What Is Lughnasadh?
It’s time to celebrate...the first harvest is finally upon us 🌾
On August 1st, we’ll be celebrating the ancient sabbat of Lughnasadh, a time to reap the rewards of our hard work and appreciate the abundance around us. But do you know the backstory behind this magickal day or where its name came from? We’ve got all the details you need to know about the first harvest festival of the year!
Lughnasadh is mentioned in many of the earliest Irish texts, marking the beginning of Fall and the harvest season. As such, it is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, corresponding with other harvest festivals such as Lammas and Gŵyl Awst. In the Northern Hemisphere, this sabbat is traditionally celebrated on the first of August; in fact, the month of August is known as Lúnasa in Modern Irish! In previous centuries, Lughnasadh celebrations revolved around festive gatherings on hilltops and mountains, ritual athletic contests, feasting, visitations to holy wells, marriage rituals, and trading amongst different clans. Many of the pagan rites that were conducted during this sabbat involved an offering of the “first fruits”, which was a grand feast made of the new foods being harvested. The giving of the first fruits is still observed during our modern celebrations, as we gather with our friends and family to celebrate the abundance of the harvest season by eating a fresh meal together.
The custom of trading is also still alive and well in modern times, with many large fairs taking place around Ireland at the beginning of August. One of the most famous of these festivals is Puck Fair, which has been held in county Kerry since the 16th century. This three-day celebration involves dancing, crafts, parades, a cattle fair, and an animal market.
While we celebrate in the light of the Sun and give our thanks, we must also remember that it will soon be making its descent into the dark half of the year, and as such we should be thankful for the bounty that we have now. Lughnasadh is a time of tremendous joy and celebrations, a time to reap the benefits of all of your hard work, and yet it is also a time to start planning for the cold winter ahead and begin storing away some of our “fruits” for leaner times.
Now that you know what the general meaning behind Lughnasadh is....do you want to know about the god who made it all happen? What are we saying? Of course you do!
How Lugh Created An Entire Sabbat
Lughnasadh gets its name from the Celtic god Lugh, who is the patron of craftsmen, warriors, and scholars. Honestly, he’s the whole package when it comes to Celtic gods and a true jack-of-all-trades. There’s not a craft or skill that he can’t master! Like his Greek counterpart Mercury, Lugh was traditionally worshipped on high elevations such as hills and mountaintops, which is why so many Lughnasadh celebrations take place in these sacred areas. He is a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, an ancient race from Ireland who eventually became what we know as the Fae. In Irish mythology, he is portrayed as a very handsome warrior, king, and master craftsman who knows how to use his wit along with his might to get what he wants. He carries with him a fiery spear, a symbol of his powerful might.
Lugh was the son of Cian, who belonged to the Tuatha De Danann, and Ethniu, whose father was the king of the Fomorians. These two races were at constant odds, however, and Lugh’s life was in danger the moment he was born. As the legends go, Ethniu was locked in a tower to prevent her from marrying, as her father had been told by a druid that her son would try to kill him. Despite this, Ethniu birthed triplets after a faery found her in the tower and seduced her, resulting in the birth of Lugh. Ethniu’s father attempted to kill the triplets as soon as they were out of the womb, but did not succeed in taking out Lugh. As such, he was raised in near-secret by Tailtiu, queen of the Fir Bolg – yet another ancient Irish race. It’s safe to say that Lugh was meant to do great things!
After he matured, Lugh traveled to Tara to join the Tuatha De Dannan and take down the Fomorians. In order to gain entry, he was asked to present a special skill to show that he was worthy of joining the Fae race, such as smithing, swordsmanship, poetry, crafting, or sorcery. He surprised them all when he asked if they had any member within their ranks who could master all of those skills at the same time, as he was confident in his abilities as a jack-of-all-trades. With this show of uncanny mastery, the Tuatha had no choice but to let him in. They wouldn’t be disappointed, however, as he quickly impressed them and led them in their efforts to overthrow their oppressors. With Lugh at the head of their army, the Tuatha De Dannan won the battle against the Fomorians. He chose to spare the Fomorian leader’s life, however, after he promised to teach the Tuatha how to plant and reap crops. Lugh then created the Tailteann games and the first Lughnasadh fairs to celebrate the first successful harvesting of the tribe’s crops. It was also to mark his triumph over the malicious spirits of the Otherworld, who showed up to steal the bounty from the Tuatha and keep the harvest for themselves.
In many stories from Irish mythology, Lughnasadh is also said to have been created by the god Lugh as a funeral feast and athletic competition in honor of his foster-mother, Tailtiu. After she cleared the Irish lands for agriculture and gave them the gift of fertile lands, she died from exhaustion and became a representation of the crops which feed mankind. This happened not too long after the defeat of the Fomorians, when the Tuatha were taught the ways of agriculture, so it only seemed fitting to honor Lugh’s foster mother during this time. During Lughnasadh, athletic funeral games were held in her honor and were very similar to the Ancient Olympic Games. The best warriors and athletes in Ireland would gather for the festivities, which included running, hurling, spear throwing in honor of Lugh, archery, wrestling, and chariot races. Celebrations also included horse racing, storytelling, and matchmaking. Marriages would often take place during Lughnasadh, which has carried over into modern times as August is still a popular month to tie the knot.
After Lugh’s death, his feast became a widespread tradition and has lived on for centuries as a way to commemorate his life. Although this is a time to celebrate the first harvest of the year and the abundance we are given by the Earth, we feel it’s also important to remember that Lughnasadh is a celebration of Lugh's triumph over the oppressors of the Fae.
Witchy Ways To Honor Lugh During Lughnasadh
Lugh can be honored during this time of year with corn, grains, and other symbols of the harvest. The making of bread from the freshly harvested grains was a popular activity during Lughnasadh, and we fully believe it’s a tradition that should continue. Try baking a delicious loaf of bread as an act of ritual (such as this one!) and imbue the bread with thankful vibrations while you bake. Offer the first slice of bread to Lugh, and as you eat the rest of the loaf, reflect on the feeling of gratitude for all that you have and everything you’ve accomplished this year, as well as the blessings that the Earth has given.
Colors of yellow, gold, orange, brown, and green are used to decorate sabbat altars during Lughnasadh, so lighting a candle in one of these colors then placing it onto your altar is a great way to honor Lugh. As you light the candle, take a moment to connect with Lugh’s energy and ask for his blessings. You can also offer gifts to the Fae on your altar, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, late summer flowers, corn cobs, and baked goods. Try adding motifs of spears or Celtic symbols to your altar as well to further connect with his spirit and the energy of the Fae. Since Lugh was known as a god of “many skills”, he can be celebrated in all sorts of ways, and just about any type of ritual activity will please him. Spend time crafting, exercising, or tending to the plants in your garden!
Even if you don’t center your celebrations around Lugh, it’s important to thank him for his contributions to this beautiful sabbat and for lending his name to the festivals we love so much today. No matter how you plan to spend the day, we hope you all have a bright and bountiful Lughnasadh! ☀️