Today is the day of the first of three fall harvest festivals. Lughnasadh (say Loo-nah-sah) is the marker for the beginning of the harvest.
Stories tell of a woman named Tailtiu dying from exhaustion after clearing the fields of Ireland to be used to grow the crops that would sustain the people. Her foster son, Lugh, then dedicated the day as a feast and festival in her honor.
Lugh is also known to be a god of many talents. “Lugh of the Long Arm” is one of his names, and it may refer to the sun’s movement across the sky through the summer months. As we now enter into the harvesting season, we know that the sun is waning in power, and we recognize Lugh’s sacrifice as the wheel turns to autumn.
Also known as Lammas (a shortened derivation of the words “loaf mass”), Lughnasadh is when the first of the grain may be reaped and turned into loaves of bread. The first of these loaves may be given as an offering to the god Lugh, or any deity that may be honored during the holiday.
Many traditions tell of harvesting the first of the fall fruits. Once harvested, they may be eaten at the festival, their seeds reserved to grow the fruits of the following year.
Just around the corner from Beltane, Lughnasadh is also well known as a day for handfastings. These temporary marriages were at one time a contract of sorts that a couple could enter into for a year and a day, at which time they would either decide to separate or enter into a more official marriage.
This may be one of the only holidays on the wheel of the year that is not widely known through another holiday (as Yule is to Christmas, or Ostara to Easter). Some references say that Lammas was perhaps a Christian implementation of the harvest holiday, but it seems that it didn’t ring through to be quite as popular as some of the other “transformed” holidays on the wheel.