At Lughnasadh, the Wheel of the Year begins to shift from growing time to harvest time. The subtle changes of the waning sun that occurred at Summer Solstice becomes more evident as the balance of day and night seem to shift more dramatically. The slight seasonal changes in weather, and the declining arc of the sun, the southern movement of it rising and setting are other indicators of this shift. "After Lammas, corn ripens as much by night as by day."
Although temperatures can still be high, the mood and sensation of the year most decidedly changes. We enter the harvest time. It is the point in time when the first grains are collected and ritualistically sacrificed to ensure the continuance of the cycle of life both physically and spiritually.
In times past, fertility magic at Lughnasadh guaranteed the continued ripening of crops and bountiful harvest season. Festivities typically centered on the assurance of a plentiful harvest season and the celebration of the beginning of the harvest cycle. A bountiful harvest insured the safe passage of the tribe through the upcoming winter months. The gathering of bilberries is an ancient ritual symbolizing the success of the Lughnasadh rituals. If the bilberries were bountiful the crops would be also.
Lughnasadh celebration is associated with John Barleycorn, an anthropomorphized image of the barley grain that goes into making malt beverages that heeds us to the larger life mysteries that play out each year on the stage of the agricultural cycle from which we spin our Wheel of the Year. Although the life mysteries are deep and contemplative, John Barleycorn also reminds us that levity, joy and festivity are as much a part of the Wheel and our lives as Death and Rebirth. It is what makes life worth living and allows us to touch the Joy that is creation.
Lughnasadh is a time of personal reflection and harvest, of our actions and deeds, events and experiences, our gains and losses. A time when we begin the cycle of reflection of that which is our life. A period for personal fertility magic to ensure the bountiful harvest of life's gifts and experiences, that which we have reaped though trial, tribulation, enjoyment, joy, love and loss. As my Elder once said to me, "We can not know what we have not experienced." Such is the truth of life ö we become not by chance but by experience. Each experience opens a window into ourselves, into who we were, who we are, and whom we are choosing to become.
The festival of Lughnasadh is named in honor of Lugh, by his Irish name. He is also know as and associated with: Lug (Continental), Llew, Lugos (Gallic), Lleu Llaw Gyffes ("The Lion of the Sure/Long Hand" Welsh), Ildnach and Lugh Lamfada ("Lugh of the Long Arm/Hand"). He is also associated with the Roman God Mercury, there are many names through many cultures. Lugh is "The God of Light", "God of All Skills", the "Bright or Shining One"; He is associated with both the Sun and agricultural fertility.
Lugh led the Tuatha D Danann to victory in the second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. His name was left throughout the Celtic lands on various places, Lug-dunum (present day Lyon, France), Luguvallum (Roman Britain), indicating the impact Lugh has had on all the Celtic peoples.
Stories of his conception, birth, naming, exploits, victories and descendents fill pages of Celtic myth. Lugh is indeed a tremendous personality with considerable influence in Celtic lore. Through lore and myth we can journey aside Lugh, delving deeper to his life and journeys and our own.
The origins of the games of Lughnasadh, often referred to as: the Assembly of Lugh; Games of Lug; Games of Sovereignty, are, however, more closely associated with Lugh's foster-mother/nurse, Tailtiu.
Tailtiu is said to be daughter of the King of Spain, wife of Eochaid of the Tuatha de Danaan and is recognized as a Celtic Earth Goddess. She cleared the field at Coill Chuan in Ireland for agricultural use and died from the intensity of this labor. The area carries her name in memory; Teltown Kells, Co. Meath. The games of Lughnasadh were originally played in honor of Tailtiu, these games begun by Lugh and played by the kings who followed, as funerary tribute to his foster mother.
Lughnasadh is more popularly referred to as Lammas in many areas of the British Isles. Lammas comes from the Middle English Lammasse, and from Old English hlfm¾sse : hlf, loaf + m¾sse. This illustrates the incorporation of Lughnasadh by the Church into its seasonal calendar, as many other Old Celtic and agricultural holidays were. The harvest of the early grain was baked into loaves and offered at mass. It also became a feast that the Church celebrated in commemoration of Saint Peter's deliverance from prison.
At Lughnasadh many grains, seeds, herbs and fruits can be harvested and dried for later use through the remaining year. Corn is one of the vital crops harvested at this time. Corn dollies are fashioned in the shape of Goddess and God. In some areas the sacrifice of the corn king (corn dolly) is performed. Death and rebirth are a vital part of the cycle Lugh journeys in his mating with the Earth Goddess, during the waning year.
The Goddess oversees the festival in her Triple guise as Macha. She presides in her warrior aspect, the crow that sits on the battlefields awaiting the dead. She is the Crone, Maiden and Mother, Anu, Banbha, and Macha; she conveys the dead into the realm of the deceased. For Lughnasadh, is a festival of not only life and bounty, but of harvest and death, the complete cycle of life.
In myth, Macha is forced, while heavy with child, to race against the King of Ulster's horses. She wins the race and gives birth to twins, and cursed the men of Ulster with the pains of labor when they most need their strength. She becomes the Queen of Ulster through battle for seven years. Her fortress in Ulster is known as the Emain Macha and its otherworldly form known as Emania, the moon Goddess' realm of death.
Without successes and a thriving personal harvest we will not have the fundamentals we need to continue our work on all levels. Our path is one of service, as a religious rite, as an active devotion to the Goddess & God, from which we receive as well as give. Our actions and deeds are the magic by which we cast the circle of our lives ö we give and we receive, which allows us to give again. This is the cycle of the Sacred Life, which we celebrate and honor at Lughnasadh. We dance and contemplate, reap and distribute, rejoice and reflect upon on this the first harvest in the Wheel of the Year.
We, as members of the Universe and children of the Mother, trust in sharing in the benevolence of Her Love. For ours is the Mother, who nurtures and loves Her children, sharing her bounty and joy. Prosperity is not amassing and hoarding a great profusion of assets. Prosperity is having more than what is essential and never having less than we need. We, through the celebration of the Wheel, understand the abundance and magnanimity of the Universe and celebrate, recognize, and honor this.