The Shrine to Lugh stands on the east side of the Stone Circle. He is an Irish God associated with the Sun and his Shrine rests right up against the back of the Sanctuary.
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The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.
Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks.
This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain. Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year. The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.
Many Pagans, Wiccans, Polythesists, and others today mark Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nuh-sah or loo-NAH-suh; also sometimes called Lammas from the Christianized "loaf mass") on August 1 or August 2 in the northern hemisphere and on February 1-2 in the southern. Some eclectic traditions mark Lughnasadh according to the full Moon that is closest to August 1.Others celebrate it on the nearest weekend for convenience, especially if doing group or public ritual.
The roots of Lughnasadh come from old Celtic traditions, i.e., the Irish, Scot, Manx, Cornish, Welsh, and Breton peoples and probably from those of the Isle of Man as well. Many celebrants today follow traditional agricultural markers (based on extant records, folklore, etc.) rather than calendar dates when timing celebrations. Those practicing Celtic reconstructionist Druidism may locate Lughnasadh according to the appearance of the first late summer fruits or the first grain harvest in their home area. Here in the Pacific northwest, modern CRs use the blackberries to time agricultural Lughnasadh, while CRs on the east coast tend to use blueberries. For most modern practitioners, the emphasis is most often on the rhythms of life in one’s home area rather than on the calendar. For instance, rather than marking Beltaine on May 1, many CRs celebrate it once the hawthorn—or the appropriate local white-flowering tree—blooms. In CR practices, the sacred and mundane are not separate, and the most mundane daily activity is every bit as sacred as the carefully planned “high ritual.” Daily life is a form of spiritual practice, and hospitality is one of the most highly valued of these expressions.
According to Irish mythos, Lughnasadh marks a funeral celebration and feast thrown by the God Lugh (pronounced LOO) in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu. Legend claims that she cleared much of Ireland’s plains to allow for farms to be started, after which she collapsed and died. (Yeah—I’d be tired, too.) The funeral games were subsequently called the Tailtin/Tailtiun games in her honor. Interestingly, because so many healthy, vigorous young people appeared for the games, Lughnasadh also became known as a prime time to make matches-- of the romantic rather than the gaming time-- with many handfastings following.
In folkloric terms—and those of traditional calendar customs—Lughnasadh more or less always marks the harvest of the local berries and of the first ripening grains.
Traditionalists may celebrate Lughnasadh in several ways, including some or all of the following:
1. The celebration is invariably communal. It was typical of the ancient Celtic peoples to gather as communities or even come from great distances for major celebrations, and this was often especially true at Lughnasadh as the weather tended to be better in summer than at the other cross-quarter holidays (although, the needs of one’s farm or animals always limited some from long periods of travel). The celebrations included feasting, games and tourneys (especially horse racing), and ritual fires.
2. The ancient Gods are appeased and thanked with offerings from the first harvest and with ritual. Lugh and Tailtiu, in particular, are often honored honored. Danu, the Irish mother goddess, is often mentioned at Lughnasadh as a benefactress.
Lughnasadh, the first of the harvest festivals is traditionally held on the 1st of August. Lughnasadh/ Lúnasa, now the modern Irish name for the month of August means 'the commemoration of Lugh'. Lugh, or Lugus, is a god of law and skill, who in the Irish tales gained the knowledge of agriculture from the tyrant Bres. Lugh is commonly associated with the sun and Lugh is often thought to mean 'bright' in Proto-Indo-European, although it may also be related to 'leug' meaning 'to swear an oath' and even 'leug' meaning black. There are none the less other pointers to his solar nature, at least in Britain and Ireland, such as in his Welsh version Lleu Llaw Gyffes, meaning 'bright one with the strong hand' and the fact that his most famous possession in the Irish lore is a fiery solar spear. That said, connections may also be made between Lugh and the often forgotten Irish god Crom Cruach / Crom Dubh, whose name 'crooked head ' or 'dark crooked one' is also connected to the bowing grain and is remembered at this time on Crom Dubh Sunday, the first Sunday in August. Lugh has traces across Britain and Europe, with several inscriptions to him found in the Iberian peninsula. Depictions of him in Europe are often tripartite, or triple headed, suggesting a triple nature, so this is a god that is hard to get to grips with if we take the original evidence into account, and it may be that this dichotomy between the light and the dark is part of his nature.
In the Irish tales Lughnasadh marks the funerary games of Lugh's foster- mother, Tailtiu, who died clearing the land for fields. It is said that so long as she is remembered, 'there would be milk and grain in every house.'- that is, the land would be fertile so long as we honour her. Another name for this time, 'Brón Trogain' refers to the pains or sorrowing of the earth and reminds us that this time of abundance is due to sacrifice, of the wild earth and also of our own labours, so at this time of summery celebration there are traces of something more sober afoot. After all, solstice is passed, and the days will be darkening all too soon. It's later name, Lammas from the Anglo-Saxon 'hlaef mass', or loaf mass, shifts the focus from the wild earth to the gifts of agriculture, and the sacrifice of the grain spirit....