Lughnassadh is a traditional Gaelic harvest festival celebrated on August 1. It is said that the God Lugh established this festival as funeral games in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu who died of exhaustion after clearing the island in preparation for agriculture.
Traditionally contests of skill and strength, as well as sacrifices, particularly of the first part of the year’s harvest, were made on this day and there may have been a sort of passion play. As with most festivals, there would have been bonfires and dancing.
Fields and cattle were blessed with the ashes from the Lughnassadh bonfires, sacred wells were with offerings of coins or clooties for luck. Of course, there would have been a huge feast as well, with the attendees consuming a share of what was also sacrificed to the Gods. This festival was and remains a popular time for handfasting and weddings.
- Pronounced: LOO neh sah
- Alternate spellings: Lúnasa, Lùnastal, Luanistyn, Lugnasad, Luġnasaḋ, Lughnasa
- Similar and related festivals include: Lammas, Calan Awst, Freyfaxi and First Harvest
In Ireland this festival continues with family reunions, bonfires and dancing and Catholic priests bless the fields.
It is now known as Lá Lúnasa or Lunasa Day to differentiate from Mi Lúnasa or Lunasa Month, as the month of August shares the name of the holiday.
Lughnassadh in Modern Time
Modern Pagans have embraced this festival the world over. It is part of the Wheel of the Year for many Wiccan traditions and part of the liturgical calendar for various Druid paths. Many other Pagans have also adopted this festival or some variant of it under many different names including Lammas, First Harvest, Cornucopia, Thingtide, Elembiuos, The Festival of the Bread, and August Eve.
Timing of Lughnassadh
In the Northern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is usually celebrated on August 1 and in the Southern Hemisphere it is celebrated on February 1.
Some folks prefer to reckon the date of the festival according to a lunar or astrological calendar. In this case, Lughnassadh may be celebrated on the day the sun enters, 15 degrees Leo, or the first full or new moon when the sun is in Leo, depending upon tradition.
As Lughnassadh is considered a cross-quarter day according to the Wheel of the Year, the festival is the mid-point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. This occurs when the sun’s ecliptic longitude is at 135 degrees (In 2020 this date is August 6th in the Northern Hemisphere.) or full moon closest to this point.
However, since the holiday is taken from the Gaelic word from the month it begins, even though the month is not what it once was, others view these calculations as unnecessary.
In modern tradition, the sacrifice of Tailtiu may be celebrated and Lugh and the Cailleachan (storm hags) evoked to prevent the still-ripening crops from being destroyed by a storm or other disaster or the sacrifice of another “dying God” may be commemorated with a symbolic sacrifice of a wicker man or bread formed into human shape. Always there would be feasting and a bonfire if at all possible.
Many simply view Lughnassadh as one of the many Pagan thanksgiving and harvest festivals and may use it as a time to honor their Sun God, their Harvest Deities or simply to get together with their community in with a general atmosphere of gratitude.
- Foods: bilberries in Europe, Blueberries or Blackberries in the US, Bread in the shape of a human or “God”
- Gods: Lugh, Tailtiu, the Cailleachan (Storm Hags), Harvest Deities, Dying Gods, John Barleycorn
- Symbols: Grains, Berries, agricultural tools, wicker man, cornucopia
- Colors: Yellow, Gold, Green
- Divination: A gentle rain on Lughnassadh indicates the presence and blessing of the God Lugh. It may be collected and saved for ritual use later.
A Lughnassadh playlist on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZJf__9hICU1ouvW6uDkNq_BH01L9VDWH