The Celtic Cross-Quarter Day of Lughnasad
Lughnasad marks that moment at the beginning of August just before the harvest of the seed that had been planted in Samhain (sow-an) in early November, first moved on its own at Imbolc in early February, and had sprouted and was growing at Beltane in early May. The Celtic harvest season began when the first crops were gathered at Lughnasad and lasted until the last sheep and cattle were brought down from the highland pastures in time for Samhain around the first of November.
Celtic Warriors on the Gundestrop Cauldron
Who was this Solar deity of the Celts after whom Lughnasad is named? Who was Lugh (Loo)? There was a time rather late in Irish prehistory when the Tuatha De Danann, the people who conquered Ireland just prior to the arrival of the Sons of Mil (the Celts/Gaels), were contesting for supremacy in Ireland with Fomorians. Nuada (Noo-a-ha), King of the De Danann was a mighty warrior, but unfortunately one day in battle, his arm was hacked off at the shoulder. Now the King must be whole and unblemished on all levels, so even though Nuada's arm was replaced with a lifelike one made of silver, he could no longer lead his people. He was no longer whole and unblemished.
King Nuada was replaced by Eochaid (Yo-hi) The Beautiful, son of a De Danann woman named Elotha. She had not told him that his father was a Fomorian chief. Eochaid was crowned King of the De Danann with the proviso that if he did not please the people, he would have to abdicate his throne. Yet, after his coronation, for a King of the De Danann, Eochaid became more and more partial to their enemy, the Fomorians. Eventually, the Tuatha De Danann rebelled against him, and Eochaid had to agree to abdicate, but he asked to remain king for just seven years more. (He wanted to give his newfound friends, the Fomorians, time to build up their forces.)
At that critical point when the Fomorians were finally at the peak of their power, Nuada Silver Arm had a miraculous recovery. A magician named Miach (Mee-ah) came to him and put his old hacked-off arm back on, chanted some powerful healing charms, and in three days it was restored completely. Nuada then recovered his throne as well and Eochaid defected to the Fomorians.
Celtic Warrior by Theodor de Bry in 1590
It was just before that mighty confrontation, known as the Second Battle of Moytura, where the Tuatha De Danann met the Fomorians face to face that Lugh, the deity after whom Lughnasad is named, first comes to Irish Celtic consciousness. He showed up at the walls of Tara during the celebration of King Nuada's reinstatement.
"Who are you and what is your purpose?" was the challenge from the doorkeeper.
"Tell King Nuada that Lugh Long Arm is here. Take me to the King for I can help him."
"And what skill do you have, for no one enters Tara without qualifications," replied the man at the gate.
"Question me doorkeeper, I am a carpenter."
"We have one already."
"Question me, I am a smith."
"Sorry, we have one of them as well.
"I am a champion warrior."
"We've got our own."
At this point, it appeared that anything that Lugh might offer, the gateman would reject, but Lugh persisted with a list of his qualifications - harpist, poet, sorcerer, one skilled in the strategies and tactics of war, cupbearer, metalworker and physician. In each case, the gateman replied that they already had one.
Finally Lugh said, "Then ask the good King if he has anyone who has all of these skills. If he does, I will not enter Tara."
When King Nuada heard these words, he sent his best chess player to the main gate of Tara to challenge Lugh to a game of chess. Lugh firmly trounced him. At this, Lugh was finally welcomed to Tara, and went on to lead the warriors as Battle Chief of the Tuatha De Danann to victory over Eochaid and the Fomorians.
It's a mystery why sometimes the solution to a problem has to hit you over the head repeatedly before you are finally able see it.
Lugh, is a Solar God of the Celts. Some myths say that Bel (of Beltane fame) was his father. Others say that both London (Lugh-dunum - Lugh's town) and Lyons in France were named after him (though the linguistic link is not particularly clear in either case). In any event, this Solar deity was honored throughout the Celtic world from Ireland to southern France.
The Sun is critical to a successful harvest. Just as Lugh Long Arm offered himself to the Tuatha De Danann, the crops offer themselves to us at the peak of their power and ripeness. It's no wonder that Celts offer the first of their harvest to him.
In addition to Lughnasad, this early August Cross Quarter Day is also known as Lammas. The word Lammas combines the words "loaf" and "mass" (Old English "hlafmsse," Middle English "Lammasse"). It had to do with consecrating the first loaf of bread made from the first harvest of that year. In the same spirit, corn dollies were made from the straw of the first harvest at this time as well. "Corn" in British means "grain" in American. Most of the famous "corn circles" that have occurred in Southern England in the last decade occurred in wheat fields, though other crops are involved as well. Modern corn dollies are many times made of wheat. In the case of the Iron Age Celts, their corn dollies were probably made from made from two early grains called emmer or spelt. Once again, in Celtic climes, this first harvest of the corn/grain crops occurs around the beginning of August. Lammas is a Christian holy day, and is celebrated by the Church on the 1st of August.
Timing and the Quarter Days
The Solstices and the Equinoxes can be fixed to the nanosecond by astronomers. The 2010 Summer Solstice is at 6:28 EST (11:28 GMT) on the 20th of June. The 2010 Autumnal Equinox will occur at 22:09 EST on the 22nd of September and (03:09 GMT) on the 23rd of September. While the dates do vary a little bit, these Quarter Days are very much fixed feasts. They can be timed to the nearest nanosecond.
On the other hand, you may have noticed that I have not been very specific as to the dates of any of the Cross Quarter Days. This is because there are many different ways to determine exactly when they occur. Some make it simple and say that Samhain (the Celtic New Year) is on November 1st, Imbolc is on February 1st, Beltane is on May 1st, and Lughnasad/Lammas is on August 1st.
Half the Days
Others have different ways of calculating the Cross Quarter Days. For example, if you take exactly half of the number of days between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox in 1997, Lughnasad occurs on Wednesday the 6th of August.
Kathy Jones, a gifted playwright, author and authority on the Labyrinth that surrounds the Tor in Glastonbury (England), defines the Cross Quarter Days astrologically. Kathy feels that these octile points occur at fifteen degrees of the Fixed Signs of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. The Sun entered fifteen degrees Leo very late on Wednesday, the 6th of August in 1997, the same day that year as the half the number of days technique.
I happen to go with the Moon on this one. The Sun determines the Solstices and the Equinoxes. I like to relate the four Cross Quarter Days with the four phases of the Moon. Samhain, the Celtic New Year, is the New Moon. So Samhain happens on the New Moon nearest the 1st of November. The moveable feast of Imbolc would be on the waning First Quarter Moon nearest the 1st of February. Beltane is the Full Moon nearest the 1st of May, and Lughnasad/Lammas on the waxing Third Quarter Moon nearest August 1st. In 1997, this puts Lammas on Saturday the 26th of July. There at least one other way of doing this as well with the full moon being at Samhain, and so on through the yearly cycle. There are other methods used to determine these Cross-Quarter points including the blossoming of the Hawthorn indicated Beltane in Britain, and the scientific "root mean square," which calculates the distance along the horizon that the Sun will have traveled from the Equinox rise to Beltane.
So here are four different ways to decide when Lughnasad will be this year: it's always the 1st of August, it's half the number of days between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox (in 1997, August 6th), it's fifteen degrees Leo (in 1997, also August 6th), and it's the Third-Quarter Waning Moon nearest August 1st (in 1997, 26 July). Remember, the last three methods of divining the date will vary considerably from year to year. I remember celebrating Samhain at the New Moon on the 20th of October one year. That's about as early as it gets. Just as Autumn doesn't come on the same day every year, the Phase of the Moon method of determining a given Cross Quarter Day uses a very wide window of about twenty days in which each of the Cross Quarter Days can occur. These are truly moveable feasts. I encourage you to go with the method that feels best to you and your group. And even if your group ultimately chooses a different method than the one you favor, there's nothing to keep you from privately celebrating Lughnasad in your own special way on the day you prefer.
Lugh and Hermes
Lugh is also associated with Mercury, the messenger of the Gods. Perhaps you can use that Hermetic energy of that time to get some messages from the other side. In past columns on these Cross Quarter Days I have suggested that in addition to all being Celtic Fire Festivals, each of the Cross Quarter days has one of the Elements that is particularly associated with it, and that Element can be used for scrying. For me, Samhain is when the veil to the other side is thinnest, so Air works well for divination. Imbolc is the time to use water for scrying the future. Beltane is Fire that can scry the past. Lughnasad/Lammas is Earth for scrying the present - sometimes the most difficult of all to see clearly (remember the story of Lugh Long Arm).
You might want to try this experiment. Before your Lughnasad festival go out to your garden and get a bowl of soil. Don't pat it down. Allow the Earth to lie as it falls into the bowl. Perhaps you might want to ask for Lugh's help in what you are about to do. Put the bowl of Earth on a table in a darkened room. Light a candle to honor the fact that, while you are working with Earth, Lughnasad is also a Celtic Fire Festival. State what aspect of your present situation you want to see more clearly. (Pick something in your life that isn't going particularly well for you at the moment.) Gaze at the surface of the Earth. Take some deep breaths and time to relax. You might want to go down through your body looking for places of tension and asking them to relax. Take another deep breath. Unfocus your eyes. Think again of your question. See the interplay of light and darkness as the candle flickers in the darkness. What do you "see?"
When you do become aware of something, stay calm. Perhaps more will come. Don't push it. Relax. Afterwards, if you do this with a group, it's always useful to provide an opportunity for anyone to share what happened.
The rocks, the stones and the crystals Hey yung, hey yunga, hey yung. The rocks, the stones and the crystals Hey yung, hey yunga, hey yung. The power of the Earth, The power of the Earth, The power of the Earth, The power of the Earth!
I have been working with these Cross Quarter Days for about thirteen years. Lughnasad is the one I miss more frequently by far than any of the others. I am not sure why this is, but until recently, the groups I associate with do not seem to make so much of an effort to celebrate Lughnasad as they do the other three Cross Quarters. Another thing I would say is that I have found the Summer Solstice to be the most anarchic of the Quarter Days. Perhaps that bleeds over into Lughnasad as well.
In any event, Lughnasad marks that point of the very first loaf of bread, the very initial point where projects that you have started in the darkness of winter, after much shepherding through the Spring, begin to bear fruit at the height of summer. What in your life is at that point?
May Lugh Long Arm Be With You!
Hope, Murry. 1987. Practical Celtic Magic. Thorsons Publishing Group, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press. The best quick reference work on things Celtic that I know of. Ross, Anne, Dr. 1986. Druids, Gods & Heroes from Celtic Mythology. Peter Lowe Publishers. My favorite book of Celtic Mythology.