“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.” ― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
As I’m approaching the top of the ferris wheel of the year, my predominant feeling is one of gratitude for all the abundance I have been granted in this season, in this year. The dog days of summer are drawing to a close, and I can see the cool hint of autumn just over the horizon.
The gardens are overflowing with squash, peppers, tomatoes, and soon cantaloupe! We’ve let ourselves settle into a slowdown, going for swims in the pond or the pool on the hottest days, stretching out in full moon yoga rituals, sitting outside talking with tomato plants about life, and wandering through the woods with eyes peeled for fairies and mushrooms.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the wrongs of the world and all the hard parts of life, and there’s plenty of both for sure. But right now, as we approach Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-nuh-suh), all my heart is harvesting is gratitude for these slow days, happy gardens, and beautiful community.
What is Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas ?
Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-nuh-suh) , known in Ireland as "the assembly of Lugh," is the third great festival of the Celtic year after Imbolc (Feb. 1) and Beltaine (May 1). It marks the midpoint of sam, the light half of the year (May-November), and traditionally marked the beginning of harvest season in northwestern Europe lasting until the time of Samhain (pronounced sow-win) around Nov. 1. By the time Lughnasadh rolls around, the daytime interval is getting noticeably shorter each day, and the nighttimes are lengthening, informing us of colder days ahead.
It was during this time that farmers reaped the first ears of wheat, barley, and in later centuries, dug up the first of the potatoes! It was also a time when soft fruits ripened. Of course, depending on where you are the harvest seasons may be different, so forming traditions around the seasonal cycles where you live is greatly encouraged! Here in our own landscape we have been enjoying the juicy delights of wild foraged blackberries, bright red and orange tomatoes, and the cantaloupe is soon to be ready.
In the Christian era the festival on August 1 became Lammas (pronounced laa-muhz), the name derived from hlaf-maesse, the Old English name for the feast, when a loaf made from the first ripe grain was taken to church to be blessed upon the altar.
Lugh The Many Skilled
Lughnasadh is named after one of the most famous and beloved gods in Celtic mythology, Lugh (pronounced loo), who is a member of the magical Tuatha Dé Danann tribe. He is the god of light and son of the sun and is portrayed as a warrior, a king, a master craftsman and a savior. He is associated with skill and mastery in myriad disciplines, including the arts.
It is during late summer, when the land is abundant with fruit and grain, when Lugh is most potent. He transfers his power into the grain, creating the bounty of the harvest, and this is honored through rituals that involve blessing the first harvest or baking the first bread of the season. As the bounty of Lugh is celebrated, a shift in energy and activity is acknowledged as active growth begins to slow as the darker days beckon.
Cooperation with the Earth Goddess
The great Lughnasadh assemblies in early Celtic culture celebrated both the first fruits of the land and the "ripened" talents of human society, which is why these great gatherings featured races, games, athletics and were also festivals of the arts.
In Celtic tradition, it was recognized that a plentiful harvest could not be won without cooperation of the earth goddess. According to author and storyteller Mara Freeman...
Before a new king could be inaugurated, he had to undergo a ritual marriage with the goddess of the land in her role as Sovereignty, for only she could confer upon him the authority to rule... In early Ireland a good harvest depended upon the king being a just and worthy ruler, for he was a representative of the people. Under such a monarch, the weather was mild sheep and cattle multiplied, granaries overflowed, and orchards hung heavy with fruit. if he was... morally reprehensible, the land would not be fertile and the people would fail to thrive.
The spirit behind these words ring true and strong today like never before. They serve as a reminder to never take for granted the gifts of the earth and that we are not as powerful as we think we are. There are dire consequences to our collective actions and the severed relationship we have with earth which we are bearing witness to today. And yet there is much to celebrate in our human culture as we witness the growing movement of Indigenous rematriation and the reclamation of earth-honoring traditions and cultural lifeways around the world.
Ways to Celebrate
Bake bread...and some Jam to go along with it
There is nothing quite like the wafting aroma of homemade bread fresh out of the oven. Bread is one of the most comforting foods in this world in my opinion. Michelle makes a mean sourdough bread, and Jess & I are sure grateful every time she does.
Baking your own bread is its own kind of prayer. You might shudder at the thought of turning on the oven in the heat of summer, but make an exception to honor the abundance in your life and treat yourself.
Come to think of it... let's take it one step further and imagine a sweet, warm blueberry jam to go with it!
Traditionally, collecting, eating and sharing berries was a favorite activity during this jovial time of the year since berries were bursting forth from the heatherly slopes of the hills in which people gathered. Full baskets were taken home to be made into cakes, pies and jams.
Here's a simple recipe (from Kindling the Celtic Spirit) to try for yourself:
8 cups blueberries, bilberries or huckleberries
4 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup water
4 cups granulated sugar
In a large heavy saucepan. combine blueberries, rhubarb, lemon rind and juice, and water.
Bring to a boil, stirring frequently; reduce heat and simmer, very gently, for 10 minutes.
Add sugar; increase heat to high and boil vigorously, stirring often.
After about 20 minutes, test jam for setting by putting a small amount on a cold plate and pushing it gently with your thumb. If it wrinkles, it's ready.
Remove from the heat, skim off foam, and stir for 3-5 minutes to suspend fruit evenly throughout the jam.
Fill sterilized jars and seal.
Feast with your community
Start a family or neighborhood tradition by organizing your own Lughnasadh event, like a potluck picnic in the park, by a river or stream, at the beach, or on a nearby hill. Alternatively, you can hold it in your own backyard, where you can pay more attention to decorating the table with flowers, ears of grain, fruit, and other seasonal produce.
More than anything, Lughnasadh is a celebration of the bounty of the harvest, and celebrations just aren’t as fun on your own. In an age where many of us feel all too disconnected from one another, the high days of August are an ideal time to come together with friends and neighbors to foster a sense of community.
Ask people to bring food and drink made from the new harvest of fruits, vegetables, and grains, such as fruit drinks and salads, homemade bread, cakes and scones. Pluck some tomatoes from your garden, make a big pot of squash soup, forage for wild berries, and try to sweet-talk your favorite baker into whipping up a loaf of bread. Oh, and don't forget the sweet blueberry jam to go with it!
Before you get down to the feast, give thanks for the blessings of the firstfruits with a grace, such as this modern Irish one:
In the presence of my people
back to the beginning of life,
In the witness of the gods and the ungods,