The harvest festival of Lughnasadh ("loo-nus-uh") shines with the symbolism of god and goddess, the waning season and the never ending interplay between the communal and ritual space which creates divine inspiration upon this mortal plane.
A Celtic quarterday, Lughnasadh stands on August 1 as the first day of autumn and the beginning of the harvest. The harvest will reach it's apex on the autumnal equinox and must cease by November 1, Samhain, lest the pooka invade field and farm.
Springing from the pre-Celtic commemoration of the god Baal's death, Lughnasadh was originally a feast of mourning. As waves of time and invaders swept over Ireland, so the waves of myth mingled and new gods succeeded the Formorian pantheon.
Lugh, the bright god, overtook Baal and through the precocious and shifting wind of history we now see Lugh and Baal as one. Originally titled "Lughnasadh," the moniker meant "Lugh-mass" now sometimes shortened to "Lammas."
To mark the passing of Lugh, tribal gatherings, bonfires and funereal games were held in August. Held in County Meath near the village Tailtiu, these great fetes included chariot racing and swordplay.
A celebratory Fair grew to accompany the games and the festival evolved from its original keening for the loss of the bright god, to a jolly, convivial affair where participants could eat of the fruit of their labors and drink of the company of other revellers before winter's shadow crept further onto the landscape.
The Tailtean games, as they were known, gave rise to the "Teltown" marriages. Related to the brief greenwood marriages of Beltaine, these trial marriages created matrimonial bonds between lovers as well as the liberty to literally walk away from the arrangement a year and a day later.
Pagan deities are rarely confined by the tabernacles built by man, preferring their devotees to worship under the vault of the sky and upon altars of stone and soil. Croagh Patrick, a 2,510 summit was and remains today a pilgrimage site during the month of August. Originally inhabited by the goddess Aine, Croagh Patrick in recent centuries is better known for several fables involving Saint Patrick, who sadly never set foot on the site.
The best known god of the land before the later Saint Patrick, is Crom Dubh, the god of the harvest. As a prosperous harvest was essential for survival, it follows that harvest rituals and symbolism were ingrained deeply in home and hearth.
Crom Dubh was known as "the dark bent one." Dark from spending the year in Aine's rich underworld sidhe and bent from hauling forth to mankind the first sheave of golden tipped wheat upon his back, the gleaming gift of Lugh which brightened and fed his mortal charges.
Aine and Crom Dubh - god and goddess forever interconnected in different disguises and different aspects. Aine became Crom Dubh's fairy mistress "Eithne" (meaning kernel or grain). Laying with Eithne deep in the soil throughout the cold winter, Crom Dubh insured the fruit of their relationship would nurture and feed mankind in autumn.
Rituals which hope to evoke the divine must take into account both the mystic and mundane aspects of human life. The Tailtean Games and other harvest fairs brought together communities for social and economic benefit. The mystic heart of the Lughnasadh cycle can be found at Lough Gur in County Limerick.
The largest stone ring in Ireland lies not far from Lough Gur, the entrance to its 113 megaliths aligned upon the Lughnasadh sunrise. Erected in 2500 BC, Rannach Crom Dubh or the Lios is the enchanting home of Crom Dubh and his fairy queen.
Crom Dubh himself stands in the ring in the form of an enormous megalith almost seven feet in height. Even now, though farm houses are located nearby, the sense of the ancient partnership of mortal mythos and divine presence permeate the ring.
From the joy of community gatherings to the deep experiences of ritual space, Lughnasadh evokes the season's turn. Grain may not be as scarce in our modern world, but the illumination of Lugh's arrows are always welcome and needed.