Copyright © 2001 Ann Franklin & Paul Mason
It was upon a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonnie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
I held awhile to Annie.
--From “The Wicker Man”
Although Lughnassadh has an ancient and fascinating history, nowadays it is a rather obscure festival. Unlike Halloween, for example, the average person outside of the Pagan community has probably never heard of it—even in Ireland, where the name of the festival survives in modern Gaelic as Lünasa, the month of August.
Lughnasa is Irish Gaelic and means “the nâsad (games or an assembly) of Lugh,” a leading Celtic deity and hero. Lughnasa was one of the quarter fest ivals of the Celtic year, the others being Samhaim on November 1, Imbolc on February 1, and Beltane on May 1. The festival seems to have included tribal assemblies and activities extending over two to four weeks. It was celebrated only in Britain, Ireland, France (ancient Gaul), and possibly northern Spain.
Pagans celebrate Lughnasa as one of the eight festivals in the witches’ Wheel of the Year, but many know little about it beyond the fact that it marks the beginning of harvest. Unlike May Day, Yule, or Midsummer, relatively few of Lughnasa’s customs survive either in folklore or historical record. Nevertheless, even in these times of all-year-round imported crops, its presence can still be felt. if we dig deep, we can find its traces.
While on the one hand Lughnasa is little-known, on the other its influence is still felt on our modern patterns of both work and leisure. Factory and school holidays were timed to coincide with the start of the harvest so that more people would be free. to help with the harvesting. Even in today’s post-industrial age, early August remains the traditional time for summer holidays and fairs. There are some traditional Lughnasa customs that are still practiced today, but these tend to be confined to specific localities and cultures. There are no practices as widespread as those celebrated at Yule or Easter, although there are several clearly defined themes that underlie the traditional Lughna sa celebrations and rites.
Lughnasa is also called Lammas, from the Anglo-Saxon hlaef-niass, meaning “loaf-mass.” The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 921 CE. mentions it as “the feast of first fruits,” as does the Red Book of Derby. It was a popular ceremony during the Middle Ages but died out after the Reformation, though the custom is being revived in places. It marks the first harvest, when the first grain is gathered in, ground in a mill, and baked into a loaf. This first loaf was offered up as part of the Christian Eucharist ritual.
There was a Lamb’s Mass held at the cathedral of St. Peter in York for feudal tenants, and some say this may have given rise to the name since fresh baked bread and lamb are traditionally eaten at Lammas. This seems unlikely. Since Lammas was celebrated only in Britain—no other Germanic or Nordic peoples observed Lammas or held any other feasts on August 1 — it seems more likely that it was merely a renaming of the Celtic Lughnasa. (However, important festivals were celebrated elsewhere around this time, and these throw new light on the meaning of Lughnasa.)
Lammas was a rent day, and land tenure and pasture rights were often settled at Lammas. Some grazing lands were given over to common use from Lammas to Candlemas. Stock was put to pasture on the hay meadows, which then remained common through spring until the Enclosure Acts of the early nineteenth century It was a time of sheep and cattle fairs accompanied by games.
Unique among books about the Wiccan Sabbats, Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara takes a different approach to explaining the holidays by taking an in-depth look at half of the Wheel of the Year. Rather than dissecting each holiday, Ashleen's goal is to take a broader look at them, explaining how and why we celebrate each, along with how the celebration of one leads to the next.
The first of two new titles from Ashleen offers a vision of the holidays we celebrate from October to March. This book covers each holiday by first giving us its history and original customs, then explaining its place in modern life. Stories are shared for each Sabbat to reconnect us with our lore and bring new meaning to current practice. Ashleen includes ideas for rituals that are ideal for practicing solitaries, covens, or Wiccan families, with special sections on what children of various ages are ready to learn about these holidays.
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