The Song of Lughnasadh
I am the sovereign splendor of creation,
I am the fountain in the courts of bliss,
I am the bright surrender of the willpower,
I am the watchful guardian and the kiss.
I am the many-colored landscape,
I am the transmigration of the geese,
I am the burnished glory of the breastplate,
I am the harbor where all strivings cease.
~ from The Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings
by Caitlín Matthews
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, so the cross quarters are the mid-point observances that fall between them.
Since ancient times, across the northern European traditions, it has been a merry celebration of the First Harvest, featuring dancing, music, matchmaking, and country fair festivities.
Although some of the hottest days of Summer may still be on the way, here in the Northern Hemisphere, we can already notice the diminishing hours of daylight, and feel the shifting towards Autumn.
And for our many friends in the lands of the Southern Hemisphere, we send blessings of Imbolc. For you, Winter’s dark has begun to noticeably slip and the promise of Spring is in the air. May you be blessed by dearest Brigid this day!
For all 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.
The old British folk song, John Barleycorn Must Die, which dates back at least to the 15th century, is a witty reference to this theme and its connection, also, with the joys and perils of alcohol.
Other activities include making corn dollies, and dancing around the bonfire. If the trysts made at Beltane have not firmed up, it’s another chance to flirt and court, all with the blessings of social guardianship.
Lugh and Taltiu
In her beautiful and essential book of daily devotions, The Celtic Spirit, Caitlín 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 am honor-bound to mention that today is also the birthday of a modern-day “one of many gifts,” Jerry Garcia. This marks the beginning of what Deadheads call “The Days Between,” from Aug. 1 through the solemn observance of his death, Aug. 9, which is especially poignant this year, as it is the 20th anniversary of his crossing).
Giving Thanks and Paying It Forward
As you celebrate today, what vows may you feel called to make, on behalf of those you love?
In the same way that the grain now harvested from the fields contains the seed for next Spring’s planting, you are the result of your forebears’ seeds of desires and dreams. What promises are you obliged to keep, especially to the Ancestors?
Similarly, what seeds of wisdom, hope, and love are you duty-bound to protect and pass on to those who come after you?
Maybe most of all, as we feast and give thanks for the bounty on our tables, let us consider what promise and fidelity we might give to the sacred land itself, that makes possible our very lives? For Goddess knows, our fierce, loving allegiance is needed now more than it ever has.
May you never hunger. May you never thirst.