This week on our Pagan Primer, we’ll discuss Lammas or Lughnassadh.
Both of these are names for the same celebration, the first harvest. Loaf-mass, obviously is a Christian name for the holiday, and represents the first harvest of grain.
In the Celtic world, this was a time of handfastings, of games of strength, horse races, festivals and reunions.
Lughnassadh is a festival traditionally instituted by the god Lugh, in honor of his foster-mother, Tailtiu. Some of the games and tests of strength that are common on this day can be reconciled with the nature of Lugh, whose name could mean “Long Arm”. Lugh was known for his spear, and could have been a god of thunder.
Traditionally, this is the day that we mark the sacrifice or death of the God. We don’t do this in the same sense as Christians do. In Paganism, we’re celebrating seasons and cycles. Many tall grasses are dying, and in so doing are offering up their grain, fertile seeds which have not only the capacity to feed us, but to replenish the Earth as well.
Also, In the West, we often look at the word “Sacrifice” as meaning that some sort of physical death is necessary, but actually, the word “sacrifice” really means to make sacred, or to sanctify. It does not necessarily mean that something has to be put to death.
If we look a bit deeper at the way we use the word even today, we’ll see that we use it in sports, where a batter might hit the ball in a direction which denies him a base-hit, but permits another to advance to a position where they might score more easily.
In engineering, we see sacrificial components … a part which is designed to be worn out in order to permit the longer life of another component.
In each of the above examples though, we see an exchange … something is given of one to advance the purposes of another. The plant’s life in this season is ended, but the energy of life is given to the seed which will grow in the next season, or it will provide food to sustain the lives of people throughout the coming cooler seasons. The ball player exchanges his advancement for the advancement of another. The sacrificial component exchanges its life for the life of another component.
When we celebrate Lughnassadh, or Lammas, we are taking part in that exchange of energy. We are acknowledging that in the harvest, something is dying, but in doing so, it is providing sustenance. In taking that sustenance into ourselves, we are becoming inextricably woven into the fabric of life and the cycles of our planet.
I really enjoy eating locally grown foods. If you can, take a walk through a corn field that’s ready for picking. Notice that these plants have done all that they are here for. They have sprouted, grown, borne fruit, and they have, for the most part, completed their life-cycle.
The corn will be eaten by us, or by farm animals. Some of the stalks will be used for food for the animals, some of it will be used for fall decorations. Still, once that plant has borne fruit, it’s completed it’s purpose. It has exchanged it’s energy with the seeds of new life.
One way to celebrate the local harvest is to visit the fields, eat a completely locally grown meal as part of a celebration, and to actually feel how connected you are to the area in which you live, recognizing the sacred nature of the food you eat.
For the next week or so, you might find Lughnassadh celebrations going on in the area. If you get a chance, visit one or more of them. Discover what is being celebrated and how they do it.
It’s important to remember that Lughnassadh was not historically a solitary celebration. This was one of the big celebrations and was a community affair. You can’t really get an idea of what was going on by simply going home, lighting a candle, maybe casting a circle and celebrating alone.
To experience Lughnassadh as it is meant to be experienced takes involvement with others.
You might not get to it for this season, and that’s ok, but I hope that you do manage at some point to get together with other Pagans and start celebrating the seasons as they were meant to be celebrated … with great participation and energy.
© 2008, Deirdre Hebert