History Of Lughnasadh

The Fire Festival Of The Summer Sun
By Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D.  🐾

Arctic Wolf Fire

“Arctic Wolf Fire”
© Tom-in-Silence

This is the first of the Pagan Harvest Festivals. This is a time where we celebrate the Sun God Lugh, honor the rain and thank the magikal folk of the Tuatha Dé Danann for their help in our own gardens.

As local clans migrated, they took with them their religious and spiritual traditions. Many people believe that during these migrations, names of holidays also changed and Lughnasadh became Lammas. That’s not quite accurate however.

Lammas comes from the Old English word hlafmæsse, which  literally means “loaf mass,”. It was first used in the 15th and 17th centuries by the early Catholic Churches to celebrate the grain provided by the first harvest. In other words, it was another attempt by the early church to co-opt a pagan holiday, make it their own, in order to convert pagans.

Many Anglo-Saxon pagan clans, adopted the name, but still observed the original celebrations of Lugh and the original intent of the holiday. Must pagan purests prefer to ignore the Christianized version of the festival and stick with the early Celtic name of Lughnasadh. As with most things in the world of spirituality, your preferred name should ring true with you. It’s your festival to honor the Sun, the warmth of the summer and their blessings upon the fields. Call it what you feel most connected to, Lughnasadh or Lammas.

Lughnasadh is celebrated on August 1st or 2nd in the Northern Hemisphere and on February 1st or 2nd in the Southern Hemisphere

Lughnasadh as a holiday, honors the Celtic hero Lugh also known as the Sun God along with the spirits of nature, such as the rain givers, and garden faeries. 

Tuatha Dé Danann (usually translated as “people/tribe of the goddess Danu“), also known by the earlier name Tuath Dé (“tribe of the gods”), are a race of supernaturally-gifted people in Irish mythology. They are said to be the offspring of the fallen angels. Often referred to magikal, mystical and very wise. Some even connect them to the beautiful faeries of the woodlands.

In legend, Lugh’s father is Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and his mother is Ethniu, daughter of Balor, of the Fomorians. The Fomorians were a semi-divine sea-faring race from the north (in some legends they came from Northern Africa). They are often referred to as a race of Giants. They were a brutal race who invaded Ireland and rid the land of it’s first invaders, the Partholons, with a deadly plague.

In the saga “Cath Maige Tuired” (The Second Battle of Mag Tuired) the union of Cian and Ethniu is a dynastic marriage following an alliance between the Tuatha Dé and the Fomorians. In the “Lebor Gabála Érenn” (The Book of Invasions), Cian gives his son Lugh to Tailtiu, queen of the Fir Bolg, in who raises Lugh as her own. The Fir Bolg (also Firbolgs), are the earliest historic race of Ireland that left behind evidence of their existence. Supposedly this is done to safe guard Lugh’s life.

Other versions of Celtic folklore present a different tale of Lugh’s birth. But in many of these versions the grandson of Balor is unnamed. Still many associate the child in these stories as Lugh. Some of these versions are rather interesting as each one has some form of triple god or goddess representation who play a role in his life.

Celtic Sun
© Eltoro69 | Dreamstime.com

In one version, Balor learns from a spiritual prophet (a Celtic Shaman, the Druids were not yet on the scene) that his grandson will murder him one day. Balor has only one daughter, Ethniu (also known as Ethlinn), in the Tór Mór ( the great tower of Tory). She is cared for by 12 women, who along with Ethniu herself make a perfect coven of 13 women. These women are charged with keeping Ethniu away from men and even ensuring she never learns of the existence of men all together. With the exception of her father of course.

A problem ensues however, as it always does in myth and legend. News of a sacred magikal cow comes to the ears of Balor. He learns that Mac Cinnfhaelaidh, a rival Clan Chieftain, owns a cow that gives such abundance of milk that she guarantees no one in his clan will ever go hungry. Of course everyone wants to possess this magikal cow, including Balor.

On a warm summer’s day Balor appears to Mac Cinnfhaelaidh as a young red headed boy and tricks him into giving up the cow. When it’s learned that Balor stole the cow, Mac Cinnfhaelaidh seeks revenge through the Leanan Sidhe (the fairy women). They send the Biróg (who some suggest are one of the first forms of the triple goddess), who magikally transport Mac Cinnfhaelaidh to the great tower. There he seduces Ethniu who gives birth to triplets.

The Tara Stone
Seat of the High King of Ireland

Learning of this deception, Balor gathers up the three boys and sends them by messenger to be drowned in a whirlpool. Along the way the mercenary drops one of the boys in the harbor where his is rescued by Biróg, a Shaman Priestess (she is often called a Druid priestess; but again, the Druids were not yet on the scene). They take the boy to his father Mac Cinnfhaelaidh. Fearing that Balor will learn of the boy’s survival, Mac Cinnfhaelaidh gives the child to his brother, Gavida The Smith, to be raised as his own son.  Unknowingly, the boy who was saved is actually Lugh. And the plot thickens.

Lugh Grows Up & Joins the Tuatha Dé Danann
When Lugh becomes of age to leave his foster home with the Firbolgs, he travels to Tara (the land of the high king of the Tuatha Dé Danann). But when he arrives the Guardian of the Gate will not allow him to enter unless he possess a skill that can benefit King Nuada and his realm. Lugh proclaims his skills and each one is tested by the Guard. Lugh is proficient as a champion, a craftsman, a harpist, a hero, a historian, a poet, a smith, a sorcerer, a swordsman and a wright (worker, construction etc). But because there are already those within the kingdom with those skills, he is not allowed through the gates. Lugh challenges the Guard to find a single person within the kingdom who possess all those skills simultaneously. After three days of searching, the guard admits defeat and permits Lugh to enter.

In short order, Lugh is appointed Chief Ollam of Ireland. This would be equivalent to the head over all the Ministers of Governmental departments, such as the Minister of Defense or Cultural Affairs. As the Chief Minister, Lugh holds the same social power as the King himself. A very lofty position.

During this time the Tuatha Dé Danann are oppressed by the Fomorians. Lugh is somewhat dismayed by the lack of resistance to this situation by his fellow Danann. Lugh has proven his skills in battle and King Nuada wonders if he may be the Champion that leads the Danann to freedom. He grants permission to Lugh to begin the preparations for war.

Mag Tuireadh

In the First Battle of Mag Tuireadh the Tuatha Dé Danann conquer the Firbolgs and take over the island of Ireland. But before the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh against the Fomorians, Lugh sets forth acquiring several magikal weapons to ensure victory for his cause. Once he acquires these items, he meets the Fomorians on the battlefield.

Sadly King Nuada is killed by Balor in the early days of the battle. When Lugh finally faces Balor, the old King opens his magikal poisonous eye to kill all who look at it. But the skills of Lugh had already taken aim at Balor and the young Champion cast a single stone with his sling shot and drives the eye out the back of Balor’s head nearly destroying all of the Fomorian army behind the old King. Lugh fulfills the prophecy told by the old Shaman, and kills his father (in some stories Balor is his grandfather).

Left alive is Bres, the half-Fomorian half-Tuatha Dé Danann former king of the Danann and heir to Balor’s throne. Bres begs for his life and promises he can ensure that the cows of Ireland always give milk, but the Danann refuse his offer. He begs again promising four harvests each year, again the Danann refuse saying one harvest suits them fine. But Lugh agrees to spare his life, if he shares his knowledge with the Danann about when to plow, sow and reap. Bres agrees and Lugh’s reputation is set in stone. He becomes a hero of Ireland and is credited with setting the people free from oppression.

Festival Celebrations
The holiday is observed on either August 1st or 2nd. The date difference is simply a matter of traditional preference. Celebrations typically begin at sunset the evening before. So if you recognize the holiday for August 1st, you would begin your celebrations on July 31st at sunset.

River, Malaysia
© Greenpeace / Takeshi Mizukoshi

There are many ways to give thanks and honor during this 1st harvest festival. It celebrates the warmth of the sun, the rain and the faery folk who help tend to the gardens, flocks and fields. As a Celtic festival of the harvest, what better way to give thanks than to prepare a meal with the harvest of your own garden. Or if you don’t have one of your own, go to the local farmers market and find some fresh vegetables. Anything but mass produced and store bought produce will do. A nice bottle of wine, grape or apple juice is also a good addition to the table for this festival as well.

During the day light hours, playing outdoor games or enjoying water sports is a good way to celebrate the final festival that occurs in the warm waning days of summer. Even though this is a sun festival, your garden cannot grow without rain. Some people like to collect rain during the summer and use it during this festival to bless the garden, anoint the harvest for the celebration meal, or themselves to bless their own work and achievements. It can also be used in a ritual bathing to wash away the hard work of the summer and prepare for the consecration of the spirit as we move into the fall. This is often approached as a release of stress, anxiety and worry, and a celebration of your own accomplishments. Be they the work you put into your garden, dreams, projects, plans or whatever. You too have a personal harvest to honor within your spirit.

Bonfire © Springwolf / Springwolf Reflections

Bonfire by
© Springwolf / Springwolf Reflections

During the evening hours celebrations turn to the bonfire in honor of Lugh as the Light Giving Sun God. The fire represents his warmth as well as his light. This too links Lugh to both the summer and the light for the garden, along with the fall and winter when his warmth keeps the family warm. Typically music and dance occur at this time. Stories and songs that foretell the battles of old are shared around the fire. And don’t forget the dancing! Bonfire festivals are often celebrated with a lot of dancing around the flames.

Finally this is also a time for celebration of unions. In days of old, a couple enters into a contract of engagement at this time of year. Now this isn’t the engagement we think of today. In days of antiquity, engagement contracts lasted one year and a day for the purpose of determining the abundance and fertility of the union. If the couple is successful in producing children, at the end of one year, they decide if their union should be permanent. If so, a marriage ceremony occurs the next day, thus the 1 year and a day schedule. Some extend the contract to May, in order to celebrate their union during the Beltaine festival to ensure blessings from the Gods/Goddesses.

Societies were not so overburdened with masculine power as they are today. Women held equal status in a clan, and her opinions and desire carried just as much weight as a man. So either partner could decide the union was a failure, if they can’t stand the other member of their partnership for instance. Even though it may be fertile, if they no longer wish to remain with their betrothed the year long contract would end.

Of course this is all fine and dandy for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. In the south, you’ll be celebrating Imbolg on August 1st or 2nd.

Happy Holiday to one and all!
Springwolf 🐾

You can find more about the High Holy Days: The Pagan Sabbats, to discover why they’re observed at sunset and their timing through the year.

© Springwolfs Hanko

© 2012 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Spring’s Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.



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