Lughnasadh: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Lammas, by Melanie Marquis
Llewellyn Worldwide, 978-0-7387-4178-9, 210 pp. (incl. correspondences for Lughnasadh, further reading, bibliography, and index), 2015
Lughnasadh: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Lammas is the fourth book in Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series. As with the entire series, the Lughnasadh guide offers a bounty of information in the series-consistent chapters of Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, and Correspondences for Lughnasadh.
Admittedly, Lughnasadh is one of those sabbats to which I haven’t fully paid attention. Jammed in between Midsummer and Mabon, it’s easy for me to overlook the holiday at the beginning of August. Since reading this book several times, I’ve acquired appreciation, understanding, and plans for the holiday.
Lughnasadh celebrates the first harvest fruits (physical, spiritual, emotional, mental) — not a trivial occasion. Although often overshadowed by the more popular harvest celebrations of Mabon and Samhain, it gives us a chance to fully partake in the bounty of the harvest while the weather is still warm and the sun still shines high in the sky.
Lughnasadh originated in Ireland, its name is derived from Lugh, a Celtic deity associated with light, harvest1 and the king of the Tuatha de Danann, a race of gods. Early celebrations revolved around a kingship wedding feast (commemorating the king’s marriage to the goddess, who represented the land), but more commonly, Lughnasadh marked funeral games in honor of Lugh’s stepmother Tailtiu, wife of the last king of the Fir Bolg, who then remarried into the Tuatha de Danann.
According to legend, Tailtiu died of exhaustion after clearing the land for agriculture, and following that, Lugh initiated the Fair of Tailteann in her honour — an event celebrated for hundreds of years.2 Reflecting the wedding feast spirit, Lughnasadh became “a popular time for trial marriages, which were temporary partnerships that lasted for a year and a day until the end of the next fair at which time the union could be dissolved if so desired.”3
All sorts of August fairs took place in Ireland, and interestingly, it seems that many of them directly relate to women sacrificing themselves in some way to save both the land and the people. Says Melanie Marquis, “the Lughnasadh fairs were typically held near the burial mounds of mythical divine female heroes.”4 This fact spurred me to sit up and take notice, an ancient tidbit on which I could base my own celebration.
Even if one couldn’t make it to any of the fairs, other ways to mark Lughnasadh abounded. Protection magick, rituals utilizing water, and marking the first harvest fruits by offering them to spirits and eating them ceremonially are a few.5 In addition, a focus of Lughnasadh (both past and present) is bread and beer. A fascinating Scottish tradition saw families each contribute one bag of malt to be brewed all together into ale; and one person wading waist-deep into the ocean, offering up the ale with a verbal tribute to Seonaidh (a Celtic water spirit) by tossing it into the sea.6
So much information abounds within the Old Ways chapter of this book — it teems with facts about Lughnasadh celebrations from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Denmark, and the Anglo-Saxon culture (which celebrated the August holiday as hlafmaesse, meaning “loaf mass” — the first fruits of the wheat harvest — then called Lammas). These days, the Celtic Lugnhnasadh and the Anglo-Saxon Lammas celebrations blend together, creating the harvest holiday we know.
Harvest festivals weren’t restricted to the Celtic lands. In the US, the Hopi tribe celebrates in a variety of ways during the month of August. The Marua Dance, also called the Water Moon Dance or the Growing Moon Dance, “was celebrated to ensure human fertility, good weather, and a bountiful harvest.”7 In West Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, tribes celebrate the deities and spirits of the land and sky, asking for blessings and protections for the harvest, the land, and themselves. Russia, too, gave thanks for the harvest; August 1st was celebrated as Honey Saviour Day, and August 6 was celebrated as Apple Saviour day. In ancient Rome, August harvest celebrations filled the streets and homes. Of all the Llewellyn’s Sabbat series books, Lughnasadh’s Old Ways chapter is the one packed with facts, lore and legends that were completely new to me.
So, how is Lughnasadh celebrated today? There are a couple enduring themes, including harvest (of everything we’ve sown during the spring and summer), gratitude, abundance, protection, and reflection.8 On this day, from sundown on 31 July to sundown on 1 August, if the only thing you do is say (and mean!) “thank you,” it is enough.
The New Ways chapter covers ways in which Lughnasadh is celebrated by the diverse array of Pagans in cities and the country. Modern August gatherings and festivals are discussed: the Green Spirit Festival at the Circle Sanctuary near Barneveld, Wisconsion; Iowa Lammasfest in the Coralville Dam are in Iowa; the nine-day Sacred Harvest Festival near St. Paul, Minnesota; the Feast Day and Green Corn Dance at the Santo Domingo Pueblo near Albuquerque, and the five-day St. Andrew’s Lammas Fair (Europe’s oldest surviving street fair) in St. Andrew’s, Scotland are just some of the global first harvest August celebrations across the globe. Who knew? I didn’t.
Cooking, tool-making, charm-making, spell creation, and other activities play a part in contemporary celebratory activities. The book offers an intense Calm Down Candle Spell to dissipate anger, negativity, and frustration.9 There’s also a fresh and fun Herbal Spell for Safeguarding Success, which assigns aspects of success to each herb and purifying each herb through water.10
Along with a variety of other spells, Marquis also offers several types of divination for Lughnasadh. Traditional methods to foretell the weather are presented, as well as a variety of traditional corn divination (the perfect food for this first harvest). Prayers to Lugh for strength, skill and protection are presented, as well as prayers to Danu for abundance (this one is beautiful) and victory. Meditations for gratitude and for reaping are presented, and are wonderful for re-focusing energy and reflection.
Cooking and crafts play an important part in any sabbat celebration, and Lughnasadh is no exception. What I loved about the recipe section (besides a focus on blessed bread!), is that Marquis lays out a full menu,11 then proceeds to present each recipe — from appetizer (a yummy vegetable bean soup) to main course (squash casserole) to dessert (nourishing apple tart — which sounds scrumptious but is, frankly, far too much work for this lazy cook) to traditional Irish soda bread (more my speed!) to drink (spicy goddess apple cider).
Within the crafts section, the instructions for a traditional English corn dolly are laid out in detail,12 and the results are a fun and effective charm for your property or person. Decorations are covered, as well, with apples being the main focus of any Lughnasadh decoration. What I especially loved is the step-by-step instruction for constructing a powerful Gratitude Altar from what you have around the house. Linking the spirit of gratitude to the bountiful first harvest holiday abounds in this altar. Although constructed in preparation for Lugnasadh, it’s a year-round significant way in which to consciously acknowledge the plenty in your life. I loved it.
As Marquis says, “Lughnasadh is a season of harvest, a season of creation and culmination, a season of union and of sacrifice,”13 and this sums up this holiday for me too. Prior to reading this book, I truly had little awareness of this particular sabbat — too hot, too busy, too rushed to actually take stock of what this holiday offers, I thought. But if you’d like to learn more about Lughnasadh and how to celebrate the day, and be inspired to, as I was, I can’t recommend Lughnasadh: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Lammas enough. As the first harvest holiday, it opens the way for the waning part of the year.