I found these two articles on Lughnasadh to be very interesting!
From “An Orkney Tapestry” by George Mackay Brown.
This is the season of Lughnasadh, the feast of Lugh of the Long Hand, whose solar fire ripens the harvest. Heat hangs in the air by day, but the nights are growing longer, and the stars are bright. In Ireland, a month of athletic games honored Lugh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu. In the night skies of this season, the Perseid meteor showers dance in the dark. They are still known in Ireland as the Games of Lugh. This is Lammas, the Loaf Mass, when bread is baked from the first harvest, and John Barleycorn goes into barrels for the winter.
This is the time of the gathering of the folk. In the Moon of Lughnasadh, clans come together from all the duns, driving their herds before them. They play and test their skill at games. The druids settle disputes and re-establish boundaries. On the mountain sides, the young women and men pick berries and make love. Sometimes, especially if there is a Beltane baby on the way, a handfasting is celebrated. They build bonfires on the hilltops and drive the cattle between them. There is dancing by torchlight and by firelight. Sometimes a cartwheel is set alight and rolled blazing down a hillside. An Irish faery tale calls this season “little lunacy week in August.”
This is the long-awaited harvest. In Scotland, the youngest child in the family cuts the last sheaf and weaves a corn dolly or corn hag from it. The first family to finish its harvest makes the corn dolly and passes it on to others as they finish. It ends in the keeping of the last family to finish harvesting. On Brighid’s Day, the corn dolly and a loaf of bread or a jug of whisky are put to bed in a basket and carried through all the houses to hurry the spring sowing.
In Britain, July is the season of haymaking, and August is the corn or barley harvest. Lughnasadh is the time to sacrifice the grain. In 1100 C.E. on the Morrow of Lammas, August 2, King William Rufus of England was shot through the eye with an arrow while hunting in the New Forest. The body of the red-haired king was carried through the countryside, and the folk came out to mourn him as John Barleycorn. The New Forest is still sacred ground to English witches and gypsies.
In mid-August, Odin found the wisdom of the Runes. He hung on the world ash tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights, a sacrifice of himself to himself.
The Puck Fair is held in England at Lughnasadh by the old Julian calendar. In Scotland, the Lammas fair is called Great Saint Mary’s Feast in Harvest. In Hungary, it is the feast of the Big Glad Woman.
These are the Dog Days, the Month for Hanging Dogs, the rising of Sirius the Dog Star, known in the North as Loki’s Brand. Elen Llydaw, Welsh Goddess of the star roads, draws her maps in the sky. The Star Goddess Anahita and her attendants, the Parikas or shooting stars, dance by night in Persia. In Egypt, the rising of Sirius marked the beginning of the Nile floods and the end of the year. The Sky Goddess Nut gave birth to her five children, Set, Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Hathor between the old year and the new. By torchlight, Isis searched for the slain Osiris, gathered the pieces of his body, and breathed life into him again.
In Macedonia, the first three days of August celebrated the Dryads, spirits of the trees. In Rome, the Heracleia honored Heracles with games and invoked the spirit of the hero into the hearts of those who needed strength and courage.
In Brittany, Lammas is the time of the benediction of the sea. Ahes, the Mermaid Goddess of the drowned city of Ys, gives her people bounty from the ocean. In the West Indies, the hurricane Gods walk on land from Lammas until Samhain. The last Monday in July is Hurricane Supplication Day.
Lughnasadh falls at moon-dark this year. Bendis of Thrace, the Goddess who first taught witches to draw down the moon, held torchlight races, parades, and initiations at the dark of the August moon. Hekate, the dark moon, was celebrated with offerings of eggs, fish, onions, and garlic left at the crossroads. At the new moon in Greece, Artemis of Brauron held her festival. Little girls dressed in bear costumes danced in her honor. Artemis was celebrated as Ursa Major, the she-bear. Artio, the Celtic Bear Goddess, was honored at Lughnasadh.
This is Luna Mass, the celebration of the Lady of the Moon. The August full moon marks the height of summer, the return of brightness before autumn. In Wales, the full moon is Arianrhod, “silver wheel.” In Scotland, she is Gealach, the “bright white moon of the seasons.” The Moon Goddess Diana’s day in Rome was the Ides of August, the thirteenth. In the lunar calendar, this was the eve of the full moon. Her priestesses danced in sacred groves by torchlight. In Greece, Artemis was celebrated at the full moon as Calliste, the beautiful one. Ishtar was worshipped in her lion aspect at the full moon in Sumer. Pacha Mama prepares the ground for the early sowing at the full moon in Peru. The Creek and Cherokee Corn Mothers are the sister Goddesses Elihino of the Earth and Igaehindvo of the Sun. The Green Corn Dances celebrate the grain they provide for their people.
This is the time of the Mothers, the Matronae, the Three Women. Carved in stone, they hold bounty on their laps: a basket of fruits and flowers, an infant, a foal. They are the Triple Danu, Goddess of the land; the Triple Brighid, Goddess of poetry, crafts, and healing; and Modron and Morgan and Morrigan, the ancient Triple Mother. They are Habondia and Cornucopia. They bring sleep and fertility and bounty. They are the Corn Hag and the Corn Maiden, the last of the harvest and the first of the seed. They are the little wisdoms that carry us through the winter. They are the first green shoots in the spring. They are the earth covered by snow. They gift all their children with secrets and seeds and dreams.
This is the season of John Barleycorn. He stands in the fields until his beard sprouts in the rains of Midsummer. Then he is cut down, rolled around the field, beaten, and tied. He is baked into bread and brewed into ale and distilled into whisky. A Scottish song tells of John Barleycorn meeting Brighid, who is searching for him in a snowstorm. He gives her a bannock and a drink of whisky: “She ate, she drank, she laughed, she danced, and home with me she did return. By candle light in my old straw bed, she wept no more for Barleycorn.”* He is Crom Cruaich, the ancient God of standing stones and the harvest sacrifice. He wins every drinking contest. He leads us by winter roads to the return of spring.
The festival of Lughnasadh is one of the important quarter days in the Gaelic-Celtic calendar. It marked the ending of summer and the coming of autumn and then winter.
The festival was celebrated with a sacrifice of the fruits of the soil, either cultivated produce (such as oats, wheat and other crops) or wild produce (like fruit, berries and such like). Tradition has these sacrifices dedicated to Lùgh (Lùghaidh Lamh-fhada, Lugh of the Long Hand), who the festival appears to be named after. Lore has it that Lùgh started the tradition of the festival in honour of his foster mother Tailltu, calling the fair ‘Tailltenn’. Legend has it she was buried under a mound and thus why the preference today for Lùghnasadh to occur on a height or raised mound. Often these hillsites or raised sites were at some distance from settlement, thus precluding those without the physical strength to get there. In some areas the tradition had the festival taking place at the shores of a river, where horses were raced through the water.
At the fair of Tailltenn unions were arranged, the tradition carried onto Lùghnasadh. It became a time where marriage was most fortunuous, handfasting was encouraged, giving people a year and a day to trial their marriage. This meant that if the union was not successful, the parties could seperate and try again next Tailltenn. The divine marriage was often re-enacted (before being banned by Christian priests) and many felt that lovemaking helped encourage the fertility of the soil.
The festival of Lughnasadh gave its name in Gaelic to the month following and also became known as the season of fairs, with a number of them scheduled during the still fine weather. Gatherings were conducted around this time in fishing villages, the fishermen talking of “gathering against the soon to be winter storms”. Tables were spread with scones, oatcakes, and butter. Other foods such as eggs and smoked hams quickly followed. The nights contained much drinking, songs, riddle contests and fortunes were discovered. However, dancing was frowned upon as it was believed it would attract the ‘trows’ (spirit folk).
Lughnasadh had a number of special traditions tied to food and other life giving events. Ritual was tied to saining, fire, curds, the bannock and herd rites.
As during the festival of Bealltainn, Saining rites were important and performed on the eve of Lughnasadh. Old woman gave care to the cattle, covering their tails and ears with tar, tying threads that were either blue or red to their tails and chanting incantations at the udders. In order to protect both the cow and its milk against decline a ball of cow’s hair (a ronag) was put into the pail of milk on either Lughnasadh day or the thursday afterwards. This was extended in some regions where a blessing fire (crogain) was put around the earthenware storage jars that were to contain the butter or milk.
The use of bonfires during the Lughnashadh festivities was documented up until the 19th century. In some regions of Scotland there was a tradition of the young lads of the area would travel from hamlet to hamlet raising funds to in turn buy woods (of the 9 sacred woods) to build into a huge bonfire for Lughnasadh night.
At this time the cattle were brought down from the summer pastures to the household. Everyone, and the children that were at the sheiling got given a gift of good luck and good will in the form of a curd cheese. It is possible that this was a form of cowdie.
Bannock was, like at Bealltainn, popular at Lughnasadh and each bannock was dedicated to Maire (The Mother Mary). The feast of Mary fell less then two weeks after Lughnasadh, and Là Fhèil Moire at a later day came to overshadow the Lughnasadh festivities and in some areas absorb portions of the earlier tradition. The corn (wheat, oats etc) was hand gathered, seperated, dried and hand ground in preparation for the baking of the bannock. The dough was kneeded on a sheepskin, and was called ‘Moilean Moire’ – ‘The fatling of Mary’. It was cooked on rowan branches or on a fire made from one of the other sacred woods. When it was served it was broken into pieces and served in order of rank and age around the house, the husband, the wife and then to each of the children by their age. At the finishing of the bannock the man of the house would go around the fire, and put the fire ash within an old pot along with some pieces of old iron. It was then carried sunwise around the house, with the household following him, whilest they all chanted the praise of Mary (The mother of Lugh could be substituted), an example of which is ‘The Paean of Mary’.
Alexander Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica gives an example of a Lughnasadh practice from Scotland, that obviously has origins in pre-Christian times. At the begining of the Harvest the family would go to the field of corn wearing their best clothing. The father would take his sickle and cut a handful of corn, circling this bundle around his head three times deisal, and he raised a chant called Iolach Bauna (a reaping salutation). Everyone joined the chant, praising the God of the Harvest, thanking him for the bountiful harvest, the corn, bread, food, flocks, clothes and good health. He was believed to have brought a good harvest to the land and to their lives. Within his book Carmichael recorded a blessing relevant to the Harvest that echoes the pagan and agricultural parts of Lughnasadh:
On Tuesday of the feast at the rise of the sun,
And the back of the ear of corn to the east
I will go forth with my sickle under my arm
And I will reap the cut the first act
I will let my sickle down,
While the fruitful ear is in my grasp,
I will raise mine eye upwards
I will turn me on my heels quickly
Rightway as travels the sun,
From the direction of the east to the west,
From the direction of the north with motion slow,
To the very core of the direction of the south
I will give thanks to the king of grace,
For the growing crops of the ground,
He will give food to ourselves and to the flocks,
According as He disposeth to us.
Lore about Lugh
The mythology surrounding the god Lugh helps give depth to the meaning of Lughnasadh as it is his name that gave a title to the festival.
Lughnasadh is linked with Imbolg along the axis of the year, both are related to initiation and are intertwined with the outcome of the Tribe’s interaction with the Land. Lugh himself crafts the energy of the Land (In the form of Brighid’s fire) flawlessly, for the benefit of the Tribe as a whole.
Lugh was fathered by Cian upon Eithne, whose name means kernel, is comparitable with the fathering of Bres. Lugh’s father was a Tuatha De Dannan, representing the Tribal forces overcoming the Land forces of his Fomorian mother. Bres however, was fathered by a Fomorian upon a De Dannan woman, which threw the Dannan into blight (As outlined in the story ‘The Second Battle of Moytura’).
After his birth, Lugh was fostered out to the God, Manannan Mac Lir as his mother feared for his life. Manannan appears to be an earlier version of Lugh himself, interacting with the Tuatha de Dannan but not one himself. Later Lugh was fostered to the Fir Bolg queen Tailtu, who died, and who the feast of Lughnasadh is in turn in honour of.