Imagine walking down a street in your neighborhood on an early August evening. For some reason, you’ve never been on this road before. Up ahead, you hear music and laughter. Walking on, you come to a dwelling that can only be called a cottage. The brick chimney is a little crooked, the slate shingles seem to undulate across the roof, and a blue door is open to admit visitors. Intrigued, you walk up an old brick path, lined by sunflowers, admiring those as well as the brilliant red geraniums that stand like sentinels beside the door. Wind chimes move in a gentle breeze to create soft whispers of music. As you approach, someone comes skipping out, saying “Welcome! Join us in a dance for Lughnasadh!” Intrigued, you decide to enter and discover more.
You travel through a cozy home marked by light and light breezes to a large yard where others have gathered. Soft green grass beckons you to remove your shoes as the others have done. It feels lovely on your feet, stalks emerging from between your toes. Musicians play a dancing tune, and a table groans under the weight of a feast, decorated by wheat stalks, corn, and fruits. Candles burn around the space, reflecting their orange, green, and brown wax. An altar is set up with different depictions of goddesses and gods, and small offerings of food and drink. And it looks as though there are things representing different kinds of work on the altar—a pad of paper with a pen, a stethoscope, a small shovel, a replica of a musical instrument, and so on. Another person greets you with a smile saying “Happy Lughnasadh!” After replying “And to you,” you find a chair and surrender yourself to this sacred moment.
Lughnasadh, or in some traditions, Tailtiúnasa or Lammas, is celebrated near sunset on August 1 or 2. Those who call it Lughnasadh (loosely translated, the assembly of Lugh) are celebrating the Celtic god Lugh. Some say it commemorates Lugh’s wedding. Others say that the celebration represents a funeral rite Lugh held for his stepmother Tailtiú, who died of exhaustion after clearing Ireland’s fields so they could be planted. Dianic witches honor it with the name Tailtiúnasa in memory of the stepmother. “Lammas” is said to be a corruption of “loaf mass,” a church tradition associated with this summer time in which farmers would bake bread, take it to the church to be blessed, then divide into four pieces to be placed in the corners of a barn to guard against pests.
Whatever you call it, on this holiday we celebrate the first harvest of wheat, corn, and other grains. Lugh was also said to be a many-skilled god, and so it is also a day to take note of your skills and applaud them. This is a cheerful, happy holiday, where people dance and sing even in the face of shorter days as the sun moves toward Autumn Equinox.
Falling approximately halfway between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox, this holiday is one of the cross-quarter holidays in the Pagan Wheel of the Year. The quarter holidays are associated with changes in the amount of daylight, and are Summer Solstice (Litha), Autumn Equinox (Mabon), Winter Solstice (Yule), and Spring Equinox (Ostara). The cross-quarter holidays fall at the approximate middle between the quarters. The other cross-quarter holidays are Samhain (October 31), Imbolc (February 2), and Beltane (May 1). At Awen’s Cauldron, we use the traditional words to describe pagan holidays as they are more readily recognizable.
Celebrate this holiday by gathering wheat sheaves, corn, and sunflowers to decorate your altar. A small bolline knife (shaped like a scythe) reminds you of the harvest season. Put figurines of your favorite sun deities on it. You can always draw from other traditions if you aren’t comfortable with the Celtic ones: Demeter (the Greek goddess of agriculture), Anuket (the Egyptian goddess of the Nile) are appropriate, as well as any representation of a goddess or god associated with the sun or skills. Take some time to bake bread or muffins from scratch to honor the harvest, and then place your baked goods on the altar. Make a corn dolly to represent the day (you can find a video on how to do that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C1t3UyBFEg). Use candles in gold, green and brown to represent the sun and earth. And be sure to put something on your altar that represents your skill. This is a time to brag a little about what you have harvested in yourself.
Summer is waning, but the sun still shines, the fields are ripe with their crops, and the bread made from fresh grains is delicious. Eat, drink, and be happy. Blessed be!