Celtic Harvest Festival
Lughnasadh is the first of the three autumn months and literally means ‘assembly of Lugh’ who was one of the main gods of Tuatha De Danann or Irish Fairy race.
It is the mid point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox and marks the beginning of the harvest season. In New Zealand this falls on February 1st and in the Northern Hemisphere on August 1st. Its a time when the fruit and grains are ripe and ready and it is time to celebrate the bounty of the earth.
This time is traditionally venerated by Lugh the renowned hero of the Irish fairy race The Tuatha Danann. His name is linked to the Old Irish word for brightness and light and also the Celtic word for oath, as he was also the ruler of social contracts. He appears in many Irish texts and wields a magic spear, the spear of victory which only inflicts mortal blows. He is also considered to be a Sun God which makes his role in creating an abundant harvest clear.
The great gatherings held at this time of year celebrated the first fruits of the harvest and the talents of human society. They featured games and races, arts, forums and legal debates as well as market produce, arts and crafts. They lasted for around three weeks and were an opportunity for different tribes to meet and trade as well as resolve any social or political issues. In Celtic times a rich harvest was not seen as possible without the co-operation of the Earth Goddess, also known as the Goddess of Sovereignty. Before a new king was inaugurated he had to undergo a ritual marriage with the goddess of the land and only she could give him the authority to rule. In one particular story, the ‘Baile in Scail’, Lugh appears as the husband of the Sovereignty Goddess as she initiates a future king.
In this way, the perfect balance of the masculine and feminine principles was sought for the health and well being of all life. Stephanie Woodfield explains it thusly: "To the Celts sovereignty was not simply the right to rule over a clan or country; sovereignty was a divine power that was granted by the goddess of the land. The goddess and the land were one and the same, and thus sovereignty took on the guise of a mystical or divine woman. It was only through a union—either a marriage or sexual encounter—with her that the king could rule. By joining with the goddess of the land, he in turn became connected to the land and its people."
In addition, The King in Celtic society had to be physically strong with a good morals, if he failed in this then the land would not be fertile and the people would fail to thrive. There are many Celtic tales which tell us how if the king does not honour his oaths then he will die and the earth will become a wasteland. So for this reason many Lughnasadh festivals were held in places connected to powerful otherworldly women, to honour her and create a successful partnership between the people and the land.
In later Christian times the festival of Lughnasadh became the Lammas, the old English word for feast and the first loaf made from the newly harvested grain would have been taken to the church for consecration. Fairs and gathering took place which heaved with produce and stalls from fortune tellers, to performers, food, drink and merriment.
So how can we incorporate the essence of Lughnasadh into our modern world in a meaningful way?
Visit a local farmers market and buy some fresh new season produce. Perhaps you could connect with the crop directly by going strawberry picking or harvesting from your own garden. As you sit down to eat it, take a moment to give your thanks to the sun, the earth and all the people involved in producing your food for the gifts they give not just today but every day throughout the year. If its possible, make it a larger celebration and invite friends and family to join you.
Take stock of your years harvest. Take a look at your life over the past year and ponder what has come to fruition for you? What is still hidden under the ground as seeds and what can you do over the months ahead to support and nuture these seeds to grow? You might like to ask yourself what wisdom you have gained this year and what is the harvest of your soul?
Making a pledge to the Goddess of Sovereignty is a powerful way to honour the Earth Mother and give yourself over to working to care for the planet in the best way you can. This ritual represents the ancient ritual of the new King marrying the land and can be a powerful way to align your life purpose with the Earth herself. To do this you will need to consider what you are prepared to offer the Earth and find a special place to declare this intent. You could seal your intention by planting a tree, offering a crystal to the earth and then taking some time to meditate and listen quietly as the Earth may wish to offer you wisdom and insights about your intention.
If you live in Auckland I am offering a Celtic Harvest Vision Journey on Tuesday February 1st from 6.30pm-9.30pm where we will explore what I have covered in this article and join together in celebrating the harvest together.
A Blessed Harvest Season to You All!