Tentative Dates: Northern Hemisphere – August 1st; Southern Hemisphere – February 1st.
Brief Summary: Lughnasa (also Lughnasadh, Lúnasa, Lùnastal, Luanistyn) is seen as a harvest festival. The name translates roughly to “Lugh’s festival”. The time is said to be the funeral games for Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu, who died while clearing a part of Ireland for farming.
- Doing something related to food harvest–berry picking, personal garden, etc
- Playing games, especially group games like three-legged racing
- Pilgrimage to the top of a hill, a lake, or well
- BIG gathering of people
“Lughnasa […] was the feast of Lugh, and its celebration marked the ripening of corn and the weaning of calves and lambs” (Ó hOgáin, 473.) Dáithí Ó nOgáin then writes that since the Middle Ages, the holiday is associated with recreation and religious as it fell on a Sunday. In early Ireland, many great fairs are associated with Lughnasa. However, in modern Ireland, the festival is not called “Lúnasa” as this is the Irish name for the month of August, but instead is known as the Sunday of Crom Dubh, or perhaps as Lammas Sunday, Garland Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, or Fraughan Sunday.
The date of Lughnasa is even more flexible than that of the other three festival dates. James MacKillop writes, “The date of Lughnasa was less securely fixed than those of the other calendar feasts. It might include many days, especially Sundays, from 15 July to 15 August” (pg 105.) Ó nOgáin details the shifting of dates to how the harvest was shifted, specifically making it earlier as to help the starving people. This shift was also due to the massive gatherings that would occur, and needing to pick a day that most families could attend–usually a Sunday.
The aforementioned starvation and date change is partially due to the idea that if a farm harvested before the festival date, it was improper and evidence “of bad husbandry and extravagant housewifery” (Danaher, 167.) Obviously harvest is a huge portion of the festival, of both farmed foods and picking fresh fruit.
A pilgrimage to the top of a hill is still seen today in County Mayo, Ireland. People take a two-mile (3km) walk up a rocky hill (Croagh Patrick) on bare and bleeding feet. This is typically on Garlic Sunday, the last Sunday of July, and in honor of Saint Patrick. Rodney Castleden suggests this is an ancient practice, dating back to pre-Christian times: “In pagan times the faithful ascended to greet wonder-working Lugh, the Shining One who overpowered a primitive Earth god to win the harvest for his people” (Castleden, 256.)
These pilgrimages were often to remote areas: “[…] on a hill or mountain top, or besides a lake or river, where large numbers of people from surrounding area congregated, travelling thither on foot, on horseback or in carts and other equipages” (Danaher, 169.) Note that this was often an outdoor event specifically.
There are several myths that tie into Lughnasa. One such myth is related to Lugh overpowering a god to win the harvest for the people of Ireland. Another myth is that Lugh named the festival after his foster mother Tailtiu, who was Queen of the Fir Bolg. It is said she cleared the fields for farming, but in doing so died of exhaustion. The Fir Bolg were indeed said to land in Ireland around the time of Lughnasa, which draws another connection to Queen Tailtiu. Mary Jones also writes: “The feast of Lugh is the first harvest; it should be remembered that Lugh wrestled the secrets of agriculture from Bres when the Tuatha De Danann won the Second Battle of Magh Turedh.”
Lore O’Brien writes that the death of Balor could be seen as Lugh taking down the scorching summer sun. She writes, “Lugh shows his full power by bringing stability to the sun’s searing heat when he kills his grandfather Balor, whose blazing eye represents, as we have seen, the sun’s more destructive energy” (pg 164.)
The figure of Crom Dubh was also associated with the festival. Kevin Danaher writes, “He [Crom Dubh] was portrayed as a wizard or pagan chieftain who opposed St Patrick and, in many legends was overcome by the saint” (pg 177.) The name Crom Dubh “originally derives from the image of the Antichrist in Christian thought. […] The name has been taken to mean ‘black stoop’, but it may have actually signified ‘dark croucher’, an image of the devil” (Ó hOgáin, 133.) There is debate whether Crom Dubh is a pre-Christian god, a historical figure, or a figure invented to oppose Saint Patrick.
Games are always associated with this festival. And that of hilltops. Ó hOgáin writes, “Hill-top climbing for both prayers and for gathering bilberries was general throughout the country, as were assemblies at lakes and holy wells, and other favourite pastimes were horse racing, horse swimming and hurling” (pg 473.)
Lastly, worth mentioning is the temporary marriages would take place at this time (O’Brien, 165.) These marriages would last until Bealtaine the next year, or sometimes even until the next Lughnasa. This temporary marriage would be able to be discontinued at that time with no repercussions to either person. However, trial marriages could end in real marriages, thus making this time of year known for marriages.
Castleden, Rodney. The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts: The Ultimate A-Z of the Symbols, History, and Spirituality of the Legendary Celts. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. Cork: Mercier, 1972. Print.
HÓgáin, Dáithí Ó. The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance. Doughcloyne, Ireland: Collins, 2006. Print.
Jones, Mary. “Lughnassadh.” Mary Jones Encyclopedia. Mary Jones, n.d. Web. 29 July 2015. <http://www.maryjones.us/jce/lughnassadh.html>.
MacKillop, James. Myths and Legends of the Celts. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.
O’Brien, Lora. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page, 2005. Print.