Bless the earth that grows the grain,
Bless the water that gives us rain,
Bless the wind that helps seed spread,
Bless the fire that bakes our bread.
– Words by Diane Baker, music by Anne Hill, Serpentine Music
Now the Wheel of the Year turns once more, and the season of planting and growing gives way to the first harvest, and the first taste of Fall.
Blessings on this Lughnasadh! Sometimes spelled with two S’s, and pronounced “LOO-nahs-ah” or “Loo-NAH-sah,” this is an Irish Gaelic word. It is also known by the Anglo-Saxon, Christianized name of “Lammas.”
Lughnasadh is one of the Cross-Quarter Sabbats (the Quarters refer to the Equinoxes and Solstices). Across the northern European traditions, it is a merry celebration of the First Harvest, featuring dancing, music, and country fair festivities.
Although some of the hottest days of Summer may still be on the way, we can already notice the diminishing hours of daylight, and feel the shifting towards Autumn.
Of course, for our many friends in the lands of the Southern Hemisphere, we send blessings of Imbolc, when Winter’s grip begins to noticeably slip. May you be blessed by dearest Brigid this day! For both of us, the Equinox is now only six weeks away.
In agricultural traditions throughout the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the start of the harvest cycle, when grains and corn are the first to ripen. This is a day of thanksgiving for these early crops of ripening grain, as well as the fruits and vegetables that are now filling our pantries.
Although in some places, this time also begins the hunting season, Lughnasadh is primarily a grain harvest, one in which corn, wheat, barley and grain products such as bread are prominently featured.
At this time, many Witches give special devotion to the Harvest Gods and Goddesses, as well as observe the sacrificial Dying and Resurrection motif, by preparing magical loaves of bread. Other activities include making corn dollies, and dancing around the bonfire.
In her beautiful book of daily devotions, The Celtic Spirit, Caitlin Matthews writes, “This feast is often understood to be a celebration of the Irish God Lugh, but this is not the case. The festival is celebrated primarily in honor of Lugh’s foster-mother, Taltiu (TAWL’too), who single-handedly cleared the plains of Ireland of trees in order that agriculture and the grazing of cattle might take place. This necessary work is remembered and honored in the myth of Taltiu.
“The word Lughnasa … comes from the old Irish Lugh nasad, or ‘the binding promise or duty of Lugh.’ On the death of His foster-mother, Lugh caused funeral games to be held in her honor.”
So the meaning of Lughnasadh is not so much to celebrate Lugh, although naturally any honor given to this Shining God of the Many Gifts is always appropriate. Instead, it is to celebrate the promise of Lugh – the vow He gave to His mother.
The games He established were held at Telltown (named for Taltiu) in County Meath for many centuries. Though discontinued after medieval times (except for a brief 20th century revival), the traditional celebration spread throughout Ireland and other parts of northern Europe as harvest fairs, with people gathering for bonfires, dances, harvest suppers, games, and food contests.
(I love that today also happens to be the birthday of a modern one “of the many gifts” — and even a demi-god to some — Jerry Garcia. This marks the beginning of the “Days Between” which end in the solemn observance of his death, Aug. 9).
As you celebrate today, what vows may you feel called to make, on behalf of those you love? What promises are you obliged to keep, especially to your ancestors?
In the same way that the grain that is now harvested from the fields contains the seed for next Spring’s planting, you are the result of your ancestors’ seeds of desires and dreams.
Similarly, for those who come after you, what seeds of wisdom, hope, and love are you duty-bound to protect and pass on?
Maybe most of all, as you feast and give thanks for your bountiful table, I encourage you to consider what promise and fidelity you might give to the sacred land itself, that makes possible your abundance?
May you never hunger. May you never thirst.