On the Celtic Wheel of the Year, today we celebrate the special sabbat of Lughnasadh (LOO-na-sa), the first harvest. The union of the Sun God and the Earth Goddess has produced abundance in the fields for the first grain harvest. We are now in high summer and on this special day, we celebrate and give thanks for the first of three harvests to come.
Lughnasadh is a time of both physical and metaphorical harvest, the first crop of grain is ready to be processed and stored for winter. The fruits are still ripening towards their peak for Mabon, the second harvest, and nuts and seeds will be ready by Samhain, the third and final harvest.
In many ways, the first harvest is the most important. August 1 marks the halfway point between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. These halfway points are revered as times in intense energy where both life and dealth are honored. The veil is thin during the four greater sabbats -- Beltane, Imbolc, Samhain -- and it is custom to visit the sacred well before the celebration begins.
Lughnasadh begins as a funeral feast, honoring the foster-mother of the god Lugh, Tailtiu. In myth, Tailtiu is said to have died of exhaustion after clearing the fields of Ireland for agriculture. She represents the Earth Goddess, the vegetation that dies in this first harvest to feed us. After the funeral feast, it is custom to hold athletic competitions and other sporting events to honor this holiday's namesake, the god Lugh.
Lugh is an important god in Celtic mythology. He is a warrior, a craftsman, a leader and a king. Lugh is a great hunter who wields an unruly sling stone and precise spear. His faithful hound, Failinis, always by his side. Lugh is a god of skills and mastery, but also of the arts, oath, truth and law. His name means "light" and Lughnasadh, the "gathering of Lugh" is just that. Feasts and rituals, competitions and gathering of all kinds are held in the central square. It is a time to celebrate the light, to welcome the warmth and sunshine of the final days of summer.
The Sun God is waning with each day as the darker days of winter draw closer and closer. Many pay homage to the Grain Mother during the month of August. She provides food for the first harvest, all the while carrying the seeds for generations to come. The Grain Mother is both mother and grandmother, embodying all aspects of present and future. She provides sustenance for the present while simultaneously providing seeds to ensure her bloodline lives on. She is a part of the never-ending cycle of death and rebirth.
The first harvest is marked by ritual. The first grain is cut ceremoniously with gratitude and prepared in a special loaf to be shared in the community. By sharing and participating in both the harvest and the celebration, we show respect and honor to the grain mother, she who gives her life to provide for future generations. The last leaf is also cut ceremoniously and made into a grain or corn doll. The last leaf is meant to be kept in the home until next years harvest when it makes it's way back into the soil. It should always be returned to where it came from, once again symbolizing the cycle of death and rebirth.
We are at the height of summer, food is in abundance and many celebrate and gather during this time. Energy is high and there is a slight tension, a whisper of change in the air. It is an auspicious time for weddings and hand-fastings, and everyone is in the mood to bask in the fleeting month of the summer sun.
Lughnasadh was adopted by early christians which became Lammas, when translated means "loaf mass." The celebration of Lammas is very similar Lughnasadh, marking the significance of the grain and all that it provides.
We are living in interesting times. I've been pondering this holiday, thinking of how one could celebrate in such a disconnected world. I find it interesting that my first thoughts of Lughnasadh were in mourning. The grief that we all collectively feel after an intense event that has effected us all. This experience is one that we have all endured together, and in on way, we are all collectively mourning.
So it felt fitting to just sit with the plants. To walk out into the garden, maybe harvest some buckweat if she gives me permission or a sage who's dried and offering her seeds. To sit quietly amongst the grains, and the other seed bearers. Sometimes it is just enough to mark the day, to say a little something to the plants, to the earth and sky. We need not always gather with other humans. Sometimes it is important to gather with just the plants.
May your harvest be fruitful, inside and out on this beautiful day, gathering of light. I wish you a blessed Lughnasadh!
Photo of beautiful bread by our favorite Kate's Bread