What is Lughnasadh?
"At Lughnasadh, we see the fields of corn being cut, and for some, this is the true time of the festival. In the fields, John Barleycorn, who laid with the Lady in the woods at Beltane, has grown old, and now stands bent and bearded with a crooked cane. He looks to the Sun as he has changed from green to gold, and he knew that his time has come. His life will feed the people, and it is this sacrifice that we honour at Lughnasadh." Duridry.com
Lughnasa marks the beginning of autumn (fall). It is the beginning of the harvest season and celebrates the decline of summer into winter. Also known as Lammas, or First Harvest, the name of this festival as Lughnasadh is Irish Gaelic for “Commemoration of Lugh”. Some authors give the meaning as marriage, gathering, or feast (in the name of) of Lugh. The meaning remains basically the same: Lugh is the Deity of Lughnasadh, and there is a feast.
Although Lugh gives his name to this festival, it is also associated with Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, who is said to have cleared the way for the introduction of agriculture in Ireland, thus linking Lughnasadh to the land and the harvest.
The modern Irish Gaelic name for the month of August is Lúnasa. In Scottish-Gaelic Lunasda means the 1st of August.
One of several historic sources for the four Celtic fire festivals Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain is the early medieval Irish tale “Tochmarc Emire” (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 solar festivals, nor Christian ones, which were certainly well known and established by the 10th century. Instead, Emer chooses the first days of each season.
One of these days is Lughnasadh, marking the beginning of fall. It takes place on the 1st of August, a date internationally agreed upon, or on the day of the full moon next to this date, if you want to celebrate when the ancient Celts probably did.
Since the Celtic day started with the sunset, the celebration takes place on the evening before the calendar date.
Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the noticeable descent of the Sun into the darkness of winter. From the connection between the Earth (female principle) and the Sun (male principle), the marriage of the Sky Father (Sun God) with the Earth Mother we celebrated at Bealtaine, emerge the fruits of the first harvest of the year. Lughnasadh is a time of joy about the first fruits. It is also a time of tension, because the dark days of winter are coming nearer, and most of the harvest is not brought in and stored away yet.
The God of the harvest is the Green Man (also known as John Barleycorn). He sacrifices himself every year in order to enable human life on Earth. In some areas, his death is mourned with wreaths decorated with poppies or cornflowers.
The grain is cut, part of it goes into bread and nutrition, another part is stored away and used as seeds next spring, to create new life. Looking at that, thoughts about sacrifice, transformation, death, and rebirth are also part of Lughnasadh.
The celebration of Lughnasadh includes the ritual cutting of the first grain and an offering thereof, possibly the making of a first meal and the ritual eating of it, as well as dancing. Fires are mentioned, but fire or light does not play such a prominent role as with the other fire festivals. This is probably because August is a warm month in most of Europe, with still long daylight hours, where no fire is needed. Lughnasadh celebrations are reported from Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall.
Another name used for Lughnasadh is “Lammas”, from the old-Anglo-Saxon “half-mass” (loaf mass, mass where the first loaf of bread is consecrated), which developed into the later medieval English and Scottish “Lammas”. As such it is first mentioned in old Anglo-Saxon chronicles as early as 921 CE as “Feast of the First Fruits”. In an agricultural society, the beginning of the harvest was a natural occasion to celebrate and to give thanks to the Divine for Its gifts.
Symbolism of Lughnasadh:
fruitfulness, reaping, prosperity, reverence, purification, transformation, change, The Bread of Life, The Chalice of Plenty , The Ever-flowing Cup , the Groaning Board (Table of Plenty), Honoring the parent Deities, first harvest festival, first fruits grains & drink to the Goddess in appreciation of Her bounty, offering loaves of sacred bread in the form of the God (this is where the Gingerbread Man originated).
Symbols and decorations of Lughnasadh:
Corn, cornucopias, all baked goods, broom, red, yellow flowers, sheaves of grain (wheat, barley, oats), first fruits/vegetables of garden labor, corn dollies, gift baskets, baskets of bread, spear, cauldron, sickle, scythe, threshing tools, sacred loaf of bread, harvested herbs, bonfires, bilberries, God figures made of bread or cookie dough, phallic symbols.
Animals of Lughnasadh:
Roosters, calves, stags, phoenix, and griffins.
Herbs and Flowers of Lughnasadh:
Alder, apple, acacia flowers, aloes, calendula, mugwort, cyclamen, ivy, vine, poppy, fennel, frankincense, heather, hollyhock, honeysuckle, mint, myrtle, oak leaves, sunflower, vervain, woad, corn, barley, wheat, rye, and ginseng.
Foods of Lughnasadh:
Homemade bread, corn, potatoes, berry pies, barley cakes, nuts, wild berries, apples, rice, roasted lamb, acorns, crab apples, summer squash, turnips, oats, all grains, and all First Harvest foods. Traditional drinks are elderberry wine, ale, and meadowsweet tea.
Incenses and oils of Lughnasadh:
Aloes, rose, rose hips, rosemary, chamomile, passionflower, frankincense, sandalwood, mint, lavender, apple, cinnamon, and patchouli.
Colors of Lughnasadh:
Orange, red, gold, bronze, yellow, dark purple, green, and brown.
Stones of Lughnasadh:
Yellow diamonds, aventurine, obsidian, moonstone, sardonyx, slate, tiger's eye, peridot, and citrine.
Activities of Lughnasadh:
Making homemade bread, corn dolly, spend some time outdoors, pick herbs to dry, and save seeds.
Spellworkings of Lughnasadh:
Possibility, hope, abundance, bounty, plentifulness, prosperity, transformation, purification, change
Deities of Lughnasadh:
Goddesses- The mother aspect, Danu, Tailltiu (Lugh’s Mother), Seelu, Isis, Ceres, Cerridwen, Demeter, Inanna, Ishtar, Kore, Persephone
Gods- Lugh, John Barley Corn, Lleu, Dionysus, Tanus, Adonis, Dumuzi, Odin, Loki, Baal