In the more recent Celtic table of festivals, Lughnassadh (pronounced Loo-nuh-suh) was celebrated with a fortnight of contests and games, of exhibitions of skill and strength. In the Celtic calendar, this festival was known as the Games of Lugh and would begin on the eve of August 1st in the Northern Hemisphere (February 1st in the Southern Hemisphere)..
Lughnassadh: Sun's Victory
Lugh was the Irish Sun God and was also known as 'Samildanach' which means 'many-skilled'. Thus the celebration in his honour involved the demonstration of prowess in the skills attributed to him both as a warrior and as a craftsman. So, having welcomed the Sun King at Bealtaine, the festival of Lugnassadh honoured his triumphal harvest, celebrating the riches and abundance given by the heat and light of summer. During the Games of Lugh there was also a series feasts to acclaim the victory of the Tuatha De Danaan (an early magical race of Ireland) over the Fomorians (a race of giants who dwelt in Ireland before the Tuatha) under the leadership of Lugh of the Longhand.
Lugh comes with the trappings of many traditional tales of the male sun hero. He was born of mixed race with his father of the magical Tuatha De Danaan and his mother of the giant Fomorians. He was raised in Eamhain Abhlach, the apple isle that is the Irish equivalent of Avalon. Lugh replaced the wounded king, Nuadha, to lead the Tuatha De Danaan in battle and defeat the Fomorian armies as led by his maternal grandfather, Balor of the Evil Eye.
Balor was so known because of a single baleful eye in his forehead that could deal death and destruction to those who looked upon it. Lugh defeated Balor with a wild, whirling dance using one hand, one leg and one eye. The death of Balor dispersed the Fomorian armies. Many of the ancient traditions of the shamans of Europe involve stories of a one-eyed warrior who comes to prominence among his people through mighty and magical feats. Lugh is such a one, so is Odin from the Northern myths and so is Horatio, the hero who held the bridge against the invading Etruscan armies in Roman history. These figures are fascinating yet mysterious, their stories keeping the tantalizing secrets of paths of initiation from long ago.
The Goddess of the Sun
Lugh represents a newer phase of development in the mythology of Ireland. He was apparently introduced to the Celtic pantheon around the time of Christ. His coming marks the rising ascendancy all across Britain, Europe and the Mediterranean of the male gods of the Sun over the Sun Goddess known to the people of the ancient world.
Originally, this Lugh's feast would have been a festival of ripened grain, celebrating the Mother's bounty just as Oimelc celebrates her power to give life or Bealtaine celebrates her passion or Samhain celebrates her power to live through death to new life. But, how the grain festival must have been traditionally celebrated has been lost beneath the mantle of two weeks of games and contests in honour of Lugh. The motif of Lughnassadh is the triumph of the light of summer over the darkness of winter. The Summer King, having taken the throne from the Winter King now celebrates the power of the deeds that led to his victory.
Nonetheless, when you gather for Lughnassadh, gather with friends, ready to celebrate the prosperity and richness of your lives. The Mother gives to us through the body of the Earth and the strength of our spirits. Lughnassadh is a time to rejoice in the victory of life itself. Barbecued or fire-cooked food would pair well with the performance of feats of strength or dexterity, and dramas or songs that express the joy of victory in a contest or that relive the great victories of the past. This is a time to remember and celebrate our triumphs and take joy in our success and the success of others. But remember that the Celtic festivals look in two directions, forward and back. So, Lughnassadh would have been celebrated with an eye to the coming cold and dark. As we rise like the Sun to her midday peak, so we know that the risen power must set and that which is passed must come again.
All life changes and changes, so the joy of Lughnassadh may have been mixed with a note of melancholy as the Celts contemplated the truth that all that is triumphant now will one day be passed and forgotten. Lughnassadh may also have a prankster or jester aspect as the god Lugh was well known for his dexterity, humour and his practical jokes. Lugnassadh is celebrated in the month given to the Holly Tree, the fast-growing hardwood that is the tree of the warrior and the sacred spear.
The Sacred Passage of the Year
The Celtic festivals were a means of honouring the rhythms and changes of the seasons and the bounty given by the Earth. In dance, song, feasting and giving, the Celts made a pact with the Earth through their festivals to use that bounty wisely and to make a return for the gifts that they received. At Samhain, Brigantia, Bealtaine and Lugnassadh, we have the opportunity now to make a pact such as our ancestors made with the Mother Earth. We have the chance to honour the gifts that we receive by giving thanks and by giving in return. We have the chance to celebrate the turning cycles of time and to find our true spirit once again in the belief that all things that are here must pass and all things that have passed will return.
Here endeth the Lesson.
Back to the start of The Celts: Ceremony, Magic and Time