Lughnasadh (LOO-nuh-sah) or Lammas
February 2 (Southern Hemisphere)
Lammas, or Lughnasadh, depending on your tradition and preference, is the first of three harvest festivals, and one of four fire festivals, from ancient Celtic traditions and beliefs. This first harvest is the harvest of grains, and we can see the fruits of the union between the God and Goddess. The word Lammas comes from the Old English word hlāfmæsse, meaning “loaf mass”, and is highly connected to the harvesting of the grains and the feasts prepared at Lammas. Traditionally, this day was celebrated with the harvesting of the first grains and a feast. The ancient peoples that celebrated this festival knew the importance, though, and we can try to get back to that.
Named after the god Lugh, Lughnasadh (or Lammas) marks the beginning of the Sun’s descent into darkness and the coming of winter. The fruits of the harvest are celebrated as the reward of the union of the God and Goddess celebrated at Beltane. Even though it is a time of celebration, it is also a time of tension and uncertainty as, historically, not all things were harvested yet and winter was coming.
One of several historic sources for the four Celtic fire festivals Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain is the early medieval Irish tale “Tochmarc Emire”, or the Wooing of Emer, which is part of the Ulster Cycle. In the form we know it today it was written in the 10th or 11th century CE, but it is safe to assume that this tale – like so many others – contains a much older nucleus.
The tale narrates how the hero Cú Chulainn is courting Emer. He receives several tasks to fulfill, one of them being that he must go without sleep for one year. As Emer utters her challenge, she names the four major points of the Irish-Celtic year, as they are also mentioned in other Irish sources. Doing this, she does not use the solar festivals, nor Christian ones, which were certainly well known and established by the 10th century. Instead Emer choses the first days of each season.
Historically, the grain was cut and part of it was used for the feast. Another part of the first harvest was stored away to be used as seeds for the next harvest. In this way, we can see how the idea of the life cycle plays a part in this Sabbat: life as the growing grain, death as the harvesting of that grain, and rebirth as the seeds for the next harvest season.
Also, Lughnasadh was historically a time for not only feasting, but religious ceremonies, ritual athletic games (most notably the Tailteann Games), matchmaking, and trading. The Tailteann Games were originally held as funeral games in honor of the Goddess Tailtiu, the Mother Goddess of the god Lugh. According to the Leabhar Gabhála (Book of Invasions also called the “Book of Conquests”), the Goddess Tailtiu died of exhaustion clearing the plains of Ireland to make the land available for farming. Tailtiu was the daughter of the King of Spain, and the wife of the last Fir Bolg High King of Ireland. She survived the Tuatha Dé Danaan invasion, but her husband did not. She later married the victorious leader of the invasion force, Eochaidh Garbh, and became the foster mother of the deity Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Hand) who proclaimed that the first of August would mark the festival of Lughnasa (“Lugh’s Fair”), in honor of his foster mother. It was to be celebrated at Teltown as a funeral feast and sporting competition called the Oenach Tailten. Spectators could enjoy watching long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, contests in sword fighting, archery, wrestling, swimming, and chariot and horse racing. The games also included competitions in strategy, singing, dancing and storytelling, along with crafts competitions for goldsmiths, jewelers, weavers and armorers. Although the yearly staging of the Tailteann Games was interrupted several times by war or threat of war, the apparent continuity attests to their importance to the people of Ireland.
In modern times, most of us don’t grow our own food. So, how then do we celebrate the harvest festival? If you think of it in more spiritual terms, what “seeds” did we sow in the Spring? What do we need or want to finish before descending into the darkness of Winter? Were we adequately prepared for this “harvesting” of our spiritual selves?
At Lughnasadh, we take in the warm rays of the Sun and know that even though darker days are coming, we can get through them and they are a part of the life cycle. Lughnasadh is a perfect time to celebrate the gifts that we have been given. The God and Goddess continue on their journey, providing for us as their children and making sure we have the tools we need to continue on our spiritual path as well as our experience in the physical world. When we celebrate Lughnasadh, be mindful of what you are eating. If you harvest your own food, that’s wonderful! If you don’t, though, try to get food that has been locally grown and harvested. Give an offering to the God and Goddess, thanking them for their work. Don’t sit in front of the television or phone while eating your feast. Be mindful when you eat, not taking the food in front of you for granted.
Lughnasadh Correspondences and Associations
- Grain and Harvests
- Apples and Berries
- Sickles, Corn Dollies, and Cornucopias
- Games and Crafting
- The colors yellow, brown, and orange
Lughnasadh Celebration Ideas
- Feasting! Use fresh fruits and vegetables of the season to create some of your favorite dishes. Decorate the table with the colors of Lughnasadh, or any that you associate with the fall season. If you don’t grow your own food, try to get food from the source, taking advantage of the energy that can be found in freshly, and locally, harvested food.
- Meditate on your goals from the past year. Have you accomplished the things you wanted to accomplish? Is there anything that you didn’t accomplish that you need to rethink or revisit? Have you gotten what you needed from those goals and, if not, does the goal need to change? Keep notes about your meditation and introspection to go back to often to remind you of the things you have planned for yourself, and the things you have accomplished throughout the year.