A woman’s voice with an unmistakable Irish lilt says, “In the Celtic Calendar, summer is already at an end. Do you know of Lughnasadh, the festival that welcomes Autumn? We celebrate it on August 1st.”
The woman who is speaking is Dolores Whelan. Most of what I have learned about Celtic Festivals comes from her wonderful book, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Dolores has taught us about Brigid’s Festival, Imbolc, which ushers in Spring, and about the Winter and Summer Solstices, the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, and the fiery Festival of Bealtaine….
“Shall I tell you of Lugh and his festival?”
For answer, we settle ourselves comfortably, awaiting the tale with eagerness.
“The Celtic god Lugh is known as the samildanach, the many-gifted one. Lugh represents the skilled masculine energy, with its ability to hone, shape, bring to harvest the fruits of the seeds planted at Samhain and nurtured during the dark giamos time by the feminine energy.
At Lughnasadh, as in many of the other festivals, the important dance of opposite energies and roles is beautifully expressed. Tailtiu, the foster mother of Lugh, is the goddess who cleared away the wilderness, making the plains and fields ready for crops to be grown. She died from her efforts and is also remembered at this time; Lugh is said to have inaugurated this festival in her honour.
“In the wheel of the Celtic Year, Lughnasadh stands directly opposite Imbolc, where Brigid, embodying the primal creative energy, occupied the central role. Bron Trogain, an older name for this festival, may mean the sorrow of Trogain or the sorrow of the fertile earth. This may mean that the fertility of the harvest is linked with the death that follows its completion, again bringing together the polarities of life and death. The successful harvest requires that Lugh appease his adversary, Crom Dubh, who represents the aspect of the land that does not wish to be harvested or subjected to the rule and energy of Lugh.
“The two-week Lughnasadh festival was a very important meeting time for the tribe, bringing people together to test their skills in many different disciplines. They challenged each other in a variety of contests and games held during the annual fairs in Lugh’s honour. The rituals at this festival included the acknowledgement of the triumph of Lugh, the harvesting and enjoyment of the first fruits, and the acknowledgement of the end of summer. It was a time of great merriment, especially for young people, who wore garlands of flowers and went into the hills to pick bilberries or blueberries. Marriages were traditionally held at this time of year.
“High places in the land, where earth and sky met, were considered the appropriate place to honour Lugh. At the ritual site, many of the characteristics and gifts of Lugh were enacted by mummers. The first sheaf of wheat, barley or corn was ceremonially cut, milled, and baked into cakes. These were eaten along with the wild blueberries or bilberries. The young folks’ garlands of flowers were buried to signify the end of summer.”
Dolores pauses as we take this in.
One of the younger women says, “It seems so sad. Burying the garlands, such a sad ending to the beauty of summer.”
Dolores turns to her, and says gently, “In the wheel of the Celtic year there is no ending that is not also a new beginning. Remember that when the bright days of the masculine summer fade, diminish, we are getting ready to welcome Samhain, the season of the feminine winter. The days of womb-like preparation, the dark days of incubation that will themselves end with Brigid’s Festival of Imbolc on February 1st welcoming Spring.”
Another asks, “Is Lughnasadh still celebrated in Ireland?”
“Many of these ritual practices have died out,” Dolores tells her, “but an essential aspect of the Lughnasadh ritual is enacted each year with the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo on the last Sunday of July. Puck Fair held in Kilorglin in County Kerry each August is another remnant of the Lughnasadh festival.”
Someone calls out, “Look. Up there on the high ground. It must be the setting sun, but it looks like someone has lit a bonfire!”
We are all gazing westward up towards the hill. Something flames there.
When Dolores speaks, her voice is so soft that we almost miss her words:
“That is no fire, nor is it a sunset. That is Lugh, come to bless you, to promise to bring to fruition and harvest the seeds you yourselves planted in the dark engendering days of the long winter. Take his blessing with you until we meet here again.”
Lugh: Celtic God of Creativity