By Madison Taylor
Lughnasa, a festival of transition, presents an opportunity to consider how our lives have changed.
To ancient people, the yearly harvest was a reflection of the human cycle of birth and death. The reaping of food crops was associated with the spiritual abundance that sustained the soul. Yet harvest times were also a portent of autumn’s chill and winter’s harsh frosts. The Celtic people of centuries past acknowledged the season’s first harvest with the festival of Lughnasa, the feast of the first fruits. Celebrated on August 1, it marked the midpoint between Beltane in May and Samhain in November, and symbolized a turning point in the lifecycle of Mother Earth. It was both a joyous celebration of plenty and a solemn wake for the decline of the potency of the sun god Lugh, from which the festival takes its name.
What we know of Lughnasa, known also as Lammas, or the celebration of loaves, has survived in the rituals that are still practiced to this day. It is associated with grain, fruit, flowers, water, and soil, and celebrated atop summits as well as in the depths of holy wells. Traditionally, people assembled on hilltops to pick berries and engage in mock battles–the profusion of the gathered fruits and the results of the mock battles were believed to predict the outcome of the yearly harvest. Many visited ancient wells whose healing abilities were thought to be most potent on Lughnasa. Grand fairs and feasts were held, during which a portion of the newly picked grains were baked into man-shaped loaves commemorating the coming demise of Lugh. The descendants of those who first celebrated the summer harvest keep the traditions of Lughnasa alive in the fairs and sporting events that take place on August 1 throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.
Lughnasa is primarily a festival of transition and thus presents a wonderful opportunity to consider how our lives have changed in the recent past. If you choose to celebrate the harvest by baking bread, adding ingredients you have reaped from your own garden will reinforce your connection to the earth. Consume your bread with loved ones while openly sharing stories of the new beginnings you are currently celebrating and the endings you are mourning. As you honor the cyclical nature of existence, reflect upon the fact that just as there is joy to be found in the sowing and reaping, each of life’s phases is worthy of celebration too.