Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lughnasadh

             Lughnasadh is an old Gaelic High Day (or holiday) that has no set date but was celebrated on the full moon nearest the mid-point of Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox since the Gaelic calendar was based off lunar, solar, and vegetative cycles, though in modern times most celebrate the festival on or near August 1st.  Lughnasadh is the first of the three harvest festivals and is commonly considered a cross quarter or fire festival (being festivals between the four solar high days).

 Traditionally, the festival lasted for 30 days from about July 15th to August 15th, with three days dedicated to rituals for the Lugh for whom the festival is named. With the long, hard days of summer and the first harvest being brought in, the people took this time to honor the sun god who had given them abundant growth with games and shows of strength that were befitting the god sometimes called Lugh of the long arm. During this time the High King also oversaw legal disputes and political discussions. Also, this was a time when many young people came together for handfastings which allowed them to marry for a year and a day to see if they were a match for one another, fitting since the Gaelic word Lughnasadh translates to “Lugh’s wedding.”

Tradition also states that Lugh dedicated the festival to his foster mother Tailtiu. Tailtiu was an Irish earth goddess, as well as the last queen of the Fir Bolg. She raised Lugh from an infant until the time he was able to take up arms, being equivalent to manhood. Tailtiu is said to have worked herself to the point of death clearing a great forest in Ireland so that the people would have land to cultivate. Upon her death she decreed that there be funeral games in her name and as long as the games where held that the nation of Ireland would never “be without song.” The town in which the games were originally held was called Taltiu, named for Tailtiu.

In the Neo-pagan traditions the festival marks the death of the vegetation god. He sacrifices himself so that the people will have nutriment and gives the promise of rebirth to all. Neo-pagans are not the only ones that celebrate at the holiday. Switzerland has made the day a national holiday with which they celebrate with bonfires, fireworks, and floating candles that they light and release in rivers. They also start the day with a celebratory breakfast with friends and family to start the harvest festival. It is believed that the tradition came down to modern time from the Iron Age Celts, Helvetii. Even in Ireland the Christians have taken up the ritual of blessing the fields for the harvest, most likely a remnant of ancient Gaelic pagan culture.

In the Hellenic world it was very common to offer fruits, grains, milk, and wines from the first harvest to the gods. However from what I have read so far in my studies the first of all these offerings were always given to the temples of Eleusinian before any others. I find this interesting because in many cases Demeter is considered by scholars to be a minor goddess, yet this shows Her standing within the communities and Greek society. Persephone was also honoured in the Eleusinian Mysteries and temples so this also shows Her importance in the cycle of life. So though Lughnasadh was not an official festival for the Greeks it would be easy to adapt rituals to honor the Greek deities of agriculture and harvest.


Though time has changed many of the cultural traditions of our ancestors, many more of those traditions can still be seen within our modern cultures whether it’s the re-creation by neo-pagan beliefs or that of national/local festivals that can find their roots in a Gaelic past. Just as life cycles, so does time, bringing back the festivals and rituals of the past into today’s world.
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