on the shore of the Boyne river at the moment the sun was being carried by the constellation Orion - that might have been known then as Amergin. Nowadays, the sun's position at Bealtaine has moved so that it is beneath Aries. It is on Summer Solstice now that Orion/Amergin/Lugh appears to carry the sun across the sky.

And then there's Cúchulainn, the warrior hero of The Táin Bó Cuailnge, who battles in ford water - a ford being the crossing point of a river. Was he guarding the ford of the sky, as hinted in The Táin?

a fair man facing your foes
in the starlit ford of night.

It is no mere coincidence that Cúchulainn is a son of Lugh. The Milky Way was known as Lugh's Chain and Lugh used a weapon called the Tathlum, which is described as a concrete ball - made of his enemies' brains hardened with lime. Could this be the moon?

To the hero Lugh was given
This concrete ball – no soft missile –
In Mag Tuireadh of shrieking wails,
From his hand he threw the tathlum.

Today, as you watch the sun make its way across the sky on the weekend of the Summer Solstice, it would be nice to reflect upon the powerful imagery. The god of light has the sun in his hand.


  1. Fascinating. Thank you for the wisdom that helps me connect my spirituality with the sky.

    1. You are very welcome. Thanks for the nice comment and happy solstice.

  2. Wow, great thought provoking work, as an archaeologist I love how it broadens out how I think about lanscape/skyscape - thanks a million for publishing that. Happy solstice! Ciara

  3. What a great blog about the magnificent pageant of the eternal sky. Happy Solstice and Merry Midsummer.