Celebrating Late Summer on Lughnasadh
Lughnasadh is a time for honoring the fruits of our labor and sharing the skills we have learned.
Acknowledging the change in season is a meditation on belonging. It is an invitation to bring ourselves into right-relationship with the planet, our bodies, homes, and communities.
August is a bittersweet month. The gardens are overflowing with abundance, but the days grow shorter. Lughnasadh honors the impermanence of life as we move into the final days of Summer. The gifts of food, warmth, and greenery are especially precious at this time of year.
As a Cottage-Witch, my home, kitchen, garden, and watershed are the source of my power and magic. My celebrations on August 1st are gestures of gratitude for the things, people, and places that nourish me.
What is Lughnasadh?
Lughnasadh (“Loo-nah-sod”) is a seasonal celebration that honors the gifts of late summer. Berries are ready to pick. The vegetables are ripening. We feast on fresh greens from our gardens and local farms. The first grains are ready to harvest. It is traditionally celebrated on August 1st, marking the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. It is one of four Cross-Quarter holidays on the Celtic Wheel of the Year, a calendar of seasonal holidays.
Where does Lughnasadh come from?
Lughnasadh was originally celebrated by the Gaelic Celts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, named after the Irish God Lugh (“Loo”). It was the first of three harvest festivals, and was originally considered to be the beginning of Autumn.
The Christian religion would later weave this sacred day into their own religious calendar, renaming it Lammas, or “loaf-mass.” As the Christian name suggests, this is a holiday for celebrating the first loaves of bread, baked from the first grains of the season.
What Does Lughnasadh Celebrate?
As pastoral people, dependent on the land for survival, the Celts were concerned with being in right-relationship with the land. Their seasonal celebrations marked changes in the environment, syncing them up with shifts in the cycles of life. They performed ceremonies that honored the spirits of the land, making sure their communities stayed in the good-graces of local deities. Lughnasadh was an important moment to honor the spirit of the grain. How they treated the first grain of the season was significant. On an energetic level, the reverence shown to the first harvest was appreciated by the entire species of grain. My Irish ancestors would have been careful to honor the first harvest with sincere gratitude through ceremony and offerings.
Once the grain had been shown gratitude (often by ceremonially burying it on a hilltop), it was time to feast. Fresh bread made from the first grains would have been accompanied by other ripe vegetables and fruits from the land. It was a time to relax and reap the benefits of the growing season. But, it was a special kind of appreciation at this time of year, when the days grow shorter. Winter was coming. And, so the warm days and fresh produce were particularly appreciated.
Lugh, the Irish God, was known as the Many Skilled God. He gained much of his strength and ability while helping his foster-mother, Tailtu (“Tal-too”), prepare the land for agriculture in Ireland. Lughnasadh was often filled with games and competitions, a tradition that Lugh started in honor of Tailtu. Participants would show off their skills and talents, just like Lugh did when he joined the court of King Nuada.
How is Lughnasadh Celebrated Today?
Festivals like Puck Fair in Killorglin, Ireland, and the hilltop pilgrimage on “Reek Sunday” at Croagh Patrick are believed to be remnants of Lughnasadh celebrations of old.
Contemporary pagans find a myriad of ways to celebrate the themes of Lughnasadh. There are rituals and feasts that honor the spirit of the plants. Games and competitions are hosted in honor of Lugh. It is a time for reflecting on hopes and fears as we turn toward the darkness of impending Winter. Corn dolls are made to honor the grain. Breads are baked, and spiral cookies remind us that the wheel keeps spinning.
How Can You Celebrate Lughnasadh at Home?
Honor Where You Are
What is ripe in your area? Harvest from your garden and visit the local farmer’s market. Pay attention to what is growing and thriving in your environment. Forage for herbs, flowers, and edible wild foods. Be in relationship with the world around you. Have a feast filled with locally harvested foods!
Reflect on your own life. What are the fruits of your labor? What skills have you learned this past year? What has come to fruition? What are you grateful for? What are your hopes and fears for the upcoming months? How do you want to spend your time and energy?
Practice the Honorable Harvest
In my practice, all things have spirit. I live in an inspirited world, much like my Celtic ancestors did. This is an animistic view of the world, common in Earth-based religions. It is the belief that all animals, plants, and objects have a unique essence. They are alive, animated by energy and vibration. That is why, when it comes time to harvest and forage, I am both grateful for the food and sad for the loss of life.
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer introduced me to the indigenous concept of the Honorable Harvest. It is a collection of unwritten guidelines on how to interact with the natural world as a consumer. These protocols are informed by thousands of years of sustainable living. They teach us how to be in right-relationship with the land, honoring the spirit of all beings. In this way we can learn to live in reciprocity with the world around us. Kimmerer shared these practices:
- Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.
- Never take the first. Never take the last.
- Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
- Take only what you need and leave some for others.
- Use everything that you take.
- Take only that which is given to you.
- Share it, as the Earth has shared with you.
- Be grateful.
- Reciprocate the gift.
- Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.
On Lughnasadh, the beginning of the harvest season, try just one of these practices. Bake a berry pie and share it with a neighbor. Stand in your garden and speak your gratitude. Buy organic to reduce harm to the planet. When you go to pick wildflowers, don’t cut the first one you see; wait until you find the next batch. This ensures there is a healthy abundance of the plant. And, before you cut, take a moment and introduce yourself to the plant. Let it know why you have come. Ask for permission. Or, simply stand outside your front door, take a deep breath, and send your gratitude to the sky, the rain, the trees, animals, and plants. And, listen. What if they were grateful for you, too.
Show-Off Your Skills
Host a game day with friends and family in honor of Lugh, the Many Skilled God. Indoor activities might include board games, video games, and ping pong. Outdoors, people can run three-legged races, toss bean bags or water balloons, play bocce or flag football, and craft flower crowns.
A Talent Show is another great way for family and friends to share their gifts. Bring your knitted goods and poetry. Show off fancy baked goods and play songs on the guitar. Do a fashion walk with hand-dyed fabrics or share graphic design skills in a slideshow. There is no limit to what kinds of gifts and talents can be honored and appreciated on this day.
In my Spring article on Beltane, I wrote about seasonal tables. This is my favorite way to connect with seasonal energy and invite conversation on the value of wildness and ecosystems. But, I have many altars in my home. Actually, I have created a practice where my whole house is like an altar. I enjoy shifting the lighting, the furniture, and the art to harmonize with the energy of the season. This is influenced by my studies on Feng Shui and Japanese Shintoism. In Lughnasadh season, bring in lots of flowers and plants to decorate your home. Switch out your curtains and fabrics to create a light and bright scene. Dedicate a bookshelf to games, inviting playful competition. Update the photos and artwork on your walls, emphasizing your accomplishments and time spent outdoors.
An altar is a sacred space that represents your beliefs, commitments, and spiritual practices. Like I said, I have many altars, but I have one that is dedicated to my personal spiritual practice. I use colorful fabrics, statues, feathers, incense, Tarot cards, and stones to activate my spiritual mindset. I update it seasonally, taking time to clean it and refresh it with each turn of the Wheel. Here are some things you can add to a Lughnasadh-inspired altar to help you sync up with the essence of this time of year:
- Colors: gold, green, brown… the colors of late summer (look to your own environment for color inspiration)
- Fruits and vegetables from the garden or local farms
- Grain and corn
- Scythe or garden shears
- A symbol of your skills/gifts/talents
- Corn dolly
- Homemade bread or ale
- Tarot Cards: The Sun, Strength
- Hopes & Fears (ceremonially burn the fears when you are done)
Lughnasadh In A Nutshell
- Celebrated on August 1st, it is a Cross-Quarter Holiday on the Celtic Wheel of the Year
- It was originally celebrated by the Gaelic Celts, but it is also known as Lammas in the Christian church.
- It is a time to honor the spirits of the land, enjoy the fruits of one’s labor, and show off one’s skills.
- You can celebrate Lughnasadh in your own home by:
- Spending time in nature and reflecting on your life
- Practicing the Honorable Harvest
- Showing off your skills and talents
- Creating altar space that syncs you up with the energy of the season
May this article support your joy, purpose, and power. Take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t.
With love and magic,
- Starhawk, et al. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions. Bantam, 1998.
- Casey, Dawn, et al. The Children’s Forest: Stories & Songs, Wild Food, Crafts & Celebrations (Crafts and Family Activities).Hawthorn Press, 2019.
- Crowley, Vivianne. Celtic Wisdom: Seasonal Festivals and Rituals. New York, NY, Sterling Pub Co Inc, 1998.
- MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. Oxford University Press
- Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore
- Kimmerer, R. W. Braiding sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2013