The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Lughnasa ~ The Original Thanksgiving

 Good Evening,

Happy Lughnasa! Also spelled Lughnasadh, which falls today, August 1st. Today is a Celtic holiday celebrating the first harvest.  In many ways a celebration of thanksgiving.  There are diary accounts of Lughnasa being celebrated in Ireland as long ago as 1000 years.  To understand this much anticipated celebration of Thanksgiving, we need to look a bit at the life lived by the ancient Celts.

Imagine you are living 1000 years ago. Imagine any and all technology non existent. You lit up your nights with candles. You, as well as the majority of people, worked at hard labor jobs all day long, man or woman, from before sunup to after sundown.  Men tending and slaughtering cattle, working farms, mending and making tools and equipment used on the farm,  harvesting in the fields and woods. While women cooked from morning until night, at the same time making candles, clothes, soap, tending to the babies, children and the elderly and often working side by side with the men in the fields and on the farms.

Simply speaking,  there were precious little times of relaxation let alone celebration in these hard times. Times when every waking moment was dedicated to the art of survival. Everything people did at this time in history was in someway to further their very existence and perhaps bring about a bit of comfort to it. Yet these ancient people did celebrate. They celebrated life and abundance.  The wheel of the year has eight major and minor celebrations called Sabbats.  The Solstices and Equinoxes are considered lesser or minor Sabbats.  The cross quarter days (Imbolc February 1st, Beltane May 1st, Lughnasa August 1st and Samhain November 1st) are all considered major or greater Sabbats.

As I understand it, the Druidic thinking was, as to the association of placing major and minor emphasis to the Sabbats, was that since the average person could tell when the Solstices and Equinoxes were upon us they needed no announcement as it were. The ancient peoples lived as a part of nature, not as we do today, in spite of nature. As such, everyone could tell when the longest day of the year was upon us, or the day and evening was of equal length. Remember, these people were living outside all day, working by the light of the sun, waking before sun-up and bedding down long after dark. They knew the length of each day much better than we do today with clocks!

But .  .  .   the cross quarter days, they were a bit more tricky. They each fell approximately 6 weeks between a Solstice and and Equinox and this is where they obtained their greater or major Sabbat designation.  The Druids, the Priesthood of the Celtic people who were really the scientists, the physicians, astronomers and astrologers as well as the religious leaders of this race of people were the ones who found all things 'in-between' to be magickal, sacred and mysterious. They found certain times of the day or night sacred because of it's 'in-between' time, such as twilight or dawn, both times neither fully daytime nor fully nightime, but in-between. Midnight, not today yet not quite tomorrow and noontime which is no longer morning, yet is not 'after-noon' yet.

The ancient Druids found mushrooms to be magickal and sacred. You see they knew of the three world concept. They saw three's in many, many things in nature. They knew of the worlds of animal, vegetable and mineral but they knew that fungus didn't fall into any of these worlds so it was of a world in-between and they revered mushrooms and fungus for their magickal properties.  They also found ice to be sacred as it was water but in a solid or earth form as well as steam or vapor which is water in an air form.  See what I mean? Well in regards to the Sabbats, the greater Sabbats are the ones in-between the Solstices and Equinoxes and the ancients gave these celebrations the greatest notice. Many scholars of ancient Celtic history agree that the Solstices and Equinoxes most likely were never celebrated by the ancient Celts.

For Lughnasa, which translates from ancient Gaelic to "The assembly of Lugh" which in modern language  translation could be called "The games of Lugh" is a celebration that included ritual, feasting and games being played. The early celebration were held much as the Olympic games were held in ancient Greece, as 'war-games' designed to keep the men who were home from battle working in the fields harvesting, in battle-ready shape.

You see, all across Europe when the first harvest beckoned, soldiers from every land, regardless of the intensity of the battle or the war being waged, stopped fighting and went home. Why? Because if they didn't, there would be not enough strong people to bring in the harvest and the harvest was in many cases solely responsible for each tribe, village and culture of people surviving the winter. When the harvests went bad, were lost to the elements in the fields, became moldy, infested with vermin and became inedible the majority of the tribe would suffer and many would die from malnourishment before spring.  So, the soldiers came home and turned their swords into plowshares. Sound familiar? This was only done, not as a spiritual quest or enlightenment, but by sheer necessity for self and family survival. 

When we look at the wheel of the year, August 1st is the first food harvest. Remember we discussed Litha, the Summer Solstice as the first medicinal and magickal herb harvest, yet we wait for the first of August to harvest the grains in the fields. In addition to the grains, which made up at least 70 - 80 percent of the food source for the general populace at the time, people would eat a few root vegetables such as turnips and parsnips. No, there were no potatoes, tomatoes, corn or rice yet. At least not in Celtic ruled Western Europe. Cabbage was a big staple and then there would be the fruits of the orchards later in the summer.   Meat would be eaten rarely and usually only at the harvest festivals, because many tribes, clans or villages (many surrounding the castles which protected them) killed off all farm animals before winter because they were competition for the grain the people vied for.

So except for smoked and pickled meats or if a cold spell came early, frozen meats which would continue to be eaten through out the first part of winter, there was precious little meat unless one hunter rabbit, deer or other animals. Wait! That sounds like plenty of food doesn't it? Why the King's forests were always bursting with abundant wildlife. But for thousands of years (remember we're just 1,000 years ago here) many a monarch  kept a stingy and selfish hold on forested lands and many countries had laws forbidding the average man from hunting or living off the forests. Many times the penalty for 'poaching' on the King's land was death, dismemberment or imprisonment.

How was one to get a good meal? Really! Well one patiently survived and waited, if one could, for the first harvest. Talk about a celebration!! Fresh baked breads, cheeses made from the milk from the cattle in the field, who would be slaughtered by the last harvest, Samhain November 1st.  Many times a white bull or two were driven between two bonfires by the Druid Priests at Lughnasa, and then they were slaughtered and their entrails viewed for divinatory purposes and then the rest of the great beasts were consumed by the people. They felt that by eating a scared beast such  as the white bull or the swine (also considered sacred and highly desired by the ancient Celts) would in a way bring that sacredness within the person who consumed the meat.  Yet, without modern refrigeration, there were simply no leftovers because they would spoil.  Ancients did not have any secret against food poisoning and suffered of it much more than we do today, and often died of eating toxic foodstuffs.  Most food, with a few exceptions, which was consumed was by necessity fresh and recently prepared. 

Lughnasa has another name. For after the early Christians religiously dominated Europe, Lughnasa became a Christianized holiday called Lammas, or 'Loaf Mass'. This was a harvest holiday where the early Christians took the story of Jesus and the fishes and the loaves and neatly blended it with the existing ancient holiday of Lughnasa. However you look at it, this holiday or 'Holy day' was and still is an opportunity for people to celebrate the abundance we find in our lives and to give thanks to the divine for this abundance.

  Many people today, though not religious, perhaps not even what they would call spiritual look for ways to give thanks when things go well. Like 'knocking on wood' when you say something good or fortuitous, or take notice of good things in your life, the same is true for the way of the witch. We celebrate eight Sabbats a year where our entire focus, for many who celebrate, maybe not all, is of giving thanks to God, Goddess, the Universe, hey .  .  .   name your Deity! It's all good!

Well, back to ancient times when foodstuffs were plentiful at this time of year, the earth was warm and life as difficult as it was, was nonetheless easier now,  than at other times of the year.

Many times the Maypole which was hoisted and decorated during Beltane, May 1st, is now decorated with one glove in honor of the harvest. The glove is a scared symbol of the harvest because until the glove was invented, for protection of soft human hands against harsh, sharp blades of grasses or other grain crops, harvesting was a difficult and dangerous process which could lead to infected hands.  For an ancient who relied on their hands for their very survival,  this was a crucial invention that without, in my opinion, such things as the wheel, the automobile and the light bulb would never have been invented because human kind would again not have survived. My research into early human survival on this planet leads me to credit the glove as one of, if not the greatest invention ever. The invention of agricultural science for sustained cultural survival and the glove which made it possible for humans to benefit greatly from harvesting their foodstuffs, whereas before they subsisted on hunting and gathering. 

We celebrate Lughnasa with a traditional American Thanksgiving feast, eaten outdoors on long tables.  We first hold a Lughnasa ritual, and Sabbats are a time to focus gratitude on God/Goddess for the abundance we have in our life. I always thank the Goddess for life and for love. Seems to cover the gamut for me! Afterwards we feast and then follow up the feasting with a modern version of the ancient Celtic games. No! We do not do stone throwing, caber tossing or log cutting!

We're more cerebral and fun oriented. We have games such as "Race to be High Priestess' which is a race between two marks and each person wears a robe, with cords (not easy to maneuver in on a good day!) while balancing a small plastic cauldron half filled with water on their head. They are holding a wand and that's all their allowed to use to keep the cauldron on top of their head!  About what it feels like to be a high priestess sometimes!

We have a game where each participant takes a piece of paper out of a cauldron and on each piece is a magickal word. They then have 60 seconds to create an effective incantation using the word,  that follows the rules of writing a good incantation. This is called 'Flying Incantations'.  In addition we have sidewalk chalk design, spell juggling (keeping several balloons aloft without dropping one) as well as others.  The idea in this day and age is not so much about survival as it is about having fun, sharing community with other like minded people and giving thanks to Goddess/God for all life has to offer us today.  There are small prizes for the winners of each contest and fun and camaraderie is enjoyed by all this day.

No worries, my dear, if you want to celebrate and just found out about this fun holiday today. We're celebrating next weekend and so can you or anytime this month. For I believe that truly the Gods care not what we mere human do in their playground, as long as we live and love. So plan a harvest celebration for sometime this August, find a stray glove to honor as a special token of the day, plan a feast, set up tables outside surrounded by nature and invite your friends.  Celebrate and give thanks for the abundance in your life while surrounded by the abundance in nature. It feels so right!

And that my dear witchling, is how I describe Lughnasa!  I hope you have a happy and blessed harvest season. Happy Lughnasa to you and yours!

Peace and Happiness

 © 2010-2011 Enchantments, LLC Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, see or go to the title of tonight's discussion and click, it will link you to my school's website.   If you know someone who would like my work, please send them this link. If you or they would like to be included on our daily email distribution list send me an e mail with your email address to be included. If you ever wish to unsubscribe to this blog, please contact me and you will be immediately removed from our list.

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