As the Wheel of the Year turns, for those of us residing south of the equator, the festival of Lughnasadh is almost upon us. A Celtic word believed 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.
us the Celts were believed to commence the celebrations of their festivals at dusk the previous day and continue through the night until the dawn, in the Southern Hemisphere Lughnasadh is usually celebrated aroond 31 January through until 2 February. With February being associated with some of our hottest weather, the power of the Sun King might seem to be a long way off, however to the more observant, the dwindling hours of light are starting to be noticed.
The first of the three harvest festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year, Lughnasadh is the festival of first fruits, where a blessing of the crop would take place around this time of the year as now was the time that apples were beginning to ripen on the trees, Summer vegetables being picked from the gardens, and the corn, tall and green, awaiting to be harvested. It is the time that we can start gathering in the first harvests of grain, wheat and barley.
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.
Within many traditions of Wicca, the God has moved from His guise as the Solar 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. The Goddess 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.
Juliet Batten indicates that in the old Maori calendar the eight month was when kua makura te kai; ka kai te tangata i nga kai hou o te tau (“fruits have now set and people eat the first fruits of the year”). Young gourds might now be ready to eat, but the kumara still had much growing to do. Rehua (Antares) was the Summer star, personifying heat and the power to ripen all fruits, the star that governed the migration of whitebait, with many proverbs indicating its importance, or that of his wife, Ruhia.
Kaore ana a Rehua i tatu ki raro (“Rehua has not yet alighted”) referred to the stage before fruit has formed on the trees. On a hot day people would say Kua tahu a Rehau (“Rehua has burnt/kindled”). Other proverbs refer to te paki o Rhuia (“the fine weather of Ruhia”) and the heat that she brings. Another saying was Rehua kai tangata (“people become food for Rehua”), for now that the planting season was over, men were again free for raiding expeditions. Food was scarce now.
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.
Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
All that dies shall be reborn
Corn and grain, corn and grain
All that falls shall rise again.
Billinghurst, Frances, Dancing the Sacred Wheel (TDM Publishing, 2014)
Moorey, Teresa and Brideson, Jane, Wheel of the Year: Myth and Magic through the Seasons (Hodder & Stoughton, 1997)
Rainbird, Ariadne, and Rankine, David, Magick without Peers (Capall Bann Publishing, 2001)
Batten, Juliet, Celebrating the Southern Seasons: Rituals for Aotearoa (Tandem Press, 1995)
Nichols, Mike, The Witches’ Sabbats (Acorn Guild Press, 2005)