Whenever you see the Wheel of the Year, Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane are clearly marked. However, for some peculiar reason the ancient Irish celebration of Lughnasadh is usurped with Lammas.
Lughnasadh is established in Celtic Mythology and our article on Áenach Tailteann and Lughnasadh establishes that it was set up by Lugh to honour his foster mother, who died after cultivating the fields of ancient Ireland as a celebration. The word “Lammas” on the other hand is from Old English and means “loaf mass”. In early Christianity, the first loaves of the season were blessed by the church during mass, hence the name.
Why then, would any pagan want to substitute a name honouring a Celtic deity, with one from a Christian celebration? Some of this comes from the Druid renaissance of the late 1700’s. Druids of that era aligned themselves with Christianity. Even Iolo Morgannwg’s Druid Prayer originally said “Lord” not “Great Spirit”, “Goddess” or specific deity. Granted there are Christian Druids, so understandably they could use Lammas. However, they don’t use Candlemass for Imbolc, or May Day for Beltane or Halloween for Samhain, so the inconsistencies with Lammas are astounding.
What is even more astounding, though, is that Wiccans and other pagans also refer to Lughnasadh by its Christian counterpart. So a plea, please to my pagan brothers and sisters. Can we start honouring the ancients and call Lughnasadh by its original name.
What is Lughnasadh?
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-na-sa) is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, and in Manx: Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox.
It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and (as previously mentioned) the English Lammas. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It inspired great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking, and trading.
Ancient religious rites included an offering of the First Fruits, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull, and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. Many of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains.
Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named ‘Garland Sunday’, ‘Bilberry Sunday’, ‘Mountain Sunday’ and ‘Crom Dubh Sunday’. The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has become a Christian pilgrimage. A number of fairs are also believed to be survivals of Lughnasadh, for example, the Puck Fair.
Modern pagans usually celebrate Lughnasadh on 1 August in the Northern Hemisphere and 1 February in the Southern Hemisphere, often beginning their festivities at sunset the evening before. Some pagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the summer solstice and autumn equinox, or the full moon nearest this point. In 2022, this astronomical midpoint falls on 7 August (Northern hemisphere) or 4 February (Southern hemisphere).
Evidence about ancient Celtic calendars, seems to concur, that they followed a Lunisolar calendar, with intercalary months added. So it is likely that Lughnasadh is more of a lunar, than solar festival, with the Celtic month starting at the first quarter (according to Caesar).
For the Order of Celtic Wolves, Lughnasadh is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers not to harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honoured by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many also honour the goddess Tailtiu at Lughnasadh, and may seek to keep the Cailleach from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.
During Lughnasadh, it was popular to celebrate Handfastings. This included trial marriages, that lasted one year and one day. If the couple was still happy after that period, it could be made permanent, otherwise, it could be broken, without any consequences and each would be free to remarry. Others would make their bonds from the previous year permanent.
So, however you celebrate Lughnasadh may your harvest be bountiful and whatever deities you follow (or don’t follow) may you have a blessed time. May you eat well, drink well and maintain good health.