Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Blessed Lughnasadh!

From "Wild Celtic Rose" (
Most Pagans, Wiccans, and Neo-Pagans today mark Lughnasadh (a.k.a. Lunasa; pronounced LOO-nuh-sah or loo-NAH-suh; also sometimes called Lammas in Christian use for "loaf mass") on August 1 or August 2 in the northern hemisphere and on February 1-2 in the southern. Some eclectic Wiccan traditions mark Lughnasadh according to the full Moon that is closest to August 1.

The roots of Lughnasadh come from old Celtic traditions, i.e., the Irish, Scot, Manx, Cornish, Welsh, and Breton peoples. Celtic polytheists (a.k.a. Celtic reconstructionists, or CRs) follow traditional agricultural markers (based on extant records, folklore, etc.) rather than calendar dates when timing celebrations. Those practicing CR Druidism may locate Lughnasadh according to the appearance of the first late summer fruits or the first grain harvest in their home area. Here in the Pacific northwest, we use the blackberries to time agricultural Lughnasadh, while CRs on the east coast tend to use blueberries. For CRs, the emphasis is on the rhythms of life in one’s home area rather than on the calendar. (For instance, rather than marking Beltaine on May 1, most CRs celebrate it once the hawthorn—or a local white-flowering tree—blooms.) In CR practices, the sacred and mundane are not separate, and the most mundane daily activity can be every bit as sacred as the carefully planned “high ritual.” Daily life is a form of spiritual practice, and hospitality is one of the most highly valued of these expressions.

According to Irish mythos, Lughnasadh marks a funeral celebration and feast thrown by the God Lugh (pronounced LOO) in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu. Legend claims that she cleared much of Ireland’s plains to allow for farms to be started, after which she collapsed and died. (Yeah—I’d be tired, too.) The funeral games were subsequently called the Tailtin/Tailtiun games in her honor.Interestingly, because so many hot young people appeared for the games, Lughnasadh also became known as a prime time to make matches-- of the romantic rather than the gaming time-- with many handfastings following.

In folkloric terms—and those of traditional calendar customs—Lughnasadh more or less always marks the harvest of the local berries and of the first ripening grains.

Celtic reconstructionists may celebrate Lughnasadh in several ways:

1. The celebration is invariably communal. It was typical of the ancient Celtic peoples to gather as communities or even come from distances for major celebrations, and this was often especially true at Lughnasadh as the weather was better in summer than at the other cross-quarter holidays (however, the needs of one’s farm or animals may have limited long periods of travel). The celebrations included feasting, games and tourneys (esp. horse racing), and ritual fires.

2. The ancient Gods are appeased and thanked with offerings from the first harvest and with ritual. Lugh and Tailtiu, in particular, may be honored. Danu, the Irish mother goddess, is also well honored at Lughnasadh, for she is the benefactress of all.

3. Prayers are offered for success and bounty in the coming year. Prayers may be made in the fields—among the crops—and offerings made to the land.

4. CR Druids mark the four cross-quarter holidays, but generally not the quarters (the solstices and equinoxes). Lughnasadh and Imbolc stand opposite one another in the agricultural year. For the ancient Celts, Imbolc was a festival of sacred fire, so Lughnasadh is viewed as a festival of sacred water. On Lughnasadh, it is traditional to dress wells, bathe oneself and one’s animals in wild water, and to make offerings and prayers to sacred wild water. Silver and flowers have long been considered appropriate offerings to water. Today, though, that many of us modern CR Druids do not believe in putting silver in water because of contamination, etc. We stick to flowers and shiny pebbles.

5. CR Druids also honor standing stones as guardians standing between land and fields, and traditionally do this at the cross-quarter days. At Lughnasadh, the stones may be dressed with wreaths of flowers and with effigies of cornstalk or wheat.

Photo by Sue Pesznecker.
6. CR Druids celebrate the grain at Lughnasadh. The most traditional approach is to grind one’s own corn and use it to bake a corn bannock—a flat, round, unleavened loaf. However, any grain and any baked grain product honor the custom. The bannock is traditionally carried around the place of celebration—or around one’s home bounds—three times, deosil (sun-wise). After the third circuit, the bearer stops in front of her home or garden, breaks off a piece of bannock, throws it over one shoulder as an offering, and names a thing she wishes to appease or propitiate in the coming year. The remaining bannock is then shared and enjoyed.

As for me? I'll be making a couple of handpies using local Marionberries-- combining wheat and berries in one tasty package. Oh, yeah....

7. And, of course, it’s appropriate to celebrate the fruits, too, for these are also a symbol of the holiday. Berries tend to be regarded as solar symbols, which bring even more oomph to the celebration. Ideally, the community comes together, picks the berries on Lughnasadh morning, and works them into the collective celebratory feast.

8. For CR Druids, Lughnasadh is also a festival of the high places. After the main celebrations were held, the people would visit a mountaintop or other high place and would honor Sun, Moon, lightning, and wind with fruits, grains, and sacred poems. Lugh is also a god of Sun, storms, wind, and lightening (rather Thor-like, yes?) and so is often honored in the high places. The Cailleachs—the storm hags—were also typically appeased on Lughnasadh. Such rituals were believed to strengthen the people and to keep the Cailleachs from damaging dwellings and farms.

Note 1: The weather on Lughnasadh is believed to portend the Gods’ favor (or lack thereof). Mild weather—soft sun, gentle rains—is seen as a good omen, while stormy or excessively hot weather is not and may indicate risk to the harvest.

Note 2: This is a good place to mention that CRDs are polytheist, believing in a number of Gods and Goddesses, each with their own personalities, appeals, etc. This is in contrast to being monotheist (believing in one God/dess), pantheist (believing that all God/desses are manifestations of one source), or atheist (not believing in a God/dess force at all).

9. Finally, divination is a common part of any CR ritual. Typically, offerings and appeals are made and then a divination is made—or an omen read—to assess the Gods’ responses. In this way, those performing with works enter into a dialog with their Gods. If an unfavorable reading is obtained, additional offerings or appeals will be made. As a cross-quarter holiday, Lughnasadh is a prime time for divination.

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