Research and Lore
Lughnasadh is one of the four ADF High Days that is also one of the four main Celtic holidays, and its main association is harvest time. It specifically marks the beginning of the harvest season when corn is beginning to ripen, and the harvests of other crops are to come. Traditionally in Ireland, this is also the time for community gatherings or fairs pulling people from many communities, as they sell items, make purchases, see distant friends and family, and compete in games of athleticism and warrior skills. The first games were said to have horse racing, hurling, and martial arts, though a revival of the games in the early 20th century focused on competitions more comparable to the modern Olympic games.
The holiday Lughnasadh is named for Lugh, one of the primary gods of the Irish pantheon and related to the Welsh god Llew Llaw Gyffes and the Pan-Celtic god Lugus (of which Lugh and Llew Llaw Gyffes could be considered derivations or localizations). Lugh is the son of a god (one of the Tuatha De Danann) and a giant (daughter of Balor of the Evil Eye, a Fomorian). He won his place in the king’s court at Tara by showing his mastery in a number of athletic feats and skills, and thereafter was a great warrior of the Tuatha De Danann; he joined their fight against the Fomorians and killed Balor. As a warrior, Lugh is known for his cunning mind as much as his strength; he is reputed in one poem to have killed Bres, a half-Fomorian, by tricking him to drink poison, and he is reputed to be the inventor of fidchell, a strategic board game comparable to chess. In another account, Lugh spares the life of Bres in exchange for to knowledge of when to plough, reap, and sow.
According to Irish lore (in the Book of Invasions), Lugh established the festival and its many fairs in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu, who cleared the lands for agricultural use and then died of exhaustion from these efforts. In the stories and poems featuring Lugh we find ample evidence of Lughnasadh primary associations: the connection between Tailtiu and agriculture makes for an easy association with the agricultural harvest and the trade of such goods in a community gathering, and Lugh’s exhibition of skills and physical prowess as a warrior is clearly linked with the Lughnasadh games, which are based on athletic and warrior-type skills.
“Lugh.” Wikipedia, 5 July 2010. Web. 11 Aug 2010.
“Lughnasadh.” Wikipedia, 10 Aug 2010. Web. 11 Aug 2010.
“The Original Tailteann Games.” Tailteann Games, n.d. Web. 11 Aug 2010.
“The Tailteann Games: An Olympic Event for the Celtic Race.” About.com: Ireland Travel, n.d. Web. 11 Aug 2010.
Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000. Print.
When I reflected on my non-Neo-Pagan childhood, I found that there was a community event very similar to the Lughnasadh fairs of old: county fairs, which are held in the summertime and early fall. In the region I was raised in, county fairs included people selling homemade and handcrafted goods (pies, jams, quilts, toys, craft works, and artwork) and youth and adults competing in competition of skill (carnival games with darts and tossing balls, ribbon prizes for baked goods or handmade crafts competitions, youth competitions for showing household and farm animals, etc). I loved these fairs tremendously as a child, and next summer I’d like to look for any near here to visit. I hope someday to take my own children to such fairs.
I personally have found it difficult in the past to feel the connection between autumn and the figurative concept of “harvesting” in one’s life, as my life has always revolved around the academic year. Themes of spring and autumn seemed almost ill-timed because, within the academic year, autumn is all about beginnings and planting the seeds of the year, and spring or early summer is the time of “reaping what you sow.” This year, however, it seems more applicable to my personal life; I am currently entering my second year of teaching, and at this time I’m reaping the benefits of having a year of experience under my belt. It is a time to show what mastery of skill and knowledge I have in this field, and put them to good use as I begin a school year. In general in this profession, summers are a time of taking care of business, whether it be curriculum development, a much needed “breather,” or a mixture of both. The end of summer marks the culmination of whatever has been achieved over the summer: perhaps a better-prepared start to the school year, or perhaps just a healthier and more refreshed mental state.
Yet another fundamental aspect of Lughnasadh cannot be neglected: joining together to celebrate as a community. After a summer break, August is the time to rejoin my school community. The summer “break” has been relaxing but isolating; I moved here only a year ago, and know few people outside of the school I work in, so I look forward to rejoining the only local place of community in which I feel established. As I have reflected on my isolation a lot this summer, especially lately as the community-focused holiday Lughnasadh approached and passed, I am also using this time of year to connect to other local Pagans and Pagan or Druid organizations, to be a part of a spiritual community. Though typically introverted and shy, and thus not particularly liking the process of meeting new people and beginning to establish social groups, I know this is an important process for my spiritual development as well as my life’s balance.
The most beautiful thing to me about the High Days is that, through the lore and metaphors of the cycling seasons, they hold wisdom to help us live well. Lughnasadh this year is a personal reminder to recognize the benefit of being connected with others, being part of a community (or, as is the case in modern life, many communities). This has been a particular life-long challenge for me, as I have often focused too heavily on the demands of my formal education and, currently, the rigorous beginning of a career in public school teaching. Thus my personal priority for honoring the spirit of Lughnasadh is making effort to connect with others and remain connected with them, and to prioritize making time for establishing and maintaining my familial relationships, friendships, and new community ties in the coming year. I also celebrated my first High Day in two major events: the first by attending a local Druid/Pagan group event that included a brief ritual, and the second by performing my first rite (solitary) based on the ADF Core Order Ritual format. Much of the text in the ritual I wrote myself, albeit influenced by other ADF rituals and chants I found online.