|Also called||Lúnasa (Modern Irish)|
Lùnastal (Scottish Gaelic)
Luanistyn (Manx Gaelic)
|Observed by||Historically: Gaels |
Today: Irish people, Scottish people, Manx people, Celtic neopagans, Wiccans
Pagan (Celtic polytheism, Celtic Neopaganism)
|Significance||Beginning of the harvest season|
|Celebrations||Offering of First Fruits, feasting, handfasting, fairs, athletic contests|
|Related to||Calan Awst, Lammas|
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa ( // LOO-nə-sə) is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic : Lùnastal, and in Manx : Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. But, in recent centuries some of the celebrations shifted to the Sundays nearest this date.
Lughnasadh is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane. It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas.
Lughnasadh is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and has pagan origins. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It inspired great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking, and trading. Traditionally there were also visits to holy wells. According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the 'First Fruits', a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull, and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. Many of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains.
Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named 'Garland Sunday', 'Bilberry Sunday', 'Mountain Sunday' and 'Crom Dubh Sunday'. The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has been re-cast as a Christian pilgrimage. The best known is the 'Reek Sunday' pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July. A number of fairs are also believed to be survivals of Lughnasadh, for example, the Puck Fair.
Since the late 20th century, Celtic neopagans have observed Lughnasadh, or something based on it, as a religious holiday. In some places, elements of the festival have been revived as a cultural event.
In Old Irish the name was Lugnasad (IPA: [ˈlˠʊɣnˠəsˠəd̪ˠ] ). This is a combination of Lug (the god Lugh) and násad (an assembly), which is unstressed when used as a suffix. Later spellings include Luᵹ̇nasaḋ, Lughnasadh and Lughnasa.
In Modern Irish the spelling is Lúnasa [ˈl̪ˠuːn̪ˠəsˠə] , which is also the name for the month of August. The genitive case is also Lúnasa as in Mí Lúnasa (Month of August) and Lá Lúnasa (Day of Lúnasa). In Modern Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), the festival and the month are both called Lùnastal [ˈl̪ˠuːnəs̪t̪əl̪ˠ] . In Manx (Gaelg), the festival and the month are both called Luanistyn [ˈluanɪstθən] . The day itself may be called either Laa Luanistyn or Laa Luanys.
In Welsh (Cymraeg), the day is known as Calan Awst , originally a Latin term,the Calends of August in English. In Breton (brezhoneg), the day was known as Gouel Eost , the Feast of August.
In Irish mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have begun by the god Lugh (modern spelling: Lú) as a funeral feast and athletic competition (see funeral games) in commemoration of his mother or foster-mother Tailtiu.She was said to have died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. Tailtiu may have been an earth goddess who represented the dying vegetation that fed mankind. The funeral games in her honour were called the Óenach Tailten or Áenach Tailten (modern spelling: Aonach Tailteann) and were held each Lughnasadh at Tailtin in what is now County Meath. According to medieval writings, kings attended this óenach and a truce was declared for its duration. It was similar to the Ancient Olympic Games and included ritual athletic and sporting contests, horse racing, music and storytelling, trading, proclaiming laws and settling legal disputes, drawing-up contracts, and matchmaking. At Tailtin, trial marriages were conducted, whereby young couples joined hands through a hole in a wooden door. The trial marriage lasted a year and a day, at which time the marriage could be made permanent or broken without consequences. A similar Lughnasadh festival, the Óenach Carmain, was held in what is now County Kildare. Carman is also believed to have been a goddess, perhaps one with a similar tale as Tailtiu. The Óenach Carmain included a food market, a livestock market, and a market for foreign traders. After the 9th century the Óenach Tailten was celebrated irregularly and it gradually died out. It was revived for a period in the 20th century as the Tailteann Games.
A 15th century version of the Irish legend Tochmarc Emire ("the Wooing of Emer") is one of the earliest documents to record these festivities.
From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Lughnasadh customs and folklore were recorded. In 1962 The Festival of Lughnasa, a study of Lughnasadh by folklorist Máire MacNeill, was published.MacNeill studied surviving Lughnasadh customs and folklore as well as the earlier accounts and medieval writings about the festival. She concluded that the evidence testified to the existence of an ancient festival around 1 August that involved the following:
A solemn cutting of the first of the corn of which an offering would be made to the deity by bringing it up to a high place and burying it; a meal of the new food and of bilberries of which everyone must partake; a sacrifice of a sacred bull, a feast of its flesh, with some ceremony involving its hide, and its replacement by a young bull; a ritual dance-play perhaps telling of a struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight; an installation of a [carved stone] head on top of the hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh; another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine; a three-day celebration presided over by the brilliant young god [Lugh] or his human representative. Finally, a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over, and the chief god in his right place again.
According to MacNeill, the main theme that emerges from the folklore and rituals of Lughnasadh is a struggle for the harvest between two gods. One god – usually called Crom Dubh – guards the grain as his treasure. The other god – Lugh – must seize it for mankind.Sometimes, this was portrayed as a struggle over a woman called Eithne, who represents the grain. Lugh also fights and defeats a figure representing blight. MacNeill says that these themes can be seen in earlier Irish mythology, particularly in the tale of Lugh defeating Balor, which seems to represent the overcoming of blight, drought and the scorching summer sun. In surviving folklore, Lugh is usually replaced by Saint Patrick, while Crom Dubh is a pagan chief who owns a granary or a bull and who opposes Patrick, but is overcome and converted. Crom Dubh is likely the same figure as Crom Cruach and shares some traits with the Dagda and Donn. He may be based on an underworld god like Hades and Pluto, who kidnaps the grain goddess Persephone but is forced to let her return to the world above before harvest time.
Many of the customs described by MacNeill and by medieval writers were being practised into the modern era, though they were either Christianized or shorn of any pagan religious meaning. Many of Ireland's prominent mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh. Some of the treks were eventually re-cast as Christian pilgrimages, the most well-known being Reek Sunday—the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick in late July.Other hilltop gatherings were secular and attended mostly by the youth. In Ireland, bilberries were gathered and there was eating, drinking, dancing, folk music, games and matchmaking, as well as athletic and sporting contests such as weight-throwing, hurling and horse racing. At some gatherings, everyone wore flowers while climbing the hill and then buried them at the summit as a sign that summer was ending. In other places, the first sheaf of the harvest was buried. There were also faction fights, whereby two groups of young men fought with sticks. In 18th-century Lothian, rival groups of young men built towers of sods topped with a flag. For days, each group tried to sabotage the other's tower, and at Lughnasadh they met each other in 'battle'. Bull sacrifices around Lughnasadh time were recorded as late as the 18th century at Cois Fharraige in Ireland (where they were offered to Crom Dubh) and at Loch Maree in Scotland (where they were offered to Saint Máel Ruba). Special meals were made with the first produce of the harvest. In the Scottish Highlands, people made a special cake called the lunastain, which may have originated as an offering to the gods.
Another custom that Lughnasadh shared with Imbolc and Beltane was visiting holy wells, some specifically clootie wells. Visitors to these wells would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well; they would then leave offerings, typically coins or clooties.Although bonfires were lit at some of the open-air gatherings in Ireland, they were rare and incidental to the celebrations.
Traditionally, Lughnasadh has always been reckoned as the first day of August.In recent centuries, however, much of the gatherings and festivities associated with it shifted to the nearest Sundays – either the last Sunday in July or first Sunday in August. It is believed this is because the coming of the harvest was a busy time and the weather could be unpredictable, which meant work days were too important to give up. As Sunday would have been a day of rest anyway, it made sense to hold celebrations then. The festival may also have been affected by the shift to the Gregorian calendar.
In Ireland, some of the mountain pilgrimages have survived. By far the most popular is the Reek Sunday pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick, which attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.
The Puck Fair is held each year in early August in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry. It has been traced as far back as the 16th century but is believed to be a survival of a Lughnasadh festival.At the beginning of the three-day festival, a wild goat is brought into the town and crowned 'king', while a local girl is crowned 'queen'. The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair, and a market. It draws a great number of tourists each year.
In recent years, other towns in Ireland have begun holding yearly Lughnasa Festivals and Lughnasa Fairs. Like the Puck Fair, these often include traditional music and dancing, arts and crafts workshops, traditional storytelling, and markets. Such festivals have been held in Gweedore,Sligo, Brandon, Rathangan and a number of other places. Craggaunowen, an open-air museum in County Clare, hosts a yearly Lughnasa Festival at which historical re-enactors demonstrate elements of daily life in Gaelic Ireland. It includes displays of replica clothing, artefacts, weapons and jewellery. A similar event has been held each year at Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim. In 2011 RTÉ broadcast a Lughnasa Live television program from Craggaunowen.
In the Irish diaspora, survivals of the Lughnasadh festivities are often seen by some families still choosing August as the traditional time for family reunions and parties, though due to modern work schedules these events have sometimes been moved to adjacent secular holidays, such as the Fourth of July in the United States.
The festival is referenced in the 1990 play Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, which was adapted into a 1998 film of the same name.
Lughnasadh, or similar festivities based on it, is observed by some modern Pagans in general and Celtic Neopagans in particular. Despite their common name, such Lughnasadh celebrations can differ widely. While some attempt to emulate the historic festival as much as possible,others base their celebrations on many sources, the Gaelic festival being only one of them.
Neopagans usually celebrate Lughnasadh on 1 August in the Northern Hemisphere and 1 February in the Southern Hemisphere, often beginning their festivities at sunset the evening before.Some Neopagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the summer solstice and autumn equinox, or the full moon nearest this point. In 2020, this astronomical midpoint falls on 7 August (Northern hemisphere) or 4 February (Southern hemisphere).
Celtic Reconstructionist pagans strive for continuity with pre-Christian practices of the Celts, based on research and historical accounts,but may be modified slightly to suit modern life. Reconstructionists avoid syncretic or electic approaches that combine practises from different cultures.
Celtic Reconstructionists who follow Gaelic traditions tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of "first fruits", or on the full moon nearest this time. In the Northeastern United States, this is often the time of the blueberry harvest, while in the Pacific Northwest the blackberries are often the festival fruit. In Celtic Reconstructionism, Lughnasadh is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers not to harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honoured by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many Celtic Reconstructionists also honour the goddess Tailtiu at Lughnasadh, and may seek to keep the Cailleachan from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.
Wiccans use the names "Lughnasadh" or "Lammas" for the first of their autumn harvest festivals. It is one of the eight yearly "Sabbats" of their Wheel of the Year, following Midsummer and preceding Mabon. It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for handfasting, the other being at Beltane.Some Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the "corn god" in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it.
Beltane or Beltain is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. In Irish the name for the festival day is Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh—and is similar to the Welsh Calan Mai.
Imbolc or Imbolg, also called (Saint) Brigid's Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. It is held on 1 February in the northern hemisphere or 1 August in the Southern Hemisphere. It lands about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. For Christians, especially in Ireland, it is the feast day of Saint Brigid.
Lugh or Lug is one of the most prominent gods in Irish mythology. A member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Lugh is portrayed as a warrior, a king, a master craftsman and a savior. He is associated with skill and mastery in multiple disciplines, including the arts. He is also associated with oaths, truth and the law, and therefore with rightful kingship. Lugh is linked with the harvest festival of Lughnasadh, which bears his name. His most common epithets are Lámfada and Samildánach.
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasadh. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Similar festivals are held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands, for example the Brittonic Calan Gaeaf, Kalan Gwav, and Kalan Goañv.
The Tuath(a) Dé Danann, also known by the earlier name Tuath Dé, are a supernatural race in Irish mythology. They are thought to represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland. The Tuatha Dé Danann constitute a pantheon whose attributes appeared in a number of forms throughout the Celtic world.
The Dagda is an important god in Irish mythology. One of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Dagda is portrayed as a father-figure, king, and druid. He is associated with fertility, agriculture, manliness and strength, as well as magic, druidry and wisdom. He can control life and death, the weather and crops, as well as time and the seasons.
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans, consisting of the year's chief solar events and the midpoints between them. While names for each festival vary among diverse pagan traditions, syncretic treatments often refer to the four solar events as "quarter days" and the four midpoint events as "cross-quarter days", particularly in Wicca. Differing sects of modern Paganism also vary regarding the precise timing of each celebration, based on distinctions such as lunar phase and geographic hemisphere.
In Irish mythology, Balor or Balar was a leader of the Fomorians, a group of malevolent supernatural beings. He is often described as a giant with a large eye that wreaks destruction when opened. Balor takes part in the Battle of Mag Tuired, and is primarily known from the tale in which he is killed by his grandson Lugh of the Tuatha Dé Danann. He has been interpreted as a personification of the scorching sun, and has also been likened to figures from other mythologies, such as the Welsh Ysbaddaden and Greek Cyclops.
In Gaelic mythology the Cailleach is a divine hag, a creator deity, a weather deity, and an ancestor deity. In modern Scottish folklore studies, she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter. The word literally means "old woman, hag", and is found with this meaning in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and has been applied to numerous mythological figures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Lugus was a deity of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from place names and ethnonyms, and his nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed to have been identified with Lugus, and from the quasi-mythological narratives involving his later cognates, Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Irish Lugh Lámhfhada.
Tailtiu or Tailltiu is the name of a presumed goddess from Irish mythology. The goddess's name is linked to Teltown in Co. Meath, site of the Óenach Tailten. A legendary dindsenchas "lore of places" poem relates a myth connecting the presumed goddess Tailtiu with the site. However, linguistic analysis of the name reveals that Tailtiu as a place-name derives from a loan word of Brythonic origin represented by the Welsh telediw "well formed, beautiful." The mythological character of Tailtiu likely derives her name from the place-name.
The Irish calendar is the Gregorian calendar as it is in use in Ireland, but also incorporating Irish cultural festivals and views of the division of the seasons, presumably inherited from earlier Celtic calendar traditions.
Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism is a polytheistic reconstructionist approach to Celtic neopaganism, emphasising historical accuracy over eclecticism such as is found in many forms of Neo-druidism. It is an effort to reconstruct and revive, in a modern Celtic cultural context, pre-Christian Celtic religions.
Crom Dubh, meaning "dark crooked [one]" is a mythological and folkloric figure of Ireland, based on the god Crom Cruach, or "king idol of Ireland", mentioned in the 12th-century dinnseanchas of Magh Slécht.
The Hill of Uisneach or Ushnagh is a hill and ancient ceremonial site in the barony of Rathconrath in County Westmeath, Ireland. It is a protected national monument. It consists of numerous monuments and earthworks—prehistoric and medieval—including a probable megalithic tomb, burial mounds, enclosures, standing stones, holy wells and a medieval road. Uisneach is near the geographical centre of Ireland, and in Irish mythology it is deemed to be the symbolic and sacred centre of the island. It was said to be the burial place of mythical figures, and a place of assembly associated with the druids and the festival of Bealtaine.
According to classical sources, the ancient Celts were animists. They honoured the forces of nature, saw the world as inhabited by many spirits, and saw the Divine manifesting in aspects of the natural world.
Saint Cuimín is an Irish saint associated with the parish of Kilcummin in the barony of Tirawley, County Mayo. Kilcummin, a headland to the west of Killala Bay, preserves the remains of a religious site, with a church of early date and a graveyard.
Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. For Celts in close contact with Ancient Rome, such as the Gauls and Celtiberians, their mythology did not survive the Roman Empire, their subsequent conversion to Christianity and the loss of their Celtic languages. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved. The Celtic peoples who maintained either political or linguistic identities left vestigial remnants of their ancestral mythologies that were put into written form during the Middle Ages.
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