Lughnasagh – The Festival of the First Harvest

As the seasonal Wheel of the Year turns, for those of us residing south of the equator, the festival of Lughnasadh is almost upon us.  Taken from a Celtic word thought to mean “the commemoration of Lugh”, the Irish God associated with the sun and agriculture, the festival of Lughnasadh marked the funeral games that Lugh held in honour of his foster mother, Tailte, who died while clearing the Forest of Breg and making it a plain for cultivation.  The modern day Telltown (Tailtean) in County Meath, Eire, is believed to have been named after Tailte.

Being the first of three harvest festivals, Lughnasadh is considered to be the festival of first fruits, where a blessing of the crop would take place as now was the time that apples were beginning to ripen on the trees, the summer vegetables being picked from the gardens, and the corn waiting to be harvested.  The first harvests of grain, wheat and barley are also harvested around this time of the year (save for here in South Australia where such grain harvests often take place ain December, round mid summer).

To the Anglo-Saxons, this was the festival of Lammas (meaning “loaf-mas day”), marking the harvesting of the grain.  The first sheaf of wheat was said to have been ceremonially reaped, threshed, milled and baked into a loaf which is then eaten, providing life.  The Christian sacrament of Communion, where the bread is blessed, becomes the body of God and is then eaten to nourish the faithful, echoes the Pagan Mystery of the Grain God.

Grain has always been associated with Gods who are killed and dismembered and then resurrected from the Underworld, such as Tammuz, Osiris and Adonis. The Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone is a story about the cycle of death and rebirth associated with grain. Demeter, the fertility Goddess, will not allow anything to grow until she finds her daughter who has been carried off to the Underworld. The ancient Eleusinian Mysteries, believed to have been celebrated around the Autumn Equinox, culminated in the revelation of a single ear of corn, a symbol to the initiate of the cyclical nature of life, for the corn is both seed and fruit, promise and fulfilment.

Gathering Wheat by David Ridgway Knight

Within many traditions of Pagan traditions including contemporary Wytchcraft, the God is moving from his guise as the Sun King to that of the Shadow One.  Just like the sun, his power and energy is waning as he freely gives it to the crops in order to ensure life.  As February is often our hottest month, any draining power of the Sun King might seem to be a long way off, however to the more observant, the dwindling hours of light can start to be noticed, despite daylight savings.

The Goddess too is also changing, slowly moving from her guise as the bountiful mother to that of the wise old Crone.  While it is the God who figures prominently at this sabbat, without the Goddess, there would be no crops, no harvest to be thankful for.

Lughnasadh is the festival that reminds us to refresh and vitalise the body and spirit for the important harvesting work that lies ahead. It is also the time of giving thanks for the bountiful harvest that can be seen and felt all around.  You should be seeing the efforts of your labour beginning to manifest.

Look at your life and see where you have aimed. What have you accomplished that you set out to do? What still needs to be done? Now is the time to stop and look at the big picture – are you still on track? Are you where you want to be? Are you who you want to be? If you are unhappy, not satisfied, are you able to see what needs to be changed? Are you prepared to make that change?

The Goddess provides but only what we are willing to work for and harvest by our own efforts. All that she provides will rot on the vine and grow wild if we do not add our own labour of love and care to her efforts.

As it was believed the Celts commenced their festival celebrations at dusk the previous day and carried through the night until the dawn, in the Southern Hemisphere Lughnasadh is celebrated around 31 January through until 2 February, or if astrological observances are taken into consideration, when the sun has entered 15 degrees Aquarius.

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
All that dies shall be reborn
Corn and grain, corn and grain
All that falls shall rise again.

Dancing the Sacred Wheel by Frances Billinghurst
Wheel of the Year: Myth and Magic through the Seasons by Teresa Moorey and Jane Brideson
Magick Without Peers by Ariadne Rainbird and David Rankine
The Witches’ Sabbats by Mike Nichols