This post explores the ancient Celtic holiday of Lughnasadh (said Lunasa), the season of the first harvest. This time of year is also referred to as Lammas. We will touch on that as well.
Lughnasadh is one of eight seasonal holidays that mark the year from Samhain to Mabon. That’s from Halloween to the autumn equinox in modern language. It is the time of the first harvest, that space in time between the end of summer and early fall.
First, let’s explore the ancient roots of this celebration. Then, we’ll find ways to mark the season that are grounded and healing. Along the way, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers who keep the Celtic traditions alive with depth and intelligence.
Lughnasadh, what is it?
Any Google Search for Celtic Spirituality generally, and Lughnasadh specifically, will offer a trove of questionable resources that define and explain the seasonal holidays of the Celtic world.
When ancient ways are resurrected for modern living, it seems anything goes for interpretation and celebration. Let’s try and get to the heart of the matter by digging a little deeper.
Not wanting to add to the airy interpretations of this seasonal holiday, I spent some time seeking more traditional and even academic references to Lughnasadh.
An Irish historian named Maire MacNeill wrote what is considered the definitive book on the subject, aptly called The Festival of Lughnasadh. It was published by the Irish Folklore Commission. When published in 1962, MacNeill received her Doctorate from Uppsala University in Sweden, where she studied folklore traditions.
Here is the definition of the holiday from this work:
Garland Sunday and Domhnach Chrom Dubh are two of the many names of a festival celebrated by Irish country people at the end of July or the beginning of August. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season, and on that day the first meal of the year’s new food crop was eaten. The chief custom was the resorting of the rural communities to certain heights or water-sides to spend the day in festivity, sports and bilberry-picking. The custom existed also in the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Wales and in the north of England. Formerly it must have been general in all Celtic lands for there is no doubt that it is a survival of Lughnasa (Lugnasad), the Celtic festival held on the first of August. ~Maire MacNeill, The Festival of Lughnasa
How was Lughnasadh celebrated?
This holiday marks the period of time between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. Its name refers back to the ancient Celtic god Lugh. He is one of the most prominent and ancient gods in Irish mythology and is a warrior, king and master craftsman.
Traditional, pre-Christian Lughnasadh celebrations include:
- A communal meal celebrating the first harvest.
- Ceremonies to seek protection for the harvest.
- Berry picking.
- Athletic competitions.
- Festivals at high points near villages like hilltops and bluffs.
- Tending to legal matters.
- Match-making and trial marriages.
- Pilgrimage to high places of spiritual significance.
- Visiting holy wells.
The story behind these festivities is of Lugh fighting other gods for the grains so that he can give them to the people of Ireland. Wikipedia goes into great detail about the ancient story of Lugh and his feast day here.
The Modern Story of Lughnasadh
The ancient roots of Lughnasadh can be seen in the modern-day pilgrimage called Reek Sunday at Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland. This pilgrimage attracts thousands from all over the world to this sacred mount associated with St. Patrick to prayer and outdoor Catholic Masses. The ritual pilgrimage dates back 1,500 years.
The Catholic Church in Ireland also has the customer of blessing the fields during the first week in August.
The Puck Fair, or fair of the goat king, in County Kerry is another ancient celebration associated with Lughnasadh and the season of the first harvest. It is held annually August 10-12. This ancient festival unites a young girl with the newly ordained Puck King. You can see the 2018 festivities below.
There are a ton of modern Wicca resources on the internet related to Lughnasadh celebrations. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to navigate your way through those modern interpretations of this ancient Celtic seasonal holiday.
This seasonal holiday is also referred to as Lammas
Lammas is an English celebration of the first grain harvest during the first week of August. It is a religious Christian holiday that blesses the bread of the first grains. There are also ceremonies that ensure the protection of the grain harvest that is similar to Lughnasadh.
They are not the same holiday, though.
Lammas has Medieval origins and relates to the sowing and harvesting cycles of the English speaking countries of Europe. Lughnasadh is a pre-Christian seasonal feast day of the Celtic people.
The Day of Mary and the consecration of herbs
In the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, August 15 is the Day of the Assumption of Mary. This feast day also celebrates herbs, wheat, grapes, and flowers. In this modern Catholic holiday, we can hear the echos of an ancient, earth-based spirituality that we’ve been exploring in this post.
It is traditional for Catholic women in Europe to collect a bouquet of healing herbs on August 15. They bring them to the church to be blessed before creating medicines. (Source)
This sounds absolutely beautiful and perfect to me and I hope to one day participate. I am a lapsed Catholic after all…
There is a great image for this holiday at this link.
Traditional foods for Lughnasadh
Lughnasadh is often called the Festival of Bread and Berries. So, I think that’s where the seasonal kitchen should focus this August.
The berry part isn’t hard here. we’ve been picking blackberries, wineberries, blueberries, and raspberries for weeks! How about you?
The bread part is a little more challenging since a health crisis has me on a wheat-free diet these days. Sometimes I do miss bread, especially my sourdough, made with a fermented starter.
Anyway…here are 2 traditional recipes to keep your kitchen seasonal this August.
Personal Rituals and Celebrations for Lughnasadh
Spending meditative time in the garden is a perfect way to acknowledge the season of the first harvest. Why not create a living altar that celebrates the colors and textures of the season?
Making corn dollies is another traditional way to celebrate the season. Use any natural grain product to fabricate a dolly. She can sit at your altar, or on your desk and remind you to enjoy this moment before it too passes and another season is upon us.
Here’s an easy tutorial.
Lughnasadh is one of 8 seasonal holidays
I firmly believe that the best way to heal and become high functioning in this tragically beautiful world is to dig deep into the traditions of our elders. If you are an American mutt like me, choose the traditions of the ancestors who speak most loudly for you.
I consider myself a part of the Irish diaspora. The land-based traditions of pre-20th century Ireland speak to me deeply. They help me understand the soul-longing I have to return to that land. So, I explore Celtic traditions, and these are the holidays I have come to celebrate in my seasonal life.
One thing I get ruffled about is modern seasonal practices that make a cartoonish representation of these ancient and high holy days. My work seeks to restore their dignity and relevance in a modern seasonal lifestyle.
In this seasonal calendar, there are four quarter days: Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumnal Equinox. Here in the west, we use these astronomical events to mark the beginning of the seasons. In the Celtic calendar, they mark mid-seasons. That’s why, for instance, you will hear the summer solstice still called mid-summer.
There are also 4 cross-quarter days in this seasonal calendar: Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. You know them as Groundhog Day, May Day, late-summer, and Halloween.
Many indigenous spiritualities have similar seasonal feast days. I encourage you to find the earth-based calendar that speaks to your soul and begin to observe those days. Simply, and personally. Find resources grounded in solid academic research. Then, let these annual events take root and come to life in your choices, actions, and meditations.
I’d love to hear from you about this practice in the comments section below.
In my efforts to elevate and sanctify these seasonal holidays, I’ve created a collection of books and other resources that help me move into the practices with depth and intelligence.
Here are my favorite resources on the seasonal holidays of the Celtic calendar:
John O’Donohue, a theologian, philosopher, and poet from Canamara who simply died too soon. I especially hold dear this interview from On Being. I often take Sunday morning walks with him whispering in my ear through the iPhone. Please explore his works with my links below. They’re affiliate links and help support works like this on the blog.
Sharon Blackie is a psychologist and mythologist who explores the folklore and spirituality of Ireland. Her newsletters are a must-read every time they appear in my inbox and highly recommended.
Mary Reynolds is a landscape architect who has created a movement of gardeners dedicated to cultivating wild spaces on the land they care for. The movement is called We Are the ARK, acts of restorative kindness. You can’t meet Mary Mary and not fall head over heels in love with her and the way she sees the world. An easy introduction is through the movie about her journey to winning the Chelsea Flower Show gold prize in her early 30s. It’s in the links below.
Ali Issacs, Storyteller. This WordPress blog is a treasure of Irish story and folklore. I especially love how Ali visits the actual sites associated with many of the myths and folktales she researches and retells. Her writing is captivating. Her personal story endearing. Highly recommended reading. Plus, she gives away one of her books for FREE!
The Kitchen Garden Planner and Journal
Organize your kitchen garden, season by season, month by month, and project by project with this handy Kitchen Garden Planner and Journal! It comes with lifetime access to printable worksheets and journal pages, and membership in the Stony Ridge Farm seasonal living community.
This planner comes with instructions on how to tackle the following tasks and use our worksheets to:
– Design your vegetable and flower gardens
– Track plant selections and how successful they are in your garden
– Document soil amendments and pest control strategies
– Garden budgeting, tracking projections and actual expenses
– Seasonal and monthly planner calendars
– Garden journal pages
If you enjoy seeing life through the lens of the changing seasons, I invite you to stay connected. This is a community of activist-oriented gardeners, cooks, and nature lovers.
If you want a loving community to be a part of your seasonal life, please do anyone (or ALL!) of the following:
- Sign up for the newsletter and get my herbal teas and tisanes recipe book for FREE! Tea is always a welcome addition to any time in the kitchen.
- Join our FREE Facebook group where we’re always talking gardens and kitchens.
- Follow me on Instagram and watch the seasons unfold on my 5-acre homestead in Harpers Ferry, WV.