The Pagan Wheel of the Year, consisting of eight holidays, follows an agricultural and herding tradition, and it marks three autumn harvest festivals. Lughnassad (pronounced: LOO-nah-sah; the Irish “Lunassa” means “August”) is the first harvest. It is celebrated in late July or early August, most commonly on or near August 1. This festival is associated with the growing grain, the Celtic god Lugh, and personal harvests.
Before our ancestors had the conveniences of refrigeration and transportation, they depended on the local fields to supply enough grain, fruits, and meat to feed a village. Not surprisingly, many townspeople and villagers worked together to harvest vast quantities of grain in late summer and into the fall. Although the bulk of the grain produced this year is not yet ready to be harvested, we do begin to see fresh corn, and plenty of it, in farmer’s markets, gardens, and supermarkets. On a Lughnassad altar, the corn symbolizes all grain in all cultures. Corn (and its byproducts, which form the largest part of an American’s diet) is a major staple. During a Lughnassad ceremony, we express our gratefulness for the abundance of the grain crops, the endurance of the land, and the labor of the people.
Lammas, or Loaf Mass
A variant name for this holiday, Lammas, means loaf-mass. Various denominations celebrate this time of year by preparing, blessing, and sharing loaves of bread. The message is that we are thankful for our bounty and share it with each other. Our Lady of the Woods usually has a few very fine homemade loaves of bread at every Lughnassad festival.
Lugh established the harvest fairs. Lughnassad is part of a typical harvest model: work hard, and then play hard! The Celts played hard in August during the Tailtean games held in honor of Lugh’s nurse and foster-mother, Tailtu. These games tested the strength and endurance of the villagers and their horses, while merchants sold their wares and groups enjoyed entertainment. The fairs are still held in Teltown, CountyMeath, the town named for Tailtiu.
The god Lugh is a very important figure in the Irish stories of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Lugh was the only surviving brother of three brothers. As a young man he gained distinction by claiming mastery of a large group of skills; he was a wright, a smith, a champion, a swordsman, a harpist, a hero, a poet and historian, a sorcerer, and a craftsman. He was also a skillful leader, strategist, and warrior. After successfully defeating the Formorians (a wild, ancestral, somewhat monstrous version of the early Irish) Balor and Bres, he bargained with Bres to teach the victors how and when to sow and reap. Lugh was also involved in a magical battle to retain the harvest for humankind when underworld figures threatened to keep it for themselves.
Pagans usually spend some time around Lughnassad thinking about what they are good at and what they contribute to their families and communities. Like Lugh’s, our skills are best when shared. It is also common at this time of year to make a commitment to learn something new or expand a skill (alas, going back to school is not new).
What are You Harvesting?
As the days begin to shorten and temperatures lower slightly, we cannot escape the realization that the summer is beginning to slip away. At this time of year we naturally begin to take stock and plan for the quieter days ahead. A short time of reflection is in order—did we do all we set out to do this summer? What can we be especially proud of achieving? What are our personal harvests?
Some excellent ways to celebrate this festival include baking special loaves of bread; using corn in a harvest feast; telling, singing or staging the stories of Lugh and his achievements; organizing your own harvest games; demonstrating your skills; writing an end of summer letter with pictures telling everyone what you’ve done and accomplished; gathering with family to swap success stories; trading recipes; participating in a county fair; or doing anything that enlivens your relationship with the harvest cycle and the earth.
1. Campenelli, Pauline and Dan. Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life. Llewellyn, 1993.
2. Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun. Oxford University Press, 1996.
3. Nahmad, Claire. Earth Magic: A Wisewoman’s Guide to Herbal, Astrological, & Other Folk Wisdom. Destiny Books, 1994.
4. Pennick, Nigel. The Pagan Book of Days. Destiny Books, 1992.