Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy Lughnasadh, or for some Lammas

Ancient celebration
Lughnasadh was one of the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar: Imbolc at the beginning of February, Beltane on the first of May, Lughnasadh in August and Samhain in November. The early Celtic calendar was based on the lunar, solar, and vegetative cycles, so the actual calendar date in ancient times may have varied. Lughnasadh marked the beginning of the harvest season, the ripening of first fruits, and was traditionally a time of community gatherings, market festivals, horse races and reunions with distant family and friends. Among the Irish it was a favored time for handfastings - trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or later formalizing it as a more permanent marriage.[1][2][3]
In Celtic mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh, as a funeral feast and games commemorating his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. The first location of the Áenach Tailteann was at the site of modern Teltown, located between Navan and Kells. Historically, the Áenach Tailteann gathering was a time for contests of strength and skill, and a favored time for contracting marriages and winter lodgings. A peace was declared at the festival, and religious celebrations were also held. A similar Lughnasadh festival was held at Carmun (whose exact location is under dispute). Carmun is also believed to have been a goddess of the Celts, perhaps one with a similar story as Tailtiu.[3][4]
A festival corresponding to Lughnasadh may have been observed by the Gauls at least up to the first century; on the Coligny calendar, the eighth day of the first half of the month Edrinios, corresponding to the first of August{{{author}}}, {{{title}}}, [[{{{publisher}}}]], [[{{{date}}}]]., is marked with the inscription TIOCOBREXTIO that identifies other major feasts. The same date was later adopted for the meeting of all the representatives of Gaul at the Condate Altar in Gallo-Roman times. During the reign of Augustus Caesar the Romans instituted a celebration on August 1 to the genius of the emperor in Lyon, a place believed to have also been named for the Celtic god Lugh.

Modern day celebration
On mainland Europe and in Ireland many people continue to celebrate the holiday with bonfires and dancing. The Christian church has established the ritual of blessing the fields on this day. In the Irish diaspora, survivals of the Lá Lúnasa 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.[1][3]
On 1 August, the national holiday of Switzerland, it is traditional to celebrate with bonfires. This practice may trace back to the Lughnasadh celebrations of the Helvetii, Celtic people of the Iron Age who lived in what is now Switzerland.
In Northern Italy, e.g. in Canzo, Lughnasadh traditions are still incorporated into modern 1 August festivities.

Etymology
In Old Irish, the name of the festival has at various points in time been written Lughnasa, Lughnasad or Lughnassadh.
In Modern Irish (Gaeilge), the name for the month of August is Lúnasa, with the festival itself being called Lá Lúnasa.
In Modern Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), the name for the festival is Lùnastal.
In Welsh (Cymraeg), Calan Awst.
In Gaulish, the festival may have been called something like *Lugunassatis (the asterisk indicates this is a reconstructed form).

Neopaganism
Lughnasadh is observed by Neopagans in various forms, and by a variety of names. As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.[5][6][7]

Celtic Reconstructionism
Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy, and base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of first fruits, or on the full moon that falls closest to 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.[1][8]
In Celtic Reconstructionism (CR), Lá Lúnasa 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 to not harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honored by many at this time, as he is a deity of storms and lightning, especially the storms of late summer. However, gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many CRs also honor the goddess Tailitu on this day, and may seek to keep the Cailleachan ("Storm Hags") from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.[1][8][9][10]

Wicca
In Wicca, Lughnasadh is one of the eight sabbats or solar festivals in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is the first of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being Mabon and Samhain. One telling of the story commemorates the sacrifice and death of the Wiccan Corn God; in its cycle of death, nurturing the people, and rebirth, the corn is considered an aspect of their Sun God. Some Neopagans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it. These celebrations are not based on Celtic culture, despite using the Celtic name for the sabbat.[11][7]
Some Wiccans and other Neopagans also use the name Lammas for the sabbat, taken from the Anglo-Saxon and Christian holiday which occurs at about the same time. As the name (from the Anglo-Saxon hlafmæsse "loaf-mass", "loaves festival") implies, it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest. Wiccan and other eclectic Neopagan rituals may incorporate elements from either festival.[11]

Popular culture
There is a play by Brian Friel entitled Dancing at Lughnasa which has also been made into a 1998 movie.
The Dutch band Omnia have a song entitled "Lughnasadh" on their latest album.
The traditional Irish folk music group, Lúnasa, is named after the festival.
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1 comment:

Erin & Dan said...

It really is interesting to note how we all still feel a pull to get together around certain times of the year. No doubt, we still hear the call of ancient traditions. I doubt some major fundamentalists would admit it though. LOL! Thanks for the read.