Lughnasadh (Lammas) - History

By Erin Thomas

It is time to bid farewell to the sun, for the lengthening of nights is apparent now. We are now halfway to autumn, or by Celtic calendars, Lughnasadh marks the first day of fall.

The fruits of the summer are abundant as they give way to the grains of harvest, and the first sheaves are cut and lie waiting in the fields. Themes of hope, belief and trust dominate the sabbat of Lughnasadh, which is also the traditional time for handfastings between beloveds.

Celebrated on August Eve or August 1, this is the last of the four great fire festivals of the Celtic year. It is also the first of three annual harvests along with Mabon – the second harvest, and Samhain - the third and final harvest of the year. Typical Lughnasadh observances included the gathering of wild berries and the climbing of hills as well as the visitations to holy wells. The feast for the season usually features corn and bread baked from the new wheat. Lughnasadh was also celebrated by selling of livestock during the county fair, festivals, games and dances. Often, celebrations would last for weeks or even the entire month beginning mid-July and commencing thru mid-August.

Lughnasadh was named for the Celtic deity, Lugh and is a tribute to the first harvest and the beginning of the end of the summer. Most legends attribute Lugh’s parentage to the Dagda, the supreme god of the land. As a father-god, the status of the Dagda was grand indeed. His titles include “the Mighty One of Great Knowledge” and the “Good God”. Although described as primitive, the Dagda was the High King of the Tuatha De Danaan, and was believed that the Dagda controlled the weather and was responsible for the life of the harvest.

Lammas, meaning “loaf mass” is another word for Lughnasadh. It is derived from hlaf , the Saxon word for loaf. The association of Lammastide with bread and grains stems from the gathering of the first harvest, which was often winter wheat and apples. In Scotland, Lammas was a day of accounting; tenant farmers would make a payment to their landlords, often with the first grains of the harvest.

Lughnasadh is ruled of the celestial lion, Leo. This is the fifth sign of the zodiac and represents responsibility, full maturity and parenthood. Typical astrology places Leo from July 23 to August 22. Moving beyond innocence and adolescence, the sign of Leo beckons us to nurture and take responsibility for our creations.

As Leo is ruled by the sun, and at Lughnasadh, we honour the sun God in his role as the provider of the harvest; the life-giving rays of the sun enabled the fields to grow. Now it is time for the reaping.

Handfasting is a temporary marriage between two lovers that typically lasts one year plus one day. This is based on ancient calendars that revolved around cycles of lunation. Also referred to as Teltown marriages, after Tailtiu (Lugh’s foster-mother and place-name as well) handfastings were usually performed on Lughnasadh because of its seasonal importance. The long harvest was about to begin and a wife was a precious commodity. Since it was common for labourers to spend the entire winter in the vicinity of the harvest work, a young man who took a wife would be assured of companionship during the cold winter. At the end of the year, the couples had a choice to renew their handfasting in a second, permanently binding ritual, or, alternately, part ways. This is the day the God took his bride, the Earth Goddess.

Research based on writings by Judy Ann Nock in The Wiccan Year, Provenance Press,
ISBN 1-59869-125-2