Lughnasadh (Lew-nah-sah) is the first of three harvest festivals on the wheel of the year with the second and third being Mabon in September and Samhain (Shah-ven in Scots Gaelic or Sow-een in Irish) in October. It is named after the Celtic god Lugh (Lew) who is a god of light, and therefore Lughnasadh/Lammas is a celebration of light, food and life.
“It is Lughnasadh that gave rise to the country fairs which have always traditionally been held in late August or early September in the Appalachian region of America. The early European settlers to the new land brought with them the tradition of celebrating the fruits of their summer labor and the harvest fair. The small town country fair is the American Lughnasadh tradition.” -BB
Having said that, I’d like to note that our Wheel of the Year, founded and celebrated by our ancestors in the U.K. hundreds of years ago, probably had vastly different weather patterns and climate than we do here in North America in 2016. I used to live in California where there were basically two seasons a year (unless you live in the mountains or desert): Spring and Summer. I imagine that in Ireland and Scotland they probably had Winter and Summer, and that’s why they were always welcoming and worshipping the light, coming of light and the fire! At any rate, I’ve noticed over the last several years of observing the festivals of the Wheel of the Year that there seems to be a lot of disconnect between what we “used” to celebrate, or the origination of the holiday, and what we currently observe when we venture outside during these times.
For instance, I currently live in Colorado. I love it here, and we (sort of) have four seasons. But our planting season definitely does not start at Imbolc (Feb.) and our first harvest is most definitely not on August 1. Oh sure, I’ve had some lettuces and radishes, but my tomatoes, peppers, melons, berries, squashes and cucumbers are still thinking hard about it. Even my local farmer is scraping things together from the freezer, dried beans and popcorn to give us something in our weekly CSA shares. So it seems rather farfetched to celebrate the beginnings of harvest season when there really isn’t anything to harvest. I can only imagine what it’s like up North. It’s more realistic for me to be celebrating First Harvest at Mabon and the sowing of seeds at Beltane.
The fact is, the seasons vary from place to place. So, even my postponing or outright boycotting Lughnasadh where I live will not change the fact that folks where you live are pulling wheat from fields, tomatoes from the vine and fruit from the trees. Maybe your harvest won’t be until the middle of October, when it’s still warm and the sun stays high.
So I propose something new. Rather than following agricultural customs from 17th and 18th century British peasants, why not go outside and connect with YOUR Earth and it’s seasons? Look around. Listen and breathe. Put your hands in the dirt. Meditate with a tree. Talk to the plants in your garden. Ask the Faeries who live on your land, even if your land is a postage stamp patio in the city. What needs to be celebrated, brought in, mourned or released? Tune in and hear the messages – listen for what calls to you. Or maybe there is something to be harvested within yourself; something you have nurtured and tended all year that is waiting to be set free into the world. This is a time of magic. Perhaps the season still calls to you in the same way it ever did, of harvest, light, fire and bread. In which case, fantastic! Bake bread, light fires, scatter herbs, harvest food. Bless the bounty of your bushels of food and give thanks to Lugh for the light of Summer.
The art of transformation that makes wheat into bread takes the grain through all four elemental powers – Earth, Air, Water, Fire
But perhaps your Earth speaks to you of parched grass, drought and wildfires. Maybe instead of celebration, it requires your healing hand and guiding light. Perhaps your Earth is lush with tropical breezes and misty, ocean air or barely blooming flowers and hard cold soil. Or maybe, your harvest already came in at Midsummer! In Moloka’i Hawaii, the harvest festival, Makahiki, is celebrated in January. Whatever your climate and your seasons say to you is an important, individual message and something to observe in your own way. If those ways resonate with the ancient traditions, wonderful. There is comfort in familiarity and time-honored ritual.
Don’t try to force it, though. If the Earth and community around you is asking you for something different, or if you feel drawn to do something else entirely, I encourage you to take a risk. Ask. Listen. Receive. Change. Grow. Postpone your First Harvest until your berries come in. Or your tomatoes. Create a new holiday for the cross-quarter Celtic celebration. Do a land healing ritual or a rain dance. Host a world hunger prayer and meditation (or do it solitary). Volunteer at a soup kitchen or a farm, where they are busy bringing our food to the markets.
Make sandwiches for the homeless and hand them out. Create your own tradition that honors and serves your geographical area and its ebb and flow of the seasonal tide. Remember that our ancestors created and kept these traditions to honor the Earth and it’s changing cycles as well as to give gratitude back to the God/Goddess/Universe/Source and the land in a cyclical flow. Take a moment to send appreciation to all those who sacrifice so that we might eat, much as the green god, John Barleycorn, once mythically sacrificed himself so that life might continue.
- Stones/Gems: Carnelian, Citrine, Amber, Tourmaline, Tiger’s eye, Pyrite
- Colors: red, orange, gold, yellow, brown, bronze, occasionally green
- Symbols & Decorations: threshing tools, corn dollies, flowers, wheat stalks, yellow, orange, bronze, red and white candles, corn, sheaves of grain
- Incense: rose hips, rosemary,chamomile, passionflower, frankincense and sandalwood
- Foods: All grains, Breads, corn, cheeses, cider, fruits, early vegetables, herbs, early apples, Berries, Herbal “sun”teas and recipes made with these ingredients
- Magic: At this time, cast spells for connectedness, career, health, and prosperity. Spells for abundance are completely appropriate now. As the sun is growing weaker, it is a good time to do grounding and sun meditations.
Recipe for Lughnasadh Cornbread with roasted corn
- 1 1/2 c fresh corn kernels (frozen or canned is fine too), for maximum flavor, grill or roast corn before slicing off the cob
- 1 1/4 c cornmeal
- 3/4 c AP flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 c honey-1/2 c honey (depending on how sweet you like it)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 6 tbsp melted butter (sub 1:1 for coconut oil to make vegan)
- 1 c whole milk (or nut milk of your choice)
Combine all ingredients and bake 20-25 mins. in 400° oven.
Lavender infused Honey
Clean, dry jars and lids (half-pint and pint mason jars work well)
Chopstick, wooden spoon handle, or other stirrer (avoid metal, which can scratch jars)
- Honey: A light, mild flavored honey generally works best. (Use the honey locator and support your local bees and beekeepers). The rule of thumb is one cup of honey per 2 tbsp. dried or 1/2 c fresh herbs. Depending on the size of the jar you use, you will need one to two cups of honey.
- Herbs: Use a single herb or a combination, dried or fresh. Rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, rose petals, all make lovely infused honeys. For this recipe, we will need about a 1/2 cup of lavender buds/flowers.
Fill a clean mason jar halfway with fresh herbs or a quarter full with dried herbs. Top with honey, stir, and cap with a tight-fitting lid. Place in a sunny windowsill and turn the jar over once per day. Add more honey if the herbs swell and rise above the honey. Allow to infuse for a week or so, then strain with cheesecloth once the desired flavor has been achieved. Drizzle over cornbread, ice cream, use in teas, on toast and scones.