Hello Witches and Witchlets! In this post we’re diving into the History of the Lughnasadh Sabbat. As the Wheel of the Year turns yet again, knowing what this holiday entails enriches your practice and allows you to properly honor this Sabbat. So without further ago, let’s get to it!
WHAT IS LUGHNASADH?
One of four fire festivals alongside Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane, Lughnasadh is a seasonal celebration traditionally held on the first of August. Roughly landing halfway between Litha – the summer solstice – and Mabon – the autumn equinox – this Sabbat correlates with other European harvest festivals, like the English Lammas and the Welsh Gŵyl Awst.
WHAT DOES LUGHNASADH MEAN?
Pronounced LOO-NAS-ah, it’s a combination of Lug – from the god Lugh – and násad – meaning assembly. Lugnasadh comes from Old Irish and essentially means ‘Assembly for the god Lugh’. Spelling variations that came later include Luᵹ̇nasaḋ, Lughnasadh and Lughnasa.
ALSO KNOWN AS
Another name for Lughnasadh is Lammas. Lammas holds root in an Olde English phrase that translates to ‘loaf mass’. The first loaves of bread of the season were said to be blessed by the Church during mass in early Christianity. It’s also believed that Lammas was named by Christian Anglo-Saxons for the pre-Christian festival Lughnasadh.
Other names for Lughnasadh include ‘Crom Dubh Sunday’ for Crom Dubh, a (possible) sun and grain/fertility god, ‘Garland Sunday’, ‘Mountain Sunday’, and ‘Bilberry Sunday’.
Modern names for Lughnasadh are as follows:
-Lúnasa [ˈl̪ˠuːnˠəsˠə] | Also the name for the month of August
-Genetive case = Lúnasa as in Mí Lúnasa | Also the name for the month of August
-Lá Lúnasa | Day of Lúnasa
Modern Scottish Gaelic:
-Lùnastal [ˈl̪ˠuːnəs̪t̪əl̪ˠ] | Both the festival and the month are called Lùnastal
-Luanistyn [ˈluanɪstθən] | Both the festival and the month are called Luanistyn
-Laa Luanistyn or Laa Luanys | Either is the name for the day itself
-Calan Awst | Originally a Latin term
-Gouel Eost | Translates to the ‘Feast of August’
-Calends of August
WHERE DOES LUGHNASADH ORIGINATE?
Lughnasadh originates in Gaelic traditions. Festivities were widely observed across Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.
WHAT DOES LUGHNASADH CELEBRATE?
The Gaelic festivalof Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest season. It also celebrates the god Lugh and his association with combat, wheel-making, and blacksmithing. As to why Lugh is honored is rooted in controversy; some believe that this is the anniversary of his wedding feast, while others say it’s commemoration of when Lugh held a harvest fair to honor Tailtiu, his foster mother.
HOW WAS LUGHNASADH ORIGINALLY CELEBRATED?
As alluded to in early Irish literature, Lughnasadh has Pagan origins and motivated the following traditions, most of which were helf on the tops of hill and mountains:
- A funeral feast
- Devout ceremonies
- Animal sacrifices
- Funeral sporting contests
- Matchmaking events
- Mountain climbing
- Trading and bartering
- Law proclamation
- Settling legal disputes
- Visiting holy wells
A FUNERAL FEAST
The festivities typically began with a funeral feast in honor of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu. Folklore claims that she died from exhaustion as a result of stripping Ireland’s plains for agriculture. It is possible that she could have been an earth goddess and by extension, the representation of dying vegetation.
During the feast, an offering named the ‘First Fruits’ that included bilberries was part of the devout ceremonies intertwined in the festival. Momentous meals were created using the harvest’s first cuttings. And in the Scottish Highlands, celebrants baked special cakes called lunastains with possible origins as an offering to deities.
THE SACRIFICIAL BULL
Traditionally, a bull was sacrificed to honor the demands of Lugh to ensure healthy crops for the harvest. The bull was considered sacred and its flesh was presented at the feast. The bull’s hide was sometimes at the center of ceremony, depending on the celebrants. A young calf replaced the sacrificial bull until the next festival when it would be slaughtered.
PLAYS AND DANCES
There were a few different plays and dances for the Lugnasadh festival. The main theme of these acts centered around the harvest. One depicts the god Lugh versus Crom Dubh, with the latter protecting the grain as if it were his personal treasure. In this instance, Lugh represents mankind and must capture it from Crom Dubh’s clutches. In some cases, this back-and-forth struggle was presented as a fight over a Eithne, a woman who represented the harvest.
Another play illustrates the god Lugh going up against a character who personifies blight, ultimately taking them down and saving the crops for a healthy harvest. A different drama portrays a carved stone head prevailed over by an actor playing Lugh.
FUNERAL SPORTING CONTESTS
With the most notable being the Tailteann Games, the funeral sporting contests were held in Lugh’s foster mother’s honor. They were named the Óenach Tailten or Áenach Tailten and were similar to the ancient Olympic Games. Among the events were hurling, weight-throwing, and horse racing. Medieval writings reveal that kings would attend the funeral games and for the duration, a truce was set in place.
Trial marriages were another part of the events held during Lughnasadh. Joining hands through a hole in a wooden door, young couples were wed for one year and a day. After this time passed, the couples could make their marriage permanent or break the vows without suffering any consequences.
Mountain climbing played a big part in festivities. Ceremonial cutting of the first corn was a common event. That corn was then made into an offering for Lugh and carried to the top of a hill or mountain and buried. Other offerings of flowers worn by climbers were also taken to a peak and buried as well.
Climbing mountains during Lughnasadh is still prevalent in modern day celebrations; however, it has been remodeled as a Christian pilgrimage, stripped of all Pagan connotations. The most notorious of these treks is the ‘Reek Sunday’ journey to the top of Croagh Patrick taking place on the last Sunday in July.
Much like the traditions surrounding wells mentioned in our Beltane post, paying a visit to a holy waterhole was a strong tradition for Lughnasadh as well. Revelers would leave offerings in the form of coins or clooties – narrow pieces of cloth wet with the holy well’s water and tied to the branches of a nearby tree – and pray for the health of themselves and loved ones while walking sunwise around the well.
What an interesting Sabbat! Do you celebrate Lughnasadh in your practice? Are there any events listed above that you partake in? Let me know in the comments. And as always, Bright Blessings and Happy Crafting!