Lughnasadh (Celebrated on August 1), also known as Lammas, August Eve, The Festival of Bread, Elembiuos, Lunasa, Cornucopia (Strega), Thingtide (Teutonic), is the first of the Pagan harvest rituals.
Lughnasadh, a Sabbat on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, is primarily a grain harvest, one in which corn, wheat, barley and grain products such as bread are prominently featured. Fruits and vegetables which ripen in late summer are also a part of the traditional feast.
For Wiccans, as autumn begins to assert itself and the summer to wane, the Sun God enters his old age, but is not yet dead. The God symbolically loses some of his strength as the Sun rises farther in the South each day and the nights grow longer.
During Lughnasadh the Goddess is honored as the Queen of Abundance, and the God, the Father of Prosperity, or God of the Corn. It is a time when the Goddess is a new Mother. A feast of grains, breads, and early summer fruits and vegetables is held in the Deity's honor.
The threshing of precious grain was once seen as a sacred act, and threshing houses had small wooden panels under the door so that no loose grain could escape. This is the original meaning of our modern word "threshold."
This festival has two aspects. First, it is one of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lugh (Lleu to the Welsh, Lugus to the Gauls). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games).
The Celtic harvest festival takes its name from the Irish god Lugh, one of the chief gods of the Tuatha De Danann, giving us Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nus-uh), in Ireland, Lunasdál in Scotland, and Laa Luanys in the Isle of Man. (In Wales, this time is known simply as Gwl Awst, the August Feast.)
Lugh dedicated this festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died from exhaustion after clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. When the men of Ireland gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. Tailtiu’s name is from Old Celtic Talantiu, "The Great One of the Earth," suggesting she may originally have been a personification of the land itself, like so many Irish goddesses. In fact, Lughnasadh has an older name, Brón Trogain, which refers to the painful labor of childbirth. For at this time of year, the earth gives birth to her first fruits so that her children might live.
Tailtiu gives her name to Teltown in County Meath, where the festival was traditionally held in early Ireland. It evolved into a great tribal assembly, attended by the High King, where legal agreements were made, political problems discussed, and huge sporting contests were held on the scale of an early Olympic Games. Artists and entertainers displayed their talents, traders came from far and wide to sell food, farm animals, fine crafts and clothing, and there was much storytelling, music, and high-spirited revelry, according to a medieval eye-witness account:
"Trumpets, harps, hollow-throated horns, pipers, timpanists, unwearied...fiddlers, gleemen, bone-players and bag-pipers, a rude crowd, noisy, profane, roaring and shouting."
This was also an occasion for handfasting, or trial marriages. Young men and women lined up on either side of a wooden gate in a high wall, in which a hole was carved, large enough for a hand. One by one, girl and boy would grasp a hand in the hole, without being able to see who was on the other side. They were now married, and could live together for year and day to see if it worked out. If not, the couple returned to next year’s gathering and officially separated by standing back to back and walking away from each other.
Throughout the centuries, the grandeur of Teltown dwindled away, but all over Ireland, right up to the middle of this century, country-people have celebrated the harvest at revels, wakes, and fairs – and some still continue today in the liveliest manner. It was usually celebrated on the nearest Sunday to August 1, so that a whole day could be set aside from work. In later times, the festival of Lughnasadh was Christianized as Lammas, from the Anglo-Saxon, hlaf-mas, "Loaf-Mass," but in rural areas, it was often remembered as "Bilberry Sunday," for this was the day to climb the nearest "Lughnasadh Hill" and gather the earth’s freely-given gifts of the little black berries, which they might wear as special garlands or gather in baskets to take home for jam.
As of old, people sang and danced jigs and reels to the music of melodeons, fiddles and flutes, and held uproarious sporting contests and races. In some places, a woman — or an effigy of one — was crowned with summer flowers and seated on a throne, with garlands strewn at her feet. Dancers whirled around her, touching her garlands or pulling off a ribbon for good luck. In this way, perhaps, the ancient goddess of the harvest was still remembered with honor.
Because Lughnasadh is a celebration of the new harvest, people cooked special ritual and festive meals.
In some parts of Ireland, the Feast of Lughnasadh came to be called Colcannon Sunday, after a dish made from the first digging of potatoes. The cook put on a special white apron kept for the occasion, boiled a huge pot of potatoes over the fire, and mashed them with a wooden mallet. Often, they were seasoned with onions, garlic or cabbage. The cooked vegetables were then turned out onto a platter, and a well hollowed out in the middle for plenty of butter and hot milk. The family sat round and ate, while the cook ate hers from the pot itself — a special privilege. In more well-to-do households, the meal would be accompanied by meat: a flitch of bacon, newly-slaughtered sheep or roast chicken, and followed by seasonal fruits such as gooseberries and blackcurrants.
It was thought to be unlucky not to eat Colcannon on this day, so people often made sure to share theirs with less fortunate neighbors.
The Christian religion adopted this theme and called it 'Lammas, ' meaning 'loaf-mass ', a time when newly baked loaves of bread are placed on the altar. An alternative date around August 5 (Old Lammas), when the sun reaches 15 degrees Leo, is sometimes employed by Covens to take the festival back.
This is the second aspect of the Sabbat, Lammas, is the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first of the grain harvest is consumed in ritual loaves.
These aspects are not too dissimilar to the pagan celebrations, as the shamanic death and transformation of Lleu can be compared to that of the Barley God, known from the folksong "John Barleycorn," whom is cut down to feed his people.
As a result, this festival was often associated with symbolic forms of harvest-related sacrifice. Druids and other early Pagans were known to build a large effigy of a man from wicker then burn it in a bonfire. Townspeople added the last grain sheaf of their harvests to the fire as an offering of thanks.
This time is also sacred to the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, Artemis.
~ May the blessings of Lughnasadh touch you all ~
— Danu’s Daughter