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Lughnasadh: A harvest festival

30 Jul 20

by Susannah Phillipson

It’s Lughnasadh this weekend! Celebrating the peak of high summer and the beginning of the harvest season. Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-nuh-suh) is one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals. Marked between 31st July – 2nd August as we notice a shift in the seasonal energies, and see the first signs of transformation. The first fruits are ripening, the fields are turning from green to gold, and it is time, too, for us to look at our own ripening harvests. What has been growing in our lives so far this year that we want to take with us into the winter? It is a time to make the most of the long days and summer energy, to prepare our stores for the darkening nights ahead. It is a time for adventures, for moments of reflection and taking stock, a time for walking the land.

Interestingly, the meaning of the word Lughnasadh is ‘Lugh’s Funeral Games’ … Lugh is the Celtic sun God, and he is said to have hosted these funeral games to honour the death of his mother, Tailte (the earth mother Goddess), at this time of year. She died from exhaustion after clearing the.land and teaching her people how to sow and reap the crops. Before she died she said that Lugh, her son, would pour his spirit into the grains which would sustain the people over the long winter. Lugh is the God of the sun, skills and craftsmanship.

 

You may have heard of this festival being referred to interchangeably as Lughnasadh and Lammas. In fact they are two different festivals from different cultures that ended up being combined; while Lughnasadh is Celtic, Lammas is a Saxon festival meaning ‘bread mass’. As the cultures became combined their festivals must have too. Over the growing season the Sun God would infuse his energy into the crops growing – these sacred crops would be harvested, ground, and the first bread of the season was taken to a church, put on an altar and blessed by a priest.

 

Traditionally, the first and last sheaves of wheat were cut ceremonially. The first would be made into bread to be shared with the whole community, and the last would be made into a corn dolly – an emblem of the harvest – returned to the earth at the end of harvest season (samhain) or by sowing the seeds the following spring. More on those later!

 

So how can we celebrate Lughnasadh? Well, it is a festival all about harvest and gratitude! We reap the rewards for all we’ve sown in the earlier parts of the year. We get outside and enjoy nature’s bounty! We share gratitude for all that’s come to us in the light of the year, as well as understanding that there’s a darker time to come. We take stock, and contemplate: where have we been? And where are we going?

Whether it’s the outer harvest or the inner, make time to celebrate Lughnasadh this weekend!

 

 

The Inner Harvest

Here I’ll hand over to the trusty Glennie Kindred: a treasure trove of reflective practices throughout the wheel of the year! In her book ‘Sacred Earth Celebrations’, she poses some thoughtful questions for Lammas: ‘Contemplate and assess your own harvest: Did the seeds you grew at Imbolc grow as you had hoped? Are they the same dreams you wish to take with you through the incubation period of winter?’

These may be good questions to take with you for a walk this weekend, or to journal on. Of course, this year may have looked very different to what you expected pre Covid-19! How did you respond? What has unfurled in you, during these strange times? Glennie goes on to reflect about this time of year:

 

“[At Lughnasadh] we begin to assimilate and gather in our own harvest, the first fruits of our active phase now manifest in the outer world – the harvest of our hearts’ desires, and the fruits of our labours. This is a period of assessment as we begin to gather ourselves together again after much scattering of energy. This is often a holiday period, and gives us time to take a reflective look at ourselves. In the spring we planted the seeds of our hopes, our dreams and ourselves. Some things may have manifested and some not. The Lammas assessment helps us to have a deeper understanding of our actions and our selves at this point in time.

At Lammas we count our blessings and give thanks for all that we are harvesting. Being aware of them will help us to see ways to take them forwards into the next part of the cycle.” – Glennie Kindred

This goes hand in hand with the reminder that Lugh is the God of skills! Use, celebrate and appreciate your skills! Appreciate and celebrate all you’ve achieved, begun and accomplished this year – even if it’s very different from what you may have expected!

 

The Outer Harvest

 

Enjoy being outside, while there is still the warmth, energy and light! Lughnasadh marks the shifting point between summer and autumn, so now is the time to get out there into the woods and fields, to appreciate the vibrancy of summer – soon the colours will all be changing, and the evenings will be drawing in…

 

While you’re out there, the berry picking season begins! In Scotland we are so lucky to have blackberries AND raspberries AND (if you’re lucky) blaeberries! Get them in your jams, pies, mouths and freezers people! Lughnasadh is a time for outdoor feasting – possible again at last, and just in time for all the natural abundance.

 

 

Being a harvest festival, there are SO MANY plants associated with Lughnasadh: grains, mint, roses, basil, sunflowers, meadowsweet, calendula, sage, heather…

 

Many of these are medicinal (meadowsweet and water mint are both rife along the Edinburgh canal, and calendula flowers can be put in oil to make skin creams for the winter!)

 

… You could even make your own Lughnasadh loose incense!

 

Another important and beautiful thing to begin doing at Lughnasadh is to collect seeds for the next growing season. These may come from plants you’ve grown yourself, or from wild plants that you’d like to introduce to your garden / other wild areas. Last year Ben and I harvested some barley from the edge of a field in Fife. We both took different creative paths: I made some into plaited corn dollies in the autumn and then totally forgot about it, while Ben rediscovered our store in the spring, planted the seeds, and now we have a ripening crop of barley right here in the Salisbury Centre garden!

 

 

 

Baking

Speaking of all this barley, the main celebratory food of Lughnasadh is of course BREAD! How many of you have been nursing a sourdough starter over lockdown? Perhaps now is the time to experiment with a new type of loaf, or to pop into one of Edinburgh’s delicious bakeries for a doughy treat!

More traditionally, the Lammas Bannock is a ceremonial cake, baked and eaten outside. As it’s being eaten, pieces are thrown over the shoulder to feed the predatory animals in the area, to ask them not to attack livestock in the coming year.

Here’s a simple recipe for bannock bread, which you could pimp with herbs, seeds, etc. You could either make this on a fire, on the hob, or even in the oven:

 

 

John Barleycorn

 

There came three men from out of Kent,

To plough for wheat and rye,

And they made a vow and a solemn vow

John Barleycorn must die….

 

Have you heard of John Barleycorn? I feel like maybe he’s more famous as a folk character down south, and I know this really fab song about him that I WILL record and share over the Lughnasadh weekend (generally stories and songs about old John Barleycorn follow his journey to becoming beer…). Old JC is the embodiment of Lugh: his energy has gone into the grain, which is cut down and sacrificed back to the land. This is a good reminder that we too must sacrifice our active outer energy of the year, and welcome the inner journey.

 

Corn Dollies

 

Last but not least, the Corn Dolly. These are great fun to make, either with grasses or with a few stems of wheat. I like making corn dollies during the harvest and keeping them somewhere visible during the winter, because they remind me that the warmth and light of summer will come again.

 

There are two types of corn dolly: one that looks more like a person, and one that is more like a woven decoration. There are all sorts of different techniques for weaving wheat, but here is a video tutorial for a fairly simple plait: https://youtu.be/QIKQ38pFYtM

 

Or this one from the Eden Project: https://www.edenproject.com/learn/for-everyone/how-to-make-a-corn-dolly

 

So there you have it friends! I hope you get out there and make the most of Lughnasadh this year. Please do share any photos of how you’re celebrating (even if it’s just spotting some ripe raspberries in the hedgerow!) on our Facebook or Instagram 🙂

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