Edited to make a correction: Lugh is not an Irish Sun God. (8/2/2020)
The Wheel has turned again and we are slowly making our approach to Lughnasadh. As the First Harvest and one of the Celtic Fire Festivals, did you know that Lughnasadh has been celebrated for many, many years? In ancient Ireland, it was celebrated as Lughnasadh – the first harvest of the season. Now, it is more commonly known as Lammas, the anglicized version of the name. So, what is Lughnasadh and why do we celebrate it?
Lughnasadh is known by many names, but these three are the most common. The word you use for this festival will depend on your tradition and belief system. This is by no means an exhaustive list of names for any first harvest celebration.
Lammas is the English version of the word meaning “loaf-mass”. Lammas Day may be a Christianized version of the word Lúnasa, but we can’t be entirely sure.
Lughnasadh is an Old Irish term that is actually made up of two words.
“Lug” – for the Irish God Lugh
“Násad” – possibly Old Irish meaning “an assembly” or a “funeral assembly”
Lúnasa is the modern Irish spelling of the Festival that means August or the 1st of August.
A few mythological and folkloric texts mention the celebration of Lughnasadh. These include The Wooing of Emer, The Birth of Aedh Slaine, and the Lebor Gabala Erenn.
The Wooing of Emer
To Brón Trogaill, i.e. Lammas-day, viz., the beginning of autumn; for it is then the earth is afflicted, viz., the earth under fruit. Trogam is a name for ‘earth.’
The Birth of Aedh Slaine
For these were the two principal gatherings that they had: Tara’s Feast at every samhain (that being the heathens’ Easter); and at each lughnasa, or’ Lammas-tide,’ the Convention of Taillte.
Side note: It is important to note that when we are looking at translations of ancient texts, we are often looking at the Christianized version.
So, why do we celebrate?
Lughnasadh was created by the Irish God Lugh (Loo) in commemoration of his foster-mother Tailtiu (TALL-chew). Tailtiu may be an Irish goddess that represented the dying vegetation of the time. We do know that Tailtiu was a Fir Bolg Queen and took Lugh in as Her foster-son. This is interesting because the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danaan were warring tribes and She still took Him in as Her own. There’s a lesson there!
Lugh created this festival in honor of His foster-mother, Tailtiu, because She died while clearing the land for agriculture and livestock. Therefore the first Harvest is a celebration of Her sacrifice and a funeral assembly. He created the festival and Tailteann Games in Her honor. The Tailteann Games were celebrated up until the early 18th century.
A legendary lore of places poem speaks to the deed of Tailtiu and connects Her with Teltown in Co. Meath.
Great that deed that was done with the axe’s help by Taltiu, the reclaiming of meadowland from the even wood by Taltiu daughter of Magmor.
When the fair wood was cut down by her, roots and all, out of the ground, before the year’s end it became Bregmag, it became a plain blossoming with clover.
Her heart burst in her body from the strain beneath her royal vest; not wholesome, truly, is a face like the coal, for the sake of woods or pride of timber.
Long was the sorrow, long the weariness of Tailtiu, in sickness after heavy toil; the men of the island of Erin to whom she was in bondage came to receive her last behest.
She told them in her sickness (feeble she was but not speechless) that they should hold funeral games to lament her—zealous the deed.
About the Calends of August she died, on a Monday, on the Lugnasad of Lug; round her grave from that Monday forth is held the chief Fair of noble Erin.The Metrical Dindshenchas Poem 33: https://celt.ucc.ie/published/T106500D/text033.html
Lugh, Crom Dubh, and Festival Celebrations
There is also a story that says every Lughnasadh, Lugh battles with a mystical figure named Crom Dubh, which translates roughly to “the black bent one”, to fight for the abundance of the harvest. This is shown in a book written by Maire MacNeill called The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. Evidence suggested that this festival involved some of the following…
- cutting of the first corn as an offering
- a meal of the new food
- a sacrifice of the sacred bull and a feast of its flesh and then replacement with a young bull
- a ritual dance and/or play that perhaps tells the struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight
- the placing of a carved stone head on top of a hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh
- another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine (possibly the Crom Dubh)
- a three-day celebration presided over by Lugh or his human representative
- a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over and the chief god in his rightful place again
Now, full disclosure – this information comes from Wikipedia. You know how much I don’t like using Wikipedia as a source for quotes, but this book is EXPENSIVE and there is no way I could get my hands on it. Morgan Daimler summarized these activities on their website here.
Common Celebration Activities
- blessing of the cattle
- in modern times, this could be a blessing of the home or the person who provides the meals
- weather divination
- feasting with seasonal fruits, vegetables, and grains
- athletic games, drinking, and all-around frivolity are normally expected around Lughnasadh
- giving thanks to the Gods
Irish Deities Associated with Lúnasa
- Lugh (Loo)
- For obvious reasons, Lugh plays a large role in the celebrations of Lúnasa. He is an Irish god associated with craftsmanship and skills.
- Tailtiu (TALL-chew)
- The Fir Bolg Queen and step-mother to Lugh. She is a presumed Goddess of dying vegetation.
- Aine (Ahn-yuh)
- An Irish Goddess of Summer and Sovereignty. She is a possible consort to the mystical figure of Crom Dubh
- Macha (MAH-kuh)
- Irish Goddess of Sovereignty and War who is one of the three Morrígna. She is said to have raced the king’s horses on Lúnasa
However you celebrate Lughnasadh, at its core, it is a celebration of the beginning of the harvest season.
I wish you abundance and good health in this time of harvest.
Sources and Further Reading
- The Wooing of Emer: https://sejh.pagesperso-orange.fr/keltia/version-en/wooemer-en.html
- Morgan Daimler – Lunasa: https://sidhemoonwitch.wixsite.com/irishpolytheism/lughnasa
- Irish Central: Tailteann Games: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/tailteann-games-1924
- Lora O’Brien – Lughnasadh in Ireland – https://loraobrien.ie/lughnasadh-in-ireland/
- Folklore re: Laamaas Sunday – https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922355/4873658
- Wikipedia/Lughnasadh – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lughnasadh
- The Birth of Aedh Slaine – http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/aedhslaine.html