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Lughnasadh and Lammas: Celebrating The First Harvest

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Our ancestors celebrated life together with the rhythms of each season. Many of these celebrations were interwoven and connected to nature and Earth’s natural cycles. Lughnasadh or Lammas Day is one of those celebrations. 

Today, I encourage you to celebrate Lughnasadh as a way of honoring nature’s incredible fertile energy at harvest time, and as a way to connect with our natural world on a deeper, more meaningful level. I truly believe that by recognizing and celebrating the little shifts in Earth’s natural rhythms, we can become more attuned to nature and feel more grounded in our everyday lives.

What is Lughnasadh/Lammas Day

Lughnasadh, by some cultures known as Lammas Day is typically celebrated on August 1st (or February 1st if you are in the Southern Hemisphere!). However, in celtic culture, it is celebrated the entire month of August in many cases

Lughnasadh and Lammas are used interchangeably in modern paganism and spirituality, but their origins may still surprise you. Whichever you choose to recognize, in terms of the wheel of the year, this marks the first of three harvest festivals ending with Samhain on October 31st. It also marks the halfway point between the summer solstice (Litha) and the fall equinox (Mabon). 

These two sabbats are undeniably linked and have been celebrated in many different ways for quite a long time. They share common themes of harvest, luck, prosperity, abundance, gratitude, and success after a job well done.

To learn more about the different celebrations on the Wheel of the Year, check out this article The Best Guide To Understanding The Wheel of the Year

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Where Do They Originate?

Evidence of harvest festivals such as these have been traced back through most studied cultures. 

In 3100-2686 B.C. the Egyptians welcomed their first harvest with a massive feast. 

A thousand years later, from 1600 – 1046 B.C. the great Dynasties of China celebrated their harvest during the first full moon of Autumn. In 1621 (A.D.) the first Thanksgiving was held in what would later become America. 

In 1843, Reverend Hawker introduced a thanking of the harvest to the church.

But what happened between 1046 B.C. and 1621 A.D. is crucial to how we celebrate these harvest festivals today. In Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man (as well as some surrounding territories) Lughnasadh was born during this time. The festival first became recognized in commemoration of the God, Lugh (Hence the name). These ancient festivals included matchmaking, harvesting, the trading of goods, and athletic competitions.

While the festival of Lughnasadh is mostly attributed to Lugh. The athletic competitions were attributed to his mother who was said to have died of exhaustion preparing the fields for farming. These athletic competitions became known as the “Taileteann Games,” and could be quite dangerous. Some of the competitions are not unlike what we would see in the Olympics today. Things like long jumping, high jumping, running, spear throwing, hurling, archery, boxing, wrestling, swimming and horse racing, were all quite common.

As we know though, not everyone is an athlete! Non-sporting competitions existed just as well including singing, dancing, poetry and storytelling.

During Lughnasadh, trading and making deals were also prominent activities. These could be political, social, or economical. Local leaders would often meet with farmers to make trade agreements regarding the harvested crop and their livestock. While some were feasting, competing, or dealing, others were visiting holy wells to make offerings of coins and cloth. They would then circle the well in the direction of the sun to gain health, wealth and favor from the gods. Because of these individuals, another name was born for Lughnasadh, “Garland Sunday.” This was because they would often decorate the holy wells with flowers and cloth.

Another common activity at this time was trial marriages! Yes, you heard correctly. In these trial marriages a couple would marry with their hands through a piece of wood. The marriage would last a year and one day, and in the end they could ultimately decide to stay married or to separate with no questions asked!

Most notably, this became a time for bidding farewell to the days of summer. In almost all cultures this became a huge feast that was held amongst both friend and foe!

In celtic cultures, festivals were a time when weaponry was not allowed. This was a time of peace during these early days of the modern world. Before the great feasts and festivals of Lughnasadh could begin, the first grain was offered up to Lugh. At this time, a bull was also sacrificed. The entire bull would then be eaten.

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But what about Lammas Day?

Lughnasadh became a very important celebration for the Celts and their neighbors. Like all good things, it made it’s way around the globe – well to England at least!

England adopted these traditions, as did Wales in their own way. They held similar festivals but did so with a different God in mind. The Christian God. On this day, the “first grain” was given to God. This was often in the form of loaves of bread gifted to the church.

At the homestead, bread would be broken into four pieces and placed in each corner of the home to protect the stored grain and to bring good fortune. The loaves of bread were also believed by our English ancestors to contain magickal properties and thus were used in magickal and superstitious ways.

Lammas became a well favored Christian Holiday, and as stated before, adopted many of the traditions of Lughnasadh like performing arts and feasting.  Over the years, many names have come to form for Lammas and Lughnasadh, and many of them you probably have never heard of!

  • Garland Sunday 
  • Bilberry Sunday 
  • Mountain Sunday 
  • Reef Sunday

The latter two names are derived for those who survived the climbing of mountains, hills and peaks. Still today, many people make a pilgrimage atop cliffs and mountains on Lughnasadh/Lammas.

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What Is The Folklore Behind Them?

As mentioned before, Lughnasadh was a celebration for the passing of the God Lugh. But who was he? Lugh was said to be both a God and a Hero. He is depicted like many demi-gods of Roman and Greek mythology. It was said that Lugh was born to parents of two superhuman races. The Tuatha De Denann (the first of the superhumans) and the Formians. He was raised by his mother, and when he came of age he sought to join his mother’s tribe (the Tuathans), who at that time were controlled by the Formians. After many trials, he was accepted into the tribe and as his popularity grew so did his hunger for revolution.

Lugh built an army to overthrow the Formians and succeeded. It is also said that in this time he protected the harvest from the Otherworld (Underworld), as they wanted to obtain the entire harvest for themselves. After these two very notable successes, Lugh himself started these festivities and they carry on still today.

If you aren’t Celtic, or worship Celtic Gods, you may also follow along with Christian folklore, that the bounty of harvest was attributed to God, and gratitude should be shown to him in return.

For Wiccans, Pagans, and Neo Pagans, we return once more to the story of the Holly King. At Lughnasadh/Lammas, the Holly King strikes and kills the first crop (it is harvested) this is his show of dominance against the seeds sown by the Oak King earlier in the year. In addition to the Holly King’s continued triumph, this is also the time of year when he marries the mother goddess.

Regardless which folklore you choose to believe, if any, there is an underlying message in each; where there is light so there will be darkness. The battle of good and evil, light and dark, is in full swing at this time, and we must remember to be grateful for what we have.

Who Practices These Sabbats?

Lughnasadh and Lammas both represent the first harvest, which means anyone can practice!

The first harvest is important to all of us, because it is going to provide us with the nutrients and sustenance that we need to survive the coming winter. Regardless how far we have come as a society with our indoor heating and plumbing, the importance of our crops has never waivered. Beyond that, harvest festivals have been celebrated by many ancient cultures, including both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths.

This sabbat is the perfect opportunity for those of differing paths to come together and celebrate the bounty of their lives.

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Correspondences

Colors:

The colors typically used to represent this sabbat are: red, orange, yellow, light brown, gold, and bronze. Consider the color of wheat, apples, and other crops being harvested at this time. Always look to nature for inspiration!

Crystals:

For any sabbat or celebration you can always choose crystals that have corresponding colors to the sabbat. Although, there are plenty that don’t “match” that are still great choices. Some crystals you may want to use around this time include: carnelian, tigers eye, green aventurine, yellow diamonds and citrine.

Elements:

Although there is no major evidence suggesting that fire was a large part in the first harvest festival, it is still associated with the element of fire. This is suspected to be due to the fact that it is the “cold and dark” part of the year.

Deities:

Lugh, Dagon, Dionysus, Ceres, Ceridwen, and Demeter. However, given that these festivals are rooted in Celtic Mythology, and Celtic God or Goddess would be an excellent choice. Also, consider that this sabbat centers around agriculture. Different cultures have a number of Gods and Goddesses pertaining to agriculture, harvesting, and the earth. These are all great Gods and Goddesses to pay your respects to at this time.

Herbs & Plants:

Some of the commonly associated plants during this sabbat are: rosemary, grains, corn, grape leaves, marigolds, sunflowers, and fenugreek. You can also look to nature and discover what weeds, flowers, and foods are growing naturally all around you.

Animals:

Many “mythical” animals are often represented during this sabbat such as griffins, centaurs, basilisks, and the phoenix. In regards to real animals, roosters, bulls, sheeps, and cows are often regarded highly at these celebrations as they are commonly used for food and sacrifice.

Common Symbols/Tools:

Cornucopias are something we commonly see in autumn decor, but they were actually used during feasts of the ancients. These make excellent decor, or as a serving vessel for fresh bread on you the sabbat.

Shovels, hoes, tractors, bailers, any sort of farming or harvesting equiptment. You can again incorporate these as decor or visit a working farm and see them in action.

Spears are not always what we first think of when we think of the beginning of autumn, but spear symbolism is relevant in this case because Lugh wielded a spear as a weapon in battle!

Spellwork & Rituals:

Lammas and Lughnasadh are an excellent time to revitalize existing spells. It is also a great time for any rituals that expresses gratitude or thankfulness to your friends, family, or your Gods.

Another common choice would be setting intentions regarding change in your life or protection for the coming winter.

As with all of the sabbats, workings of abundance, prosperity, good fortune, and protection are welcome at this time.

This is also an excellent time to do start a gratitude journal or do some meditation work!

Personal Correspondences:

As always, consider what this first festival means to you. Consider what about this time of year strikes you the most. Maybe it’s the first turning of leaves, or perhaps its the cool air that follows a sweltering summer. Whatever it is, these things are sacred to you and you should pay them reverence on this sabbat. The point is really to stop and observe the natural world around you and to appreciate its beauty and bounty. 

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How to Celebrate

There are TONS of Ways to celebrate Lughnasah and Lammas.

  • Bake Bread with friends and share wine with them. This is a really fun opportunity to learn how to make everyone’s favorite kitchen staple and have a good time with those that you love. Interested in making country wine from from fruits, vegetables, and herbs?  This article will help you get started: Making Country Wines: Super Easy 6 Step Method
  • Leave grains and seeds in a place where birds, squirrels and other small animals can appreciate them.
  • Make corn dollies. For this, you’ll need the husk of corn. You can use that on its own or add other leaves, flowers, or cloth to make it unique.
  • If you have a green thumb, tend to your garden on this day. If any of your crops are ready for harvest, this day is an excellent day to takeyour first crop. Remember to save seeds for next year’s harvest!
  • Light a bonfire with blessed wood. You can purchase blessed or sacred wood, or bless the wood yourself during a ritual.
  • On that note, conduct a ritual! This could include casting a circle, calling the elements, reciting poetry, enjoying cakes and ale, calling the ancestors, Gods, or spirit guides, or whatever a ritual looks like for you!

Concluding Thoughts

As you can see, Lughnasadh is for everyone and can be practiced in so many ways. Even if you have never celebrated Lughnasadh before, I hope you will give it a try this year. It is an important part of our natural cycles, and that shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten. 

That is what Lughnasadh is all about!

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Author

  • The Outdoor Apothecary

    Barbi Gardiner is a bioregional herbalist, gardener, forager, modern naturalist and creator from the “quiet corner” of Connecticut in what is known as The Last Green Valley - the largest stretch of dark night sky in the Northeast megalopolis corridor. She is of Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck, Polish, and Scandinavian descent and is committed to reviving the plant knowledge of her ancestors. The Outdoor Apothecary aims to inspire people to return to their roots, rewild themselves with nature, and rediscover the joy of living a simple life.

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