Let’s Celebrate Lughnasa
Of the four Celtic Celebrations of Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, this is probably the most important, the most celebrated where I live.
Lughnasa, Lughnasadh or Lammas is the celebration of the first harvest of grains, fruits, and vegetables. but it will be largely overlooked
today in many countries due to our easy access to most fruits, vegetables and grains all year round.
When I was young, this part of the year was a celebrated time of abundance as we did not have the all year round luxury of imported foods. It is a time when our gardens and farms here in Ireland produce much more than we can eat so as well as a celebration of abundance its the start of the time to manage our harvest so that we survive the winter.
The name Lughnasa has derived from Lugh, or Lug,
Lugh was a man of Tuatha De Dannan legend who became one of the three most important High Kings of Ireland. Lugh is often referred to as an ancient god of light and also known as the "bright and shining one". Todays words of "luminous" and "Illumination" have descended from his name.
Lugh is said to have been a poet, harpist, metal-smith and keen sportsman, especially throwing sports.
Lugh is said to have learned the harp from Dagda and it is said that in ancient times a requirement of becoming a Tuatha De Dannan high king was to be a player of the harp, a harper who’s music could lead people to dance, chant, pray, celebrate, mourn and sleep.
Lugh's sports abilities is said to have aided his famous mythological confrontation with Balor "of the evil eye", leader of the Formorians. Though much smaller than Balor, Lugh accurately threw a spear that knocked Balor's eye out of the back of his head. Some legends say this was a slingshot and not a spear, an Irish David and Goliath story. This is not surprising because The Tribe of Dan were a Cuthite tribe that came from around the Black Sea so the story may well have travelled with them.
There is much that I could write about Lugh, but at this time I find I do find myself celebrating and enjoying the abundance of this time while also aligning thoughts of how to save some of this abundance to sustain good health through winter.
In ancient times this was a time of commencing a process of peace, decisions and treaties that need to be completed for the celebration of Samhain in three month’s time. Maybe this being a time of sports was one way of to transfer the tension of warrior rivalry into the spirit of games rather than bloodshed.
The time of Lughnasa as a cross quarter day between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox should be around August 5th but many "neo-pagans" choose August 1st. In the Gaelic language Lughnasa, or Lunasa became known as the whole month of August.
The tradition that has survived to this time, in Ireland, is the sports tradition
This is abundantly more popular than harvest celebration tradition.
Legends tell us that Lugh's mother, foster mother, Tailtiu, once the Firbolg Queen to the last Firbolg High King, died around this time when Lugh became High King. The mythological story is that during her time of becoming mother, guide, and even trainer to Lugh, she single handedly cut down the forests of here in the lands that are Co. Sligo and Co. Mayo below Morrigan’s Mountain of Cheis Coarran so that the birth of Bhride could fertilise the land and make its harvests abundant. When Lugh became “chosen” as High King at this time, his step mother passed on due to exhaustion, but her work was complete.
To honour his foster mother Tailtiu Lugh commanded an annual sports contest at this time what is now Teltown, Co. Meath, east of Kells near the R163 to Slane. A henge and flat mound still exists which is said to be where some of the sports were competed from the time of Lugh right up until
the end of the 19th century.
Some of the contests were throwing the hammer and tossing the caber so today's Highland Games probably originated from these Tailtiu games. Also note that the Olympic Games commence at this time every four years at a date that has much more significance than just being a nice time of summer.
Head for the sacred hills
In ancient tradition, Lughnasa celebration was a time of baking and blessing the first bread from the first grains of the first harvest and taking this loaf to the peak of a local “sacred” mountain to be left there in the spirit of thanksgiving to the great spirit that fertilizes the egg of nature.
Since potatoes were introduced to Ireland a few hundred years ago for some the baking of the first loaf has become replaced by the blessing and cooking of the first potatoes. Anyone who has grown potatoes will know that they are grown by raising soil over the seed potatoes, which form
Several hills were regarded by ancient people as being mounds that attracted the great spirit to scatter his seeds to fertilise the goddess spirit of nature. In fact, some man made mounds, such as Silbury Hill in England may well have been built to attract the fertility of the great spirit. We have two two mounds north and south of our local Carrowkeel Càirns complex that may also have been built for this purpose.
At Loughnasa these "mounds" were climbed, and still are in some places, where the first bread was blessed, first potatoes cooked on a fire, or a garland wreath placed there to commence the opening of the sports celebration with arrows and/or spears shot towards the sun to attract its attention
Later, at the end of the sports, a ceili of stories, songs and dancing would be shared.
Today, in our part of Ireland, Lughnasa celebrations are largely replaced by what is now called "Garland Sunday" on the last Sunday of July. The most famous celebration is the barefooted pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick mountain in Co. Mayo.
Where I live at Keash the Garland Sunday is famed as it combines most of the elements of Lughnasa. There used to be harvest blessing at St. Kevin's church, followed by a climb up Keash Mountain by the elders, but this stopped after one of the party fately fell down a mountain cliff
The blessing is still led by the priest, followed by sports event also led by the priest, followed by a ceili in the village hall.
From these ancient traditions we can use our imagination to create our own Lughnasa Celebration
First, look at what food we have most abundant, particularly food of grains and nuts that birds will eat. Through mythology the birds are also the carriers of life’s seeds from the sacred mountains to the goddess, like the worker bees to the queen bee, and even regarded as the visible manifestation of the goddess.
Take this food, a loaf of bread, a cake, a nut loaf or whatever suits, climb your local sacred mountain or mound, bless this food with your own thanksgiving and leave it on the hill or mound. Even if the sun is not visible the energy of the sun is still present to warm and fertilise your offering. The birds will later arrive to pass your offering to the nature spirit.
On return to your community consider the tension and rivalry that may have been caused to serve, toil and harvest that abundance. Even if you bought your abundance from a store you may have competed for a parking place to enable your shopping to happen. Consider sporting events or any interaction with people that releases tension and rivalry in the spirit of competition rather than warriorship. Its a time to release pent up emotions and feelings without harming people.
Finally, in the spirit of sport, celebrate through sharing food, stories, song and dance and commence the healing process of unity ready for the Samhain celebration to come.
Here’s wishing you the joy from abundance, relaxation from your toil to create the abundance, uplifting celebrations and the start of warmer unity with those you may have fallen into tension with.
Joy and good spirits through Lughnasa