The Bad Witch’s Guide to Lughnasadh
Lammas and Lughnasadh get a bit of a bad rap. The biggest issue is the dating. When the shift from old to Gregorian calendars happened in 1782 the year lost 11 days. So we have two dates 31 of July and August 12. The next thing was that instead of celebrating on the day, the church bumped the celebrations to the nearest Sundays or saints’ days.
So what is this celebrating? Who is Lugh? What is a loaf mass anyway?
This is the beginning of harvest. From wild foraging, to gardens and fields full of golden wheat and barley all was about to gathered in. A good harvest can be spoilt with a run of bad weather, a sudden storm or infestation. It is then with all of your food for winter on the line a good idea to get the Gods on side. If it went well it was a time of celebration and merry making.
Lugh of Lughnasadh (the death of Lugh- feast of Lugh) is sometimes interpreted as a storm God or even a sky God in general. He is also the God of skill and many games. Sometimes he is seen as the sun God or God whom dies, much like the grain so the land is fertile. This sacrificial cycle makes sense and the “death” of the grain is part of many other Celtic traditions around Europe. Many harvest rituals of strangers cutting the last of the wheat or throwing the sickle as to avert bad luck come back to the “I don’t want to kill a God” part of the harvest. It is also the time when you will need to figure out what to hold back for next year’s planting, what to sprout for whiskey and beer, and what to keep for bread.
Farming communities would all help each other out, and everyone was expected to help bring in the harvest. This is still why at least in the UK our school holidays happen when they do, because children were also expected to help. “Straw marriages” of a year and a day would happen as the community was already gathered together and likely going to get drunk too!
“Bilberry babies” were children conceived at this time. The fact that the wild places and ancient ritual mounds and wells had plenty of bilberries as an excuse to be there didn’t hurt either.
Sacred wells were often dressed with flowers and while Lughnasadh seems all about Lugh it is always a good idea to make sure that the ancestors and Goddesses were happy too. Ireland and Britain have a huge number of sacred wells. Water was seen as the connection to the Otherworld. Offering from swords to cauldrons, flowers and butter were left. Much like our wishing wells. Wells usually had a sacred tree nearby and a sacred hill. The deosil (anti-clockwise) route was usually taken to properly visit all three. Women in particular were to wash and/or drink from the well and then tie a strip of cloth to the tree, then maybe rub the standing stone or lie on a stone on the hill to help conception.
Lammas then? Loaf mass was exactly that. A Christian mass to celebrate the return of grain and fruit. I think this is always why I prefer Lughnasadh as a name. It is more complex and odd but it speaks of something older. It is important to understand something of the Celtic mind set to understand the wheel of the year properly. Celts celebrate death. A good death is important. Even now an average wake could last up to four days in more rural parts of Ireland. It isn’t morbid as such more that death is a necessary part of life. Community celebrations strengthened the bonds between them and created the future (in a real and Bilberry baby sort of way!) and gave an opportunity for the old songs to be sung and those lost to be remembered. Sure they WENT to the loaf mass. They made the bread, beer and whiskey, but they also went to the wilds, to the wells, and the ancient trees. They went up the Reek and watched the sunrise.
So what does this mean to you? What is your harvest? What is in a fragile state and requires gentle tending and an extra bit of luck? What food matters to you? Where does your food come from? Be it grain, bean or berry; what you put into your body now and later matters.
So how to celebrate Lughnasadh? It is a time to gather, food and people. To sit in the dark with a fire and sing the ancient songs. The sad songs, the old songs, the bawdy songs. To twist wildflowers in the hair. To whisper your sweet nothings under the stars and beside the standing stones. If you are alone for Lughnasadh you could have a fire, or make bread or cake. You could go and “pick your own” or give a little offer to Lugh before you harvest your own garden. It is an excellent time to mindfully harvest your herbs and flowers for the coming year.
You could go to a well, river or spring and decorate it with flowers. You could also go give to a food bank or homeless shelter. Or clean up a local cemetery or wild space of rubbish. Cleanse if you need to, be it at a sacred site or your bathroom.
Go outside, go to the wilds if you can. You are not separate from this sacred earth, not immune to its seasons. Plant something, scatter some seeds. Tie some cotton to a tree and make a wish.
For as you sow so shall you reap. I would advise listening to some folk songs, John Barleycorn in particular. Or maybe some Jethro Tull, and enjoying the poppies red and roses filled with summer rain.