Welcome to the world of Lughnasadh, or Lammas, an ancient Celtic festival that celebrates the first harvest of the year. As the sun reaches its peak and the land is adorned with ripening grains and fruits, communities come together to honor the cycles of nature and express gratitude for the abundance of the earth.
Join me on a journey through the traditions, rituals, and symbols of Lughnasadh, as we delve into the rich history and spiritual significance of this harvest festival.
Lughnasadh is one of the eight Sabbats in the pagan Wheel of the Year, falling midway between the summer and fall solstices. The Sun is noticeably descending in the sky and it's time to harvest the crops planted at Beltane in preparation for the long winter.
The Earth (the feminine aspect) and the Sun (the masculine force) have merged. Their union has culminated in the first harvest, an occasion of celebration! At Lughnasadh, we gather to express gratitude for the first fruits of our labor and to honor the connection between humanity and the natural world.
What Is Lughnasadh/Lammas Day?
Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas, is a traditional pagan festival celebrated on August 1st or 2nd in the Northern Hemisphere (or February 1st in the Southern Hemisphere.) The festival is named after the Celtic god Lugh (Lú), deity of the sun, storms, nobility, craftsmanship, and the arts.
Lughnasadh's roots can be traced back to ancient Celtic tribes in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales and other parts of the British Isles. For agrarian societies, it was a time of great importance as they celebrated the first harvest of the year and offered thanks to the gods and spirits for a bountiful crop.
Lughnasadh And The Pagan Wheel Of The Year
The Wheel of the Year is a cycle of eight major pagan festivals, each marking significant points in the solar year. These festivals are closely connected to nature's cycles and the changing seasons. Pagans, Wiccans, and other earth-centered spiritual traditions celebrate these festivals.
The Wheel of the Year is divided into two halves: the lighter half, representing the growing season, and the darker half, representing the waning season.
There are 3 harvest festivals in the pagan wheel of the year, including Lughnasadh. The other two harvest festivals are Mabon and Samhain.
The Eight Sabbats
- Yule (Winter Solstice): Celebrated around December 21st, Yule marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. It symbolizes the rebirth of the sun and the return of light.
- Imbolc (Candlemas): Celebrated around February 1st or 2nd, Imbolc marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc celebrates the first signs of spring and the awakening of the earth.
- Ostara (Spring Equinox): Celebrated around March 20th or 21st, Ostara marks the Spring Equinox when day and night are of equal length. It symbolizes fertility, new beginnings, and the balance of light and darkness.
- Beltane: Celebrated around May 1st, Beltane marks the beginning of the lighter half of the year and the peak of spring. It's a festival of fertility, love, and the union of the god and goddess.
- Litha (Summer Solstice): Celebrated around June 21st, Litha marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year. Litha celebrates the full power of the sun and the abundance of nature.
- Lughnasadh/Lammas: Celebrated around August 1st or 2nd, Lammas (also known as Lughnasadh) marks the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It's a time of celebration for the first harvest of the year.
- Mabon (Autumn Equinox): Celebrated around September 21st or 22nd, Mabon marks the Autumn Equinox, when day and night are again of equal length. It symbolizes the second harvest and a time of thanksgiving.
- Samhain: Celebrated around October 31st to November 1st, Samhain marks the end of the pagan year. It's a time to honor ancestors, remember the dead, and embrace the cycle of life, death, and rebirth
Lugh In Celtic Mythology
Lugh, also known as Lú, is a prominent figure in Celtic mythology and a central deity associated with the Lughnasadh festival.
He is a multi-faceted god. In fact, he's known as the "Many-Skilled" or the "Long-Armed" because of his many talents and abilities. Lugh is a divine hero, embodying the attributes of a warrior, craftsman, poet, and magician. As a solar deity, he embodies the sun's light and warmth, making him a symbol of life and fertility.
Lugh is the son of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race of beings in Celtic mythology. He was born of Ethniu, a Fomorian princess, and Cian, a Tuatha Dé Danann warrior. It's this divine heritage that makes him a bridge between the two mythological races. His birth was foretold, prompting the Fomorians to try and prevent his rise to power.
The Magical Possessions Of Lugh
Lugh owned many magical items that played a central role his renowned prowess as fierce warrior. Amongst these were:
- Sling Stone (Lia Fáil): The Lia Fáil, also known as the Stone of Destiny, was a magical stone located at the Hill of Tara. It possessed the power to roar or cry out when the rightful king of Ireland touched it, affirming their legitimate claim to the throne.
- Magical Boat (Scuabtuinne or Wave Sweeper): Lugh owned a wondrous, self-propelled ship that could sail on both land and sea. The Scuabtuinne represented his mastery over water and the mystical qualities of navigation.
- Horse (Aenbarr): Lugh's horse, Aenbarr, was a magnificent, magical steed known for its exceptional speed and ability to travel over land and water. Aenbarr symbolized Lugh's connection to nature and the power of the elements.
- Spear (Gáe Assail): Lugh's most famous weapon, the Spear of Lugh or Gáe Assail, was a magical spear forged by the legendary smith Goibniu. It possessed the ability to pierce through any armor or shield, making it a potent symbol of Lugh's warrior prowess and divine identity.
- Hound (Failinis): Lugh's loyal and majestic hound, Failinis, was renowned for its size, strength, and hunting abilities. The hound's discernment and unwavering loyalty represented the strong bond between Lugh and his magical companion.
Lugh's Association With Lughnasadh
Lugh's association with Lughnasadh stems from a legendary tale. According to myth, Lugh instituted the festival in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu, who was a fertility goddess.
Tailtiu died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. As a commeration to her great sacrafice, Lugh established Lughnasadh to celebrate the first harvest, as her work bore fruit. So, the festival iteself has its roots as a funeral feast.
Óenach Tailten, also known as the Tailteann Games, was an ancient Irish festival and athletic event that was held in honor of Tailtiu. It was similar to the Ancient Olymic Games. The festival took place at the Hill of Tailte (now known as Teltown), located in County Meath, Ireland. The festival lasted for several days and included various athletic competitions, games, and festivities. It was a time of joyous gatherings, where people from different tribes and regions came together to compete, celebrate, and forge alliances.
Lughnasadh Rituals And Traditions
Lughnasadh rituals and traditions are an integral part of the celebration and are designed to honor the Celtic god Lugh, express gratitude for the first harvest, and connect with the cycles of nature. Here are some traditional Lughnasadh rituals and traditions:
Above all, Lughnasadh is a time for community gatherings and events. People come together to celebrate the festival, often in outdoor settings such as parks, fields, or sacred sites. Creating a welcoming and sacred space is an essential part of the lammas festival.
Baking Of The Lammas Loaf
Baking bread for Lughnasadh is cherished tradition. In fact, the Old English interpretation of Lammas is "loaf mass." Baking bread using the first grains of the season is a way to celebrate and give thanks for the abundance of the harvest. It's a time to acknowledge the hard work of farmers and the blessings of nature that provide sustenance for the community.
In some communities, everyone in the community takes a turn at kneading the bread. After the bread is baked, it's blessed in a ritual to imbue it with positive energy. The act of blessing the bread is a way of consecrating it and recognizing its sacred nature as a representation of the harvest.
In some Pagan traditions, the blessed bread is then ritually divided into four pieces, each piece representing one of the four directions or elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water). These pieces are placed at the boundaries of the fields or gardens to act as offerings and protective charms for the crops throughout the rest of the growing season. This practice brings blessings to the fields, ensuring a bountiful harvest while warding off any potential harm or negative influences.
Here is a typical lammas loaf blessing:
"From the fields and through the stones,
into fire, Lammas Bread,
as the Wheel turns may all be fed.
If you want to make your own Lammas Loaf, here's a Lammas Loaf recipe by Just A Pinch.
Setting up the Lughnasadh Altar
A central feature of Lughnasadh celebrations is the altar or sacred space dedicated to the festival. The altar typically includes symbols of the harvest, seasonal fruits and grains, flowers, candles, and representations of the Celtic god Lugh. It serves as a focal point for rituals and offerings. You can set up your altar with whatever resonates with the season for you, but here's a few ideas:
- Candles: Lughnasadh is a fire festival, so candles are a perfect addition to your altar. Use colors associated with the season, such as golden yellow, orange, or deep red, to represent the warmth of the sun and the bountiful harvest.
- Grains and Fruits: Arrange sheaves of grain, ears of corn, or bundles of wheat on your altar to symbolize the harvest. Add ripe fruits like apples, berries, or grapes to represent the fruits of the land.
- Sun Symbols: Include symbols of the sun, such as a small sun disc or a representation of the sun god Lugh, to honor the solar aspect of the festival and the power of the sun in ripening the crops.
- Flowers: Add fresh or dried flowers to your altar to represent the beauty of nature and the blossoming of life during the season. Sunflowers, marigolds, or any vibrant blooms are great choices.
Lughnasadh Gratitude Rituals
One of the primary themes of Lughnasadh is gratitude for the first harvest and the abundance of the land. Gratitude rituals can anything that resonates deeply with you. Generally, lammas gratitude rituals involve offering thanks to the deities and spirits of the land for their blessings and the bounty of the season. Here's a traditional Lughnasadh prayer, honoring the gods and goddesses of the harvest:
Prayer to the Harvest Deities
The fields are full, the orchards blooming,
and the harvest has arrived.
Hail to the gods who watch over the land!
Hail to Ceres, goddess of the wheat!
Hail Mercury, fleet of foot!
Hail Pomona, and fruitful apples!
Hail Attis, who dies and is reborn!
Hail Demeter, bringing the dark of the year!
Hail Bacchus, who fills the goblets with wine!
We honor you all, in this time of harvest,
and set our tables with your bounty.
If you're celebrating Lammas be sure to bring your own offerings of freshly harvested fruits, vegetables, bread, or other seasonal foods to the altar. These offerings symbolize the reciprocity between humans and nature and are given as a gesture of appreciation.
Games and Competitions
Lughnasadh celebrates the Celtic god Lugh, who was known for his skills and talents. In honor of Lugh's legendary prowess, games and competitions are often held during the festival. These may include athletic competitions, storytelling competitions, or performances of music and dance.
Things like horse racing, hurling, boxing and archery were all quite common.
Lighting the Lughnasadh Bonfire
Bonfires hold significant importance in Lughnasadh celebrations, but they're not as important as they are in some of the other fire festivals. The lighting of the bonfire symbolizes the power of the sun and its role in sustaining life and agriculture. People may gather around the fire to offer prayers, blessings, and intentions for the season ahead.
Handfasting and Unions
Lughnasadh is a favorable time for handfasting ceremonies or marriages. Handfasting is a pagan wedding ritual that symbolizes the binding of two people in love and commitment. Couples may choose to have their union blessed during the festival.
Lughnasadh is also a popular time for trial marriages. This allows couples to come together and live as partners for a specific period, often a year and a day. It provides an opportunity for the couple to experience married life and truly get to know each other before deciding to make a permanent commitment. At the next Lughnasadh, the marriage can be formalized or dissolved.
Making Corn Dolls
Crafting corn dolls or corn husk figures is a traditional Lughnasadh activity. These dolls are often made as representations of the fertility of the land and are believed to bring blessings and prosperity to the household.
Sharing a communal meal is a vital aspect of Lughnasadh. Everyone brings food to share, emphasizing the spirit of community and abundance. The feast often includes traditional Lughnasadh foods like bread, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Divination and Reflection
Divination and meditation during Lughnasadh is common to seek guidance and insight for the upcoming season. It's a time to reflect on personal growth, goals, and intentions as the year progresses.
Popular forms of divination include bonfire divination, water divination, cartomancy, or the casting of runes.
Closing of the Gates
In some Celtic traditions, a ritual called "Closing of the Gates" is performed at Lughnasadh. It symbolizes the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the darker half. Participants may enact a symbolic closing of a gateway or door, marking the transition of the seasons and the cyclical nature of life.
Visiting Holy Wells
Holy wells are natural springs or water sources that were considered sacred. They were often associated with specific deities and were believed to possess healing properties, and the ability to offer protection.
Bringing offerings of coins and cloth to the holy wells is a traditional Lughnasadh ritual. After offerings are presented, the well is circled in the direction of the Sun to gain favor from the Gods. The holy wells are typically decorated with flowers, hence the name "Garland Sunday," which Lughnasadh is often referred to.
During Lughnasadh bilberries are typically ripe for picking, and it's becomes a popular custom to go berry picking with family and friends. It's not only a way to celebrate the harvest season but also a fun social activity that brings people together to enjoy the outdoors.
In some areas, there may also be Lughnasadh festivals or fairs that include activities like berry-picking contests, baking traditional bilberry pies or tarts, and other celebrations centered around the bountiful harvest of these wild berries.
Making A Pilgimage To Hilltops And Mountains
Making a pilgrimage to the top of hill or a mountain is a traditional way to honor Lughnasadh. Hilltops and mountains have long been considered sacred places in many cultures. They're a meeting point between the earthly realm and the heavens, making them ideal locations for connecting with the spiritual energies of the season.
Symbols play a significant role in Lughnasadh celebrations, representing the the energies present at this special time of year. Here are some common symbols of Lughnasadh:
- Grains and Harvest: Sheaves of grain, such as wheat, barley, or oats, are prominent symbols of Lughnasadh, representing the bounty of the first harvest. They're often displayed on altars or used in ritual decorations.
- Cornucopia: The cornucopia, also known as the "horn of plenty," is a symbol of abundance and prosperity. It is often associated with the harvest season and is used to represent the overflowing blessings of the land.
- Sun: The sun is a central symbol of Lughnasadh, representing the fire and solar energy that ripens the crops and sustains life. The festival is often referred to as a "fire festival" because of its connection to the sun's power.
- Fire: Bonfires and candles are used to symbolize the fire aspect of Lughnasadh, both as a representation of the sun's energy and as a way to purify and bless the celebrations.
- Wheat Wreaths: Wreaths made from wheat stalks are common decorations during Lughnasadh. They symbolize the circle of life, the cycles of nature, and the continuous cycle of planting, growth, harvest, and renewal.
- Bread: Bread, especially the traditional loaf known as the "Lammas loaf," is a potent symbol of Lughnasadh. It represents the first fruits of the harvest and the importance of sustenance and nourishment provided by the land.
- Apples: Apples are associated with Lughnasadh, particularly due to the connection with the Celtic goddess Brigid, who is honored during this festival. Apples represent wisdom, fertility, and the promise of the coming autumn season.
- Corn Dolls: Corn dolls or corn maidens are crafted from the last sheaves of grain harvested at Lughnasadh. They are often used in rituals or displayed as symbols of the harvest's culmination.
- Sacred Stones: Some communities place special significance on certain stones or standing stones during Lughnasadh. These stones may be seen as representations of the Celtic deities or as places of power and connection to the spiritual realm.
Frequently Asked Questions
Lughnasadh is pronounced as "LOO-nuh-suh" or "LOO-nuh-sah."
Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas, is an ancient Celtic festival with its roots in Ireland and Scotland. The festival dates back to pre-Christian times and is associated with the Celtic god Lugh, who was celebrated as a deity of light, harvest, and skill. Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest season, typically celebrated on or around August 1st, and it is a time for communities to come together to give thanks, engage in feasting, games, and festivities, and honor the bounty of the land.
elebrating Lughnasadh involves various rituals and customs centered around gratitude for the harvest and the changing seasons. Many people create altars adorned with grains, fruits, and symbols of the sun. They may bake a special Lughnasadh loaf or share a feast with family and friends, giving thanks for the abundance of the harvest. Outdoor activities like hilltop pilgrimages, bonfires, and athletic games may also be part of the celebration, connecting with nature and embracing the joyous spirit of the festival.
Lughnasadh 2023 celebration will be on Tuesday, August 1st in the Northern Hemisphere, and on February 1st in the Southern Hemisphere.