Lammas is celebrated on or around August 1st, with the early harvest. “Lugh the Long-Armed Spearman” is also known as “Llew of the Ready Hand.” He is the god of light in the Underworld. He wields the fabled Hallow (of the Thirteen Hallows of Britain), the “Spear of Light.” thus armed, he represents the penetrating beams or shafts of sun energy which translate, through a gestation in the Underworld womb of the Earth Mother, into the prosperity of the harvest. Loaves of golden grain, orchards heavy with fruit — everything that connotes mature and perfect ripeness is appropriate for this, of all seasonal feasts. Fall is the universally acknowledged time to celebrate the riches of Mother Earth, and Her providence. Known as Tailtu, among many other names, the Great One of Earth is celebrated with gratitude for the fruits of the Earth, the riches of the orchards and fields, the Grain Mother and Her divine son, the Harvest God or God of the Grain. Luxuriously colourful, opulently served and heaped-up abundantly, the Autumn feasts hearken back to the great Pagan festivals of harvest thanksgiving with the greatest fidelity.

The festivals we now know as Loaf Mass, Lughnassa/Lunasa, Mabon and Thanksgiving are vestiges of the rites of ancient Mystery Religions and have, for time immemorial, traced an archetypal theme. This universal story describes the felling of the Divine Child in the form of the harvest (or the pre-agricultural quarry or “Divine Victim” of the Hunt) and Her or His descent into the Underworld womb of the Earth Mother for the duration of winter. Here, the Divine Child is sacrificed, re-conceived, fertilized, quickened or “transformed” into new life. He will be reborn again in the spring. This epic saga is the “Eternal Round,” embodying cycles of growth, maturation, death and birth (of animal, vegetable and human life) in response to the seasonal orchestrations of available light. These have been the underlying themes of autumn festivals since the earliest human societies of hunter/gatherers.

Laurel Kimbley-Stone describes Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (/ˈluːnəsə/ LOO-nə-sə, Irish: [ˈl̪ˠuːnˠəsˠə]) as:

…a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, and in Manx: Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. In recent centuries some of the celebrations have been shifted to the Sunday nearest this date.

Lughnasadh is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane. It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas. Lughnasadh is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and has pagan origins. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It inspired great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking, and trading. Traditionally there were also visits to holy wells. According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the ‘First Fruits’, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull, and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. Many of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains.

Lugh (pronounced ‘loo’) is a Celtic sun god known for his dexterity. He was called Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm), Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand), Samildánach (Skilled in All the Arts), Lonnbeimnech (fierce striker, sword-shouter) or Macnia (boy hero) on this account. Lugh is thought to be a form of the pan-Celtic/Gaulish god Lugus/Lugos. The ancient Romans associated Lugh with the Roman god Mercury/Greek Hermes, as well as Apollo through his association with Lugus.

Lugh/Lugus was venerated as a triple god in Romano-Celtic lands, combining the Gaulish gods Esus, Toutatis and Taranis. He is tripartite and tricephale (‘three-faced’) because he has the power to look into the Three Worlds (lower world, middle world, and upper world) of the Tree of Life, and can also look into the past, present and future. His avatars were the raven, crow, and lynx, and he had a magic hound. Lugh possessed several magical weapons, including an invincible Spear, one of the treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Thirteen Hallows of Britain.

The mystical death and rebirth of the Magical Child of the Divine Mother is at the very root of religious development. The endlessly repeated cycle of the Goddess and Her Divine Child is the basic shape of the yearly seasonal round, characterizing ideas about sacrifice, sacredness, celebration, reverence, worship, devotional offerings and gratitude for the “gifts” of Mother Earth. The passion of the Mother Goddess and the repeatedly sacrificed and resurrected child of spring flowed out of our history as a species foraging in the wild, and informed the development of agriculture as the dawn of civilization. The sacrifice of the Divine Child is seen as redemptive, both materially and spiritually, and the child is (and always has been) regarded as a saviour.

The harvest festivals celebrate the successful completion of labours and their fruition. Divinity is most clearly seen in the abundance of the garden, produce section or fruit stand. Visually stimulating arrangements of fruit, flowers and vegetables give a sensual and enticing aura of wellbeing. Indian Summer is a time for “last-chance” outdoor feasts, rituals and labor Day picnics. Succulent colour and round shapes grace the altar (or dinner table/picnic blanket). Images of the God as Wonderful Youth or vigorous mature man, and images of the Goddess as Mistress of the Grain emerge at this time of year. In Fall, She is seen as conservator of her offspring; the earth’s precious resources represented by the Vegetation Gods — Lugh, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mabon, Osiris, Tammuz and John Barleycorn, among countless others. Frequently these deities have animal counterparts, totemic aspects which are frequently those creatures which commonly feed on their vegetation form. For instance, grain-god Osiris was known as “The Bull of Heaven,” as was Tammuz, and Dionysus was revered as a black goat, the creature most likely to be found munching on grape vines.

These creature aspects served as sacrificial proxies in many cultures; their immolation at the eight major festivals represented the relatively few, very sacred occasions upon which the general populace ate meat. (More primitive, pre-agricultural divine sons, such as Adonis, Mabon or Lugh, are identified with wild creatures such as stags, fish, birds and wild boar.) It is these Green Man aspects of earthly providence we are actually reverencing by thanks-giving. The “divine offspring” of the Earth Mother are seen collectively as a conscious, willing, noble sacrifice. They are also seen as aspects of Her, as most clearly recognized with Persephone or Kore. Reverence for the Earth’s riches underlies the most enlightened spirit of ecology, where abundance is seen as a precious gift, a living system and not to be taken lightly.

In cherishing all manifestations of this earthly life as the Divine child, we can experience profound grace in partaking of them. The sense of wonder attained through nourishing the body and soul with what is construed as the body of the God is the original model for the sacrament of transubstantiation. “Communion,” or theophagy, was practiced as a vital part of the rites of Dionysus. Bread manikins were named “Dionysus,” and carried into the hills in small baskets; the wine that was the special substance of the God of the Vine was carried in goatskin flasks. These were traditionally made from the skin of a black goat, one of the god’s avatars. The bread manikins were passed around to the celebrants, torn into bite-size pieces and ritually consumed. This extremely archaic ceremony may have been practiced in Old Europe, Asia Minor, and areas surrounding the Mediterranean for as long as 7,000 years. We still make ”gingerbread men,” and the “Pillsbury Dough Boy” has extremely venerable antecedents.

A large, well-formed Bread Man is a wonderful presence for the main altar of the Fall Harvest festivities (the dinner table), place in a properly festive bread basket. The basket represents the womb of the Mother in Her many guises (Hestia, Gaea, Modron, Demeter, Ceres, Cybele, Semele, etc.). Large, abundantly filled flagons of wine or jugs of home-brewed beer are timely symbols, or pitchers of steam-pressed fruit juices and ciders. In archaic Greece, flasks were traditionally made from the skins of black goats, named “Dionysus Eleutherius” meaning “God of Liberation” or “Freedom.” This is the same concept of wine and beer’s ancient role in providing release after the labours of the harvest, or liberation from the bounds of duty as supplied the root for the word “Libation,” from another Roman name for Dionysus: “Liberius.” Bread and wine were consumed as the body and blood of Dionysus as a part of the Rites of Demeter during the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Lammas Demeter Altar

Celebrating “First Fruits,” Lammas begins a chain of countless grain and grape festivities which continue through Samhain, the final harvest festival. Feast days for Athena, Pan, Aphrodite, Hecate, the Moirae, Bacchus, Hestia, the Virgin Mary, the Tan Hill Festival, the Puck Fair, Isis, Hathor, Fieschi’s Cake Festival, Chang-O, the Festival of Minstrels, Ilmatar, Durga, Devaki and St. Rose represent a small percentage of the traditional multi-cultural celebrations crammed into August alone. The Grape Festival is celebrated on August 12th in many parts of Europe, and the Harvest Festival on August 28th. Harvest Home is observed in the British Isles in Mid-September and Zoroastrians celebrate the harvest during the festival of Ghambar Paitishem, from September 12th to the 16th.

Gunderstrup Cauldron, La Tene Celts, 150 BCE–1st century CE

Two dates commemorate the Celtic God of the Hunt. The antlered Herne or Cernunnos, is still (perhaps unwittingly) venerated at the Horned Dance at Abbots Bromley on September 9th, according to English custom, and Herne’s feast day, October 18th, is the occasion of the Great Horned Fair.

Abbots Bromley Horned Dancers, c. 1900
Abbots Bromley dancers, 2020

“The Abbots Bromley horn dance is an English folk dance whose origins date back to the middle ages and is performed annually on Wakes Monday — which is the first Monday after 4 September. The tradition, which takes place in the Staffordshire village, is believed to be the oldest folk dance in Britain and some of the antlers have been carbon dated to be more than 1,000 years old.” (https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2017/sep/12/staffordshire-village-holds-britains-oldest-folk-dance-in-pictures)

The Blessing of the Grapes is an Armenian holiday which takes place on August 19th, similar to the ancient Rustic Vinalia of the Romans, which took place on August 20th. The Romanian Wine Festival takes place on October 5th, and the Church feast day for St. Bacchus is on October 7th.

Tripartite and tricephale (‘three-faced’) Lugh

The Eleusinian Mysteries began where we now find the middle of September, with the Summoning of the Initiates. A lustral bath in the sea, the Holade Mystai, prepared the initiates on the following day for the duration of the lengthy festival. Like all mystery schools, the college of priestesses at Eleusis traced their rites of transformation along the lines of a mythic cycle or story. Conducted to the theme of the hero’s and hera’s journey in the Underworld, the rites ritualized Persephone’s descent and Dionysus’ mystical death and dismemberment. The visual motif for this saga was the metamorphosis of the seed grain, from fertilization, through sprouting and harvesting, and back to fertilization — the age-old drama of death and rebirth describing the indestructibility of life.

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.