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.
Caitlín Matthews, The Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings
Wishing you a most blessed Lughnasadh!
Now the Wheel of the Year has turned once more, and the season of planting and growing gives way to the first harvest, and the first taste of Fall.
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.” And many of my Druid friends simply call it First Harvest.
Lughnasadh is a very old, beloved Fire festival and one of the Cross-Quarter Sabbats (the Quarters refer to the Equinoxes and Solstices). Since ancient times, across the northern European traditions, it has been a merry celebration, 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.
At this time, for our many friends in the lands of the Southern Hemisphere, we also send blessings of Imbolc, when Winter’s grip begins to noticeably slip. May you be blessed by dearest Brigid this day; warmer times are on the way!
For all of us, the Equinox is now only six weeks off. After that, in the northern lands, night’s hours overtake the daylight for six months.
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 other grain products such as bread are prominently featured.
By the way, many historic references to “corn” are not about the corn plant (maize) that was first cultivated by the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere. The word “corn” outside of North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand usually refers to other cereal crops, such as wheat, barley, or oats.
At this time, many Witches and Pagans 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.
Of course, the grain harvest does not transform into bread only, but is used to make spirits. 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.
Other activities include making corn dollies, and dancing around the bonfire.
Lugh and Taltiu
In her beautiful 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.
Forgive me this digression, but I am honor bound to also mention that today is the birthday of a modern-day “one of many gifts,” Jerry Garcia. This marks the beginning of what Deadheads call “The Days Between,” which end in the solemn observance of his death, Aug. 9.
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?
Perhaps you might also take this day to consider what seeds of wisdom, hope, and love you may be called to protect and pass on to those who come after you. What preparations may be needed for the cold and barren days ahead? And what promise will you make to the Descendants yet to come?
As I have written many times, the practice of gratitude is a life-transforming activity that is actually documented to have profound medical benefits. This could be a splendid time to begin keeping a gratitude journal, and then watch how blessings pour into your life in amazing ways.
Maybe most of all, as we feast and give thanks for our bountiful table, 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 to our Mother Earth is needed now more than ever before.
On this most ancient festival of fire and feast, may you never hunger. May you never thirst.