In Irish mythology, the Lughnasadh (Loo-nah-sah) or Lammas festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh as a funeral feast and sporting competition in commemoration of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. The Celts would throw seven sacred woods into a fire in honor of the Gods and Goddesses.
The first location of the Áenach Tailteann gathering was at Tailtin, between Navan and Kells. Historically, the Áenach Tailteann was a time for contests of strength and skill and a favored time for contracting marriages and winter lodgings. A peace was declared at the festival, and religious celebrations were held. The festival survived as the Taillten Fair, and was revived for a period in the 20th century as the Telltown Games.
The ancient Celtic festival on 1 August involved the solemn cutting of the first of the corn of which an offering would be made to the deity by bringing it up to a high place and burying it; a meal of the new food and of bilberries of which everyone must partake; a sacrifice of a sacred bull, a feast of its flesh, with some ceremony involving its hide, and its replacement by a young bull; a ritual dance-play perhaps telling of a struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight; an installation of a head on top of the hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh; another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine; a three-day celebration presided over by the brilliant young god or his human representative. Finally, a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over, and the chief god was in his right place again.
Lughnasadh celebrations were commonly held on hilltops. Traditionally, people would climb hills on Lughnasadh to gather bilberries, which were eaten on the spot or saved to make pies and wine. As with the other Gaelic seasonal festivals (Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain), the celebrations involved a great feast. In the Scottish Highlands, people made a special cake called the lunastain, which was also called luinean when given to a man and luineag when given to a woman. This may have originated as an offering to the gods.
Another custom that Lughnasadh shared with the other Gaelic festivals was the lighting of bonfires and visiting of holy wells. The ashes from Lughnasadh bonfires would be used to bless fields, cattle and people.Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties, (pieces or strips of cloth).
In Gaelic Ireland, Lughnasadh was also a favored time for handfastings — trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or formalizing it as a lasting marriage.
In Ireland, some people continue to celebrate the holiday with bonfires and dancing. The Catholic Church in Ireland has established the ritual of blessing fields on this day. In the Irish diaspora, survivals of the Lúnasa festivities are often seen by some families still choosing August as the traditional time for family reunions and parties, though due to modern work schedules these events have sometimes been moved to adjacent secular holidays, such as the Fourth of July in the United States.
Lughnasadh heralds the first harvest, not yet summers end (Samhain) but ever closer to autumn. It celebrates the first of the crops being harvested and is often related to bread/corn and berries.
Ways to Celebrate…
Bake some bread – Certain smells will bring up happy memories of the year before just like Christmas music does and the smell of a warm loaf is sure to keep the family happy, especially if the children can help you make it. It represents the first loaf of harvest and some use it in ritual whereas some have it as part of their meal. Some Pagans symbolically throw pieces of bread into a fire during the Lammas ritual.
Plan your meals – Make food that will only be eaten on that time of year like pudding would at wintertime. This will bring back sentimental memories of the family time you spent together. Try to make something different that will be associated with that period. A magnificent feast is very important so make sure you plan it well! Pumpkin soup, harvest broth and casserole made with seasonal vegetables such as spring onions and potatoes will be great. Blackberry pie and cream made with fat ripe brambles will be delicious for a dessert. There are plenty of harvest recipes on the net so explore them and discuss them and plan out your menu.
Take time for meditation and ritual – Encourage your family members to meditate to give thanks for the abundance and generosity of nature. If you sit in a circle you can share your spiritual energies with one another. Do this in the garden or somewhere natural and quiet and hope the weather stays fair and bright. Some will use the loaf they have baked to eat after their ritual. It’s because of nature that they can enjoy this food. You could always have the meal on the late afternoon and go for a picnic for lunch in the warm countryside with all the family.
One traditional Lughnasadh custom was the construction of the kern-baby, corn dolly, or corn maiden. This figure, braided into a woman’s form from the last harvested sheaf of grain, represented the Harvest Spirit. (In America, the tradition is continued in the making of corn husk dolls.) The doll would be saved until Spring, when it was ploughed into the field to consecrate the new planting and insure a good harvest. In other traditions, the corn dolly was fed and watered throughout the Winter, then burned in the fires at Beltane to insure a continuation of good growth.
The celebration of Lammas is a pause to relax and open yourself to the change of the Season so that you may be one with its energies and accomplish what is intended. Visits to fields, orchards, lakes and wells are also traditional. It is considered taboo not to share your food with others. Spellwork for prosperity, abundance and good fortune are especially appropriate now, as well as spells for connectedness, career, health and financial gain.
Another custom drawn from Lughnasadh relates to fire. Lughnasadh was, to the Celts, one of four Great Fire Festivals, held on the cross-quarter days. During Lughnasadh, the custom of lighting bonfires was intended to add strength to the powers of the waning sun. Afterward, the fire brands were kept in the home through the Winter as protection against storms, lightning and fires caused by lightning….
Go to a local festival – Harvest is a popular time of year for anyone whatever their religion so it’s no wonder why many villages and towns have their own celebrations. Try to attend one of these even if they’re a bit out of your way. It will get the family into it more to see other people having fun in ways that can only be done in community games.