The fields are full of grain, and the harvest is approaching. Take a moment to relax in the heat, and reflect on the upcoming abundance of the fall months. At Lammas, sometimes called Lughnassadh, it’s time to begin reaping what we have sown throughout the past few months, and recognize that the bright summer days will soon come to an end.
At Lughnassadh the hot days of August are upon us, much of the earth is dry and parched, but we still know that the bright reds and yellows of the harvest season are just around the corner. Apples are beginning to ripen in the trees, our summer vegetables have been picked, corn is tall and gold, waiting for us to come gather the bounty of the crop fields. Now is the time to begin reaping what we have sown, and gathering up the first harvests of grain, wheat, oats, and more. This holiday can be celebrated either as a way to honour the god Lugh, or as a celebration of the harvest.
In early Ireland, it was a bad idea to harvest your grain any time before Lammas — it meant that the previous year’s harvest had run out early, and that was a serious failing in agricultural communities. However, on August 1, the first sheafs of grain were cut by the farmer, and by nightfall his wife had made the first loaves of bread of the season.
The word Lammas derives from the Old English phrase hlaf-maesse, which translates to loaf mass. In early Christian times, the first loaves of the season were blessed by the Church.
In some Wiccan and modern Pagan traditions, Lammas is also a day of honouring Lugh, the Celtic craftsman god. He is a god of many skills, and was honored in various aspects by societies both in the British Isles and in Europe. Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-nosh) is still celebrated in many parts of the world today. Lugh’s influence appears in the names of several European towns.
Who is Lugh?
Similar to the Roman god Mercury, Lugh was known as a god of both skill and the distribution of talent. There are countless inscriptions and statues dedicated to Lugh, and Julius Caesar himself commented on this god’s importance to the Celtic people. Although he was not a war god in the same sense as the Roman Mars, Lugh was considered a warrior because to the Celts, skill on the battlefield was a highly valued ability. In Ireland, which was never invaded by Roman troops, Lugh is called sam ildanach, meaning he was skilled in many arts simultaneously.
In one famous legend, Lugh arrives at Tara, the hall of the high kings of Ireland. The guard at the door tells him that only one person will be admitted with a particular skill — one blacksmith, one wheelwright, one bard, etc. Lugh enumerates all the great things he can do, and each time the guard says, “Sorry, we’ve already got someone here who can do that.” Finally Lugh asks, “Ah, but do you have anyone here who can do them ALL?” At last, Lugh was allowed entrance to Tara.
Although not specifically a war god, Lugh was known as a skilled warrior. His weapons included a mighty magic spear, which was so bloodthirsty that it often tried to fight without its owner. According to Irish myth, in battle, the spear flashed fire and tore through the enemy ranks unchecked. In parts of Ireland, when a thunderstorm rolls in, the locals say that Lugh and Balor are sparring – thus giving Lugh one more role, as a god of storms.
The Celts had many gods and goddesses, due in part to the fact that each tribe had its own patron deities, and within a region there might be gods associated with particular locations or landmarks. For example, a god who watched over a particular river or mountain might only be recognized by the tribes who lived in that area. Lugh was fairly versatile, and was honored nearly universally by the Celts. The Gaulish Lugos is connected to the Irish Lugh, who in turn is connected to the Welsh Llew Llaw Gyffes.
The Book of Invasions tells us that Lugh came to be associated with grain in Celtic mythology after he held an harvest fair in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu. This day became August 1, and that date ties in with the first grain harvest in agricultural societies in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, in Irish Gaelic, the word for August is lunasa. Lugh is honored with corn, grains, bread, and other symbols of the harvest.
The Feast of Lughnasadh falls on the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. The festival was, according to legend, instituted by the god Lugh on the occasion of his foster-mother Tailtiu’s death as a funeral feast. It is clear, however, that the feast originated as a commemoration of Lugh’s slaying of the giant Balor, and the prizing of agricultural secrets from the dark god Bres. This victory over the Fomorians marked the beginning of the rule of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
In the calendrical pageant of the gods, Lughnasadh commemorates this victory over darkness and celebrates the fruit of that victory, the first fruits of the harvest. It can be looked at as the victory of Lugh, the gentler solar aspect, over Balor, his harsher aspect. The feast of Lugh is held at the hottest time of the year, when the battle against the harshness of the sun was often very real.
Tailtiu seems to have been an ancient agricultural goddess, about whom little is known except for the harvest festival held in her honor. In Lugh’s story, she is the Fir Bolg princess who fosters him. During the period of starvation that marked the captivity of the Tuatha Dé Danann by the Fomorians, she performs heroically, clearing a massive plain for planting so that the people will not starve. She dies as a result of her exertions, and the grieving god institutes a funeral feast in her honor. The month of August in Ireland has long been associated with sorrow and mourning — this may reflect a tradition of mourning for the “sacrifice” of the grain.
Lugh was called “many skilled,” and his feast was a pageant of skill as well, from feats of athleticism and competitive games to displays of handicrafts and metalwork. Lughnasadh represented the last period of rest before the major work of the agricultural year began. It was a time for trade between tribes, for sport and friendly competition, and for reciting songs of praise for the heroic deeds of the heroes and the fallen warriors of the tribes. The crops were ripened, and there were trades and goods to be purchased with the new bounty. Lughnasadh was also a popular time for new couples to enact temporary partnerships called “Tailtian marriages.” These trial marriages were solemnized at the festival and typically lasted until the next year.
Lughnassadh Spirit Incense
1 part basil
1/2 part cinnamon bark
1 part coriander
2 parts goldenrod
1 part heather
1/2 part rosemary
2 parts Sweet Annie (you can use dried apple blossoms if you don’t have Sweet Annie)
1 part yarrow
Add your ingredients to your mixing bowl one at a time. Measure carefully, and if the leaves or blossoms need to be crushed, use your mortar and pestle to do so. As you blend the herbs together, state your intent. You may find it helpful to charge your incense with an incantation, such as:
We’re thankful this day for the gift of rebirth
Fruits and vegetables, the bounty of the earth.
For the harvest mother with her basket and scythe,
Abundance and fertility, and the blessings of life.
We’re grateful for the gifts we carry within,
And for what will become, and what has been.
A new day begins and life circles round,
As grain is harvested from the fertile ground.
Blessings to the earth and to the gods from me,
As I will it, this Lughnassadh, so shall it be.