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?
The word Imbolc is thought to have come from the Old Irish word oimelc, which means “ewe’s milk”. It is also said that the word itself, Imbolc, literally translates to “in the belly”. This is a fitting name for this Sabbat as we celebrate the return of Spring. Imbolc is one of the four Celtic fire festivals, the others being Beltane, Samhain, and Lughnasadh (Lammas). The ancient Celts celebrated this day as the coming of Spring when their herds would start to produce offspring and the farmers would go back to work in the fields. The origins of this Sabbat, though, date back to Neolithic times. We know this (or speculate at best) because the inner chamber of the Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara in Ireland is aligned with the rising sun on Samhain and Imbolc. The Mound of Hostages was built about 5,000 years ago in the year 3,000 BC (9).
Yule is typically celebrated around the same time as the Christian holiday of Christmas in the northern hemisphere, but they are two very different holidays. You can see from above that the dates range for the celebration of Yule and that is because it is celebrated on the Winter Solstice, which changes every year, but always happens within a certain date range.
Throughout the world, Samhain is typically known as Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere. Historically, this was the last day of the calendar year to the Celts. It was a time when grazing days for cattle were over and the herds were either put away for winter or separated in preparation for slaughter. As such, Samhain is closely linked with death. Farmers have taken the last of their crops and gave the excess back to the Mother for the New Year. In Wicca, Samhain is the third and final of the harvest festivals. It is a time of death in the Earth when the final crops have been harvested and saved for the winter.
We don’t know for sure where the name Mabon came from, and its first use was in the 1970s by Aidan Kelly, an American academic and poet who has been influential to the neo-Pagan movement. He states that he was looking to different myths from Germanic or Gaelic literature and could not find anything that rang true to this Sabbat, so he settled on Mabon, from the story Mabon ap Modron, which translates to “Son of the Mother”. Regardless of the name given, many Wiccans choose to call this Sabbat the Autumnal Equinox rather than Mabon.