Lughnasa / Lammas

                Lughnasa was originally celebrated on August 1st.  Roughly translated, it means “assembly of Lugh”, in reference to the Celtic god.  It is said that he founded the celebration to commemorate his mother Tailtiu who perished while preparing the land for agriculture.  Áenach Tailteann, as the games were called, was observed in the same manner as the Olympic Games.  These celebrations are thought to have lasted anywhere from two weeks to an entire month spanning from July 15 to August 15 (Fleming, Husain, Littleton, & Malcor 37) and were observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.  As with most witch holidays, little information has survived as to how it was actually observed.  In her book The Festival of Lughnasa, Máire MacNeill states that an offering of the first cut of corn was made to deity, either burned or buried (426).  We know the celebration consisted of tribal gatherings held on hilltops or near wells.  They organized contests and played games, conducted trial marriages, feasted and made sacrifice of a bull.  Tribal affairs were discussed and horse-racing took place as well as martial contests.  Time was also set aside for spiritual and ritual work to ensure a healthy and prosperous harvest (Franklin & Mason). 

     We may find a clue as to the other activities, contests, or celebrations occurring at Lughnasa by looking into the mythology of Lugh.  One tale talks of a power struggle between multiple races inhabiting the Celtic lands--the Firbolgs, Tuatha De Danann, and Fomorians.   King Nuadu of the Danann won victory against the Firbolgs, but lost his arm in the battle and with it his right to the throne.  He was replaced by Bres who was later found out to be half-Fomorian.  Bres conspired with the Fomorian king Balor and allowed the Fomorians to terrorize the land during his reign.  Nuadu had his arm magically restored and returned to the kingship, but was unable to conquer the Fomorians.  When Lugh, the only surviving grandson of Balor grew older, he attempted to join the court of Nuadu to assist in the fight against the Fomorians.  The doorman told Lugh he would not be admitted to the court lest he had a useful skill to offer the king.  He presented himself as a carpenter, smith, harpist, poet, magician, steward, and warrior.  The doorman replied that the king already had a person in court skilled in each of those things.  When Lugh asked if there was one who could do all, the doorman allowed his entrance.  Lugh was given epithets in honor of his abilities, Ildamach meaning skilled in many arts and Samhildanach meaning equally skilled in many arts (“Lugh”).  One can imagine that feats of strength, craftsmanship, and creativity were a part of the Lughnasa celebration.

     Croagh Patrick Mountain in County Mayo Ireland has long been a pilgrimage site for the religious.  It is said that Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, fasted at the summit for 40 days.  The famous Black Bell of St. Patrick once resided there and one can still find a statue of the saint, erected in 1928.  The official website for the visitor’s center of Croagh Patrick states that the mountain (known as the Reek) attracts about a million visitors a year, over a fourth of which make the pilgrimage on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July.  “The other traditional Pilgrimage days are the last Friday of July which is known locally as 'Garland Friday', and August 15th which is the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven”.  But long before people began celebrating St. Patrick the mountain was used as a gathering place to celebrate the first harvest of the season.  “The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption”.  An archaeological dig in the mid 90’s uncovered a pagan hill fort encircling the summit and there have been other finds such as artwork and cairns dating to the Bronze Age.  A strange solar alignment can be viewed twice a year near the mountain in April and August.  The sun seems to travel from the mountain’s peek and to roll down the side during sunset (Franklin & Mason).

     Holy wells were very important to the Celts and were visited during Lughnasa (as well as Beltane and Midsummer).  These holy wells were said to have healing powers and so offerings were made in the form of coin, cloth, and even weaponry for deity.  Throwing coins in a wishing well is something we still practice to this day, but the Celts had another type of well called a clootie (or cloutie) that has a tree or bush growing over it.  A strip of cloth or rag called a cloot or clootie was tied to a branch as part of a healing work or a wish.  The clootie was left to the elements and once the rag dropped into the well, the wish or healing was granted (Franklin & Mason).

     Lammas (meaning loaf-mass) and also referred to as the “feast of the first fruits” is the Christian term for the holiday and marks the first harvest day of the season.  It was observed in Britain during the Middle Ages, but has been revived in certain areas.  The first bit of grain gathered in the harvest was to be ground and baked into a loaf of bread which was offered during the Eucharist (Franklin & Mason). 

     We may plan our own Lughnasa rituals in accordance to our ancestor’s celebrations, or we may look to the present for inspiration.  Lughnasa marks the time of the first harvest – that of grain and autumn fruits such as apples, grapes, and pears.  Visit your local farmer’s market and adorn your altar with foods harvested close to home.  Bake a loaf of bread (or purchase one if baking isn’t your thing) and make an offering to your guides or gods.  Make a corn dolly and cleanse and consecrate her to use in next year’s Ostara ritual.  Write and conduct a ritual to honor Lugh of the many skills.  Host your own games with feats of strength, wit, and creativity.  Recognize and celebrate those things, magickal, physical, or otherwise that you planted earlier in the year that are now ready to harvest.  However you chose to celebrate the first harvest, have fun, be safe, and give thanks.

 

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Fleming, Fergus, Shahrukh Husain, C. Scott Littleton, & Linda A. Malcor.  Heros of the Dawn – Celtic Myth. London:  Duncan Baird Publishers, 1996. Print.

 

Franklin, Ann and Paul Mason.  Lammas – Celebrating the Fruits of the First Harvest.  St. Paul:  Llewellyn, 2001. Print.


“Lugh”.  read-legends-and-myths. Read Legends and Myths, n.d. Web. 12 July 2016.

 

MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. Oxford:   University Press, 1962. Print.

 

“The Holy Mountain” & “Historical Interest”.  Teach na Miasa.  Teach na Miasa. 2016. Web. 12 July 2016.