Lughnasadh – Gateway to Autumn

Cornhusk Dolls

August 1 is the gateway to autumn, the fourth quarterly season of the Celtic year. Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, is the time to harvest what sprouted after winter’s rest and grew to maturity in summer.

The yearly cycle begins again with Samhain on the eve of November 1, with its celebration of the beginning of Celtic winter, introspection and ancestral communion. The second season, spring, opens with Imbolc on February 1 and its focus on new beginnings. Summer begins with Beltane on May 1, with its fires and creative expression. Then we come again to Lughnasadh, a time of maturity and consolidation.

These “gateway festivals” traditionally fell on the first full moon of the season. Now they are generally celebrated on fixed dates or the closest weekend. The festival day begins at sundown the day before.

Lughnasadh is named for the Irish god Lugh and the funeral games he held for his foster-mother, Tailltiu, a goddess of agriculture. It means “the binding duty of Lugh.” This festival marked the time when people knew if they would pass the winter with enough to eat, or struggle to survive after a poor harvest.

Traditions and Symbols of Lughnasadh

The harvest festival honors both the abundance of the harvest and the sacrifices of gods and ancestors. It is a celebration of prosperity and the middle of the light half of the year, before the earth and its people slip again into the resting phase.

Traditional games celebrate the wake of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailltiu, and his prowess in battle. The sacred tradition of building and burning a Wicker Man symbolizes the sacrifice the god makes for his people.

Corn and wheat stalks are traditional symbols for Lughnasadh. Breads made from the first harvest of these grains are offered to the gods and ancestors. The feast in their honor includes bread and cakes, ale, elderberry wine, corn, potatoes, berry pies, nuts, apples, rice, roasted lamb, squash, turnips, and other grains and root crops.

Corn husk dolls symbolize the Goddess of Grain. Old dolls are burned in the festival fire and new ones are made to bring good luck.

Another tradition of Lughnasadh is forming or renewing oaths and contracts for the coming year. Informal pairings occurred during this and other festivals, although it was considered bad luck to wed during the harvest. The true wedding was between the land and its people.

Your Personal Harvest Season

Most of us in the West are removed from the direct life-and-death effects of good and poor harvests, except for their impacts on food prices. We sow and reap other kinds of harvests, though. What internal ground did you clear and prepare last winter? What seeds of intention did you plant that sprouted in the spring? What efforts have reached maturity now and are ready to be reaped?

It may be easier to ponder these questions on the scale of a lifetime than over a year’s cycle. Yet we make plans and nurture them, perhaps sacrificing something else along the way. The harvest can be your new baby; the promotion you worked for; new friends you’ve reached out to and activities you’ve tried. Your time, energy, and resources have been invested over the last year. What have you manifested for your Self as a result?

Sources:

From Matthews, Caitlin, The Celtic Book of Days: a guide to Celtic spirituality and wisdom, Destiny books, Rochester, VT, 1995
http://www.elftown.com/_Lughnasadh%20Symbols
http://www.celtic-symbols.net/lughnasadh.html
http://www.mysticmooncoven.org/lughna03.htm#L1
Cornhusk dolls image from www.FamilyFun.go.com

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