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Wiccan Holidays: What is Lughnasadh?

Updated on September 11, 2016
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Sage has been celebrating the Wheel of the Year with her family for 25 years as a Wiccan; she's like the NeoPagan Martha Stewart.

About Lughnasadh/Lammas

Lughnasadh blessings, friend! So good to run into you this fine summer afternoon- have you been enjoying the season, basking in the warmth while you get the chance? Perhaps you're even a little grateful that the relentless heat will soon be letting up? I notice the subtle change already with the days growing just a tad shorter, and the sun sinking just a little earlier each evening. It was only six weeks ago that the sun was still shining brightly when I took my dog for his last walk of the day; yesterday when I went at the same time, it was dipping well below the horizon. In a few weeks, that last walk of the night will be in total darkness again.

I don’t know why it always amazes me so, but it does. The miracle of the dance of the seasons is always awe-inspiring.

As the harvest season rolls in, it's certainly a time to rejoice. It wasn't long ago that we were watching the blossoms on the vines begin to bloom, and the grain in the fields were merely a sprig. Now, the corn is high, the vines are heavy with fruits and ready to be plucked. It's a time we begin thinking about sacrifice, and what it takes to survive.

So let’s have a toast with some of this fine mead, and celebrate the season of Lughnasadh.

"'Neath the rigs of barley corn, Come my harvest queen and lay with me once more, And let me taste the honey of your love, Among the rigs of barley corn" (Lammas Night by Mother Tongue)
"'Neath the rigs of barley corn, Come my harvest queen and lay with me once more, And let me taste the honey of your love, Among the rigs of barley corn" (Lammas Night by Mother Tongue) | Source

Holiday Name Variations:

Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (both pronounced LOO-nah-sah):
Traditional; Wiccan/NeoPagan
Lunasa:
Irish
Lunastal:
Scottish Gaelic
Luanistyn:
Manx Gaelic
Lammas (meaning loaf-mas)
Anglo-Saxon, Catholic, Wiccan/NeoPagan

Celtic God Lugh

Stone carving featuring Lugh, the Celtic God for whom Lughnasadh was named.
Stone carving featuring Lugh, the Celtic God for whom Lughnasadh was named. | Source

History of Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh, or Lammas, is based on ancient Northern European festivals celebrating the first harvest: the harvest of the grain. Originally a Pagan observation, the festival continued on even after Christianization of Europe. It was considered bad luck to harvest anything before this time, and at the 'feast of first fruits', the first harvest was offered up and blessed.

The festival was named after the Celtic God Lugh, the "shining one", also known as the "man-skilled God". In legend, Lugh himself is the founder of this holiday. It was a funeral feast to honor his foster mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing all of Ireland's fields to prepare the land for agriculture. She is believed to have been an Earth Mother Goddess who was represented by dying vegetation that fed the world. In addition to the feast, the day was also celebrated by games and feats of strength.

People would often make pilgrimages to mountain and hill tops to celebrate, where they would make offerings of the first grains by burying them. Sometimes they would sacrifice a bull, which would have been considered as a big sacrifice in Celtic cultures. Cattle were worth more alive than dead, so any cattle slaughtered were never done so lightly. They would prepare a feast for everyone to share. Often this feast consisted of more grains, bilberries (similar to blueberries) and the flesh of the sacrificed animal. Seasonal enactments of myths about Lugh were also traditional elements of the celebration.

In addition to mountain tops and hills, people would also visit wells. They would walk around the well clockwise while praying for good health, then throw offerings into the well. Offerings usually took the form of coins or cloths/rags known as 'clooties'.

Lughnasadh has long been a time associated with marriages, and many Wiccan/Pagans today plan their weddings to correspond to this time of year.

Lughnasadh festivities began to die out by the end of the 19th century, but by the mid-20th century the Pagan revival brought them back. Now they are alive and well, preserved by the Wheel of the Year.

Tell Us About You!

How do you celebrate Lughnasad/Lammas?

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Great Lammas Ritual Location

Celebrate Lughnasadh on a hill or mountain top.
Celebrate Lughnasadh on a hill or mountain top. | Source

Celebrating Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is one of the four Major Sabbats on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and it is traditionally celebrated on August 1st, sometimes on the 2nd. In some trads or cultures, it was celebrated closer to mid-August. Remember—we celebrate a season, not a specific date, so pick a time that works best for you. This might be your day off, or it might be to coincide with the harvest of where you live.

For me, this is the time of year when the autumn seasonal décor begins to slowly make its way into our home-- and we continue to add it until Mabon, the 2nd harvest. We swap out the curtains and the throw pillows from the bold summer shades to the warm colors of the fall—gold, brown, orange, deep reds. We put up harvest wall hangings, and decorate the altar with harvest symbols.

It's a good time to honor harvest deities, regardless of which pantheon you worship. It's also a perfect time for celebrating the sabbat's namesake, Lugh himself!

There are a lot of traditional seasonal things you can do. Read myths, or perform seasonal enactments and skits. Hold feats of strength and contests for the sabbat. Take your celebration outdoors to a hilltop or higher ground and hold your celebration there. Make a sacrifice of some corn. Really enjoy this time in the daylight hours as the season is turning toward the cold, dark half of the year.

Since Lugh is the many-skilled God, my family puts the tools of our skills on the altar to ask Lugh’s blessing so that we can use our skills not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of our family, community, and possibly the world. Instead of wasting our gifts, how can we use them to make the world just a little bit better? I’m a writer, so I put a pencil and pad. My son loves to cook, so he puts a whisk or some other kitchen tool to represent it. An artistic person might put a drawing pad or lump of clay there, or a student might put a textbook. Think of something that represents your studies, professions or hobbies—any skills you use or wish to learn. Ask Lugh to bless you with His wisdom and guidance as you use your skills.

Another great activity in honor of the man-skilled God is to craft an altar tool at this time and dedicate it.

Lughnasadh Sacrifice

Burning a figure, large or small, is a popular custom at Lughnasadh.
Burning a figure, large or small, is a popular custom at Lughnasadh. | Source

Symbolic Sacrifice at Lughnasadh

At this time of year, we are aware that, while the sun still shines down on us, the sun – or Sun God, depending on your tradition – is losing strength and power with each passing day. As such, symbols of His sacrifice at this time of year are appropriate.

Some Wiccans will bake bread shaped like a man, and make an offering of the ‘head’ on the altar, while enjoying the body at the ritual feast. The head would be buried, burned, or returned to the Earth in some way (perhaps left out for the birds or put upon the compost pile).

Other Wiccans might make a vine God or God-man shape out of wheat stalks, and sacrifice it in effigy on a ritual fire. You can even put a tinfoil pouch full of corn muffins or bread inside the man shape, and take it out of the fire and share it— just as the Sun God sacrifices his life each year to bring back the harvest the next year.

Some build a “wicker man” or some other wicker or stick structure, and burn it while reveling around it. Talk about a bonfire!

No matter how you celebrate Lughnasadh, or which Gods you invoke, remember the meaning of the season: for everything that lives, something has to die. For everything we have, something has to be given up. Life is a give-and-take. Life and sacrifice go hand-in-hand.

Let us be thankful for all that has been sacrificed for us, and think about the sacrifices we can make in return.

Lughnasadh Decoration

A modern Horned God Lughnasad Decoration.
A modern Horned God Lughnasad Decoration.

Comments

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's good to see you writing again my friend. I'll pass this on to my son. Have a great weekend.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Very interesting! I enjoy the fall and harvest holidays the best (Thanksgiving in particular). Glad to learn about more to celebrate in the fall. Thanks for sharing the great info! Voted up and interesting!

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 2 years ago from Hudson, FL

      I love the idea of placing the tools of your talents on the altar for blessings. It's part of being thankful for your gifts and seeking guidance for how to use them for the benefit of others. Awesome and interesting as usual, Sage!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Fascinating to read & beautifully written.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks everyone, good to see everyone. I've missed hub pages... just going through a bout of illness. Auto immune diseases have ups and downs, I was on a bad down for 2 months. Ugh. Much better now though, thanks for commenting everyone!

    • Patsybell profile image

      Patsy Bell Hobson 2 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

      I like this photo.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks, Patsy!

    • VioletteRose profile image

      VioletteRose 2 years ago from Chicago

      This is very interesting. I didn't know about this harvest festival before, thanks so much for sharing!

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks Violette Rose, I'm glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate your comments.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 22 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Very interesting...for me, however, the beginning of fall and the end of summer marks a sadness. Summer and the warmth with its long days is my favorite season. I don't like the cold; I don't like the long dark and short days. I don't celebrate fall and winter. I eagerly await the return of spring and summer. ;-)

      Last year (2014) for the first time, I did a brief Samhain ritual, involving the 'letting go' of things I wanted to change, and tossed the slips of paper into the fire. "Sort of" like new year's resolutions, except that I don't do those anymore. The only traditional one I've ever kept was the year I vowed to never make another. LOL

      What I did at Samhain was more like a petition to the Universe to remind me to keep an eye on my habits. I guess that's sort of rationalizing my 'no more resolutions' clause, but ... there it is. I couldn't think of any other type of ritual to do for that .. (sabbat?) .. I'm still so new and learning.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 22 months ago

      Marking the Sabbats is generally more than just celebrating it as a holiday, but as a link in a chain. Many Pagans spend their autumn/winter holidays focusing on them passing by speedy as they look forward to Spring... this is especially true of those in northern climates where the winters are bitter.

      But it's also about the other thing the season represents-- like reflection, or letting go (as you did at Samhain with your petitions).

      For example, at hour house on Lughnasadh, the focus is not as much on the actual autumn season-- it's 90 degrees, the rainy season, most plants are dead or struggling with the wet and the heat, no leaves are turning color, and we're not harvesting (we did that in May... we're getting ready for planting for fall, though). We're actually thankful for the coming winter, because it gives us a break from the relentless heat and rain.

      So we don't focus on autumn the way someone in Northern Europe would. But we do focus on the concept of gratitude for what nature provides in general. We do focus on the blessing of the tools, etc. and we focus on the concept of sacrifice, and we think about its place in our lives. This is the meanings we draw from the Sabbat.

      But the Wheel of the Year is not set in stone; it's about adapting it so it's meaningful to you-- like the people in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate it opposite what we do here. Or people in the tropics might celebrate Samhain in the springtime, because everything dies in the summer. There's nothing wrong with personalizing it all. The Wheel model and holiday sabbat suggestions should be seen more as general guidelines.

      Thanks for your comments and votes!

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