I wished a friend today a Happy Lugnasadh and was immediately asked what I was talking about. Well, for those of you that have Pagan friends and don’t know about our holidays, let me let Wikipedia define it for you.
Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nə-sə; Irish: Lúnasa; Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal; Manx: Luanistyn) is a traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on 1 August in the northern hemisphere and 1 February in the southern[dubious – discuss]. It originated as a harvest festival, corresponding to the Welsh Calan Awst and the English Lammas.
In Old Irish (or Old Gaelic), the name was usually spelled Lugnasad (pronounced [luɣnəsəð]). Later spellings include Luġnasaḋ, Lughnasadh and Lughnasa.
In Modern Irish (Gaeilge), the spelling is Lúnasa, which is also the name for the month of August. The genitive case is also Lúnasa as in Mí Lúnasa (Month of August) and Lá Lúnasa (Day of Lúnasa). The word násadh means a feast, fair, assembly, or celebration, but is unstressed when used as a suffix on Lughnasadh.
In Modern Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), the festival and the month are both called Lùnastal.
In Manx (Gaelg), the festival and the month are both called Luanistyn. The day itself may be called either Laa Luanistyn or Laa Luanys.
In Welsh (Cymraeg), the day is known as Calan Awst, originally a Latin term, the Calends of August in English.
In Irish mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh (modern spelling: Lú) as a funeral feast and sporting competition in commemoration of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. The first location of the Áenach Tailteann gathering was at Tailtin, between Navan and Kells. Historically, the Áenach Tailteann was a time for contests of strength and skill and a favored time for contracting marriages and winter lodgings. A peace was declared at the festival, and religious celebrations were held. The festival survived as the Taillten Fair, and was revived for a period in the 20th century as the Telltown Games.
A similar Lughnasadh festival was held at Carmun (whose exact location is under dispute). Carmun is also believed to have been a goddess of the Celts, perhaps one with a similar tale as Tailtiu.
In 1962 The Festival of Lughnasa, a study of Lughnasadh by folklorist Máire MacNeill, was published. MacNeill drew on medieval writings and on surveys and studies from throughout Ireland and Britain. Her conclusion was that the evidence testified to an ancient Celtic festival on 1 August that involved the following:
[A] solemn cutting of the first of the corn of which an offering would be made to the deity by bringing it up to a high place and burying it; a meal of the new food and of bilberries of which everyone must partake; a sacrifice of a sacred bull, a feast of its flesh, with some ceremony involving its hide, and its replacement by a young bull; a ritual dance-play perhaps telling of a struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight; an installation of a head on top of the hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh; another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine; a three-day celebration presided over by the brilliant young god or his human representative. Finally, a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over, and the chief god in his right place again.
Lughnasadh celebrations were commonly held on hilltops. Traditionally, people would climb hills on Lughnasadh to gather bilberries, which were eaten on the spot or saved to make pies and wine. It is thought that Reek Sunday—the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July—was originally a Lughnasadh ritual. As with the other Gaelic seasonal festivals (Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain), the celebrations involved a great feast. In the Scottish Highlands, people made a special cake called the lunastain, which was also called luinean when given to a man and luineag when given to a woman. This may have originated as an offering to the gods.
Another custom that Lughnasadh shared with the other Gaelic festivals was the lighting of bonfires and visiting of holy wells. The ashes from Lughnasadh bonfires would be used to bless fields, cattle and people. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties (see clootie well).
In Gaelic Ireland, Lughnasadh was also a favored time for handfastings — trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or formalizing it as a lasting marriage.
In Ireland, some people continue to celebrate the holiday with bonfires and dancing. The Catholic Church in Ireland has established the ritual of blessing fields on this day. In the Irish diaspora, survivals of the Lúnasa festivities are often seen by some families still choosing August as the traditional time for family reunions and parties, though due to modern work schedules these events have sometimes been moved to adjacent secular holidays, such as the Fourth of July in the United States.
Lughnasadh and Lughnasadh-based festivals are held by some Neopagans. As there are many kinds of Neopaganism, their Lughnasadh celebrations can be very different despite the shared name. Some try to emulate the historic festival as much as possible. Other Neopagans base their celebrations on other unrelated sources, Gaelic culture being only one of the sources used.
Like other Polytheistic Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists (CRs) emphasize historical accuracy. They base their Lughnasadh celebrations on traditional lore and from historic texts that describe the festival. Celtic Reconstructionists who follow Gaelic traditions tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of first fruits, or on the full moon nearest this time. In the Northeastern United States, this is often the time of the blueberry harvest, while in the Pacific Northwest the blackberries are often the festival fruit.
In Celtic Reconstructionism, Lughnasadh is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers not to harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honored by many at this time, as he is a deity of storms and lightning, especially the storms of late summer. Gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many CRs also honor the goddess Tailtiu on this day, and may seek to keep the Cailleachan (“Storm Hags”) from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.
Main article: Wheel of the Year
Lughnasadh or Lammas is also the name used for one of the eight sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is the first of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the Autumn equinox (also called Mabon by Wiccans) and Samhain. It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for handfasting, the other being at Beltane. Some Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the “corn god” in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it.