Wiccan Holidays: What is Lughnasadh?
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.
Holiday Name Variations:
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (both pronounced LOO-nah-sah):
Lammas (meaning loaf-mas)
Anglo-Saxon, Catholic, Wiccan/NeoPagan
Celtic God Lugh
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?
Great Lammas Ritual Location
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.
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.