For many in the Neopagan community, Lughnasadh is one of the lesser celebrated holidays. For Celtic Pagans, however, it is a big deal; one of the four Celtic High Days. It hasn’t always been my favorite of the big four. August in the Ozarks is hot. Hardly anyone I know wants to have an outdoor ritual in August. But Lughnasadh has grown on me over time, especially as I’ve learned more about it.
Lughnasadh means ‘the gathering of Lugh’. Despite the name, Lughnasadh was not a holiday in honor of Lugh, but rather, it was called by him to honor his foster-mother Tailtiu (pronounced tal-chuh). Her name meant “Great One of the Earth”. Legend has it she died in the effort of clearing land for agriculture. The Lughnasadh games were her funeral games. Her burial place was Teltown. An older name for this High Day is Bron Trogain, which means “the earth’s sorrowing in Autumn”.
Although it is widely believed in the Pagan community that Lugh was/is a sun and harvest god, many scholars believe this simply wasn’t so. What we do know about him is that he was/is a lord of every skill, patron of the arts, traveling, influence and commerce. He was called Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his great spear and sling. He was called “the shining one”, but so were many other Celtic deities and this may have been simply a general term they used to refer to their gods, just as ADF Druids do today. The epithet “shining one” could mean something other than the sun as well. Many wonder if he was a lightning god, for in County Mayo thunderstorms were referred to as battles between Lugh and Balor.
In early Ireland Lughnasadh was the beginning of harvest season. It was a celebration of first fruits of the land, but also a harvest of the people’s talents. It was a time of inter-tribal gathering, a time for races, competitive games, trading (especially of sheep and horses), reunions, marriage/handfasting (also called “Teltown marriages”), and of fairs. Lughnasadh was also a traditional time for gathering on hilltops, and for picking fraughans (wild blueberries). In fact, picking blueberries was such a big tradition that another name for the holiday was “Blueberry Sunday”. (For in the Christian era, the celebration was moved to the closest Sunday to Lughnasadh.) In “Celtic Rituals”, Alexei Kondratiev speaks of a tradition in which flowers are were worn in procession to the hilltop site and later buried in a commemoration of the ending of summer.
The traditional date of this High Day was August 1st, though Lughnasadh themed fairs take place throughout the month of August in Ireland. One of these is the famous Puck Fair. In the Christian era, Lughnasadh was renamed Lammas, a contraction of the words ‘loaf’ and ‘mass’; a loaf of bread was made from the first ripe grains and taken to church to be consecrated upon the altar.