Lughnasadh represents the ancient Irish tradition of honouring and giving thanks to the gods for a bountiful harvest. It is generally celebrated on August 1st each year, however the astronomical date is the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, meaning that it falls between August 6th and 7th this year.
Although Lughnasadh in name is a homage to the Sun God, Lugh, the tradition itself dates further back, where offerings of crops and animal sacrifice were left on high hilltops or mountains to Crom Cruaich. As time went on, Crom Cruaich became Crom Dubh, said to be brought in by a Milesian prince, and there are some sources which comment that not only animal, but also human sacrifices may have been made during this time.
The darkening of the offerings led way to a natural change in celebration. Major sites of honouring of Crom Dubh were eventually Christianised – two significant ones in Co. Mayo being Downpatrick Head and Croagh Patrick. Harvest festivals became pilgrimage traditions, and still to this day, Reek Sunday is held on the last Sunday of July each year. Similarly, the MámÉan pilgrimage in the Maumturks, Co. Galway, takes place around the first week of August each year, and would have had links back to ancient Lughnasadh celebrations.
LUGH AND THE TUATH DE DANÁNN
Lugh holds a very high position within Irish Mythology. He was born half-fomorian and half-tuath de danann and, due to his high levels of skills and intelligence, he was welcomed into the Tuath de Danann as Lugh Ildánach and eventually High King of Ireland some time after the second battle of Moytura. He represents all that a high king and god should – courage, balance, a sense of justice, harmony and want of prosperity for his people.
After Lugh became king, people began to make offerings to Lugh on hilltops and the traditional offering to Crom Dubh decreased in popularity. Offerings returned to a crop offering and the occasional old bull.
THE TAILTEANN GAMES (ÓENACH TAILTEANN)
As a child, Lugh was fostered by Tailtiú, a goddess of fertility of the Tuath de Danánn. It is said that she met her death while preparing the fields of Ireland for cultivation. Lugh named the Lughnasadh games in her honour, and they became known as the Tailteann Games. These games were the ancient Irish equivalent to the Olympic games, and included not only games which demonstrated physical strength, but also challenges in the arts, including textiles, poetry and music.
It was customary in ancient Ireland that, in times of mourning, a time of peace would be extended across the land and it was common for important meetings, known as an Óenach, which affected the community in general, to be held, in order to take advantage of this peace. Tailtiú’s funeral was no exception, and it became a tradition to organise community meetings during this period of time, to discuss solutions and improvements for the year ahead.
APPLYING THE SYMBOLISM OF LUGHNASADH TO MODERN DAY LIFE
As we approach the autumn months, the shortening of the days and a winding down of outdoor productivity, Lughnasadh offers us an opportunity to reflect upon the past year, connect into our hearts and be aware of the blessings that have come our way. Particularly this year, with the chaos as emotional rollercoasters felt on a global level, it’s healthy to take time to put fear and pain aside, and integrate a sense of gratitude and peace, recalling the positives instead of the chaos.
Similarly, in homage to the Óenach Tailteann, Lughnasadh encourages us to come together as a community, reflect upon our current relationships, including our relationship with the earth, and make changes or decisions which will lead to a better outcome for all involved.
With many pressing issues such as climate changes, globalisation, social equality and proposed increase in remote learning and working coming to the forefront this year, it is certainly a time of great reflection. Change is inevitable, it is how we prepare, respond and open our mind and hearts to these changes that will make the difference to our quality of life, as a global community and on an individual level.