August has arrived and Summer is still in complete control, but as the month advances there are some changes in the atmosphere. The light begins to shift, the days get a little shorter, and every now and then there is a cool breath of air. It is time to start the First Harvest, Lughnasa. I had a wonderful view of the mid-point of the agricultural year as I was driving along a country road the other day. One of our local farmers had plowed up his fields, ending the first of the Summer crops and getting ready to plant the crops that will come at the end of Summer.
Lughnasa has long been a celebration of the First Harvest. It is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and definitely has pagan origins. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. The name is a combination of Lug (the god Lugh) and násad (an assembly). Later spellings include Lughnasadh and Lughnasa. Another name used for Lughnasadh is Lammas, which is what most people recognize. The name comes from the old-Anglo-Saxon word for “hlaef-mass,” loaf mass, the mass in the Roman Catholic Church where the first loaf of bread from the new crops is consecrated. As Lammas, the holiday is first mentioned in old Anglo-Saxon chronicles as early as 921 CE as “Feast of the First Fruits”. Personally, I don’t like this name because of its Christian etymology. I prefer the older, pagan names. Lugh is one of the most well known Celtic deities and he came to be associated with grain in Celtic mythology. His celebration day was August 1, and that date ties in with the first grain harvest in agricultural societies in the Northern Hemisphere. The word for August in Irish Gaelic is lunasa. Lugh is honored with corn, grains, bread, and other symbols of the harvest. Because of its connection to the Harvest it is customary to celebrate with the sharing of a fresh loaf of bread. Any grain will do for that bread, but depending on which tradition you follow, you might want to stick with what was commonly used in the region of that tradition. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people are doing a very European Rite, and using cornbread! People, corn wasn’t in Europe until AFTER 1500 CE. The word CORN was an old Anglo-Saxon word for grain, which is why we call that grain corn today. References in old texts to corn any time before 1500 CE are talking about oats or wheat.
History lesson over. Lughnasa is also a celebration of the sacrifice the God and Goddess make so that their people can live. Thinking of agriculture, it makes sense. We have to cut down the crops to use them, and to prepare the fields for something new, so the God must be sacrificed, figuratively, not literally. Although in times past… Anyway, if you want to celebrate Lughnasa, it is two-fold: the joy of those first crops coming in; the recognition that a sacrifice must be made. After all, life feeds on life.
Another question that comes up is when to do the Rite. That goes back to the old days, too. Work had to be done all day long, so celebrations usually started at Sundown. The celebration can be done any time from Sundown on the 1st until Sundown on the 2nd, Sundown being the best time on either day.
Today is the 2nd, so I must stop writing and go bake some bread and sacrifice a God. May the blessings of the First Harvest be on all of you.